Tuesday, 26 July 2016

July 23rd - 25th

White Stork (c) Tezzer

We are still expecting to enter the midsummer “doldrums” but events on the moor keep happening to keep us interested and excited.
There are Common Cranes, Hobbies lots of Little Egrets and very frequent Bitterns. Unfortunately, the Turtle Doves are not so easily seen and heard at the moment and we have yet to see any evidence of juveniles, which is a bit worrying.
Juvenile Blue Tit (c) Derek Lane
There are lots of young birds in the hedgerows in mixed flocks. Elsewhere it is possible to find adult birds feeding youngsters, like the reed warblers that were being kept busy provisioning their just fledged chicks in the reeds beside the bridleway. The young birds were keeping up a persistent clamour to attract the attention of their parents.
Reed Warblers clamouring to be fed. (c) JR
There is plenty of food for the adult birds to find for their young. There are insects everywhere and mostly in profusion. There are certainly very large numbers of the biting horsefly types! The weather has not been so good for butterflies though; my purely subjective view is that there are not as many to be seen as we expect at this time of year. The first Brown Hairstreaks were seen at the weekend in their regular haunts and over the next few weeks they will be attracting good numbers of butterfly aficionados to the reserve. Dragonflies however, after a slow start, are really getting going and most open water has resident hawkers and chasers, while darters hunt from the hedgerows. The Hobbies are getting going earlier in the morning to take advantage of this more abundant food source. On Saturday morning there were two birds swooping low and fast along the ditches on the eastern side of Greenaways, jinking rapidly and then suddenly flying up with a dragonfly in the talons, eating it whilst on the wing and then resuming the hunt. When they come so close it is possible to really appreciate their speed and agility.
Common Tern with food (c) Derek Lane
Even though we have nearly reached the end of July there are still Snipe drumming over the reserve and it is possible to hear birds “chipping” on the ground. This suggests a long breeding season for our resident birds and more than one brood.
On Monday afternoon a White Stork was seen circling over and then landing on Ashgrave. It later moved to the sheep fields at Noke. Its tale is a fascinating one and can be read in full on the Oxon Birding Blog. It did not stay long but may very well be back as it seems to have been wandering around Oxfordshire for the last few weeks. Whether we will be able to retain a Polish Stork after Brexit is yet one more thorny issue thrown up by the referendum result!!
White Stork over the reserve (c) Tezzer
There are at least twenty Little Egrets on the reserve at the moment. They spend their time loafing on the leafless willows on the southern reedbed but fly out over the whole area to feed.
Loafing Egrets (c) Derek Lane
There are fish in the main lagoons, I saw one of the Great Crested Grebes catch two small pike at the weekend, but the deeper ring diches are extremely well stocked with fish both large and small. I am very surprised that they have not yet joined our list of breeding species, although I did notice an individual rearranging sticks on the far willow. They have also been spending time close to the Herons nest in the dead oaks on Ashgrave.
Great Crested Grebe with small pike (c) JR
We are still monitoring the increase in Bittern activity on and around the reedbeds. As yet we are unable to draw any firm conclusions from it but in time we may. Reedbeds are very difficult secret places to watch and deductions and conjectures are based on behaviour patterns and supposition rather than empirical evidence. If and when we do come to any conclusions they will be reported here.
Bittern in transit. (c) JR
The Great White Egret at Pit 60 is probably a wanderer from the established breeding population on the Somerset Levels. We have hosted several over the last few years and were this bird or some of the other dispersing individuals to realise just how well stocked with food our ditches are, then I am sure they will be back.
Male Redstart (c) Pete Roby
Long Meadow is once again hosting Redstarts, as it always seems to do at this time of year and also a Spotted Flycatcher yesterday. Sadly, they do not appear to have bred so close to the reserve as they did last year. The Bearded Tits from last week have very annoyingly gone quiet again, hopefully next week we can re-find them.
Sedgie (c) JR

