Monday, 27 April 2015

Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th April

Drake Garganey (c) JR
Despite the cooler conditions this weekend, when compared with the week just past, change continues apace. Arriving in the carpark early on Saturday morning one was struck by just how many birds were singing full pelt. Blackcaps were most noticeable, but there were also several Willow Warblers giving their distinctive downwards song. Whitethroats gave their scratchy calls from the top of larger bushes and from the wires overhead and a Lesser Whitethroat gave its distinctive finch-like trill from the hedge on the southern edge of the Closes. Although a Garden Warbler was reported from nearby Stanton St. John on Saturday I have not heard one or indeed heard of one, so far on the moor.

Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler (c) JR

Reed Warbler (c) Nick Truby

Willow Warbler (c) Pat Galka
Waders are continuing to move through. Several Whimbrel have been reported and three very smart summer plumaged Black tailed Godwits have been around for almost a week. Three Ruff have alternated between Big Otmoor and Noke Sides where a number of non breeding Lapwing have been feeding still accompanied by four beautiful summer plumaged Golden Plover. On Big Otmoor on Sunday there were two Little Ringed Plovers and five Dunlin showing the smart black bellies of summer. Our breeding waders are busy mating and protecting eggs and chicks. On both days despite indifferent weather Snipe were drumming over Greenaways and the Closes. Squadrons of Lapwings went up to challenge and mob raptors including Kites and Buzzards over Big Otmoor.
Blackwits (c) Nick Truby

Mating Redshanks female unmoved! (c) JR
Whimbrel (c) Pat Galka
Marsh Harriers are still hunting over the Greenaways with three birds present for a while on Saturday morning. Although Hobby was seen last weekend it took until Sunday for me see one. There was a very smart individual sitting on one of the posts on the southern side of Ashgrave.
Marsh Harrier (c) JR
We finally found our first drake Garganey on Saturday and the same bird was still present on Sunday morning giving stunning close views in front of the first screen, a really superb bird. There had already been two females seen earlier in the week.

Pochard and Mallard (c) The Early Birder

G.C.G. (c) JR
Pochard are still courting avidly on the southern reedbed and there are still a small number of Wigeon that have yet to head north.
Cuckoos are loudly and obviously making their presence felt and I have heard both male and females calling. There were at least three individuals present on Sunday morning. We are still waiting for our first report of what is probably our rarest regular breeding bird. Turtle Doves do tend to arrive later than some of our other migrants and so we still hope that they will return. With problems on their overwintering grounds and rapacious, ignorant hunters on their migration routes it is a wonder that they still make it through.
Three Wheatears were near the farm at Noke on one of the sheep fields and four Whinchat were out at the Pill on Saturday. Wheatears have been fewer and further between than on previous years but we often see many more and for longer during the late summer early autumn period when they return.
There are still two Common Cranes in the vicinity and there may indeed be four. They are roving over the whole of Otmoor both Reserve, MOD and private farmland. There is no regular pattern to their feeding preferences and so their presence is unpredictable. They are more likely to be seen when commuting between areas and are probably better not being pursued as if undisturbed they might stay around a bit longer.
Cranes in transit (c) Nick Truby
Finally late stayers on the moor and early morning visitors are frequently seeing a Barn Owl hunting in the Carpark Field. This can often prove to be the icing on the cake to a visit, to what at the moment is a very exciting and “birdy” place.

Hunting Owl and Sunset (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Midweek Update Terns and Cranes

Black Tern (c) the Gunslinger
It has been an exciting few days on the moor. There have been some scarcer species seen and the visiting Common Cranes have thrown up some interesting information.
On Monday there was a Little Gull feeding with Black headed Gulls over the distant lagoon on Ashgrave, a species that has not been seen on Otmoor for quite a number of years.
There  has been a fine male Whinchat visible from the second screen. It has been using a willow to hunt from that just elevates it above the surrounding reeds.
Wednesdays Cranes (c) the  Gunslinger

Sundays Cranes (c) JR
The two Cranes present at the end of last week and over the weekend were replaced by a pair from the Slimbridge reintroduction programme. The more recent pair hatched in 2012 and are fully colour ringed and fitted with transmitters. The weekend pair were unringed. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks if any or all of these birds hang around.
Yesterday a Black Tern was found out at the  second screen .It was seen to be feeding on the abundant hatch of flies along with a number of Martins. I feel it is always better to see these beautiful marsh terns in what is their European breeding habitat. It was reputed to have bred on Otmoor in the 1850's.
Tern (c) JR

Tern (c)The Gunslinger
Finally the first of the Hobbies has been seen and hopefully over the next  few weeks we will have a good number of them arriving and feeding up before they disperse to breed. They often feed on St Marks Flies, so called because they always emerge around St Marks Day the 25th April. They are the large flies that meander across the reserve. The females are almost 1.5 cms in length and so for a hungry post migration Hobby they are filling nuritious and easy to catch.
Busy Redshank (c) JR

