Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Not Otmoor 22nd and 23rd November

White fronted Bee eaters (for Badger)
Greater Kudu bulls browsing
On a short family visit to South Africa I have managed a couple of days in Kruger Park. After Otmoor one of my favourite places in the world.
It is late spring here and in the park the first rains are slowly greening the dry burnt bushvelt. There was lots to see and all sorts of birds and bird calls to reacquaint myself with. I saw at least four species of Cuckoo and the Woodland Kingfishers were back in southern Africa calling throughout the park, after spending the southern winter in central Africa.
Diederik Cuckoo

African Cuckoo
I was fortunate enough to find a fruiting fig tree by the river in Skukuza rest camp and it was busy with birds.

Collared Barbet, Black- eyed Bulbul and African Green Pigeon
We also came across a termite emergence, they are stimulated to emerge after rain. It was attended by a couple of Wahlbergs Eagles and a ridiculously confiding African Fish Eagle.
Termite eating Fish Eagle
Of course there were plenty of animals and being with non birders they were the main focus of interest.
We had some great encounters with Buffalo very up-close and personal. Elephants, several Rhino and a few distant Lions were also good sightings. The best for me was a fairly brief but close sighting of  a male Cheetah. It walked to the edge of the bush and after five minutes crossed the road in front of us before moving off. It was completely fortuitous and in the park a rare experience.
Another unusual sighting was a twelve foot long Rock Python lying partly across the road with a distinctive bulge halfway along its body, clearly its breakfast.

Magpie Shrikes and Lilac Breasted Rollers were common and several parties of Bee-eaters both European and White-fronted.
Waterholes have not refilled yet but the rivers are flowing and in one slow stream we found Grey Heron and Goliath Heron close together, the difference in size is remarkable with the Goliath being at least a foot taller than its commoner cousin.
Goliath Heron
Throughout the park the Impala have all given birth at about the same time and the lambs are tottering about on their ridiculously thin legs looking like a cross between Gremlin, E.T. and Bambi. It would take a very hard-hearted  person not to find them utterly enchanting.

Impala lambs
It is a great time to be here with all the northern palearctic species arriving and the resident species breeding. I saw more than I can write down here and I still have a lot of images to process. This is just a taster of what was on show.
Groundscraper Thrush

Southern Yellow billed Hornbills

Blue eared Starling

Lilac Breasted Roller All pics (c) Bark
Next weekend I will be back on the moor and back to more regular fare. Many thanks to Pete Roby and Tezzer for filling the gap in my absence.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd November

In Peters absence this week Pete Roby has kindly stepped in as guest editor to bring you some of the wildlife highlights seen on the reserve this weekend.

The weather was dull on the weekend but the birds still turned up in numbers.
The car park is always worth a look before you head out onto the reserve as you can usually have close views of Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Robin, Dunnock and Blue tits. I was hoping for Redpoll but didn’t find any this weekend. The car park field held good numbers of winter thrushes, especially on Sunday. It seemed like every bush held Redwing and Fieldfare, and you could hear noisy Starlings chattering in the hedgerows all around the field.  The feeders always attract Greenfinches and this is usually the best place to see them on the moor. 

Reed Bunting (c) Tezzer

There was a nice pair of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers on the nut feeders and Reed Buntings in the bushes nearby. A single Goldcrest was associating with a loose flock of tits along the bridleway The scrapes on Greenaways have started to fill up and they held 80 Lapwing and a few Common Snipe. From the main hide we could see a Buzzard sitting on a post in the rain, the Fallow deer is still hanging around the cattle, thirty Teal and small numbers of Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipits.A Peregrine flew over towards Big Otmoor and was lost behind the Oak trees.

Shoveler from the screen (c) Tezzer

The winter ducks are spread all over the moor and occasionally get flushed, and that’s when you realise there are twice as many as you thought.  As well as the ducks around a thousand Golden Plover and a few hundred Lapwing went up when the Farmer went to check the cattle on Ashgrave . There are still two Stonechats on Big Otmoor, flitting about and hovering over the tops of the reeds. The Marsh Harrier was seen on both days over the main reed bed and the Cetti’s warbler is still calling near the second screen.

Hidden Roe Deer (c) Andrew Marshall

Two Tawny Owls were heard calling along the Roman road early on Saturday morning with another calling back in the distance.  There are around 30,000 Starlings in the roost at the moment and if you head up onto the moor in the late afternoon it’s worth keeping an eye out for the Short Eared Owl.

