Monday, 16 November 2020

First two weeks of November


Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

A very wet and stormy fortnight with heavy rainfall, strong winds and warmer temperatures than are usual at this time of year. There have been a few fine autumn days sprinkled sparingly among the grey and windy ones. The rain has pushed up water levels across the whole of the Otmoor Basin and from the top of Otmoor Lane one can see that most of the lower lying fields are flooded.

Goldies and Lapwings (c) Bark
There has been lots to look at and lots to look for, not always the same thing! This past weekend has been notable for the massive numbers of Golden Plover that are spread over the whole reserve. On Sunday morning, after the early heavy rain, there were several thousand of them in spectacular flocks wheeling and sparkling in the sunshine over Big Otmoor. Amongst them was one lone Grey Plover, only the second one to be seen on the moor this year. It took great patience to locate. It seemed to me that as soon as I started to scope through the flocks when they were on the ground, something real or imagined would spook them and send them up en masse.

Courtesy of Badger.

LapwingAdd caption

There were five or six hundred Lapwings in the same field and several other smaller flocks on Greenaway’s, Closes  and sometimes from the second screen we could see other flocks flushing from The Flood. The spectacle was so good on Sunday that several people I spoke to said they thought it was better than the Starlings.

On the top picture there are 14 Snipe! and below a few Lapwing (c) Bark

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been carefully watching the muddy spit that runs out into the first scrape on Greenaway’s. Sedges have been cut right down and rotovated leaving muddy clumps and dried out roots.

Female Stonechat (c) Bark

 To the naked eye it is easy to assume holds no more than a scattering of Lapwings. With binoculars it is possible to pick out several Snipe hunkered down against the wind or standing on the waters edge, but with a careful look using a scope the number of Snipe out there shoots up. Their cryptic disruptive plumage looks as though it was designed specifically and exclusively for such a background. 

the snipe when flushed (c) Dan Miller

It has been a pleasure to point them out to visitors who otherwise might have walked past oblivious of their presence. It sometimes felt as though we were exposing a conjurers disappearing trick. On Saturday morning in the drizzle two of us scoped carefully through them and counted eighty-seven of them, by Sunday morning after very heavy overnight rain the spit was almost submerged due to rising water levels and I could only find five! It is safe to say though that there are very large numbers of Snipe wintering on the moor.
Same Snipe (c) Tom N-L

There are high numbers of wildfowl across the moor although not very many of them are in front of the first screen and almost none at the second. Many birds are out on Big Otmoor including several hundred Shovellers, many hundreds of Wigeon a few Pintail and many Teal. 

Gadwall pair and Wigeon from the first screen (c) Bark

Increasing numbers of Wigeon are electing to feed out on Ashgrave now that the pools have filled up, they are grazing on the grasses close to the waters’ edge and at the slightest sign of danger rushing back into the water. The lagoon in front of the first screen is the almost exclusive haunt of twenty to thirty Gadwall mostly paired up.
Marsh Harrier (c) Dan Miller

There is almost always a Marsh Harrier to be seen hunting over the reedbed, Greenaways or Big Otmoor. They are seen occasionally but less frequently over Ashgrave. There are four different individuals that we have noticed, an adult male and female and two juvenile birds, but they are seldom seen together. 

Marsh Harrier (c) Tom N-L

There have been some other very sporadic sightings of a ring-tailed Hen Harrier. Merlin is being seen more frequently, but as is usual with this species it is only seen briefly as it flashes through hunting close to the ground, I have seen one on Closes but there is no regular pattern or location for such sightings. 

Hen Harrier (c) Tezzer

There have been no further Short Eared Owl sightings and it may be that the extensive flooding has affected the number of small mammals that are available to be hunted across the moor. Peregrines have no such scarcity of prey items with everything from Teal, Lapwings , Golden Plovers and Starlings to choose from.

kestrel (c) Bark

There are several mixed flocks of small passerines feeding in the scrub along the bridle way. Often these loose associations coalesce around a Long Tailed Tit flock.

Chiffchaffs can look very different to each other in tone and yellowness (c) Bark

It is always worth waiting and looking through these parties as other shyer species can be spotted with them. There are several Chiffchaffs amongst the small bird flocks along the track to the second screen.
Siberian Chiffchaff (c) Jeremy Dexter 

A Siberian Chiffchaff was amongst them last week and we have seen Goldcrests and Tree Creepers when we have stopped to watch the birds go by. It is of course much easier to do now that the leaves are mostly off the trees and bushes.
Another Goldcrest along the bridleway (c) Bark

There are a couple of Marsh Tits coming to the feeders and a host of Reed Buntings, Linnets and chaffinches taking advantage of the feeding programme beside the hide. 

