Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th November

Shoveller (c) Bark
I received a text from an Otmoor regular last Saturday that simply said, “It’s raining so it must be the weekend” and so it was once again this weekend. I awoke to dolorous skies and a steady drizzle, but mindful of the superb views of Bittern that JR had last weekend in the rain, I headed down to the moor.
Rainy Sloes (c) Bark
Although I failed to get such point-blank views of Bittern there were lots of flight views to be had. We had no doubt that there were three Bitterns present but there may very well have been four. They are very difficult to distinguish one from another and our numbers are based on where they flew from and to and when. There is however one individual that looks darker than the others.
At the first screen there were many more ducks than of late and it seems to be a regular thing that around eight o clock there are significant numbers flying in as if they are being regularly flushed from a night time roost. Wigeon numbers have increased steadily and this week there were four Pintail present, a drake and three ducks. Most noticeable are the Shovellers, I counted well over sixty on Sunday morning often circling in pairs filtering out their food from the vortex that their spinning creates. The drakes are now looking at their very smartest and cleanest having moulted out their eclipse feathers.
Circling Shovellers (c) Tom N-L
Three juvenile Goosanders had called in during the week and the juvenile Whooper Swan had also been seen again from the second screen, sadly none of them were to be found this weekend.
The resident Marsh Harriers seemed to have the reedbed to themselves this weekend. There was no sign of the extra bird that had bothered them last week. Although we failed to see the Hen Harrier ourselves, we were assured that it had been present on at least one evening This week when the Starlings came in to roost. There are extensive flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwings around but they are currently favouring the fields to the west of the reserve. They can only be seen when they flush en masse if a raptor sets them up.
Goldies over (c) Tom N-L
The year list did gain an extra species this week when nine Pink-footed Geese dropped into Big Otmoor for an hour on Wednesday morning, sadly only four or five people were lucky enough to see them. It does show that if there is a large flock of feral geese present, they will encourage wilder geese to come in. This was certainly the case on Wednesday when the Pink-feet landed in amongst the resident flock of Canadas.

Pink Feet (c) Tezzer
On Sunday when we walked up along the edge of Sling Copse to the top of Ashgrave we could appreciate just how extensive the numbers of both Grey-lags and Canada Geese are, as they were scattered over the whole field sometimes obscured amongst the sheep other times hidden in dips.
Linnets, Reed Buntings and Chaffinches made up the bulk of the finch flock feeding beside the hide.

Linnet and Yellowhammer (c) JR
There were one or two Yellowhammers if one looked carefully and sometimes a sprinkling of Goldfinches. In the Carpark Field there were a number of Redwings and a few Fieldfares feeding on what remains of the haw crop. There do not seem to be so many berries in the hedgerows as I remember seeing at this time last year.
Goldfinch (c) Bark

As part of our ongoing quest to find a Hawfinch on the moor we walked up beside Ashgrave on Sunday. We followed the path through Noke wood that leads up to Beckley and further up the hill found an excellent vantage point from which to scan the southern edge of the trees. Needless to say, we drew a blank once again but did find that if we walked just a little further, through the field with the striking, panda like Belted Galloway cattle, that we could connect with the public footpath that runs straight down the hill towards the hide. This made for a very pleasant circular route that offered further viewpoints from which to scan the tops of the trees in Sling Copse. It also offered some woodland and farmland birding which is slightly different from what we are most familiar with. The views across the treetops are promising and we will keep on trying to track down one of these scarce and secretive finches.
Misty moor from the top of the hill (c) Tom N-L

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Saturday and Sunday 4th and 5th November

Bittern (c) JR
I did not go down to the moor on Saturday morning as it was raining so hard. I ended up regretting a little. I had a phone call at about eight o clock from JR to say that he was on the bridle way watching a Bittern across the ditch, that was just a few metres away. It had flown along the ditch and landed clumsily in the reeds and then realised that JR was close by. It appeared to be in a dilemma as to whether it should fly away or freeze and point its head towards the sky and pretend to be a clump of reeds. It chose the latter option and JR was able to stand and watch the bird for almost an hour, while the rain trickled down his neck! I was not sorry to miss the rain but sad not to have had such a close encounter with such a beautiful and secretive bird.

