Monday, 23 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd March

Male Linnet All pictures this week courtesy of JR
This weekend the weather flipped between warm and chilly, windy and calm and sunny and drear. The pleasant qualities present on Sunday the negative on Saturday. I went down with high expectations of picking up newly arriving migrants, such as Garganey, Sand Martins and perhaps Little Ringed Plovers, but sadly they all failed to show up. On both days however the reserve was full of avian activity.
Lapwings are now holding territory calling and swooping. They hurtle recklessly towards the ground above their chosen plots before pulling out of their dives at the last moment, like stunt pilots in an airshow. RSPB staff who are monitoring nesting success have already found over fifteen Lapwing nests
Redshank numbers have continued to rise and my subjective judgement is that there are more present this year than at the same time last year. It may be that last year’s successful breeding season has meant that more birds are returning to breed. There are at least twenty out on the field to the west of the visitor trail to the second screen. They are chasing about and calling a lot but have yet to settle into full breeding behaviour.
Redshank and Dunlin,  Noke Sides
They are accompanied by twelve Dunlin. One of which appeared to look larger than the others and caused some interest, the bird concerned was bathing and preening and probably looked larger and whiter because it had fluffed up all its feathers and was not creeping about as it fed. It was nonetheless a Dunlin. A single Black Tailed Godwit was seen on both Friday and at the weekend commuting between different field to feed. There are very large numbers of Snipe out on Greenaways. It is almost impossible to count them as they hunch down in the tussocks or relocate from time to time. On Friday a flock of sixty two were seen flying between the Closes and Greenaways.
Heron with nesting material
Grey Herons continue to show signs of breeding out in the reedbed. There may in fact be three pairs present, several different birds were seen carrying nesting material out there and were quick to respond to any threats from raptors or other Herons.
There are still well over a hundred finches and buntings coming in to feed on the seed near the hide. Many of the male Linnets are coming into breeding colours and are looking very smart.
There are still a small flock of Golden Plover present I counted one hundred and forty on Saturday morning. Wigeon are also still present but again in much smaller numbers, there are always a handful that linger on until late spring, a few even stay the whole year. Twenty or so Pintail are out on Big Otmoor and one very obliging pair were feeding in the pool in just front of the hide. Two Shelduck were present on Saturday but gone by Sunday. Shovelers are all over the place and busily engaged in courtship with parties of bachelor drakes chasing individual females around the sky and then splashing down onto the lagoons where they indulge in a frantic, head bobbing display.
Pintail pair in front of the hide

It was a quiet weekend for raptors. The Marsh Harrier appears to have moved on as it was not seen or reported. The Merlin was again seen further up Otmoor lane but I had no reports of Peregrines.It may be that as the large numbers of prey species have diminished so they have moved on or have gone somewhere else to breed. Last weekend an Osprey was seen moving northwards over the reserve which has added yet another species to the yearlist. It now stands at ninety seven species and hopefully by next weekend will top the ton.

Stop Press Great news four Bearded Tits were found by Stoneshank this morning near the kissing gate close to the hide and Marsh Harrier was seen this weekend on Sunday and so was Peregrine on Saturday.
Several Song Thrushes are holding territory over the reserve.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th March

Amorous Shovelers (c) Tezzer
A nagging north easterly wind made for a cold weekend even when the sun made its occasional appearances. However the momentum of spring and the urge to reproduce was not held up by the weather. Lapwings and Redshanks were the principal players this weekend. The Lapwings were disputing territory amongst each other, looping and calling to attract a mate and occasionally chasing off invading birds from their chosen area, whether of their own species or not. Redshank numbers have gone up massively over the last week and on Saturday and Sunday there were at least twenty individuals feeding on the flooded field to the west of the path to the second screen. That is not to mention many others scattered over the other fields in singles and pairs. Their ringing calls were certainly the default sound of the weekend.

