Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Saturday and Sunday 26th and 27th September

Cetti's Warbler (c) Bark
This weekend produced two days that were just about as fine, bright and sparkling as early autumn days go. The mist lifted rapidly on Saturday and just a little more reluctantly on Sunday. Colours glowed from the hedgerows and birds fed actively in the reedbeds and the bushes.

Lifting mist and Redpoll (c) Bark
There is a lot of seeding willowherb beside the path to the first screen and it was there that I found my first Redpolls of the winter. There were ten or so of them tearing into the seed heads as white down drifted off on the light breeze. There were also a group of Goldfinches in the same area but they were concentrating exclusively on the abundant thistle heads. Two Siskins flew over and another two or three were also seen on Sunday morning on bushes out to the right of the first screen. In the sunshine there were still warblers to be seen gleaning insects from the bushes, principally Chiffchaffs but it was also possible to pick out Lesser Whitethroats, a few Reed Warblers, one Sedgie and a Garden Warbler.

Gleaning warblers (c) Bark
In the Roman Road Blackcaps were seen but it is impossible to know whether they were birds returning for the winter or summer visitors that are yet to leave. Cetti’s Warblers have bounced back very strongly having been wiped out on the moor for nearly two years after two severe winters. There were two birds in bushes around and behind the first screen on Sunday and another two birds reported at the same time up towards the second screen in the reedbed. There was also another bird calling midway along the bridle way near the wooden bench. Lets hope that this winter allows them to continue to thrive.
Lapwings (c) JR and Snipe (c) Bark
Out on the Southern Lagoon the muddy area in front continues to grow, but very slowly. There were a flock of about twenty Lapwings there on both days and over the next few weeks their numbers will start to rise dramatically. Up to thirty Snipe are also around on the margins of the Lagoon, from time to time flying round and round in small flocks without any clear threat or reason. A single Dunlin was picking its way between the Snipe and the Lapwings feeding busily. While we were watching a party of eight Wigeon flew in and joined the handful that were already out at the back of the water.
There was a fine male Stonechat in July’s Meadow on Sunday morning quite a pale coloured individual, since then another three have been reported, both by Lower Farm and out at the Pill.

Corvid Sprawk interaction (c) JR
Sparrowhawks have been very noticeable both male and a large female. Perhaps they have been attracted by the increasing numbers of starlings that are roosting in the reedbed and feeding in the fields. A Barn Owl was seen on Sunday morning perched on the gate to the rifle range. The first Short Eared Owl of the winter was seen being hassled by crows on Thursday afternoon and another or indeed the same one was seen hunting over the MOD on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday morning at least three Kestrels probably a family party were hunting in the bright sunshine calling frequently and chasing each other around they came very close and looked stunning.
Kestrel (c) JR
During the next couple of weeks Fieldfares and Redwings will come in to take advantage of the abundance in the hedgerows, perhaps we will benefit from the irruption of Bearded Tits that happens about now or perhaps it will be a good winter for Bramblings. Be certain we will be out there looking.
Red Moon hand- held long exposure (c) Bark

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th September

Whinchat (c) Jim Hutchins
The weather forecast suggested a warm sunny weekend and although both days improved eventually, when I was on the moor in the mornings it was very foggy. I had been looking forward to getting back down on the reserve after a week in the Spanish sunshine. The mist is of course very atmospheric and the whole place is quiet as the noise of the motorway and the A34 is muffled almost to silence. Only a mournful sounding robin was singing in the car park field and other birds could only be detected by the odd whirr of wings and subdued contact calls.

Webs (c) Bark
At this time of year and in these conditions I am always struck by the sheer numbers of spiders webs and thus the massive numbers of spiders that would normally go unnoticed. The condensed water droplets reveal vegetation festooned with spiral webs and gossamer threads. It is easy to see how birds can find plenty of food foraging through the undergrowth and a substantial part of their diet must consist of spiders.
At the first screen the water levels have dropped much further and are beginning to reveal a very attractive muddy bank and it will not be long before the island in front of the screen appears. There are large numbers of ducks loafing about many of them still in partial moult but some of the drake Mallard are now emerging from their eclipse plumage and beginning to display.
Wigeon (c) Badger
There are Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Ducks and the first of the returning Wigeon out at the back of the lagoon. Herons and Little Egrets continue to hunt the margins and sometimes Kingfishers whizz past, a vivid flash of blue in the gloom. Water Rails are frequently seen and there are still late Reed and Sedge Warblers in the vegetation.
A Sparrowhawk has taken to perching on the willows to the left of the main channel and twice this weekend we saw it launch a surprise attack through the reeds but did not appear to catch anything. Snipe are taking advantage of the stubble of old reeds and are almost impossible to spot unless they move, the Sparrowhawk flushed fourteen of them as it flew through.
Stonechat (c) Badger
Stonechats are now back for the winter and the good passage of Whinchats continues, there were at least thirteen scattered over the moor on Friday. A Stonechat was at the farm and another out on a fence on Greenaways on Sunday.
Whinchats at Noke (c) Jim Hutchins
Hirundines pushed down by the weather were feeding in and around the sheep at Noke and as the weather finally brightened Hobbies were reported hunting dragonflies over Greenaways.

Hobby and Kestrel (c) JR
A Merlin was seen on Friday and there are usually a couple of weeks in both Spring and Autumn when they overlap. Soon we can look out for more winter visitors perhaps Short Eared Owls, Hen Harriers or even a Great Grey Shrike. It would be even better if we had clear conditions in which to look for them!

