Monday, 28 July 2014

Saturday and Sunday 26th and 27th July

Heron touchdown (c) John Reynolds
The season is changing again and we are moving into the high summer. The moor has changed colour over the last couple of weeks. The bright lush greens of early summer are  being replaced by softer subtler ochres, warm browns and golds. This is particularly obvious across the fields as the grasses set seed and desiccate. It is very beautiful to be on the moor at this time of year.
The wildlife too is undergoing subtle changes. A few passage waders are resting over and feeding up before moving on. The powerful drive to get to the breeding grounds in the spring that sent them north in a hurry, is replaced by a much less urgent movement southwards. This weekend there were Green Sandpipers, Greenshanks a few Dunlin and a Black tailed Godwit on the reserve. The First Screen is the best place to catch up with the action. As the water levels on the southern reedbed are drawn down rich feeding areas are being exposed and  islands are re-emerging to make safe loafing areas for Ducks, Cormorants and Herons. The Glossy Ibis also favours both roosting and loafing on one of the spits at the back of the lagoon. 
Subtle Snipe (c) John Reynolds
Heron and Egret (c) Mark Chivers
Superbly camouflaged Snipe are busily picking at the edges and several Water Rails are behaving in a less than skulking manner, frequenting the muddy margin to the left of the main channel. There is still more water to be drawn off and more attractive wader habitat will be exposed. Although not seen to my knowledge this weekend one of the two Bitterns from last week was seen flying over and around the reedbed on Friday. There are still two Marsh Harriers present and they have been seen quartering the whole site not just the reedy areas. Two Peregrines were seen over the reedbed on Sunday morning, relocating from a noisy Didcot possibly?
Woodpigeon Touchdown (c) John Reynolds

Still Calling (c) Bark

Young Sedgie (c) Bark
It is worth keeping ears and eyes open as one and possibly two Bearded Tits were seen last week on a remote part of the reserve. Last year they became very mobile at this time of the year and were often roaming the reed fringed ditches and so could pop up anywhere. A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling from the far side of the reedbed on Saturday and another was heard in the carpark field on Friday. There are still a number of Redstarts in Long meadow but they can be frustratingly elusive.
Brown Hairstreak nectaring (c) Peter Law

Ruddy Darter (c) Bark

Common Blue (c) Bark
In the Roman Road area we found the first Brown Hairstreaks of the year, once again flying around the large spindly ash trees towards the MOD end of the ride. There were at least three Clouded Yellows in front of the hide on both days and Painted Ladies have also been recorded.
Otmoor is never the same twice and I am looking forward as keenly as ever to whatever we find next.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th July

Bittern over reedbed (c) Bark
Another weekend full of interest and variety. Both days warm and sultry and on Saturday quite rainy. Last week a Bittern was seen most days flying to and fro across the southern reedbed. On Saturday morning I was fortunate enough to get really good views of it first from the screen and later from the bridle way. It flew up from the reeds in response to a flyby from a Marsh Harrier and appeared to pursue it briefly out across Greenaways before returning to the reeds. This was interesting enough but on Sunday morning two Bitterns flew up from the reedbed and had a leisurely fly round over the reeds before settling in the south eastern section. We have speculated that they might be juvenile siblings as Bitterns tend to be loners rather than social birds.
The aforementioned Marsh Harrier is one of two birds that are being seen regularly, one is a very tatty sub-adult male the other a female with much more complete plumage.
Green Sand on Greenaways (c) Bark
 Wader passage is just beginning to get going and small numbers of Green Sandpipers are being seen regularly. Greenshanks are also present and although not always visible can be picked up on call. On Sunday we saw our first Common Sandpiper for about eighteen months. It was seen on the Tern Raft and then later on the southern reedbed. I am sure they occur regularly but with so much habitat they can be tricky to find.
Juvenile Reed Warbler (c) Bark

