Monday, 1 September 2014

Saturday and Sunday 30th and 31st August

Spot Fly (c) Bark
There was a welcome return to summer weather this weekend, at the end of what has been a rather chilly and unseasonal month.
There were fewer waders present with just a single Greenshank and a Green Sand being reported on Sunday and of course the regular Snipe and Lapwings at the first screen. 
Greenshank Greenaways (c) John Reynolds
I failed to see either of the Marsh Harriers that have been regular over the last two months and have not heard of any sightings of them. It may well be that they have moved on. Another Osprey was reported on Sunday drifting over but not staying to fish. Hobbies were reported on both days with up to four present on Saturday.
Most of the interest this weekend was focussed on passerines in the hedgerows and out on the field margins. Whinchats are present in good numbers and on Saturday there were ten up by the farm at Noke there were also four out at the Pill and a couple on the edges of Big Otmoor. They are always animate and busy, hawking insects from fence-lines and perching high on rushes and docks. 
Whinchat Big Otmoor (c) Bark
There were six Spotted Flycatchers out in Saunders field on Saturday, they may well have been there still on Sunday but the red flag was flying and so there was no access. They have become very obliging and will allow a fairly close approach. They are very delicately and softly marked, close scope views really allowing one to appreciate their beauty.
Spot Fly (c) Peter West
It has been a good year for Redstart passage and again they were cropping up along the hedges and especially in Long Meadow where there were at least six on Sunday. Terry and I found another half way along the bridle way. It gave itself away by that distinctive tail of red-gold as it flew across in front of us. I can't imagine a time when I would not be excited by that flash of colour.
Fireflirt along bridleway (c) Tezzer
While looking for Redstarts in Long Meadow I had my best birding experience of the whole weekend. There was a large mixed party of tits and warblers moving around the isolated bushes and the hedgerows. When we stopped to look carefully there were at least ten pristine Lesser Whitethroats, slightly fewer Common Whitethroats, a few male and female Blackcaps and a large number of Willow warblers and Chiffchaffs. This mixture of warblers had coalesced around a party of Long Tailed Tits, Great and Blue Tits. There was even a Marsh Tit amongst them as a bonus. 
Chiffy (c) John Reynolds

Marsh Tit (c) John Reynolds

Another chiffy ? (c) Bark
The birds were feeding partially on blackberries and also on the abundant insects that the ripe fruit was attracting. As well as feeding there was some very busy interaction going on between birds as they chased each other and occasionally intimidated a bird of another species, if it was feeding where they wished to be. It was great standing there with so much going on and with so much to look at. Sometimes the best birding happens when you stay still and let things come to you rather than chasing around after them.
Holy Cow? (c) Badger

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th August

Calling Red Kite 1st Screen (c) John Reynolds
Cold and crisp first thing and warmer later, but feeling very much more like late September than August. There were plenty of interesting things to see and Saturday was particularly “birdy”.
As I arrived Kites were calling noisily in the Carpark field and across the Closes.
There are now many mixed tit and warbler flocks moving along the hedgerows and feeding busily. They can prove to be an id challenge but on Saturday we found all the expected warblers with the exception of “gropper”. Both the Whitethroats looking very smart in crisp fresh plumage. Willow Chiffs are of course more difficult to separate but patient observation will almost always resolve the birds identity.
Chiffy (c) Bark

Whitethroat (c) John Reynolds
There are still broods of other warblers being fed by adults and on Sunday a pair of Reed warblers were struggling to keep up with the appetites of two newly fledged chicks right in front of the first screen. Along the bridleway yet another young Cuckoo was begging persistently for food but staying just out of sight.

Reed Warblers and young (c) John Reynolds
The family party of five Spotted Flycatchers at the end of the Roman road, were showing particularly well in a crab apple tree. Whilst elsewhere in Long Meadow and along the hedges  occasional Redstarts could be found.

