Tuesday, 5 November 2019

End of October

Female Stonechat (c) Bark

A combination of adverse weather and “can’t miss” rugby matches have meant that  I have not been down to the moor as regularly as normal. Heavy rains over the last couple of weeks have made the biggest impact on the look and feel of the moor and it is finally looking like a proper wetland once again.

Shovellers coming out of eclipse (c) Bark

Now there are extensive pools in front of the main hide and the lower northern edge of Ashgrave is again looking attractive to wildfowl. There have been up to twenty Pied Wagtails flitting around the margins of the scrapes and feeding amongst the tussocks. 

Pied wagtails from the hide (c) Bark
There have also been several small flocks of Meadow Pipits foraging in the same areas. A pair of Stonechats have taken up residence in the long stand of bulrushes that is to the left of the hide.

Meadow Pipit and Stonechat (c) Bark

Barn Owls are showing most evenings now as the Starlings and Wagtails come into roost in the reedbed. There are also at least two Short-eared Owls hunting over Greenaways. Conditions for them across the reserve look perfect, with adjacent areas of cropped grass, ranker growth and low scrub. This mix results in optimal habitats for small mammals especially voles and it is these that  the Owls feed on. As the winter progresses, we will expect the owls to be out and about much more in the mid-afternoon, whilst at present they are only appearing at dusk.
Barn Owls at dusk (c) Paul Wyeth

There has been no further sign of the pair of Bearded Tits seen over two weeks ago. It seems unlikely that they have moved on with a massive reedbed as well as so many small reedbeds and reed-lined ditches available. They could very well be in an out of the way clump of reeds where they will not be seen or heard by anyone.

Swimming Muntjac (c) Tom N-L

The southern lagoon has recently hosted two unusual mammal species. Two Muntjac were seen out on the island in front of the screen and were photographed wading and swimming across the deepest part. More exciting still is the now regular appearances of Otters  on the northern part of the lagoon. There were two seen at the same time on Sunday. They have been watched hunting and catching fish every day since Wednesday and have been noticed going in and out of the furthest clump of reeds. It is pleasing to see that there is clearly a healthy enough fish population in the lagoon to keep Otters on site. I have just heard that they are now thought to be a female with young.

Distant Otters (c) Luke O'Byrne

As yet there have not been large numbers of Fieldfares or Redwings in the hedges although did flush about thirty of them from the bushes besides the track as I walked back from the Starling roost last Thursday evening. The same evening I was able to give my bat detector a trial as it got dark and there are certainly plenty of bats around the carpark, in the Roman Road and along the bridleway. The frequency at which they echolocate suggests that they are either Pipistrelles or Daubenton’s or possibly both. I have yet to refine and fully understand the signals!

Long Tailed Tit and Blue Tit (c) Bark

Several hundred Lapwings and a similar number of Golden Plovers are now moving between the Flood Field, Noke Sides and Ashgrave. There were a pair of Peregrines present over the weekend and as the number of prey species grows during the next few months so will the number of raptors turning up to hunt them. Last evening (Monday 4th November) there was a Ring-tailed Harrier on the northern edge of Greenaway’s having a bit of a dispute with a Barn Owl. The Barn owl was one of three present yesterday.
Emergency Access looks as though its needed for this bedraggled pheasant

