Monday, 25 April 2016

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th April

Gropper (c) JR
At the risk of sounding like some xenophobic rant from Nigel Farage, “migrants are continuing to pour in”! It was cool and breezy at the weekend, but the moor was still alive with birdsong and busily foraging new arrivals.
Bumble Bee gathering pollen (c) Norman Smith
The blackthorn is in full frothing bloom and provides an insect rich feeding ground for small passerines and highly picturesque song posts for territorial males in search of a mate.

Sedgie and Lesser Whitethroat (c) JR

Two Grasshopper Warblers were reeling in the car park field and along the track to the first screen. There were several other individuals both out at the pill and on the Oddington side. The bird along the path to the screen had clearly not read the manual and was the opposite of “skulking” (as the books insist on describing them) it reeled out its mechanical call from the top and sides of a bare willow.
Singing Sedgie (c) Derek Lane
I first heard and then saw my first Common Whitethroats of the year, while Lesser Whitethroats appear to have returned in good numbers, if judging by the number of singing males is anything to go by. Wrens were calling from almost every bramble often disputing loudly with close neighbours.
Wren (c) Derek Lane
At least two Cuckoos were present on Saturday, however at least five different individuals were about last Wednesday.
Cuckoo last week (c) Tom N-L
Over the reedbed on Saturday there was a mixed flock of all three common Hirundines. They were flying just above the reed tops and close to the water presumably feeding on an emerging hatch of flies. Amongst them were several Swifts the first I have seen this year and a little earlier than we expect to see them.
On Saturday two Common Terns were over the second lagoon feeding and shrieking.
Common Tern (c) JR
The Bar tailed Godwit from early last week has moved on but I was fortunate enough to find a lone Whimbrel on Noke sides early on Sunday morning it flew off giving its characteristic “seven whistles”. Out on the North Pill Ground and beyond seven Curlew were both seen and heard.
Greenshank Closes (c) Tom N-L
We observed some strange Redshank behaviour on Saturday morning out on Big Otmoor. Seven or eight individuals gathered around a small area and started performing a strange low hovering flight a few feet off the ground. As they did this they were joined by more and more individuals until there were twenty-five birds there taking it in turns to flutter and hover over the area. We could not hear any alarm calls but it was probably a mobbing activity, a Grass Snake perhaps or even a weasel. After five or so minutes they began to lose interest and drift away. There is always something new to see on Otmoor.
Redshank (c) Tom N-L
The large female Peregrine that has been seen regularly was there on both days this weekend. She can often be seen out on the posts on the far side of Greenaways and at other times out on the posts on Ashgrave some way up the hill.
I was unable to find a Whinchat this weekend but one had been seen earlier in the week. A search up near the farm at Noke and out out on the Pill failed to turn one up, but I did find three Wheatears feeding under and around the sheep and lambs on the short grass at Noke.
The first week in May is usually the time that Hobbies arrive en-masse and can be seen feeding on St Marks Flies as they drift across Greenaways. At least one has already arrived as can be seen in the superb pictures by Roger Wyatt of one being pursued by a Merlin in the skies above Greenaways. We have often noticed that these two species of falcon overlap by a couple of weeks in both Spring and Autumn.
We are now getting into the anxious period of waiting to see whether our Turtle Doves make it back to the moor. Let’s hope that they have wintered safely, that the weather on their migration has helped them on their way and they have avoided the barrage of shooters all the way here. Fingers crossed!

Roe Deer Swimming on Closes before being chased off by Lapwings (c) JR

Monday, 18 April 2016

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th April

Lesser Whitethroat (c) Tezzer

It is difficult to imagine a weekend with two such contrasting days. A cold wet snowstorm on Saturday morning, blown in on a bitter northerly wind and then the brightest finest sunny day on Sunday. Changeable is the key feature of the weather at this time of year.
What we were able to see was massively influenced by the conditions. Despite the adverse conditions on Saturday there were still birds singing and on Sunday they were even more vociferous and numerous.
Sedgie (c) Tezzer
Sedge Warblers are now well established across the moor. When I visited the Oddington side on Thursday I encountered five in a one hundred metre stretch of path. They are calling in their manic excited way and by Sunday I saw one or two making their first parachute display flights. Reed Warblers were somewhat behind Sedge in arriving, but they too are starting to take up territory along the bridleway and out on the reedbed. We heard and saw Lesser Whitethroats rattling out their Yellowhammer like calls. They are already calling from places where they were found in other years, it is interesting to speculate whether it is the same birds returning to the same spots or is it just that some places are Lesser Whitethroat’s ideal homes. Blackcaps are singing all along the Roman Road they really favour this more wooded area.
Singing Chiffy (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

The wind and sleet on Saturday morning had pushed down a mixed flock of Hirundines onto the reedbed. There were at least a hundred and fifty birds. They were mostly Swallows but there were both Sand and House Martins amongst them. They perched rather bedraggled on the reed stems some with their wings slightly open, possibly in an attempt to dry them out. 
Swallow (c) Derek Lane
A walk down to Noke on Sunday morning failed to turn up the Black- tailed Godwit on Big Otmoor that we had hoped to see, it must have moved on, however we did find seven Wheatears feeding out on one of the sheep fields near Lower Farm. We were fairly sure that we had just seen females but other observers found some males amongst them.
There were two Ringed Plovers feeding out around the edge of the largest pool in front of the hide on Ashgrave. The only other notable waders that we saw were two small flocks of Golden Plover. One party of twenty and another of nine. They must be passage birds as the wintering flocks have been gone for several weeks.
Little Ringed Plover (c) Derek Lane
There has been a good passage of Yellow Wagtails with birds seen out in the fields and also being noted going to roost in the reedbed, on several evenings. Bullfinches are very much in evidence too, revealing their presence more often by their quiet call rather than the male’s stunning pink colour.
Male Bullfinch (c) Norman Smith
There is still a Short-eared Owl putting appearances around the reserve. On Sunday morning it was hunting over the eastern edge of Ashgrave. Barn Owls are also being seen both mornings and evenings along the bridleway and in the Carpark Field, occasionally coming very close to people. On Saturday evening one was seen to catch a vole and then sit on a post out in the open and eat it whole.
Barn Owl along the bridleway (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
The warmer weather has brought commoner butterflies out of hibernation and we have seen most of the species that overwinter as adults. We have yet to notice any Orange Tips.

