Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th May

Common Tern (c) Bark

On Saturday morning I was helping with a group of Otmoor volunteers who wanted to brush up on their spring visitor id. It is always easier to make a direct connection between a bird and its song when you can actually see it whilst it is singing. The Otmoor warblers did not let us down in this respect.

Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
Both species of Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warblers plus Blackcap and Chiffchaff all sat out prominently and sang. A Garden Warbler, by the bench along the bridleway, was more elusive but sang non-stop and allowed a comparison to be made between it and a nearby Blackcap. Cetti’s as usual, remained deep in cover yet called and sang all morning, there was a Willow Warbler calling loud and clearly in the car park field, but none showed themselves elsewhere on the reserve.

Common Whitethroat (c) JR and Sedge Warbler (c) Paul Wyeth 
In addition, Wrens, Goldfinches, Bullfinches, Reed Buntings and Linnets were out about and active. The finches and buntings can be seen in bushes and trees gleaning invertebrate food from under leaves and around flowers, rather than foraging their regular seed-based diet. They are clearly gathering insects and caterpillars for their nestlings.

Cuckoos above (c) Bark  below (c) Paul Wyeth
Over the whole weekend Cuckoos were very active, calling and chasing across the moor. On Sunday we were certain that there were five different individuals present and as well as the familiar male “cuckoo” call the females chuckling bubbling call could also be heard. Sometimes the males could be seen flying in a slow stalling flight whilst calling continuously.
Common Whitethroat (c) Bark

Bitterns too were very much on show. On both Saturday and Sunday there were two individuals out and about in the open on Greenaways. The sedge is still low enough for the bittern’s head to appear above the vegetation like a periscope. It may well be that there are particularly good feeding opportunities out there in the middle, with frogs and other amphibians around the shallow ditches.
Common Tern with offering (c) JR

At the second screen the Tern colony is now well established on the raft. It is difficult to determine just how many pairs there are, as the birds are coming and going all the time. It certainly seems that there are more pairs out there than last year. Courtship behaviour involves a great deal of screaming, calling and presentation of food to strengthen pair bonds.
Redshank (c) Bark

There has been a smattering of passage waders out on Big Otmoor including Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a couple of Greenshanks. There have also been occasional sightings of Garganey both there and out in front of the first screen.
Swalow drinking (c) Paul Wyeth

Hobbies are currently very much in evidence, either perched out on posts on Greenaways or later in the morning hunting low over the ditches, increasingly taking dragonflies as their numbers are increasing as more and more adults appear. On Monday morning this week at least fourteen individuals were on and over Greenaways. It will be worthwhile looking through these falcons carefully as we might perhaps find another Red-footed Falcon amongst them. We had a fine male over Greenaways for one day in 2007 and it would be wonderful to see another one.

Hawthorn and Water violet (c) Bark

More and more plants are coming into bloom. In the ditches we are seeing the first clumps of water violet and Hawthorn is showing on shades of white and more rarely pink. In front of the first screen a large of flag Irises are just about to burst into flower, it is a very dynamic and colourful time of year.
Lackey moth caterpillars. (c) Bark

Monday, 13 May 2019

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th May

Common Whitethroat (c) JR

On Saturday morning over thirty people assembled in the carpark at about 4.45 am for a dawn chorus walk. It was a cloudy but dry morning and the birds did not let us down, although Sunday morning was warmer and sunnier with wall to wall birdsong.
Dawn on Saturday (c) Bark 
There are at least four cuckoos present on and around the moor now and they were in good voice. The hepatic cuckoo that we have watched for the last two years is amongst them, but unfortunately, I have yet to see her this year. Cuckoos on Otmoor parasitise Reed Warblers as surrogate parents and up until this weekend there seemed not to be as many around as we have come to expect.
Cuckoo (c) Pete Roby
There has been an influx of them during the last week as they were much easier to find along the ditches and in the reedbed this weekend. Once the cuckoos have mated, we will be looking out for the females sitting out on fenceposts and bushes as they wait for their moment to slip into the warblers’ nest and secrete their egg.

Wren and Sedge warbler (c) Bark

The only warbler species that eluded us on Saturday was Grasshopper Warbler, where in the previous weekend we had recorded at least four across the reserve there was no reeling to be heard this week. This is a pattern that we have noticed in other years, the birds arrive and call for a couple of weeks and then go silent, presumably having mated and set up nests and started to raise young.

Backcap and Chiffys (c) JR
In three or four weeks’ time we may very well hear them calling again as they seek to repeat the process. We were able to hear the full richness of the spring dawn chorus as we made our way out to the screens although by Sunday morning in the sunshine, the birds were singing from more exposed songposts rather than from deep cover.

