Monday, 16 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th February

Valentines Day Swans (c) Bark
It was grey, moist and a bit foggy both days this weekend. On Saturday however, because of the nature of the mist it was extremely atmospheric and beautiful. The mist came and went in shifting veils, lit through sometimes  by a hazy sun, which appeared and disappeared all morning.  At times it felt as though one was walking through a watercolour painting. On Sunday the greyness was more uniform and made birding difficult and photography almost impossible.
Magical misty light (c) Bark
Earlier on Saturday morning during one of my occasional spots on Radio Oxford I had said that St. Valentines Day was mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer as the day that the birds found their mate for the year. On Saturday morning they certainly looked to be out to prove the old folklore true. Two pairs of Mute swans were going through their courtship rituals on the first scrape on Greenaways.
Necking Swans
It was beautiful to see their synchronised head movements and mutual preening, coming and going in the still grey water against a diffuse misty background. In the carpark field two Songthrushes were getting their vocal chords going, Chaffinches sang from the hedgerow, Great Spotted Woodpeckers drummed in the Roman Road and a Greenfinch slurred out its song near the feeders.
While we still have large numbers of visiting Lapwings on the reserve one or two of the, presumably resident, birds were starting to swoop and call over chosen territories.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) JR
Large numbers of Golden Plover are still with us. One flock of over a thousand flushed up from Greenaways as one of the two Marsh Harriers, which were seen this weekend, passed over. The Marsh Harriers are easily told apart, one has a lot of creamy marking on its head, the other almost none. Peregrines were again noticeable often perching in their favourite tree to the west of the visitor trail.
Bearded Tits were heard but not to my knowledge seen this weekend .I heard them pinging in the southern half of the reedbed fifty metres or so past the turning to the second screen on Saturday morning. There are certainly two calling Cetti’s Warblers in the reedbed one at the northern end the other near to the first screen, where one was also seen on Saturday. Two Black- tailed Godwits were found on Big Otmoor during last week and were a new addition to the year list, as was a Chiffchaff seen by the second screen. The White fronted geese are still with us as is the Ross’s goose which for all its dubious provenance is still a very attractive bird.
Ross's Goose out in front (c) JR
Damp Hare (c) JR
It is not just the birds that are responding to the oncoming spring. Frogs are croaking from the ditches, two Brown Hares behaved as though it was next month already, leaping and boxing on the bund between the reedbeds and a weasel did its strange sinuous “weasely” dance close to the second screen.
Weasel second screen (c) JR
As is usual on my Radio Oxford chat, the interviewer asked me at the end what I hoped to see this weekend. I replied that I wasn’t looking to see anything particular this weekend but I would really like to hear a Bittern booming and a Bittern booming is what I heard on Sunday morning. I heard three loud deep booms from the south western quadrant of the northern reedbed. I was on my own and had just begun to doubt myself a bit, when I was joined by Mark Chivers and then the bird boomed again twice and I could be sure that I hadn’t imagined it. It sounded like strong full bodied boom unlike one of our previous boomers that really only grunted.

Next time I’m on the radio I’m going to wish for a Penduline Tit. Who knows it could happen…….
Wigeon (c) JR

Monday, 9 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 7 th and 8 th February

Male Peregrine (c) JR
Two very contrasting days this weekend. Saturday could not have been more dank, grey and dreary, whereas in complete contrast Sunday was a sparkling, sunny day and felt much warmer. It seemed like an early spring day and the behaviour of the birds reflected it.
Wigeon over the reedbed (c) JR
The recent cold spell does not seem to have deterred the wildfowl from staying. There seems always to have been some open water somewhere. On Saturday morning on the large open lead at the northern reedbed lagoon I counted well in excess of six hundred Wigeon.

Shoveller and Gadwall (c) JR
There are good numbers of Shoveller and Gadwall, the males of both species looking very bright and smart in their best breeding plumage. There are still a few Pintail present but they spend most of their time out on the more distant pools of Big Otmoor.
Pintail (c) JR
One or other of he two Peregrines was seen several times on both days. The smaller male with a couple of secondaries missing, was seen in flight stooping down on Teal and also Snipe. We did not see it hunt successfully. The large female is still spending a lot of time in the big Oak tree across the field from the trail to the second screen. The Marsh Harrier is clearly wandering some distance from the moor as it was not seen over the weekend but was noted on Thursday last week.
Singing Lark (c) JR
The sunshine on Sunday encouraged Larks and Chaffinches to start singing, clearly proper spring is not too far away. As we reached the turn on the trail towards the second screen I heard a Nuthatch calling from the large poplars. After a minute or so we managed to locate it as it made its way along the hedge, sitting on top of a bush for a few seconds before moving on. They are regular in the Roman Road area but uncommon out on the moor. It shows how important big hedgerows are, as corridors for wildlife to move along.
Record shot of Nuthatch (c) JR
I had no reports of the Bearded Tits this weekend. On Thursday however four were seen and heard in the reedy margins of Ashgrave up towards Noke.
Bouncing Linnet (c) JR