Hunting Sparrowhawk (c) Tezzer

Monday, 17 November 2014

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th November

Yellowhammer (c) John Reynolds
A very moist and misty weekend, dull and grey with rain never that far away.
The birdlife too seemed subdued by the very flat and uninspiring weather. The emphasis this weekend was on the smaller passerine species to be found in the hedges and rough weedy areas.
Reed Bunting (c) John Reynolds
There was also a some interest to be gained by carefully examining the tussocks and sedges in front of the hide. What appeared to be bare and empty actually held  a good number of Common Snipe that however hard we tried we could not turn into Jack Snipe. We did however manage a happy, but frustrating hour each day, trying to do so.
Treecreeper on a telegraph pole (c) John Reynolds
There were almost fifty Chaffinches feeding in the area around the cattle pen where we have been scattering fine seeds. There are Yellowhammers in the hedge near the hide and large numbers of Reed Buntings along the trails and out in the reed bed. Stonechats are now much more scattered over the reserve with three particularly confiding individuals between the hide and July’s Meadow.
Stonechat from the hide (c) Bark
Whilst scanning the area in front of the hide we became aware of just how many Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were feeding unobtrusively along the margins and amongst the tussocks and sedge.

Wagtail and Meadow Pipit (c) John Reynolds
Large numbers of Fieldfare are now munching their way through our hedgerow berries accompanied by much smaller numbers of Redwings.
Fieldfare (c) John Reynolds
A Marsh Harrier was seen on both days both over the reed bed and often over the smaller stands of reeds on Greenaways. Sparrowhawk and Peregrine both put in appearances flushing Golden Plover and Lapwings from both Ashgrave and Big Otmoor. Ravens were seen several times on both days and have now become relatively common. Usually they are heard “cronking”before they are seen and often travel in pairs sometimes very close together and sometimes several hundred metres apart.
Cronking Ravens (c) Bark
Only the oak trees retain any leaves now, and they stand out glowing yellow and gold along the now bare and monochrome hedgerows and along the Roman Road. They were the last trees to come into leaf and look to be the last to lose them. Chatting yesterday we were heartened to realise that it is only a month now until the the days start lengthening again.
Oak tree glowing in the hedge at the Pill (c) Bark

Monday, 10 November 2014

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th November

Underrated Starling (c) Mark Chivers
It was a weekend of huge contrasts with Saturday starting off fairly well and going rapidly and steeply downhill with strong winds and heavy rain. Whereas on Sunday a still misty morning gave way to warm sunshine and light breezes. Sunday morning although not particularly “birdy” was beautiful. This was especially so at the reedbed, where the shifting mist allowed a subtle golden light through to softly illuminate the reeds that are now turning bronze. Birds flying close to the water were perfectly mirrored in the still surface.
Bronzing reeds (c) Bark
Fieldfares and Redwings are now finally here in good numbers and the “chuckle-thrushes” are taking full advantage of the berries in the hedgerows.
Fieldfare flyover (c) John Reynolds

Fieldfare (c) Bark
There are also several flocks of starlings that do not disperse far when the roost breaks up in the morning but spend their time feeding on and around the reserve. They are a very underrated bird when considered individually, the iridescence on their feathers showing greens and blues and smart fringing.
Starling (c) Mark Chivers
They are roosting in large numbers now, although the display is very variable and can on some days not happen at all, with the flocks simply appearing and plunging straight into the reeds. There are larger than normal numbers of Pied Wagtails present, they are roosting in the reedbed too and not travelling far to feed. There were at least thirty feeding out of the field beside the path to the second screen. They were feeding in amongst the spoil from the new scrapes that have been put in and were accompanied by a number of Meadow Pipits that appeared and disappeared amid the clumps of soil perfectly camouflaged.
Pied Wagtail at 2nd screen (c) Bark
I feel sure that the presence of so many birds is responsible for the larger than normal numbers of raptors that are currently around the moor. There were two different Marsh Harriers here on Saturday and two Peregrines were seen both on the ground and in the trees to the west of the visitor trail to the second screen, their preferred lookout post. Several Kestrels can be seen often at the same time and occasionally in dispute with the ubiquitous Red Kites.
Kestrel behaving like  a Hobby (c) John Reynolds
After a rather “dead” time recently, there is now much more action in the vicinity of the hide. Last weekend the Golden Plover were bathing and loafing on the main pool and there are at least a hundred Wigeon grazing on the margins, a few Shovellers and twenty or so Teal. This weekend a Jack Snipe was seen several times directly in front of the hide on one occasion walking past a small party of Common Snipe emphasising the differences in size structure and colour. Getting some good pictures of this normally hard to see bird could prove to possible and I would like to be able to put some on the blog.
Stonechat from the hide (c) Bark
As I walked back from the Pill on Sunday morning facing the sun I became increasingly aware of the many thousands of gossamer threads that were drifting across the fields, each with a spiderling attached. The sunshine and the light breezes were obviously the trigger for this mass migration. The sunlight made them shine silver against the green of the field, the finest of lines drifting past like scratches on paint, impossible to photograph or draw but nonetheless a lovely thing to see.
Hedgerow jewels (c) Bark

