Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th September

Wheatear at the Pill (c) Bark

Saturday was grey, cool and breezy, Sunday in contrast was bright, very cold to start with, but as often happens at this time of year, by mid-morning I was feeling overdressed. Autumn was certainly in the air.
Long tailed Tits (c) Bark
On Sunday the tits and warblers were taking advantage of the fine weather to feed on the abundant insects while the seed eaters were tackling the fluffy heads of thistles, spiky teasels and sticky burrs.

Saturday was quiet and unremarkable until we walked out to the Pill. On our way we found a Spotted Flycatcher hunting from a dead hawthorn in the lee of the hedge. 

Spot fly and Tree Creeper (c) Bark
There were two Tree Creepers gleaning insects from the nearby branches. At the Pill itself we found four Whinchats, one Stonechat and a very confiding Wheatear.

Wheatear and Whinchat (c) Bark
While standing on the bridge at the Pill we could just see the Common Cranes feeding in Greenaway’s where they had been for most of the morning. Distracted by the chats we failed to  notice them take off but then saw they were flying. 
Going for the winter?
We watched them circle over the moor gaining height all the time until we lost them in the low clouds. This behaviour has been seen occasionally over the last several  weeks and they have eventually returned. I did not see them on Sunday and  have not heard of any subsequent reports, perhaps this time they have left for their wintering grounds in Somerset.

Goldfinch and juvenile Bullfinch (c) Bark
Walking along the bridleway on Sunday morning with bright sunlight behind me I was struck by the large numbers of Goldfinches both adult and juvenile. Bullfinches too would appear to have had a successful breeding season with family parties including very recently fledged juveniles feeding along the path to the first screen. Mixed feeding flocks of warblers were working through the prolific blackberries snatching at insects attracted to the ripening fruit. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were amongst them as were both species of Whitethroat and the occasional Reed Warbler.

Warblers and a Wren (c) Bark

They were shooting on Sunday and so I was unable to get out to the Pill again. A walk towards Noke found Whinchats sitting on the electric fence posts at the western end of Ashgrave. At least a hundred Yellow Wagtails are roosting in the reedbed at the moment and a small flock of them were feeding restlessly on the cut grass close to the cattle. On Monday a party of fifteen or so Meadow Pipits were reported on Greenaways.
As the green of the leaves start to fade in the hedgerows the bright colours of the hips and haws start to glow, the days are contracting, changes are happening and birds are on the move.
Comma on Blackberries (c) Bark

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Last two weeks of August

Ruff and Greenshank (c) Bark

Meteorological autumn arrived on the first of September and for the first time I really noticed a change in the air, the light and the vegetation. It was  cooler and the lush greens of summer are being replaced with softer paler shades. The fields have been topped and hayed and the layout of the ditches and small reedbeds stand out more clearly.

Early signs of autumn (c) Bark

There has been a steady increase in the presence of passage migrants with Whinchats, Wheatears and Redstarts being noted across the moor. Whinchats are being seen in the regular hedgerows on the MOD land and by the cattle pens but unusually we have not found them by the farms at Noke yet this year.

Whinchats     above (c) Nick Truby and below (c) JR

We are getting our regular pre-migration build up of Yellow wagtails and I have been told of as many as one hundred and fifty going to roost in the reedbed. Now the long grasses have been topped is easier to spot them feeding around the feet of grazing cattle.

Yellow Wagtails above (c) Nick Truby and below (c) Bark

The water levels in front of the first screen have continued to fall as the water evaporates. We certainly have more mud exposed than for the last few years. It has continued to attract a number of waders but not yet anything especially unusual or scarce. The muddy margins are speckled with white downy feathers as if there had been a light snowfall, they come from the ducks moulting and preening on the margins. 

Snipe and Little Ringed Plovers (c) Bark
Many Snipe are feeding on the edges and wading out into the shallow water to probe for invertebrates. We have seen  Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers and at least three Little Ringed Plovers, two juveniles and an adult. Little Egrets are now being seen regularly again. 

