Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 12th and13th August

Juvenile Stonechat (c) Tezzer

This weekend there was a return to drier more summery weather, but the birds we saw reflected the beginning of the turn in the seasons, from full summer towards early autumn.
Usually on the moor I manage to see most of what is about, there are other days though where I seem to contrive to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and miss almost everything! Saturday was one such morning.
I did manage to see two swans arrive (c) Tom N-L
I missed the three Black–tailed Godwits that arrived in front of the first screen, while I was at Noke failing to find any Yellow Wagtails or Whinchats in the sheep fields. Had I chosen to go a few hundred metres further along the bridle way I would have seen a Wheatear feeding out on the cropped grass, but instead chose to head back towards the Roman Road. I was in the hide when there were several Bittern movements at the screens and so missed them.

Swallows feeding young. (c) JR
The only really pleasing thing about my going along to Noke, apart of course from the company, was being able to watch Swallows feeding newly fledged youngsters on the wires beside the farm. The adults were sweeping low and fast over the grass hoovering up flying insects to bring to their young. Not only were they feeding them whilst the young birds perched unsteadily on the wire, but also at times in mid-air. Seeing the young Swallows fluttering and flapping to keep their balance confirmed my recent observations of other newly fledged juveniles. Namely that young birds get good at flying quite quickly, but landing without crashing takes longer to master.

Cuckoo on the bridleway (c) Tezzer
I also failed to find the young Cuckoo seen on Friday along the Bridleway. The bird had probably moved on as when seen on the previous day it was no longer being fed by its foster parents.
Waders are starting to come through steadily now and the low water levels in front of the first screen offer extensive mud and feeding opportunities for migrating birds. On Monday (yesterday) there were nine Greenshanks through as well as Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper.

Greenshank in front of the first screen courtesy of Badger.

On Sunday, my birding was much more successful and I did manage to see most of what was on offer. I heard one Greenshank and a Common Sand at the first screen.

Common cranes over Greenaways (c) Tom N-L
I also spotted the Common Cranes flying back into Greenaways from the MOD land to the east. The grass is still long out there but with careful scoping they could be picked out to the edge of a clump of reeds. They have favoured this, most distant, area of the field for the last six or seven weeks. We do not expect them to stay around much longer. Last year they left on the fifteenth of August and as far as we know wintered with the big flock of Cranes on the Somerset levels. I spoke on Sunday to a friend who had been out on the moor much nearer to dawn than I was. Just as the sun rose he and his partner had been treated to the sight and sound of them as they flew low over Greenaways, where a shallow mist was catching the first rays of the sun. They were delighted to have seen them. It is a real privilege to have such charismatic and beautiful birds on the reserve.
Turtle Dove drinking, also soon to be on its way. (c) JR
Juvenile Stonechat (c) Bark
Out at the Pill mid-morning, we found a family of Stonechats, probably the same birds that were seen last weekend. There were four very scruffy juveniles and two adults. There was a single Whinchat loosely associated with them and several Common Whitethroats also seemed to be flocking together with them. The Chats as always stood out, perching and flycatching from the top of twigs and bushes, the warblers were more elusive diving in and out of the hedgerows.

Carpark field Willow Warbler (c) Bark
I had to leave the moor earlier than I normally do this Sunday, had I stayed for another twenty minutes I might very well have seen the Osprey that circled over the Oddington side of the reserve. I missed it of course Saturday’s jinx still had one last sting in its tail!
The pumphouse Grass Snakes are sloughing their skins (c) Derek Lane

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th August

Juvenile Cuckoo (c) Tezzer

Both mornings this weekend on the moor were dry, but cool with the threat of rain never far away.
Just as over the last couple of weeks the main interest centred around young birds from a number of different species and not just the passerines. The mixed feeding flocks are very obvious, there was a group of over forty finches feeding on the track as it goes past the feeders. They were predominantly Chaffinches but amongst them were a number of Bullfinches, another species that is currently very common in the hedgerows.
Some of the chaffinches (c) Bark
Turtle Dove pair? (c) Derek Lane
On Sunday morning a juvenile Water Rail kept appearing and disappearing in the rough cut reeds right in front of the first screen. It was both skittish and gawky, looking as if it hadn’t yet become familiar with how to manage its long legs and feet. With such a sustained and close view it was possible to really appreciate its’ lateral compression, the adaptation that enables it to move so easily through densely growing reeds.

Juvenile water Rail (c) JR
A young Green Woodpecker has been noted from the same area sitting up very obligingly on the dead branches of one of the oaks. Reed Warblers are very busy along the bridleway ditches and in front of both screens. They are clearly gathering food for second broods and sometimes feeding youngsters fresh out of the nest.
Juvenile Green Woodpecker (c) Bark
Last weekend a visitor reported seeing a juvenile Cuckoo beside the first screen and there were several reports of the same bird during the earlier part on the week. On Thursday it was seen and photographed by T.S. as it posed right out in the open on the “kingfisher perch” in front of the screen. It was no longer being fed by its surrogate parents and stopped on the perch for only a couple of minutes before making off. It is a typical juvenile cuckoo; dark brown flecked with white and grey and having a rufous cast on the wings. P.G. looked at a picture of a juvenile cuckoo he took last August and his bird was very much more rufous than any of the current crop of juvenile pictures that we have seen. This led us to speculate that it may in fact have been the hepatic bird that we saw on the moor this summer, returning to the area where it fledged last year. We would welcome any views or suggestions as to the likelihood that this might be possible.

