Tuesday, 26 May 2015

23-25 May

Blackcap (c) Bark
It was good to be back on the moor after a couple of weeks absence. Both Saturday and Sunday started well with clear blue skies and bright sunshine but greyed over during the morning. It was beautiful to drive down the lane to the reserve, both sides of the road frothed with cow parsley against a background of the lush fresh greens of early summer. As the season rolls on the colours lose some of their brightness and intense, varied greenness.  Such a morning really is a feast for the eyes.
Both Garden and Warbler and Blackcap were singing in the carpark and as I walked along the bridleway I heard more, the Blackcaps outnumbering the Garden warblers about four to one. I can’t remember them being quite so numerous in the past few years.
Cuckoo (c) Bark
and its target (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Cuckoos too were very much in evidence both male and female we estimated there were at least five individuals present on Saturday morning and three on Sunday.
It is delightful to hear Turtle doves purring, and not just from the regular songposts that they used last year. Birds have been heard from the Noke area and another is calling from the oak trees on the northern edge of Long Meadow. It is difficult to get an accurate measure of how many we have without making a series of simultaneous observations.
Turtle dove (c) Bark
A photograph sent to me by a photographer highlights the hazards these fabulous birds overcome on their migration, it’s possible to clearly see a pellet hole in its flight feathers. A different bird showed some kind of minor wound in its belly.
Turtle with a hole in its feathers (c) Nick Truby
Overhead Snipe were drumming and already the first Snipe chicks have been found. Surveys have indicated that there are more pairs this year than last and they are displaying more widely over the reserve.
Lapwings are up challenging corvids and raptors as they pass over and careful scoping of Big Otmoor and Greenaways will reveal chicks in various stages of development, accompanied by stressed and vigilant parents. Walking along the path to the first screen we were mobbed by a pair of very vociferous Redshanks that must have had young very close to the hedge. Both Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers were out on big Otmoor the former clearly carrying out a display flight. The Oystercatchers are still present and may indeed have hatched some chicks, though that has still to be confirmed.
Note the missing feathers (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
The two female Marsh Harriers were seen often and not just confining themselves to the reedbed. One in particular is easily identified having some primaries missing from the left wing.
There are large crèches of goslings on all the main fields and they clearly demonstrate just how productive the moor is. Hares are very noticeable too at the moment.
Doing the early morning wash........

and managing to get its back legs almost in front of its head (c) Bark
The scent from the hawthorn blossom is very strong and is attracting lots of insects. Dragonflies included at least three Hairy Dragonflies in the pools at the Noke end of Big Otmoor and earlier in the week a Downy Emerald was seen in the Roman Road area. This is the place where most sightings of this attractive species occur.
Hawthorn blossom (c) Bark

On Sunday afternoon along with many other keen county birders I went along to Bicester Wetland Reserve to pay homage to a Red Necked Phalarope the first twitchable one in Oxon since 1994. A beautiful bird and a great find. Such a pity that it overshot Otmoor I could have easily imagined it paddling around on the Greenaways scrapes and picking insects off the surface. Perhaps next time.....
Yellowhammer carpark field (c) Pat Galka

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Otmoor and Notmoor early to mid May

Back for the Summer (c) JR
 I think that sometimes we take our wildlife and our wildlife reserves a bit too much for granted. Too often I meet people on Otmoor and when I ask what they have seen they reply.... “not much”. Reading the Bird Log regularly while I have been away has highlighted how lucky we are in Oxfordshire and the UK when compared with some parts of Europe and certainly some of the Mediterranean Islands. They can be great holiday destinations stacked full of history, with great food, warm seas and dramatic landscapes but they can be difficult places to find birds. 
There are of course exceptions Lesvos is superb and the birding in Majorca is good. Sicily however where I have just been is not such a destination. The birds that are there, apart of course from the ubiquitous Sparrows and Pigeons are very wary, hard to see and photograph. They are also spread very thinly throughout the landscape. Birding every morning from dawn for two or three hours failed to turn up much variety in the number of species or indeed actual numbers of birds.
Sardinian Warbler (c) Bark

A visit to the moor can produce sight or sound of ten warbler species in a morning. Most days I saw Sardinian Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler and heard Cetti's. Interestingly calling almost the same as ours but not quite.
Sicilian House Martin (c) Bark

