Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd April

Singing Wren (c) Bark
As I was standing by the feeders on Sunday morning trying to spot one of the two Grasshopper Warblers that were reeling in the car park field I was chatting to a couple who were coming back from their early morning walk. They had arrived just before dawn at about 5.25 a.m. One of them said that when they got out of their car they were “…. hit by a wall of sound……so loud it was difficult at first to separate one song or call from another…… only gradually it became possible to distinguish individual songs” Although I had arrived over an hour later than them I had had a similar experience but probably not quite as dramatic as they did hearing all that sound in a deserted car park in the pre-dawn light.
Early morning Bullfinch (c) Bark
Grasshopper Warblers were very much in evidence all weekend and not just in the carpark field. There were four different birds heard out at the Pill on Saturday and two different birds along the bridleway one near the bench and another on the way to Noke.

Gropper on the way to the screen (c) Bark
There was also a bird, as there seems to be every year, that clearly hasn’t read the guide to Gropper behaviour. It was reeling along the trail about half way to the first screen and instead of skulking away was sitting out in the open perched in sapling willows and very low brambles. It certainly drew a good number of admirers on Sunday morning. In defence of my not very good pictures, I must stress that it was easy to see but difficult to photograph with lots of distracting clutter in the way! Across the path from it there was an extremely obliging, photogenic, noisy and testosterone pumped Sedge Warbler, that demanded attention. It may well have been stimulated by the closeness of another singing Sedgie a few metres away.
Sedgie (c) Tom N-L
Close to the feeders was a Lesser Whitethroat that was doing a small circuit whilst belting out its song. There are now at least five calling in different parts of the reserve. The Roman Road area is, as usual, a good place to hear all the warblers calling and singing. Garden Warblers are now in and several could be picked out from the similar sounding Blackcaps
Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
The large presumably female Peregrine was again seen sitting on its favourite post out on Greenaways. It was seen on Sunday morning carrying prey across The Closes that looked to be a chick or fledgling. We must hope that it doesn’t develop a taste for easy takeaways from amongst our breeding waders. The Hen Harrier is still being seen occasionally and we are guessing that perhaps it may not be heading north, but instead might remain here over the summer. The Marsh Harriers have continued to be very active and visible over and around the reedbed, they are also hunting extensively over Greenaways. Red Kites are cruising over Big Otmoor looking for easy pickings, they are always challenged by Lapwings and Redshank and one must assume that once the Black Headed gulls hatch they too will take on the aerial guard duty.
Lapwing chick through the wire around Big Otmoor (c) Bark
The Lapwings and we presume the Redshank, have hatched their first chicks and we watched a parent Lapwing standing close to its young as they fed among the tussocks close to the edge of Big Otmoor. At one point the adult bird gathered the chick up under its wing.
Hobbies have been seen on both days but not yet in the numbers that we expect at this time of year when they are first arrived. It was significant too that the first Hairy Dragonfly was seen and photographed at the Noke end of the Big Otmoor ring-ditch. These larger dragonflies can form a substantial part of the Hobbies diet in early May. They also feed on the smaller dangling legged St Marks or Hawthorn Flies.

Hobby and supper, A Hairy Dragonfly (c) Pete Roby
Two male Cuckoos were calling and flying back and forth along the ditch beside the bridleway and along the southern side of The Closes. At one point on Sunday morning they had a significant skirmish at the top of an oak tree. We have not seen or heard any females yet and once they arrive the calling and the chasing will go up another level still.
Male Reed Buntings are very showy right now (c) Tom N-L
A booming Bittern was heard on both days this weekend and on Friday three were seen in flight at the same time. Snipe have started their roller-coaster drumming displays and could also be seen doing a slow motion fluttering parachute display as they came in to land on the eastern edge of Big Otmoor close to the visitor trail.
A few waders are dropping in with thirteen Ruff being spotted last week as well as a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, a Black-tailed Godwit, a Greenshank and A Common Sandpiper on Sunday. I have also just been told that a Whimbrel was seen on Greenaways this morning (Monday)
Late female Stonechat (c) Paul Greenaway
Unusually a female Stonechat was still present last Thursday, they have normally moved on by now. Wheatear numbers at the Noke end near the farm and in the black sheep fields have continued to rise. There were a total of ten there on Sunday three near the farm in the donkey field and the others out amongst the sheep in the close cropped grass.

