Monday, 27 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th October

Dartford Warbler (c) Roger Wyatt
My confident prediction last week of the moor blazing with colour and flocks of winter thrushes flooding in fell quite a long way short of the mark. The leaves are turning rapidly, but the colours were muted by the dull grey weather and other than a smattering of flyover Redwings and just two Fieldfares, there were no winter thrushes at all. However as is often the way with Otmoor surprises and excitement can always occur and interesting visitors arrive.
Wren and Dartford Warbler (c) Roger Wyatt
At midday on Sunday Roger Wyatt found a Dartford Warbler, most probably a mature male, out on the Pill Ground. As is always the way with this secretive skulking species it was very elusive and was seen only very intermittently afterwards. It was often being hassled by Wrens that were reluctant to share their scrubby bushes with it. The RSPB have a record of one from 25th October 2005, but I don’t recall it. The other record is of one found by Phil Barnett in the field south of the Closes when it was in set aside. We had wondered if we might ever get another, given their susceptibility to cold weather and their consequent national population crash three years ago. It is interesting to note that its presence coincides with unusually  large numbers of Stonechats on the moor and the return of the Cetti’s Warbler, both insectivores and sensitive to extreme cold.
Hovering Stonechat (c) John Reynolds
The Wrens that were pushing the Dartford around were interesting in themselves. There seems to have been a “fall” of them over the weekend and they appeared to be everywhere in the hedgerows and bushes, whizzing about and buzzing from the depths of the brambles. As mentioned before Stonechats are present in larger numbers that normal with double figures out at the Pill and pairs of them in all the regular places.
One of many Wrens (c) Bark
There were two Peregrines present on Saturday morning, first seen perched in what last winter was their regular oak tree, out to the west of the trail to the second screen and later sitting on the ground on Big Otmoor. When sitting out it was clear that one was significantly larger than the other suggesting an established pair.
Marsh Harrier over the reeds (c) John Reynolds
The same Marsh Harrier as last week was still present and spending much more time hunting over the reedbed, but of course always at the other end to me. There were at least four Kestrels around and a Sparrowhawk put in regular but unpredictable appearances. Another Short eared Owl was reported.
There were always Skylarks to be seen and heard and a scattering of Meadow Pipits, with more of a concentration of them near the farm at Noke.
Meadow Pipit (c) John Reynolds
Duck numbers are building slowly and more of them are coming out of their eclipse plumage, however I would normally have expected to see much larger numbers by this time in the autumn. A lone wader on Greenaways on Saturday was probably a Ruff.
Swan splashdown (c) John Reynolds
The two main flocks of geese are segregated now with the Canada Geese favouring Greenaways and Big Otmoor, while the Greylags are favouring the Closes. Amongst the Greylags are four birds that are hybrid Snow Geese, more interesting is a Ross’s Goose that is also feeding with the same flock. It is another addition to the list of non BOU birds that we have seen on the moor.
Ross's Goose (c) Badger
Goldfinch (c) Bark
There are still dragonflies on the wing and several Red Admirals were noted. This coming week looks very much as if the mild weather will continue so perhaps next week will see the arrival of the winter visitors and the moor burning with autumn colour.
Stunning Rainbow (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Monday, 20 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th October

Stonechat (c) John Reynolds
Quite a contrast between the two days on Saturday I was dodging the showers and on Sunday I didn't need my rainwear at all. It certainly looks like autumn now, the mornings are dark, there is colour in the hedgerows and migration is under way......but it doesn't properly feel like autumn it is so mild and warm. It really sounded like autumn however. This weekend you could hear two of the sounds that most epitomise the season on Otmoor. One of them is the the wild lonely wheep of Golden Plover as they fly restlessly overhead in their loose chevrons. The other is the whistle of Wigeon as they call to each other, whether in flight, feeding on the grass or loafing on the water. Both of these species were very much in evidence this weekend.
Wigeon dropping in (c) Bark
It was a good weekend for raptors. A lucky observer might have seen eight species, but I was pleased to have seen seven. The most pleasing of them was a sighting on Saturday morning of a male Merlin hunting over Greenaways. It was on view for only a minute or so before disappearing over the hedge onto the MOD fields. It was astonishingly quick and flying so low that at times it disappeared into the ditches. After a gap of several weeks we have another Marsh Harrier visiting. The same bird was seen on three consecutive days. Very dark with plain wings and a very pale head, suggesting a juvenile.
Following a sighting of two Peregrines last week another single bird was seen over the reedbed briefly on Sunday morning. A Sparrowhawk has been attending the reedbed at dusk as in addition to the increasing number of Starlings coming in to roost there are at least one hundred and fifty Pied Wagtails roosting in the same area. On Saturday evening at one time there were forty nine individual birds on the island in front of the first screen. The Sparrowhawk has spent quite a lot of its hunting time pursuing them. Ravens were seen overhead on both days.
Common Buzzard (c) Bark