Redshank on Ashgrave (c) Bark (phonescoped)
Amongst the Redshank at the side of the trail were fifteen Dunlin and a further smaller number were feeding amongst the, by now much diminished group of Golden Plover. There are now only a hundred or so on the reserve where three weeks ago there were over two thousand. On both days two Curlew were feeding on and flying over Greenaways calling loudly. At one time on Sunday morning they landed relatively close to the bridleway, giving excellent views to some visitors. A single Oystercatcher was on Big Otmoor and later relocated to the lagoon on Ashgrave. Two Shelduck also were there on Saturday.
Little egret over reedbed (c) Tezzer
The first Wheatear of the year was found on Saturday morning in the sheep-fields to the west of the reserve but sadly by the time we arrived there en masse to see it it had moved on. There will hopefully be many more through in the coming weeks.
Wheatear on sheepfields (c) Pete Roby (record shot)
What appears to be yet another different Marsh Harrier was present this weekend. it was hunting over the whole reserve and on Sundaywe saw it unsuccessfully try to take a Teal. We also saw it in a dispute with the larger (presumably female) Peregrine of the two that were around on Sunday. Sparrowhawks, two different individuals and two Kestrels were also seen on both days.
Great Crested Grebes preparing to breed on the northern lagoon. (c) Tezzer
There are surprisingly large numbers on Herons on the moor. I counted ten on Greenaways alone. They look as though they have abandoned the nest site directly out from the hide and would instead appear to be preparing to breed in the reedbed. They did this a couple of years ago. They are certainly defending an area in the reedbed both from raptors and also other Herons.
The reserve is currently holding high numbers of Shovellers both on the reedbed and on Big Otmoor. The males are particularly handsome in their brightest breeding plumage and often groups of males pursue lone females in low fast flights. There are still a good number of Wigeon present and at least twenty Pintail are still out in the middle of Big Otmoor.
Francis Rossi still here with Old Lags (c) Badger
The path south from the screen is still attracting lots of birds to feed on the seed that is being spread there. Although the large numbers of Linnets have declined there are still well in excess of a hundred other finches feeding, particularly Reed Buntings. Most attractive are the stock Doves that are taking advantage of it. On Sunday morning there were fifteen of these subtly beautiful Doves feeding quite close to the hide.
Stock Dove (c) Tezzer
A walk along the Roman Road on Sunday yielded four Tree Creepers and a number of Goldcrests. In four weeks time it will be ringing with the sound of Chiff Chaffs and Willow Warblers it really is a most exciting time of year.
Song thrush (c) Bark

Monday, 9 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th March

Redshank (c) JR
Despite the strong breeze this weekend, it really felt like spring. The wind was coming up from the south and on Saturday if you were out of the wind the sun was warm. The wildlife really reflected this change in the season with courtship and display going on everywhere, fresh butterflies, basking snakes and newly awoken bumble bees added to the picture.

Grass Snake and Brimstone (c) Pete Law
The stars of the show are still the Golden Plovers although not present this week in quite such large numbers, we estimated a thousand or so. They are restless and wary. They spend a lot of time airborne with large flocks and sub-flocks crossing and blending overhead. It was described to me last week as a blizzard of birds and as they bank in the sunshine their bellies do flash white like storm driven snowflakes.
Goldies (c) Bark

Blizzard of Goldie (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey
Lapwings are now holding territory, the males making a number of shallow scrapes and displaying loudly and dramatically over them. The females select the scrape they prefer and after lining it with a little vegetation lay their clutch of four eggs into it. It was very noticeable this weekend that when any of the Red Kites passed overhead they were promptly challenged by five or six Lapwings. This is behaviour we have not seen since last year.

