Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Mid-June roundup.

Common Tern (c) Oz

Despite the hot sun the moor is still lush and green, but that will not be the case for long if this current hot spell persists. As the long grasses set seed sand the sun sucks the moisture out of the vegetation so the predominant colours will become less verdant and vibrant. Birders often refer to this part of the summer as the “birding doldrums” but there is still plenty on the reserve to interest and excite.
We have added two more species to the year–list, which had been moribund on one hundred and forty for a number of weeks. Quail have been heard calling regularly on both the Closes and on Ashgrave. Last year we failed to record this erratic visitor at all. In addition, there were a pair of Mandarin Ducks on the lagoon in front of the first screen on Saturday morning. They were perched on the dead willow in the water where a party of seven had spent much of last autumn. The drake was not quite as spectacular as they are when freshly plumaged as he is beginning to go into eclipse.
Mandarins (c) Oz
In the same area, we have been seeing more Bittern movements, it seems likely that there are two birds frequenting two different locations, one in the northern reedbed and the other in the southern. These are likely to be females making feeding flights, as their progeny increase in size and develop larger appetites so the frequency of these flights will increase. The male Bitterns take no part at all in raising the young!
Bittern over southern lagoon (c) Bark
On Sunday morning at the second screen, we were really pleased to see the first tiny fluffy chicks out on the tern raft. There are nine pairs of Common Terns taking advantage of this artificial island and we hope that they might be less susceptible to avian predation with so many sharp eyes and sharp beaks ready to harass raptors that come too close. Which was exactly what we saw on Sunday when one of the Marsh harriers strayed into their airspace.

Tern going in for an attack (c) Bark
They are very fast and very agile and as I mentioned have very sharp dagger like bills. It was hot for the sitting birds and they were panting to try to regulate their temperature. Every so often one would lift off the raft and splash and bathe in the water close by, this must help the cooling process and presumably it will also help to cool the chicks when the damp parent returns.
There is still a Grey heron nest with young in it, out in the reeds from the second screen. When the adult bird returns, it provokes squawking and harsh shrieking from the juveniles in the nest. On Sunday, I saw my first Kingfisher for some months on the southern lagoon. They breed away from the reserve and return once they have fledged young.
Digi-binned shot of Egrets on Ashgrave (c) Stoneshank
The numbers of Little Egrets have been going up steadily over the past month. There are often good numbers present at this time of year as the ditches, scrapes and pools start to draw down and dry. This must concentrate the small fry and large invertebrates in smaller areas where they are easier to catch. On Monday morning, there were at least twenty-six of them out on Big Otmoor alone and earlier many of them had been roosting in the dead oak on Ashgrave like so many white tissues snagged in the branches.

Busy Tits (c) Bark
Mixed groups of juvenile Blue and Great Tits are foraging acrobatically in the hogweed and cow parsley alongside the bridleway, picking tiny insects from amongst the flower bracts. Their numbers will grow over the coming weeks and the flocks will be swollen with juvenile warblers of many species.
Turtle Dove (c) Bark
We have noticed an increase in family groups visiting the reserve over the past couple of weeks. It’s not just about the glorious summer weather, we put it down to what we term the “Spring Watch effect”. People looking to experience at first hand the delights that can be had by getting out in nature and seeing it for themselves. Wonderful, well done BBC.
Banded Demoiselle from first screen. (c) Bark

Monday, 12 June 2017

Saturday and Sunday 10th and 11th June

Wren (c) Bark
Turtle Dove interaction (c) Derek Latham
As we ease towards midsummers day the pace of life on the moor has changed. Everything is still fresh and lush and green and many birds are now taking advantage of the surge in invertebrate populations to feed clutches of nestlings.
Chiffy (c) JR
Already there are family parties of juvenile warblers and tits foraging in the bushes. As the season draws on they will increasingly coalesce into mixed species flocks, taking advantage of the security that comes from large numbers of eyes and ears.
Sedgie with food (c) JR
There are still good numbers of Cuckoos present and on Sunday we heard more of the female’s bubbling chuckling calls than the more conventional male “cuckoo”. Along the bridleway on Saturday morning there were two different females that were clearly staking out Reed Warbler nests, perching up in the tallest bushes from whence they could slip in and lay their eggs. The adult birds will soon be gone and over the next month we will see the emergence of young birds still being fed by their harassed and diminutive foster parents.
Cuckoo in the hedge (c) Bark
Halfway along the bridleway a Sedge Warbler has taken up noisy residence in a large tangled briar. Every year it seems we get a Sedge Warbler that performs out in the open and close to people, it then rapidly becomes the most photographed bird on the moor. This year the bridleway bird is the one. I have even seen visitors taking pictures of it on mobile phones it is so confiding. Sadly, a photographer (I assume) has been doing some “gardening” to make the principal perch more obvious, the bird now doesn’t use it and sings instead from deeper inside the rose. Sometimes things are best left alone!
Singing sedge . Pre-gardening! (c) Bark
Out at the reedbed and on the large lagoons there is plenty of action to see. The Marsh Harriers are ever present and on Sunday morning we saw three food passes, it still appears to us that there are two females and one male, the male seems to be supplying both females with prey. There has been much more Bittern activity to be seen from the first screen. On Sunday morning, we noted at least four different movements between nine and ten thirty. We think that there were two different individual birds involved we should be able to work out from photographs whether or not this is true, as the irregular patterns of wear in their primaries can be distinguished from photographs.
Bittern landing in the reeds. (c) JR
Finally, out in the northern lagoon the Tern raft is hosting more pairs than ever before. When the battery for its electric fence was changed last week, there were nine separate nests noted but as yet no chicks have hatched. The adult birds are ranging out over the whole reserve and out along the River Ray bringing small fish back for their mates.
Shoveller family at the second screen (c) Bark
More and more Dragonflies, Damselflies, Butterflies and other bugs are appearing. We stood and watched a patch of flowering brambles in the Roman Road and were impressed by just how many insect species were using them as a source of nectar or as somewhere from whence to ambush others or set their traps. A spectacular yellow and black spider seized and subdued a brilliant blue damselfly that had blundered into its web. When one takes the time and patience to look, it fascinates me to catch sight of these tiny dramas that are going on in just a few square metres of vegetation.
Spider ambush (c) JR