Kite and Harrier interaction (c) JR

Battling Coots (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey

Great Crested Grebe (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
All of this excitement has been accompanied by a regular cast of supporting players including Harrier, Redshank, Greenshank Ruff and battling Coots.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th April

Common Cranes (c) JR
A keen, chill easterly wind persisted all weekend, although the sunshine on Saturday did raise the temperature on that day.
Shortly after getting home on Saturday I had a text reporting two Common Cranes circling over Big Otmoor in the early afternoon. Later pictures were published and the birds had been seen to head off in a south westerly direction. It was with enormous delight that we found the two Cranes feeding and preening out on Ashgrave on Sunday morning. They are adult birds and bore no rings or tags. They are very elegant, beautiful birds to watch.

Cranes again (c) JR
At least two keen county listers managed to get down to the moor in time and add them to their Oxfordshire list. They moved towards the hide feeding and after a while took off and flew steadily in a north easterly direction. We are assuming that these were “bed and breakfast” birds, but there is certainly suitable habitat on the moor should they decide to hang around a bit longer.
All the regular warblers are in now, with just the exception of Garden Warbler. Whitethroats are scratching out their song in the carpark field and half way along the bridleway to Noke we heard our first Lesser Whitethroat. Four more were found by Roger Wyatt along with four Grasshopper Warblers during a complete circuit of the moor on Sunday.
Sedgie (c) Bark
Sedge Warblers are very vocal in the ditches and hedges advertising their presence and establishing territories. A smaller number of Reed Warblers can be heard singing their more regular and less manic song. Blackcaps appear to be present in larger numbers than usual although some of them may be passage birds. Two of them were having a major singing competition right next to my car when I arrived on Saturday.
Willow Warbler (c) JR
All the hirundines were present in good numbers both days this weekend feeding round and over the reedbed and lagoons. On Sunday JR pointed out a Swift amongst them, which may be the first record in Oxon this year.
New Occupants of Noke Sides (c) Bark
The Noke Sides field has been occupied by some black faced sheep that are very curious about people and on the far side of that field amongst some non breeding Lapwings were fifteen beautiful summer plumaged Golden Plovers. Three Black tailed Godwits were out on Big Otmoor on Saturday and either the same three or three others were reported on Sunday along with three Greenshanks. In the sheep fields at Noke there were three song thrushes and one Mistle Thrush.
Bathing Redshank (c) JR
The handful of Wigeon that remain are showing no sign of leaving. Two female Garganey were seen from the first screen during the week and two Mediterranean gulls were found amongst the Black headed Gulls on the same day. A male Redstart was seen in long meadow on Thursday and although I looked I was unable to find any at the weekend, they really do go through very quickly at this time of the year.
The “Lizard Lounge” by the first screen had at least ten basking Common Lizards out in the sunshine on Saturday.

Much to the delight of some of my friends there are more and more butterflies around including Green Veined Whites and Orange Tips. It will not be long before the first Damselflies and Dragonflies are on the wing and the first Hobbies are coming in to eat them.

Speckled Wood and mating Green-veined Whites (c) Pete Law

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th April

Juvenile Spoonbill (c) Carl Gray
It has been a very exciting week on the moor with many new arrivals to add to the year list and two of them species that were not even recorded last year.
I only managed to get down there on Saturday due to family commitments on Sunday. The Roman Road held my first singing Willow Warbler of the year and a singing Blackcap. Chiffchaffs seem to be calling from all of the hedgerows. We also heard our first Sedge Warbler shouting its song from the reeds near the second screen. I wanted to try to find the juvenile Spoonbill that had been seen late on Friday. It had flown up from one of the ditches on Greenaways and been watched heading westwards.
Spoonbill heading west (c) Carl Gray
We were unable to find any sign of it so perhaps it was a very transient passage bird. On Thursday a Hen Harrier was seen over the MOD land and then later over Greenaways. We must hope that it continues further north than the English grouse moors, where its future would be all too uncertain.
Wheatear (c) Badger
There has been a major movement of waders through this weekend. As new birds have been arriving so our wintering Golden plovers have finally departed. On Saturday afternoon four Ringed Plovers were found out on Big Otmoor along with a single Sanderling. The latter being the first record on Otmoor for a number of years of this largely coastal species.
Ringed Plovers and Sanderling (c) Badger
Green Sandpiper and Greenshank were also found over the weekend. There are still three Oystercatchers present and our other breeding waders are very obvious and very active. Snipe are drumming, especially over Greenaways and Curlew are calling and displaying over the same field and over the MOD land.
There was a drake Pochard seen last week with a coloured and numbered“saddle”on its bill. Clearly part of a population monitoring project in France. Badger has e-mailed the project leader in France and it will be interesting to find out some more information about this individual bird.
Banded French Pochard (c) Badger
There are still no Garganey on the reserve that we have seen. Sadly due to emergency repair work on a badly leaking bund water levels had to be dropped in one of their favoured areas, we must hope for some rain to top it up but not so much that our ground nesting birds are flooded out.
Sand Martin (c) JR
There are increasing numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins hunting over the lagoons and along the hedges taking advantage of the gnats and flies that have been encouraged by the change to warmer weather. The first Yellow Wagtail of the year was found on the Oddington side of the moor on Sunday. Herons are going to and fro in the reedbed with nesting material and hopefully soon with food for youngsters. Over in the sheep fields there is still a flock of over forty Fieldfares and adjacent to the hide the Linnet flock still numbers over fifty.
Grass Snake (c) JR
Grass Snakes are being seen frequently in what can only be described as mating bundles. We are very fortunate in having such a strong population of these beautiful reptiles. It will not be long now until we will be able to spot Common Lizards in the “lizard lounge” and on the pollarded willows of the Carpark Field.