Tatty Peacock (c) Tezzer..... Small Tort. (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

On Saturday evening a couple of Otmoor regulars were treated to a good sighting of an Otter in the northern lagoon. From its size they took it to be a male. One of the viewers has been coming to Otmoor for more years than me and it was the first he had seen. It just goes to show how elusive and secretive these beautiful creatures are.
The Grass Snakes beside the bridleway are proving to be very popular with visitors. When they lay out basking on flattened down reeds they are easy to find. It is good to be able to point them out to people who have never seen them before.
Two headed Grass Snake? (c) Tezzer
On Monday morning a Whitethroat was found over on the Oddington Side and a Cuckoo has been seen and heard over Ashgrave. This brings the current yearlist up to one hundred and twenty-six species.
We spent some time on Sunday trying to turn a distant raptor on a post on the far side of Greenaways into a Hobby. We were undecided and in the end and it went down as a “possible”. By next weekend it should be definite!
The showery weather has given us some stunning sunsets (c) Tom N-L

Monday, 11 April 2016

Saturday and Sunday 9th and 10th April

Fireflirt (c) Tezzer

Spring is really underway and despite a stiff breeze at times and occasional showers the weekend was often sunny and it felt warm once the nightime chill had worn off.
There have been some unexpected visitors over the past few days. Most unexpected was a stunning, summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe that swam into sight at the first screen on Friday morning and stayed around for most of the day. The last record of this species on Otmoor was a winter plumage bird that turned up in October 1999 and stayed for several days.

Black necked Grebe Upper(c) JR lower (c) Derek Lane
The next unexpected visitors, although not so uncommon as the Grebe, were a pair of Avocets, brilliantly picked out on the far reaches of Big Otmoor by Pete Roby. They stayed all day and into the evening, they seemed very settled and were indulging in some courtship behaviour. Sadly, by Sunday morning they had disappeared, it might well be that they have decamped to one of the quieter and less populous parts of the reserve such as the Flood Field or Maltpit. Big Otmoor is busy, holding large numbers of nesting geese and also several pairs of Black Headed Gulls that seem to be preparing to breed.
Distant Avocets (c) JR

As we predicted last week both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler returned. Sedge warbler on Wednesday and on Saturday a singing Reed Warbler calling from the depths of the reedbed at the second screen. Elsewhere Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were ubiquitous. In the vicinity of the carpark there were several competing Blackcaps. One visitor thought that he had heard Grasshopper Warbler in the Carpark Field but sadly it was not possible to corroborate the record. Cetti’s are being heard all the way to Noke and out at the reedbed.

Redstarts Upper (c) JR lower (c) Tezzer

On Sunday we found three male Redstarts in Long Meadow brilliant in their best summer plumage, but by Monday morning they appeared to have moved on. They are one of the most spectacular and exotic looking British birds that are fairly easy to see. There were several Wheatears seen. A couple of females feeding among the sheep at Noke and other single birds on Greenways and Noke Sides. On Saturday at least fifteen Yellow Wagtails were out on Big Otmoor and a smaller number of them were seen going to roost in the reedbed at dusk.

Oystercatchers (c) JR

Noke Sides is still a good place to find waders. On Sunday there were two Little Ringed Plovers scuttling about in the grass, a Dunlin was also there and we found a Common Sandpiper as well. In recent years this has not been an easy bird to find on Otmoor. There are still lots of Redshanks feeding alongside the wet features in the field and a number of what seem to be unmated Lapwings.
Redshank (c) JR
The Bittern put in several appearances this weekend, both when relocating within the reedbed and also when flushed by one or other of the Marsh Harriers. The Harriers were ever present and it was not clear whether there were three or four individuals. A pair of Common Buzzards were seen frequently one individual appearing particularly pale. As last week the female Peregrine spent some time sitting out on one of the posts at the far side of Greenaways and from time to time this bird or its mate would send the remaining ducks into panic. All but a handful of Wigeon have now gone but the Garganey are still with us although very elusive, they obliged by putting in an appearance when the Grebe was holding centre stage on Friday. Two Shelduck have also been present on Ashgrave and occasionally out on Noke Sides
Shelduck (c) JR
The Grey Herons that are nesting in the reedbed are putting on a great show in front of the first screen, but I am not sure whether the nests out from the hide in the old gnarled oak tree are still being occupied.
Grass Snake (c) JR
Both Grass Snakes and Common Lizards could be seen taking advantage of the sunshine at the weekend. The Snakes basking on the flattened reeds beside the bridleway and the Lizards on the logs and tiles by the first screen.
Finally, there have been a couple of Rabbits spotted by the first screen and I saw one myself in the carpark a week or so ago. They are very unusual to find so far down the hill and on the wetter ground. If you live in a burrow a floodplain is not a very safe place to set up home!

Vociferous wren (c) JR

Avocets on Big Otmoor courtesy of Badger please view at 720p.