Monday, 3 November 2014

Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd November

Meadow Pipit (c) Pat Galka
I almost got what I wanted this weekend but sadly Sunday’s weather let me down. I arrived at the moor early on Saturday morning in order to do my regular Radio Oxford interview. At that time it was still dark grey and slightly rainy, there was a line of brightness in the west however that soon grew and the morning rapidly became bright, sunny and warm.

Stoat along bridleway (c) Pat Galka
As it began to get light it was spectacular to stand by the pumphouse and look over towards the reedbed and see between twenty and thirty thousand Starlings take off from the roost and head off in all directions. They made a dark grey smudge across the sky that stretched from horizon to horizon.
There were two new species seen this weekend to add to the Otmoor basin yearlist. On Saturday and Sunday mornings a Ring necked Parakeet was seen in a garden in Beckley and flew off towards the reserve thus qualifying for the list. Given the speed at which their population is growing I am sure that it is only a matter of time before they become a regular addition to the Otmoor avifauna.
Parakeet phonescoped through bins (c) Zoe Edwards
The other new bird for the year was a Great Grey Shrike that was seen for about five minutes on Saturday afternoon on the South Pill Ground. It was seen to move off in a westerly direction, but with the habitat there being so ideal for this species it could very well be back. It will be worth looking out for in the next few days as they can hang about a long time and occupy an extensive territory.
In the sunshine on Saturday we heard and saw our first substantial parties of winter thrushes feeding in the hedgerows. As the weather turns colder and the wind finally comes round to the north and east this week, they will be arriving in much larger numbers. The predicted change in the weather should also bring in more winter wildfowl.
Marsh Harrier (c) John Reynolds
It was another good weekend for raptors and I was lucky enough to see all seven of the species present on the reserve this weekend. A pair of Peregrines are favouring Big Otmoor and the fields to the west of the trail to the second screen. The regular Marsh Harrier is spending a lot of time over the reedbed and a Merlin has been making unpredictable lightning appearances, this weekend I saw it on Saunders Ground whilst heading back from the Pill.
Raven (c) Bark

Rook (c) Pat Galka
I also saw a Short eared Owl on Sunday. My attention was attracted by a party of corvids mobbing a bird over the Flood Field. On scoping it I could see and owl being chased up higher and higher until the corvids lost interest and gave up. I watched the owl make a smooth and purposeful descent but shortly before the ground came into sight my phone rang and by the time I looked back to find the bird I had lost it. The Bittern was seen again on Sunday, after lying low, or at least going unreported for  a fortnight.
Common Buzzard (c) John Reynolds
Snipe were much more in evidence this weekend and there may have been an influx of winter visitors. There were at least twenty flying in a tight flock at the southern lagoon and various individuals were flying, calling and being flushed from the pools out on Greenaways.There were at least two hundred and fifty Golden Plovers along with sixty Lapwings on the scrape in front of the wetlands Hide on Sunday morning. In the hedgerows and  reedbeds Reed Buntings seem to have replaced last weeks Wrens as the “default” birds, out along the paths to the screens and in the reedbed they were hustling Stonechats from their vantage points reluctant to share the habitat yet feeding on totally different food.
Fluked Stonechat (c) Bark
In the sunshine on Saturday there were still good numbers of Common Darters on the wing and we also saw another Clouded Yellow, I assume that they will still be on the wing until we have the first frost.
Common Darter (c) Bark
Leaves are still clinging to some of the trees although many of the hawthorns are now bare, making it easier to see the Chiffchaffs, crests and tits as they move busily through the bushes. Numbers of small passerines are building up and on Friday the first Redpolls of this winter were found in the car park field. Also last week a Brambling was heard overflying Sydlings Copse, too far away to count on the yearlist but heading in the right direction.
Kingfisher on new stick (c) John Reynolds