Tuesday, 17 October 2017

14th & 15th October

The weekend was a mix of overcast mornings and warm sunny afternoons and evenings. I saw people in short sleeved shirts, and kids in shorts, as everyone enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather. Not what you normally expect in the middle of October. No wonder the winter birds haven’t turned up yet, it still feels like summer.

Last week there was a nice female Brambling in with the mixed finch flock at the Wetlands Watch Hide. We couldn’t find it on the weekend so it’s probably passed through. The RSPB are putting out seed for the birds along the track so it’s always worth checking through the feeding birds for something unusual. It is also a great place to get some close photos of the birds.

Brambling courtesy of Pete Roby

This is the time of year to listen out for the high pitched “tseep” call of the Redwings as they fly overhead. This is how we picked up a few small flocks flying around from the bridleway. I was hoping for a picture of one on the reserve this weekend but they haven’t arrived in numbers yet. They are often heard after dark as they migrate, so listen out for them if you are outside in the evenings.

Even though Greenaways often looks empty it’s always worth a scan with the bins or a scope. Straight away we got onto a nice couple of Roe Deer that are often out in the middle of the filed. Another six Roe Deer can often be seen over Noke Sides as you walk up to the second screen. Further panning over Greenaways turned up a Sparrowhawk sat on a post, a Kestrel on another, unfortunately no sign of the Merlin, but there were at least four Stonechat perching up on top of some distant rushes. It’s difficult to get an accurate count of the Stonechat but there could easily be eleven or more on Otmoor at the moment. Six were seen at the Pill area on Saturday morning and another three were at Noke, with at least another two or more on Greenaways. A Whinchat was reported with the Stonechat on Greenaways on Sunday so there is still a chance to catch up with one of those passing through.

Stonechat courtesy of Tezzer

On Saturday four Redpoll were seen feeding on rosebay willowherb along the track to the first screen. A nice bird to catch up with on the reserve and the second sighting this week. Hopefully there will be more sightings in the coming weeks. They flew towards the bridleway where there is another patch of rosebay willowherb but they weren’t seen again. Siskin was also reported in the week and again from the Wetlands Watch Hide on the weekend.

Lesser Redpoll courtesy of John Reynolds

Around a hundred Lapwing were seen flying around north of the reserve and small flocks of Golden Plover flew overhead calling and circling the reserve. The largest flock was eighty one birds and we should get more turning up in the coming weeks. They always look great as they twist and turn in the sunshine

The male and female Marsh Harriers were seen drifting around the reserve as usual and what great birds they are. We see them so often it’s easy to take them for granted but what a loss they would be to the reserve if they ever left. There were at least two Bitterns, and possibly three seen flying about on Saturday and Sunday over the reed bed, and also over Greenaways from the bench along the bridleway. During the week around 150 Pied Wagtails were seen gathering around the reed bed before going to roost.

Pied Wagtail courtesy of John Reynolds

Five Water Rails were heard squealing along the ditches from the car park to the second screen, and at least five Cetti’s warblers acted like motion detectors as they blasted out their calls whenever you walked past. From the hedgerows we could hear the piping call of the Bullfinches and the busy calls of the Long Tailed Tits as the mixed tit flocks passed along. There are still a few Chiffchaffs flitting around with the tit flocks as well as the tiny Goldcrests. I was beginning to think that the excellent male Hen Harrier had left as it hadn’t been reported since last Wednesday, but we managed to see it on Sunday afternoon hunting along the back hedge of Greenaways. If it hangs on until next Monday I might have to bake it a cake as it would have been on the reserve for a year.

Marsh Tits and a Tree Creeper were seen along the Roman road and a very tame Wheatear was seen out at the Pill on the weekend.

Wheatear courtesy of Pete Roby

With hurricane Ophelia passing close by you never know, it might just blow something new onto the reserve this week!


The Roby’s

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th October

The days of the weekend were quite different with Saturday consisting mostly of strong westerly winds and grey cloud, and Sunday being much milder with hardly any wind at all, and long periods of sunshine. Saturday included a new bird for the Otmoor year list and on Sunday one of the regulars saw two Bitterns flying from Greenaways into the reed bed.

Bittern courtesy of Tezzer

On Saturday morning I looked out of my bedroom window towards Beckley mast and it was shrouded in mist. I thought the moor would be covered in fog so I’ll just have another five minutes in bed before going down there to check. I closed my eyes for another five minutes and woke up an hour and twenty minutes later! Over a coffee I checked the excellent Oxonbirding and found that I had missed a Whooper Swan right in front of the first screen. An excellent find, and one that I wish I had been there to see. Well it might still be there I thought, I’ll go and take a look. 