Monday, 21 October 2019

Middle of October

Bearded Tit (c) Peter Milligan

For the past four weeks I have been looking and listening out for Bearded Tits. I have been reliably informed that they have had a very successful breeding season and that this could  be an irruption and dispersal year. I had only managed to get down to the moor a couple of times in the last week as the very wet and unsettled weather made birding last weekend almost impossible. Last Thursday I managed a couple hours between the showers and did think that I might have heard a tell-tale “ping” from the ditch beside  the path to the first screen. I stood and listened but there were no other calls and all I could see were a couple of Reed Buntings feeding in the phragmites. 
All I could spot was a Reed Bunting!
Thus, I had a mixture of feelings when I heard on Friday evening that a pair of Beardies had been seen and photographed from the bridleway close to the kissing  gate to the screens. A little bit disappointed that I hadn’t found them myself, but mostly delighted to know that this charismatic wetland beauty was once again on the moor after a four-year absence. Since then they have been very elusive but were seen several times on Saturday, but of course we failed to locate them on Sunday when I  finally got down there. 
Female Bearded Tit (c) Peter Milligan
There is a huge acreage of reeds for them to hide in and hopefully will be joined by others in the next month or so. If the winter is not too harsh, they may well remain and even breed again next year.
Water levels are rising steadily across the reserve now and the muddy edges of the southern lagoon are being reclaimed, just from the sheer quantity of rain that has fallen. The scrapes on Greenaway’s are filling up rapidly after the dry summer. In front of the first screen there are over thirty Snipe hunkered down in the stubble of old cut reeds, although their camouflage makes them difficult to discern. 
Courting Gadwall
There  are over forty Gadwall on and around the two  lagoons and they are actively courting and pairing up, occasionally unpaired females are pursued in frantic noisy flights by amorous males. Shoveller numbers too are on the rise and they are beginning to emerge from their much drabber and dull eclipse plumage.
Both Fieldfares and Redwings are being seen regularly now and there are several small flocks of Meadow Pipits on the main fields.
Meadow Pipit

On Sunday we saw a Peregrine over Greenaway’s and Ashgrave and there have been regular reports of Merlin both male and female. One was seen over the reedbed then hunting what was assumed to be a Meadow Pipit over the Flood Field. A male was seen flying fast and low along the path to second screen and headed straight towards the observer. Three different Marsh Harriers were seen at the weekend.
There have been several Otter sightings from the first screen. On Wednesday one swam across the lagoon from right to left very close to watchers in the screen. On Sunday we spotted a stream of bubbles in the northern lagoon but were unable to find or see what was causing them and an Otter is the most likely explanation. 

Kingfisher still showing at the first screen (c) Paul Wyeth
Once again, we were surprised at the number of small mammals that skittered across our path on Sunday. It may be that the water on the fields has displaced some of them from flooded burrows and runs. Two barn Owls have been seen hunting on the north eastern side of the reedbed and probably another individual at Noke.
Autumnal female Blackcap
Hopefully our Bearded Tits will stay around, be joined by some others and allow me to get some pictures! Expect an update next week.
Calm at the southern Lagoon (c) Paul Wyeth

Monday, 7 October 2019

First Week of October

Kingfisher All pics this week (c) Bark

This weekend more than any before it this year felt and smelt like autumn despite the occasional sunshine and the clean blue skies. Leaves are beginning to fall, and the willows particularly are showing a mixture of yellow and pale green leaves. The rain during the last week and overnight at the weekend has further recharged ditches and scrapes and the water levels at the first screen are starting to creep up once again.


At least four Jays are gathering acorns from the Oaks along the bridleway and others are working along the Roman Road, their efforts mean that they have supplies hidden away for leaner times later in the winter, but also that buried then forgotten acorns will germinate and help to regenerate woodlands.

Another sign of the season was the sighting of the first small party of Redwings feeding in the bushes between Greenaway’s and the MOD land before very long both they and the Fieldfares will be feasting on the  berries across the whole moor.
At the first screen there were more ducks to be seen. At least thirty Gadwall had been counted earlier in the week and this species is one of the earliest out of eclipse. The males are competing fiercely with each other, displaying, courting and occasionally sparring aggressively. There are larger numbers of Teal showing now. The males are still mostly in eclipse but on one or two of them now it is possible to see the shadow of their breeding colours emerging from beneath the grey. There are at least twenty-five Snipe hidden amongst the dead stems of cut reeds on the island in front of the screen. Kingfishers are present and just occasionally come and perch right in front of the screen offering point blank views of their stunning colours.

