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.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Saturday and Sunday 2nd and 3rd August

Reed Warbler (c) John Reynolds
Young Little Grebes (c) John Reynolds
Roe Doe from the first screen (c) John Reynolds
Contrasting weather over the weekend with Saturday showery and cloudy whilst Sunday was warm and sunny though breezy. Both days had their highlights but Sunday was more eventful and with the finer weather there were more butterflies to be seen.
Waders are now regular across the reserve with both Greenshanks and Green Sands being seen on both days. First thing in the morning they can be seen feeding on the Greenaways scrapes but flush easily as the morning traffic along the bridleway builds up. 

Snipe from first screen (c) John Reynolds
The place to be is out at the first screen where the muddy margins and shallow lagoons are providing great feeding and loafing opportunities for Snipe, eclipse ducks and other waterfowl. 
Lapwing (c) John Reynolds
A post breeding flock of Lapwings are present and amongst them are the last fledged juveniles from this year, noticeable by their yellow faces, tiny crests and fringed plumage. 
It is also very popular with Little Egrets and Grey Herons the latter never very happy to be feeding close to each other and are frequently involved in minor scuffles and disputes. With patience it is possible to get really good views of Water Rails here. Both adult and juveniles can be seen as they venture out onto the mud or move from one area of cover to another. The habitat looks superb for Spotted Crake and as they have been seen here in the past and at this time of year it is worth looking carefully at the edges of the reeds. It is always good to be optimistic.
Biting off more than it can chew (c) John Reynolds
A family of Little Grebes is present and the young birds, still sporting some of their bulls-eye plumage, are learning to catch fish and sometimes biting off more than they can chew.
A few Yellow Wagtails are being both seen and heard now. They can frequently be spotted feeding around the feet of the grazing cattle or coming in to roost in the reedbed in the evening. The number of Starlings using the reedbed to roost in is already going up and on Sunday evening there was an estimate of three thousand coming in at dusk.
Marsh Harrier (c) John Reynolds
Both of the regular Marsh Harriers have been seen frequently, on Saturday morning the juvenile male was watched being harried and mobbed across Greenaways by a pair of Ravens. A Peregrine was seen and on Sunday at least five Hobbys were reported.

Bittern Monday morning. Both pics(c) John Reynolds
Although I am not aware of any Bitterns being seen over the weekend as I write this on Monday morning I have just been told that there has been a lot of aerial activity of one and possibly two Bitterns over the southern reedbed in the last half hour. Not just the normal rapid flit from one side to the other but a much slower and leisurely fly around.
Reedy (c) Bark
Record shot of juv Cuckoo (c) Bark
One of the highlights of my weekend was finding a juvenile Cuckoo still being fed by its surrogate parents in the hedge adjoining the bridle way. Sadly it was almost impossible to see what the parent birds were as the Cuckoo made itself very difficult to see shortly after we found it. This is the third young Cuckoo that I have heard about this year and it might suggest that they have had a good season.
Cryptic Speckled Wood (c) Bark

Brown Argus (c) Bark

Small Copper (c) Bark

Common Blue (c) Bark
Butterflies were very much in evidence on Sunday morning with Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Copper all showing beautifully along the trail to the second screen where there is a profusion of brambles in flower. The gem however was a pristine female Brown Hairstreak along the Roman Road. Careful looking in these less frequented and more sheltered places will often turn up something interesting or beautiful or, as in this and other cases, both.

Brown Hairstreak (c) Bark