Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Saturday & Sunday 16th 17th September

Bark has asked me and Steve to put together some words of wisdom and a few snaps to cover the Otmoor blog this weekend so here we go...

It was a mixed bag weather wise this weekend and on Saturday we decided that summer was well and truly over as we stood on the bridleway in the rain, with grey skies and a fresh northerly wind in our faces. It brightened up a bit throughout the day and another year tick for Otmoor was added before more rain on Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon was a different matter altogether. I thought summer isn’t over just yet as the clouds cleared, and the warm sunshine poured through and highlighted the bright berries on the bushes, and the changing colours of the leaves, as autumn just starts to take over from summer.

Hovering Kestrel

We had seen a Bittern flying over the reeds in the week and a Barn Owl hunting at dusk over Greenaways so either of those on the weekend would be a good start.

The seed that is being scattered near the cattle pen is pulling in more birds, and there were around a hundred birds there on the weekend. Linnet, Reed Bunting, Gold Finch and Chaffinch are the most numerous. Bullfinch is also making the most of the seed and can be seen along the track near the feeders. Most of the summer birds have gone and the winter birds are yet to arrive, so it can seem quiet on the moor at this time of year. With patience you can still find a few warblers flitting around in the bushes but most of them have headed south for the winter. We headed out to the Pill area of the moor and found Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Reed Warbler in the bushes near the bridge, and we could hear Cetti’s warblers in the distance. A few meadow pipits jumped up from the grass and called as they flew off in the northerly wind. Two Snipe joined them from the long grass and shot off towards Greenaways where six or seven other Snipe had been seen flying around. After a while we were pleased to find a Whinchat and two Stonechat. We watched them for quite a long time, and as we stood and watched, more birds appeared and eventually we managed a count of at least five Whinchat and four Stonechat.


Seven Yellow Wagtails flew over our heads and we could see more of them around the feet of the cattle. One stopped off briefly on the barbed wire before returning to the cattle to feed.

Young Yellow Wagtail

A Spotted Flycatcher was a welcome sight along the bridleway on Saturday morning and a single Green Sandpiper and a Golden Plover were both heard flying over but didn’t linger. Raven was seen flying over the moor early on, but an early visit to the first screen didn’t produce any waders apart from a handful of Snipe. At 10:30 things changed when one Otmoor regular was lucky enough to find a Spotted Redshank along the muddy edge. A great bird to find on the moor, and one that we used to get more regularly in previous years. Unfortunately it didn’t hang around, but it keeps the Otmoor year list ticking over nicely, and was a good one to turn up while Bark was away! Another possible year tick was a Grey Wagtail that was seen during the week as these aren’t seen very often on the moor. So we might be close to 150 for the year and still plenty of migration left and some winter birds to add as well.  

Sunday morning the moor was shrouded in mist and fine rain, and my hopes that the weather may have put some waders down in front of the first screen were soon dashed. All that was there were the usual Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Coot, Moorhen and a couple of sleeping Wigeon. No waders at all. Water Rails were calling from the ditches in the rain as well as the Cetti’s warblers.  The walk back to the car was rewarded with a good view of the male Hen Harrier as it flew over Greenaways and over the hedge at the back into the Flood field. Nice to know that it is still here as we thought that it may have left with the Ringtail that turned up last week.  As far as I know neither of them had been seen since last weekend. In the late afternoon sunshine the male Hen Harrier was seen hunting over large areas of the moor, but always too distant for a picture. There have been quite a few Sparrowhawk sightings recently and the usual Buzzards, Marsh Harrier and Red Kite sightings keep you on your toes as they all need double checking at this time of year, especially as there was a possible sighting of a Black Kite on Saturday. A single Hobby was reported hunting over Greenaways in the sunshine, and there seems to be Kestrels everywhere you look at the moment.

