Friday, 14 May 2021

The first two weeks of May


Sedge Warbler (c) Mark Chivers

Now we have reached the second week in May it finally seems as if the relentless run of cold northerly winds and an unprecedented number of sharp night-time frosts has come to an end. The driest April for years has given way to a much wetter and more showery May.

Feeding Redshank (c) Tom N-L

This is of great benefit to the newly arrived migrants and to the breeding resident birds as the heavy rain has softened the ground up again and has refreshed and revived the emergent vegetation along with the invertebrates that feed on it.

Lesser Whitethroat in the rain and Common Whitethroat (c) Bark

All of the anticipated summer migrants have arrived and are actively courting or already nesting. The past two weeks have seen a massive influx of Sedge Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats. Last weekend there seemed as though there was a Lesser Whitethroat singing in every hedgerow, they certainly seem to be more numerous than I remember them being last year.

Sedge Warblers  above (c) Tom N-L and below (c) Bark

Sedge Warblers too seem much more abundant, although they are so vociferous, loud and raucous they are hard to miss.
Reed Warblers are being much more reclusive (c) Bark

There have been significant additions to the Otmoor yearlist which now stands at one hundred and fifty-one, which is unprecedented for this point in the year. Last Sunday we added a bird more by accident than by good judgement. I photographed a tern that was sitting on one of the buoys that support the cables for the tern raft, it was very much a silhouette as the sun was bouncing off the water right into our eyes.

Arctic Tern (c) Bark

I didn’t see the bird fly off as I was watching a Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge behind the screen. I realised that it didn’t look quite right for a Common Tern when I got it up on my screen and I sent it off for a second opinion and it turned out to be an Arctic Tern as I had rather suspected. It is not a bird that we record often on Otmoor, but I will be certainly checking early season terns much more carefully in the years to come.

Lapwing and chicks (c) Tom N-L

Another new addition to the list was found on a remote part of the reserve during an early morning hedgerow survey. It was a singing Nightingale, a species that was last recorded on the moor in June 2006. The rifle range area and Whitecross Green wood used to be a stronghold for the species in the county. As far as we know there was a small population just across in Buckinghamshire near Ambrosden on a restricted access piece of MOD land, but that population too may have dwindled and gone.

Early morning Whinchat and Wheatear (c) Bark

Early morning surveys on the northern side of the reserve have meant that we have been lucky enough to find birds that have been resting up overnight or feeding up before moving on. We have come across both Whinchat and Wheatears on the fields and in the hedgerows.

Early morning Swallows (c) Bark

We have come across hirundines resting up in the hedges after overnight roosts before continuing their journeys northwards. There have been up to five Whimbrel feeding in the fields to the north of the reserve. There was still one bird present last weekend in the field beside the Jacob Stone.

Whimbrel (c) Bark

Last Sunday there were at least eight Hobbies hunting low and fast over Greenaway’s. There are still no significant numbers of dragonflies emerging, perhaps because of the cold weather, there are however lots of the dangly legged St marks flies being blown across the fields and the Hobbies are feeding on these slow-moving insects. It must take a lot of flies to keep such an active bird going!

Hobby and Fly (c) Andy Harris

Cuckoos are chasing along the hedges and as well as their regular “cuckoo” call the bubbling chuckling female call is also being heard.

Cuckoo (c) Tom N-L

This last weekend three of our four resident deer species were photographed and the Fallow Deer out on Ashgrave are probably related to the lone fawn that years ago identified as a cow!!

Roe Deer (c) Tezzer    Fallow herd (c) Tom N-L and Muntjac (c) Bark

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

April 14th to 25th A warblerfest!

Gropper in full song (c) MC

The weather has continued to be very cold at night with frequent frosts and days have been cloudless and sunny. There has been no significant rain so far this month and the scrapes
  and ditches across the reserve are drying out rapidly.

One of the Spotted Redshanks (c) Bark

The exposed mud has proved to be very attractive to passage waders and we have hosted up to six Bar-tailed Godwits and currently there are two Spotted Redshanks, one on Closes and another on Big Otmoor.
Curlew over the bridleway (c) Bark

Small parties of Whimbrel have come and gone making “ bed and breakfast” stopovers. A Grey Plover has also been noted and over the last few days several Greenshanks have come through.

Garganey (c) JR

Garganey pair courtesy of Badger

Just as last summer there is a pair of Garganey out on the pools that sometimes fly over to the scrapes nearer to the bridleway where the male has been seen displaying, with neck stretching and head bobbing.
Golden Plovers (c) Tezzer

There are still just a few Golden Plovers still around the moor and if one is lucky enough to see them in the sun their golden name is totally justified.

Grasshopper Warbler (c) JR

All the regular Warbler species have arrived now with Garden Warbler being heard and seen in the middle of last week and Lesser Whitethroat arriving on Saturday.

Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark

Grasshopper Warblers are often less shy and retiring when they first arrive and will often reel away in the open. They are also easier to see as the trees and bushes are not yet in full leaf. We were very fortunate to encounter two of these less retiring individuals, they offered point blank photo opportunities.

Gropper (c) Bark

People sometimes disparage small brown warblers as being boring but the subtle plumage detail of a Grasshopper Warbler when seen well, in good light, is a delight. There is a male Sedge Warbler that has taken up territory along the bridleway and is singing his manic song at full pelt out in the open and his plumage too is anything but brown and boring!
Sedge Warbler (c) JR

Willow Warblers are still singing, but Chiffchaffs, that arrived so much earlier are paired up and already nest building, we are hearing more contact calls from them rather than the full-on monotonous song.

