Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Mid September

Great White Egret in the mist (c) Dan Miller

We have had a couple of warm weeks, an Indian summer perhaps, but the week ahead looks as though it will get cooler and wetter.
Autumn coming on (c) Bark

There has been more to see out at the screens. At the southern lagoon there are plenty of ducks just beginning to come out of eclipse plumage. Amongst the ducks there are two Pintail and we assume that they are the young birds that hatched and fledged on the moor this summer.

Pintail (c) Bark

Two Wigeon have been regular at the far end of the water and on Saturday this week we saw a very “scaupy” looking bird that we reluctantly agreed was probably a female Tufted Duck.
record shot of "Scaupy" Tufty 

Mandarin Ducks are still being seen here from time to time and they favour the area around and under the willow growing in the middle of the lagoon. There are slowly increasing numbers of Shovellers and Gadwall the drakes of the latter species already in smart fresh grey plumage. We have noticed over the last several weeks that at about ten-past eight in the morning there is a major influx of ducks flying in from the south east. They are obviously being flushed en masse from a pond or lake, perhaps even from a water feature on a golf course, it would be interesting to know from where. As well as the regular wildfowl there was a Great White Egret stalking through the shallows early on Monday morning appearing and disappearing in the mist.

Dawn at the first screen (c) Dan and Tricia Miller

At the northern lagoon there is now extensive mud and well over fifty Snipe can be found around the margins. They can take some finding as they match the stubble of the last reed-cut where their cryptic plumage hides them perfectly. Just occasionally they will feed out in the middle of the water where it is especially shallow.

Cryptic Snipe (c) Bark

A careful examination of the margins on the northern edge often reveals a Water Rail picking its way along the water’s edge before scuttling back into the reeds at the slightest hint of danger. Last week there were two Egyptian Geese on the mud-bank and they are the first to be recorded for over two years on the reserve.

Still some Reed Warblers about (c) Bark

I have been surprised by their absence as their numbers seem to have been steadily increasing throughout the county. Kingfishers are being seen regularly at both lagoons and along the ditches beside the bridleway. The work carried out last week to open up and clear out parts of the main ditch will create much better areas for the fish to use and also for the Kingfishers to hunt in.
Ubiquitous Red Kites (c) Bark

There were two Marsh Harriers hunting over the reedbeds and along the northern edge of Greenaway’s they appear to be male and female, the male is the moulting individual from several weeks ago and has now grown more primaries, the other is a female/juvenile type. There are still several Hobbies being seen.

Clouds of insects (c) Paul Wyeth

As the cold weather sets in and puts an end to the abundance of dragonflies and as the last of the hirundines depart, so the Hobbies too will head for warmer climes. Merlin will soon arrive and there is usually a period of a couple of weeks when they overlap on the moor.

Kestrels (c) Bark

Kestrels are very much in evidence over all the fields and appear to be successfully pursuing small mammals. Reports in the press suggest that Hen Harriers have had one of their most successful breeding years in England for a very long time.
Female/juvenile Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

As we would normally expect to see one or two of these exceptional raptors over wintering with us, perhaps this year we might see more? It is also getting towards the time when Short Eared Owls start to show up on and around the moor and we will be looking out for them from now onwards.
Take off at the second screen (c) Bark

Walking along the footpath to the south of the closes it is possible to hear and see the large mixed flocks of finches and Linnets that are beginning to exploit the specially sown wild bird seed crop. As the winter progresses, we will start to feed them beside the hide as we did last year so successfully.

Teazels linnets and Goldfinches (c) Bark

Up at July’s Meadow on Saturday we were pleased to find at least ten Clouded Yellow Butterflies. They were feeding on the Ragwort and flying rapidly and restlessly in the stiff breeze.
Clouded yellow July's Meadow (c) Bark

Watching them in flight with binoculars it was possible to see the contrasting black markings on the inside of their wings that are hidden when they are settled and their wings are closed.

