Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day Treat

Breakfasting Otter  (c) Mark Chivers

Leaving before it had finished (c) Geoff Adams

Two birders new to the moor, Geoff Adams and Mark Chivers had a real treat this morning at first light. This lone Otter was eating breakfast in front of the first screen, looks like a nice tasty Rudd.
Thanks to them for the pictures and a very Merry Christmas to all our readers.

An Otmoor Murmuration


Viewable at 1080p HD

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Friday and Sunday 21st and 23rd December

Spiky place to sit (c) Bark

Fieldfares starting to forage alone (c) Bark

Both sides of a Chiffy (c) Bark

Two Shelduck on Greenaways Sunday morning (c) Geoff Adams

The weather forecast for Saturday looked so dire that I decided to and go down to the moor on Friday afternoon and take a look at the Starling roost.
I keep saying that the reserve is looking wetter than I can ever remember seeing it, and then it’s even wetter the next time I go down. Greenaways resembles a shallow lake with grassy islands and is currently the roost of choice for wildfowl. On Sunday there were at least eight hundred Golden Plover and slightly more Lapwings out there alongside the ducks. From time to time they were flushed by two Peregrines one of which was a particularly pale individual, the other was perched on the grass making the wildfowl very nervous.
The Bittern was out in the open from time to time in front of the first screen creeping warily along the edge of the reeds and occasionally freezing in its classic sky pointing “you can’t see me I’m a clump of sedge”pose. We pointed it out and let people see it through scopes, but those people who had never seen one before found it almost impossible to pick out. It is the most superbly camouflaged bird. On Sunday there was only a brief view of it, as it flew from one side of the main channel to the other.
There are now three Hen Harriers on the moor. There are two ringtails, one of which is a much larger adult female and and the other probably a juvenile male. The adult male is still present and was seen on Friday harassing the Starlings as they came in to roost. Also at the roost was a Barn Owl that flew right over our heads at the first screen and a pair of Ravens that flew over the reedbed calling to each other.
The hedgerows are still busy with mixed tit feeding parties often accompanied by Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. There are assorted finches on the desiccated seed heads and the winter thrushes are much more spread out rather than moving in tight flocks. Stonechats are around the reed bed and on the pathway to the first screen.
As for the Starling roost itself, it can be spectacular but can also be something of an anti-climax. It is difficult to understand and to predict what will stimulate a really amazing display or what will provoke them into just diving straight into the reeds with no shape changing show at all. The one on Friday was excellent despite the heavy overcast sky and lack of a brilliant sunset.
Just one more weekend now before the new year and I doubt that there will be any new species to add to the one hundred and fifty two that we have seen on the moor this year, but who knows, there is still time.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th December

Wildfowl over the first screen (c) Bark

One of the Chiffies (c) Bark

and another (c) Bark

Green woodpecker by the first screen (c) Bark

Snipe calling and flying (c) Bark
Another really good weekend on the moor with good weather and lots of birds to look at.
The highlight was probably the smart adult male Hen Harrier that was seen on both days quartering the fields. The ring tailed bird was also present occasionally during the day and later causing consternation at the Starling roost. Early visitors to the reserve are reporting a Barn Owl hunting regularly in the Carpark field. We also saw the first Short eared Owl of this winter on Sunday morning. It was being harassed by three corvids high over the reedbed, it then appeared to have had enough and started pursuing one of them very aggressively.
Peregrines were present on both days and frequently flushed the large flocks of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and assorted Gulls that were feeding on the receding floods in the fields to the west of the visitor trail. It is not often that we get the chance to scrutinise large numbers of gulls but on Saturday we were able to pick out two adult Yellow Legged Gulls from among the mixed Herring and Lesser Black backed flock. Also in the same location feeding on the grass were over fifteen Pied Wagtails and more than twenty Meadow Pipits.
Wildfowl are building up after the freeze last week and there were substantial numbers present again by Sunday. They seem to be concentrated out on the north eastern side of Greenaways and also on the western edge of Big Otmoor. As the floods recede elsewhere I expect the duck numbers on the reserve to rise still further. Amongst the Lapwings and Golden Plovers on Greenaways were a number of Ruff and when the Lapwings flushed there were at least three Dunlin with them.
There were at least four different Chiffchaffs feeding on the edge of the reedbed near the first screen, it was interesting to see just how variable they are in terms of tone, length and strength of the supercilium and amount of yellow they show. Several Goldcrests were active in the hedge along to the second screen, and with a little patience could be seen well. Ravens passed over on both days cronking loudly.
Providing the Mayans got it wrong I fully expect to be back on the moor next weekend and look forward to seeing what we can find.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th December

