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

Monday, 9 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 7 th and 8 th February

Male Peregrine (c) JR
Two very contrasting days this weekend. Saturday could not have been more dank, grey and dreary, whereas in complete contrast Sunday was a sparkling, sunny day and felt much warmer. It seemed like an early spring day and the behaviour of the birds reflected it.
Wigeon over the reedbed (c) JR
The recent cold spell does not seem to have deterred the wildfowl from staying. There seems always to have been some open water somewhere. On Saturday morning on the large open lead at the northern reedbed lagoon I counted well in excess of six hundred Wigeon.

Shoveller and Gadwall (c) JR
There are good numbers of Shoveller and Gadwall, the males of both species looking very bright and smart in their best breeding plumage. There are still a few Pintail present but they spend most of their time out on the more distant pools of Big Otmoor.
Pintail (c) JR
One or other of he two Peregrines was seen several times on both days. The smaller male with a couple of secondaries missing, was seen in flight stooping down on Teal and also Snipe. We did not see it hunt successfully. The large female is still spending a lot of time in the big Oak tree across the field from the trail to the second screen. The Marsh Harrier is clearly wandering some distance from the moor as it was not seen over the weekend but was noted on Thursday last week.
Singing Lark (c) JR
The sunshine on Sunday encouraged Larks and Chaffinches to start singing, clearly proper spring is not too far away. As we reached the turn on the trail towards the second screen I heard a Nuthatch calling from the large poplars. After a minute or so we managed to locate it as it made its way along the hedge, sitting on top of a bush for a few seconds before moving on. They are regular in the Roman Road area but uncommon out on the moor. It shows how important big hedgerows are, as corridors for wildlife to move along.
Record shot of Nuthatch (c) JR
I had no reports of the Bearded Tits this weekend. On Thursday however four were seen and heard in the reedy margins of Ashgrave up towards Noke.
Bouncing Linnet (c) JR

Reed Bunt (c) Andy Last
The flock of Reed Buntings, a few Yellowhammers, some Chaffinches and the flock of now over three hundred Linnets are providing a real spectacle at the hide, as well as enticing in a Sparrowhawk that seems to have only one leg..... Long John Sparrow? (mixing my pirate references!)
Feeding Bullfinch (c) JR
Bullfinches continue to show beautifully in the carpark field and are still very confiding.
The White-fronted Geese now appear to be firmly attached to the Greylag flock and were feeding out on the pastures to the south of the Closes and the Carpark field.
Whitefronts (c) JR
The Merlin was spotted twice over the weekend and seems to be favouring the fields either side of Otmoor Lane, near the stables. It is however notoriously elusive and is usually seen more by luck than by patient searching.
A Common Gull on Sunday progressed the yearlist, I wonder how long it will be before we get to a hundred species for the year.
Singing Robin (c) JR

Monday, 2 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 31st January and 1st February

Long-tailed Tit (c) JR
It was a cold weekend with a light dusting of snow on the ground on Saturday and a strong gusty bitter northerly wind blowing on Sunday.
Most interest and spectacle revolved around the large numbers of birds. Lapwings and Golden Plovers out on the fields to the west of the reserve, Linnets and Reed Buntings coming down to feed on the grain by the hide and large grazing flocks of Wigeon.
Large numbers of birds inevitably attract predators and all the usual raptors were there this weekend. However Marsh Harrier was only seen to my knowledge on Saturday.
Well filled Peregrine note missing secondaries on left wing (c) JR
We watched a really interesting interaction between a Peregrine, a Red Kite and a Buzzard on Saturday morning over Greenaways. The Peregrine was repeatedly attacking both the Kite and the Buzzard and several times both at once. It clearly swooped down to drive one or other of them off the ground and eventually settled on the ground itself. Several minutes later it got up and flew strongly towards us and over our heads, we were at the first screen, and it  was obvious from its bulging crop that it had been eating. We guessed that it had made a kill and one of the others had tried to take it over, but I suppose that it may simply have been scavenging or indeed misappropriated another birds kill. From its size we assumed that it was a male. It was great to get such a good view of this apex predator. It then made its way over towards the oak trees, where it is often seen perched, to digest its meal. Other predators in action included a Grey Heron dispatching a bank vole by the second screen on Sunday not a sight for the squeamish!
Bullfinches continue to delight in the carpark field. (c) JR
A Merlin is being seen quite frequently along Otmoor Lane, sometimes flying along in front of vehicles. Probably the same bird made a fast pass through the carpark field on Saturday morning.
A Bittern was seen re-locating in the reedbed on Saturday and it will not be very long before we should be listening out for booming. On some RSPB reserves they have already started.
The three White-fronted Geese are still present. I couldn't work out on Sunday whether they were tagging along behind the Canada Geese or out in front of the Greylags, when all of the geese flushed from the direction of the Flood Field.
Marsh Tit near the feeders (c) JR
Marsh Tit only made it onto the yearlist last week but there are now two of them in Morleys, one is coming regularly to the feeders and the other frequenting the bushes in the carpark.
When the weather is so cold animals hunker down out of the wind, if possible in the sunshine and are very reluctant to leave the warm sheltered spots that they have established. So it is with Hares. They like to occupy the drier higher ground now that the fields are much wetter, they particularly like the bunds that surround the reedbed. As one walks along they leave it to the very last moment to burst out of hiding and streak off it can very alarming if you are not expecting it.
Hare (c) Tezzer
The Redshank both seen and heard last week is of course the first of many. As we move through the month we should see the first Curlew appearing and probably a few Ruff feeding on the  wetter fields with  the Lapwings and the Goldies. We are certainly in the grip of winter at the moment but as it loosens changes will occur and the seasons will roll round again.
Chilly Robin (c) Bark

