Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Bank Holiday Weekend 24th - 26th May

Bullfinch (c) Tezzer

Juvenile Great Tit (c) Tezzer

Cuckoo one of at least three (c) Tezzer
Sedgie (c) Mark Chivers

All Hobbys (c) Mark Chivers (this one has a ring)

Little Egret (c) Bark

Redshank (c) Bark

Three of the Mistle Thrushes (c) Bark

Bounding Hare (c) Bark
It was a weekend of mixed weather but with the exception of Sunday, it was more wet than dry.
I went down on Saturday morning when the rain was a little less intense and had the moor virtually to myself. To know a place really well it is good to see it in all its moods and as Sherlock says “ there is no such thing as the wrong weather only the wrong clothing” ( Terry that is not Holmes! ) Once I had accepted the rain the place was very beautiful; somehow softer, fresher, wetter and lusher with a dramatic sky that changed all the time, it felt a bit like walking through a watercolour painting.
The weekend was to produce some exciting birds, although sadly the rarest and most notable was only seen by one observer. The bird in question was a Bee-eater that flew through on Saturday afternoon after the rain of the morning had cleared. The bird was seen by a Hungarian birder who is very familiar with the species from his own country and who hadn’t really realised the significance of it here. The last ones in Oxfordshire were seen over twenty years ago, I also believe that there was a single bird seen on Otmoor earlier than that, but have been unable to confirm it. Despite the fleeting nature of this encounter and our general disappointment that it didn’t stay, there were still plenty of other birds to see. The Glossy Ibis continued to commute between the Closes , Greenaways and the Flood Field and was very elusive at times. The Summer plumaged Ruff was seen at times on Big Otmoor on occasions displaying all its finery to passing Redshanks.
The Turtle Doves near the pump house continued to attract admirers and photographers. There is confusion as to whether these are two males or a pair. I have spent some time trying to discover if both males and females purr but can find nothing in BWP or on the web, any information on this would be really useful. There were a further two birds seen midweek and other reports have come in from nearby locations.
On Sunday a Great White Egret was found on a field to the north of the reserve and later flew onto Greenaways. It was seen again on the Flood Field on Monday morning but shortly afterwards was seen to fly off high towards the east. Although almost annual now in the county it is always a thrill to see this beautiful Heron, stunning pictures of the bird taken by Roger Wyatt can be seen on the Oxon Bird Log.
Hobbys have also been very much in evidence and are now hunting low along the ditches for dragonflies there have been up to six still present and they are always easier to see in the afternoons and evenings. On Sunday morning we found a group of fourteen Mistle Thrushes feeding in the field to the west of the visitor trail to the second screen, they were very fresh and bright looking perhaps a late migrating group or a party of juveniles. There were also a family party of five seen in Noke on Friday.
At least two Downy Emerald Dragonflies were seen and they do seem to be established as Otmoor regulars now.
Juvenile birds are now starting to appear and a family of Great Tits that have bred in or around the pumphouse were trying their wings for the first time on Friday. I saw my first fledged lapwing chicks on The Closes on Saturday morning recognisable by their yellowish faces and lack of a crest. If the weather settles down we can look forward to more id challenges from juvenile warblers and hopefully other new arrivals.
A sad footnote an Otter was found dead this morning on the road between Horton and Beckley, might even be the one seen early on Sunday morning by the pumphouse.