Lapwings (c) Bark

Even more Lapwings (c) Bark

Low Kite flypast (c) Bark

Mixed wildfowl flushing (c) Bark

Bullfinches back in the hedge to the second screen (c) Bark

Male Stonechat (c) Andy Last

Female Stonechat (c) Andy Last

It was a very “birdy” weekend. I can’t remember a time during the last five or six years, when there was so much water on the moor, it has become an absolute paradise for wildfowl. Duck numbers, particularly Teal and Wigeon have risen very sharply and I estimate that there are at least one and a half thousand of each species on the reserve. The bulk of them are on Greenaways with another substantial group out on the Flood Field. I addition to the birds on the reserve there were frequent flushes of wildfowl out on the flooded MOD land. They were restless and frequently disturbed by the attentions of two Peregrines that were patrolling the site. There were at least fifty Pintail, and slightly higher numbers of Shoveller. I was very interested to find one hundred and fifty eight (yes I did count them) Gadwall in front of the second screen on Sunday, I can’t remember having such a large group of them before on Otmoor. Oddly there do not seem to be any Pochard around unless I failed to notice them in the general melee of ducks.
Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers have also risen with several flocks of birds resting up on the small patches of grass that are starting to emerge from the floods on the western side of the path to the second screen. There were also substantial numbers of Gulls feeding on the floods.
There was further good news when a couple of north Oxfordshire birders re-found two of the Bearded Tits up by the second screen, in addition they also had flight views of a Bittern on one of the smaller reed clumps out on the western edge of Greenaways. I was particularly pleased as, because they had not been reported for the last three weeks, I thought it likely that they had gone. Dunlin and Ruff were on Greenaways associating with Lapwing and a smaller party of Goldies. A Kingfisher was present near the hide as were a small flock of Meadow Pipits.
A couple of Chiffchaffs are still in the hedgerow along the bridleway and a small party of Bullfinches have taken up winter quarters along the path to the second screen, where they can be found every year.
Birding on the moor was curtailed mid morning on Sunday as we made a quick dash to Farmoor to see the Falcated Teal. Why is it always the case that when something special turns up in the county I am almost guaranteed to be as far from the carpark that it is possible to be? Perhaps it might relocate to Otmoor but at the moment it would be virtually impossible to find in the throng.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd December

Meadow Pipit

Goldfinch and Teasels

Freezing Dawn


Stonechat pair

Smart Starling

Restless Teal Flock      All pics this week (c) Bark
The moor had an arctic feel this weekend, the floods of earlier in the week had frozen overnight and bright sunshine sparkled on the hoar frost and icy scrapes. On the reedbed the southern lagoon was frozen on both days but there was still open water on the northern one and in the River Ray.
Fieldfares and Redwings are the most noticeable birds in the carpark field and are increasingly feeding out on the open pastures now that the berry crops are disappearing. There are also more Meadow Pipits than of recent weeks and on Sunday some of them could be seen picking scraps of food from the surface of the ice. Stonechats are still hanging on and were very easy to see by the first screen.
The Whooper Swans from last weekend moved on fairly rapidly but on Saturday, and adult and a juvenile were found out on the flooded fields to the west of the path to the second screen. They are most likely to be different individuals to the four adults seen last week. They flew off towards the north of the barn and flood fields, where there are extensive flooded meadows.
The Hen Harrier is still present and seems to have a very wide ranging circuit that it follows to hunt, but can usually be found at the starling roost at the end of the afternoon.
Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers are steadily increasing but with the very watery conditions in the Otmoor basin they are widely dispersed in smaller flocks of several hundred.
Large numbers of wildfowl were frequently flushed by one or other of the pair of Peregrines that seem to have taken up residence on Greenaways. The large female spent hours on both Saturday and Sunday sitting on the fence posts to the right of the stone track occasionally accompanied by a much smaller male that sat on the ground.
There was also a predator of some kind or another that kept flushing the three or four hundred Teal that were out in the middle of the northern reedbed. It didn’t seem to be an obvious raptor and may have been a fox or even the Otter which has been seen several times during the last week. Notably putting on a display of fish catching and fish eating right in front of the first someone who didn’t have a camera!
As we go on into December it will be worth checking the Greylag flock as it is about this time of year that we can expect Whitefronted Geese to turn up and conditions look good for them.
For those who may be interested I will be publishing a special supplement to Otmoor Birding this week, which will feature a superb set of pictures of Otmoor taken by RSPB staff member Zoe Edwards, they were taken from a light aircraft earlier in November and show just how much work has gone into the profiling and re-wilding of this landscape.