Stonechat (c) Paul Wyeth and Whinchat (c) Bark

There was also a Stonechat on the fence beside the path to July’s and both Stonechat and Whinchat up near the farm at Noke.
Long tailed Tit (c) Bark

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Beginning of September


Cattle Egret (c) Bark

The coolest late Summer Bank Holiday on record developed into a calm but bright start to the month and had more of an autumnal feel about it than a summer one.

Michaelmas Daisy

We have picked up two new species for the year, a very elusive Pied Flycatcher and a much more visible Cattle Egret. The only other Cattle Egret recorded on the reserve was found at the start of January in 2017 and was only seen and photographed by one observer. 

Lapwings at the second screen (c) Bark

As we were watching a group of Lapwings that were loafing on the muddy spit out in front of the second screen a white bird flew in and landed amongst them causing them to panic, which in turn spooked the bird that had just landed. It was clearly a Cattle Egret with its unmistakeable yellow bill and its much more robust structure, than its more delicate and refined Little Egret cousin. 

Little Egret (c) Bark

It flew around looking to land again but made off in the direction of Greenaways where it was eventually re-found associating, as its name suggests it should, with the herd of grazing cows.
With the cows (c) Bark

With their increasing  population I assume that it will not be long before the species becomes a regular addition to the Otmoor avifauna.
Landing Snipe (c) Bark

The mud at the second screen is also attracting good numbers of Snipe. I counted over fifty last weekend. Sometimes they will land right in front of the screen and offer stunning close up views.

Close Snipe (c) Bark

There was also the rather macabre sight of one Snipe perched on top of the skeleton of a goose that has been out to the right of the screen for eight weeks or so, the bones gradually appearing as the soft tissue decayed.
Snipe on a skeleton (c) Bark

Kingfishers are back on the lagoons . They tend to be seen at this time of the ear much more frequently. There are no suitable nest sites for them on the reserve so the come back post breeding. There would appear to be plenty of small fry for them to catch, going by the pattering of splashes across the water when a predator chases a shoal of them into the shallows.

Reed Warblers and Whitethroat (c) Bark

There are small passerines in mixed flocks working through the hedgerows, Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats with occasional Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. In the reeds close to the screens and along the ditches there are Reed Warblers including some young birds not long out of the nest and still calling their parents to feed them. The clumps of bramble along the path to the second screen are good spots to stake out and wait for a party to move through.

There are abundant feeding opportunities there, from both blackberries and the insects that are attracted to them. First thing in the morning it is also a great place to see dragonflies. This particular hedgerow catches the morning sun and dragonflies need to warm up before they can start hunting.

Whinchat (c) Tricia Miller Redstart (c) JR Wheatear (c) Dan Miller

We are still finding small groups of Whinchats and Stonechats both on the reserve, around the farm at Noke and out on the MOD. There has been a family party of Stonechats along the path that leads towards July’s Meadow.
Juvenile Stonechat (c) Bark

Occasional Wheatears too are turning up often on the shorter grassed areas being grazed by sheep. Over the last few weeks the number of Yellow Wagtails going into the reedbed to roost at dusk has steadily risen.

Yellow Wagtail (c) Bark

Observers have estimated up to one hundred and fifty birds. They too are spending their days feeding around the grazing animals, if the cattle come close to the path or bridleway it is possible to see them really well.
Moulting Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

We still have three different Marsh Harriers showing up across the reedbed from time to time. One of them is in moult and looks very scruffy. Several Kestrels ae working the reserve and there is still a family party of them hunting in the grasses across the MOD fields. We are still seeing occasional Hobbies.

Cronking over the car park (c) Bark

I seldom visit the moor now without hearing or seeing Ravens, there is certainly an established pair that roam across the whole reserve and its environs. They have been taking advantage of the natural mortality rate of the enormous numbers of feral Canada and Grey-lag Geese that are ever present on our fields. They are noisy and quarrelsome when on the water, but despite their ubiquitous nature can still be spectacular when a flock takes to the air or flies in low over ones head.

