Monday, 29 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th June

Marsh Harrier (c) JR
Saturday was one of the most beautiful days so far this summer, Sunday reverted to the damp grey norm that we have experienced over the past few weekends. The wildlife really responded to the warmth and the calm sunshine. There were lots of good birds to see and increasing numbers of interesting invertebrates.
The Turtle Doves are still putting on a great show near the pumphouse and another was calling from the Roman Road/Long Meadow direction. A Bittern flew out from the reedbed and flew along the broad ditch beside the path to the first screen landing near the bridleway after about ten minutes it took off and flew back into the reedbed. It was later seen making a similar flight from the second screen.

Bittern and Harrier (c) JR
The two resident Marsh Harriers were very much in evidence both over the reedbed and the adjacent fields, one of them showed superbly just to left of the hide, out on Ashgrave. We were pleased to see two juvenile Mistle Thrushes fly over our heads at the second screen. We could be sure of their youth because JR’s photograph shows the fringing on their feathers.
Juvenile Mistle Thrush (c) JR
There is still a very elusive Grasshopper Warbler reeling in July’s meadow, just once or twice it forgot itself and called in plain view. We found a Spotted Flycatcher in the Roman Road area again, whilst looking for Black Hairstreaks. The Flycatcher was very obliging showing well and using prominent perches.
Gropper (c) JR

Calling Gropper (c) Bark

Spot Fly (c) JR
The Hairstreaks were less obliging, flicking around the tops of the bushes and seldom settling in plain sight. They are becoming stars in their own right and on both days we met visitors who had come to the moor specially to see them and incidentally the other butterfly species that are more prolific and noticeable. We were accompanied by at least twenty Small Tortoiseshells fluttering ahead of us as we walked along the path to July’s Meadow.

Small Torts (c) Bark
On Sunday morning there were three leverets by the cattle pens on Greenaways all at different stages of growth. Another almost ran into us along the path to the second screen, as it fled ahead of two visitors coming from the opposite direction. The indications are that they have had a very good breeding season.
Racing Leveret (c) JR
For the first time this summer I noticed a mixed flock of juvenile Tits and Warblers and these parties will become more and more frequent as the weeks progress. The security of feeding in a flock with a multitude of eyes and ears cannot be underestimated.
Whimbrel (c) Helaine Cadman
A Whimbrel seen last week was a good record although not the first this year. It seems to be either very late going or very early returning. The Common Cranes were seen briefly both last week and at the weekend. Later this week I will be posting an extra supplement on here describing what they have been up to since April, I hope you will all enjoy it.

STOP PRESS: Steve Roby had a calling Little Owl in Otmoor Lane on Sunday evening.

Soggy Bullfinch on Sunday (c) Bark
Video clip courtesy of Paul Thomas of a juvenile Cuckoo 
being fed by its host parent a Reed Warbler.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 20th and 21st June

Not here for much longer. (c) JR
We have reached the tipping point in the year, which seems to have arrived very quickly. Time does seem to accelerate the older one gets!
Damp and soggy on Saturday and something much more summer-like on the longest day. There seem to be young birds everywhere, some now independent and others still chasing their parents for hand outs. Lots of custard coloured Great Tits and Blue Tits indicates successful broods for many pairs. Several loud parties of Long tailed Tits were working the Roman Road area. Beside the hide there was a flock of well over twenty Chaffinches with a preponderance of juvenile birds. They were picking up the fine seeds that are still there from the winter feeding programme.

Whitethroat and Wren (c) JR
A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling in July’s Meadow on Saturday. The habitat there is similar to the way that the Carpark Field used to be, which they seem to have abandoned this year. Perhaps the younger lower briars and hawthorn is their optimal breeding habitat. Young Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats were also noticeable alongside the paths to the screens.
Reed Bunting (c) Bark
Out in the reedbed the two female Marsh Harriers are still carrying lots of nesting material and their “civil partnership” must have amassed a pile of haystack proportions. As they have been gathering twigs and grass for the last several months.
Civil partnership (c) JR
A pair of Great Crested Grebes have two stripy “bullseye”chicks on the southern lagoon. One parent hunts while the other carries them on his or her back. I saw one of the chicks eat a fish almost as long as itself, after several attempts to swallow it it finally managed it, only to have just the tip of the fish’s tail sticking out.
Cuckoos are still calling but will soon depart, in the next few weeks we can look for their progeny, being fed outside the nest by their long suffering surrogate parents.
Quail the last of our regular summer visitors were heard last week calling from the MOD and from Closes, I have yet to hear them this year but hope to soon. They bring our year list up to a respectable one hundred and thirty nine species. Looking back at the records from last year, exactly the same number as at the same time as last year.

