Monday, 24 August 2015

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd August

Whinchat (c) JR
Autumn always comes early for birders with the surge of passage migrants heading south. It starts as a trickle in mid July but by mid August has become a steady flow. It has been particularly noticeable on the moor this year.
Wader passage has been steady with two Green Sandpipers and a lone Black-tailed Godwit present in front of the first screen on Saturday and two Greenshanks there on Sunday evening. There are variable numbers of Snipe feeding in the same areas but it is impossible to guess whether they are resident post breeders or the beginning of the winter influx.

Blackwit, Green Sand and Common Sand (c) JR
It was clear this weekend that the large roaming flocks of mixed tits and warblers have either moved on or dispersed. There are still individuals both adults and juveniles to be found. Most of the warbler species were seen this weekend or in the case of Cetti’s, heard from several different locations.
The hotspots this weekend were all on the edges of the reserve, namely around Lower Farm at Noke, out at the Pill and in Long Meadow. At Noke all week there have been good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, several Wheatears and a smattering of Whinchats.
Wheatear (c) JR
The latter species seem to be fewer and farther between than in previous years, but this is a subjective judgement and there are many factors that govern how many come this way, how many stop a while and how many just keep going. The Wagtails have been most obliging feeding on the close cropped sheep pastures where they can be seen really well and often flying up onto the wires if spooked. There is a huge variation in colour and pattern between adults and juveniles and between male and female. Some birds are still in moult further complicating the matter. There have also been a few juvenile Pied Wagtails feeding amongst them and a single Green Woodpecker.

Wagtails and Wheatear (c) JR
Out at the Pill on Saturday there was a flock of at least fifty Yellow Wagtails that I only became aware of when they were flushed by a Sparrowhawk. The bird then alighted on a post and was mobbed by the flock for a few minutes before they flew off towards Greenaways. There were a further three Whinchats and a couple of Wheatears in the same area. The Wagtails are probably roosting in the reedbed as they have done in previous years.
Long Meadow is hosting both Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers as well as the regular resident Yellowhammers and Linnets. There were at least five Redstarts there on Sunday and probably the same on Saturday. The best way to see these stunning “fire flirts” is to find a quiet spot to stand in, perhaps with a bush behind you and patiently wait and listen. They will usually give themselves away by their quiet “huweet” contact call. They ambush insects from low down in the bushes and if you are still and silent they can come very close.
Fireflirt (c) JR
Kingfishers are once again both entertaining and frustrating photographers at the first screen and there was a parent and juvenile present together on Saturday the juvenile pestering the parent to feed it. One of the Bitterns was seen to fly low over the reeds on Saturday morning.
(c) JR
Amazing action sequence (c) Pat Galka
Our regular raptors are still around one of the adult Harriers photographed this weekend is looking very tatty as it moults. There are what appear to be two different family groups of Kestrels hunting over the reserve one keeping well to the east the other to the west. Hobbies are still taking advantage of the large numbers of dragonflies around and there have been up to four exploiting this rich but very mobile food source.

Hobby and moulting Harrier (c) JR

Kestrel (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey
Herons and Little egrets continue to exploit the abundance of small fry in the lagoons and a number of Grey Herons can be seen standing like motionless sentinels out on the freshly mown grass. I can only assume that they are waiting to spear some of the small mammals that must have had a good breeding year in the much dryer than normal fields.
Patient Heron (c) JR
Having not seen any for a while it was good to spot some Common Lizards in the area prepared for them by the first screen. With migration getting into full swing who knows what will turn up next perhaps a Crake of a rarer heron, we will be looking.
Common Lizard (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey

Monday, 17 August 2015

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th August

Lesser Whitethroat (c) Early Birder

There was a slight touch of autumn in the air on Saturday morning, a chill and a subtle change in the light. The heavy rain of last week had done little to recharge the scrapes on Big Otmoor and Greenaways and they are now little more than dusty basins. None the less they still held a couple of Green Sands on Sunday with a probable pair of Little Ringed Plovers. On Saturday morning a Dunlin had been feeding around the margins of one of the last remaining puddles on Greenaways.
Plenty for the Herons to eat (c) JR
A visitor reported a Great White Egret with three Little Egrets in front of the first screen early on Saturday morning. It may well be the individual that was around last week it was reported to have flown off in the direction of Oddington.

