Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th July

Bullfinch at the first screen (c) Bark

The heat and the sunshine meant that it was difficult to stay out of the shade after mid morning and bird activity decreased as the day got hotter. The fields are sere and brown except for the fringing of reed along the ditches and the smaller reedbeds scattered across Greenaways. It is the time of year often referred to as the birding doldrums but there was still lots to see if one was patient.

Reed warbler and juvenile Blue Tit (c) Bark
Larger mixed feeding parties are moving along the hedgerows. Juvenile Blue and Great tits swing acrobatically from the panicles of Hogweed, Cow Parsley and Hemlock as they pick tiny insects out from between the bracts of the flowers.
Juvenile Willow/Chiff (c) Luke O'Byrne
It is possible to find very young newly fledged warblers feeding busily among the reeds or in the hedges and to spot adult birds still gathering insect prey for second broods.
Sedgie with food for chicks (c) Luke O'Byrne
On both Saturday and Sunday, we noticed several pairs of Bullfinches around the first screen and by the kissing gate. They too are behaving in such a way as to suggest they are setting out to raise further broods.
The adult Cuckoos have now finally departed, and we are now listening out for the distinctive hissing begging calls that the young birds make to persuade their surrogate parents to feed them.
young Song Thrush (c) Bark
We are sure that we saw two newly fledged Marsh Harriers up over the reedbed on both days this weekend. There may very well be more as we may not have seen the same two each time as at this stage all juveniles look identical. One of the adult Marsh Harriers is very distinctive as it is very much paler with whiter shoulders and wing coverts than any of the others.
Marsh Harrier (c) Bark
Bitterns are still making regular, if less frequent feeding flights, with one bird appearing to favour the ring-ditch on the eastern side of Greenaways and the other seems to come in from The Closes probably utilising the deep ditch and wide reed fringe along its northern edge.

Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles (c) Stoneshank
We have very large numbers of the bigger species of dragonflies out and about across the moor, but as yet we have not noticed many Hobbies taking advantage of this abundance. Perhaps as the summer progresses we will have newly fledged birds and post breeding adults coming through and fattening up before migration. There were several of their other main sources of prey present on Sunday morning, with a small party of very young Swallows on the wires in the Carpark field.

Car-park Field Swallows (c) Bark

During the week a fine adult Purple Emperor butterfly was seen in the car park field. This is only the third record of our largest native butterfly being found on the reserve. Perhaps they are extending their range out from their stronghold in nearby Bernwood, we certainly have the mature oak trees and the grey and goat willows that they like all along the Roman Road.
Moorhen with very pale youngsters (c) Bark

As water levels draw down we can hope to attract returning waders and once the tractor work gets under way out in the fields we should be seeing Yellow Wagtails feeding around the feet of the cattle and be able to see our pair of Cranes stalking through the grass on the northern edge of Greenaways.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Last week in June and start of July

Bittern (c) Tezzer

I missed the last weekend of June on Otmoor as I spent a few days in south west Wales, including a couple of nights on Skomer. There I was able to experience a spectacle that many of my friends have described, namely sitting at “the Wick” and watching hundreds of Puffins coming in from the sea, wings whirring and going like small guided missiles their bills full of sandeels. It was even better that we were on the island on Monday when no day visitors come and so had the island and “the Wick” effectively to ourselves.

Puffins (c) Bark
I had not realised just how habituated and unafraid the birds are, nor how they have to run the gauntlet of piratical Herring Gulls waiting to mug them and take their catch. It was great to be in Pembrokeshire and have the chance to reacquaint myself with many of the coastal species that are never or seldom seen in Oxfordshire.