Spot Fly (c) Bark
Whinchats are now with us in numbers with four birds feeding beside the path to the first screen both on the Greenaways side and the Big otmoor side. They are most easily seen when perched on the blue plastic stakes that hold the electric fence. There are also a number of them at Noke Farm and others out at the Pill. Its worth looking at them carefully as quite soon now one of them will prove to be the first of the returning Stonechats. Wheatears are also about with one individual landing on the mud in front of the screen and then flying up and landing on the roof, this was very frustrating for would be photographers inside the screen as it was impossible to see it without flushing it, which is exactly what I did. It then sat up at the top of one of the oaks and gave excellent views.
The Bearded Tit or Tits were again very elusive but definitely present, this time being heard calling on Saturday morning from the reeds alongside the trail to the first screen.
Bittern over the reedbed (c) Pat Galka
The Bittern made two early morning sallies from the reedbed, flying out right across Greenaways before returning to the eastern corner that it seems to favour.
As we walked back along the bridle way towards the Roman Road Paul Greenaway said “ looks like a really good day for an Osprey to come through” and so it proved to be, although sadly we missed it. I looked back through my pictures and I am posting one that I took of an Osprey on the 25th August 2012 as it passed over the first screen just one year and three hundred and sixty four days earlier!
Osprey 25th August 2012 (c) Bark
On Saturday the very confiding Greenshank that has been on the second Greenaways scrape was again feeding in the same area with a Green Sand for company but on Sunday it was gone and did not reappear on Monday either. There was a tell-tale scattering of white and grey feathers on the far side of the water and I wonder if it had fallen foul of the Sparrowhawk or indeed the Mink that has been seen several times in the area. Dunlin are present as were  two Blacktailed Godwits, probably the birds that have been present for a while. The two Spotted Redshanks seen on the reedbed last week have pushed our somewhat moribund year list on to one hundred and forty three species so far since January.

All Snipe pics (c) John Reynolds
The hedgerows are looking more autumnal and there is a good crop of berries and seeds appearing. The first ripe blackberries were seen (and tasted) over a month ago and are now really very profuse, providing tasty fruit for all comers. Butterflies are still nectaring on bramble flowers and the fruit is attracting all manner of insects that in turn attract the birds. They are a really vital part of the Otmoor ecosystem.

Clouded Yellow and Brambles (c) Bark

Monday, 18 August 2014

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th August (Part two)




Both Pics (c) Tezzer

It was cooler this weekend than I can remember for quite a while and although it warmed up on both days autumn was in the air both in the weather and in the wildlife. It was yet another weekend when lots was going on and there was lots to be seen.
Juvenile Turtle dove (c) Bark
I was especially pleased to find a couple of juvenile Turtle Doves in the car park field and then on the wires by the pump house. Fortunately I managed to get a reasonable record shot of one of them, which close examination at home has confirmed it as a juvenile and not just wishful thinking on my behalf. They managed three broods on the moor last year and perhaps they could still be in the process of producing a third, the last juveniles found in 2013 were not seen until mid September.
Greenshank (c) John Reynolds

Green Sand (c) John Reynolds
The shallow scrapes on Greenaways are attracting passage waders with Green Sand, Greenshank and a young Little Ringed Plover present on both days this weekend. Sadly we could find no sign of the Stint Sp. reported on Friday. Out at the first screen, where most of the action has been recently there were a pair of Black Tailed Godwits as well as up to thirty Snipe. 
Blackwit at the first screen (c) Bark
As I have already said in a previous posting  there was a surprising piece of hunting when a Grey Heron took, flew with and then swallowed a very large Jack Pike. 

Both Pics (c) Bark
In contrast a couple of diminutive fishermen gave superb close views from the same place. I have frequently seen Pied Kingfishers hovering while they hunted but seldom seen it from our native birds. One particular bird hovered frequently a matter of metres out from the screen allowing Tezzer to take some quite extraordinary pictures one of which is at the top of this blog posting. The same individual spent some time sitting on the island just in front of us allowing even me the chance to get some decent pictures.

Kingfisher on island (c) Bark
Seven species of raptor have been seen this week and we now think that there may be three different Marsh Harriers around. At one moment on Sunday morning we had two marsh Harriers two Kestrels and  a Red Kite all in the same patch of sky at the same time. The Red Kites and the Marsh Harriers can have very contentious interactions.
Harrier and disgruntled Lapwings (c) John Reynolds
Another sign of autumn is the return passage of Whinchats with three present up by the farm at Noke. Redstarts are also being seen frequently along the paths and in Long Meadow, both adults and juveniles. Sometimes all that can be seen is a flash of that red gold tail as one swoops out of a hedge to seize prey. The old name of “Fireflirt” seems particularly appropriate, that beautiful flash of warm gold tail also seems to presage the colours of autumn.

Fireflirt (c) Andy Last
Lizards at the screen (c) Bark
Common Lizards seem to have bred well if the numbers on view at the “Lizard Lounge” are anything to go by. I saw six at the same time on Sunday.
I am grateful to Tom Nicholson-Lailey for sending me some great pictures of the Starling roost, which is currently getting under way. At least four thousand birds have been estimated and as the season progresses their numbers will be swollen with more birds coming over from the continent. At present they are coming in to roost right in front of the screen giving spectacular views.