Monday, 19 May 2014

Saturday and Sunday 17th and 18th May

Glossy overhead... (c) Bark

...and on the ground (c) Badger

and then up again (c) Mark Chivers

Cuckoo (c) Bark

Reed Warbler (c) Richard Tyler

Sum. Plum. Ruff (c) Badger

Sedgie (c) Mark Chivers

Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers

Drake Garganey (c) Badger

Otmoor this weekend was almost as good as it can be. The weather was perfect and the vegetation was as lush and as flowery as it gets. The colours are at their most vibrant, with every imaginable shade of fresh green contrasting with masses of pale hawthorn blossom and an understory of cow parsley. There is a generous sprinkling of yellow from dandelions, buttercups and fresh flag Irises; with pale pinks and creams from the first dog roses that are now opening in the briars. The soundscape too was wonderful with Snipe drumming, Cuckoos calling, Lapwings and Redshank alarming and a continuous chorus of warblers from the hedgerows, reedbeds and ditches.
The birdlife this weekend matched the richness of the hedgerows and fields. The Glossy Ibis that appeared last week is commuting between different pools both sides of the river Ray. It was tending to favour the pools at the eastern end of the Closes on Sunday and was very popular with the many visitors encouraged out by the weather. The most popular birds however were the Turtle Doves that have set up a territory  just ten or twelve metres along the bridle way. Their purring was a delight to hear, they showed well and brief display flights were a prelude to mating. It is reassuring to realise that we have both male and female present. unfortunately their popularity is also an indicator of just how rare they have become elsewhere.
We had a fly through male Montagu's Harrier on Sunday morning. It was pursued west to east across Greenaways by Black Headed Gulls and Lapwings disappearing over the hedge and onto the MOD land. We walked out to the Pill in the hopes of seeing it hunting over the hundred acre but it appeared to have kept on going. We had some little compensation by finding a very showy and extrovert Grasshopper warbler reeling away on the south pill ground.
A Wood Sandpiper was found on Friday and a summer plumaged male Ruff. The Ruff was still present on Sunday but sadly the Wood Sand moved on. A Whimbrel was heard calling out on the Pill on Saturday, conditions out there look perfect for passage birds with plenty of water still and soft ground. A pair of Garganey were seen but they are very elusive and secretive once they have arrived.
Our single Snow Goose is looking very smart and is currently associating with a party of Grey Lags. It probably originates from the feral flock at Blenheim.
As predicted last week the warm and clement weather has encouraged Dragonflies and Damselflies to emerge in numbers and many fresh and pristine specimens could be seen. There were at least nine Hobbies feeding on them over Greenaways on Sunday but as is normal with this species they are a little like teenagers and tend not to get going until late morning or lunchtime.
Sadly I did not hear last weeks Quail but the summer is only just beginning and I know there is still lots of interest and excitement to come.
Bug and flower Supplement 
Dog Rose (c) Bark

Broad Bodied Chaser (c) Bark

Flag Iris (c) Bark

Four spotted Chaser (c) Bark

Brimstone (c) Bark

Mayfly (c) Badger

Banded Demoiselle (c) Badger

Broad Bodied Chaser (c) Badger

Last but not least female Banded Demoiselle (c) Badger

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Mid week extra. 15 May

Calling Turtle Dove (c) Nick Truby

Newly Fledged Long Tailed Tit (c) Nick Truby

Glossy Ibis (c) Nick Truby

One of two Cuckoos (c) Nick Truby
The Glossy Ibis which has been doing the rounds of birding sites in the county has now come to Otmoor.  It seems to be dividing its time between Big Otmoor and the Flood Field but has spent some time on the Closes.
There has been a Quail calling and  a Greenshank present, bringing the year list total up to one hundred and thirty. There are also two purring Turtle Doves present. It all bodes well for the warm weekend ahead.
Thanks to Nick Truby for the pictures.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Saturday and Sunday 10th and 11th May

Returned Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers

Anxious Lapwing (c) Bark

Garden Warbler in the gloom (c) Bark

Two Roe Deer in carpark field (c) Bark

Hairy Dragonfly (c) Bark

Four Spotted Chaser (c) Bark
Both of my visits to the moor this weekend were interrupted by the appearance, disappearance and reappearance of the Spotted Sandpiper at Farmoor, of which a little more later.
Rough winds do fret the darling buds of May” to borrow a line from Shakespeare and they really did fret them this weekend. It was chilly and very windy on both mornings with occasional sharp showers.
The best news however was the return of the Turtle Doves; on Saturday just one purring bird, but by Sunday there were two and if they have been lucky and have  managed to avoid the fusillade over the Med and North Africa there may be others joining them over the next week or so.
Despite the wind the birds were in good voice which was just as well as on Sunday morning at 5 am. we met up with an enthusiastic and intrepid group of about twenty visitors for a dawn chorus walk. We heard most of the expected songs with the exception of Grasshopper Warbler, a species that seems to call best in still conditions. (Thanks to Adam and Tezzer for helping with the walk) Having expressed some doubts about Reed Warbler numbers last week I was really surprised by the massive number that I heard singing in the reedbed on Saturday morning. There seemed to be a bird establishing territory every two or three metres along. There were at least three Cuckoos calling, seeking to take advantage of their nests and their abundance.
New for the year on Sunday was the first Green Sandpiper that I have seen since the autumn flying off Greenaways and over onto Big Otmoor. On Saturday morning there were four pairs of Greylag Geese on the scrape in front of the hide with twenty five goslings at slightly different stages of development. They seem to be forming into some kind of loose crèche and perhaps there is security in numbers. Most of the predatory action appears to be happening over Greenaways and big Otmoor and perhaps an angry protective group of geese deters aerial predation.
The first dragonflies I have seen were found on Saturday with a Hairy Dragonfly along the trail to the first screen and a Four Spotted Chaser along the bridleway. There were also reports of Downy Emerald seen last week and if the expected area of high pressure moves in this week giving warm and sunny conditions, we can expect to find many more next weekend.
Finally I did catch up with the Spotted Sandpiper at Farmoor on Sunday, a lifer for me and a really stunning bird. I do think however that it is high time that we had an exciting transatlantic visitor on Otmoor, so far I have seen a couple at Farmoor another on Port Meadow and yet another at Rushy. I really do want one on my own patch, even if that does sound a bit selfish.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sunday and Monday 4th and 5th May