Wheatears in the sheepfield (c) Bark
An Otter or Otters are continuing to be seen regularly but in no one particular location. On Sunday one was seen to catch a Moorhen in the ditch that borders the diagonal track across Greenaways, exciting for the watchers less so for the moorhen!
Lizards are out basking by the first screen whenever it is sunny enough to warm them up, for many visitors seeing them or a grass snake can make their visit special.
Common Lizard by the screen (c) Bark

We will be running a Dawn Chorus Walk between 5a.m. and 7a.m. on 13th May. If anyone is interested in joining us could you please get in touch with the RSPB Otmoor office on 01865 352033 to book a place. It will be useful to know how many visitors to expect.
Long Meadow Hare (c) Bark

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Easter Weekend 15th-17th April

Noke Whinchat (c) Tezzer

After the warmth of last weekend, the weather has reverted to what is more typical for the time of year; sunshine, showers and average temperatures. However, the cooler weather has nothing to slow down the influx of migrants.
Sedge Warbler (c) Bark

Arriving at the carpark it was impossible not to be enchanted and impressed by the sounds that were coming from every bush and bramble. It takes a moment or two to begin to separate out the individual songs and calls one from another. As a background behind the individual songs was the steady insistent reeling of at least two Grasshopper Warblers. One of them close to the feeders and the other on the far side of the field. The direction of the song is always very difficult to determine as the bird turns its head projecting the sound as if from different places. Sedge Warbler numbers have increased during the week and they can now be heard rasping out their rapid and slightly chaotic songs from all parts of the reserve, while Reed Warblers are calling now from the ditches and reedbeds with their similar, but much more rhythmic and measured songs. The Sedge Warblers are starting to make their territorial “parachute” flights.
Willow Warbler (c) JR
Willow Warblers are flitting rapidly about in the tops of the trees and bushes are stopping briefly from feeding to give a quick burst of song. Chiffchaffs too are calling as they feed stopping sometimes for a more concerted burst of their repetitive two note call. There are more Blackcaps singing now, but as yet we are still to hear a Garden Warbler and be certain of its identity! Every year it takes me a while to familiarise myself with the song and separate it from Blackcap with any degree of confidence. Cetti’s Warblers have established their territories now and can be heard within their demarcated areas, they seem to respond to movement and are triggered to call in response to people walking past.
Singing Sedge Warbler (c) JR
From the reedbed a Bittern can be heard booming sporadically, both early in the morning and in the evening. Above the reedbed the Marsh Harriers are patrolling we are still not certain if there are three or four individuals as we have not yet seen four at the same time we have however seen three. Herons are coming and going from their nests in the reeds and over the next few weeks they will slowly disappear as the phragmites grows up around them. The Herons nesting in the dead oak trees out from the Hide on Ashgrave should soon hatch their chicks and will be easy to watch from the hide with a scope.
Coots from the second screen (c) Bark
It was a good weekend for chats and thrushes. On Saturday morning, a Whinchat was found on the wire fence surrounding the donkey field by the farm at Noke. We spent some time watching it hunting from the posts and barbed wire. It is a male, very bright and colourful now in fresh breeding plumage showing a rich, warm orange breast and a smart highwayman’s mask when it looks straight at you.

Whinchat at Noke (c) Bark
The brightest and most colourful birds were in the Long Meadow area. On Sunday there were four male and two female Redstarts in there. The males looking almost tropical in the bright sunshine. They were not obvious at first, but with patience they could be spotted fly-catching from low perches in isolated bushes and hedgerow, dashing out and back to snatch insect prey from the grass. They were a superb sight trembling their tails as they sat in the sunshine. The resident Robins in the field took exception to the presence of their colourful cousins and would fly at them to chase them away. On Monday afternoon, there were five Wheatears found in the black sheep fields at Noke. They seem to like feeding around and among the sheep, perhaps they attract insects. There was a Ring Ouzel found on the far side of the moor on Saturday, it may indeed be the one that spent a couple of days feeding by Sally’s Field. It is unusual to have more than one record of this uncommon species in any one year.
Sunday evening Osprey (c) Tezzer