Herons with nesting material (c) JR

The Blackthorn is now fully out and frothing over the branches, it will be great over the next couple of weeks to pick out the singing warblers amidst the blossoms and to search for passage Redstarts, surely one of the most beautiful of all our birds.
Wren in the blossom (c) JR

Update Tuesday 14th
Yesterday afternoon a Ring Ouzel in Long Meadow and late report of House Martins on Saturday.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter Weekend 4th - 6th April

Barn Owl (c) Pat Galka
What a difference  a week makes! Spring is really taking over now and we have had the first period of sustained warm weather so far this year. The wildlife responded instantly to the calm warm conditions.

Curlew, Snipe Lapwing and the three Oystercatchers (c) JR
Our breeding waders are now impossible to ignore; with tumbling Lapwings, displaying Redshanks, drumming Snipe and every so often the plaintive call of Curlew. There were still at least five or six hundred Golden Plover present on Saturday but their numbers seem to fluctuate daily. It may be that different parties of them are using the moor as a staging post on their northward migration. The birds we see one day may have moved on and been replaced by others overnight. Almost all of them are now in their crisp summer plumage. In amongst them are one or two Dunlin and on Monday a single Black tailed Godwit. There was a Little Ringed Plover on Big Otmoor on Sunday morning. It was very restless and seemed to be chased away from almost everywhere it settled, by either Redshanks or Lapwings. Three Oystercatchers moved between the lagoon on Ashgrave, the sheep fields and Big Otmoor. Last year they managed to hatch eggs but failed to reach fledging, perhaps this year they will be successful.
Singing chiffy (c) Bark
Chiffchaffs are calling all along the bridleways and from the Roman Road, the sunshine had certainly encouraged them to sing. Beside the path to the hide the same Song Thrush that has been calling there for the last three weeks was putting on a virtuoso performance.
Virtuoso Songthrush (c) Bark
There are still good numbers of all the regular species of duck present across the reserve. There are now only fifty or so Wigeon to be found and perhaps fifteen or twenty Pintail. There are much higher numbers of Shoveller many of them paired up and the unpaired drakes avidly pursuing unattached females.
Windswept Tufty (c) JR
There have been up to three Shelduck on the reserve, they are fond of the big lagoon on Ashgrave and are consequently often overlooked but are more often seen while commuting between feeding and loafing areas. With Garganey turning up all over the county it has been disappointing not to find any on the moor yet but there is abundant cover and a multitude of suitable pools so they could even be there without our knowing it.

Shelduck and below the first Swallow (c) JR
Hirundines have now made it onto the yearlist. Sand Martins were first seen on Thursday last week and two Swallows were over and around the first screen on Saturday. Since then there have been several other records.
It now seems to be that we have two active Marsh Harriers on site. Whether they are a pair or not is clearly critical, but were they to be and were they to breed it would be the first record in Oxfordshire since the early nineteenth century.
Barn Owl (c) Pat Galka
There have been a couple of Barn Owls present both around the reedbed and in the carpark field, always early in the mornings. Ravens are now seen so regularly that it seems likely that they are breeding nearby.
Sparrowhawk over reedbed (c) JR
The sunshine has encouraged our large population of Grass Snakes to emerge from their winter torpor. On Monday morning I was lucky enough to find a slithering heap of at least seven individuals at the base of one of the pollarded willows in the carpark field. Whether this was a mating ritual or just a crowd trying to exploit the warmest spot, I don’t know, but it was a real treat for those that saw it until the loud frightened screams of a small child sent them gliding off into cover. There were another ten seen between the cattle pen and the Roman Road by “the snake whisperer”(Pete Roby)

A slither of snakes  above (c) Bark    below (c) JR

The sun also coaxed a number of butterflies out of hibernation including several Peacocks, a Brimstone and a couple of Small Tortoiseshells. The Peacocks feeding on fresh bright blackthorn blossom. By next weekend that blossom will have become a great froth of white and the trickle of new arrivals will have become a flood. What a wonderful time of year!
Peacock on blackthorn (c) Bark