Monday, 26 January 2015

Saturday and Sunday 24 th and 25 th January

Male Bullfinch (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Dawn (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey
A bright and sunny weekend for the most part but frosty early on. It is currently a real pleasure to make your way through the carpark field and along the bridle way preceded and at times accompanied by Bullfinches. They are particularly confiding as they munch their way through the blackthorn buds. They really stand out, glowing cerise against the bare branches in the low sunshine. The females are more subtly coloured but they too look wonderful in the sun.
Female Bullfinch (c) Andy Last
It was a very “birdy” weekend with some additions to the year-list and some good views of some of our scarcer residents.
New for the year was a Marsh Harrier on Sunday. It worked the reedbed and spent some time perched at the top on one of the bare willows on the northern sector. It is quite unusual to have one here at this time of the year, normally we would only expect to see them during the late spring, summer and early autumn. The bird appears to be  a juvenile and from its size is probably a female. It is very dark chocolate brown with a very pale head  and face.
Female Beardy (c) Bark
Bearded Tits featured well on Saturday but had disappeared again by Sunday. There may well be more than one group of them. They were heard and seen in the regular area near the Noke turn at the same time as being heard and later seen in the reeds beside the path to the first screen. We only actually saw one there, a female feeding at the top of the reed stems. Despite showing really well all my photographs fail to show its head and when they do the bird is out of focus! There are several Song Thrushes hunting snails along the paths, occasionally they can be seen or heard battering them open on convenient stones.
Songthrush (c) JR
The Marsh Harrier on Sunday clearly spooked the Bittern and we saw the two of them flying together, the Bittern landing and then flushing again as the Harrier hassled it. Good to know that  Bittern is still in residence and next month we will be eagerly listening out for any vocalisations. There are definitely two Cettis Warblers on the reserve at present with one half way along the bridle way and the other out at the second screen.
Wildfowl flush over reedbed (c) Bark

Teal (c) JR
When the first volley of shots rang out from the rifle range on Sunday a vast number of duck, principally Wigeon but also Teal flushed up from Greenaways. We estimated that there were well over two thousand wildfowl in the air at the same time, it was very spectacular. After milling around for  a while most of the Teal settled on the reedbed and the Wigeon on Big Otmoor. There were at least twenty Pintail out in the same area and good numbers of Shoveller.
Pintail pair (c) JR
Most of the Golden Plovers are feeding out on the fields to the west of the reserve. From time to time they would flush and fly round rapidly in response to threats both real and imagined. Once again Peregrines can be seen sitting out on the trees to the left of the trail to the second screen. The Lapwings that flew up from Greenaways on Saturday morning were accompanied by at least seven or eight Dunlin.
Finch flock (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
The finch flock by the hide is attracting a lot of attention from visitors. It offers the opportunity to see the diverse range of Reed Bunting plumages as they moult out of winter into mature summer dress. There is still the chance that the flock will attract some other species to join in the seed bonanza.
The Starling roost continues but has changed. The birds seem to be assembling out on Ashgrave and then flying round with some of them roosting in the hedges beside Ashgrave and the Closes and others returning to the reedbed as it gets dark. It was certainly spectacular on Wednesday night although the number of birds participating has reduced. It is currently best viewed from the bridle way or the path to July’s Meadow.
Moorhen on ice (c) JR
Greylags (c) Bark

Monday, 19 January 2015

Saturday and Sunday 17th and 18th January

Linnets (c) JR
A very wintery feel this weekend with a light dusting of snow on Saturday morning that soon gave way to bright sharp sunshine. Sunday too started grey, but soon brightened up and was less windy than Saturday. The most notable aspect of this weekend was the sheer numbers of birds on and around the moor.
Golden Plover are mostly feeding in the black sheep fields to the west of the reserve and there are well over a thousand of them. Lapwings too are present in similar numbers and there are smaller peripheral flocks feeding in the other fields. Their numbers can only really be appreciated when one of the two Peregrines present makes a pass, causing a mass flush. We saw one on Saturday almost take a Teal over the reedbed. It was flying fast and suddenly accelerated into a stoop and very nearly bagged breakfast, the Teal jinking at the last moment and avoiding capture.
Grazing Wigeon (c) JR
Wigeon too are reaching their winter maxima and can be seen out on all of our fields grazing, they flush back into the water when Kites pass over but it takes the Peregrine to get them properly airborne. They fly fast and close and like the Lapwings and the Goldies they seem to flicker as they wheel in the low sunshine.
Over a hundred Linnets (c) JR
The other large flocks are of Reed Buntings and Linnets. They are coming down to feed on the fine seed mix that is being scattered beside and to the south of the hide. Numbers have been building steadily and on Sunday I felt there were even more than we had seen on Saturday. It has been a long time since we had so many Linnets on the reserve, there are nearly two hundred now. I counted one hundred and twenty in one of the photographs sent to me and that only covered some of the flock. On Saturday morning we counted over sixty Reed Buntings in one section of the path alone. The Linnets are particularly attractive both individually and collectively as a flock. Each bird seems to be bouncing along on its own strand of elastic and yet the flock moves around purposefully. When they settle together on some of the bare bushes they look just like leaves.
Reed Bunting (c) Bark
Such numbers inevitably attract raptors and a young Sparrowhawk can often be seen in the vicinity of the Hide.
Sparrowhawk and Magpie (c) JR
Smaller yet significant numbers of other birds are also present. Several parties of Snipe could be seen notably over Greenaways and the reedbed. At least twenty one Pintail were out on Big Otmoor and a similar number of Gadwall were on the reedbed lagoons.
Our huge grazing flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese are still accompanied by three European White-fronted Geese and the little Ross’s Goose. I had hoped that we might have been able to tempt some of the Barnacle Geese from Port Meadow to join us on the moor, but there’s still time.