Bitterns (c) JR

It has been a wonderful weekend for seeing Bitterns. The male that has been displaying and booming out on Greenaways was strutting his stuff again on Sunday and was visible along with another bird that we assume is a female, for over an hour on Sunday morning. This was very much to the delight of many visitors, who got excellent scope views from the bridleway. Once again, they were in the area of rank grass and sedges rather than staying hidden in the depths of the phragmites reedbed. On Saturday in the morning another bird was seen from the first screen swaying unsteadily at the top of the reeds. It was sad that most of the dawn chorus visitors had left when one flew very close and slowly past the screen.
Hobby (c) JR

Hobbies have been seen most  mornings perched up on the posts and gates of Greenways and by late morning they have been on the wing hunting the dragonflies and hawthorn flies that require the temperature to rise in order to get going. On Saturday by midday there were over  twelve of them on and over the main fields and reedbeds. We often tell visitors who ask where to see them, that they are like teenagers and never really get up until lunchtime!
Magpie from the first screen (c) Bark
Pied Wag feeding young at Noke (c) Pete Roby

The year-list moved on again last week with the first Whinchat coming through, a female seen out near the farm at Noke on Thursday, it didn’t stay around and as yet we have not heard of any others.
Terns at the raft (c) Bark
At the second screen there were at least twelve Common Terns on and over the tern raft. They are very noisy and active as they sort out mates and the pecking order of the colony, screaming their harsh ragged calls. They are very aggressive, and they challenge any Gulls that have the temerity to enter their airspace, unlike some other birds they don’t pull out when they go into an attack. Later on, they are very successful in defending their vulnerable young from potential predators.
It's that hare again! (c) Bark

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

May Bank Holiday Weekend 3rd - 5th May

Common Whitethroat (c) Bark

An unseasonably cold weekend and often windy and grey. As I suggested last week there  has been an influx of Hobbies over the last ten days. On Wednesday afternoon last week, there were over twelve of them, circling high over Greenaways and the reedbed. They were clearly feeding on the insects that were being carried up by a thermal. By the weekend there were fewer present, but they were feeding much nearer to  the ground, perching on the posts and gates on Greenaways and heading out to snatch prey.
Peregrine Saturday morning. (c) Bark

Over the weekend there was significant passage of hirundines and the first large parties of Swifts moving through and pausing to feeding over and around the reedbed and the Flood Field.
There has been a smattering of waders showing up on Big Otmoor, with a Grey Plover and both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers out on the middle scrapes. The Grey Plover was in partial moult into its smart summer plumage. Hopefully we will see a greater variety of passage waders moving through over the next few weeks.
Cuckoo (c) JR

The moor was alive with birdsong on Sunday morning and as the wind had died down the singers were much more obvious in their choice of song-posts. At the second screen it was possible to stand for fifteen minutes or so and both hear and see seven different species of warbler.   
Common Whitethroat with nest material (c) JR
A Common Whitethroat is building a nest out to the left of the screen, coming and going with nest material and stopping occasionally to sing. Further towards the corner a Lesser Whitethroat was singing almost continuously as it establishes a territory.
Cetti's Warbler (c) JR
There has been a Cetti’s in the vicinity for weeks and from time to time it would appear in the hawthorn bush beside the water. Its calling was often stimulatedby the movement of a Dunnock that was gathering small green caterpillars from area.
Dunnock with caterpillars (c) Bark
A Sedge Warbler was shouting from the reeds to the right of the screen and the more measured and regular calls of a Reed Warbler were coming from the reeds on the left where it would show from time to time.
Blackcap (c) Bark
From behind the screen a Chiffchaff was moving backwards and forwards along the hedgerow and a Blackcap was also singing from twenty metres or so down the track.
Sedge Warbler (c) JR
At the first screen a Bittern was booming every five or six minutes from the thick reeds in the south eastern corner. A different, female Bittern flew in and landed clumsily on the closest reedbed directly in front of us.