Reed Bunt (c) Andy Last
The flock of Reed Buntings, a few Yellowhammers, some Chaffinches and the flock of now over three hundred Linnets are providing a real spectacle at the hide, as well as enticing in a Sparrowhawk that seems to have only one leg..... Long John Sparrow? (mixing my pirate references!)
Feeding Bullfinch (c) JR
Bullfinches continue to show beautifully in the carpark field and are still very confiding.
The White-fronted Geese now appear to be firmly attached to the Greylag flock and were feeding out on the pastures to the south of the Closes and the Carpark field.
Whitefronts (c) JR
The Merlin was spotted twice over the weekend and seems to be favouring the fields either side of Otmoor Lane, near the stables. It is however notoriously elusive and is usually seen more by luck than by patient searching.
A Common Gull on Sunday progressed the yearlist, I wonder how long it will be before we get to a hundred species for the year.
Singing Robin (c) JR

Monday, 2 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 31st January and 1st February

Long-tailed Tit (c) JR
It was a cold weekend with a light dusting of snow on the ground on Saturday and a strong gusty bitter northerly wind blowing on Sunday.
Most interest and spectacle revolved around the large numbers of birds. Lapwings and Golden Plovers out on the fields to the west of the reserve, Linnets and Reed Buntings coming down to feed on the grain by the hide and large grazing flocks of Wigeon.
Large numbers of birds inevitably attract predators and all the usual raptors were there this weekend. However Marsh Harrier was only seen to my knowledge on Saturday.
Well filled Peregrine note missing secondaries on left wing (c) JR
We watched a really interesting interaction between a Peregrine, a Red Kite and a Buzzard on Saturday morning over Greenaways. The Peregrine was repeatedly attacking both the Kite and the Buzzard and several times both at once. It clearly swooped down to drive one or other of them off the ground and eventually settled on the ground itself. Several minutes later it got up and flew strongly towards us and over our heads, we were at the first screen, and it  was obvious from its bulging crop that it had been eating. We guessed that it had made a kill and one of the others had tried to take it over, but I suppose that it may simply have been scavenging or indeed misappropriated another birds kill. From its size we assumed that it was a male. It was great to get such a good view of this apex predator. It then made its way over towards the oak trees, where it is often seen perched, to digest its meal. Other predators in action included a Grey Heron dispatching a bank vole by the second screen on Sunday not a sight for the squeamish!
Bullfinches continue to delight in the carpark field. (c) JR
A Merlin is being seen quite frequently along Otmoor Lane, sometimes flying along in front of vehicles. Probably the same bird made a fast pass through the carpark field on Saturday morning.
A Bittern was seen re-locating in the reedbed on Saturday and it will not be very long before we should be listening out for booming. On some RSPB reserves they have already started.
The three White-fronted Geese are still present. I couldn't work out on Sunday whether they were tagging along behind the Canada Geese or out in front of the Greylags, when all of the geese flushed from the direction of the Flood Field.
Marsh Tit near the feeders (c) JR
Marsh Tit only made it onto the yearlist last week but there are now two of them in Morleys, one is coming regularly to the feeders and the other frequenting the bushes in the carpark.
When the weather is so cold animals hunker down out of the wind, if possible in the sunshine and are very reluctant to leave the warm sheltered spots that they have established. So it is with Hares. They like to occupy the drier higher ground now that the fields are much wetter, they particularly like the bunds that surround the reedbed. As one walks along they leave it to the very last moment to burst out of hiding and streak off it can very alarming if you are not expecting it.
Hare (c) Tezzer
The Redshank both seen and heard last week is of course the first of many. As we move through the month we should see the first Curlew appearing and probably a few Ruff feeding on the  wetter fields with  the Lapwings and the Goldies. We are certainly in the grip of winter at the moment but as it loosens changes will occur and the seasons will roll round again.
Chilly Robin (c) Bark