The default bird (c) Bark

Parachute flight (c) Bark

Cuckoo one of three (c) Bark

Flying Heron (c) Mark Chivers

Sprawk with one of three victims noted (c) Mark Chivers

Reed Warbler (c) Peter Coombes

Common Lizards (c) Bark

Green winged Orchids (c) Bark
After a weeks absence in the Mediterranean I was really surprised at just how green the reserve has become in such a short time. The masses of white blackthorn have now been replaced by the more subtly coloured off-white and lacy Hawthorn flowers. The hedges are alive with birdsong and the default bird this weekend was certainly Sedge Warbler. On Saturday between the bridle way and the first screen we counted eight singing and displaying males. Hobbies are regular over Greenaways and as usual reluctant to be very active until nearer to midday. They will soon have dragonflies to hunt as I was shown a photograph taken on Saturday morning of one of the first Hairy Dragonflies to emerge this year. All the regular warblers are in, but as yet there seem to be very few Reed Warblers. Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats are establishing regular singing spots and there seems to have been a late influx of Whitethroats. Apart from the breeding Lapwings, Snipe and Redshanks the only waders were a couple of Black tailed Godwits on Big Otmoor and the pair of wandering Oystercatchers. Curlews are calling regularly over the MOD land and a pair flew through onto Ashgrave on Sunday. New for the year is a Little Owl seen flying in Otmoor lane last week and of course the fabulous Whiskered Tern.
On Monday I did the first visit of my regular BTO breeding bird surveys, which includes a large part of the Flood Field, the Barn Field, some hay meadows and a section of the North Pill Ground. It is a very bird rich habitat and it is noticeable how the variety and density of birds is even higher on the RSPB land than on the other parts. I recorded just over forty species on my two transects the most uncommon was probably a fly-over Raven. Most unusual was not seeing any Great Tits but I feel sure that I will see some on one of my later visits. Just one Grasshopper warbler was heard but they do do seem to go quiet for a bit after their initial burst of song. On the older hay meadows the Green Winged Orchids are in flower but seem not to be as abundant as in previous years, perhaps as a result of this winters flooding.
Grass Snakes and Common Lizards were to be found  both in the carpark field and along the Roman Road, with patient and careful looking.
We are still waiting with bated breath for the return of our Turtle Doves, if they are not back in the next week or so then we will begin to get very concerned. Summer on Otmoor would be so much poorer without their soft purring calls and their subtle beauty. I sincerely hope they don’t go the same way as our Nightingales did.

Otmoor Whiskered Tern a belated posting.

First picture of the whiskered tern in the rain taken by Paul Thomas
Having been out of the country since the day after the tern was found and seen on the Friday I have been unable to thank the people responsible for finding and identifying this mega for Otmoor.
Thanks first to Paul Thomas who saw the bird in the rain and realised that it was very different but was unaware of what it was. He in turn alerted the RSPB Assistant warden, Zoe and the estate worker Adam. They reported it back to the office and Joe Harris came down and scoped the bird and described what he saw to Ian Lewington and the id was made and then confirmed once we got there. As has been described elsewhere, the bird performed beautifully enchanting the fortunate few who got to see it on Friday evening. It was sad that it did not stay long enough to be seen by the large number of hopeful birders who came down on Saturday morning.