Bittern (c) Bark
It swayed unsteadily on the top of the reeds stretching his head up and peering about like a periscope, it demonstrated an almost owl-like ability to turn its head and look behind. It descended to the edge of the water with a very inelegant slither and then sat hunched on the waters edge, just occasionally stretching out its neck to lay its bill flat on the surface of the water, a very strange behaviour! It may have been connected with its fishing activities as at one point it plunged its whole head under water. It was certainly aware of the booming from nearby, but its only reaction was to raise its head and look in the vague direction from which the sound was coming. After twenty minutes it simply melted away into the reeds behind it, disappearing almost as if by magic.
Shoveller touchdown (c) Bark
A Little Egret was seen over the lagoons on Saturday and on Monday its big cousin turned up. The Great White Egret was seen initially in flight across Greenaways and then landed in front of the first screen giving excellent views to the visitors there. If any one managed any pictures of it, I would love to have a copy to use on this blog.
Goldfinch (c) JR

We  saw two Wheatears out on Greenaways on Saturday morning feeding on the shorter grass on the eastern edge of the field. The Turtle Doves while present occasionally are not purring from the regular places and are very elusive. There are now only two regular visitors that have yet to appear on the moor, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher.
Moorhen and Chick (c) Bark
With warmer temperatures and a more southerly wind predicted for the coming week I would expect to hear that they have been reported in the next few days. There is a good passage of Black Terns going through the county at present and in good years we do find one or two wanderers feeding over the northern lagoon, so it will be worth keeping an eye out for them there. The Tern raft is already occupied by a couple of Common Terns and the raft had only been out for a couple of hours before they took up residence!
Sedgie (c) JR

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th April

Sedge warbler (c) Bark

Storm Hannah and its aftermath meant that it was a chilly, cloudy and very windy weekend. Birds were reluctant to sit out in the open and sing, which made seeing anything very much extremely difficult, especially on Saturday.
Foraging Blackbird (c) Bark

The good news was that the first of the Turtle Doves has returned. It was seen on Friday and was heard purring in the Car Park Field on Sunday. It now remains to be seen if it will be joined by others. It has arrived a week or so earlier than they have in recent years.
First Turtle dove back (c) Paul Wyeth

We were also able to confirm the last of our nine regular Warbler species this weekend, with at least two Garden Warblers, one calling from the bridleway and the other from beside the track to the second screen. It was also very noticeable that more Common Whitethroats had come in during the previous week and were making their presence heard from bushes and brambles across the reserve.

Singing Blackcap and Wren (c) Bark
Once again it was very clear that we are hosting more Cetti’s Warblers on Otmoor than ever before, it seems that wherever we walk we are accompanied by Cetti’s shouting from the hedgerows. It is an amazing recovery for them, after being wiped out on the moor during the last very cold winter six years ago. Once again there were two Grasshopper Warblers reeling at different ends of the path to the first screen, but this week in the wind they were calling from deep in cover.
Sedge Warbler (c) JR
The Swallows that nest in the barns at the Noke sheep farm are back. They are displaying and hunting low over the fields occasionally perching on the wires to preen and rest. I saw my first Otmoor House Martin of the year on Sunday feeding over the northern lagoon, as yet we have not had any Swifts reported.
Mistle Thrush (c) Bark
At Noke it was encouraging to see a Mistle thrush collecting a beak-full of earthworms from one of the sheep fields to carry off to a nest somewhere in the nearby hedgerows. There is also a very healthy population of House Sparrows in and around the farmyard.

Swallows at Noke (c) Bark

There are still two male Cuckoos calling and roaming over the whole site, we have yet to hear the bubbling call of the females. A female Wheatear was seen out on Big Otmoor on Saturday but there have been fewer passing through than we would normally expect to see, it might be that they moved straight on through, during the spell of fine warm weather earlier in the month. There was a Ringed Plover out on the muddy edges of the Big Otmoor scrapes on Saturday, but no more interesting waders have dropped in.
Redshank from the hide (c) Bark

Two Common Terns were present on Saturday over Big Otmoor and it will not be long before the tern raft is put out again on the northern lagoon. The timing is critical as if it is put out too early it can be occupied by Black-headed Gulls and the terns cannot use it. Last year it hosted seven pairs and they fledged a good number of chicks.
Hope fully next week this will be a Whinchat instead of a Robin (c) Bark

As we move into the start of May the last of our summer visitors will arrive and we will be looking out for a surge in the number of Hobbies feeding over the reserve before dispersing to breed. The first Hairy Dragonflies have emerged over the last week and the dangly legged Hawthorn Flies ( a.k.a.
St Marks Flies ) will also be on the wing, offering a ready source of food for them.
Mallard ducklings hoovering up seed intended for the Turtle Doves (c) Bark
The hare that spends a lot of time on the bund and near the first screen was once again much in evidence and offering abundant photo opportunities. It is surprisingly confiding for what is usually such a wary species.

Disappearing Dandelion stem  From the front (c) JR from the side (c) Bark