Whooper Swan courtesy of Nick Truby

The first Redwing of the autumn had been seen early on Saturday morning in the car park field (Moreys) but I didn’t catch up with one this weekend. Maybe next weekend. I caught a glimpse of something blue and white out of the corner of my eye as I walked up the track from the car park and a Jay flew overhead carrying an acorn in its beak. This is the time of year when they seem to be much more obvious as they stash the acorns for later on. A party of Bullfinch made their way along the hedge by the Closes and flew ahead calling to each other as they made their way towards the bridleway. There has been a Marsh Tit visiting the feeders recently but it wasn’t there when I had a quick check through the birds. 

A Cettis warbler blasted out its call as I got to the bridleway. They seem to like calling from deep within the bushes as you approach, just to let you know they are there, where you can’t see them. The Cettis call was soon followed by a Water Rails squealing call from the ditch nearby. Another skulking bird that you hear more often that you see. A scan over Greenaways turned up two Ravens flying over and four Stonechat opposite the bench along the bridleway. Another Jay flew over as I walked up the track to the first screen. Unfortunately there wasn’t any sign of the Whooper Swan. A few of us at the screen were lucky enough to see the Bittern skim over the top of the reeds and drop back into the reed bed on the right hand side. Another Water Rail called from deep within the reeds but didn’t venture out along the edge. 

A wisp of Snipe courtesy of Pete Roby

A Dunlin flew arounds the reeds and landed on the small scrape at the far end. The ducks were sleeping on the bank along with 25 Snipe on the water’s edge. All the ducks fled into the water when a Sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the dead branches for a minute before going on its way.  The Kingfisher perches put out by the RSPB worked well as a Kingfisher flew in and posed for the photographers. It soon caught a small fish before dashing away again.

Dunlin and Black-headed Gull courtesy of Pete Roby

 Over the weekend the long staying Hen Harrier was seen over large areas of Otmoor. It can be very elusive but and if you are lucky enough to see it you won’t be disappointed. It looks really smart as it glides around the edge of the fields. Around 30 Golden Plover were seen flying high above calling and a flock of around 200 Lapwing are spending their time around the Noke Sides area, slowly building in numbers, but still a long way to go before we see the large winter flocks filling the skies above. Stonechats are out on Greenaways and were seen at the Pill, the Wetlands Watch Hide and the hedge up to the first screen. 

A Green Sandpiper was feeding on the small scrape at the far end from the first screen and accompanied at times by the Dunlin. The Dunlin is spending its time between the small scrape on Greenaways near the bridleway and the muddy margin at the far from the first screen.

A Stoat was seen dashing across the track near the first screen disturbing the birds and a Badger was seen at dusk on Sunday. As night fell on Sunday a Tawny Owl called from the Roman road to send us on our way home.

The Roby's

Singing Wren courtesy Tezzer

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Saturday 30th September and sunday1st October

Ubiquitous Chiffchaff (c) Bark

The Autumn Equinox has come and gone, and right now the moor feels quiet, as if it is holding its breath before taking the next the steep plunge towards winter. Many of the summer birds have gone and the bulk of the winter visitors are still to arrive. The regular suite of resident birds remains and they are busy feeding up for the leaner months to come.
There were small parties of Hirundines moving through over the whole weekend, but not in the numbers we were seeing last week. There are still significant numbers of small passerines often in mixed feeding flocks, picking up plentiful insects and spiders, they frequently favour the lea side of the larger hedgerows.
Long Tailed Tit (c) JR
Alongside the Blue, Great and Lon-tailed Tits, there are mostly Chiffchaffs, but we found a couple of Willow Warblers on Sunday and a Whitethroat was seen out at the Pill on Saturday. Chiffchaffs are very variable in colour and tone some having much clearer eye stripes than others and markedly different degrees of yellowness. It is very difficult get sustained, clear views them as they are restless and dynamic as they glean their insect prey from under leaves and branches or fly out to pluck an insect from the air. This can sometimes lead to confusions and occasional misidentifications, but is part of the fun and fascination of birding at this time of year.

Chiffies (c) Bark
I ventured down to Noke for an hour on Friday afternoon and thought that I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call from the sallows beside the balancing pond, I also thought that I had caught a brief glimpse of it up in the weeping willow tree. There were at least six Chiffchaffs flitting about and I was not confident enough to say definitively it was there. I did however alert one or two Otmoor regulars to the possibility and they agreed to have a look and a listen next time they were down there. However, a couple of visitors reported that they had seen and photographed one there on Saturday. Sadly, it was a second-hand report and I don’t know who the people were or where they came from. We would really like to see the pictures and hear from them, if you know them or if it was you and you are reading this, please get in touch with me or with the office. It is important as it would be the first ever confirmed record of this species for the reserve.
Yet another Chiff (c) JR

Our resident Marsh Harriers are still being seen over the reedbeds and over Greenaways. The male Hen Harrier is also still on the moor but is as ever, elusive and irregular.

Very agressive Moorhens (c) Bark
From the first screen numbers of snipe are steadily building as are the numbers of Wigeon. I counted thirty of the latter, out on the water or loafing on the furthest spit. The Kingfishers are taking advantage of the new perches out in front of the first screen. They are still very nervous, a combination of being quiet, still and keeping limbs and optics inside the viewing holes seems to be the best way of not alarming them. I am sure that in time they will get used to the sound of shutters clicking away!

