Monday, 24 March 2014

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd March

Male Chaffinch in carpark (c) Bark

One of many Wheatears (c) Bark

Great crested Grebe eating the fourth Perch it caught in fifteen minutes (c) Bark

My first Grass Snake this year (c) Bark

Passionate Pochard (c) Mark Chivers

Even more passionate Redshank (c) Andy Last

Little Ringed Plover (c) Badger
Chiffy (c) Andy Last
Despite the weather tending back towards winter, the birds were really getting into spring mode. The only damper on the weekend was the unfortunate incident with the Barn Owl. For a full account of this really upsetting event read Ewan Urquarts’ blog . He has written about the whole event very eloquently and intelligently, as he does about all birding matters. I am in full agreement with his view that ringing Barn Owls is an anachronistic and inefficient way of gathering data on these birds. This was a very popular and well photographed bird and will be missed. The whole sad business cast a shadow over the rest of the weekend, taking the gloss off the first real influx of spring migrants.
The year-list has surged forward this week with the addition of several resident species, including both Grey and Red-legged Partridges, Nuthatches on the edge of Noke wood, Mistle Thrush, Merlin, Marsh Harrier and the increasingly rare Lesser Spotted Woodpecker seen and photographed on Wednesday. In addition migrants are now starting to arrive in significant numbers. Wheatears were present both on Ashgrave and on the sheep field at Noke with up to eight individuals showing really well in their bright fresh breeding plumage. Small parties of Sand Martins were seen on both days over the reedbeds and on Saturday we found a Little Ringed Plover picking its way around one of the new scrapes on Big Otmoor. Out in the middle of the field were three Black tailed Godwits in full summer plumage their rich orange gold colour glowing in the sun. There are still in the region of four hundred Golden Plover on the moor and more and more of them are showing black bellies with the distinctive white edging. There are also still at least four Pintail and good numbers of Wigeon present. Pochard are displaying vigorously in front of the first screen. The eyes of the drakes are bright red and despite all their posing and their neck stretching, the females appeared unimpressed.
Little Egret numbers have risen sharply and there are now well over twelve individuals present. The resident Grey Herons are now sitting on the nest in the dead oak tree that can be seen out in front of the hide. Redshank seem to be everywhere, doing display flights and calling loudly. Some were seen mating and on one occasion, unusually, in the water. Peregrines are still making occasional lightning fast appearances barrelling through low and leaving consternation in their wake. Kites are once again attracting defensive attention from the nesting Lapwings. I found my first basking Grass Snakes on Saturday on the dead reeds beside the ditch near the wooden bench on the bridle way, another positive indication of how the season is advancing.
By next weekend even more visitors will be arriving and we will be out there eager to find them.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th March


Lovelorn Beardie (c) Bark

Shovellers over the reedbed (c) Bark

Oystercatcher (c) Badger

Shelduck (c) Badger

Amourous Grebes (c) Andy Last
Chiffy (c) Mike Flemming

Calling Curlew  (c) Mike Flemming

Singing Songthrush (c) Andy Last
Comma (c) Darrell Wood
Small Tortoiseshell (c) Bark
I was chatting to a friend as we walked round on Sunday. We were reflecting that there is a time early in every spring when it all seems to go quiet for a couple of weeks. All our excited anticipation of new arrivals and rarities seems to get ahead of events. It was a bit like that this weekend. There was stunning weather and perfect water levels but neither my anticipated Garganey or Wheatears showed up. It was probably more to do with my impatience than than anything else, I must learn to wait.
There was plenty to see, but only one addition to the yearlist, an Oystercatcher that was feeding around the pool in front of the hide on Saturday morning.  The carpark area is loud with birdsong in the mornings and Chiffchaffs are now adding their signature call to the soundscape. There are still significant numbers of ducks around but they are much more scattered over the whole reserve, large numbers are loafing out of sight on the Flood Field and only show themselves when flushed by one of the regular Peregrines. There were also a pair of Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlins amongst them. One of the Godwits was already starting to moult into its brick red breeding colours. Redshanks and Curlews can be heard all day calling and flying in display. There appear to be more Redshank present than I remember last year but that is speculative rather than definite. Five Shelduck were present on the lagoon on the western side of Ashgrave on both days.
Reed Buntings are prominent and again there seem to be really good numbers of them, it may be that the mild winter has resulted in a better survival rate. Several small parties of Tree Creepers were seen both along the bridle way and in the oaks behind the first screen. The female Bearded tit was seen regularly and appears to be on her own. She is very mobile and very vocal, which suggests a bird in search of a mate, perhaps the male seen earlier in the year has succumbed to a predator or has moved on. Both Barn and Short-eared Owls were seen over the weekend, I had a very close encounter with a Barn Owl which I flushed from bush, it was so close I could have touched it, I don’t know who was more startled me or the Owl. Two Otters were seen along the bridle way early on Saturday morning.
With clearer nights and no fog there will be more migratory movement and our summer visitors will start to arrive soon. I’m looking forward to next weekend already.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th March

Golden Plovers and Dunlin (c) Mark Chivers

Dunnock (c) Mark Chivers

Male Reed Bunting (c) Mark Chivers

Flyover Pintail (c) John Reynolds

Gadwall (c) John Reynolds
Amorous Toad (c) John Reynolds
It was hard to believe just how much the moor had changed during the last two weeks. Water levels have fallen and there are now plenty of clear dry areas where Lapwings are taking up territory and displaying loudly. I was caught out by the weather on Saturday expecting it to be much warmer than it was before lunchtime. Sunday however proved to be the warmest, finest day of spring so far.
There are still dramatic large flocks of birds present, both wildfowl, Lapwings and Golden Plover, the latter by far the most numerous. On Sunday against a clear blue sky they flickered across the sky above Big Otmoor like confetti in a strong wind. Amongst them were at least twenty Dunlin. Redshank are now adding their voices to the sound of displaying Lapwings and the occasional distant calls of Curlew. Two Shelduck were seen on Malt Pit on Sunday morning where there were also twenty Ruff.
At least four Songthrushes are singing on the reserve and it was the first sound that greeted me when I arrived on both mornings. The first singing Chiffchaff of the year was heard on Friday out on the eastern side of the reedbed. Male Reed Buntings are also very noticeable and appear to be taking up prominent songposts. There were also at least a dozen feeding on the scattered seed by the cattle pens.
Both frogs and toads are advertising their presence from the ditches and there are now three Little Egrets stalking the margins on The Closes on the lookout for careless amorous amphibians. There were four Grey Herons in the dead oak trees in front of the hide and bill colour and demeanour suggested that at least two of them were in courtship mode. Last year’s nest when examined through a scope had a female Mallard sitting on it.
Peregrines were very active again from their favourite perches in the hedge one field over from the path to the second screen. Flying together and on one occasion on Sunday swooping onto a common Buzzard that was drifting over the reedbed.
There were many Brimstones on the wing on Sunday, several pairs whirling frantically around each other in their nuptial ballet. There was also a rather battered Peacock nectaring on blackthorn flowers in the car park field just as I left.
There were no new additions to the yearlist this weekend but with fine weather predicted this week it will not be long before Sand Martins and Wheatears make their way northwards from the coast where they have already arrived.
As the month progresses the whole pace of the moor will quicken as both resident and new arrival alike, concentrate on courtship and nesting.