Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Round-up 22nd August

Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark

Summer retreated this weekend and gave us an early taste of autumn, with occasional squally showers and strong winds.
Not surprisingly the birds were keeping their heads down and so seeing anything well was always a bit tricky. But with some effort there were some good things to be found.
It is a challenge when you find a mixed feeding party and we spent some time on Sunday morning along the path to the second screen, going through a mixed flock of warblers and tits. There were neat dapper Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats, slim very yellow Willow Warblers, dumpy Chiffchaffs and acrobatic Long Tailed Tits. One Willow Warbler was still singing from time to time very quietly, as if wistfully recalling the spring.
Reed warbler (c) Tom N-L
Earlier in the week the Common Cranes were seen to fly very high and then drift off in a south westerly direction. They have not been spotted since and have probably headed off towards the Somerset Levels, where they were known to have spent last winter. We will be keenly watching out for their return next spring.
Female Common Blue (c) Bark
There have been more waders coming through and they are taking advantage of the growing area of mud in front of the first screen and the shrinking scrapes on Greenaways. There have been a steady stream of Greenshanks coming through with a peak count of nine on Thursday. A party of Bar-tailed Godwits flew through on Thursday but didn’t stay. Green Sandpipers have also been coming through I saw three on the southern lagoon on Thursday evening, on Tuesday a Common Sandpiper was there. The muddy margins in front of the first screen are a magnet for Snipe either dozing preening or feeding busily. When not alarmed they have quite an unhurried flight and sometimes jump up and flutter their wings before carrying on feeding. This is also a great place to see Water Rails. There were three there on Thursday two different adults and a juvenile. The juvenile was still pursuing the adult for and begging for food. Bitterns are still being seen regularly, I had excellent views on Saturday of a flypast, but they are appearing less frequently than they were a couple of weeks ago.
Purple Heron Thursday (c) Paul Brennan
The Purple Heron is still present but has become even more reclusive than before. It is putting in just one or two brief appearances a day when it relocates from one feeding area to another. When another one appeared near Coventry we naturally assumed that it was “our” bird. Later the same day however ours reappeared. The other bird was also a juvenile and we idly speculated where they could have come from and if they might have even been from the same brood.
There are still some large Pike in the southern lagoon. (c) Paul Brennan
Long Meadow still harbours passage Redstarts and will do for the next few weeks. They are not always easy to find being very flighty. Patience usually pays off, keeping still and quiet and watching for a flash of rusty red. They move from bush to bush and perch low down looking for insects in the grass. Their “huweet” contact call is also a giveaway to their presence. Similar to the Willow-chiff call but longer and slightly deeper. There were also a small family party of Spotted Flycatchers there on Thursday, two of the juveniles still looking very downy and being fed by the adult, suggesting that they had not come very far from the nest.
Spotted Flycatchers (c) Paul Brennan
There was a female Wheatear at Noke on the fence of one of the sheep fields on Sunday and on Thursday at least fifteen Yellow Wagtails. They appear to be roosting in the reedbed that runs along the northern edge of Ashgrave. Starlings have started to mass for roosting at the main reedbed. There are at least a couple of thousand coming in already and although the pre roost flypast is not the mass murmuration of the winter it can still be spectacular. It is a much more unhurried business while it is warm and light. It is also likely to be accompanied by a spectacular sunset. 

Such sunsets as these ....(c) Tom N-L

Monday, 15 August 2016

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th August

Purple Heron (c) JR
The Purple Heron was still the star of the show this weekend, but like many human celebrities was becoming more and more reclusive making infrequent and unpredictable appearances. On Saturday it spent a lot of time in the northern reedbed. People coming to see it waited patiently and occasionally impatiently, in the first and second screens, only for it to appear up over Greenaways briefly before hiding away again in one of the ditches. Clearly reluctant to face its public and their cameras. I was fortunate enough to see it very well and quite close on Saturday morning when, for some unknown reason, it flushed out of the reedbed along with three Grey Herons. It attempted to perch in an oak tree adjacent to the track to the second screen before flying back over into the eastern side of the reedbed.
Attempting to land in an oak (c) JR

There was however a good supporting cast of other birds to keep everyone interested and entertained. Bitterns were still flying back and forth low in front of the first screen, particularly frequently on Saturday morning. There are several different individuals differentiated by their subtly different colouring, the degree of abrasion on their wing tips and nicks or gaps in their primaries.

There are eight Mandarin ducks still spending most of their time on the southern lagoon. They are very elegant birds even in eclipse, with delicate white eye lines. On Sunday six of them were sitting along the main trunk of the dead willow in front of the first screen looking very exotic. There was some speculation as to what the noun of aggregation is for Mandarins. Two suggestions seemed most apposite PG’s “a Mikado” or perhaps JR’s contribution “a tin”!