Vole muncher (c) JR
One of our resident Herons has taken to stalking the bridleway in search of what must be an abundant vole population. It was seen to catch and consume two in a short period of time on Friday.
Another highlight of the weekend was first hearing and then seeing two Bearded Tits, a male and a female, from the bridle way about a hundred metres short of the turning up to Noke. They were in the Phragmites reedbed that runs all the way along the northern edge of Ashgrave.
Bullfinch eating buds (c) Bark
Several people commented on how confiding the Bullfinches are becoming in the carpark field. They have started to feed on the blackthorn buds there, whilst those along the bridle way seem to still seem to be gleaning the desiccated blackberry seeds.
Great Spot on the feeders (c) JR
I have been enjoying the wintery feel and look of the reserve, but if gets too much colder and it starts to freeze hard then things could change for the worst. It would be good if the Cetti’s, the Stonechats and the Bearded Tits could make it through the hard weather and the Cetti’s and the Beardies breed again in summer.
Goldfinch (c) JR

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Saturday and Sunday 10th and 11th January

Goldies (c) JR
A very windy weekend with heavy squalls on Saturday morning and a much clearer brighter day on Sunday but still very blowy. We seem to be set into a weather pattern of fast moving Atlantic lows that are bringing a lot of rain and fortunately for wildlife, not too much in the way of frost and cold. Water levels across much of the moor are now at their winter optima and the wildfowl are really taking advantage of the wet fields, especially Greenaways and Big Otmoor. The latter seems to be holding very large numbers of Wigeon ,Lapwing and Golden Plover. It was so windy at times on Saturday that I am sure that I saw birds flying backwards. On Sunday in the sunshine the restless and nervous flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers flickered black and white across the clean blue sky.
Lapwings and Goldies both pics(c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Every so often all the ducks, largely Teal with a scattering of Shovellers and Gadwall would flush from the depths of the reedbed as one or another of the resident raptors made a low fast pass above the reeds. Two of the Otmoor regulars reported seeing a Peregrine take a Teal over Big Otmoor last week. Red Kites were ever present they contribute to the unease but seldom cause the mass panic that Peregrines and Sparrowhawks do.
Shovellers in rough water (c) JR
Snipe are also taking advantage of the flooded grassland. A flock of over forty were flying around the reedbed on Saturday. On Sunday as I was watching them being unsettled by a crow we noticed another much bigger , browner and fatter one which moved out of cover and back into cover not a Snipe of course but a Woodcock. Unusual to see out on Greenaways as they normally lie up on Morleys during the day moving out to feed at dusk. The numbers of seed eaters to seen from the hide is going up rapidly. I counted seventy five Reed Buntings on Sunday and an even larger number of Linnets.
Reed Bunt (c) JR
There has been a Little Egret moving between Ashgrave and the reedbed, this is very early in the year to record this species as they tend not to be on the moor in the winter months. Hopefully with so many Goosander being seen in the county some of them might make it onto the moor. They used to be  a regular, late winter visitor but have not been recorded in the last two years. Two mute Swans were getting going with courtship behaviour on Sunday prompted perhaps by the warmer weather, the slowly increasing day length or just because they felt like it.
Amourous Swans (c) Bark
Water Rail in transit (c) JR
Finally when in the carpark it is worthwhile spending a few minutes examining the vegetation between the parking bays, with patience it is possible to spot bank voles scuttling about looking for food. They are quite delightful to see, reddish brown with shiny boot button eyes and surprising confidence.

Voles (c) Tezzer

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

January: the first six days.

A Wigeon blizzard (c) J.R.
It’s been a rather grey and uninspiring start to the year weather-wise. On Saturday I didn't venture out at all due to the rain and on on Sunday trusting that the mist would lift we stumbled around the moor in the freezing fog. The fog did not lift all day! We did manage a walk round on New Years Day and managed to find just over fifty species to kick off the year list.