I have just recieved an E-mail from Steve Roby concerning the Starling roost on Sunday which I reproduce in full:

"The starling roost was good fun yesterday afternoon.

I don't know if you checked out the area around the flood field but there must have been an area of open water, somewhere towards Murcott and Fencott. Shortly before 4pm hundreds of wildfowl rose into the air, presumably due to a raptor. They didn't settle and eventually gained height and split into numerous groups. There were still flocks of gulls flying west, so for a time the sky was full of birds if you looked north-east. Many of them flew overhead including vocal wigeons, which added to the atmosphere.

By now the starlings had started gathering. They had left it quite late and the light was already fading but they put on a very good show for 20-25 minutes. The flock gathered into tens of thousands during this time and the harrier put in a couple of appearances before it was all over around 4.25."

Monday, 26 November 2012

Saturday and Sunday 24th and 25th November

Above pics of Whoopers and Kingfishers (c) Badger

Redpoll (c) Pete Styles

Pictures of Wigeon and Marston Waxwings (c) Bark
 This weekend turned out to be much the same as the last in terms of the weather, with Saturday wet and miserable and Sunday fine but windy. On Sunday, after Saturdays rain, there was more water on Ashgrave in front of the hide than I can ever remember seeing there before.
It was a mixed weekend birdwise with the best birds turning up mid morning on Sunday when we picked up four Whooper Swans flying into the fields to the west of the path to the second screen. They later transferred to the flood on Ashgrave where they remained as it got dark. Although we first saw them at a great distance, there was no mistaking them. They are very distinctive and we did not have to see the lemon yellow on their bills to know that they were not Mutes. They have longer necks, a much more dynamic and economical flight action and they are much whiter than Mute swans, that look slightly creamy. (a bit like the comparison in the Daz adverts. For those of us that remember back that far!) There is some excellent video by Badger on the Oxon bird log of them socialising and dozing on the water in front of the hide.
Elsewhere there were large numbers of ducks flushing from the reedbed and higher up Ashgrave. Wigeon numbers seem about the same but we felt that we were seeing more Teal than in the last few weeks. Shoveller numbers have also risen recently. Two Pintail could be seen from the hide and two others were seen to fly over the screen and out onto the flood field. Two different Peregrines were around on Sunday morning a male and a large female, that spent a couple of hours sitting on posts in the middle of Greenaways, possibly digesting a Starling breakfast.
Redpolls are feeding in and around the carpark field and once again we saw Blackcap and Chiffchaff in the area around the bridge. At least thirty Chaffinches are feeding on the seed scattered by the cattle pens but sadly the bramblings have not been seen for a while. A small feeding party of Goldcrests gave particularly good views in the rain on Saturday morning. The Bearded Tits also seem to have moved on or are perhaps lying low in an inaccessible corner of the reedbed or in one of the small satellite reed clumps elsewhere on the reserve.
A phone call from Jon Uren just as we were leaving on Saturday morning summoned us to Marston, where we enjoyed catching up with a flock of twenty eight Waxwings feeding at the Oxford City football club. Watching these Scandinavian stunners feeding on haws at point blank range was just the tonic we needed to enliven what up to then had been a rather soggy and disappointing morning.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Starling Roost

Both pictures (c) Carole Findlay

I have had a number of reports of the Starling Roost. It seems that it can vary in quality of display from the spectacular to a rather damp squib. What is predictable however at the moment, is the very large numbers of birds coming in to the roost at dusk. Current estimates suggest about 60,000 although they are extremely difficult to count. Attendant raptors are also predictable, including at least one ring tailed Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and the occasional Peregrine.
I would urge anyone planning to see the starlings to try to visit on a weekday evening. Saturday and Sunday are very busy indeed and parking is becoming a major issue. RSPB staff are being deployed to try to extend the parking available, so please do not obstruct the gateway,as with the gate open more parking becomes accessible. Car sharing where possible is really helpful.
I hope that the starlings perform for you should you visit, it is surely one of the best free spectacles available in the British countryside.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Saturday and Sunday 17th and 18th November

