Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th August

Young Sedgie (c) JR

It was a mostly dry weekend with rain overnight. Sunday morning was cool yet sunny with gin clear air and perfect light. The suite of birds on show were largely as we would expect in late summer as we nudge into autumn.
As we wandered along the bridleway and the trails there were many feeding parties of mixed warblers and tits to be seen.
Long Tailed Tits (c) Tom N-L
Juvenile warblers are a challenge to photograph and identify, they never stop moving as they feed busily, building up condition and fat stores for the journeys they are about to make. I walked through the recently reopened seasonal path in the carpark field on Sunday morning.

Elusive warblers (c) Bark
Sometimes the odd individual bird would stop for a few moments to warm up and preen in the early low sunshine. It is particularly rich in wildflowers, Fleabane and Loosestrife splashing the side of the paths with colour. It is certainly worth the detour.
Purple Loosestrife (c) Bark
All of our regular summer visitors, apart from Cuckoos, are still with us. The Common Cranes were seen flying in and out of Greenaways on both days. Hobbies are still hunting the abundant large dragonflies over the larger fields.
Ruddy Darter (c) Tom N-L
Turtle Doves are also still present, two were seen together sitting and preening in the dead trees that jut out into Ashgrave from the bridleway. They were too far away to see if either of them were juveniles even with a telescope, we have yet to make a positive identification of any newly fledged birds.
Several different Marsh Harriers came and went and the we have no way of knowing if the juvenile seen was one of “ours” or a visitor. The extra pale Common Buzzard was noted several times sitting on its favoured post out on Greenaways. A Peregrine over on Sunday was the first that I have seen for some weeks.
Reed Bunting (c) JR
There has been a steady stream of waders through, mostly viewable from the first screen. The mud exposed as the water has drawn down is attracting Greenshanks, Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers and of course lots of Snipe. The latter can be very difficult to pick out as they are so perfectly camouflaged. Two Ringed Plovers dropped in one day last week. Other birds can be seen creeping about on the margins amongst the moulting ducks. One of these is a juvenile Water Rail that at a distance can look disconcertingly like a Little Crake. Having said that, this is the time when we are most likely to see a passage Crake on Otmoor. There have been a number of Spotted Crakes seen across the country in the last week or so and Spotted Crake has been recorded from the first screen once before in late August.
Yellow Wagtails with the cattle (c) Bark
Out on Big Otmoor there were a couple of Wheatears feeding in one of the areas that were flooded and since drying out has been grazed down by the Geese and the cattle. When the cows came close enough to the bridleway it was possible to pick out the Yellow Wagtails that were hunting just beside their feet in the shorter grass. Their numbers will build up during the next few weeks and it fascinating to think that these same birds feeding between the legs of Otmoor cows could be feeding under the hooves of Ankole Cattle, Zebra or Wildebeest in just a few months’ time.  
At Noke and out on Ashgrave to the left of the hide were small groups of Whinchats. There were still at least two juvenile Stonechats out at the Pill on Saturday morning. On one of the short grass fields near to Lower Farm there were five Wheatears on Saturday morning.
Unwell Sparrowhak (c) James Mackie Walker
A Sparrowhawk that appeared to have been stunned or had some kind of accident was eventually taken into care by some considerate birders who got in touch with St Tiggwinkles. They sent someone out who picked up the bird and took it into their hospital. The bird had not been hit or hurt but was in fact starving, as it had been infected by the trichomonas parasite. Sadly it was too far gone to save and succumbed. The parasite is most commonly found in finches where it blocks their throats and prevents them from feeding. We can only assume that it ate an infected finch and so was became host to the parasite. I had not heard of this happening to raptors before but an infected and weakened finch would be much easier for a young inexperienced predator to catch. A less than cheerful end to the weekend.
Our Ashgrave Fallow Deer are still with us. (c) Tezzer

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 12th and13th August

Juvenile Stonechat (c) Tezzer

This weekend there was a return to drier more summery weather, but the birds we saw reflected the beginning of the turn in the seasons, from full summer towards early autumn.
Usually on the moor I manage to see most of what is about, there are other days though where I seem to contrive to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and miss almost everything! Saturday was one such morning.
I did manage to see two swans arrive (c) Tom N-L
I missed the three Black–tailed Godwits that arrived in front of the first screen, while I was at Noke failing to find any Yellow Wagtails or Whinchats in the sheep fields. Had I chosen to go a few hundred metres further along the bridle way I would have seen a Wheatear feeding out on the cropped grass, but instead chose to head back towards the Roman Road. I was in the hide when there were several Bittern movements at the screens and so missed them.

Swallows feeding young. (c) JR
The only really pleasing thing about my going along to Noke, apart of course from the company, was being able to watch Swallows feeding newly fledged youngsters on the wires beside the farm. The adults were sweeping low and fast over the grass hoovering up flying insects to bring to their young. Not only were they feeding them whilst the young birds perched unsteadily on the wire, but also at times in mid-air. Seeing the young Swallows fluttering and flapping to keep their balance confirmed my recent observations of other newly fledged juveniles. Namely that young birds get good at flying quite quickly, but landing without crashing takes longer to master.

Cuckoo on the bridleway (c) Tezzer
I also failed to find the young Cuckoo seen on Friday along the Bridleway. The bird had probably moved on as when seen on the previous day it was no longer being fed by its foster parents.
Waders are starting to come through steadily now and the low water levels in front of the first screen offer extensive mud and feeding opportunities for migrating birds. On Monday (yesterday) there were nine Greenshanks through as well as Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper.