Bittern pretending to be reeds (c) JR
Also on Saturday morning there was a fine male Brambling feeding with the Chaffinches by the hide, unsurprisingly it was not around by Sunday morning.
Brambling (c) JR
Sunday was fine and bright and there was still a great deal to see. First thing I was lucky enough to spot the male Hen Harrier on the northern edge of Greenaways harrying the Starlings as they left the roost. Their tactic when threatened by a raptor is to make a tight ball, which must make it very difficult for the predator to single out an individual to take down.
Raptor food (c) Bark
On Sunday there were four or five separate flocks of Starlings feeding on and around the moor and their behaviour often alerts us to the presence of a Sparrowhawk or Peregrine. Despite their evasion tactics at least one of them was seen to be taken by a Sparrowhawk. The Marsh Harriers continue to patrol the reedbed. The adult male when seen well does show a very pale rump and tail and we wondered if perhaps if only seen briefly and at a distance it might sometimes have been mistaken for a ring tailed Hen Harrier.

Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier and Kestrel (c) Derek Latham

The finch flock beside the hide is growing and the trimming and pruning carried out by the volunteer work party has made it much easier to see them. There were many Chaffinches and Reed Buntings on Sunday and at least fifty Linnets.
Linnets (c) JR
We failed to find the Brambling that had been there on Saturday but several Bullfinches and Greenfinches added to the mix. As the winter draws on and the feeding regime is increased, it will be worthwhile spending some time checking through the finches for scarcities.
Bitterns made several appearances flying here and there within the reedbed, on several occasions lately when a Bittern has flushed close to us it has made a croaking call as it has flown away. Water

Water Rail and late Darters (c) Derek Latham
Rails are being seen quite often along the reedy edge opposite the first screen, given patience and a sharp eye it is possible to get good views of this normally shy species.

We looked in July’s meadow and along the edge of Sling Copse (the finger of woodland on the eastern side of Ashgrave) for Hawfinches but with no success. The only migratory flock we did see was of thirty or so Redwings, but the views were fleeting and I had hardly raised my bins before they were gone. I feel sure that if these enigmatic finches are to be added to the Otmoor list they will be seen either there or in Noke Wood. This coming week we will have another really good look.

Long Tailed Tit and Wren (c) JR

Monday, 30 October 2017

Saturday and Sunday 28th and 29th October

Juvenile Whooper (c) JR

There was just a slight frosting on the grass along the bridleway this Sunday and for the first time since last spring, gloves and hats were dusted down and dug out of draws and cupboards. The wind was keen and there were new birds to anticipate as autumn migration really gets underway.
We spent all weekend listening out for the scratchy, dry flight call of Hawfinches. There has been an unprecedented influx of these attractive birds into the country, due to a lack of food in Scandinavia. They seem to have been popping up all over Oxfordshire during last week and we hoped that sooner or later they might come through Otmoor. As far as I know they have never been recorded on the Reserve and if they do turn up they are likely to be in Noke Wood or Sling Copse. Sadly, the closest ones to us were seen in Worminghall this weekend.
Vis mig Fieldfares (c) Bark
Parties of both Fieldfares and Redwings were seen frequently flying through, but have not yet settled to begin stripping the berries from the hedgerows.
On Saturday morning, a Mute Swan flew into the southern Lagoon, accompanied by a juvenile Whooper Swan. The Whooper was yet to develop its distinctive lemon-yellow bill, the part that would later be yellow was still ivory coloured and the tip of the bill was pink. Unlike juvenile Mute Swans that shade through from brown into their pure white adult plumage, this juvenile showed grey that would ultimately become white.
Juvenile Whooper (c) Bark
Juvenile Mutes (c) Derek Latham
Two Peregrines were noted on Saturday and one of them landed for a while on the mud bank in front of the first screen. We usually have regular Peregrines overwintering, with the Starlings, Golden Plovers, Lapwings and wildfowl there is plenty of food to sustain a healthy population of raptors.