Starling Roost (c) Tom Nicholson - Lailey
 

Otmoor Weekend round up part 1 "Herons :1 Pike: 0"

At the first screen on Saturday morning we witnessed an extraordinary fishing exploit. A heron that was quietly stalking the shallows opposite us suddenly struck and impaled a large Pike. What ensued is superbly recorded by the following set of photographs taken by the excellent John Reynolds. More from the weekend later today.




It was an amazing wildlife sighting but I have to admit to feeling just a little squeamish seeing the herons throat twitching after the fish had been swallowed.
Thanks again to John for the pics. Bark

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Saturday 9th and Monday 11th August

 
Kingfisher (c) Pat Galka
Young buzzard (c) Bark

Juvenile Cuckoo (c) Tezzer
Saturday was a splendid day but Sunday was virtually a washout as the remnants of Hurricane Bertha deluged us all morning. On Monday I was lucky enough to do some filming on the northern reedbed from the RSPB punt and so gained a rare look at this normally secret  part of the reserve.
The moor is looking very different. The uniform ochres and gold of the seeding grasses are being mown and topped by the reserve staff and a chequerboard effect is created as the brighter green mown areas contrast sharply with the uncut grassland and reedy ditches. The tractor was moving across the field looking as though it was towing three or four Red Kites behind it as if on strings. Ever the scavengers looking for anything that might come to grief under the spinning blades.
Red Kite (c) John Reynolds
On Saturday  we had sustained views of yet another different juvenile Cuckoo being fed by Reed Warblers. Comparative examination of pictures taken last week and this week show marked differences in tone and specific markings. This further supports the view that Cuckoos have had a very successful breeding season on the moor. 
Cuckoo and surrogate (c) Tezzer

The same (c) Tezzer
I don’t recall any juveniles being reported last year. We also had close aerial views of a couple of Buzzards one of which may have been a juvenile, the two birds flew together interacting all the while across Greenaways and Big Otmoor.
Common Buzzard John Reynolds
During the week another or in fact the same Bearded Tit was seen but it still remains very elusive.
Just as last week the main action is out at the first screen where the water levels have now been dropped as far as they will go under gravity, any further fall now will come from evaporation. As this happens even more extensive muddy feeding areas will be exposed and should prove even more attractive to passage waders. RSPB staff and volunteers have added more perches for Kingfishers in front of the screen and they are already providing superb photo opportunities to visitors and excellent fishing for the birds themselves.
Fishing fishers (c ) John Reynolds
The Roman Road is attracting enthusiastic lepidopterists from many parts of the country who are coming to see the Brown Hairstreak  butterflies. They are best seen in the vicinity of the straggly taller ash trees about a hundred or so metres from the car park. On Saturday they were reluctant to descend but with patience and luck they can be seen nectaring on the hedgerow flowers where their delicate markings and subtle beauty can be more easily appreciated.
Brown Hairstreak on ash keys (c) Bark
Migrant Hawker (c) Pete Laws
On Monday afternoon three of us set out for a close up view of the northern reedbed. This was not just a casual jaunt as we were filming material for a movie that we are making about the reserve throughout the year. It really was a privilege to have a Bitterns eye view of this really important habitat. The extent and complexity of the winding waterways and open pools of water cannot really be appreciated by standing on the bund or looking from the screens. From the boat it is a sheltered and uniform environment and surprisingly easy to get lost in. It is no wonder at all that the Bittern or Bitterns are only seen sporadically and that hundreds of Teal and Wigeon can disappear into it in the winter. We encountered a very small fellow traveller in the boat in the form of a Common Shrew that had obviously been living in the upturned punt, when we returned the boat to its place it was still in there and none the worst for its trip round the lagoons.
Shrew stowaway. (c) Tezzer
Elsewhere on Monday there were two Greenshanks on one of the Greenaways scrapes and at least four Wheatears between Greenaways and on Ashgrave by the farm. 
Wheatear (c) Bark

Greenshank (c) Tezzer

Young Kestrel (c) tezzer
A family party of Kestrels has moved back onto the reserve and seem to be favouring the Noke end of Big Otmoor. The Marsh Harriers and Bittern are being seen regularly but as always not predictably.
The returning Wheatears and the mown fields bring the first hints of autumn and with that the potential for less common and more exciting visitors. Change is in the air, but it is our changing seasons that generate both migration and our natural diversity.