Greenshank in front of the first screen courtesy of Badger.

On Sunday, my birding was much more successful and I did manage to see most of what was on offer. I heard one Greenshank and a Common Sand at the first screen.

Common cranes over Greenaways (c) Tom N-L
I also spotted the Common Cranes flying back into Greenaways from the MOD land to the east. The grass is still long out there but with careful scoping they could be picked out to the edge of a clump of reeds. They have favoured this, most distant, area of the field for the last six or seven weeks. We do not expect them to stay around much longer. Last year they left on the fifteenth of August and as far as we know wintered with the big flock of Cranes on the Somerset levels. I spoke on Sunday to a friend who had been out on the moor much nearer to dawn than I was. Just as the sun rose he and his partner had been treated to the sight and sound of them as they flew low over Greenaways, where a shallow mist was catching the first rays of the sun. They were delighted to have seen them. It is a real privilege to have such charismatic and beautiful birds on the reserve.
Turtle Dove drinking, also soon to be on its way. (c) JR
Juvenile Stonechat (c) Bark
Out at the Pill mid-morning, we found a family of Stonechats, probably the same birds that were seen last weekend. There were four very scruffy juveniles and two adults. There was a single Whinchat loosely associated with them and several Common Whitethroats also seemed to be flocking together with them. The Chats as always stood out, perching and flycatching from the top of twigs and bushes, the warblers were more elusive diving in and out of the hedgerows.

Carpark field Willow Warbler (c) Bark
I had to leave the moor earlier than I normally do this Sunday, had I stayed for another twenty minutes I might very well have seen the Osprey that circled over the Oddington side of the reserve. I missed it of course Saturday’s jinx still had one last sting in its tail!
The pumphouse Grass Snakes are sloughing their skins (c) Derek Lane

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th August

Juvenile Cuckoo (c) Tezzer

Both mornings this weekend on the moor were dry, but cool with the threat of rain never far away.
Just as over the last couple of weeks the main interest centred around young birds from a number of different species and not just the passerines. The mixed feeding flocks are very obvious, there was a group of over forty finches feeding on the track as it goes past the feeders. They were predominantly Chaffinches but amongst them were a number of Bullfinches, another species that is currently very common in the hedgerows.
Some of the chaffinches (c) Bark
Turtle Dove pair? (c) Derek Lane
On Sunday morning a juvenile Water Rail kept appearing and disappearing in the rough cut reeds right in front of the first screen. It was both skittish and gawky, looking as if it hadn’t yet become familiar with how to manage its long legs and feet. With such a sustained and close view it was possible to really appreciate its’ lateral compression, the adaptation that enables it to move so easily through densely growing reeds.

Juvenile water Rail (c) JR
A young Green Woodpecker has been noted from the same area sitting up very obligingly on the dead branches of one of the oaks. Reed Warblers are very busy along the bridleway ditches and in front of both screens. They are clearly gathering food for second broods and sometimes feeding youngsters fresh out of the nest.
Juvenile Green Woodpecker (c) Bark
Last weekend a visitor reported seeing a juvenile Cuckoo beside the first screen and there were several reports of the same bird during the earlier part on the week. On Thursday it was seen and photographed by T.S. as it posed right out in the open on the “kingfisher perch” in front of the screen. It was no longer being fed by its surrogate parents and stopped on the perch for only a couple of minutes before making off. It is a typical juvenile cuckoo; dark brown flecked with white and grey and having a rufous cast on the wings. P.G. looked at a picture of a juvenile cuckoo he took last August and his bird was very much more rufous than any of the current crop of juvenile pictures that we have seen. This led us to speculate that it may in fact have been the hepatic bird that we saw on the moor this summer, returning to the area where it fledged last year. We would welcome any views or suggestions as to the likelihood that this might be possible.

This years bird above (c) Tezzer         Last years more rufous bird below (c) Stoneshank
The juvenile Marsh Harriers have moved off and this weekend we only saw the adults that we are familiar with. On Saturday morning two juveniles were seen at Farmoor before moving off high and later being seen again at Standlake. We assumed that they were two of “our” juveniles. On Sunday evening another young Marsh Harrier was seen over the reedbed, it had at least one bright green wing tag (it was seen a considerable distance and so whether there were two tags and a number was not clear) There is as tagging programme being run by a North Norfolk Group supported by the Hawk and Owl Trust. It suggests that this individual has already travelled from East Anglia and so it is not surprising that our youngsters are now also on the move.
Kebabbed Sedgie! (c) JR
Out at the Pill there is what appears to be a family party of Stonechats. Three juveniles and a pair of adults. They were first found on Thursday and were still around at the weekend. It is an early record for a bird that we would normally expect to find arriving to overwinter during autumn. Another juvenile was seen and photographed at least three weeks ago, I understand that they have bred this year up on the Downs and it might just be that this is a family from there or perhaps from even nearer still. There are still five or six Redstarts in Long Meadow and on Sunday there were still two Spotted Flycatchers.
Reedy (c) Bark
There were many butterfly enthusiasts out on Sunday hoping to see Brown Hairstreaks, they were rewarded with some sightings but as always with these tiny creatures it is luck and sunshine dependent, if you are to get great views and close-up pictures. Purple Hairstreaks were also present. I have heard that several weeks ago, over on the other side of the moor in some suckering elms, there was a single record of a White Letter Hairstreak.

Purple Hairstreak (c) Tezzer      Immaculate Brown Hairstreak (c) Ewan Urquart