Long-tailed Tit

It’s always worth checking the mixed Tit flocks for other small birds as they make their way along the hedgerows. They are easy to find once you hear the noisy Long Tailed Tits keeping in contact with each other. Only a couple of Chiffchaff this time but one day it might be a rare warbler. We’ve been checking the Tit flocks for years and still haven’t turned up anything rare but one day something will turn up!

Hip replacement within the hedgerows.

In the week an Osprey was seen drifting over the first screen, so as well as checking the bushes, the scrapes, the reed beds and the grassland you also need to check the skies as anything can turn up at this time of year. 

Let’s hope that something good drops in again this week!

The Roby’s

Autumnal furls.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Saturday and Sunday 9th and 10th September

Turtle dove (c) JR

Both mornings started chilly, but by lunchtime thin sunshine had given way to blustery showers. More leaves are turning yellow and gold, so that the berries, hips and haws stand out bright red against them. The low dawn light revealed that the dew had dusted the grass seeds and spider webs with tiny jewels.

Jewelled Grasses (c) Darrell Woods

There are still lots of passage migrants to be seen with five Whinchats out on Greenaways on both days and on Saturday a further four out at the Pill. They are easy to see out on the MOD land as they hunt from the top of prominent bushes and hedgerows. However out on the fields it can be trickier to locate them as there they favour shorter docks, reeds and bulrushes and are much more mobile.

Sonechats (c) Bark
There are now two or three pairs of Stonechats on and around the reserve, they are often keep in close company with their Whinchat cousins. They will however stay on when the Whinchats head further south. Wheatear passage is still slow and sporadic. There were just two birds up by the farm at Noke and on the western side of Big Otmoor this weekend.
Wheatear on the edge of Big Otmoor (c) Pete Roby

On both days there was a steady movement of Hirundines through the moor, sometimes just ones and twos and at other times more substantial parties. They were most obvious at the first screen, feeding above the reedbed and sometimes dipping to the water’s surface to drink. They seemed to be an equal mix of all three species and all moving through together rather than in separate species flocks. A lone late swift was noteworthy on Saturday.
Young House Martin (c) Derek Latham
Apart from a cluster of Common Snipe and a single Lapwing, there were no waders at the first screen apart from a lone Grey Plover on Saturday morning that flew over and through whilst calling, sadly it did not stop. Two Kingfishers, a few late warblers and a juvenile water Rail provided most of the interest. Three Wigeon have joined the moulting ducks on the mud banks and while not yet in their full plumage look much fresher, neater and tidier than some of the other species.
Single Lapwing (c) Derek Latham
There are still substantial numbers of warblers on the reserve and although still feeding in mixed flocks alongside tits they give the impression of birds in a hurry and being purposefully on the move. There were good numbers of very fresh bright yellow Willow Warblers feeding around the top small oak trees, while Chiffchaffs were more secretive creeping about inside the hedgerows. Every so often we would spot a Common or a Lesser Whitethroat.

Willow Warbler and Reed Warbler (c) JR

Secretive Chiiy (c) Bark
While out at the Pill on Saturday admiring the Whinchats and the Stonechats, we noticed a raptor on the far side of the Hundred Acre Field being mobbed by some corvids. On closer examination we realised it was a Ring Tailed Harrier. The distance was too great and the view too short to make a positive ID even with a brief scope view.
Distant Harrier (c) Tezzer
This was very exciting as the long staying second summer male Hen Harrier had already been seen that morning. Later on the bird was seen again and a positive identification of Hen Harrier could be made. We were delighted to see the bird again on Sunday morning as it hunted over the northern side of Greenaways venturing further over towards the reed bed where it was hassled by two Red Kites. We did on one occasion see both Harriers together and saw a little bit of interaction though I have no idea if it was of any significance.

