Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th July

Bittern over reedbed (c) Bark
Another weekend full of interest and variety. Both days warm and sultry and on Saturday quite rainy. Last week a Bittern was seen most days flying to and fro across the southern reedbed. On Saturday morning I was fortunate enough to get really good views of it first from the screen and later from the bridle way. It flew up from the reeds in response to a flyby from a Marsh Harrier and appeared to pursue it briefly out across Greenaways before returning to the reeds. This was interesting enough but on Sunday morning two Bitterns flew up from the reedbed and had a leisurely fly round over the reeds before settling in the south eastern section. We have speculated that they might be juvenile siblings as Bitterns tend to be loners rather than social birds.
The aforementioned Marsh Harrier is one of two birds that are being seen regularly, one is a very tatty sub-adult male the other a female with much more complete plumage.
Green Sand on Greenaways (c) Bark
 Wader passage is just beginning to get going and small numbers of Green Sandpipers are being seen regularly. Greenshanks are also present and although not always visible can be picked up on call. On Sunday we saw our first Common Sandpiper for about eighteen months. It was seen on the Tern Raft and then later on the southern reedbed. I am sure they occur regularly but with so much habitat they can be tricky to find.
Juvenile Reed Warbler (c) Bark

Juvenile Garden warbler? (c) Bark
There are flocks of juvenile birds moving around the moor in large mixed feeding parties. Standing still in one place and watching them move through the hedgerow, picking up different species and identifying them, is one of the pleasures of this time of year. In fact whilst trapped in the first screen on Saturday morning by a sharp shower I appreciated the virtue of sitting quietly and watching things going on around me. It was then that I saw the Bittern for the first time this weekend, the Great Crested Grebes were displaying and dragging reeds across to where the must be nesting again, two juvenile Water Rails were on the muddy bank and a slightly downy reed Warbler foraged in front of me. Every so often the Common Terns would come very close hunting in the shallows and small parties of snipe would flicker fast and low over the water before disappearing into the edges of the reeds.
Displaying Great Crested Grebe (c) John Reynolds
Feeding Common Tern (c) John Reynolds
On Sunday morning we found three Redstarts in Long Meadow a male, a female and a juvenile. We looked very hard for Spotted Flycatchers which we know have been seen up the hill in Beckley, but not yet this year right down on the moor. There were lots of warblers feeding in the bushes including a couple of very smart Lesser Whitethroats and a few Blackcaps.
The Roman Road continues to be good for Dragonflies and Butterflies and it will not be long now before the Brown Hairstreaks are on the wing alongside their purple cousins. The tall spindly ash trees towards the end of the ride are a favourite location. I finally caught up with a Silver Washed Fritillary on Friday out in the Malt Pit area. A real russet beauty but sadly I failed to get a good picture.
Common Lizard basking in the rain (c) Bark

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Otmoor Saturday and Sunday 12th and 13th July

Juvenile Reed Bunting (c) Bark

Juvenile Tree Creeper (c) Andy Last

Purring Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers

As is usual at this time of year our main interest  has shifted to away from birds and onto the wonderful and varied butterflies, dragonflies and other invertebrates on the reserve. This weekend was no exception and there were lots of interesting species to be found.
First however, on the bird front, there were still some good things to see and some encouraging news about the Turtle Doves. On Saturday morning a very experienced birder saw at least four Turtle Doves along the bridle way, two purring and two possibly even three flying off. We are looking for juvenile birds at the moment to confirm successful breeding and would welcome any confirmed sightings. The first juveniles were found last year on the 10th of July and so a careful look at any birds seen feeding by the cattle pens could be useful. The Glossy Ibis is still around and has been seen most easily from the first screen when it comes in to roost on the muddy island with Little Egrets, however some evenings it goes elsewhere.
There was some very exciting news in the week when two very experienced birders heard a Cettis Warbler calling from the scrub in the ditches along the bridle way. This would be a very welcome return as we have not had any Cettis on the reserve for almost two years. We did have a significant breeding population with at least six calling males, but two consecutive very cold winters wiped them out. Any further records would be welcomed.
There were two different Marsh Harriers present on Sunday. The regular very tatty moulting sub-adult male hunting over Ashgrave and a large mature female seen briefly over the Flood Field.
Redstarts were found in Long Meadow on  Saturday morning, but seemed to have moved on by Sunday.
Blackcap (c) Andy Last
There are large numbers of juvenile birds around in the hedges and the reedbeds and many adult birds are singing again preparatory to second broods, notably at least two Blackcaps along the Roman Road.
Purple Emperor (c) Steve Roby
The highlight of the weekend was a Purple Emperor found in the Roman Rd area on Saturday morning. I only know of one other record of this stunning butterfly on the moor and that was of a male seen along the bridleway about eight years ago. There were lots of other species seen in the same location including a Silver Washed Fritillary, Small Skippers and a fine Brimstone.
Brown Hawker (c) Bark