This years bird above (c) Tezzer         Last years more rufous bird below (c) Stoneshank
The juvenile Marsh Harriers have moved off and this weekend we only saw the adults that we are familiar with. On Saturday morning two juveniles were seen at Farmoor before moving off high and later being seen again at Standlake. We assumed that they were two of “our” juveniles. On Sunday evening another young Marsh Harrier was seen over the reedbed, it had at least one bright green wing tag (it was seen a considerable distance and so whether there were two tags and a number was not clear) There is as tagging programme being run by a North Norfolk Group supported by the Hawk and Owl Trust. It suggests that this individual has already travelled from East Anglia and so it is not surprising that our youngsters are now also on the move.
Kebabbed Sedgie! (c) JR
Out at the Pill there is what appears to be a family party of Stonechats. Three juveniles and a pair of adults. They were first found on Thursday and were still around at the weekend. It is an early record for a bird that we would normally expect to find arriving to overwinter during autumn. Another juvenile was seen and photographed at least three weeks ago, I understand that they have bred this year up on the Downs and it might just be that this is a family from there or perhaps from even nearer still. There are still five or six Redstarts in Long Meadow and on Sunday there were still two Spotted Flycatchers.
Reedy (c) Bark
There were many butterfly enthusiasts out on Sunday hoping to see Brown Hairstreaks, they were rewarded with some sightings but as always with these tiny creatures it is luck and sunshine dependent, if you are to get great views and close-up pictures. Purple Hairstreaks were also present. I have heard that several weeks ago, over on the other side of the moor in some suckering elms, there was a single record of a White Letter Hairstreak.

Purple Hairstreak (c) Tezzer      Immaculate Brown Hairstreak (c) Ewan Urquart

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 29th and 30th July

Young sedgie (c) JR

It is impossible to walk along the bridleway or visitors trails without pushing a busy mixed flock of foraging warblers and tits along in front of you. It seems that the small passerines have had a very successful breeding season and indeed many of them are currently in the process of raising further broods. This weekend it was the Reed and Sedge warblers that were most noticeable. The largely warm, damp and showery weather has certainly refreshed the vegetation and must have encouraged abundant insect growth. The blackberries and crab apples in the hedgerows are promising a bumper crop.
Sedgie pointing to the sky,like a Bittern, as a raptor went over (c) JR
Reed Warbler (c) Derek Latham
There were very frequent Bittern movements in and over the reedbed on Sunday morning with at least two birds going out into the large clumps of reeds on Greenaways and the larger ditches on Big Otmoor. We counted nine different movements in an hour and a half and we are fairly confident that they were made by at least five different individuals. There are subtle colour differences between birds, some of the juvenile birds seem more orange and brighter than the older ones and one of the adult birds is missing a large primary from the right wing.

Damp Dunnock and Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
The young Marsh Harriers are beginning to venture further out over the surrounding fields but still tend to come back to hedges surrounding the reedbed to loaf about like teenagers waiting to be fed! The male Hen Harrier is still being seen regularly at least once a day but seems to have no fixed pattern or preferred areas for its hunting. This makes predicting seeing it very difficult. Occasionally it may have been confused with a very white and grey Common Buzzard. It looked for all the world like a soaring Osprey, for a moment or two on Sunday, until we looked more closely. It often spends time perched out on one of the posts on Greenaways.
Very distant record shot of the male Hen Harrier (c) Bark
Hobbies are once again taking advantage of the abundant large dragonflies over the whole reserve. As usual they tend not to start hunting until after the sun has had time to warm up their prey, so mid-morning is when they start. A Sparrowhawk is hunting regularly over the reedbed but was seen off in no uncertain terms by the adult Black headed gulls that are still protecting the four brown and white newly fledged chicks at the southern lagoon. Two Tawny Owls have been having calling matches in the early evening and a Barn Owl has been seen hunting over the Car park Field.
Hobby (c) Derek Latham
The yearlist moved forward again this week when T.S and P.G. saw a party of three young Goosander. We failed to record any last year and were disappointed not to see any in the spring this year when they appeared to be very common all over the county. A Whinchat found out at the Pill on Saturday was another subtle sign of the changing seasons. Waders are starting to come back through now with three Whimbrel the pick of them, seen over the first screen late last week. On Saturday morning, a summer plumaged Dunlin was seen picking around the edge of the second scrape on Big Otmoor. Green Sandpipers are being heard and seen almost daily.
Bullfinch (c) Derek Lane
In Long Meadow there were at least ten Redstarts on Saturday morning. They are hunting from the isolated bushes beyond the old brick stop butt. The same area is also holding several Yellowhammers.
Brown Hairstreak (c) Paul Willis
A Brown Hairstreak was seen on the hedge out at the Pill on Saturday, there is a substantial stand of Blackthorn in the double hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways, certainly enough to support a satellite population of this beautiful tiny butterfly.

Male Common blue (c) Derek Lane          Female Blue , Small copper and Painted Lady (c) Bark
There has been a good hatch of Common Blues alongside the path to the second screen, at least twenty were nectaring on a small patch of thistles in the sunshine. We spotted a Small Copper and a Painted Lady in the same area. Last week we had only the second ever record of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on the moor the only other record of one was in 2005, well done to the finder and photographer of this stunning insect.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth (c) Paul Willis
The water levels at the first screen are drawing down steadily and more and more mud is being exposed, this will attract more waders. We can look forward to more of them, and to getting better views of Water Rails than the very obscured view I had of a youngster on Sunday morning.
Proper view! (c) JR