Juvenile Garden warbler? (c) Bark
There are flocks of juvenile birds moving around the moor in large mixed feeding parties. Standing still in one place and watching them move through the hedgerow, picking up different species and identifying them, is one of the pleasures of this time of year. In fact whilst trapped in the first screen on Saturday morning by a sharp shower I appreciated the virtue of sitting quietly and watching things going on around me. It was then that I saw the Bittern for the first time this weekend, the Great Crested Grebes were displaying and dragging reeds across to where the must be nesting again, two juvenile Water Rails were on the muddy bank and a slightly downy reed Warbler foraged in front of me. Every so often the Common Terns would come very close hunting in the shallows and small parties of snipe would flicker fast and low over the water before disappearing into the edges of the reeds.
Displaying Great Crested Grebe (c) John Reynolds
Feeding Common Tern (c) John Reynolds
On Sunday morning we found three Redstarts in Long Meadow a male, a female and a juvenile. We looked very hard for Spotted Flycatchers which we know have been seen up the hill in Beckley, but not yet this year right down on the moor. There were lots of warblers feeding in the bushes including a couple of very smart Lesser Whitethroats and a few Blackcaps.
The Roman Road continues to be good for Dragonflies and Butterflies and it will not be long now before the Brown Hairstreaks are on the wing alongside their purple cousins. The tall spindly ash trees towards the end of the ride are a favourite location. I finally caught up with a Silver Washed Fritillary on Friday out in the Malt Pit area. A real russet beauty but sadly I failed to get a good picture.
Common Lizard basking in the rain (c) Bark

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Otmoor Saturday and Sunday 12th and 13th July

Juvenile Reed Bunting (c) Bark

Juvenile Tree Creeper (c) Andy Last

Purring Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers

As is usual at this time of year our main interest  has shifted to away from birds and onto the wonderful and varied butterflies, dragonflies and other invertebrates on the reserve. This weekend was no exception and there were lots of interesting species to be found.
First however, on the bird front, there were still some good things to see and some encouraging news about the Turtle Doves. On Saturday morning a very experienced birder saw at least four Turtle Doves along the bridle way, two purring and two possibly even three flying off. We are looking for juvenile birds at the moment to confirm successful breeding and would welcome any confirmed sightings. The first juveniles were found last year on the 10th of July and so a careful look at any birds seen feeding by the cattle pens could be useful. The Glossy Ibis is still around and has been seen most easily from the first screen when it comes in to roost on the muddy island with Little Egrets, however some evenings it goes elsewhere.
There was some very exciting news in the week when two very experienced birders heard a Cettis Warbler calling from the scrub in the ditches along the bridle way. This would be a very welcome return as we have not had any Cettis on the reserve for almost two years. We did have a significant breeding population with at least six calling males, but two consecutive very cold winters wiped them out. Any further records would be welcomed.
There were two different Marsh Harriers present on Sunday. The regular very tatty moulting sub-adult male hunting over Ashgrave and a large mature female seen briefly over the Flood Field.
Redstarts were found in Long Meadow on  Saturday morning, but seemed to have moved on by Sunday.
Blackcap (c) Andy Last
There are large numbers of juvenile birds around in the hedges and the reedbeds and many adult birds are singing again preparatory to second broods, notably at least two Blackcaps along the Roman Road.
Purple Emperor (c) Steve Roby
The highlight of the weekend was a Purple Emperor found in the Roman Rd area on Saturday morning. I only know of one other record of this stunning butterfly on the moor and that was of a male seen along the bridleway about eight years ago. There were lots of other species seen in the same location including a Silver Washed Fritillary, Small Skippers and a fine Brimstone.
Brown Hawker (c) Bark

Female banded Demoiselle (c) Bark

Brimstone (c) Bark

Subtly coloured Small Skipper (c) Bark
Amongst the dragonflies there were freshly emerged Brown Hawkers, Black tailed Skimmers and a metallic emerald female Banded Demoiselle, looking almost jewel like. I missed the Fritillary yet again and I will have yet another go at catching up with her this week.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th July

Adult Little Egret in moult (c) Bark

Juvenile Little Egret note leg colour ( C) Lew
Late Cuckoo (c) Pat Galka

Tufted Ducklings along the track (c) Peter Law

Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers
Scarce Chaser a first for Oxon (c) Tezzer