Redpoll beside the bridleway (c) Tezzer

I found a Greenfinch quite close by, a bird that is increasingly uncommon on the reserve. The probable Glossy Ibis of just over two weeks ago, was seen and photographed flying over the first screen. 
Glossy Ibis (c) Jeremy Dexter

So now our yearlist stands at a very respectable one hundred and fifty-one species and there are still over six weeks to go to the new year!

Pied Wagtail (c) Bark

Monday, 2 November 2020

The end of October


Chiffy (c) Bark

Over the last few weeks, we have had more arrivals on the moor, some of them expected and some of them less regular. The year-list now stands at a very respectable one hundred and fifty species after the most recent additions.

Goldeneye (c) JR

It has been a very wet stormy period and the disturbed weather has scattered birds across the country and disrupted migration patterns. The inclement conditions have sometimes made getting out and looking for birds difficult, either because of rain or at other times the strong winds have meant that small passerines have kept hunkered down in the bushes. There have been occasional breaks in the wilder weather, and we have enjoyed one or two perfect autumn days.

Signs of Autumn Gales

Water levels across the reserve and the adjacent fields have started to go up again and this has led to a steady rise in the number of wildfowl present. Many of the wigeon and Teal are spending time on the Flood Field and the partially flooded MOD fields. At the first screen there are significant numbers of Gadwall and Shovellers, along with a smattering of the other species. We are seeing Pintail regularly flying between Big Otmoor and the Flood. Two weeks ago, we were surprised to find a female Goldeneye in front of the second screen, it did not stay long however, but it was the first that has been recorded on the moor for over eight years.

Snipe on Greenaway's (c) Tom N-L

The large numbers of birds using the flood field can really only be seen and appreciated when they are flushed en masse by Peregrines. There are two that are being seen regularly across the area, Marsh Harriers are also hunting across the same fields but only seem to flush Snipe, Lapwings and Golden Plovers and not the ducks. 
Pied Wagtail by the cattle pens (c) JR

A male Merlin is frequenting the reserve and the adjoining fields. On a walk out to the Pill last weekend we came upon a flock of well over thirty Meadow Pipits, so there is no shortage of its’ favourite prey species.

Stonechat at the Pill (c) Bark

 There have been intermittent reports of a Ring-tailed Harrier, but they probably refer to birds that were moving through rather than over wintering with us. We have identified a minimum of four regular Marsh Harriers, male and female adults and two juveniles.
Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

There was a report from a reliable observer of a probable Glossy Ibis seen descending at the back of Greenways onto the Flood Field beyond. Further searches were unable to locate it but there are so many flooded ditches, pools and suitable muddy feeding areas across the whole area that it might very well be re-found and confirmed in the next few weeks.

Fieldfare (c) Bark

There are a number of different pairs of Stonechats present across the whole moor they seem to have adopted quite large winter territories and so are difficult to pin down but careful scanning across Greenaway’s will often reveal them clinging to a tall bullrush or sedge. They are sometimes being seen around the cattle pens and also in the vicinity of July’s meadow.

Wren (c) JR

Fieldfares and Redwings are feeding on the haws in the hedgerows and a quiet patient wait inside the second screen can often be rewarded by close views of these stunning thrushes, as they move along the hedgerows in noisy garrulous groups.

Superb flight sequence of Filedfares  (c) JR

Other mixed flocks of tits, often with one or two overwintering Chiffchaffs attached, can be seen well in the same place.

Chiffchaff (c) Bark

During this week, a Water Pipit was seen alongside the stone track across Greenaway’s by the reserve warden. It flew across towards the first set of scrapes next to the bridleway where it could be seen amongst the tussocks.

Water Pipit (c) Fergus Mosey

Bitterns too are being seen on and over Greenaways with increasing regularity. Only this week a Short-eared Owl was seen over this field at dusk, a sign of things to come?

We will be starting the winter feeding programme for seed eaters soon and the area near the hide will be worth watching as we have already seen one fine male Brambling in the area and Redpolls too are continuing to be spotted around the reserve.

Brambling (c) Bark

Finally, a salutary lesson for myself and a couple of my regular birding friends. Two weeks ago, we had walked up the eastern edge of Ashgrave beside the wood to have a look at the area of scrub that is developing there. From high up the hill we saw four Egrets fly in and land at one of the many distant scrapes near the bottom of this massive field. “Look Little Egrets “…… a quick look though the scope “ No they’ve got yellow bills…..they’re Cattle Egrets!”  Across the field their size was indeterminate, and they were partially hidden. We set off to get closer if we could and then they flew across towards some cattle where we thought they might settle. They didn’t and kept going  over towards the Closes and then away eastwards. We were all absolutely convinced that they were Cattle Egrets…..but of course the weren’t.

