Wednesday, 28 September 2016

September 24th and 25th

Sprawk over reedbed. (c) JR
Two weeks away from the moor and coming back it really felt like autumn. The palette of colours in the trees hedges and fields has changed. Faded greens, greys, golds and ochres are the order of the day. There are bright highlights from the haws and hips that make splashes of scarlet against the softer faded background. The weather reflected the changing season, chilly at first and then warmer as the sun emerged. It’s the time of year when it is impossible to get your clothing quite right.
Every week recently I have been expecting to hear that our long staying Purple Heron has not been seen for a while, but it is still with us. The weather has been fairly clement and perhaps it will take the first frost to persuade it to move south. It will be very interesting to see if it makes its migration and then comes back next year as an adult.
Another sign of Autumn was the sighting of my first Merlin of the season. On Saturday morning there was a male out on Greenaways sitting on a post. There are usually a couple of weeks at both ends of the year when Merlin and Hobbies overlap. Later on the Hobbies were up and about hunting the dragonflies that the sunshine had brought out. A Peregrine was seen on both days putting all the ducks to flight as it cruised over the reedbed. Most interesting raptor sighting was on Sunday in front of the first screen.
Sparrowhawks in front of the screen (c) JR
Two juveniles and one adult Sparrowhawk were sitting in the dead willows on the left side of the channel straight out from the screen. They made everything very nervous, the ducks swam over towards them to let them know that they knew they were there, a behaviour that used to be exploited in duck decoys. They flew off but one of the juveniles came back very quickly with a small prey item that it sat on the tree stump, plucked and then ate. It was difficult to work out exactly what it was but judging by colour it may have been a late Reed Warbler or one of the many Meadow Pipits that have turned up on Otmoor in the last week or so. The Merlin’s presence may also be a reflection of the number of Meadow Pipits that have arrived.
BHG (c) Bark
Snipe continue to feed and loaf around on the edges of the mud bank in front of the screen, except of course when three Sparrowhawks are sitting in the dead willow! On Saturday morning there was a small wader creeping amongst them, feeding rapidly and appearing completely dwarfed by them. We initially thought that just by its size it had to be a Little Stint. It did have two faint tramlines on its back and its behaviour was right for Little Stint. However, we thought that its bill was much too long for Little Stint. We started to speculate and struggled to get a reasonable picture of it. Eventually I took a picture of it on my phone through my scope and J.U. took a picture of the bird and then photographed the back of his camera with his phone. We sent both pictures off to the oracle, our County Recorder looked at them and pronounced it to be a Dunlin. Male Dunlins are smaller than females and without other small waders around estimating the size, which had totally misled us, is tricky. What was great was having the technology to get some sort of image, send it out and then get a clear id. Thanks to Ian for his help, perhaps next time it will be a Western Sandpiper!
Small wader (Dunlin) predtending to be something else record shot (c) Bark
The sunshine on both Saturday and Sunday had encouraged good numbers of Red admirals onto the wing. They looked very fresh and bright. Presumably they are the generation that will hibernate to appear again in the Spring.
Red admiral and blackberries (c) JR
Yellow Wagtails continue to feed around the cattle on both Greenaways and Big Otmoor, they seem to feed dangerously close to the feet and heads of these huge beasts. They will be moving on soon and we will be looking out for the first winter Thrushes that should arrive in the next couple of weeks. There is certainly a mass of food for them in the hedgerows.
Basking Common Lizards (c) Derek Lane

Monday, 19 September 2016

September 17th-18th

Septembers mellow fruitfulness.

Bark is unable to do his blog this weekend, and on Sunday I was asked if I could possibly write a guest piece as I'm often on the moor on the weekend. I'd already been down on the Saturday but wasn't planning to go on Sunday, however now I needed to go to enable me to put something together. I explained to my lovely wife that I couldn't really write a weekend piece without visiting both days, and immediately she agreed that it was an honour to be asked to write on the blog, so I'd better get down there. That was easy I thought, why hadn’t I used that excuse before?  

My lovely wife has just read my draft copy and has informed me that I won’t be able to use that excuse next week!

Before we get to the weekend round-up I have to mention a few birds that have been seen during the week. They include one new bird for Otmoor and probably another one for the year list.

We have often predicted a Little Bittern or Cattle Egret as the next new bird for the moor, but none of us expected to see the bird that landed in front of the first screen on September 15th. The highlight of the week, and maybe the bird of the year for Otmoor, was a Great Skua that dropped onto the water behind the reeds on the afternoon of Thursday 15th

Great Skua photo’s courtesy of Chris and Ann.

A couple of wildlife photographers were at the screen at the time, and I heard Chris say to Ann “what’s that up there”. I looked up from counting the 78 Snipe feeding and hiding amongst the reed stems, to see the Skua dropping down towards the reed-bed. I said “That’s a Skua, quick get some pictures”. Luckily they both got some excellent shots and have kindly allowed us to use them on the blog. 

Great Skua photo’s courtesy of Chris and Ann.