Mandarins (c) JR

The Common Cranes have been moving between Greenaways and Big Otmoor, always seeming to fly in unison with synchronised wing beats and making stately progress. They were also visible on the far side of the field on Saturday stalking through the grass and feeding, although the distant scope views were hazy and shimmering. All three of the resident Marsh Harriers were seen over the weekend. They are now hunting separately and the juvenile seems to be independent.
Sedgie (c) JR

More passage migrants are appearing. There were a remarkable thirteen Redstarts in Long Meadow on last Wednesday and on Sunday as we stood on the bridleway scanning for the Heron we spotted three Whinchats out in the middle of Greenaways. There had also been three at the Pill on Saturday. A Wheatear was spotted out on Greenaways on Saturday and was seen to move on towards the Noke end. At least seven Yellow Wagtails were on and around the barn and farmhouse at Noke on Sunday but the grass is just too long in the sheep field to see them really well.
Juvenile Cuckoo (c) JR

Another different juvenile Cuckoo was being fed in the hedgerow beside the bridleway giving patient photographers some excellent photo opportunities. Other mixed parties of warblers and tits could be found everywhere but particularly along the bridleway. Flocks of adult and juvenile Goldfinches are feeding on seeding thistles and on the maturing Teasels. Starlings are beginning to gather in post breeding flocks and I understand that there is already a large number coming in to the reedbed to roost. The juveniles often appear to have whitish heads and at a distance can be difficult to see as simply starlings!
Linnets are looking very smart (c) JR

I hope that the Purple Heron hangs around a bit longer but if its current pattern continues we will only realise it has gone when we haven’t seen it for a few days.

Common Cranes on Otmoor please view at 720p HD

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

August 6th and 7th and Purple Heron

Purple Heron (c) Tezzer
Just when you think that the summer quiet time has arrived something special comes along to prove you wrong. Saturday and Sunday had been good days on the moor with some nice birds to be seen but certainly nothing especially out of the ordinary. This all changed about midday on Sunday.
I had shown an American relative and her husband around the moor. They are very keen birders and I had intended to write today about how, when one is taking people out who are not at all familiar with British birds you point out and take notice all of those birds that normally do not warrant a second glance. Things that we take for granted.
Bullfinch by the cattle pen (c) Derek Lane
For my cousin a Bullfinch was a lifer as was a Long Tailed Tit and a Kestrel. We had spent both Saturday and Sunday morning birding enthusiastically but had not really seen anything special and indeed had not seen several of the birds that I had hoped to show them. Saturday had been the epitome of a summers day with peerless blue skies and warm sunshine. Sunday was not quite so good starting cloudy and damp with a very strong blustery wind blowing.

Hungry Cuckoo  Top (c) JR  Lower (c) Derek Lane

The much photographed Cuckoo of last week had been joined by at least three other individuals although not all of them were visible. It certainly means that they have had a very successful breeding season this year with at least seven juvenile birds either seen or heard over the last three weeks.
Six Hobbies were seen both days hunting dragonflies over the MOD land around the Pill. There are now eight Mandarin Ducks that are spending their time either on the southern reedbed or on the Greenaways scrapes. There was some speculation that perhaps the clearance work that has been undertaken around the pools in Blenheim Park near the Coombe gate where they could often be seen, had prompted them to re-locate to the moor.

Mandarins on southern lagoon (c) JR and on Greenaways scrape (c) Pete Roby
As over the past few weeks Bitterns could occasionally be seen moving from one part of the reedbed to another. On Saturday a juvenile Little Ringed Plover was on one of the Greenaways scrapes adjacent to the bridleway, on Sunday there was an adult on the same island. The Common Cranes made their regular relocation flight both mornings flying between Big Otmoor and Greenaways. Bugling and flying quite low they passed very close to the first screen.
Cranes over flying a Kite (c) JR
The only other bird of note this weekend was a Grey Wagtail that flew along the bridleway while I was looking for the Heron. On Monday morning a Whinchat was seen long the fence line close to the cattle pens.
Just after midday on Sunday two visiting birders reported to the Volunteer Warden that they had seen a Purple Heron along the stone track that goes across Greenaways to the reedbed. He and several other people saw the bird flying with a couple of Grey Herons and a Little Egret. This loose group were quite flighty moving about on the northern side of Greenaways and disappearing for quite some time in the long grass and along the reed fringed ditches. They would often reappear some distance from where they had landed. I could only go down briefly as previously mentioned we were entertaining visitors. Whilst I was there watching a Bittern flew up from the last place that it had been seen to land and I had one of those doubting moments. Fortunately, but also annoyingly, just after I left it was relocated a long way once again from where it had last been seen to land. Since then it has been mobile on both Greenaways and Big Otmoor and as I write on Monday morning it was still present on Greenaways.
The heron (c) Tezzer

I estimate that this is probably the thirteenth record for Oxfordshire and the second for Otmoor. Interestingly the last bird recorded in the county arrived on the 11th August 2007 at Pinkhill, where it stayed for a couple of days. Just over a week later what we presume to be the same bird was later relocated on Otmoor out on Big Otmoor. Always a pleasure to see, this bird is, like the last, one a juvenile. It has distinctive rufous brown wings, a dark back and a very distinctive flight posture with a sharply keeled and angular neck. It may well stay in the vicinity for some time as there is a good supply of fish in the ditches and insects in the grass. This could become a very exciting late summer and autumn, if the last two weeks are anything to go by.
Hornets building on the eaves of the hide (c) JR