Swallow and Sand Martin Otmoor (c) Mark Chivers

Hirundines resting on the moor (c) JR

There were indeed large numbers of Swifts both Common and Pallid and plenty of Swallows and House Martins. However I only saw three raptors altogether, one Kestrel, one Marsh Harrier and one fleeting flyover Eleanora’s falcon.
There have been regular reports of at least three Cuckoos on the reserve, but in Sicily I heard just one calling in the distance while up in the hills.
Cuckoo (c) JR
A single Woodchat Shrike was nice bird to find as was a single European Bee eater. I was visiting an extensive wetland reserve every morning and not just local farmland, so I had hoped to find more. Highlight of my birding was a Little Bittern that allowed a reasonably close approach and didn’t fly off the moment it saw me. Holidays are not just about birding and there was loads to compensate for the paucity of birds.
Little Bittern (c) Bark

On the moor there has been lots to catch up with. I am delighted to hear of at least three Turtle Doves calling from their regular spots. I did hear several calling in Sicily but Collared Dove was the commonest dove I saw.

Marsh Harrier interaction
The two female Marsh Harriers have continued to show really well from the first screen and there are still a smattering of passage waders to be found. Early indications are that the breeding waders, Snipe, Redshank and Lapwings are having a good season. Snipe are drumming in larger numbers than recent years and there are very many more pairs of Redshank present.

Over the next few weeks birds will be busy feeding young and then starting on second broods. Dragonflies and Butterflies will abound and wildflowers will bloom. There is never “not much” to see on Otmoor.
Amourous Tufties (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

May Bank Holiday Weekend

Sedge Warbler (c) JR

The weekend began early for me as I led a guided dawn chorus walk on Saturday, starting at 5 pm. Saturday became greyer and cloudier as the day progressed while Sunday morning was a wash-out. Monday however was perfect with a south easterly breeze and warm sunshine.
Dawn on Saturday flushed the sky with orange and pink and as if on cue a flight of six Mute Swans flew towards the sun each bird reflecting the the colours on heads wings and breasts.
Dawn swans (c) Bark
It was a great start to the walk on which we recorded over forty different species including drumming Snipe and and all the regular warblers except Grasshopper Warbler.
Drummer (c) JR
At least three Cuckoos were present adding their voices to the soundscape. Garden Warbler had arrived during the preceding week and there were at least three different individuals to be heard. Tawny Owl has been calling from the Roman Road early most mornings and several visitors have seen a Barn owl hunting in the car park field as it starts to get light.
Cuckoo (c) JR
Hobbies are now present in good numbers as they usually are at this time of year. There have been up to thirteen birds hunting over Greenaways and the reedbed during the afternoons and evenings. They seem to spend a couple of weeks here after arriving from migration before dispersing to breed, initially St. Marks Flies are a favoured food. On Saturday however we noticed the first of the large Dragonflies on the wing, which will soon become their principle prey while they are here.  We did not see the dragonfly well enough to identify it properly but the earliest large ones to emerge on the moor are the Hairy Dragonflies.
Hobby (c) JR
As I walked through the carpark field on Monday morning Sedge Warblers seemed to be rapping out their manic song from almost every bush, there must have been an influx overnight or perhaps the stormy weather of Sunday had pushed them down or at least blown them in.
Common Tern on the raft (c) JR
Another bird affected by the weather was a flyover Arctic Tern seen over the first lagoon on Sunday during a sharp shower. There were five Common Terns disputing ownership of the Tern raft on Monday morning, there should be no dispute as two pairs managed to nest on it successfully last year.
Lapwing (c) Mark Chivers
Amongst the non breeding Lapwings on Noke Sides were two Ruff one of which was showing his breeding plumage, the other pale individual I took to be a female. When all the birds flushed for a passing raptor we saw there had also been a Bar Tailed Godwit in one of the ditches, we failed to relocate it but it is probably out on Big Otmoor or in the flooded grassland to the north of Noke Sides.
Gropper (c) Nick Truby
A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling beside the path to the first screen on Monday and showing well at times in the low bushes beside the reedy ditch.
Intrusive drone (c) Early Birder
On Monday morning about ten o clock someone from a position somewhere north west of the reserve was flying a drone out over the moor and especially low and high over the reedbed. As well as the anti social buzzing sound it is quite objectionable to fly such a craft over an area that holds or could hold sensitive breeding birds. It seems likely that if we could not see the person controlling it then they would in turn not be able to see us, which itself is dangerous. There is in fact a low flying zone for civil aircraft over the reserve and we would hope that every one would respect it regardless of the size of their craft.

Shoveller and Wren (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Finally we are still hoping that the Turtle Doves are going to return in next few days. The north easterly winds of the previous couple of weeks may have checked their northward migration. It would be tragic if these beautiful birds dwindled and disappeared as did the Nightingales that used to be such a special part of an Otmoor spring.
Nature can be cruel:
Gosling (c) JR

Kite with breakfast (c) Mark chivers