Teazel (c) Derek Lane

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Saturday and Sunday 16th and17th July

Bittern (c) Lew

The moor changes rapidly in early summer but as we move into July and August the pace of change slackens. There was a however a very different look to the place when I went down this weekend after a fortnights absence. Where there had been hundreds of shades of green across the grassland there are now many soft subtle shades of yellow, orange and ochre. The different grasses have set seed and their long stems ripple like the sea as the wind passes over them. The only vivid splashes of green now are along the edges of the ditches, around the scrapes and from the reedbed where the phragmites reeds have now overtopped last year’s dead stems. Out on the far side of Greenaways, if one is lucky and looking the right way, the head and neck of one or both of our Cranes can appear, just peering above the grasses, a measure of just how long and lush the vegetation has become.
Great spot (c) JR

As is to be expected we are now seeing large mixed flocks of Tits and Warblers moving along the hedgerows in loose parties. The groups often include birds from seven or eight different species, all taking advantage of having many eyes on the lookout for danger. Such a group on Sunday morning included Willow and Reed Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats a couple of Treecreepers and three species of Tits. The juvenile Blue and Great Tits standing out in their fresh yellowish plumage. A Grasshopper Warbler is reeling in the Car park field again. Clearly a bird bent on a second brood.
Little Egret (c) JR
Little Egrets are very much in evidence across the whole reserve. I saw a group of fourteen flush from the Flood field in response to a flyover from one of the Marsh Harriers. They may be feeding of froglets and toadlets which can sometimes be seen in the dewy grass along the bridle way early in the morning or perhaps taking advantage of the huge abundance of grasshoppers in the fields. As for the Marsh Harriers, they appear to have raised only one chick this year, it is very distinctive in its fresh chocolate coloured plumage with a large dab of custard on its head.
Juvenile Marsh Harrier (c) Badger
The first returning waders have been recorded. Common Sandpiper was present on both days this weekend and a Greenshank was seen on Saturday. Green Sandpipers have also been seen on the scrapes on Greenaways and on Noke Sides. Snipe are still drumming but we would expect that behaviour to stop soon. As the water levels on the southern lagoon drop, due to evaporation in the heat and transpiration from the reeds, there will be some very wader friendly patches of mud emerging. It should certainly be worth keeping an eye on this area over the coming weeks.
Common Sand at first screen. Tiny when next to a Mallard. (c) Andy Last
Bearded Tits were heard and seen briefly last weekend in the ditch beside the bridleway, the last birds seen were by the balancing pond at Noke back in the spring and we had assumed that they were just passing through. There are many clumps of reed that are isolated and not near enough to regular trails to enable visitors or wardens to pick up the distinctive pings. They may very well have been spending their time out of sight and earshot so any sightings and even better photographs, would be welcome and enable them to be aged and sexed.
Yellow Wagtail at Noke (c) Badger
A male Redstart was seen on Sunday in one of their regular autumn haunts and a Whinchat was seen close to the hide last week. There were a couple of Yellow Wagtails near the farm at Noke and as we move into August I would expect more of them to turn up, feeding around the legs of the sheep in the close cropped paddocks. Six, including a couple of juveniles, were in the reedbed on Monday morning.

(c) Lew

and even on the bridleway (c) Norman Smith

Bitterns have been very active over the past few weeks. They are flying frequently from place to place in the reedbed and beyond, out onto Greenaways, Big Otmoor and as far as Ashgrave. There are certainly two individuals. One is slightly darker than the other and has some minor damage to the tips of its primaries on the right wing. It was even seen standing on the bridleway at one point. Anyone spending time at the first screen should see one or other of them in flight at some point although the view will be brief! We are hopeful that we can work out optimal feeding areas and preferred habitats from our observations.

