Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd October

Juvenile Stonechat (c) Bark
On Saturday morning the moor was foggy, the dullness rendered the light grey and any colour washed out and flat. The mist finally lifted to low cloud just as I was leaving at midday. Sunday was much better. As the slight mist lifted into low cloud and the sun came through the autumn colours glowed out from the hedgerows. Yellows, reds and ochres emerging in the vegetation as the chlorophyll in the leaves recedes, allowing the true colours of the leaves to appear.

Autumn colour (c) Bark

The birdlife reflected the season too with substantial numbers of both Fieldfares and Redwings present, both feeding in the hedgerows and passing overhead. The “chacking” chuckling call of the Fieldfares will very soon become a familiar component of the winter soundscape.
Moulting Shoveller (c) JR

Out at the reedbed winter wildfowl numbers are steadily rising. Teal especially are up on last week and more of them are showing signs of fresh breeding plumage as they come out of eclipse. A few Shoveller are now out of eclipse too and starting to show brighter colours. Amongst the most obvious things at the the first screen are the unprecedented number of Cormorants. On Sunday morning I counted seventeen. They were both in the water and also loafing about, some with their wings spread in a heraldic pose on the long muddy spit at the back of the southern lagoon. There seemed to be a regular, steady transit of these birds coming and going all morning, which suggests that they were not there to feed but more to rest and roost in some safety. It seems unlikely that the reedbed lagoons would hold enough fish stock to sustain and satisfy such a large resident population.

Cormorants        Above (c) Mark Chivers      Below (c) JR

On Sunday morning the Marsh Harriers were very much in evidence. There were three together two adults and a juvenile, it seems reasonable to deduce that they were the resident birds with the chick from this summer. The juvenile was distinctive not just in its colouration but because it was missing primary ten and possibly nine from its left wing. This looked more like damage rather than a regular moult. By the afternoon the juvenile was no longer around.
Juvenile Marsh Harrier with feather detaching. (c) Bark
The two adult Marsh Harriers had been joined by a ring-tailed Hen Harrier. The Starling roost yesterday was hugely enlivened by both this bird, a Merlin, a Sparrowhawk and two Buzzards. To get the full flavour of the experience I have reprinted below the e-mail I received yesterday from Steve Roby, who was there with his brother Pete:

“It really turned out to be a great evening on the moor, a Hen Harrier put in numerous appearances over the reed bed, riding the wind and diving in and out of the reeds after whatever it was hunting. At one time it was there together with both male and female Marsh Harriers. We had first noticed it from the second screen being relentlessly harassed by a female Sparrowhawk, flying up and down by the flood field. It absolutely made our day to see this wonderful species on the moor once again and we were buzzing.

The roost didn't start until around 17.15 but once it got going thousands of birds turned up very quickly and put on a very good display. The Sparrowhawk came through more than once and a Marsh Harrier turned up to chase out all the Starlings after they had dropped into the reeds for the first time. In fact it shortly came reasonably close to the first screen where we could see it had caught something, most likely a starling. However a Buzzard had also been keeping watch, waiting for its chance, and it now proceeded to dramatically harass the harrier until it dropped the prize, which was smartly caught, low over the water by its persecutor. This buzzard was then attacked by another trying to pull the same trick and they were last seen grappling together towards Greenaways. The poor old harrier went on to try again which kept things interesting for quite some time.
Both Harrier pics (c) Pete Roby
There were about 50 each of Pied Wagtail and Fieldfare and a single Kingfisher shot past the screen. Although there had been many thousands of starlings in the main murmuration at least the same amount came in from the north-east to pour into the roost in two huge flocks, Pete estimated around 20,000 birds in total and I wouldn't disagree. Finally a small powerful falcon was looking for a late dinner and we were absolutely delighted to see a Merlin twice fly above the roost.  

No sign of a Barn Owl on the way back but we weren't worried, and anyway a couple of Tawny's serenaded us as we packed up the car. What a brilliant place.”
Steve Roby.