The Hobby seen earlier in the week did not hang around and we only heard the Cuckoo briefly on Saturday morning. I am sure that both species will be back in good numbers over the coming couple of weeks. An Osprey seen on Sunday evening was the third of these raptors to seen over the reserve this year. So far none of them have stopped to try their hand at fishing!
A Common Sandpiper seen on the scrapes on Big Otmoor on Sunday morning was the first record for the year and there was another Little Ringed Plover seen in the same vicinity. There should be a number of other wader species coming through over the next few weeks, we will be looking out for Whimbrel and for Greenshank as they head north to breed.
Blue Tit (c) JR

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th April

Cuckoo (c) Derek Latham

It was the sort of weekend where it was impossible to select the right things to wear. On Saturday morning, there was frost on the ground, heavy mist and I was cold. By the time I went home I had my fleece tied around my waist and I was now overheating. It was perfect weather to bring in migrants and it certainly did.
Goldfinch in blossom (c) Tom N-L
They have not arrived in the numbers that will appear in the next few weeks, but the vanguard of summer visitors have been seen or heard. The only one of our regular warblers that is still to arrive is Garden Warbler, all the others made their appearance this weekend. Grasshopper Warbler arrived on Friday and there have been at least two of them reeling away in the carpark field. Both Reed and Sedge Warblers could be heard and occasionally seen in the ditches along the bridleway.
Reed Warbler (c) Mark chivers
Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat were singing in the large hawthorns and blackthorns in the car park field. On Sunday morning a Cuckoo flew up and down the bridleway calling and perching briefly at the top of the taller hawthorns. Its’ familiar call is surely the most evocative and emblematic sound of the season.
Bittern Hedge hopping (c) Derek Latham
At the reedbed early on Saturday morning a Bittern was booming and was seen making occasional forays low across the top of the reeds. This morning two were seen flying together. All weekend above the reedbed the Marsh Harriers have been performing their aerobatic display flights. They have been flying higher than usual and then hurtling recklessly downwards twisting and turning all the way down. They are interspersing this activity with bringing in nesting material. 
Aerial performance (c) Tom N-L
The herons nesting in the reedbed are very noticeable and exposed until the phragmites starts to grow up again. They too are very active and once their chicks start to hatch amount the toing and froing will increase markedly. On the water Pochard are displaying and Tufted Duck drakes are pursuing females in noisy gangs while making their croaky mechanical calls.

Displaying Pochard above and busy Tufties below (c) JR
There are still four Oystercatchers on and around the reserve, two have been spending time on Noke Sides and the other pair up near the big lagoon on Ashgrave. On Sunday we found two Avocets out on big Otmoor, they seemed settled, preening, roosting and finally feeding out in the pools. They might well be the pair that were reported at Rushy Common on Saturday.
Record shot of the two Avocets (c) Paul Greenaway
Elsewhere on big Otmoor there are still a handful of Golden Plover looking wonderful in their summer plumage. Redshanks can be seen almost everywhere one looks, walking, feeding, courting and mating. Many of our resident feral geese are taking advantage of the security offered by the anti-predator fence and are nesting out there. It may well be that their presence will help to deter aerial predators or at least help spread the collateral damage. It may well prove to be the same with the Black-Headed Gulls that are looking as if they will nest on the moor in much greater numbers than ever before.
Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and interestingly the Hen harrier were all seen this weekend. I had thought that by now the Harrier might have moved on but it was seen early on Sunday morning.
Swallow after bathing at second screen (c) Darrell Wood
There has been a smattering of Hirundines through, but usually only in ones and twos. As yet we have still to record a House Martin. Yellow Wagtails have were seen on Big Otmoor and flying over the second screen. Whinchat and Hobby are due to arrive in the next week or so.

Wren nestbuilding (c) JR
We are getting to the time in the year where we start to fret about the fate of our Turtle Doves, wondering whether they are going to make it this year and if they do, will they manage to breed successfully. Their presence as a breeding species in Oxfordshire is right on the edge and sadly we can do nothing to make their migration any less hazardous. Rest assured that if they do make it through the RSPB will do everything they can to make sure that their stay is a safe and productive one.
The year list is currently one hundred and twenty-four species and is fast approaching the time when it progresses much more slowly. The latest additions were this weekends Warblers, Yellow Wagtail and Common Gull.
Sunday dawn (c) JR