Wednesday, 8 August 2018

28th July to 5th August High Summer

Soon to be late Great crested grebe chick! (c) Bark

The weather had finally broken and there had been some rain on Friday night so there was a clean freshness to the air on Saturday morning. Sunday was very wet, which kept me away from the moor, but by Monday the weather had begun to settle down once again. The showers and the heavier rain over-night has rejuvenated the vegetation and must have encouraged more insect life to emerge. A very confiding young Song thrush was foraging in the damp grass near the kissing gate and seized a bright yellow snail which it proceeded to batter out of its shell right in front of us.
Songthrush and prey (c) JR

Over the weekend we added our one hundred and fortieth species to the year-list, in the form of a Black necked Grebe, it was found late on Saturday afternoon and departed some time on Sunday evening……needless to say, I missed it. It was on the southern edge of the northern lagoon in and out of the reedy margins.
Black-necked Grebe. (c) Tezzer

Apart from the grebe all continued much as it had in the previous few weeks. The consensus among those watching the Marsh Harriers closely is that there are now four newly fledged birds around, that often spend much of their time loafing around in the bushes waiting for one of the three adults to bring in food and pass it to them. There is one adult male and two females and the youngsters respond to all three of them, often spotting them coming from a distance and flying up to collect their rations.
Grebe family (c) JR

The grebe family of two youngsters and two adults that were out on the water a week ago by Saturday only had one chick left, but sadly by the time I visited on Monday evening the chick had gone. The adults seemed to have a very casual approach to its welfare. They were seen trying to feed it a small Pike at least twice its size on Friday and when carrying it on their back would frequently dive, leaving it bobbing about on the surface like a cork. At such times it would have been very vulnerable to predation from both above and below.
Tufted duck with tuftlings (c) JR

As is to be expected at this time of year the Brown Hairstreaks along the Roman Road are attracting plenty of admirers and it does seem to be a particularly good summer for them.
Purple Emperor (c) John Friendship-taylor
A young visitor on his first trip to Otmoor was sharp eyed enough to spot a Purple Emperor in one of the Roman Road oaks. Well done to Callum, it is the third or fourth record of this beauty on the reserve this year.
Brown Hairstreak (c) Bark

A smattering of Green Sandpipers are being seen on the rapidly disappearing scrapes on Greenaways, but as yet there has been no significant wader passage on Otmoor.
Redstart (c) Pete Roby

Other signs of the changing seasons are happening however. More Redstarts are being spotted in their regular haunts, although they are very difficult to track down choosing to bury themselves deep in the bushes. On Sunday a Whinchat was a surprise find so early in the season. It was on a spindly willow near the Wetlands Watch, later the same morning a couple of visitors also reported an early returning Wheatear on the roof of the hide.
Whinchat (c) Bark

On Sunday morning we were lucky enough to see some rather strange behaviour from what was undoubtedly a juvenile Bittern. A young fledgling Marsh Harrier stooped down on a part of the reedbed at the far side of the southern lagoon. It flew off almost immediately and then slowly a long neck appeared periscope like above the reeds it twisted round and climbed up a little higher. Just like an owl it showed the ability to turn its head snake like to look over its shoulder. After four or five minutes it launched itself awkwardly into the air and took several inexpert wingbeats before crashing back into the reeds.

Juvenile and adult Spotted flycatchers (c) Bark

We were very pleased to find a pair of Spotted Flycatchers feeding two newly fledged young in a hedgerow in Long Meadow. The young birds are very speckled on the front and spangled on their backs and one of them still showed a little bit of yellow gape in the corner of its mouth. It is good to know that they have bred successfully so close to the reserve.

 Lesser Whitethroat. (c) Bark
There were also a number of Lesser Whitethroats and several “willowchiffs”.

Yellow Wagtails (c) Bark
The first family parties of Yellow Wagtails have appeared as usual they are foraging under the feet of the cattle, looking tiny and vulnerable so close to the hooves of the heavy beasts.


Common blue, Ruddy Darter and Devils Bit Scabious (c) Bark
Common Blue Butterflies seem very abundant this year although they have yet to reach the astonishing numbers we saw ten years ago. Rain is forecast for next weekend and judging by the enormous cracks and fissures in the surface of the bridleway and the fields it will take an awful lot of rain to bring us back to anything like normal.
Common lizard (c) Tezzer


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

13th July - 22nd July Midsummer weather

Juvenile Willow warbler (c) JR

Two exceptionally hot weekends with just a short heavy shower of rain on Friday the 19th to relieve the heat stress on the moor. By late morning the reserve has been very quiet as everything slows down to manage the hottest part of the day. Despite the weather being the same from day to day there are changes to be detected, that emphasise the point that nature seldom stays still.
Adult Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

