Thursday, 18 July 2019

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th July

Reed Bunting (c) JR

A changeable weekend with a warm and sunny day on Saturday and a much cooler fresher day on Sunday.
Things have quietened down on the reserve except at the first screen where the Black headed Gull colony from Big Otmoor seems to have decamped to en masse. The gulls are still breeding, and chicks can be seen at every stage of development.
BHG family (c) Bark
On one or two of the nests that are on the edge of the reeds there are still adult birds sitting on eggs. They are very noisy neighbours to each other and behave aggressively to any other birds straying close to their young, even if they pose no threat at all. The colony generates a great deal of noise and they can be heard from the main bridleway path. 

Short and squat to tall and elegant (c) Bark
Several Little Egrets now are using the muddy spit at the back of the lagoon as an area to rest up on. When one of these birds landed on the edge of the island where the bulk of the gulls are nesting it was dived at repeatedly until it moved away. Its reaction to a threat is interesting, as it transforms from a tall sleek bird into a short fat one with all its finer longer feathers puffed out.
Marsh Harrier (c) Bark
On the edges of the lagoon there are at least twenty or so post-breeding Coots. Their aggressive behaviour towards each other now seems to have mellowed and they potter about, occasionally setting off in columns that scuttle across the mud in their smart black plumage like mourners late for a funeral.
Oystercatcher (c) Bark

The muddy areas are getting much more extensive and are attracting one or two waders. This week an Oystercatcher was feeding in the shallows and a juvenile Little-ringed Plover was running about catching insects on the edge of the reeds. 
Juvenile LRP (c) Bark
The Common Tern colony at the second screen is still very active although there are now fewer birds sitting and there appear to be fewer chicks. The adults are still bringing in plenty of fish and can be seen hunting along the River Ray and in the main ditches around Greenaways. Arriving with a fish is a noisy business and it takes several passes and false landings before the incoming bird lands and presents either a chick or a partner with a meal.
Fish delivery (c) JR

The bridleway Sedge Warbler is still performing for the camera and still presumably trying to attract a mate or hold a territory. It puts an enormous amount of energy into belting out its song which has some peculiar and unique whistled notes in it, before flying up in a parachute display. It has been doing this nonstop now for over three weeks !
That Sedgie again (c) JR

Tit flocks are everywhere now and have a smattering of odd warblers amongst them. The Redstarts are back on the southern side of the moor now. I saw a minimum of four on Saturday, two of them were juveniles with fairly short tails and were very speckled. I have a strong feeling that they must be breeding not too far away. 
Juvenile Redstart (c) Bark
There are currently three Common Cranes about the moor. There is our regular pair, that are never more than five or six metres apart and always fly together, and what we assume is the lone female that was present earlier in the year. 
Knapweed (c) Bark
The pair are being spotted most days on the northern side of Greenaway’s feeding in amongst the long grasses, occasionally they can be seen flying out onto the MOD land to feed.

Bumblebee (c) Bark and Gatekeeper (c) Paul Wyeth
Presumably they are taking the Grasshoppers that seem to be particularly abundant this year. As you walk through any of the grassy meadows, they can be seen pinging away from your footsteps. At this time of year nature really is at its most prolific.
This weeks mystery bug. A wasp sp. (c) Paul Wyeth.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th July and Butterflies

Bittern over Grenaway's (c) Bark

The summer continues to roll round and as expected we are starting to see a few more waders coming through the reserve. There was a Green Sandpiper feeding on the spit of mud that now extends across the back of the southern lagoon.   
Green Sand (c) Bark
The Black-headed Gull colony has relocated to the lagoon in front of the first screen and there are at least ten small, newly hatched chicks to be seen, whilst two pairs are still sitting on reoccupied Coot nests. The Gull chicks range from the cute and fluffy stage through to freshly fledged and flying. The parent birds are very attentive and challenge anything that comes too close to their offspring.

Gull Chicks and a parent bird chasing off Cormorants.(c) Bark
With the warmer temperatures and little rainfall this muddy area is sure to grow more extensive. On Sunday morning there were three Little Ringed Plovers on one of the Greenaway’s scrapes, two adults and a juvenile.
Hobby (c) Bark
An unpaired Hobby can usually be spotted first thing in the morning out on the fence posts on Greenaway’s. It favours the nearer perches and can often be seen taking off and seizing a dragonfly before setting back down to eat it. Curlew can still be heard and a young bird was seen flying with an adult.
curlews adult and juvenile (c) Paul Wyeth

Another sign that time is moving on was the sighting of the first party of returning Redstarts on the northern side of the reserve. It may have been a family party as there was certainly a pair of adults and at least one young bird. Over the next couple of months they will move through often staying for a week or so while they moult and feed up for their migration.
That Sedgie again (c) Bark

There are still birds singing as they set up for second broods, there was a Grasshopper warbler reeling in the carpark field on Saturday and another right beside the path through July’s Meadow on Sunday morning. For the first time since the spring I heard no cuckoos calling and they are now well on their way back to Africa. We will be listening out for the begging calls of the young cuckoos. They can sometimes be seen being fed by their diminutive surrogate parents outside the nest once they have outgrown it. 
Blackcap with caterpillar (c) Bark
Other birds can be seen with beaks full of invertebrate food for their offspring or busily hunting through the bushes. There are also young warblers beginning to gather together into loose mixed flocks and individuals can sometimes offer an id challenge.