Red Admiral (c) Bark

Gatekeeper (c) Bark

Meadow Brown (c) Bark

Amourous Damsels (c) Bark

Purple Hairstreak (c) Peter Law

Buttercup yellow Spider sp. (c) Badger
A fascinating weekend on the moor. It was something of a slow burn, starting quietly, but by Sunday evening very exciting.
Saturday was damp and rainy but once things dried up there was plenty to be seen.
I have been predicting the imminent departure of Cuckoos for at least four weeks now but they are still with us and seemingly very late to go. On both days a male could be heard calling and a female was seen perched on a fence post near the hide looking for the opportunity to deposit her egg in a Reed Warbler nest.
There are three newly fledged Common Terns that have been raised on the Tern raft on the northern lagoon. They are now flying round close to the the three adults and learning to hunt. Interestingly on Sunday we twice saw an adult Tern catch fish on the southern lagoon and immediately fly off across Big Otmoor and onto Ashgrave. This may very well suggest that there is another pair with young up on the hidden Ashgrave lagoon.
Also on the reedbed where the dropping water levels have exposed some mud were three newly fledged Water Rails one of them was seen on two separate occasions clambering about in the small willows on the left hand side of the main channel. Also on the reedbed on both Saturday and Sunday was a very tatty moulting Red-crested Pochard a new species for the Otmoor list which itself has been moribund for a number of weeks.
The first piece of exciting news concerned Little Egrets. There have been a large number of these birds scattered over the moor and we estimated that there were at least thirty present on Sunday with a some feeding out at Maltpit, some on Ashgrave and others on the reedbeds, the Flood Field  and at the pool to the north of the Jacob Stone. We have speculated about their breeding for some time and on at least one occasion a bird was seen carrying a twig into the area on Ashgrave where the Herons are nesting. On Sunday whilst showing a visitor the Heron chicks through my scope, I noticed first an adult little Egret landing in the dead Oak and almost immediately another bird joining it but seeming to come up  from lower down the tree. This individual when looked at closely had a plain bill no crest and significantly plain yellowish grey legs with no difference between legs and feet. After consulting Ian Lewington there is no doubt that this is a juvenile bird and it seems very likely that it was raised on Otmoor but that has yet to be confirmed.
The great White Egret seen at Rushy, Farmoor and then heading towards Port Meadow may very well have been seen early on Sunday morning flying along the northern edge of Greenaways.
A Barn Owl was seen hunting over Greenaways on Sunday evening and the Marsh Harrier made occasional appearances on both days.
Other good news included the possible sighting of a family party of Turtle doves seen flying together on Sunday evening, hopefully there will be more to say about this next week.
The most exciting news really only emerged on Sunday evening. As is usual at this time of year we often turn our attention to reptiles and insects until bird migration starts to get going again in August. While walking back from the second screen on Sunday one of our most reluctant dragonfly photographers spotted a large chaser and in a spirit of: “if you cant beat them join them” took some pictures of it and pointed it out to the rest of us. We mostly assumed that it was a Black Tailed Skimmer, but Badger was uncertain and on looking at the book when getting home and then looking at the photos from Tezzer concluded that it was a Scarce Chaser.
He sent the pictures to Wayne Bull and to Richard Lewington the invertebrate expert of the family and both confirmed his identification. We believe that it is a first record for Oxfordshire of this species and expert opinion thinks that it has spread to us from the Northamptonshire population. It is another example of creating good habitat and wildlife finding it.
As the sun came out on Sunday so more and more butterflies were on the wing. Many of them crisp and fresh and newly emerged, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small Tortoiseshells for the most part but with a smattering of other species notably at least six Purple Hairstreaks along the trail to the second screen. I have been told that Silver-washed Fritillaries were seen on the wing nectaring on brambles on the southern edge of Ashgrave last week. I hope to catch up with one of these orange beauties myself over the next couple of weeks and get some pictures. Did someone refer to July and August as the doldrums?
Stop Press :the Great White Egret is now on Big Otmoor (per Stoneshank)