Bittern (c) John Reynolds
 Although I didn’t hear of a Bittern sighting this weekend it was certainly seen on Friday and it or they are almost certainly still here.
Ducks are beginning to moult out of eclipse and Teal are beginning to show their smart colouring. A single male Pochard will now come very close to the screen without being put off by people.
Pochard wash and brush up (c) Bark
There are quite  a number of Chiffchaffs in the hedges sometimes moving with the roving tit flocks and other times feeding independently. Stonechats are now beginning to stake their claims to particular territories and can usually be located in regular spots. The Cetti’s Warbler continues to call from the area around the second screen and perhaps another individual is in the vicinity of the Hide.
Reed Bunting blending in with dead leaves (c) Bark
A small party of a hundred or so Lapwings are present and as the season turn to winter their numbers will increase. There are now larger numbers of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks about, they are really only noticeable when they fly or call, the rest of the time they are down in the grass or out amid the freshly rotavated areas where they blend in perfectly.
Unusually there are still large numbers of dragonflies on the wing and on Saturday a Clouded Yellow Butterfly was seen in Sally’s field on the western edge of Big Otmoor.
Next weekend, if things continue much as they have, the moor will really blaze with a last stunning flourish of autumn colour. The first flocks of Fieldfares will arrive to join the Redwings that are already here and start to feed on the plentiful crop of berries. Superb colour and lots of action, what could be better?
The blaze of Autumn (c) Bark

Monday, 13 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th October

Juv Goldfinch (c) John Reynolds
A still, moist and misty weekend. A birder I met at the second screen on Sunday described the atmosphere as ethereal. The fog never really lifted on Sunday morning and so finding and seeing anything was difficult. The misty view from the second screen was like a stage set for  a performance of Swan Lake, but sadly lacked the wild swans or in fact any swans at all.
A Short -eared Owl was seen briefly in the car park field first thing on Saturday morning flying and then perched in a bush. This is the first of what in some years can be a regular and reliable winter visitor. They are a beautiful sight when they hunt over the fields in late afternoons in winter, looking like great silent orange and gold moths. We can only hope that there will be more coming along to join it soon.
Male Stonechat (c) John Reynolds
One of the most noticeable species at present are the large numbers of Stonechats liberally scattered over the reserve and the MOD land. As there was no shooting going on we were able to head out to the Pill on Saturday morning where there were at least six individuals along the stream and out on the old bombing range. There were a further five or so out along the fence that leads to July’s meadow and at least four on the reedbed. This is a remarkable recovery by a species that, like Cetti’s Warbler, was hit hard by the very cold winter of 2011-12. I feel sure that we only recorded one individual in 2012. They are sitting up and hawking insects from prominent positions and from time to time flying up and hovering like a Sedge Warbler doing a display flight. I have no idea whether this is an insect catching exercise or some kind of territorial display. It will be worth looking at them very carefully for paler, frosty individuals that might belong to the newly split Siberian Stonechat group of subspecies. The October edition of Birdwatch has an interesting and very slightly confusing article on how to distinguish the various subspecies from each other.
Teasels full of finches (c) Bark

Reed Bunting ( c) John Reynolds
There are also larger flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets taking advantage of the teasels and other seed bearing plants on any patch of rough ground. The number of Reed Buntings also seem to be on the rise. A Bittern was seen at the northern reedbed on both days and seems to be favouring that locality.
Sprawk (c) John Reynolds
A Sparrowhawk has also been active around the reedbed and has been seen trying to catch both Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. There are large numbers of Skylarks on and over all the main fields. They are seldom on their own and appear to be chasing and disputing with each other while  giving their distinctive dry rolling call.