Cranes Above (c) Andy Harris below (c) Bark

Just as I was about to sign off, I have heard of yet another two new additions to the year-list. A Wryneck was seen beside the bridleway a little bit beyond the pumphouse. Being a Wryneck, it is unlikely to hang around or to be very easy to see should it do so! The other was a flyover Tree Pipit. I remember when they were regular breeding birds on Otmoor. There was a pair that could be seen all summer long by the side of the road down from Beckley and others that bred just out on Saunders Ground at the end of the Roman Road. They seemed to slip away unnoticed unlike the Nightingales that we lost at about the same time.

Cattle Egret (c) JR

Thursday, 27 August 2020

End of August

Redstart (c)  Bark

August has been a quiet month on the moor, as it often is. There has been a smattering of passage waders through, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits, a few Green and Common Sandpipers and just the other day a Spotted Redshank. The Lapwing flock has swollen to over two hundred and amongst them are a good number of juveniles, distinguishable by their slightly yellowish faces and shorter crests. The first Golden Plovers have been seen in just ones and twos, very different to the thousands that we regularly host during January and February.
Lapwings (c) Bark

Spotted Redshank (c) Pete Roby
Black-tailed Godwit (c) Paul Thomas

Golden Plover (c) Noah Gins

The Common Cranes are still with us and are yet to take their annual “migration” back to the Somerset Levels where they spend the winter. They can often be seen flying across the northern part of Greenaways and also feeding and preening out in the middle of big Otmoor. They can often be heard rather than seen, bugling loudly. The different individuals can be identified by the coloured ring sequences on their legs, this is much easier to do, now that the grass has been mown out on Greenaways and Big Otmoor.
Cranes in flight (c) Tom N-L
There are still mixed flocks of tits and warblers moving along the hedgerows. We are now finding family parties of Whinchats, individual Stonechats and young Wheatears in some of the scrubby areas and on the newly mown and much shorter grass.
Wheatear (c) Bark
Whinchat (c) Pete Roby

Redstart (c) Bark

Yellow Wagtails have been noticed going in to the reedbed in the evening to roost and they are increasingly being seen feeding around the grazing cattle and sheep.
Yellow Wagtail (c) Pete Roby

Common Tern (c) Bark

The Common Terns have now departed, and they would seem to have had some breeding successes but we cannot be sure how many young they fledged. They were still feeding, the by now fully fledged, youngsters on the muddy edges of the northern lagoon.
Hovering Bullfinch (c) Bark

There are plenty of seeding weeds along the pathways and in the fields and they are attracting small flocks of Linnets, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. We have noticed Bullfinches hovering to pick seeds from the very ends of a plant that produces its seed head on stems so fine and delicate they would not support the weight of a bird. The seeds must be especially nutritious to make the amount of energy expended in reaching them worthwhile.
Linnet (c) Bark
At least five different Kestrels are hovering over the fields and we have also seen Hobbies hunting low and fast along he ditches and smaller reedbeds. 
Kestrel (c) Paul Thomas

The Hobbies are feeding up before starting their southward migration and they are preying upon the abundant large dragonflies that are present across the whole moor. Marsh Harriers are still present but are being seen less frequently. 
Overflying Raven (c) Bark

We now have resident Ravens, up to four have been seen recently scavenging on Big Otmoor. I have not visited recently without hearing or seeing them, last week the  four of them were together in the top of one of the bare oaks that borders Noke Sides.

Dragonflies (c) Tom N-L

Courtesy of Badger.

The Dragonflies and Damselflies are attracting odontata enthusiasts once again. The moor is hosting yet another rare species, this time the Willow Emerald Damselfly, another species that is extending its range northwards and westwards, possibly in response to climate change. It must reflect the quality of our water, helped by no use of pesticides and with very little agricultural runoff from the wider Otmoor basin.
Young Roe buck on Ashgrave (c) Bark
The coming month will see the comings and goings on the moor increase. Hopefully as we get to the time when Bearded Tits irrupt from their breeding areas, we will get them back on the reserve once again, we will be eagerly watching and listening out for their distinctive “pinging” calls.
Whinchats (c) Bark