Kestrel above (c) Bark         below (c) JR
Three Marsh Harriers were seen on both days, two of them seem to be very much a pair, and appear intent on pushing the interloper out. Another Ring-tailed Harrier has appeared, being picked up on Sunday morning hunting along the northern side of Greenaways.
Peregrine (c) Derek Latham
There is still at least one Whinchat about on the reserve. It was frequenting the cattle pens on Saturday and on Sunday we found it, or perhaps another, in the game strip sown on the Closes. Stonechats are settling onto clear territories and we watched a pair on July’s meadow patrolling up and down the hedge.
Whinchat on closes (c) JR
Goldfinches (c) JR
There are substantial numbers of Linnets and Chaffinches feeding on the path beside the hide. There are smaller numbers of Reed Buntings and Goldfinches amongst them and there are one or two Yellowhammers as well. Bramblings were reported as were Redpolls from the same area, but they were very elusive and we failed to connect with them.
Dunnock (c) JR
Bittern flying away (c) JR
We can say with absolute certainty that there are three Bitterns in and around the Reedbed. They are being spotted flying between feeding areas and there is clearly one individual that is commuting between the reed fringe on the southern edge of Ashgrave and the strip of reeds beside the path to the first screen.
Squabbling B H G's (c) JR
The moor is stunningly beautiful at the moment showing the richest of autumn colours and a particular seasonal suite of birds. I am very grateful to Badger for putting together the short video below that shows much more clearly than I can articulate; just how lovely it is.

Please view at 1080p HD

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd October

Female Stonechat (c) Bark

There seems little doubt that if we wish to give the year-list a boost when it gets stuck, all I have to do is to go overseas! While I have been away four new species have been added to the list taking it to one hundred and fifty three. It was good to get a Whooper Swan down on the moor as we did not have a visit from either of the winter swans last year. It is interesting that at the same time on the same day there were half a dozen at Farmoor.
Brent Goose (c) Stoneshank
Just as it was with the Brent goose that appeared briefly last week. It was seen in front of the first screen at the same time as a small party of Brents were at Farmoor, so probably a straggler from that small flock. The other additions were a female Brambling, hopefully one of many more later on this winter, and finally a couple of Siskins.
There has been significant change since I was last on the moor. The autumnal yellows and golds have intensified on the leaves that are still clinging to the trees after the stormy winds of last week.

Otmoor and Harrier in the strange light (c) Tom N-L
Whilst away I missed one day when the winds had whipped up Saharan dust and the sky itself took on a strange yellow and orange hue, like dusk at mid-afternoon. The light on Saturday was pale and milky and on Sunday much brighter but both days were very windy. The wind meant that most birds preferred to keep their heads down and skulk in the bushes or the lee of hedgerows.

Mallard (c) Bark and Shovellers (c) JR
From the first screen the ducks are looking much smarter in their crisp new plumage and instead of loafing around preening, are courting and displaying especially the Mallard drakes. We do tend to take them for granted but their bright emerald green heads, conker coloured breasts and yellow bills really shine out brightly in the autumn sunshine. Shovellers spin in pairs creating a vortex to draw up food from deeper water. There is still a slow but steady increase in the numbers of both Wigeon and Teal.
Bittern (c) Bark
Bitterns are once again very much in evidence and seem to be undertaking longer flights between feeding areas. We estimate that there are at least three different individuals, based largely upon where we see them fly to or from and where they next appear. A very imprecise method but the only one at our disposal.
Hen harrier (c) Derek Latham
The second winter male Hen Harrier is still with us and has now been present for a whole year. It seems likely that as the starling roost gets established, with its ready supply of food for raptors, there will be no need for it to stray too far from the moor. A Ringtail was reported on Saturday and might just be the one that was present early last month.
Lesser Black backed Gull over screen (c) Bark

A Short-eared Owl was seen well on Saturday and again briefly on Sunday morning, hunting along the hedge on the north-eastern side of Greenaways.
I have been reliably informed that this is the optimum time for Stonechats to be on the move and we have seen really good numbers on the reserve and surrounding areas. Six were seen in one location on Saturday and at the same time we were watching a further pair just up from the hide towards July’s Meadow. On Sunday ten were counted out on Greenaways and a late Whinchat was seen on both days, associating with the Stonechats.

Stonechat (c) Bark and Whinchat (c) Pete Roby
On both days we saw small parties of both Fieldfare and Redwing passing over but as the wind finally comes out of the south westerly quarter I am sure their numbers will rise dramatically.
Kingfisher at the Pill (c) Stoneshank
Finally on Saturday we watched a young Fallow Stag make its way across Ashgrave. It is probably the offspring of our resident Fallow hind. The one that had serious identity issues as for a whole year it appeared to think it was a cow! The hind also had a fawn this year and we will enjoy watching the small herd develop.
Young Fallow Stag (c) Bark