Monday, 25 November 2013

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th November

Fieldfare stripping berries. (c) Bark

and posing in the sun. (c) Bark

Redwing (c) Bark

Bullfinch eating berries (c) Bark

One end of the rainbow......

...and the other.(c) Bark
A quiet and calm weekend on the moor with Saturday being the pick of the two days offering the last blaze of autumn colours and a stunning rainbow as a light shower moved through. There was nothing particularly different or new on the bird front but numbers all round are beginning to go up and the larger flocks are attracting more raptors. This is especially true of the Lapwings with two large flocks present on Sunday each numbering between four and five hundred birds. A Buzzard that was mantling food out on Greenaways finally flew off with a pair of lapwing wings in its claws, probably not its own kill but something else's leavings. Duck numbers too are rising especially Wigeon. There are significant numbers out on Big Otmoor as could be seen when they were flushed by a male Peregrine, as well as that flock there is another feeding on Ashgrave and yet another on Greenaways. Shoveller numbers are also rising as are Gadwall and to a lesser extent Teal. There are now at least two pairs of Pintail on the reserve. Sadly there are no Pochard at present, reflecting their worrying population slump. A small flock of Golden Plover were around on Sunday and there were two Dunlin flying with the Lapwings on Greenaways.
It was wonderful to stand at the second screen on Saturday and have really good views of Fieldfares and Redwings stripping the haws from the bushes to the north of the hide, they fed quickly swallowing five or six berries at a sitting before flying off to digest a cropfull. These birds too are currently present in very good numbers. Bullfinches are once again using the same hedge and taking advantage of the berries that are still there later on they will switch to eating dried up blackberries.
The Starling roost too is getting larger and I heard that it was particularly spectacular on Friday evening. The birds made a dramatic display and were harried by a number of predators including the female Hen Harrier. One visitor described a Kestrel flying into the flock and coming out with a starling which it proceeded to eat not more than ten metres away from the onlookers.
Sadly my predicted winter Geese have not arrived yet and a party of five Whooper Swans spent a couple of days not far away in Bucks. I am sure that it wont be long before some larger winter visitors make it down to the moor.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th November

Wren from second screen (c) Bark

Water Rail (Bark)

Half a beardy (c) Bark

Starlings and Hips (c) Darrell Wood

North of the reserve before the sun disappeared (c) Darrell Wood
After a bright start on Saturday the weather became very grey and damp, but at least it was not windy.
The calm conditions meant that we were able to find Bearded Tits on both mornings. On Saturday there were two individuals feeding down close to the waters edge. On Sunday we heard and saw some in flight and felt that there were possibly up to five. Perhaps it will be become clearer over the next few weeks just how many we have, this is after all the time when irruptive movements take place. It seems as though we have had a recent influx of Water Rails. I could hear at least six or seven different individuals screaming from the reedbed and several others from other ditches around the reserve. I assume that they are setting up winter territories and warning off rivals rather than trying to attract mates. Wren numbers also seem to have risen markedly over the last few weeks and they can frequently be heard and seen buzzing and flitting about in brambles and reeds. Bittern was seen on both days but only briefly whilst changing location within the reedbed but it is still worth scanning carefully along the northern edge of the second lagoon as it has shown there beautifully in the past.
The Starling roost continues to grow but is very variable in terms of the length and the variety of the display. Recently the birds have tended to dive straight into the reeds and have only really shown well when flushed by a raptor. A Hen Harrier and a Sparrowhawk have been regular attendees both in the evening and when the birds leave the roost at dawn. An adult and a juvenile Peregrine are also being seen regularly. On Sunday morning almost a thousand Starlings had chosen not to go too far from the roost to feed and were feeding around the feet of the cattle on Greenaways. A male Stonechat one of at least six on the reserve has taken a severe dislike to his reflection in the window of the hide, pecking at himself and giving very close views if one is on the inside. (excellent picture by Nigel Forrow on the Oxon Bird Log)
There are at least seven Grey Herons stalking across Greenaways and they appear to be feeding on the grassland rather than in the ditches and pools, it may be that the sharp rise in water levels has pushed prey items nearer to the surface.
Perhaps the predicted blast of arctic air this week will bring us some interesting visitors by next weekend, but if not it is worth keeping eyes open and ears alert for Otters as they have been seen and heard regularly over the last couple of weeks. There are no favoured sites and they could turn up almost anywhere both in or out of the water.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Thursday 14 November Starlings and Bittern

Feeding along the edge (c) Tezzer

Building a platform (c) Tezzer

Starlings all pics (c) Bark
I thought that I would take my own advice and go down to see the roost on a weekday evening. Although windy it was dry and bright.
In the event it was not the Starlings that made the evening but a Bittern that stole the show.
Paul Greenaway had seen a Bittern earlier in the day feeding in the open along the northern edge of the far lagoon. It had subsequently disappeared but when arrived at the second screen at about two thirty it was working its way along the margin and giving superb views in the sunshine. I have not had such a sustained view of a Bittern for a long time and it was demonstrating some interesting feeding strategies. It seemed to be picking food out of the reedy detritus left as the water levels on the lagoon have dropped. It also spent time with the tip of its bill in the water waiting to snatch small fry.
Another novelty for me was watching it construct a platform to stand on. After climbing up some reed stems about a metre high it proceeded to hook in vertical reeds with its bill and construct a more solid reed platform where it stood sheltered from the wind and indulged it some serious feather maintenance. It did not remain there to roost as later we saw it heading down to roost in the southern reedbed.
The starlings when they came were quite numerous, but perhaps due to the wind,  came in low and fast and dived straight into the reeds. There was a spectacular moment when a large number were flushed by a Hen Harrier and a Sparrowhawk, but almost immediately settled again. We estimated the numbers coming at about fifteen thousand. It does seem that for an aerial spectacular to happen calm weather is needed but equally I am sure I can remember seeing great displays on grey and windy days. As an afterthought does the word "murmeration" refer to the sound they make in the reedbed once settled or to the flock flying and displaying?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Saturday and sunday 9th and 10th November

