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.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th October

Beardy 1 (c) Andy Last

Redpolls (c) Bark
Brambling (c) Bark
Stonechat (c) Bark

Beardy 2 (c) Andy Last

Beardy 3 (c) Bark

Beardy 4 (c) Bark

Starlings (c) Oz

Starlings (c) Oz

More Starlings (c) Badger

Hen Harrier (c) Mike Kosniowski

Harrier (c) Pat Galka

Again (c) Pat Galka

Having closed my blog last week with a wish to see winter swans, it was uncanny to find a Whooper Swan out on the far reaches of Greenaways first thing on Saturday morning. Sadly the bird did not stay around although none of us saw it leave, there was simply too much else to look at.
Two Hen Harriers were doing the rounds of the reedbed all day Saturday and regularly flushing the large flocks of Teal from the channels and lagoons. One was noticeably larger than the other and it seems as though they were a mature female and a juvenile male. During the course of the day they gave stunning views and excellent photographic opportunities. A Peregrine put in several appearances and the Merlin was seen and photographed over Ashgrave. The two “resident” Sparrowhawks put in regular appearances, Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels were frequently seen.
One of the reasons for this influx of raptors must be the steady build up of the starling roost which on Sunday was estimated to be at least 20,000 birds. It is a very unpredictable event and the birds are inconsistent in both their “displays” and where exactly they choose to alight.
On Sunday morning the Bearded Tits that have been skulking in the middle of the reedbed for the last two weeks finally showed themselves properly, at least one of them did. They were seen in the strip of reeds on the right hand side of the path going to the first screen, there were certainly two birds there although we only saw one of them well, a very smart male. It gave outstanding views in one of the brighter moments on Sunday morning and Andy Last took some excellent pictures of it. I am also sure that I heard pinging from the reeds fringing the bridle way about one hundred metres from the pumphouse. It may be that the initial flock of seven birds has split up and are moving around the reserve independently.
There were a male and a female Brambling with the Chaffinch flock by the cattle pens and a small flock of Redpolls feeding on willow herb seeds in the Roman road and the car park field. On Sunday a Swallow flying along the hedge beside the path to the second screen was a very late record.
A male Otter was seen on Thursday and Friday swimming through the southern lagoon and so it is worth keeping your eyes open, especially if the ducks suddenly take off for no apparent reason.
The Bittern was seen in flight once over the weekend, having shown itself a lot last week, notably wading and feeding in the channel off to the right of the first screen. The Black Redstart seen in a farmyard last week was within my definition of the Otmoor Basin and so is another addition to our yearlist along with the Whooper. We are currently standing at one hundred and forty nine....can we make it to one fifty? and what might it be ?... a Shrike perhaps or will my predictive luck finally have run out?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Hen Harrier Wednesday 24th October

Record shots taken in the gloom all pics (c) Bark

Had  a couple of hours on the moor yesterday afternoon and failed to find the Beardies that I had been looking for. It seems that every time I have been down to look for them it has been blowing a gale or very foggy, sometimes both! I think they are likely to still be there, but finding seven small birds in a fifty two acre reed bed is always going to rely more on luck than anything else.
There are several Stonechats out in the reeds and along the paths to the screens and they were something to look at in the gloom.
On a brief visit to the hide we saw a large number of Starlings flush out on Ashgrave and had our first look at the Harrier that had been seen on Tuesday by Terry Tossell. As we walked back towards the carpark the harrier was mobbed over the closes by corvids and then flew over our heads and headed out across Greenaways. A nice end to an otherwise ordinary visit.
It is worth scanning through the Chaffinch flock by the cattle pens as T.T. saw a male Brambling there on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Saturday and Sunday 20th and 21st October