Linnets  Above (c) JR  below (c) Bark
There were much larger numbers of Linnets in the vicinity of the hide on Saturday morning. We estimated at least one hundred and twenty, there were also Chaffinches, Reed Buntings and one Yellowhammer among the mixed flock. There were a very obliging pair of Stonechats along the path to the second screen, so intent on picking up insects that they allowed a very close approach. Other Stonechats were recorded out at the Pill and at Noke. Kingfishers were seen from the hide and at both screens.

Bitterns     Above (c) JR   below (c) Bark
Bitterns were seen on both days. They appear to be feeding in the ditches around Greenaways and are often spotted when flying back towards the reedbed. I heard three different Cetti’s Warblers calling from the reedbed on Saturday morning but sadly I failed to hear the “pinging” that I was hoping for. A flock of erupting Bearded Tits really would be the cherry on the top of the Otmoor cake.
Wilding Apples and Stonechat (c) Bark

Monday, 17 October 2016

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th October

Whitefronts (c) JR

Typical changeable autumn weather this weekend. Saturday rather lowering and Sunday afternoon bright and sunny after a very wet and windy morning. The sunshine on Sunday afternoon brought out the bright autumn colours that are now beginning to glow in the hedgerows.
Hedgerow colour (c) Bark
Changes are happening and whilst migrants are still not exactly flooding in, numbers of winter visitors are now going up steadily. Wildfowl numbers are rising more than a hundred Wigeon were on the southern reedbed and probably twice that number of Teal, the latter only really visible when they were flushed by the Marsh Harriers.

Marsh Harrier (c) Tom N-L
On Sunday a flock of over fifty Fieldfares were flying along the hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways and several slightly smaller groups of Redwings were seen on both days.

Stonechats (c) Bark
On Saturday two Jack Snipe were seen, another sign of the season were two Redpolls, found out at the Pill on Saturday. Several pairs of Stonechats are now resident on the moor both on and off the reserve and there are still a few Whinchats being spotted. On Sunday afternoon I counted over fifty-five Common Snipe on the exposed bank opposite the first screen. Some were sleeping some feeding and others interacting. Their cryptic plumage hides them perfectly when set among the cropped reed stubble. When they stand up straight and walk it is surprising just how tall they can appear.
Whitefronts and Greylags (c) JR
The small family party of White-fronted Geese is still out on Ashgrave with the flock of feral Greylags. They are much smaller than the other grey geese and the adults have a very pronounced white blaze above their bills, they also have dark barring on their bellies. The juveniles are less distinctively marked and are slightly harder to spot. There is a feral Barnacle Goose accompanying the Canada Geese and the Ross’s Goose too is still out there with some of its mixed Greylag progeny. It is puzzling that for the last three years we have had no records of Egyptian Geese on the moor, they are relatively common in other parts of the county but either the habitat or the presence of so many other geese discourages them.
Canada Geese joining the party (c) JR
The finch flock that feeds along the path beside the hide is also beginning to grow. It is composed mostly of Goldfinches, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Linnets at present but there has already been one Brambling found amongst them this autumn.
Juvenile Reed Bunting
The hornets’ nest on the apex of the southern face of the hide has grown to a massive size and is still home to a large number of adult workers. They can be seen feeding on sap oozing from cuts in the bark of young ash trees along the bridleway. I assume that the hornets chew through the bark specially rather than relying on finding a wound on the tree by chance.