Young Warblers above(c) Paul Wyeth and below (c) Bark

One of the greatest attractions on and around the moor at this time of year is the great diversity of invertebrate life to be seen. 
Hoverfly and Cardinal Beetle? (c) Bark
This is especially true of butterflies. It seems to be a good year for all species and the hay fields are busy with Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Marbled Whites. We are very lucky to have four species of Hairstreaks resident on and around the reserve. 

Purple Hairstreak above (c) Paul wyeth and White Letter Hairstreak (c) Bark
The Black Hairstreaks are scarcer and are nearly at the end of their flight period. Purple and White Letter Hairstreaks are on the wing now and seem to be present in good numbers. The Brown Hairstreaks will be flying in a couple of weeks time and I am sure that they will once again attract lots of admirers to the Roman Road.

Some butterflies from this weekend (c) Bark

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Saturday and Sunday 29th and 30th June and Cranes

Sedge Warbler (c) Bark

One of the hottest Saturdays that I can remember for quite a while, by Sunday the weather  was cooler but still sunny and pleasant. Although we are getting to that time of year that many birders refer to as the “doldrums” there was still much to see and to comment on.
Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
I am now able to report once again on our regular pair of Common Cranes, perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in Oxfordshire! Sadly, they failed to raise any young again this year. We monitor their breeding progress by observing their behaviour which indicates when they are nesting, when they are incubating and when they are protecting a chick or chicks away from the nest site before fledging.
"Our" Cranes (c) Bark
The season started well with them arriving within a day or two of previous years, courtship behaviour and mating was seen, and we were hopeful that this year they would finally raise a chick to full fledging. We were mindful that last year their chick was just three weeks away from flight and independence when it was predated.
Nest and infertile eggs. (c) RSPB
All progressed as normal with the birds taking it in turns to sit and we know from other sites how long the incubation time is and when we could expect to see them moving the young away from the nest site. The sitting behaviour seemed to progress for thirty-five days and we hoped that they had hatched young and were keeping them close to the nest site. We finally saw the two individuals out together on Greenaway’s and quickly realised that they had no young with them. RSPB staff went out to the nest site and found that there were two eggs there that had failed to hatch. Crane experts state that they would never have sat on infertile eggs for so long and suggest that these two eggs were the product of a re-laying after an initial failure. We don’t understand why that happened but have speculated that at some point the eggs may have got chilled, perhaps the first clutch was predated.

Interloper and our bird challenging (c) Bark
When the birds first returned in addition to our regular pair of Cranes there was another pair in the vicinity, which caused some conflict. During the presumed second incubation period, yet another unpaired female Crane was present for at least a couple of weeks, near to and over the nest site on several occasions. On two occasions I saw “our” female chase off the interloper. It may be that this disturbance was enough to cause the eggs to get cold or perhaps there was some other reason for their infertility. We will never know quite what happened but hopefully it will all come right next year.
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The Cranes are still present on and around the moor and are seldom more than a few metres apart at any time. A careful scan of the northern edge of Greenaway’s will often reveal them, their necks stretching up above the long grasses where they are feeding. They are likely to stay around now for at least another month before “migrating” back to Somerset.
Two newly fledged Marsh Harriers (c) Bark

On a more positive note our resident Marsh Harriers have once again bred successfully and on Sunday morning we watched four newly fledged chocolate coloured being called up from the reedbed willows to have food dropped for them by one of the  adults. The male is now hunting frequently over Closes and Ashgrave.
male Marsh Harrier hunting over the closes (c) Bark

There are still Common Terns in different stages of development out on the raft, from tiny balls of fluff to just about flying. The adults are bringing in plenty of fish and one was seen last week to bring in a tiny pike for one of the larger chicks. There are abundant fish in the ring ditches, and I assume in the River Ray.  Staring into the water close to the pumphouse we saw abundant fry and below them some very large Perch and Rudd.
Fish by the pump house (c) Bark

Evaporation is starting to draw down the water levels in front of the first screen and areas of mud are starting to be exposed. On Saturday the first Green Sandpiper of the year was seen out there. As the waders start to return now the solstice has passed, we can expect to see more. On Sunday seven black tailed Godwits came up off the flood field and flew over towards Big Otmoor, but the grass out in the middle is now totally obscuring the scrapes and so we were unable  to relocate them.
Blackwits (c) Bark

There is a male Sedge warbler that has taken up residence along the bridleway just a bit past the bench. Just as last year it is a fearless and frenetic individual that belts out its song at point blank range whilst clinging to the old reeds that still stick up above the new growth. Just as  last year he looks likely to become the most photographed bird on the moor.

Photogenic Sedgie (c) Bark

The warm sunshine has brought on the insect life rapidly.   

There were large numbers of Meadow Brown butterflies along the path to the second screen with a smaller number of the more restless Ringlets amongst them. The brambles are just starting to flower providing a rich source of nectar and pollen for all the insects. There were three different Long-horned Beetles spotted along the Roman Road on Saturday. Both Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles were to be found beside the ditch.
Banded Demoiselle (c) Bark

Stop Press. Tuesday evening Quail calling from the MOD land.