Female banded Demoiselle (c) Bark

Brimstone (c) Bark

Subtly coloured Small Skipper (c) Bark
Amongst the dragonflies there were freshly emerged Brown Hawkers, Black tailed Skimmers and a metallic emerald female Banded Demoiselle, looking almost jewel like. I missed the Fritillary yet again and I will have yet another go at catching up with her this week.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th July

Adult Little Egret in moult (c) Bark

Juvenile Little Egret note leg colour ( C) Lew
Late Cuckoo (c) Pat Galka

Tufted Ducklings along the track (c) Peter Law

Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers
Scarce Chaser a first for Oxon (c) Tezzer

Red Admiral (c) Bark

Gatekeeper (c) Bark

Meadow Brown (c) Bark

Amourous Damsels (c) Bark

Purple Hairstreak (c) Peter Law

Buttercup yellow Spider sp. (c) Badger
A fascinating weekend on the moor. It was something of a slow burn, starting quietly, but by Sunday evening very exciting.
Saturday was damp and rainy but once things dried up there was plenty to be seen.
I have been predicting the imminent departure of Cuckoos for at least four weeks now but they are still with us and seemingly very late to go. On both days a male could be heard calling and a female was seen perched on a fence post near the hide looking for the opportunity to deposit her egg in a Reed Warbler nest.
There are three newly fledged Common Terns that have been raised on the Tern raft on the northern lagoon. They are now flying round close to the the three adults and learning to hunt. Interestingly on Sunday we twice saw an adult Tern catch fish on the southern lagoon and immediately fly off across Big Otmoor and onto Ashgrave. This may very well suggest that there is another pair with young up on the hidden Ashgrave lagoon.
Also on the reedbed where the dropping water levels have exposed some mud were three newly fledged Water Rails one of them was seen on two separate occasions clambering about in the small willows on the left hand side of the main channel. Also on the reedbed on both Saturday and Sunday was a very tatty moulting Red-crested Pochard a new species for the Otmoor list which itself has been moribund for a number of weeks.
The first piece of exciting news concerned Little Egrets. There have been a large number of these birds scattered over the moor and we estimated that there were at least thirty present on Sunday with a some feeding out at Maltpit, some on Ashgrave and others on the reedbeds, the Flood Field  and at the pool to the north of the Jacob Stone. We have speculated about their breeding for some time and on at least one occasion a bird was seen carrying a twig into the area on Ashgrave where the Herons are nesting. On Sunday whilst showing a visitor the Heron chicks through my scope, I noticed first an adult little Egret landing in the dead Oak and almost immediately another bird joining it but seeming to come up  from lower down the tree. This individual when looked at closely had a plain bill no crest and significantly plain yellowish grey legs with no difference between legs and feet. After consulting Ian Lewington there is no doubt that this is a juvenile bird and it seems very likely that it was raised on Otmoor but that has yet to be confirmed.
The great White Egret seen at Rushy, Farmoor and then heading towards Port Meadow may very well have been seen early on Sunday morning flying along the northern edge of Greenaways.
A Barn Owl was seen hunting over Greenaways on Sunday evening and the Marsh Harrier made occasional appearances on both days.
Other good news included the possible sighting of a family party of Turtle doves seen flying together on Sunday evening, hopefully there will be more to say about this next week.
The most exciting news really only emerged on Sunday evening. As is usual at this time of year we often turn our attention to reptiles and insects until bird migration starts to get going again in August. While walking back from the second screen on Sunday one of our most reluctant dragonfly photographers spotted a large chaser and in a spirit of: “if you cant beat them join them” took some pictures of it and pointed it out to the rest of us. We mostly assumed that it was a Black Tailed Skimmer, but Badger was uncertain and on looking at the book when getting home and then looking at the photos from Tezzer concluded that it was a Scarce Chaser.
He sent the pictures to Wayne Bull and to Richard Lewington the invertebrate expert of the family and both confirmed his identification. We believe that it is a first record for Oxfordshire of this species and expert opinion thinks that it has spread to us from the Northamptonshire population. It is another example of creating good habitat and wildlife finding it.
As the sun came out on Sunday so more and more butterflies were on the wing. Many of them crisp and fresh and newly emerged, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small Tortoiseshells for the most part but with a smattering of other species notably at least six Purple Hairstreaks along the trail to the second screen. I have been told that Silver-washed Fritillaries were seen on the wing nectaring on brambles on the southern edge of Ashgrave last week. I hope to catch up with one of these orange beauties myself over the next couple of weeks and get some pictures. Did someone refer to July and August as the doldrums?
Stop Press :the Great White Egret is now on Big Otmoor (per Stoneshank)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd June Mid Summer