Stonechat (c) Richard Ebbs

Some of the masses of Canada Geese (c) Mike Kosniowski

Red Legged Partridge by Lower Farm (c) Mike Kosniowski

Beardies on the move (c) Terry Sherlock

Little Grebe by the hide (c) Bark
Grey, damp and gloomy at the weekend but the gloom somewhat lifted by the continuing presence of the Bearded Tits that arrived last Monday. By lunchtime on Saturday however I was convinced that they had left, as we could not find sight or sound of them in the reedbeds either north or south, despite the windless conditions. They were seen, although not heard, on Saturday afternoon and early evening. We subsequently refound them way out in the northern reedbed on Sunday morning, where they could occasionally be heard and seen, flitting fleetingly above the above the reeds that by now were tossing about in the strengthening wind. The RSPB staff and volunteers have gone to great lengths to provide them with grit and seed trays, as these have proved popular at other reserves, to help the birds change their diets from invertebrates in summer to seeds in winter. Lets hope that they stay longer than the last two groups.
Finches were very noticeable with a large flock of chaffinches feeding around the grain by the cattle pens, Brambling being seen both days and a large group of Redpolls feeding along the bridle way. In addition there were flyover Siskins on both days.
The Starling roost is beginning to build up although I have yet to hear of any spectacular displays. Observers on Saturday suggested that there were up to six thousand birds coming in to roost.
Several Goldcrests were seen, notably and most easily along the roman Road. Redwings and Fieldfares were seen in the same area. Two Chiffchaffs were the only warblers that we saw this weekend.
Stonechats are now being seen in all their old haunts and one pair along the path to the first screen were were very easy to see. On Friday seven were found in the vicinity of the first screen.
A Woodcock flew over our heads on Sunday and several Snipe could be seen over the reedbed.
Wildfowl have dispersed, probably over onto the flooded land on the east of the reserve. There are a remarkable number of Canada Geese on and around the moor. Last week someone counted five hundred and fifty on Ashgrave. There are also at least one hundred and fifty Greylags present. Perhaps we can hope that their presence will encourage other wilder geese to visit and stay.
Golden Plovers and Lapwings were seen flying over the MOD land and are also probably feeding on the flooded fields.
Our yearlist is now up to one hundred and forty seven with the addition of this weeks Brambling. It would be pleasing to get to a round one hundred and fifty for the year and both species of winter swans dropping by, would take us almost there. It is the time of year when it is worth checking out any large white birds on the moor, once again I am hopeful.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Wednesday 17 October Bearded Tits

Bearded tit pic taken on 15 Oct 2009
 Bearded Tits were found in the southern reedbed on Monday 15th October. This interesting as the last time that we had a small flock of these stunning birds they turned up on the very same day in 2009. They were still there yesterday evening although they had relocated to the northern section and were only heard and not seen. I had been down earlier in the afternoon and drawn a blank. looking across the reedbeds was more like sea watching because of the very high winds.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th October

Confiding Wren (c) Bark

Again ! (c) Bark

Hare (c) Bark

Hare (c) Bark

Autumn colour in an insect (c) Bark

Muntjac on Greenaways (c) Bark

Ice and Fire (c) Bark

Fox (c) Mike Kosniowski

Teal coming out of eclipse (c) Mike Kosniowski

Stonechat (c) Terry Sherlock

Courting Gadwall (c) Terry Sherlock
It was the perfect autumn weekend still, calm and bright with low sunlight that accentuated the rich colours in the turning leaves. It was quieter on the bird front but patient observation provided some memorable moments and some great photo opportunities.
Stonechats are now well established at Noke, along the path to the first screen and out at the Pill. New this weekend was a party of five juveniles in the hedge between the first and second screens. This is proving to be a good area to see small passerines. In the space of a quarter of an hour, while standing by the bend that goes off to the second screen we saw a small party of Redpolls,Robins,Tits, a Blackcap, Wrens, Bullfinches and Goldcrests. There are several small parties of Redpolls on the reserve but as yet they have not found the niger feeders as they did last year. There were also a pair of flyover Siskins on Saturday morning.
Kingfishers have continued regularly to use the perches in front of the first screen, much to the delight of photographers.
Although we did not see the Bittern this weekend there was a reliable sighting of it from the first screen on Sunday at around five pm. Several parties of Redwings were seen but as yet no Fieldfares.
I was down on the moor very early on Saturday morning and saw more than a thousand Starlings coming out of the roost on the reedbed. They flew around in a tight group for a while before dispersing in different directions. I would be interested to hear if anyone has seen them going to roost in the evening and whether they are displaying their spectacular pre roost flocking.
Several large flocks of Lapwings were seen and were often flushed from the far lagoon area on Ashgrave, usually by Buzzards and Kites.
Teal are coming out of eclipse plumage now and can be seen displaying to each other and splashing vigorously at the far end of the first lagoon. Gadwall are also doing their courtship flights, usually with three or four males pursuing a single female.
A Peregrine passed directly over the reedbed on Sunday and as usual Ravens were present on both days.
Hares are again very noticeable and two of them came particularly close on Sunday. A small herd of Roe deer seem to have taken up residence in the fields to the west of the path to the second screen and a Muntjac gave very close views as it crossed Greenaways on Sunday. Several foxes were seen but sadly no sign of the Otter this week.
I look forward to seeing fieldfares next weekend.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th October