An elegant Teasel and a wild Cornflower  above (c) Bark   below (c) Stoneshank

Meanwhile back on the moor things have slowed down as is the way in mid-summer. I was surprised at how much the vegetation has changed in just a fortnight. The grasses have set seed and already the fields are more pale and ochre coloured than green. All apart from the phragmites reeds that continue to push up higher and are bright emerald in colour.
Young Reed Warbler (c) Bark
There has been news however and sadly it concerns our pair of Common Cranes. For the fourth consecutive year they have failed to fledge a chick or chicks. We had very high hopes this year and we know that they managed to keep the chick safe and growing for over six weeks from hatching. For the first time this year we managed to catch sight of the chick and by the time it perished we know it would have been nearly two feet tall. We can only assume that it was predated and probably at that stage the only likely predator would have been a fox. The birds arrived in the spring within a couple of days of when they arrived last year.  They demonstrated all the same behaviours of the previous three seasons so that we were able to calculate hatching dates and then follow their progress with the chick from the nest site and out into the surrounding areas. They are becoming much more practiced at chick rearing and every year they have managed to keep the chick or chicks alive for longer and longer. This year we calculate that the chick was just three or four weeks from flying, apart from the presence of predators the habitat is clearly right for them, and we can only hope that as they get more mature and experienced they will be successful eventually.
Marsh Harrier with prey (c) Tezzer
Our resident Marsh Harriers are having another successful year and we are confident that there are two pairs and on Sunday I saw a brief first flight from a juvenile bird. The juveniles are uniformly chocolate brown with a pale straw-coloured head. They are also not the most accomplished flyers early on. However, their confidence and competence will grow rapidly, as parent birds come in with prey items, call them up into the air and then drop the prey so that they start to catch it in mid-air.
Bittern on a feeding flight (c) Tezzer
Bitterns too are making feeding flights and can frequently be seen from the first screen heading across the reedbed. Young Bitterns disperse fairly quickly from the nest and then are found out in the reeds around the nest-site by the mother birds and fed. The male Bitterns play no part in raising the young.
Young Pochards (c) Old Caley
There were at least six young Pochard on the northern and southern reedbeds on Sunday and there are good numbers of juvenile Shovellers as well as Tufted Ducklings and Mallards.
There have been a few returning waders seen including a party of Black-tailed Godwits and the first Common Sandpiper reported on Otmoor this year.

Brown Hawker and Purple Hairstreak (c) Bark

During this quieter time the fine weather has proved to be good for butterflies and other insects. Last week White-letter Hairstreaks were found among the suckering elms along the footpath along the northern perimeter of the reserve just past Oddington. They have been recorded there before but not for some years. We found ten or more Purple Hairstreaks in the roman Road area on Saturday and it along there that the Brown Hairstreaks should be appearing in the next couple of weeks.
Juvenile Long Tailed Tit (c) Bark
Here are already mixed flocks of juvenile tits foraging together in the hedgerows and also groups of young warblers. I have not yet had any reports of juvenile Cuckoos being spotted but I am sure it will not be long. We were surprised to have two calling adults still on the moor on Saturday and Sunday this week.

Dust bathing Pheasant and Common Lizard (c) Bark

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th June

Little Grebe at the first screen (c) Bark

Rather a damp, overcast and grey weekend as we head towards midsummers day later this week. There was, as normal, lots to see on the moor although nothing especially unusual or unexpected. The amazing productivity of the site was noticeable, not just the large numbers of juvenile birds being seen but also the burgeoning swathes of wildflowers and when the sun finally did come out, the rich and varied invertebrate life.

Large Skipper butterfly and Yellow Shell moth (c) Bark

I was wrong about last week being the final hurrah for the cuckoos. There were still three birds present on Saturday and Sunday. They were not so vociferous as last weekend but there were still two males pursuing a female out over Greenaways. The BTO reported last week that their radio tagged birds had already made it down into southern Europe. Perhaps late nesting by our Reed Warblers has delayed the departure of our birds. The hepatic female was one of the three and we hope that she returns next year.

Cuckoos (c) Bark

At the second screen we counted nearly thirty juvenile Shovellers all at different stages of development from small ducklings up to just shy of adult size. There was one creche of sixteen well grown youngsters with three adults in attendance.
Some of the Shoveller creche (c) Bark
There was a brood of Pochard ducklings and several small families of Tufted Ducks very much at the downy duckling stage but still able to dive down and bob back up like corks. At the first screen a pair of Mute Swans appeared from one of the channels with four cygnets. The cob then proceeded to harass and bully fifteen Canada Geese until they took flight and headed back to Big Otmoor. Only then did he feel able to lead his family out onto the water and to the shallows just in front of the screen.
Two Cygnets (c) Bark
It seems likely that Little Grebes are breeding in the southern lagoon they are making a lot of noise but we are yet to see any stripy young, one adult appeared briefly in the open calling all the time before disappearing back into the reeds.
Little Grebe (c) Bark
The highlight at the first screen this weekend was the presence of three Garganey on Saturday. A still smart male with a female and another very tatty individual that looked as though it was going into eclipse. The scruffy bird was still present on Sunday but there was no sign of the other pair.

Two smarter Garganey and below the scruffier one. (c) Bark

We are confident that we are watching two different Marsh Harrier pairs. Two different males, one in less obvious adult male plumage, are bringing food to two different females that come up for the food passes from two very different locations. One of the males appears to spend more time hunting out over Greenaways, the Flood and the MOD fields. The other favours Big Otmoor and Ashgrave it may just be preference or perhaps avoiding competition. There are frequent food passes, a testament to hunting skills and the productivity of the site.
Food Pass (c) Bark

Whenever the sun was out this weekend it was possible to spot Common Lizards beside the first screen. Two that I saw were quite large and looked to have swollen bellies, suggesting that they were females and shortly about to give birth.
Common Lizard (c) Bark
The eggs develop inside the female and they give birth to fully formed tiny lizards. On Sunday morning one had to walk very carefully along the path by the hide as there were tiny toadlets hopping about everywhere taking advantage of the wet conditions after the rain.
Tiny Toadlet (c) Bark
Once we get past the longest day then we will start to look for the first returning waders that always appear then. They are probably failed breeders, but their appearance marks another key point in the calendar.