Out at the reedbed there were about five newly arrived Teal and many other wildfowl that are now gathering together and starting to moult. Over the reedbed we counted four newly fledged Marsh Harriers. They are distinctive in their uniform chocolate coloured plumage, their custard coloured heads and the lack of ability to fly or land well when compared with the adults. Their landings at present are little more than barely controlled crashes, as they have yet to figure out what will take their weight and where exactly their feet are. The three adults that we have identified were hunting across the whole moor and sometimes returning with prey.
Distant view of the G.C.G.s with two chicks (c) Bark
The pair of Great Crested Grebes on the southern lagoon have two chicks that can be seen riding on the backs of one or other of the adults. There are very many juvenile Coots everywhere.
Common Tern (c) Bark
On the northern lagoon there are now just one pair of Common Terns remaining with one well grown youngster. They go from fluffy little chicks to flying youngsters in a very short time, perhaps not surprising given their exceptionally nutritious diet and the frequency with which the parents service them. (BWP says fledging 22 - 28 days from hatching)
Bittern over the reedbed (c)  JR
Bitterns are still being seen over the reedbed but their feeding flights have become less frequent as the young birds soon spread away from the nest site and start to fend for themselves.
Distant record shot of Gropper (c) Bark
Unusually this last weekend there was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler calling from a low tussock of grass about forty metres out on Greenaways. It was there both days and showing clearly in the open. It clearly had not read the i.d. guide that says that they are skulking birds that sing from within deep cover!
Juvenile Stonechat from 9th July (c) Luke O'Byrne

I have been sent a photograph of a very young juvenile Stonechat that was taken on the 9th July at the cattle pens. We did think that they might have bred out at the Pill last year and have occasionally thought that we had seen adult birds out in the north eastern part of Greenaways. Next year we will try to monitor them more closely if they are still here, as it will be a new breeding bird for the reserve if we can confirm it.

Mistle Thrush (c) Bark and phonescoped Redstart (c) Steve Roby

Long Meadow is beginning to repay a visit. Last weekend I found a family party of six young Mistle Thrushes feeding under the bushes and out in the freshly mown grass close to the Spinney. This is not a common species on and around the moor. This weekend S.R. found the first pair of Redstarts of the autumn passage. I went to look and we were rewarded by a brief sighting of a female flying out from the cover of a large bush to snatch some prey, it was probably a grasshopper as you walk through the grass they ping off in every direction.
Young Reed Warbler (c) Bark
It was also good to play spot the Warbler, as Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats were all flitting around and in the bushes.

Brown Hairstreak (c) Bark
We found our first Brown Hairstreak of the season in the carpark field on Sunday morning. It was on the ground and clearly very recently emerged, its colours were so bright, fresh and clean. There were also several of them on show high up in the “master ash” along the Roman Road, along with some Purple Hairstreaks.
Froglet ideal for Cranes and Little Egrets

The Common Cranes are still being seen as they move between feeding areas but with the abundance of grasshoppers and small froglets they do not have to go far to find food.

Hot Hare (c) JR and Teasel (c) Bark


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th July

Bullfinch at the first screen (c) Bark

The heat and the sunshine meant that it was difficult to stay out of the shade after mid morning and bird activity decreased as the day got hotter. The fields are sere and brown except for the fringing of reed along the ditches and the smaller reedbeds scattered across Greenaways. It is the time of year often referred to as the birding doldrums but there was still lots to see if one was patient.

Reed warbler and juvenile Blue Tit (c) Bark
Larger mixed feeding parties are moving along the hedgerows. Juvenile Blue and Great tits swing acrobatically from the panicles of Hogweed, Cow Parsley and Hemlock as they pick tiny insects out from between the bracts of the flowers.
Juvenile Willow/Chiff (c) Luke O'Byrne
It is possible to find very young newly fledged warblers feeding busily among the reeds or in the hedges and to spot adult birds still gathering insect prey for second broods.
Sedgie with food for chicks (c) Luke O'Byrne
On both Saturday and Sunday, we noticed several pairs of Bullfinches around the first screen and by the kissing gate. They too are behaving in such a way as to suggest they are setting out to raise further broods.
The adult Cuckoos have now finally departed, and we are now listening out for the distinctive hissing begging calls that the young birds make to persuade their surrogate parents to feed them.
young Song Thrush (c) Bark
We are sure that we saw two newly fledged Marsh Harriers up over the reedbed on both days this weekend. There may very well be more as we may not have seen the same two each time as at this stage all juveniles look identical. One of the adult Marsh Harriers is very distinctive as it is very much paler with whiter shoulders and wing coverts than any of the others.
Marsh Harrier (c) Bark
Bitterns are still making regular, if less frequent feeding flights, with one bird appearing to favour the ring-ditch on the eastern side of Greenaways and the other seems to come in from The Closes probably utilising the deep ditch and wide reed fringe along its northern edge.

Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles (c) Stoneshank
We have very large numbers of the bigger species of dragonflies out and about across the moor, but as yet we have not noticed many Hobbies taking advantage of this abundance. Perhaps as the summer progresses we will have newly fledged birds and post breeding adults coming through and fattening up before migration. There were several of their other main sources of prey present on Sunday morning, with a small party of very young Swallows on the wires in the Carpark field.

Car-park Field Swallows (c) Bark

During the week a fine adult Purple Emperor butterfly was seen in the car park field. This is only the third record of our largest native butterfly being found on the reserve. Perhaps they are extending their range out from their stronghold in nearby Bernwood, we certainly have the mature oak trees and the grey and goat willows that they like all along the Roman Road.
Moorhen with very pale youngsters (c) Bark

As water levels draw down we can hope to attract returning waders and once the tractor work gets under way out in the fields we should be seeing Yellow Wagtails feeding around the feet of the cattle and be able to see our pair of Cranes stalking through the grass on the northern edge of Greenaways.



Thursday, 5 July 2018

Last week in June and start of July

Bittern (c) Tezzer

I missed the last weekend of June on Otmoor as I spent a few days in south west Wales, including a couple of nights on Skomer. There I was able to experience a spectacle that many of my friends have described, namely sitting at “the Wick” and watching hundreds of Puffins coming in from the sea, wings whirring and going like small guided missiles their bills full of sandeels. It was even better that we were on the island on Monday when no day visitors come and so had the island and “the Wick” effectively to ourselves.


Puffins (c) Bark
I had not realised just how habituated and unafraid the birds are, nor how they have to run the gauntlet of piratical Herring Gulls waiting to mug them and take their catch. It was great to be in Pembrokeshire and have the chance to reacquaint myself with many of the coastal species that are never or seldom seen in Oxfordshire.

An elegant Teasel and a wild Cornflower  above (c) Bark   below (c) Stoneshank

Meanwhile back on the moor things have slowed down as is the way in mid-summer. I was surprised at how much the vegetation has changed in just a fortnight. The grasses have set seed and already the fields are more pale and ochre coloured than green. All apart from the phragmites reeds that continue to push up higher and are bright emerald in colour.
Young Reed Warbler (c) Bark
There has been news however and sadly it concerns our pair of Common Cranes. For the fourth consecutive year they have failed to fledge a chick or chicks. We had very high hopes this year and we know that they managed to keep the chick safe and growing for over six weeks from hatching. For the first time this year we managed to catch sight of the chick and by the time it perished we know it would have been nearly two feet tall. We can only assume that it was predated and probably at that stage the only likely predator would have been a fox. The birds arrived in the spring within a couple of days of when they arrived last year.  They demonstrated all the same behaviours of the previous three seasons so that we were able to calculate hatching dates and then follow their progress with the chick from the nest site and out into the surrounding areas. They are becoming much more practiced at chick rearing and every year they have managed to keep the chick or chicks alive for longer and longer. This year we calculate that the chick was just three or four weeks from flying, apart from the presence of predators the habitat is clearly right for them, and we can only hope that as they get more mature and experienced they will be successful eventually.
Marsh Harrier with prey (c) Tezzer
Our resident Marsh Harriers are having another successful year and we are confident that there are two pairs and on Sunday I saw a brief first flight from a juvenile bird. The juveniles are uniformly chocolate brown with a pale straw-coloured head. They are also not the most accomplished flyers early on. However, their confidence and competence will grow rapidly, as parent birds come in with prey items, call them up into the air and then drop the prey so that they start to catch it in mid-air.
Bittern on a feeding flight (c) Tezzer
Bitterns too are making feeding flights and can frequently be seen from the first screen heading across the reedbed. Young Bitterns disperse fairly quickly from the nest and then are found out in the reeds around the nest-site by the mother birds and fed. The male Bitterns play no part in raising the young.
Young Pochards (c) Old Caley
There were at least six young Pochard on the northern and southern reedbeds on Sunday and there are good numbers of juvenile Shovellers as well as Tufted Ducklings and Mallards.
There have been a few returning waders seen including a party of Black-tailed Godwits and the first Common Sandpiper reported on Otmoor this year.

Brown Hawker and Purple Hairstreak (c) Bark

During this quieter time the fine weather has proved to be good for butterflies and other insects. Last week White-letter Hairstreaks were found among the suckering elms along the footpath along the northern perimeter of the reserve just past Oddington. They have been recorded there before but not for some years. We found ten or more Purple Hairstreaks in the roman Road area on Saturday and it along there that the Brown Hairstreaks should be appearing in the next couple of weeks.
Juvenile Long Tailed Tit (c) Bark
Here are already mixed flocks of juvenile tits foraging together in the hedgerows and also groups of young warblers. I have not yet had any reports of juvenile Cuckoos being spotted but I am sure it will not be long. We were surprised to have two calling adults still on the moor on Saturday and Sunday this week.

Dust bathing Pheasant and Common Lizard (c) Bark