Hen Harrier and Red Kite (c) Tezzer
It is wonderful to have two of these beautiful and mindlessly persecuted raptors on site. The tweedy toffs whose pastime perpetuates this persecution should be ashamed of themselves. The employers of the gamekeepers who carry it out should also be held liable for the criminality of their employees. No apology for the rant! Two or three Sparrowhawks have been active over the reserve and one of them has taken to perching in the small oak tree from which we hang the feeders. Sneaky behaviour that could well result in an easy meal.
Sneaky Sprawk (c) Paul Greenaway

The Turtle Doves are still with us although no longer purring. They are still taking advantage of the fine seed being scattered by the cattle pen as are a huge flock of chaffinches and a Collared Dove. On Sunday morning there were two juvenile birds on the wires in the car park field and this could be the confirmation that we have been seeking that our birds have bred successfully. I will enlarge on this tale when I next post in two weeks’ time.

Adult Turtle Dove by the pumphouse (c) Bark  and young birds on the wire (c) PG

Another small colony of common Lizards have been found and are worth looking out for when the air is cool and sun is shining. They are right beside the pump house on the bridleway and there were five of them sunning themselves on the posts and the gate on Sunday morning.

Common lizards Top two (c) Bark  bottom one (c) JR

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Saturday and Sunday 2nd and 3rd September

Spot Fly (c) Bark

September is a beautiful month: leaves start to change colour, hedgerows are full of seeds and berries, the mornings are cool and the light is flat and even. In the reedbed the phragmites turn their silky purple-bronze heads and start to set seed. Both resident and passage birds are busy making the most of the abundant food available.

Signs of the season (c) Bark
There were good numbers of passage birds on show this weekend with Whinchats, Stonechats, Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers in all their regular haunts. There seems to have been fewer Wheatears coming through so far, but it may be that the settled weather last week has meant that many have gone straight through without stopping.

Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
There has been what must be a family group of Spotted Flycatchers in Long Meadow where they have been for several weeks. As well as the Redstarts, there were good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats and also juvenile Blackcaps. Sometimes all these species could be seen in the same hawthorn bush. It was very similar out at the Pill with the welcome addition of four Whinchats.

Spotted Flycatchers (c) Bark
On Sunday morning we were treated to sustained views of the male Hen Harrier as it drifted back and forth over Greenaways. Its’ flight is effortless and buoyant, it appears to be able to turn instantly in response to movements in the grass. The Marsh Harriers, themselves very agile and adept fliers, seem almost clumsy and deliberate in comparison. It has been a real privilege to have the chance to become totally familiar with their different flying styles. It is now easy to recognise one from another just by the flying jizz. Having said that, there is no danger now of confusing the two species as our bird has now moulted into smart grey, black and white plumage.

Hobby and Kestrel (c) Derek Latham
There are four or five very vocal Kestrels hunting over the fields now, they may be a family group. It is almost impossible to look up and not see one or two of them hovering somewhere above Greenaways or Big Otmoor riding on the wind. Several Hobbies have been hunting along the ditches after mid-morning and occasionally chasing the Hirundines that have been moving through in steady numbers. On Saturday we spotted one late Swift feeding above the reedbed.

Snipe at and over first screen Top (c) Bark Below (c) Derek Latham
Another sign of the changing season is the steadily growing Lapwing flock that is now well over two hundred strong. They were feeding out on Noke Sides in one of the short grass fields. Most interesting however were the four Golden Plovers that were in amongst them, one of them still showing some signs of its summer black belly. They really are harbingers of autumn and winter.
Pike and lunch (c) Derek Latham
On the 31st August 1997, the RSPB finalised the acquisition of the first part of the reserve, namely Greenaways and the Car Park Field. In the subsequent twenty years the reserve has grown and prospered, going from strength to strength. This is due to the vision and application of the staff both on site and in the regional and the national offices. However, nothing would have been possible without the countless hours that have been generously donated by a huge team of willing volunteers. The reserve is now almost a thousand acres and is a rich patchwork of wetland habitats and wet grassland. Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and Bearded Tits have once again bred in Oxfordshire after well over a century of absence. We can all enjoy a place where nature thrives and we can draw breath in the midst of busy lives.
Thanks as always to David Wilding and the Otmoor Team, thanks of course to the volunteers and a big “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OTMOOR”
Happy Birthday!