Snipe(c) Bark and flying (c) JR

Kingfisher (c) Bark
The Greylag flock is already getting back up towards the large numbers that we saw last year. In amongst them are the whiter and smaller progeny of “our” Ross’s Gooses’ liaisons with Greylags, the large number of them suggest that Francis (Rossi) as we call him is a potent father. There is also a Barnacle Goose still present, that appeared to pair up with a Greylag this spring, but as yet we have not noticed any Greylag Barnacle crosses.

Barnacle Goose and friend (c) Derek Latham
There are still plenty of Butterflies and Dragonflies to be seen along the hedgerows especially when the sun comes out and can warm them up. Red Admirals and Commas present a bright splash of colour when they are feeding on blackberries.

Red admiral and Hawker (c) Bark
After last weekends attempted theft in the carpark it is sad to say that this was not the last piece of antisocial behaviour to have gone on there. Some people have taken to racing their cars about in there and spinning them around. At some point last week they lost control of their car and collided with the information board smashing it completely. It was a substantial oak structure and I can only hope that it did considerable damage to their vehicle and perhaps to them! Once again it is the society that will have to pick up the tab to have it replaced. Money that should be going to conservation!

The broken info board (c) DW  and our Kingfishers view of the idiots who broke it. (c) JR

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th September

Kingfisher (c) Tezzer

After a short break in the Greek sunshine I came back down to earth with a real bump on Saturday morning. The day started grey and dark, low dolorous clouds hung overhead with intermittent light drizzle – great to be back in England! Sunday however was quite the opposite with the finest bright warm and sunny, a classic “Indian Summer” day.
Not very much has changed in the week that I have been away although there have been a few extra species to add to the Yearlist. They include a short staying Spotted Redshank last Saturday, a Grey Wagtail at the first screen that actually landed on the roof of the screen itself and a fly over Tree Pipit at the Pill last week.

There are still good numbers of both Stonechats and Whinchats scattered about the moor with the highest concentrations out at the Pill. On Saturday we saw five Whinchats and four Stonechats there, while at the same time there were a further three of the latter out on Greenaways. They associate loosely with each other frequently choosing to hunt from the hedges that adjoin the bridge or run parallel with the old Roman Road.
Kestrel (c) Bark
The male Hen Harrier is still around the moor and was seen on both days this weekend hunting along the northern edge of Greenaways and over the Flood Field. Raptors were easy to find across the whole reserve with three different Marsh Harriers present, possibly the three birds that bred here in the spring and summer. On Sunday a “kettle” of seven thermalling Common Buzzards was seen over the North Pill Ground. Kestrels are ever present over the grass fields and an Osprey was sparring with a Marsh Harrier over the southern reedbed. This was probably the fifth or sixth record of Osprey on Otmoor this year. Occasional Sparrowhawks are also making their presence felt, flushing Snipe and Meadow Pipits from Greenaways. A few Hobbies are still being noted and there are still plenty of large dragonflies to be hunted as the day warms up. There are usually a couple of weeks in the autumn when Merlin and Hobby overlap and now is the time to be looking out for our smallest falcon as it returns for the winter. 

A wake of Red Kites Lower Farm courtesy of Paul Wyeth

A large number of Red Kites gathered over one of the fields at Lower Farm Noke where they were taking a very late hay crop. When I spoke to the farmer last week she said that they had been thwarted by the weather for weeks. It certainly led to a bonanza for the Kites as all sorts of small creatures were exposed by the process.
New post Kingfisher (c) Tezzer
The RSPB have been responsive to visitor’s suggestions and have set three large oak branches into the mud on the southern lagoon a short way out from the first screen. They have created perfect vantage points for Kingfishers to perch on and to hunt from. I am certain that this will result in some super images very soon.

Female Pintail and our regular Barnacle Goose (c) Pete Roby

Out on the mud banks there are more ducks that have almost completed their moult. Amongst them this weekend there was a single female Pintail and between fourteen and twenty Wigeon. Small numbers when compared with the several thousand that will be here during the depths of winter, but yet another sign of the changing season.

Flycatching Chiffy (c) Bark

Ravens have been cronking their way over the reserve again this weekend. They are usually seen in pairs on the moor but I remember one early autumn day two years ago when we saw seven together, like some strange omen from a Norse legend.
Raven (c) Bark
Sadly the dark evenings also make it much easier for people to get up to no good in the car park. A car was broken into on Sunday evening, fortunately nothing was stolen but the owner was left with the expense of repairing the damage. Please take care not to leave valuables visible or cars unlocked. Should you spot any suspicious behaviour please take note of car numbers and report to either the police or to the RSPB Otmoor office on 01865 352033.

Comma and Grey Squirrel (c) Bark