Wren, Dunnock and Canada Geese all shouting (c) JR
There were over twenty Curlew present on Saturday although by Sunday there were fewer seen. They are favouring the soft ground on the northern side of Greenaways. At times they  appear and disappear as they are hidden or revealed by the deceptive rises and falls in the field.
Redshanks (c) JR
Of our other breeding waders it was noticeable this weekend how many more Redshank have appeared. They can be seen feeding around the edges of the scrapes and heard calling loudly when they fly. They are certainly present in double figures and as we go through the next few weeks their numbers will increase and their presence become even more obvious as they start to pair up and display. Snipe have yet to start “drumming” but there was a flock of over twenty flying around Greenaways on Sunday and isolated parties of two or three flushing up from the flooded grassland. Two Jack Snipe were found out at the Pill on Saturday and there was possibly another seen on Greenaways on Sunday. A Blackcap was singing intermittently at the Pill and two Stonechats were seen in the same place.
Stonechat (c) Bark
There are higher numbers of Stonechats around on the moor at present. It may well be a part of their migration back to the breeding areas, but with the number being reported from different parts of the reserve there are more than we had with us for the bulk of the winter. Our booming Bittern has gone quiet although the wind was not conducive to persuading a Bittern to call. The one heard for the last couple of weeks may have been an immature bird or perhaps a European winter visitor.
Sparrowhawk (c) JR
A very large female Sparrowhawk that was chasing the Goldies gave a us a moment of excitement but was indeed a Sparrowhawk and not something larger and more exciting!
A Ringed Plover, the first this year, was spotted feeding out on fields to the west of the trail to the second screen. The Bearded Tits are still with us, as at least one was heard from the reed fringing at the Noke end of Ashgrave. They become very secretive as they get into breeding mode and we can only hope that they might reproduce again successfully this year. There is still a much reduced, but according to reports very active Starling roost. I cannot believe that it will go on much longer as birds disperse either back to the continent or to breed in this country.
Starling Roost (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey
A Grey Heron was sitting on the nest, out from the hide on Sunday. There have also been several Little Egrets loitering in the same area and perhaps this will be the year that we add them to our list of breeding birds.
With steady southerly winds our first passage migrants are due. I would not be surprised to find a Wheatear, perhaps Garganey or some other interesting bird coming through this week.
Coltsfoot in bloom (c) Bark


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Saturday and Sunday 28th February and 1st March

Stock Dove (c) JR
Failed to make it down to the moor last weekend due to building work at home, so was eager to see and experience to the changes that come fast at this time of year.
The weather was very mixed grey and soggy on Saturday and in complete contrast bright, sunny and windy on Sunday. The birds of the weekend were without doubt the huge numbers of Golden Plovers that are all over the moor at present. They kept up a continuous murmuring and frequently would flush from the ground flying fast and weaving rapidly to avoid either real or imagined predators. In the sunshine on Sunday they flashed white as they wheeled and when they flew low over head you could hear the rush of air over their wings. We estimated two and a half thousand birds in total. Some of them are beginning to acquire the distinctive black belly of their breeding plumage.

Goldies (c) JR
There are both resident and winter visiting Lapwings present, the former beginning to call and display with their distinctive looping flight. The first nest is usually found on or about the twenty first of March. The Curlew are now up to eighteen as of Monday and they are mostly feeding on the northern edge of Greenways. There were Redshank calling on the Closes on both days and as the next few pass so their numbers should also rise. Small parties of Snipe are present but only give their presence away when they relocate or flush from a low flying raptor.
Curlew (c) Tezzer

14 of the 18 (c) JR
The feeding programme near the hide is continuing to pull in the birds . At least a hundred Reed Buntings are taking advantage of it now although the number of Linnets has fallen off a little from their maxima of four weeks ago.
Linnets lined up for lunch (c) JR
The seed is now attracting stock doves and as of today (Monday) there were thirty eight of these beautiful and much underrated Doves taking advantage of the bounty. Two Red legged Partridge were feeding in the same area and helped boost the yearlist by one.
Stock doves (c)JR

Red legged Partridges (c) JR
There is still a regular Marsh Harrier over the reedbed. Merlin was seen on Sunday along with Peregrine and Sparrowhawk. Kestrel, Buzzard and Red Kites are almost always seen.