Not a bad hare day (c) Bark
There are many young leverets around some of them still quite small. They are nothing like as wary as the older ones and if one stands still and quiet they will come very close, make a sudden noise and they will be off like a rocket.

Black Hairstreak (c) Bark

Perhaps the best find this weekend was a minimum of six Black Hairstreaks that we found at the northern end of the Roman Road. We watched two groups of three simultaneously hence the definite number. It was interesting to see them shuffling round on the leaves and then tilting their wings so that they presented them at ninety degrees to the sun in order to maximise its warmth. As it warms up this coming week there will be lots more fascinating invertebrates to look for. There is always something new to find.
What is this flower on the path from the hide to July's Meadow?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th June

Busy feeding young.(c) JR
To quote Sir Van Morrison (topical !) this weekend on both mornings Otmoor was “...all misty wet with rain..”. But despite the continuous drizzle on Saturday and first thing on Sunday there was lots of activity on the moor. Birds could be seen everywhere foraging for insects to feed their broods. Already there were newly fledged tits, wrens and warblers working along the hedgerows some still being fed by the parent birds. A hare bounded through the fields to the left of the footpath to the second screen, leaping above the wet grass to see which way it was going. It must have been completely soaked through.

(c) Bark
Tiny drops of water like strings of pearls outlined every spiders web, blossom and seed head. Snipe were still actively drumming overhead while their mates “chipped” from among the tussocks and sedges where they nest. For the first time they were displaying over Ashgrave which is not usually an area that they favour.
Drummer (c) JR
Two Turtle Doves continued to purr, one from the pumphouse area and the other from the edge of the MOD land and Long Meadow. As usual they attracted a lot of attention and admiration from visiting birders, further accentuating just how uncommon they have become in the UK.

Common Terns failing to mate (c) JR
There is evidence of success on the tern raft. two small fluffy chicks could be seen tottering around on the shingle surface. Elsewhere another pair of terns are also trying to breed but as yet we cannot work out where they might nest. They had an unsuccessful attempt at mating in front of the first screen which resulted in the male having a rather humiliating fall into the water. Undeterred he was later pursuing the female around in the air calling loudly and carrying a small fish in his bill.
Four Ravens flew over Greenaways probably a family party as two seemed slightly smaller than the others. It has now become as unusual not to see them as it used to be to see them at all. There now appears to be just one Marsh Harrier present, the one whose wing feathers are moulting.
Marsh Harrier over Greenaways (c) JR
It is no longer confined to the reedbed area and hunts a lot over Greenaways. A pale Bittern has been seen over the northern reedbed several times in the last few weeks and it may well be one of the individuals that wintered here one of those was very pale.

Grass Snakes (c) Bark

The weather improved by mid morning on Sunday and the watery sunshine encouraged the Grass Snakes out of cover to bask on and under the pollarded willows beside the track in the carpark field. On one stump alone at least five were showing several of them quite large
Hairy Dragonfly (c) Bark
. A very fresh looking Hairy Dragonfly landed just beside us and we wondered if the emergence of dragonflies had been delayed by the cool spring and early summer. Over the next few weeks we will be looking very closely at chaser dragonflies to see if we can find another of the Scarce Chasers that we found last year. There is always something to look for on Otmoor.

Sedgie,  Whitethroat and Wren (c) JR

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th June

Singing sedge Warbler (c) Mark Chivers
As we move into early June the countryside looks fresher cleaner and more verdant than at any other time of the year. So it is on the moor. Arriving in the carpark there is still a riot of birdsong coming from every direction but as the morning wears on things quieten down much more. Birds are busy feeding chicks and the urge to proclaim a territory loses out to the need to provision the next generation.
Reed Bunting still singing (c) Bark
I immediately heard two different Turtle Doves purring, one from the Roman Road and another from the familiar area near the pumphouse. Snipe were drumming over both the Closes and Greenaways, but again as the morning progressed they stopped. Two or three Cuckoos chased up and down the bridle way calling. Over Big Otmoor Lapwings and Redshanks flew up to challenge Kites and one or other of the two Marsh Harriers. There are lots of chicks to be spotted among the tussocks and along the ditches, some fluffy and just out of the egg others close to flying, all of them accompanied by vigilant parents.
Challenging Lapwing (c) JR
The Dog Roses are coming into flower and the briars are flecked with pink blooms that shade through to white and attract nectar gathering insects. The Flag Irises too are splashing the ditch edges with strident vivid yellow.