There are still mixed feeding parties of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps moving along the hedgerows often in conjunction with mixed Tit flocks. Their colours are subtle but variable some looking much yellower and others greyer with a hint of orange. 
We found a couple of Greenfinches feeding on blackberries on the path to the second screen and we realised that usually the only place we expected to see them was at the feeders and then not very frequently.


We  saw two different Marsh Harriers this weekend an adult male and a female, we may also have seen another juvenile type bird. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel put in appearances from time to time and there is still one Hobby around over Greenaways. As we expect at this time of year we have had the first report of a Merlin.

Stonecats are out on Greenaways and on the MOD land and we still found a couple of Whinchats amongst them.
Reedbed Fox

Two foxes were out and about on the reedbed on Saturday causing the ducks to take to the water and then swim close enough to them but not too close. Just enough to let the fox know that they knew it was there. As the water levels rise once again the reedbed and lagoons will become a no go area for non-swimming predators.

Just as we were leaving on Sunday a Bittern strolled across the track out to the reedbed, my first sighting for over four weeks!
Bittern across the stone track

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Last two weeks of September

Black-tailed Godwit (c) Bark

After a dry end to summer the weather has finally changed and a we have experienced some very wet weather. This has had the effect of turning our dry parched fields green again and has begun the long process of recharging our ditches, scrapes and reservoirs.

Things have continued to change on the bird front too. Stonechats now outnumber Whinchats by three to one and on the 29th September there were thirteen reported out on the sedges and reedmace of Greenaway’s. As in other years the Stonechats appear to display over a chosen territory flying up vertically and hovering above a favoured perch. It is impossible to say if they are checking out the area, looking for other Stonechats or simply declaring their presence. As the winter comes on they will be seen more and more in pairs.
Wryneck (c) Ron Louch

A Wryneck added a welcome boost to our moribund year-list. It was seen initially on the ground and flying up into a hedge. It then disappeared, as Wrynecks often do, for several hours, before appearing briefly once again on bushes at the side of the reedbed. It was photographed by a visiting birder from Yorkshire who only really managed to id it from his pictures. It seemed to have been feeding on a meadow ant nest beside the path to the first screen. Interestingly it was seen about a hundred metres from the two other places where  Wrynecks have been reported over the last ten years.

Blackwits Above (c) JR below preening (c) Bark

There have been two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on the lagoon in front of the first screen for over two weeks now. They have spent most of their time at the far end of the lagoon feeding in the shallows but on Sunday came and stood on the small muddy island in front of the screen. There they proceeded to preen busily, showing how delicately and accurately a bird with a very long bill can give all of its feathers careful attention.

Pintails     Above in flight (c) Tezzer below (c) Bark

On Sunday we found two eclipse drake Pintail out on the water at the first screen. It is unusual to see them in this particular plumage and I can’t recall seeing them before on Otmoor. There have been reports of the first Wigeon arriving and Teal numbers are starting to increase. Three Ruddy Shelduck also dropped in briefly last week. 
Kingfisher (c) Bark
Kingfishers are now being seen regularly from both screens.
It will be worth checking the Snipe on the mudbanks carefully over the next few weeks as there has already been a Jack Snipe seen elsewhere in the county.
There are good numbers of Meadow Pipits on and over big Otmoor and Ashgrave. There seem to  be more of them this year and perhaps  they have had a successful breeding season. Jays are beginning to be seen gathering acorns from the oaks along the bridleway. A group of five juvenile Green woodpeckers on the field to the south of July’s Meadow was notable.

Kestrel being mobbed by Jackdaws (c) JR

There were still two Hobby present on Monday and Kestrels can be seen almost all the time. They are often noticed when being harassed by Jackdaws and Crows. Three different Marsh Harriers are still in the vicinity of the moor and certainly cover a much larger area than just the reedbed.
Three weeks ago I suggested that we had seen the last of “our” Cranes for the year and duly the RSPB were sent a picture of a Crane flock on the Somerset Levels that conclusively includes at one of our birds the male “Wycliff”
Cranes on the levels (c) John Crispin