Reed Warbler (c) Bark

Stonechat at Noke (c) Bark

Grey heron flyover (c) Bark

It is only at this time of year that you realise how many spiders there are. (c) Bark
A good weekend on the moor. Wonderful weather on Saturday but very foggy all morning on Sunday.
Most exciting record was the arrival of the first Bittern of this winter period. The bird was seen from the first screen on Saturday, flying from one side of the reedbed to the other, ironically just a moment or two after we had left the screen! On Sunday morning we were luckier and the first two of us into the screen saw the bird fly from the closest edge into the first bank of reeds across the lagoon, from where in a true bittern like manner it stayed. This is an early record for Otmoor. We tend to get Bitterns later in the winter and have always assumed that they were continental birds pushed over by the cold. The species has had very successful breeding season on the Somerset Levels and it’s reasonable to speculate that this may have been a bird dispersing from there.
Duck numbers are continuing to build and there were a flock of at least two hundred Teal on the reedbed on Sunday. The Lapwing flock is also building and could be seen flushing from the Ashgrave lagoon several times on Saturday when buzzed by a Peregrine and less happily by a helicopter on Sunday. As the winter progresses and wildfowl numbers increase so will the possibility of a potentially dangerous birdstrike, and of course the disturbance to the birds themselves. A low flying regulation seems to be a sensible restriction over a bird reserve.
There are now at least seven Stonechats around the moor with four out at the Pill on Saturday along with two Whinchats and three by the farm at Noke on the same morning. There were also two Wheatears on the barn roof at Noke and twenty or so Meadow Pipits feeding in the sheep pastures.
There was a steady passage of Swallows and Martins on Saturday and just a few isolated individuals on Sunday. There are still a few Yellow Wagtails about and we found Reed Warbler and a late Sedge Warbler in the reedbed on Saturday morning. We found them while looking and listening carefully for the “pings” of Bearded Tits, which we hope will drop in again this year. It is difficult to predict with such an irruptive species, but it is at this time of year that we get them.
Redpolls and Siskins were seen and heard on Saturday and with the first Redwings being reported in the county yesterday it won’t belong before we have them down on the moor again.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Saturday and sunday 29th and 30th September

Chiffy (c) Bark

Chiffy #2 (c) Bark
Whinchat and friendly Reed Bunt (c) Bark

Longtailed Tit in hedgerow (c) Bark

Dawn Kestrel (c) Bark
Comma (c) Bark

Red Admiral (c) Bark

Migrant Hawkers in cop (c) Bark
Grey Wagtail just up the road in Stanton St John (c) Lyn Ebbs
Chats (c) Badger

Moon over Greenaways (c) Badger
Another weekend of contrasting weather and again it consisted of a sunny calm Saturday and a greyer windier Sunday.
There are now at least four Stonechats on and around the reserve with a couple by Lower Farm Noke and others on Greenaways. There are also still at least four Whinchats, two of which were out on the 100 acre field on Sunday (re Paul Greenaway).
Duck numbers continue to rise with a flock of about seventy Mallard on the reedbed, at least fifty Wigeon and twenty Shoveller. The Pintail pair seen earlier in the week were seen again on Thursday evening but not reported this weekend. Likewise the Merlin seen on Thursday evening has not been reported since. A Peregrine was seen on Saturday and Ravens were seen and heard both days. A party of twenty plus Snipe have been flying between Ashgrave and big Otmoor on both days. Meadow Pipits are now common in the pastures and there are still good numbers of Yellow Wagtails present. A Grey Wagtail flew across the lagoon at the second screen and over our heads on Sunday morning. The flock of feral Greylags seems to have grown and has been making its presence felt both with spectacular flyovers and noisy honking. Perhaps their presence will encourage other wilder geese to join them on the moor, in previous years Whitefronts have been found on the periphery of such flocks.
Mixed flocks of tits and warblers are still working the hedgerows with the one beside the path to the second screen proving to be very productive. There is often a flock of Long Tailed Tits at the heart of the group and on Saturday at least five or six Chiffchaffs were amongst them as were a similar number of Reed Warblers.
There was bright colour in the hedges from the turning leaves, ripening berries, Comma and Red Admiral butterflies and Migrant Hawker dragonflies. A single very tatty individual Brown Hairstreak was in the top of the hedge half way to Noke a very late record.