Marsh Harrier (c) JR
There are still significant numbers of wildfowl on the moor, many of them displaying and pursuing mates with vigour, while others already seem settled into pairs. There were thirty four Pintail on the pools at the western end of Big Otmoor on Sunday morning.

Pintail, paired Shoveller and amourous Pochard (c) JR
A Grey Heron was standing on the nest in front of the hide where two pairs nested last year. The nest appears to have had fresh material added to it. There are also three Little Egrets hanging out in the same area.

Sadly we did not hear any booming from the Bittern this weekend but there have been regular reports of it over the last two weeks. As we move into the next few weeks excitement will grow as summer birds and passage visitors start to arrive, I cant wait.
Bud munching Bullfinch (c) JR

Monday, 16 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th February

Valentines Day Swans (c) Bark
It was grey, moist and a bit foggy both days this weekend. On Saturday however, because of the nature of the mist it was extremely atmospheric and beautiful. The mist came and went in shifting veils, lit through sometimes  by a hazy sun, which appeared and disappeared all morning.  At times it felt as though one was walking through a watercolour painting. On Sunday the greyness was more uniform and made birding difficult and photography almost impossible.
Magical misty light (c) Bark
Earlier on Saturday morning during one of my occasional spots on Radio Oxford I had said that St. Valentines Day was mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer as the day that the birds found their mate for the year. On Saturday morning they certainly looked to be out to prove the old folklore true. Two pairs of Mute swans were going through their courtship rituals on the first scrape on Greenaways.
Necking Swans
It was beautiful to see their synchronised head movements and mutual preening, coming and going in the still grey water against a diffuse misty background. In the carpark field two Songthrushes were getting their vocal chords going, Chaffinches sang from the hedgerow, Great Spotted Woodpeckers drummed in the Roman Road and a Greenfinch slurred out its song near the feeders.
While we still have large numbers of visiting Lapwings on the reserve one or two of the, presumably resident, birds were starting to swoop and call over chosen territories.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) JR
Large numbers of Golden Plover are still with us. One flock of over a thousand flushed up from Greenaways as one of the two Marsh Harriers, which were seen this weekend, passed over. The Marsh Harriers are easily told apart, one has a lot of creamy marking on its head, the other almost none. Peregrines were again noticeable often perching in their favourite tree to the west of the visitor trail.
Bearded Tits were heard but not to my knowledge seen this weekend .I heard them pinging in the southern half of the reedbed fifty metres or so past the turning to the second screen on Saturday morning. There are certainly two calling Cetti’s Warblers in the reedbed one at the northern end the other near to the first screen, where one was also seen on Saturday. Two Black- tailed Godwits were found on Big Otmoor during last week and were a new addition to the year list, as was a Chiffchaff seen by the second screen. The White fronted geese are still with us as is the Ross’s goose which for all its dubious provenance is still a very attractive bird.
Ross's Goose out in front (c) JR
Damp Hare (c) JR
It is not just the birds that are responding to the oncoming spring. Frogs are croaking from the ditches, two Brown Hares behaved as though it was next month already, leaping and boxing on the bund between the reedbeds and a weasel did its strange sinuous “weasely” dance close to the second screen.
Weasel second screen (c) JR
As is usual on my Radio Oxford chat, the interviewer asked me at the end what I hoped to see this weekend. I replied that I wasn’t looking to see anything particular this weekend but I would really like to hear a Bittern booming and a Bittern booming is what I heard on Sunday morning. I heard three loud deep booms from the south western quadrant of the northern reedbed. I was on my own and had just begun to doubt myself a bit, when I was joined by Mark Chivers and then the bird boomed again twice and I could be sure that I hadn’t imagined it. It sounded like strong full bodied boom unlike one of our previous boomers that really only grunted.

Next time I’m on the radio I’m going to wish for a Penduline Tit. Who knows it could happen…….
Wigeon (c) JR