Goldcrest between two screens (c) Matt O'Byrne

Goldies in the sun (c) Pat Galka

and on the ground (c) Pat Galka

Female Stonechat (c) Bark

Lapwings from the hide (c) Bark

Hedgerow colour (c) Bark

Stonechat into the sun (c) Bark

One of at least seven Grey Herons on Greenaways (c) Bark
Just a brief visit on Saturday before the rain but Sunday was very much better. The birding this weekend was quieter and less spectacular but on Sunday morning the moor itself was the star of the show. Under a brilliant blue sky and with gin clear air, the autumn hedgerows glowed with a dazzling mix of turning leaves and brightly coloured fruits. The contrast with recent dour and damp weekends probably enhanced the experience, but it was the very best kind of morning to be out and about.
There are major changes occurring out in the fields. The heavy rainfall of the last few weeks has pushed up water levels,especially on Ashgrave in front of the hide. Now that the last of the land management work has been completed water is being allowed to run out from the northern reedbed onto Greenaways and on from there to Big Otmoor. The water level on the Northern lagoon is being dropped in order to make it possible to partially cut and manage the reedbed. This will have a very positive on wintering wildfowl and at the same time it will make them much easier to see and to monitor. It should also encourage the Bitterns to feed on the reedy fringe across the water from the screen, as they have done frequently in the past.
Duck numbers are creeping up with more parties of Wigeon arriving and Lapwings too are increasing ,with two flocks of over a hundred and fifty present one on Big Otmoor and the other favouring Ashgrave. A few Golden Plover have been seen but as yet in smaller numbers. Several small parties of Snipe are around and can often be seen taking flight when flushed by low flying Red Kites.
Redpolls were recorded both days in the Car Park field and a Marsh Tit is coming regularly to the feeders.
We are host to a very large flock of feral Greylag Geese and another of Canada Geese. Although not completely wild they are spectacular when flying en masse and they are also very noisy. It is about this time of year that it becomes worthwhile scanning carefully through the flocks for their smaller wild cousins. White Fronted Geese winter regularly now and are often first picked up loitering on the edges of the feral flocks. It is also at about this time of year that we have winter swans passing through, although none have stayed very long during the last few years.
Harriers, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines are all capitalising on the steady build up to the starling roost, anyone wishing to see it should try to get down on a calm evening during the week as the weekends are getting very busy and parking can be difficult. It is wonderful that so many people want to experience it and connect with the wild, and even more importantly introduce children to a spectacular natural phenomenon.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Saturday and Sunday 2nd and 3rd November

Ring-tailed Harrier (c) Pete Styles

Stonechat (c) Pete Styles

"Oxon Bloggers" The winning Birdrace team
 We mostly managed to avoid the showers on Saturday and Sunday mornings and the annual College Lake/Otmoor Birdrace took place on Saturday morning. Despite the extremely windy conditions over seventy species were seen in the four hour period, but not all of them by the same team. Most unusual amongst the birds seen was a very late Whinchat keeping company with two Stonechats in the middle of Greenaways. Also a male Blackcap behind the first screen and a Chiffchaff along the bridleway.
The Bittern and Bearded Tits were also recorded on Saturday but not by any of the teams taking part in the birdrace. Two Grey Wagtails were seen on Saturday morning and that is the first record this year  of this species on the moor. A Peregrine has adopted a vantage point in one of the bare trees bordering the field to the west of the path to the second screen, it has been seen in the same tree on consecutive weekends and may well be around for the winter. The ring-tailed Hen Harrier was also present on both days but it ranges out well beyond the the confines of the reserve and so is only seen occasionally. It is also very prone to harassment by corvids.
The lagoons in front of the hide are looking much healthier and much wetter. They are now host to an increasingly large flock of Wigeon and a few Teal. Careful observation will also reveal the odd Snipe hunkered down along the margins. Large numbers of Fieldfare have started to exploit the berries in the hedges but there are only a few Redwings alongside them. The Great White Egret seems to have moved on although I had a brief view of what may have been it first thing on Saturday morning.
Congratulations to the Tuesday Volunteer Working Party, on completing the construction of the second screen. It has been superbly built and will certainly last a great deal longer than its predecessor. Once the benches have been put in it will be easier to “road test” the viewing slots and of course some of the reed fringing needs to be cut back to give a clearer view. The addition of extra screening along the bank for ten metres or so means that I can look forward to being able to get into the screen without flushing all the wildfowl from the lagoon. The partial roof means that it is possible to follow a bird in flight but still be able to get out of the rain. “Sods Law” has always dictated that if it is going to rain hard it will always do so when you are as far away from the carpark as it is possible to be, I have lost track of the times that I have get soaked at the second screen. Thanks again to Barry Oxley and his team.