Monday, 22 May 2017

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th May

Busy chiffy (c) Bark

On Saturday morning at 5am nearly thirty people gathered in the car park for what seems to have become our annual Dawn Chorus Walk. The dawn itself was not as spectacular as in some previous years, the sky more the colour of a mechanics rag than a blazing golden sunrise. However, the birds did not disappoint us. The air was full of the sound of birds staking their claims to territory, declaring their suitability as mates or simply just announcing their presence. It is possible to hear all ten of our regular warbler species within the confines of the Car-park Field and the Roman Road alone. We only heard a brief spell of reeling from the Grasshopper Warblers and failed to hear Willow warbler at all, but the rest were all in good voice.
Cuckoo (c) JR
Snipe were drumming all weekend especially when the weather had improved as it did on Sunday. Cuckoos called and chased in groups of three or four males chasing the single females and vying with each other for the chance to mate with them.
Several Hobbies sat on posts across Greenaways waiting for the morning warmth to encourage their insect prey to take to the wing. They are always numerous on the reserve at around this time in late spring and are frequently recorded in double figures. Eleven were reported hunting on Sunday afternoon.

Turtle Dove feeding (c) Oz and purring (c) JR
One of at least two Turtle Doves called from the Roman road area before relocating to the telegraph poles near the pump house and giving excellent views.
As we made our leisurely way to the first screen we were closely scrutinised scrutiny by a pair of Redshanks flying overhead and shouting raucously, they clearly had youngsters on the ground nearby. On Sunday morning, I managed to spot three of these extraordinary looking chicks. Their legs appear to be far too long for their small fluffy bodies and it made me wonder what a contortionist trick it must be, to confine them within an egg! They appeared and disappeared amongst the sedges sometimes venturing along the edges of the ditches to pick up their insect food.
Redshank and chick (c) Tom N-L
A summer plumaged male Ruff was found on Friday and was thought to have flown off but was rediscovered on Saturday morning. It had been seen displaying to Redshanks flaring up its spectacular feathers like some kind of miniature peacock.
Summer Plumage Ruff (c) Stoneshank
Three Black-tailed Godwits have been out on the Big Otmoor scrapes for most of the week and seem very settled. They look as if they are first summer birds and as such are not going to breed this year. Every so often it was possible to spot a Little Ringed Plover scuttling about amongst the sedges and mud flats. There are several out there and they have been observed mating but it seems to me unlikely that they might succeed in breeding given the huge numbers of potential nest robbers out at the scrapes.
Two of the three Godwits (c) Bark
Elsewhere more and more birds are being seen either carrying nest material or food supplies for early broods. A pair of Mute Swans were on the path to the second screen drying their cygnets out in the morning sunshine, the cygnets looking especially cute and scruffy. I wonder how many of them will make it through to maturity.
Swan Family (c) JR
Terry Sherlock was lucky enough to see a Weasel relocating all her offspring from one den to another close to the cattle pens as can be seen no mean feat!
Weasel (c) Tezzer

Monday, 8 May 2017

Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th May

Back where it belongs!
The cool northerly and north easterly winds have checked a number of birds on their northward migration. The result for us has been something of an influx of waders with thirteen species, including our resident and breeding birds on show this weekend. It has also meant that the weather has been chilly with a bitter wind, especially noticeable when standing at either of the screens, they act like wind tunnels and focus the cold.
The Temminck’s Stint from last weekend had remained out on Big Otmoor all week although it was an extremely elusive bird. I spent a long time looking for it on Sunday and it may well have moved on as no other reports came in of it during the rest of the day. Having said that there were long periods last week when it wasn’t seen at all so it might just still be there.

Twenty-seven blackwits (c) Bark

Scanning the exposed mud and pools did reveal some interesting visitors. There were two Ruff on Saturday and on Friday a Bar-tailed Godwit along with a summer plumaged Grey Plover. The Plover remained into Saturday. At least two little Ringed Plovers were running about among the sedges and on the mud like super-charged clockwork toys, occasionally stopping to mate. Several Dunlin were present picking around the margins. On Sunday morning a party of twenty eight Black-tailed Godwits arrived, they circled several times over the reserve sometimes looking as if they were going to land but seemed to panic at the last moment, as if there was something on the ground that spooked them.
The Godwits may have been alarmed by the unprecedented numbers of larger gulls out on the Big Otmoor scrapes. Over eighty Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls are there now as well as a smaller number of breeding Black-headed Gulls. A Yellow-legged Gull was picked out amongst them. Last year we hosted just two pairs of Black-headed Gulls. As can be expected this is going to have a significant effect on the breeding Lapwings. The Gulls have already been seen predating the Lapwing chicks and I assume that they will stay around until this easy food source is exhausted or the water levels on Big Otmoor drop and they have nowhere to bathe and loaf.  There have never been so many gulls on the moor and we have speculated that it might be to do with the exceptionally dry spring we are experiencing and the consequent difficulty in finding food. It may also be a consequence of more food waste being recycled rather than dumped in landfill sites.
Courting Dunnock (c) Bark
Searching for waders out on the big Otmoor scrapes is difficult, the most successful strategy involves looking from several different viewpoints along the bridleway. Different edges and mudflats are revealed by the changes of angle and so birds can suddenly appear or indeed disappear.
Still on the subject of waders, we had four fully summer plumaged Golden Plovers out on Noke Sides on Saturday morning, one of them appeared to have a problem with one of its feet which caused it to limp heavily as it fed in the grass. There was also a Greenshank on the same field feeding along the central ditch.