Flag Iris and Dog Rose (c) Bark
There are a small but indeterminate number of Ringed Plovers on Big Otmoor and a single Black-tailed Godwit. The number of Little Egrets has increased and they are mopping up small fish and tadpoles as the pools shrink. Two Shelduck flew over our heads at the first screen and headed out towards Ashgrave. There are now two Bar-headed Geese on the moor and they are accompanied by a lone Barnacle Goose, they were seen both days. The other new addition to the yearlist was another Spotted Flycatcher, one had been seen on Thursday on the wires up Otmoor Lane, this one was in the Roman Road area. Another yearlist addition was a Grey Wagtail seen today (10 June)
As more and larger dragonflies are emerging so the Hobbies are starting hunting earlier in the day and on Sunday there were four different individuals swooping down at high speed sometimes almost disappearing into ditches before shooting up to eat their prey.
Broad Bodied Chaser ? (c) Bark

Four spotted Chaser (c) Mark Chivers

Common Blue (c) Bark
As the birding quietens down over next few weeks and before the first returning waders start to appear, the rich variety of invertebrates will give us lots to look for and admire.
Flying Squirrel (c) JR

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

30th and 31st May

Cuckoo (c) JR
Although still cooler than expected at this time of year there is lots of activity on the moor. Saturday was sunnier and dryer than Sunday but on both days there was plenty of interest.
We are very lucky in having good numbers of Cuckoos present this year. On Sunday morning I saw four at the same time, three flying above the hedge and a fourth sitting on the wires in the carpark field. There have been as many as five seen simultaneously. They are very vocal and we are frequently hearing the more unusual bubbling or chuckling call of the female as well as the regular “cuckoo” of the male. Three birders that I have spoken to in the last week or so said that they had not heard the females call before or hadn’t recognised it. They can often be seen perched on the fence posts beside the bridleway waving their tails alluringly or looking for Reed Warbler nests and awaiting the opportunity to nip in and lay an egg.
Looking for  a nest (c) Bark
Warblers are still looking for mates and both the Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers are carrying out their aerial “parachute” displays as a finale to a burst of singing. I assume that the added height projects the sound further and the fluttering flight advertises their health and fitness. Both Blackcap and Garden Warblers can be heard in the carpark field and along the bridleway and some visiting birders from Bristol commented on how many Lesser Whitethroats they had heard.

Displaying Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers (c) JR
The two female Marsh Harriers are still present but are roaming over more of the reserve in search of prey and the individual that was missing primaries in one wing now looks to have started on a full moult as it has matching gaps on both wings. The harriers are frequently mobbed by corvids and Kites and on Saturday I watched one of the harriers in a dispute with both a Kite and a Raven. There appear to be a pair of mature Ravens around and they are accompanied by two juveniles both of which have very short tails and spend quite a lot of time hopping about on the ground whilst being dive bombed by Lapwings and Redshanks.
Raven and Lapwings (c) JR
Both the Lapwings and Redshanks have young to protect, careful scoping of Big Otmoor in particular, will reveal chicks in various stages of development accompanied by solicitous parents. There were also seven Ringed Plovers out on the same field and on Saturday a lone Black-tailed Godwit.
Alarm calling Redshank (c) JR
The amazing productivity of this field is manifest by the huge numbers of well grown goslings that can be seen out there. In one crèche of Canada Geese four adults were escorting twenty six large goslings and that was by no means the only group there were four or five other nurseries in double figures. Their large numbers may also reflect the efficacy of the anti predator fence in reducing mammalian predation.
Common Tern (c) Bark
There are a pair of Common Terns using the raft on the northern reedbed and another pair look to be displaying with a view to breeding out on Big Otmoor. It is good to get such close up views of these delicate sleek birds hunting for fish along the ditches and over the lagoons. At least twelve Little Egrets were feeding out to the west of the second screen along the river Ray and a further two were on Ashgrave. A female Shoveller was out on the southern lagoon with a clutch of nine ducklings.
Poppy (c) Bark
The cool conditions have meant that fewer dragonflies have been on the wing but on the plus side when the sun has come out it has encouraged both Grass Snakes and Common Lizards out to bask.
This weekend we started to see what we call “the springwatch effect”. It is clear to see that many people are inspired by what they see on TV to take themselves and children out in order to experience something of what they have seen at first hand. By midday the carpark was overflowing and people were parking up the lane. If it is at all possible do try to car share or if you're feeling energetic you could walk down from the village. However it is really encouraging to see so much interest and the more people who care about wildlife and wild places the more people there will be to defend them.
With the years first Quail heard up on the Downs it should not be too long before their “wet my lips” call is heard on Otmoor again. I will be out listening next week.
Busy Bluetit (c) Bark