Four Great White Egrets (c) Bark

They were Great white Egrets which only emerged when we had a proper look at the pictures we had taken as record shots as they flew away. Oops! I had already put the news of four Cattle Egrets on Otmoor out. It is still a great record but goes to show how important scale is. With nothing beside them to show how tall they were, but grasses and sedge and their legs hidden by a fold in the ground it was an easy mistake to make, at least that’s my excuse! As well as the fact that we had already decided what they were and then went along with our original wrong idea.
Starlings over the reeds (c)Bark

Thursday, 15 October 2020

The Start of October


Goldcrest (c) Bark

I did not get down to the moor at all last weekend, the rain was monsoon like on both Saturday and Sunday. I spoke to a farmer at Noke and she said she recorded 90 millimetres of rain between Friday and Monday. When I finally did make it down there at the beginning of last week the transformation brought about by the storm was extraordinary. 

After the storm (c) Tom N-L

From the top of the hill one could see that most of the MOD fields were flooded as were many of the lower lying sheep fields at Noke. An Otmoor regular found to his cost just how deep the waters were on the way out to the Pill, from whence he had to cut short his visit and go home and change into dry clothes!
Little Grebes (c) Tom N-L

On the reserve itself scrapes have filled up and at the second screen the extensive mud around the margins has mostly disappeared.
A still Sunday morning (c) Bark

The stormy weather of the end of September and the beginning of October has hastened the onset of full autumn migration and altered the suite of birds to be found on the moor. This last weekend was dry but still windy on Saturday however Sunday was one of the most perfect still sunny autumn days.

Gadwall and Wigeon (c) Bark

At the first screen there were many more ducks to be seen and the Wigeon flock has risen to over two hundred more significant was the steep increase in Teal. They were out in the middle of Big Otmoor and we estimated that there were at least four hundred there.

Shoveller (c) Tom N-L

Shoveller numbers too have increased and there are still lots of courting Gadwall present. On Sunday there were four Pochard amongst the Mallard and the two Pintail were still out there on Saturday. We did have a small flock of ten or twelve Pintail flying over on Saturday.
Goldies over (c) Bark

Golden Plovers are being seen more regularly with small parties passing over but not yet roosting out on Big Otmoor as they will do as the winter progresses. Lapwings too are once again being seen in loose flocks.

Redpoll (c) Iain Wright

We had several little groups of Siskins over on Saturday and on Sunday our first Redwings were seen. We heard that there had been some Redpolls spotted up near July’s Meadow and when we went to look, we found sixteen of them feeding in the dry weeds beside the path. Sadly, we failed to get any pictures as they were very flighty, but fortunately another visitor managed to get a shot of one of them. There was no record of Redpoll on the reserve at all last year and It is good to see them back. Another Otmoor regular found two Rock Pipits out at the second screen, on the island that has by now almost disappeared.

Rock Pipit (c) Jeremy Dexter

The other new bird to add to the yearlist was a Jack Snipe flushed by one of the RSPB staff out on Ashgrave. This was another bird that failed to be seen last year and our list now stands at a respectable one hundred and forty-six species.

Dark Buzzard (c) JR         Kestrel (c) Bark

As the Starling roost starts to build up and the large flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers arrive, so we find an increase in the number of raptors that we see. This weekend we saw at least two different Marsh Harriers, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks. Excitingly on Sunday afternoon, the first Hen Harrier of the season was reported hunting over Greenaway’s. On Saturday morning we saw an aerial duel between a Peregrine and a Red Kite.

Peregrine and Red Kite (c) Iain Wright

The Peregrine had taken a real dislike to the Kite and made a number of furious passes at it, seemingly cheered on by a party of Jackdaws that contributed a lot of “chakking” noises but stayed well clear. On Sunday we had a very dark morph Buzzard over, the regular Buzzards that we see tend to have much more white and pale colours in their breasts.

Cranes with ring detail (c) Bark

We have massive numbers of feral geese on and around the moor at the moment and they occasionally move en masse, this is a very noisy business as they all call as they fly and despite their being not properly wild it makes for a very spectacular sight. I heard such a cacophony start up on Sunday morning and heard another sound amongst the braying of the geese. It was bugling and sure enough I confirmed it when later I found two Cranes. They were in very long dry grass and as far as I could tell only one of them was ringed, its’ colour rings identify it as male called “Wiz” that attempted to breed this year in Somerset.

As the leaves are falling off the trees it is easier to spot the smaller birds that are foraging in the hedgerows such as Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Wrens.

Chiffy (c) Tom N-L    Goldcrest (c) Bark    Wren (c) JR

Along the track to the second screen there are adult and juvenile Hares that are becoming fairly confident around people and are offering some exceptional photo-opportunities. It is interesting that it often seems to happen like that, last year there was a Hare that would sometimes come too close to photograph!

Top two (c) JR      bottom (c) Bark