Warbler selection (c) Early Birder

The walk between the first and second screens took us over an hour on Saturday morning, as we spent almost half an hour watching the massive mixed party of warblers and tits in the heavily brambled corner to the left of the first screen. This is a perfect sheltered suntrap in the morning and the brambles attract lots of insect food. There were very good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats amongst them as well as Common Whitethroats, Sedge and Reed Warblers, Blackcaps and Willow/Chiffs. The party also included at least one Goldcrest, the first I have seen on the moor for a while. As well as feeding the birds were occasionally sitting out in the sunshine and preening. The whole party appeared to have at its core a large number of Long Tailed Tits. Some of them were clearly juvenile and were begging adults for food. As we made our way along the path the main flock preceded us flicking and flitting along the hedgerow.

Warblers and Long Tailed Tit (c) JR

Redstarts are being found in increasing numbers in the regular spots in Long Meadow. They usually reveal their presence with their distinctive “huweet” call and then patient waiting and watching will eventually reveal them as they fly-catch and ambush grasshoppers from low down on the isolated bushes.
The other hotspot this weekend was around the sheep fields and the farm at Noke. This area has always acted like a magnet for Chats and Wheatears and this weekend was no different. We always look around here for the first returning Wheatears in both spring and autumn.

Wheatear and distant whinchat (c) Bark
There must be something very particular about the configuration of close cropped grass, open fields with fences to hunt from and cover. This weekend we saw at least eleven Yellow Wagtails feeding on the short grass sheep field on Saturday morning and while there were not so many evident on Sunday there were over ten Wheatears in the area. There was also a pair of Whinchats that divided their time between the tall reeds on the side of Ashgrave and the barbed wire fence. In three or four weeks time we will also be finding Stonechats along here and then they will spread out across the whole of the reserve to over winter.

Painted Lady and Common Blue with Small Copper (c) Bark
Butterflies were also very much in evidence this weekend very much encouraged by the sunshine. Several Brown Hairstreaks were around the master ash in the Roman Road and three or four Painted ladies were along the main paths. There are still large numbers of Common Blues on the path to the second screen and on Saturday morning we saw a very active Clouded Yellow in Long Meadow.
Our resident Fallow Deer that thinks it's a cow (c) JR

Monday, 10 August 2015

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th August

Wood Sandpiper (c) JR
It felt like  a proper summer weekend, warm and sunny. As the summer draws on, the water level on the reed beds and their lagoons is falling steadily. Transpiration and evaporation mean that more and wider muddy margins are being exposed. These muddy areas are attracting passage waders and this weekends star bird was a Wood Sandpiper that spent a long time feeding on the reed stubbled edges in front of the first screen.
Dropping in (c) JR

It was a very fresh looking individual with crisp vermiculation on its back and a clear bright supercillium. There were two birds present one having been seen briefly on an Greenaways scrape before making off high towards the north west. The reedbed bird spent some time feeding alongside a Green Sandpiper and the differences between them were very obvious.
Green Sand (c) JR
Increasing numbers of Snipe are also taking advantage of this feeding opportunity and it is only with careful observation that they can be picked out among the dead reeds. They are so perfectly camouflaged for feeding unobtrusively in such areas. The small size of all these waders is especially obvious as they feed around and amid the groups of lethargic moulting ducks.

The lagoons themselves appear to host a very healthy population of small fish. There are at least five juvenile Great Crested Grebes and two sets of adults present, the parents appear to have no difficulty in servicing so many mouths. The persistent begging calls of the juveniles is the background sound at the first screen and occasionally provokes an exasperated response from the adult birds.
An exasperated response! (c) JR
Both Little Egrets and Grey Herons also seem to be feeding freely but it must take large numbers of small fry to sustain a large bird like a heron.