Great White Egrets (c) Derek Lane
In addition, last weekend there were two Great White Egrets out in front of the screen which frustratingly I manged to miss seeing by three minutes! The pair of Hawaiian Geese are still coming and going around the moor.
Nene (c) Nick Truby

One of the highlights occurred on Sunday  25th August. As we were watching a lone Greenshank feeding and preening on the mud bank to the left of the screen it started to call and flew up. At the same time, we could hear at least one other Greenshank calling and then we spotted a small flock of Greenshanks flying in. 

Greenshank (c) Bark
There were eighteen all together and they were accompanied by another wader that we later identified as a Ruff. They circled several times and looked as if they were about to land but took fright and flew off towards Big Otmoor. I haven’t seen so many Greenshanks together before and they were stunningly beautiful, bright, loud and animate.

An unsheduled dip for a Greenshank and some of the seventeen (c) JR

Elsewhere there are many mixed parties of Warblers moving through the hedgerows. Both species of Whitethroat can be seen amongst them looking crisp and fresh in pristine plumage.  

Reed warbler and Whitethroat (c) Bark and Sedgie (c) Nick Truby
A couple of Spotted Flycatchers were reported along the footpath to the south of Ashgrave that leads up to Beckley.
Kestrel (c) Bark

There are still five or six different Kestrels hunting over the newly cropped fields and two Marsh Harriers are still being seen over and around the reedbed. The Cranes are still with us but will soon be returning to  Somerset for the winter
Cranes flying in to feed (c) Bark

We are now approaching the key time for Bearded Tit irruption and hopefully this year some of these delightful birds will one again turn up on the moor and we will be listening out keenly for their distinctive pinging calls.

Greenshank and Ruff (c) Bark and Green Sandpiper (c) JR

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Saturday 17th - Tuesday 20th August

Wheatear (c) Bark

Autumn ,whilst not yet upon us, is certainly in the air and the comings and goings of birds reflects it. Blustery and showery at the weekend, the weather has now settled into something more like what one would expect for August. The turbulent conditions have got birds  on the move and we are seeing increasing numbers of passage migrants coming through.
Reed Warbler (c) Bark

Thirteen Wheatears feeding on a close mown field on the northern side of the moor was notable and they were still there the next day when I visited. There had been three Whinchats amongst them, but they had moved on by the next day to scrubbier areas. There were also reports of other Wheatears across the reserve in twos and threes, out on Greenaway’s and Big Otmoor. 
Wheatear (c) Bark
Redstarts are popping up all over the place. They have been seen out at the Pill, in Long Meadow, in the fields to the north of the Hundred Acre and in the Roman Road. They can be both seen and heard and favour large isolated bushes and thicker taller hedgerows. A small party of Yellow Wagtails were spotted over Big Otmoor and their numbers will certainly swell over the coming few weeks. It is worth looking for them around the feet of the cattle.
Blackwit (c) Bark

At the first screen there have been regular reports of Black-tailed Godwits and one was present all weekend along with the usual Lapwings and Snipe. 

Ne Ne, Goose stepping and swimming. (c) Bark
The most unusual visitors last weekend was a pair of Ne-Ne otherwise known as Hawaiian Geese. Once one of the rarest birds of all, down to less than fifty individuals in 1947, they were brought back from the brink of extinction by Peter Scott and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. These two must have escaped from a collection or have become feral like many other wildfowl. They had no rings and behaved in just the same way as our other geese. They are very attractive birds and it is a victory for conservation that they are now free flying in the UK. Whilst we can’t count them, we can nonetheless enjoy them.

Roe Deer (c) Bark

There are Roe Deer, Fallow Deer and Muntjac on and around the reserve. The latter being seen regularly in the carpark field and along the paths to the two screens. The larger species favour the wider open and more remote spaces but can often be seen feeding out on Ashgrave first thing in the morning.

Long-tailed Tit and Chiffy (c) Bark

Our Common Cranes are still around and are most frequently seen on the north eastern part of Greenaway’s. It will not be  long now before they undertake their annual migration, all the way back to Somerset for the winter.
Tezzers vigil (c) JR