As it dropped in you could see the white flashes on the base of its primary feathers. Unfortunately the bird dropped in behind the reeds and I couldn’t quite believe what I’d seen. Was that really a Skua that just dropped into the reeds! Chris and Ann showed me some of the pictures they had taken, and I could see that indeed it was. What was it doing here, shouldn’t it be at Farmoor? 

Was it still behind the reeds or had I missed it flying off low over the reeds somewhere else? After a quick call to Badger to get the word out to the local birders, I ran around to the western side of the reed-bed to see if I could see it from there. It was one of the hottest days of the year and I soon found out that I wasn’t as fit as I used to be. 
Running with a scope, camera and bins isn’t recommended. After a minute or two I could just see it through the tops of the reeds drifting in and out of view. On tip-toe I tried to get a couple of pictures to send to Badger, but it seemed almost impossible to hold the camera still above my head and not focus on the reeds. After 5 minutes of taking shots of reeds heads, and some blurry Skua shots, the bird wasn’t showing any longer. I sent Badger a shot to show that it was still here and ran back to the 1st screen to see if it could be seen from there. When I arrived I found quite a few of the local birders had already arrived, and the bird was now in full view from the 1st screen, and lots of them were busy taking photos.

Great views of the bird and a new Oxfordshire tick for many of the locals. A steady stream of local birders turned up over the next couple of hours. Some of them panting heavily after running from their parked cars to add it to their Oxfordshire lists, much to the amusement of everyone already there. It wasn’t until later on that evening that I realised it was an Oxfordshire tick for me as well! I already had Long Tailed and Arctic on my list so now I only need a Pom. It’s highly unlikely, but you never know, one might turn up on Otmoor one day!


Great Skua please view at 720p

The other birds of note seen during the week were an Osprey that stopped off to catch a fish from a ditch in the south-west corner of Greenaways, and a Ringtail Harrier seen over Greenaways and the Closes. Unfortunately there wasn’t any further sighting of the Harrier to confirm the ID.

Osprey stopping off for lunch over Greenaways courtesy of Eddie McLaughlin

Weekend round-up 17th/18th September

Quite often the two days on the weekend are quite different weather wise and this was the case this weekend. Saturday turned cold and grey with fine rain and a stiff northerly breeze, while Sunday was a much better day with a gentle breeze and a warm sunny afternoon. 

The bushes on the moor are showing their berry crops and soon the Redwings and Fieldfares will be helping themselves to this plentiful supply of food. It still seems early for these winter thrushes but the first Redwings have already arrived on the east coast. 
A Chiffchaff was singing in the car park on Saturday morning and we could hear the piping call of Bullfinches along the hedgerows.  

The Purple Heron was seen around 10am flying from the diagonal ditch next to the track in Greenaways. This seems to be one of its favourite hunting grounds and could be the best place to look for it if you are coming to the reserve to see it. Cetti’s Warblers called from time to time in the hedges along the bridleway. There are at least two or three on the reserve blasting out their distinctive call. A Water rail was heard calling from the ditch behind us as we scanned Greenaways for the elusive Purple Heron. There were about 30 Linnets near the hide that were flushed by a Sparrowhawk diving down looking for an easy meal. We couldn’t see if was successful this time but it’s a regular place for these hunters.

Whinchat courtesy of Andy Last

Even though the Bittern and a Whinchat had been seen from the 1st screen earlier in the day, a distant view of a Wheatear towards Noke farm prompted us to march down there for a better look. Unfortunately we couldn’t re-find it but did notice a marked increase in Meadow Pipit numbers as mentioned by Bark last week. Yellow Wagtails could be seen flitting around under the feet of the cows and sheep near Noke farm, with others flying overhead onto Big Otmoor. A family party of Green Woodpeckers are often found in the field with the black sheep, and they were seen looking straight up in the air an unusual position as a pale Buzzard drifted low overhead.

Female Kestrel courtesy of Andy Last

The rain started to come down so we headed back to the car park and stopped on the way to chat to other birders waiting to see the Purple Heron. As we waited we managed to see the Bittern fly over the reed-bed in the distance for the second time today. A single Ringed Plover made a short stop on the scrape in front of us but didn’t hang around. Time was marching on so we continued back to the car and picked up two Ravens over the Closes as we left.

Some of the many Snipe benefiting from the reduced water levels in front of the first screen 

Sunday was a much brighter day and I soon picked up the grey colours of Stock Doves busily feeding in the Closes near the car park. There was also a Red Kite walking about in the field not far from the track looking very large. The sun was shining and as such the raptors took to the air and could be seen in all directions. Red Kites, Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels. At the bridleway I was lucky enough to find Badger filming the Purple Heron that was out in full view to the left of the diagonal track. It was out in the open for over 10 minutes! During that time we managed to get other birders waiting to see it from further up the bridleway down to our spot so they could also see it and get some photos. I knew there would be something worth photographing today as I’d forgotten my camera, and there it, was the Purple Heron out in the open in all its glory. We waited a while after it crept slowly into the reeds before we decide to look around the rest of the reserve.