Anxious Redshank (c) Bark

Serene Grebe (c) Bark

Cuckoo awaiting her chance (c) Bark

Goldfinch looking to breed again (c) Bark

Advertising Dunnock (c) Bark

Tufty and offspring (c) Bark
Elusive Ibis (c) Badger

One of the last of the class of 2014 (c) Bark
The Summer Solstice arrived with real summer weather, warm and sunny. Already the effects of a mild spring can be seen in the large numbers of newly fledged birds in the hedgerows. Whilst in no way an empirical judgement my strong feeling is that this has been an exceptionally good year for breeding passerines and also for our breeding waders. Many adult birds are now singing their readiness for a second brood, while others can be seen carrying nesting material. There are still Lapwings and Redshanks with unfledged chicks on most of the fields, but now a passing Kite will only get a few parents coming up to challenge it and the Kites visits are much more sporadic and random.
A large number of ducks in various stages of moult and in eclipse plumage are loafing on the southern lagoon in front of the first screen. There are also still occasional Tufted Ducks, Pochard and Gadwall swimming about with newly hatched ducklings in tow. The water levels on this part of the reedbed have been lowered significantly and this should give us some nice muddy margins and good feeding areas for returning passage waders. Two Oystercatchers favoured the new scrapes on Big Otmoor and were present both days.
The Glossy Ibis was still present this weekend but was very reluctant to show itself, the grass is now very high across the reserve and even herons dropping down into it disappear. The Heronry has two pairs of chicks that are getting very large on both of the nests. It will be very interesting to see how the heronry develops over the next few years and whether or not the ever present Little Egrets will move in as breeders.
A Marsh Harrier was seen hunting over both the reedbeds and over Greenaways. Three Ravens, one a younger bird spent over an hour perched up on the fence in the middle of Big Otmoor, perhaps suggesting local breeding. Hobbies as usual took advantage of the very abundant dragonflies. Cuckoos were still trying to deposit eggs in Reed Warbler nests and at least three were present.
As is usual at this time of year when the birding goes a little quieter, interest shifts to the abundant and varied invertebrate life on the moor, especially Dragonflies and Butterflies. A Clouded Yellow was seen over the weekend and good numbers of Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and Ringlets could be found. July’s Meadow (to the south of the main Hide) is particularly good as it has a rich flora and is being managed partly for butterflies. I failed to find any of the Black Hairstreaks that were reported last week from the footpath just outside the carpark, but they are on the wing and are worth seeking out. Any records from around the reserve would be welcome. Next month  the Silver Washed Fritillaries will be on the wing and sometimes straying out of the woods onto Ashgrave. The silver in their name does not reflect their stunning orange- gold colouration and I really look forward to seeing such beauties on the reserve, flitting in the sunshine like flying tangerines.
Finally after the negative vandalism reported last week it is great to have the opportunity to report something much more positive. When coming through Beckley it is worth stopping and having a quick look at the newly decorated phone box, a brilliant artwork from the children of the village primary school, their teachers and parents. Well done.
Bug Supplement
Black Tailed Skimmer (c) Badger