Frosted plants (c) Bark
Unfortunately the Bewick Swans from just before New Years Eve did not stay around, but the three White Fronted Geese were still with the large Grey Lag flock on the 1st of January. The goose flock seems to be commuting between the fields to the north west of the reserve and the huge scrape up on Ashgrave. This makes them very hard to see well as the distances involved are quite considerable and the grey gloomy conditions make even scoping difficult. It is certainly well worth finding and carefully scrutinising the flock, as there is always the possibility of other wild geese associating with them.
The Cetti’s warbler is still being heard up at the second screen and it may be that another individual was heard along the bridleway.
The path south of the hide is really attracting large numbers of small seed eating species. There was a flock of over thirty Linnets on Sunday and larger numbers of Reed Buntings and Chaffinches. It might be that we can succeed in attracting and then keeping some Tree Sparrows on the reserve. It was only about twenty years ago that they were a regular species here.
Duck numbers are reaching their annual peaks Wigeon and Teal are predominant with nearly fifteen hundred and five hundred respectively. There are very large numbers of Golden Plovers on and around the reserve with over three thousand recorded on Monday’s Webs count. Lapwings are also present in good numbers with nearly a thousand on the same survey.
Not surprisingly both the large number of waders and the still numerous Starling roost attracts raptors. The regular pair of Peregrines have been seen several times and although not yet confirmed for the year the Merlin photographed just after Christmas is well worth looking out for.
Merlin (c) J.R.
Hopefully next weekend will see a return to more birder friendly weather and we can get out and about and really see what’s about.
Long tailed tit (c) J.R.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

2014 A Non Systematic and Subjective Review

Bird of the year in the rain Whiskered Tern
When I look back through my postings they trigger memories of some wonderful times this year. I am reminded of the warm summer days the excitement and anticipation of spring and the real pleasure that this year has brought.
Looking through my blog list of special birds there are many. Some of the species on that list are really more scarcities than rarities and many of those are becoming almost annual. Great white Egret has come and gone several times during the year, Glossy Ibis stayed around for a couple of months and Common Crane came through yet did not linger as they have in other years.
Glossy Ibis (c) Badger
A Great Grey Shrike turned up briefly this autumn hard on the heels of a Dartford Warbler that was only the third to be found down on the moor. A juvenile Red-backed Shrike spent a day near the farm at Noke in October.
Dartford Warbler (c) Roger Wyatt
Bird of the year on Otmoor was certainly the Whiskered Tern that was found by Paul Thomas on a very showery day in April (25th). It was identified at a distance over the phone and about sixteen lucky birders got to see it. Unfortunately for those who turned up at dawn the next day it had left during the night. As far as I can ascertain it was only the second one to be recorded in Oxfordshire.
The other major rarity was a Bee eater seen by a visiting Hungarian birder who had not realised just how unusual a sighting it was. There were a number of them in the country at the time and he was very familiar with the species from his home birding.
Our breeding birds seem to had a good year. The weather was very kind to small passerines and our wading birds had a much more productive season. Lapwing and Snipe appeared to be more
Juvenile Lapwing 

Snipe (c) John Reynolds
successful than for many years. Of the species in serious decline Cuckoos seem to have done well when judged by the number of newly fledged individuals that were seen and photographed over the summer. Most worrying was the lower numbers of Turtle Doves. There were certainly two calling males for much of the summer but we could only confirm two juvenile birds seen in late August. In 2013 we established that they had produced three different broods.
Turtle Dove (c) Mark Chivers
At least one female Bearded Tit was present most of the year but did go missing for long periods of time. Another small party of them have arrived this autumn and we can hope that in 2015 they will repeat their breeding success of 2013.

Bittern and Marsh Harrier both pics (c) John Reynolds
Both Marsh Harrier and Bittern have become much more common on the moor reflecting their breeding success elsewhere in the country and it may not be long before they rejoin the list of Oxfordshire breeding birds.
In addition to breeders and winter visitors we have had a really good passage of Wheatears, Redstarts, Whinchats and Spotted Flycatchers this autumn.
Beside the birds, the Lizard Lounge by the first screen has offered visitors the chance to catch up with one of our more difficult to see reptiles. A Purple Emperor was a butterfly highlight and a Scarce Chaser, found on the 6th of July, was a new dragonfly species for the county. A tribute to the quality of the habitat that has been created and maintained on the moor.
Scarce Chaser (c) Tezzer
I would like to offer my huge thanks and I'm sure that I can speak for all local birders, to David Wilding, Joe Harris and all of the other staff and volunteers of the R.S.P./B.. Their diligence and hard work ensures that we have a wonderful and maturing nature reserve that continually goes from strength to strength.
I would also like to thank the brilliant photographers who selflessly send me their photos every week to put on my blog. If it was just down to me it would be a very blurred affair and I am almost at the point of not taking my camera with me at all.
There is lots to look forward to in 2015.
So much for 2014 (c) John Reynolds