All chuckle thrush pics (c) Bark

Early morning Harrier (c) Bark

Tranquil Teal (c) Bark

Redwing (c) Bark

Stonechat by the screen (c) Bark

After a brief sojourn in the warm southern hemisphere, this weekends weather reminded me what the best and worst of winter can be like. Saturday damp grey and soggy and Sunday crisp bright and glowing with late autumn colour. It was a very “birdy” weekend with lots to see and enjoy.
On Sunday morning a Waxwing was seen in the carpark field near the feeders, it was heard a little later but sadly not relocated. This is only the second record that I know of for the reserve. It is no surprise that it could not be refound as there were at least three hundred winter thrushes continuously moving backwards and forwards between the hawthorn bushes and the shelter of the oaks along the Roman Way. They were predominantly Fieldfares, outnumbering Redwings by about four to one. They really are an early winter spectacle, subtly coloured like autumn itself, active and vociferous. When they first arrive they are very flighty and nervous but as the winter advances and the food sources begin to dry up they become much more confiding. There was another group on Sunday feeding in the hedge behind the second screen and with patience they approached fairly close and gave superb views.
The Hen Harrier was quartering The Closes on Sunday morning with a crow in close attendance and was later seen flushing Lapwings and Golden Plovers over Ashgrave. Several Stonechats could be seen including one male that sat on a reed stem in front of the second screen. Goldcrests could be found in most of the thick hedges but there was no sight or sound of the possible Firecrest reported during the week. a Chiffchaff sang briefly by the feeders in the sunshine on Sunday morning and a female Blackcap was seen in the same area.
Chaffinches, Greenfinches and a few Redpolls were feeding in front of the pumphouse on Greenaways but the Bramblings seem to have moved on. Last week Paul Greenaway saw and photographed a basking Grass Snake which seems a very late record for a species that hibernates. The Otters have been seen recently and there is a lot of signs of their presence. On Sunday morning we are fairly certain that we heard one calling as it swam along the ditch beside the bridle way on the way to Noke.
It is a massive change from eagles and elephants in the Kruger Park last weekend to Autumn colour and winter migrants on Otmoor, but nonetheless it is still good to be back.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Male Kingfisher in front of the 1st screen 18th November 720p HD

Monday, 5 November 2012

Saturday and Sunday 3rd and 4th November

Wickster,Two Eyes, Badger and Bark looking a bit smug. (c) David Wilding

and again.
A rather briefer posting this week as on Saturday we were defending our Birdrace title at College Lake Reserve in Bucks, against powerful local opposition, and on Sunday it rained solidly for the whole of my visit.
The Birdrace is held to raise money for Otmoor and for College Lake. Having entered for the first time last year when it held on Otmoor it seemed important to defend our title away from home on unfamiliar ground. We successfully held on to our title and look forward to the home match next year. College Lake is a delightful BBOWT reserve, which has excellent facilities and a range of different habitats. Most unusual sighting for us was a very late Swallow battling through the chill wind sweeping along the edge of the Chiltern escarpment.
Back on Otmoor Paul Greenaway found a Water Pipit out on the MOD land which is our one hundred and fiftieth species to be recorded on the moor this year. The Bearded Tits are still present being seen beside the path to the second screen. Hen Harrier is also still present, being seen on both days this weekend. Otter too has been seen from the first screen, often swimming along the main channel.
On Sunday morning I saw nothing but Canada Geese, Greylags and lots of rain. I will not be on the moor next weekend but hope that the weather will have improved by the time I get back down on the 17th.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Starling Roost 30th October

A pumpkin moon. All pictures (c) Bark
 The starling roost is starting to build up to significant numbers and we estimated that there were around 50,000 birds coming in to roost last night. There were no spectacular shape changing displays but a number of passes by Sparrowhawk and Hen Harrier ensured that there were some exciting flushes by the whole roost. The birds came in from all directions but mostly from the east and the north. They settled very quickly, pouring straight into the northern section. The best spot to watch from is the flat area by the bank that separates the two halves of the reed bed. This seems to cause minimal disturbance to the birds, as the hedge behind means that people do not stand out on the skyline.
As the sun set the birds wings were flushed with pink as they wheeled in to roost and just after the sun had disappeared an appropriately spooky, orange Halloween moon rose on the other side of the reeds, accompanied by the murmuring chatter of thousands of starlings as they settled for the night.