Clouded Yellow (c) Badger
Marbled White (c) Bark

Skipper sp. (c) Bark

Ringlet ? (c) Bark

Red Admiral (c) Bark

Long Horned Beetle (c) Bark

Monday, 16 June 2014

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th June

Cuckoo (c) Pat Galka

Common Tern and Red Kite (c) John Reynolds

Hobby (c) John Reynolds

Singing Sedgie (c) John Reynolds

Treecreeper (c) Bark

Great Crested Grebelets (c) Bark

Lapwing with very small chicks (c) Bark

Common Lizard both pics (c) Bark

Broad bodied Chaser (c) John Reynolds

Common Spotted Orchid (c) Bark
A very mixed weekend with interesting possibilities on the avian front and further depressing events on the human front.
The weather on Saturday was warm and humid after the massive thunderstorms of Friday night and on Sunday it was grey and gloomy all morning as if reflecting the mood after England's defeat by Italy.
The good news on the bird front first. The Glossy Ibis seems to have adopted the moor, certainly for the summer and perhaps until it completes its moult. The Marsh Harrier was seen occasionally and the Turtle Doves continue to draw a crowd. Hobbys continue to chase down dragonflies over the whole area as the mornings draw on. As well as the fully fledged juvenile Lapwings seen last weekend there are still active nests out on Big Otmoor. On Sunday there was a Lapwing parent with three very small chicks in front of the hide, perhaps a second attempt at breeding after nest predation. Snipe were drumming on both days and at times up to five individuals could be seen.
I picked up a new species for my BTO square on Thursday morning when I found a family party of Treecreepers to the north of the flood field. On Sunday I saw a juvenile Nuthatch amongst a mixed flock of young birds, mostly Long Tailed Tits, near the feeders, this is an unusual record for this part of the reserve. Cuckoos are still frequent around the reserve and surely will depart very soon. There appears to be an additional pair of Common Terns around the hide and the bridleway ditches. They are different to the the birds out on the Tern Raft that now have three chicks and are very active in chasing off intruders, they are not in the least bit intimidated by size, as the picture from John Reynolds shows.
Most intriguing sighting this weekend was a Bittern seen independently by two different birders flying across Big Otmoor and landing out on one of the large vegetated ditches on Greenaways. I think that this is the first summer record for Bittern on Otmoor. It could be a young bird or a failed breeder but any further observations would be useful. Three Greenshanks flew in on Sunday morning possibly the ones that had been seen at Farmoor earlier and a Quail was heard calling from the eastern side of Greenaways.
There was a fine female Common Lizard basking on a log by the first screen and Common Spotted Orchids in bloom beside the visitor trail. We spent some time on Sunday rescuing a large Brown Rat from the feeders where it had got stuck, it escaped eventually with a little help and hopefully will eventually help feed our owls.
Finally the depressing part. More vandalism occurred on Thursday evening, as ever mindless and pointless in nature. It involved damage to screens and theft of our punt. The boat has been recovered and we have a very good idea of the identity of the two individuals involved. The police have been informed and are actively pursuing the matter. Sadly it doesn’t stop there. On Friday a number of cars were broken into in the carpark and several items were stolen. It is important not to leave valuables in vehicles and to be observant and careful around the whole area.