Autumn Colour (c) Bark

Monday, 7 September 2015

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th September

Swallow from the first screen (c) JR
If autumn was hovering in the doorway last weekend this weekend it truly arrived. Saturday was grey cold, windy and rainy but Sunday was the finest kind of September day. From the top of the lane on Sunday morning the bottom of the moor was wreathed in a soft shallow silver mist, from which the tops of the trees stood out like islands in an inland sea. The whole was bathed in a cool golden light and the sky a peerless blue. 
The moor has something of a transit lounge about it at present, there are birds coming and going but not in any great numbers. The regular residents are quiet and going about their business steadily but the big influx of proper winter visitors has yet to happen.

Willow Chiffs in long meadow (c) Bark
There were mixed flocks of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs moving along the hedgerows, gleaning insects and occasionally fly-catching. It really is a clear example of feeding on the move and these warblers are most likely to have bred or been fledged further north. From the first screen on Sunday both Reed and Sedge Warblers could be seen feeding busily, low along the reed margins close to the water. They favoured the sunniest spots as presumably the insect life gets going soonest in the warmest areas after a night as chilly as the one that had just passed.
Sedgie (c) JR
On Saturday there was just one Whinchat on the wires near the farm at Noke and the Stonechats have yet to arrive. 
Snipe are still feeding and roosting among the cut reed stems. On Sunday we saw at least one adult and two juvenile Water Rails scuttling about on the muddy bank to the left of the main channel.
Scuttling  Rail (c) JR
Duck numbers are just beginning to creep up, there were four Wigeon and at least twelve Teal on the southern reedbed. In addition to the moulting Mallard there were more Shovellers and a couple of Pochard present and already moulted, freshly plumaged Gadwall. Kingfishers continued to use the dead trees as lookout points and were constantly catching small fry, they did not however show any interest in getting too close to the screen and the waiting battery of cameras!
Autumn Bounty (c) Bark
The hedgerows are now laden with fruit. Hips, haws, sloes and blackberries shine out in shades of red, purple and blue. The sloes are particularly prolific this year in some places and the subtle bloom over their dark black skins make them look as if they were touched by the early mist. All this banquet awaits now is the birds to feed on it.
Lots of Herons (c) JR

Red Backed Shrike now confirmed in July's Meadow bird number one hundred and fortysix for the year list!

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Tuesday, 1 September 2015

August Bank Holiday Weekend

Wryneck (c) Early Birder
I had intended to do a roundup of the whole bank holiday weekend. As the rain teems down steadily this morning and the weather forecaster is promising more of the same all day, I suspect there will not be much to report from the moor today.(Monday)
There have been suggestions of Autumn over the last few weeks and it seemed even more autumnal this weekend. It may be the phragmites reeds having flowered with their purplish tassels  softening and subduing the bright green of the reedbed, then again it could be the thistles that have set seed and drifted pale thistledown over the hedgerow herbage. Vegetation looks tired and ragged yet the hedgerows are still a long way from turning to the true colours of fall.
Where is it? (c) Early Birder
The birdlife this weekend also reflected the changes that are occurring with passage migrants moving through and the last of our summer visitors feeding up before going south. The most exciting and uncommon of the visitors was a Wryneck found by Mark Chivers along the path to the first screen from the bridleway. As most of my friends know, this has been a “bogey” bird for me. I had never seen one in Oxfordshire having missed through travel, bad luck and on one occasion ineptitude, all of the previous ones over the last fifteen years. Having been called as soon as it was found I made my way back down to Otmoor to try to catch up with this unusual species on my regular patch. The bird had been taking advantage of the ant colonies beside the footpath, but with it being a footpath it was being regularly flushed by visitors who needed to walk through. I arrived at one of these moments when the bird had decided to spend some time in the depths of a bush. I did eventually see it as did a number of other people several times during the afternoon sadly it was not seen again after about four o’clock and there was no sign of it on Sunday. I was especially pleased as it was the one hundred and forty fifth species for the moor this year and my two hundred and sixty first for Oxfordshire.
There are fewer warblers around (C) JR
On Saturday there was a fine male Wheatear out on Big Otmoor and at least three Whinchats on both days along the path up to July’s Meadow. There were also several at other spots, both around the reserve and out at the Pill.

The most photographed Kingfisher anywhere. top two (c) JR lower one (c) Tom N-L
The photographic stars of the weekend and last week have undoubtedly been the Kingfishers from the first screen. It was indicative of the change that is happening in birding, that when one of them, a juvenile female, landed on the perch right beside the screen and then stayed there for over five minutes, all that could be heard was the machine gun rattle of camera shutters taking ten frames a second. A bit like the start of a battle but happily without the resulting carnage! We all delight in the stunning images that result none more than myself, who illustrates a blog with the resulting pictures. At one point on Saturday there were three Kingfishers there.

Water Rail in transit. (c) JR
Sit at the first screen for any amount of time and sooner of later you should see a Water Rail making its way stealthily along the reedy margins before flying across the open water to disappear back into the reeds.
Not one to share with the chick. (c) JR
The last Great Crested Grebe chick is still trying to beg food from its parent but is increasingly being ignored and is hunting for itself. One of the Bitterns gave us a lengthy flypast on Sunday morning having been flushed from the grass beside the visitor trail. We speculated that it might have been hunting small frogs in the wet grass as we had seen several crossing the path.
At least two Marsh Harriers are still around as are several Hobbies. A Peregrine made a low and fast pass over the reeds on Saturday and a Sparrowhawk is frequently being seen from the hide.
There are still plenty of Snipe to be seen. (c) JR
Water levels have crept up a bit on the southern reedbed and we have yet to see the small island in front of the screen or the extensive muddy area to the right and behind the reeds. If the water levels do draw down a bit more over the next few weeks it will be definitely be the place to watch.
Hares are easy to see now the grass has been cut. (c) Early Birder