Hornet City and feeding workers (c) Bark
Otmoor often surprises me with behaviours or events that I have never seen before or in some cases didn’t even know existed. This is how it was on Sunday afternoon; while standing and chatting with Tezzer on the bridleway he noticed the recently cut and piled up grass moving. We looked closely and spotted what looked like a small black football burrowing through the inch or so of soggy cut vegetation. It was a mole clearly looking for food in the shallow layer above the ground. When we looked more carefully we could see the winding track that the animal had made as it foraged. I have never seen a live mole before and it wore the smoothest, smartest velvet coat that I have ever seen. A couple with a dog were approaching and we were a little concerned for its welfare, so we lifted the grass a little and it scuttled off rapidly into the thicker grasses by the ditch, showing a remarkable turn of speed. Those are the kind of encounters and moments that keep me going back to the patch, as I do week after week, it really is never the same place twice.
Moles bum! (c) Bark

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

October 8th and 9th

Short Eared Owl (c) Roger Wyatt
A quieter weekend but not unexpected for this time of year. Nonetheless there were changes in the bird population with new arrivals and fresh departures. Saturday was grey and drizzling but Sunday was crisp and bright, cold at first but soon warming up. As I drove down towards the moor on Sunday morning I could see pockets of shallow mist, looking like pale grey pools, lying in the lowest pockets of ground.

Misty morning  (c) Tom N-L
Goldfinch warming up in the sunshine (c) Bark

The heron “previously known as Prince” finally seems to have departed. It was last seen on Tuesday and has not been reported since. The drop in night time temperatures seems to have finally prompted its departure. It has been a great bird to have on the moor and has attracted many admirers even if it has been very reluctant to show itself.

Chiffys Above (c) JR  below (c) Bark
Other departures include the summer visiting warblers that are now being replaced by smaller numbers of over wintering warblers like Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Our Cetti’s warblers continue to shout from the hedgerows, albeit with quieter voices and not a full song. Their call certainly seems to be stimulated by seeing movement going past. There is one along the bridleway to Noke that certainly calls almost every time you walk by.
Stonechat (c) Tom N-L
We still have a few passage migrants on the moor, there was a Wheatear out on big Otmoor and a Whinchat on the Pill and another in July’s Meadow. Four Stonechats were out on the MOD land and a further three up at July’s with the Whinchat. Some of the Stonechats will of course remain throughout the winter.
Julys Meadow Stonechat (c) Bark

On Sunday there was a small flock of approximately one hundred and thirty Golden Plovers seen in flight, a number that will have swollen to the thousands by the end of the winter. Two Jack Snipe were found on Saturday; it is interesting to note that there were reports of this secretive species from several other sites around the county on the same day. It will be worth examining the muddy margins in front of the screens for a small snipe with a bit of extra bounce!
Snipe (c) Derek Lane
Most interesting new arrivals are a small family group of two adult and one juvenile White Fronted Geese. They were spotted out on Ashgrave with the resident feral Greylag and Canada Geese on Sunday morning. Closer examination revealed another juvenile that appeared to be separate from the family group. One of the advantages of having a settled feral flock of geese on the moor is the way it can make other truly wild geese feel more secure and settled. I just hope that they don’t fall prey to any of our trigger happy neighbours.
Bittern over the reedbed (c) Tom N-L
Raptors continue to harry the Starlings that are coming in to roost in the reedbed a female Sparrowhawk harried them on Saturday evening and a Peregrine was also seen. Among the Marsh Harriers seen this week was a wing tagged individual, clearly not one of “our” birds and obviously on passage. On the same day a Short Eared Owl was seen on the northern edge of Greenaways, the first recorded from this winter period.

Shorty (c) Roger Wyatt

Bitterns too are being seen from time to time and not just in or over the reedbed. There have been three sightings of birds along the stone track and on the edge of some of the smaller reed clumps on Greenaways.

All we really lack now for our full suite of wetland species are Bearded Tits. We are approaching their prime eruption period now and I do hope that we have some of these delightful birds dropping in in the next few weeks.
The fallow deer that spent the last three or four years with the cattle on Ashgrave seemed to have disappeared and  we assumed she had wandered off and ended up as venison! However she is back and is now accompanied by a fawn about half her size, although she is much more cautious now and reluctant to take the fawn too near to the cattle.
Fallow and fawn (c) Paul Greenaway
White-front family on Ashgrave courtesy of Badger please view at 1080 HD