Herons and fry (c) JR
As well as significant numbers of juvenile Tits and Warblers we are beginning to see our normal influx of autumn passage migrants.
Redstart (c) Badger
Four Redstarts were seen over the weekend just off the reserve and there seems to be a  fluctuating number of Spotted Flycatchers around with a maximum count of six on Saturday and they probably come from two separate families.
Spot Fly (c) JR
I watched two juveniles feeding independently on Saturday morning needing no help at all in picking up their prey from around the water trough in Long meadow. A fine Wheatear was on the gate south of the Hide on Saturday and another on the fence around Big Otmoor.
Wheatear (c) Bark
There are still four Marsh Harriers present although they are seldom seen together. The juvenile birds are wandering over the whole of the moor and the parent birds are hunting beyond the reserve. The male is now well into moult and his paler male feathers are now becoming much more obvious.
Male Marsh Harrier looking very tatty (c) JR
The Harriers are taking advantage of the growing Starling roost plunging into the assembling flock. Their numbers are rising steadily although still modest by winter standards.
The Roman Road area is attracting lots of visitors who come especially to see the Brown Hairstreaks, it is very pretty along there at the moment with an abundance of hedgerow flowers in a variety of colours.

Brimstone and Brown Hairstreak (c) Bark
I hope that the reedbed margins continue to pull in passage waders and I look forward to finding more passage passerines over the next few weeks.

Reed Warbler and  Chiffy (c) Bark

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd August

Great White Egret (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Although we are supposed to be in the birding “doldrums,”this has not really been  the case on Otmoor. There is and has been lots to see..
I have spent some considerable time looking out over the reedbed recently, in an effort to nail down the gender and maturity of the Bitterns that have been very obvious over the reeds during the past three or four weeks. It is beautiful and almost mesmeric to spend a couple of hours just scanning back and fore across the surface of the reeds. Early in the morning they are opalescent while lightly covered with dew and as the dew burns off they turn darker and more of a soft lovat green. They are in almost constant movement even in the lightest winds and at other times it would be easy to see them as a slightly choppy sea. There are certainly still some Bitterns moving around, visible briefly as they transfer from one feeding area to another and are seldom in the air for more than ten seconds. There are certainly two and probably three different individuals. Seeing them fairly frequently over the weekend did nothing to dilute the thrill that I always get from seeing such a charismatic bird.
Bittern (c) JR
A Great White Egret appeared on Thursday last week and stayed until late on Friday. Always beautiful to see it dwarfed its “little” congeners from the first screen.
Little egret (c) JR
Also on Thursday the first Siskins of the year were seen, being pursued over the reedbed by a Sparrowhawk  there were certainly four to start with, but we have no idea how many made it over to the other side!
The paths are certainly thronged with juvenile birds some so recently fledged that their gape is still very obvious. Perhaps their numbers give them confidence but they are very approachable.

Juveniles (c) JR
Spotted Flycatchers are now feeding two youngsters and indeed the young birds are beginning to manage very capably on their own. A couple of Green Sandpipers have been seen on both days and the Marsh Harriers continue to put on quite a show, not just over the reedbed now but ranging further out over the reserve.
Green Sand (c) JR
The Starling roost is beginning to put on quite a show with the birds feeding out in the grassland during the daytime and coming into the reedbed at dusk. they flicker and flash in front of the reeds as they settle, not yet the full murmuration but beautiful to see.
Starlings at dusk (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

There has been another large hatch of Common Blue butterflies along the trail to the second screen reminding us of the last massive hatch in 2009. There were well over a thousand on Sunday morning and they were mostly males, which I suppose ensures the fertilisation of any females that appear.
Brown Hairstreak (c) Pete Law
Brown Hairstreaks are now on the wing in their regular haunts. It is a pity that in pursuit of the perfect close up, enthusiasts sometimes trample down vegetation that is vital to other species.
We are now getting into the start of real migration and I fully expect much more of an influx of Wheatears, Whinchats and of course Waders.........wonderful.

Sprawk and Common Snipe over the reedbed (c) JR
Great white Egret from the first screen.