Monday, 26 January 2015

Saturday and Sunday 24 th and 25 th January

Male Bullfinch (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Dawn (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey
A bright and sunny weekend for the most part but frosty early on. It is currently a real pleasure to make your way through the carpark field and along the bridle way preceded and at times accompanied by Bullfinches. They are particularly confiding as they munch their way through the blackthorn buds. They really stand out, glowing cerise against the bare branches in the low sunshine. The females are more subtly coloured but they too look wonderful in the sun.
Female Bullfinch (c) Andy Last
It was a very “birdy” weekend with some additions to the year-list and some good views of some of our scarcer residents.
New for the year was a Marsh Harrier on Sunday. It worked the reedbed and spent some time perched at the top on one of the bare willows on the northern sector. It is quite unusual to have one here at this time of the year, normally we would only expect to see them during the late spring, summer and early autumn. The bird appears to be  a juvenile and from its size is probably a female. It is very dark chocolate brown with a very pale head  and face.
Female Beardy (c) Bark
Bearded Tits featured well on Saturday but had disappeared again by Sunday. There may well be more than one group of them. They were heard and seen in the regular area near the Noke turn at the same time as being heard and later seen in the reeds beside the path to the first screen. We only actually saw one there, a female feeding at the top of the reed stems. Despite showing really well all my photographs fail to show its head and when they do the bird is out of focus! There are several Song Thrushes hunting snails along the paths, occasionally they can be seen or heard battering them open on convenient stones.
Songthrush (c) JR
The Marsh Harrier on Sunday clearly spooked the Bittern and we saw the two of them flying together, the Bittern landing and then flushing again as the Harrier hassled it. Good to know that  Bittern is still in residence and next month we will be eagerly listening out for any vocalisations. There are definitely two Cettis Warblers on the reserve at present with one half way along the bridle way and the other out at the second screen.
Wildfowl flush over reedbed (c) Bark

Teal (c) JR
When the first volley of shots rang out from the rifle range on Sunday a vast number of duck, principally Wigeon but also Teal flushed up from Greenaways. We estimated that there were well over two thousand wildfowl in the air at the same time, it was very spectacular. After milling around for  a while most of the Teal settled on the reedbed and the Wigeon on Big Otmoor. There were at least twenty Pintail out in the same area and good numbers of Shoveller.
Pintail pair (c) JR
Most of the Golden Plovers are feeding out on the fields to the west of the reserve. From time to time they would flush and fly round rapidly in response to threats both real and imagined. Once again Peregrines can be seen sitting out on the trees to the left of the trail to the second screen. The Lapwings that flew up from Greenaways on Saturday morning were accompanied by at least seven or eight Dunlin.
Finch flock (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
The finch flock by the hide is attracting a lot of attention from visitors. It offers the opportunity to see the diverse range of Reed Bunting plumages as they moult out of winter into mature summer dress. There is still the chance that the flock will attract some other species to join in the seed bonanza.
The Starling roost continues but has changed. The birds seem to be assembling out on Ashgrave and then flying round with some of them roosting in the hedges beside Ashgrave and the Closes and others returning to the reedbed as it gets dark. It was certainly spectacular on Wednesday night although the number of birds participating has reduced. It is currently best viewed from the bridle way or the path to July’s Meadow.
Moorhen on ice (c) JR
Greylags (c) Bark