Badly damaged Cuckoo and others(c) Bark

Elsewhere on the reserve we enjoyed something of a “cuckoo-fest” this weekend. On Sunday morning, we saw and heard six birds simultaneously, as three males pursued a female and at the same time two other birds were calling from opposite sides of the reserve. One bird that I photographed looked to have been in a battle either with a raptor or another of its kind. It had several secondaries missing and feathers coming loose from its tail.
On Sunday morning I noticed many more Reed warblers singing from the ditch beside the bridleway and they will be providing the Cuckoos with foster homes and surrogate parents. The Cuckoos on Otmoor parasitise Reed Warblers and as yet there may not be any nests ready for occupation.
Reed warbler (c) JR
As I reported last week the last to return of our iconic summer visitors, the Turtle Dove, has made it back against the odds. There were two birds being reported on Sunday morning and they have been seen feeding on the ground close to the cattle pens by the Greenaways Pump house. I don’t think that summer on Otmoor would be the same with their gentle purring from the oaks along the bridleway.
Hobbies too are back in good numbers as they usually are at this time of year. There were four hunting over Greenaways as I left yesterday morning. As well as the Hairy Dragonflies, the Four Spotted chasers are now being seen on the wing and so there is now an abundance of large insects for them to hunt.
Otmoor dawn (c) Tom N-L
Grey Plover courtesy of Badger.

If you wish to experience Otmoor at dawn and hear the stunning dawn chorus we are taking a guided walk out from the carpark on Saturday the 13th May between 5 and 7 am. Please contact the office on 01865 352033. It will be useful to have an idea of numbers.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

May Bank Holiday Weekend

Whinchat (c) Bark

The prevailing winds changed over the weekend and in doing so brought in a number of interesting and exciting migrants that, but for the rain and low cloud, would have moved on over without touching down.
Noke Wheatear (c) Bark
Another (c) Nick Truby
The change came during Saturday night and into Sunday, so whilst on Saturday there were no passage migrants to be seen on the reserve by Sunday, there was much more to be found. Amongst the new birds in was the bird of the weekend; a Temminck’s Stint. As well as the Stint, there was a Sanderling, four Ringed Plovers, two Little Ringed plovers, two Whimbrel and at least four Dunlin. The first Green Sandpiper of the year was seen on Greenaways and a Common Sandpiper on the nearest Big Otmoor scrapes.
Temminck's Stint (c) Nick Truby

The Temminck’s was reported on Rare Bird Alert on Sunday afternoon, and so we don’t know who first found it, but later several county birders got down there in the early evening and both refound and videoed it, as it crept about mouse like on the muddy edges of the Big Otmoor pools. It stayed overnight and I saw it yesterday afternoon. It is extraordinary to realise just how tiny this bird is. It disappeared frequently among the sedges but its diminutive size was most noticeable when it came near to Redshanks or Lapwings. It was often chased or flushed by a Redshank that may have had a nearby nest or perhaps just found it irritating! It has a very distinctive way of feeding crouched low and creeping around.

Temminck's Stint courtesy of Vicky Wren

On Sunday morning, we noticed a marked increase in the number of Common Whitethroats both in the carpark field and along the bridle way, which suggested an overnight influx.

Common Whitethroat (c) Bark
On radio four the BBC are doing a dawn chorus programme, now is certainly the best time to get out and hear it, by the end of this month the sounds will have diminished and birds will be too busy raising young to spend too much time and energy singing.
Sedgie (c) JR
There were large parties of mixed Hirundines passing through all weekend. They were concentrated over the reedbed where there had been a hatch of small flies or gnats that seemed very much to their liking. We also saw our first Swifts of the year scything through the air above the water, taking advantage of the abundant invertebrates.

Cuckoos (c) JR

Up to three different Cuckoos were present chasing each other, their streamlined shapes making them look for all the world like small raptors. They may be males that are seeking to hold territory, as we are yet to hear the females distinctive chuckling call.
There are now more Hobbies on the moor and as we have come to expect, just like teenage boys, they do not get up and going until after eleven in the morning!
Common Tern back on he northern lagoon (c) JR
There are Grey Herons making feeding flights on and off the reserve, the spiky crested heads of their progeny can now be seen above the reeds and sticking up over the edge of the nests in the dead oak tree on Ashgrave. Several Bitterns have been seen and there is still some booming to be head very early in the morning. Little Egrets are once again present in good numbers; we saw at least seven flying over the flood Field on Saturday morning.

Whinchat (c) Bark

There were more Wheatears around the farm and the short grass, sheep fields at Noke and a couple of others were seen out hunting from posts on Greenaways. A stunning male Whinchat was on the fence beside the path to the first screen. For once the light was coming from the right direction and the bird did not seem inhibited by our presence. There was also Grasshopper Warbler in the same area but unlike last week it was not easy to see or pin down. It is interesting to note that various species have precise favourite spots in which to set up a territory.
Garden Warbler (c) Bark
As an example, there always seems to be a Garden Warbler about two hundred metres past the pump house along the bridleway. It is unlikely to be the same individual year after year; I assume they are not long lived. Might it be a bird returning to the area in which it fledged? Why that part of the hedge and not a seemingly identical area just fifty metres away? Answers on a postcard please………
We are still waiting on the return of the Turtle Dove it’s still not too late but if we are still waiting this time next week then I will really be getting anxious. Fingers crossed!
Canada Geese and goslings (c) JR

Turtle dove along the bridle way even as I wrote the above, Great news
Back once again (c) Tom N-L