Webs (c) Bark
It never fails to surprise me at just how many spiders there are. It is only really on such damp still mornings that clinging water droplets reveal how their webs shroud every available surface with silk threads.I had hoped that such still conditions would make it easy to hear or see any Bearded Tits but sadly I didn't hear a “ping”. It is now about the time of year when they irrupt and if they are going to arrive it is likely to be in the upcoming weeks. The very strong winds and heavy rain that are expected this week will strip some of the leaves from the trees, recharge some of the scrapes and perhaps bring in some winter visitors. I look forward to finding something new next week.
Tall thing on the southern reedbed (c) Bark

Tall thing looming out of the mist on the horizon ( c) John Reynolds

Monday, 6 October 2014

Saturday and Sunday 4th and 5th October

Sometimes Snipe seem quite tall (c) Bark
 The weather has finally stopped dithering and we are now finally into autumn. On Saturday morning after a lowering start under lead grey skies, we had the first significant rain for weeks and on Sunday morning the grass was rimed with the first frost since the spring and the air was clear, bright, cooler and fresher.
After the excitement of last weeks Red Backed Shrike, the first on the moor since the spring bird found in 2005, we reverted to more familiar fare. It was no less interesting for all that.
There are definitely a minimum of two Bitterns present on the moor. The bird seen along the bridleway and photographed by Tim Clark is not the same individual that I saw in a sustained flight on Saturday morning over the reedbed and eventually landing in the ditch beside the track to the first screen. The Friday individual is moulting quite heavily and is missing a number of primaries on both wings. The Saturday bird was fully feathered and appeared slightly lighter in tone.
The Cettis Warbler is still present and was heard both days around the second screen area and a little way along the path. It was calling from both the hedge and from the edge of the reedbed. It does seem to be settled now for the near future.
Stonechat (c) Bark
There are at least ten Stonechats present, with five at the Noke end of the reserve both along the fence by the farm and out in the sheep fields, a further four were along the path to July’s meadow and a lone individual was out on Big Otmoor. The rifle range was being used so we were unable to check out the Pill Ground which is another favoured haunt.
There are increasing numbers of ducks on the southern lagoons in front of the first screen. At least two hundred of them are Mallard but there almost a hundred Teal and increasing numbers of Wigeon. There are still a few Snipe around although not in the large numbers we were seeing a month ago.
Pied Wags (c) Bark
Observers who have been coming down in the evenings, have noticed more than a hundred Pied Wagtails coming in to roost in the reedbed, where they have been attracting the attention of one of the local Sparrowhawks. As the season progresses this roost may well increase along with the Starlings and attract even more raptors.
There are now good numbers of both Meadow Pipits and Skylarks across the whole moor and they in turn should encourage Merlin to take up residence for the whole winter. These are surely one of our most attractive and dynamic raptors and a much anticipated element of our winter fauna.
Still on the post (c) Bark
There are still Butterflies and Dragonflies to be seen and on Sunday an uncommon “white” form of Clouded Yellow was found and photographed by Peter Law. The Hornets nest close to the first screen is still busy and very much occupied, it is certainly worth a look but from a respectful distance.
As we go through the next few weeks we should witness a huge influx of winter visitors, both winter Thrushes and wildfowl. The leaves will turn completely and the moor will blaze briefly with rich and stunning autumn colours, one of the most beautiful times of the year. I’m looking forward to it all.
"White" form of Clouded Yellow (c) Pete Law

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Otmoor Red Backed Shrike 1st October

Up in the hedge (c) Bark
Found by the pond at Noke this morning by Oxford United Paul. A very smart juvenile and as is often the case with these autumn juveniles, very confiding. It was feeding from the fence and the hedge near to the large barn. It was accompanied at times by a pair of Stonechats and a very smart Wheatear.
Please use good sense and discretion around the farm and avoid parking in Noke as it is very tight in the village. The easiest way is to park in the RSPB car park and then walk along the bridleway. There is work going on in the area of the cattle pens and the bridleway so leave access for heavy plant.
(c) Tezzer

(c) Tezzer

(c) Andrew Marshall

(c) Andrew Marshall

(c) Bark

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