Purple Heron please view at 720p

From the 1st screen the Snipe were showing well, we managed a maximum count of 66 birds. A single Wigeon was seen in amongst the Mallard, Shoveler and Teal. Two different Marsh Harriers drifted lazily over the top of the reeds from time to time, which are always great to see. The sun brought out the Common Lizards near the screen, and were very much appreciated by the families visiting the reserve. We walked past the Wetland Watch hide and spent some time watching the Hornet nest under the rafters at the back of the hide, before walking up to July’s meadow. 

The intricate Hornets nest nestled under the gable of the Wetlands Watch Hide
(c) Andy Last

A smart female Stonechat perched up on the bushes and posts not far from the hide.  As the Whinchats pass through on their way south, the Stonechats turn up to over winter on the moor, so expect to see more of these showing up in the next few weeks. 

Female Stonechat (c) Badger

A Little Egret flew from one ditch to another and back out of sight. Small flocks of tits and warblers, including Chiffchaff and Blackcaps flitted through the hedges as we walked along keeping us on our toes, hoping for something unusual in the mixed flock. The Starlings put on a bit of a show before going to roost in the reed-bed, with Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harriers causing them to gather together in tight flocks. Over 65 wagtails were seen going to roost and most of them were Yellow wagtails but they also included some Pied.

Next weekend we may see the first Redpolls or Siskins of the autumn, or even an early returning Short Eared Owl. You never know what will turn up, and that’s why I’ll be out there again next week with the other regulars enjoying the great reserve the RSPB have created at Otmoor.

Pete Roby

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday 10th,11th and 12th September

Goldfinch (c) JR
Saturday was a washout and consequently very little was seen or reported. Sunday however was a beautiful day with clear, rain-washed skies of forget-me-not blue. The mist was still lying on the moor as I drove down, the tops of the trees appearing like small islands or rocks in a shallow sea at low tide. Along the paths it was possible to see and understand from the sheer number of dew spotted webs just how prolific the spiders are and how difficult it must be for flying insects to avoid their snares.

Web pics (c) Bark

Passage passerines were very much in evidence. Warblers were feeding both in the hedgerows and in the reedbeds, fuelling up for their imminent migrations. There was a family group of Reed Warblers in front of the first screen, the youngsters still begging the adults to feed them but without much success. Sedge Warblers too were creeping about in the reeds but unlike their strident showy characters in spring, kept very much out of sight.
Treecreeper near first screen (c) Derek Lane
There are at least five Cetti’s Warblers around the reserve setting up winter territories their presence normally only revealed by their call. Interestingly walking past often prompts them to call, movement appearing to trigger their response. The one by the entrance to the trail to the first screen will on occasions show itself as will the one in the vicinity of the second screen.

Warblers (c) Derek Lane

The Purple Heron is still very much with us but as ever is very reluctant to show itself. It seems to have taken up residence on Greenaways and the best chance of getting a sighting requires a patient wait, looking out from the pump house.
Purple Heron (c) Andy Last
There is plenty to see even here on Sunday two Hobbies were hawking over Greenaways and another pair over Ashgrave. They were hunting the very abundant large dragonflies that the warm sunshine had got on the wing.
Hobby food (c) Tom N-L
The ditch beside the bridleway is also a regular hunting ground for a juvenile Kingfisher. Often only giving itself away by a sharp call and a flash of cerulean blue as it rockets along the ditch. Just occasionally it is possible to spot it perched up on a reed overlooking the water. Kingfishers do not breed on the reserve but their numbers always go up at this time of year as young birds and post breeding adults find a place for the winter.
Kingfisher over the ditch (c) Bark
Whinchats are abundant on the reserve at the moment. There were six out on Greenaways on Sunday morning and a further three at Noke, there have also been several in July’s meadow along with a juvenile-plumaged Stonechat.

Whinchat and juv Stonechat (c) Andy Last
There was also a Wheatear at Noke near the farm and another on short grass on Big Otmoor. Meadow Pipits have started to be much more obvious and are getting together in larger flocks. There were several perched together on the barbed wire fence at Lower Farm. A careful look shows that their claws are even longer than the spikes of the wire they are perched on.

Wheatear and Mipits at Noke (c) Bark
The cattle had wandered over close to where we were on the bridleway and there were over twenty Yellow Wagtails feeding carefully around their feet.

Yellow Wagtails (c) JR
On one evening this week at least one hundred and ten of them were seen going in to roost in the reedbed. They are joining the Starlings that already roost there, they already number well over four thousand. This volume of birds attracts interest from raptors and the other evening all three of our resident Marsh Harriers were in attendance as was a Sparrow-hawk and the regular juvenile Peregrine.

Starlings (c) Tom N-L

Late news has just come in (Tuesday lunchtime) of an Osprey catching a fish from the dish in the south eastern corner of Greenaways before being chased off by a crow still clutching its lunch. Just going to prove that this is a time when anything at all could turn up.
Small Tortoiseshell (c) Bark