All Hare pics (c) JR

Anyone who would like to see a Brown Hare should spend a little time at the first screen. Our photogenic and fearless leveret is still giving amazing views down to point blank range. It would even be possible to get good pictures of it with a Kodak Box Brownie Camera.
Starlings are already roosting in the reedbed (c) Tom N-L
Beautiful Demoiselle (c) Andy Last

Darters (c) Tom N-L

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

2nd and 3rd July

Kestrel(c) JR
It felt a little more like summer this weekend with bright sunshine and no rain for a couple of days. On both mornings when I arrived there was a Grasshopper Warbler reeling in the car park field. Although not like April and May there is still a dawn chorus to be heard.

Little Egrets going to roost (c) Tom N-L and Roosting (c) JR
What are most noticeable now are the mixed feeding parties of newly fledged Warblers and Tits, with custard coloured blue tits and warblers that still sport a few downy feathers and remnants of a gape. Along the bridleway I watched a young Reed Warbler still being fed by the parents despite being out of the nest. A Nuthatch in the bridleway oak trees was an unusual sighting on Sunday morning.

Long tailed Tits and a juvenile Chiffchaff (c) JR

On both mornings there were Snipe drumming overhead and “chipping” from the sedges and tussocks. It seems likely that they have had a very successful year, the wet weather has ensured that the ground has remained soft and suitable for birds that need to probe for their food.
Chipping Snipe (c) JR
On Sunday morning there were over two hundred Lapwings on Noke Sides. Scanning through them I could see that at least a third of them were juveniles, they have slightly “nicotine stained” faces, have shorter tails and shorter slighter crests. It suggests that our breeding Lapwings have had a good year.

Reedbed Bittern (c) JR

I spent some time on both days watching Bitterns from the high seat on the eastern side of the reedbed. We are observing and recording to see if there is any pattern or significance to their movements within the reedbed. It is important to establish where the best and most productive feeding areas are.
Bittern (c) Norman Smith
There were very large numbers of Swifts feeding low over the reedbed on Saturday morning. It was a little disconcerting at times to have them whizzing past at eye level at times almost parting my hair!

Close Swifts (c) JR

Marsh Harriers are still patrolling over the reedbed and Greenaways. We have seen them carrying prey items into the reeds and emerging without it, I saw such an event on Sunday. This morning (Monday) Paul Greenaway saw the first very uncertain flight of a juvenile bird over the reedbed before it crash landed in a low bush. Thus proving that they have bred successfully for the second year running. We have no way of knowing yet how many have been fledged but over the next week or so it will become clear. Once again we will have the pleasure of watching the food passes and squabbles as the young birds start to fly properly. It once again highlights the quality of the habitat that the RSPB have created on what was once poor arable farmland.
Kestrel (c) JR
A Kestrel was seen twice on Sunday carrying off prey towards the south of Ashgrave. They have not been recorded breeding on the reserve itself but often adults and newly fledged young appear down on the moor as the summer progresses.
Black Hairstreak (c) Pete Roby
The sunshine has encouraged more butterflies and dragonflies to emerge. Black Hairstreaks have been recorded last week and this weekend along the bridleway and the Roman Road, both pristine and rather tatty individuals have been spotted.
Darter sp. (c)Tom N-L
Many more large Dragonflies are now on the wing, there were significant numbers of Brown Hawkers seen on Sunday. As a result, the Hobbies are taking advantage of this abundant food supply and hunting along and over the ditches on Greenaways.
Parties of eclipse ducks and well grown ducklings are on the southern reedbed loafing and preening out their old plumage.
Actually three chicks! (c) Norman Smith
There are now a pair of Great Crested Grebes transporting at least two stripy chicks around on their backs, always good to see.
Wycliffe and Maple Glory (c) Roger Wyatt
The post breeding Common Cranes are still being seen as they move from field to field before disappearing again into the long grass. They are stunningly elegant and graceful when they fly, especially given their height and weight.
Soon there will be post breeding Kingfishers taking advantage of the fry in the shallows and the first returning waders will be on the scrapes. Sometimes the year seems to go round too quickly.
Otmoor Hare reacting to news of Brexit. (c) JR