Bee Fly (Volucella Pellucens) and Painted Lady (c) Stoneshank Hogweed (c) Bark

Monday, 11 June 2018

Saturday and Sunday 9th and 10th June

Singing Sedgie (c) JR

Both days this weekend started grey and cool but by midday the cloud had burned back to sunshine and blue skies. When the sun finally came out the moor looked even more lush and verdant than it had last weekend. The Cow Parsleys, Pignuts and Hogweeds along the bridleway and paths are producing their multi branched bracts of flowers.

Pink and white roses spangle the hedgerows and out across Greenaways there are drifts of creamy white Meadow-rue rising above the grasses and sedges. The latter flowering prior to setting seed… hay-fever sufferers such as myself, can vouch for just how much pollen they are producing!
Bittern over Meadow Rue (c) Bark

There was a good deal of Bittern activity this weekend and it looks very much as if feeding flights are getting under way, but we have not yet established firm details about how many females we are seeing and where they are heading to. I can remember when seeing a Bittern on Otmoor was a red-letter day and now it’s become something that we take almost for granted. It was brilliant to hear and see the reaction of a visiting birder on Sunday who despite having seen most members of the heron family had never seen a Bittern before. Then, just like waiting for a bus, two came along almost at once! It reminded me just how far the reserve has come and how we used to think that breeding bitterns were just a pipe-dream.
Feeding Flight ?(c) Bark

Out on the northern lagoon the Tern Raft is once again proving to be productive and on Sunday morning we could see at least five fluffy chicks huddled together and then calling and begging when any adult with food appeared. Seven other adults looked to be still sitting on eggs, so the population is almost certain to grow further.
Tern Chick (c) Luke O'Byrne

This weekend may well prove to be the last hurrah for the Cuckoos courtship and mating activities. The males will soon be off, and the females will not be far behind them leaving the next generation secreted in the nests of the Reed Warblers. Once again there was a good deal of activity with males chasing females including the hepatic bird and a lot of cuckooing and bubbling calls. On Sunday a regular observer had six birds flying in front of him and another calling from behind him. We will now watch for females sitting up high in bushes and on fence posts searching for Reed Warbler nests and waiting for the perfect moment to slip in and deposit their egg.
Cuckoo (c) JR
In another three or four weeks we will see how successful they have been, when we find harassed looking warblers feeding their enormous foundlings.
Reluctant Host Reed Warbler (c) JR
Marsh Harriers too have been very active over the whole moor and from time to time a male will arrive with prey and transfer it to one of the females in an adroit aerial food-pass.
We have reached the time when some birds are starting off their second broods and so the pattern of singing and calling males has changed again. The Lesser Whitethroats that were so loud and noticeable last week are quiet and the Grasshopper Warblers in the car park field and July’s Meadow have started to reel again. Male Reed buntings are singing and vying with each other for territory. It was very noticeable by the first screen as two males chased and chivvied each other around the bushes and tussocks on the bund.
Male Reed Warbler at the first screen (c) Bark

A Great White Egret is being seen from time to time and at least five Little Egrets are using the pools and scrapes on Greenaways and Big Otmoor.
Greenaways Little egret (c) Bark
A Cattle Egret was reported last week on R.B.A. alongside Little Egrets on Greenaways, we have not been able to verify or corroborate this record. There was certainly no sign of a Cattle Egret this weekend.
Black Hairstreak (c) Jackie Newcombe

 On Saturday morning an Otmoor regular found a Black Hairstreak butterfly on the track in the car park field. It was a cold start to the day and it seemed semi-comatose, she was able to get it on her finger and put it onto a blackthorn where it could start to warm up and get going. They are a very beautiful little butterfly and they will be on the wing for the next few weeks before the Brown Hairstreaks begin to appear in mid-July.

Darter sp (c) Bark and Black tailed Skimmer (c) Stoneshank
More Dragonfly species are emerging in adult form and we noticed several Darters and Skimmers on Sunday.
Blood Vein Moth (c) Stoneshank
The year-list has stuck again at one hundred and thirty-nine species. Perhaps we van hope to hear quail calling in the next few weeks they have already been heard in other parts of the county and are almost annual on the moor. There will be little chance of seeing them as the grass is now so very long.