Singing Willow Warbler

Reed Warblers are calling from the reed fringed ditches but are difficult to see as they are currently staying out of the wind and singing from deeper in the reeds. Blackcaps can be heard almost everywhere often singing from the tops of the bushes whilst the similar but subtly different song of the Garden Warbler comes from lower down and deeper into the vegetation.

Nest building Chiffchaffs (c) Bark

All of this chorus of birdsong is punctuated from time to time by one of the three booming Bitterns present on the reserve, sounding off a salvo of three or four foghorn-like booms. While walking right around the moor last weekend we met a couple who live in Oddington. They commented that they had heard the reedbed Bittern booming at two in the morning when the moon was bright!

Blackcap (c) Bark

Hobbies have arrived but not yet in the larger numbers that we usually attract when they are freshly arrived and before they disperse to breed. The peak time for Hobby is usually in the first ten days or so of May. Three cuckoos have been heard simultaneously, but will not be seen very often until the Reed Warblers start nesting.

Ring Ouzel (c) Pete Roby

A Ring Ouzel was seen and photographed at the end of the Roman Road and a White Stork was recorded over Big Otmoor. Two Great White Egrets were seen on Saturday and Sunday, perhaps two of the birds that have been seen frequently at Blenheim Palace.
Swift from the first screen (c) Bark

On Sunday we recorded our first Swifts of the year over the first screen and southern lagoon.
Bullfinch (c) Bark

Mistle Thrush collecting worms at Noke (c) Bark

The year-list is an impressive one hundred and forty-six species with a number of regular birds still to come, unprecedented at this point in the year. The Glossy Ibis has reappeared after being seen with two other birds and we wonder what will come next.
Roe Buck early morning (c) MC

Friday, 16 April 2021

First two weeks of April


Goldfinch (c) Bark

Spring migration is well and truly underway despite the unseasonably cold last few weeks, that have produced frosty nights and even one morning of snow. One wonders what the newly arrived insectivorous birds are finding to eat.

Chiffy (c) Bark

Grasshopper Warblers were heard reeling on Tuesday morning for the first time this year. They were in the car-park Field and also out on Greenaways. Only Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler have still to arrive, of our suite of regular breeding Warblers.

Singing Blackcap (c) Bark

There has been migrating Yellow Wagtails feeding in the reedbed and it appears also roosting there . The reeds are very broken down and flattened this year, due to the winter rains and wind and the sheer weight of Starlings resting on them all winter. There must also have been a welcome hatch of small insects emerging amid this more sheltered habitat. They have also been seen feeding amongst the sheep at Noke.

Swallow at Noke (c) Bark

Cuckoo arrived last weekend and Whinchat just yesterday (14th April). Big Otmoor hosted an early Whimbrel, a species that visits annually, but more often in early May than mid-April. 

Whimbrel courtesy of Isaac West.

We found a Bar-tailed Godwit last weekend also out on Big Otmoor, a bird we failed to record at all last year. This area is looking very attractive to passage waders at present and will do so until the sedges grow up and the waters recede. Snipe are starting to drum over Greenaway’s and Big Otmoor and this activity will only increase as spring progresses.

Bar-tailed Godwit courtesy of Isaac West.

Singing Blackbird and Wren (c) Tom N-L

Residents and summer visitors are wasting no time in establishing territories and in finding mates , the volume of song and calling is going up all the time. We watched a pair of Goldfinches courting beside the hide.

Courting Goldfinches (c) Bark

Not just making their familiar twittering calls but they were flashing wings, spreading tails and almost seeming to pirouette at the top of the dead tree in some sort of courtship dance. It was a behaviour I had not noticed before.
Confiding Cetti's (c) Bark

There are three booming male Bitterns, one at Noke, another on the reedbed and the third out in the middle of Greenaways where we have often spotted them in the open. Two birds were seen together on Wednesday and so we can be certain that we have at least one female. The male in the photograph can be identified by its distinctly blue cere.

Distant Bitterns on Greenaways (c) Tom N-L

There have been regular sightings of Wheatears at Noke in the usual places beside the farm and along the fences.

Noke Wheatear in the rain. (c) Bark

Swallows have returned once again to the barns. There is a pair of Green Woodpeckers that are spending a lot of time feeding out in the sheep fields. There were over eighty Fieldfares out in the fields to the south of the Closes along with a few Redwings and a pair of Mistle Thrushes, one of which was singing loudly from the top of a bare tree.
Mistle Thrush (c) Bark

Across many of the fields Lapwings are sitting on nests and Redshanks are not far behind them in the breeding process, their calling, chasing and courtship seems to be everywhere.

Redshank (c) Bark

At the northern lagoon, a pair of Great Crested Grebes has arrived and may well be constructing a nest in the reeds to the left of the second screen.

Heron and Great Crested Grebe at the second screen.(c) Bark

Herons are coming and going bringing food to their chicks in the reedbed, where we think there may be four or five nests.

Peacock and Bullfinch (c) Bark

It is at this time of the year that one realises just how much Blackthorn there is across the moor as the hedgerows become blanketed with frothy white blossom. Birds sit amongst it and sing and insects feed on the nectar and pollen.

Bee-fly and Cootlings by the Hide (c) Bark

Brent Goose by Badger.