Bug pics (c) Bark

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

3rd and 4th June

Singing Sedgie (c) Mark Chivers

The meteorologists say it is now officially summer, and this weekend it certainly seemed that way with warm sunshine predominant until late on Sunday afternoon. All of the hedges are splashed with pink and white from the Dog Roses and in the Roman Road and along the bridleway the elder is turning up panicles of creamy white flowers towards the sun. Beside the path to the first screen, hidden in the greenery is a spotted orchid, exotic amid the more mundane grasses. In the same area a privet is in flower, filling the air with its heavy scent that is neither totally pleasant nor totally unpleasant, bur veers between the two!
Dog Rose (c) Bark
Common Spotted Orchid (c) Tom N-L
The birdlife on the reserve is now going about the serious business of raising young and in some cases starting to set about raising second broods. There is less time for singing and more energy to be dedicated to foraging. There are already family parties of newly fledged, custard coloured Blue Tits hunting the hedgerows for food.

Custard coloured blue Tits and foraging Whitethroat (c) Bark
Out in the reedbed things are also stirring. We are seeing a lot more Bittern activity after a much quieter couple of months. It is probable that these are females beginning to make feeding flights in order to provision newly hatched chicks. We will be monitoring this process in order to get some idea of how many there are and where they might have nested.
Bittern Sunday (c) JR
The Marsh Harriers are also very active over the reedbeds. We are not completely certain but think that there is one mature male and two females with two different nests. We have observed food passes and nest materials being delivered, as well as aerial conflict with the Red Kites.

Common Tern and Sedgie (c) Bark
In the increasingly long grass out on Greenaways our pair of Common Cranes can be spotted stalking about and feeding. It looks very much as if they are undergoing their first major full moult. During the next few weeks they will be to all intents and purposes flightless as they moult and replace their main flight feathers. They should be fairly secure out there, as there is abundant cover and there will be a great deal of food as the various insect hatches take place, the grasses and sedges set seed and the grasshopper population booms. The juvenile interloper from last week seems to have moved on but could still be out lurking on the MOD land or even on Maltpit.

Cuckoos  above  (c) JR    below (c) Tom N-L 
Cuckoos are still easy to see and hear. They favour certain oak trees as preferred song posts and chase between them. The oaks behind the first screen are very popular as is the last big oak along the bridleway past the turning down to the hide. The females can sometimes be seen perched on the fence posts overlooking ditches beside the bridleway.
Anxious looking Reed Warbler (c) JR
They are waiting for their chance to dive into a Reed Warblers nest, that they have previously spotted and there lay their egg. They watch and wait for the warbler to be out feeding and then make their move.

Turtle Doves above (c) Tom N-L lower two (c) JR
The Turtle Doves are moving between several different songposts too. One of which is beyond the Roman Road as well as the familiar spots on the telegraph poles and in the oak beside the bridleway. We have also had a recent report of a purring bird over at Oddington, in a place that used to be a regular site, but which has not been used for several years. People are coming to the reserve specially to see this iconic summer visitor, on Sunday I met an RSPB members group, which had come down from Derbyshire. They were delighted to have seen the doves but also pleased and surprised to see the Cranes as well.

Male Beutiful Demoiselle (c) P Greenaway, Female and Speckled Wood (c) Bark
The first Black Hairstreaks were on the wing on Saturday morning in the Roman Road area, although in the windier conditions on Sunday we failed to re-find them. There were Beautiful Demoiselles there and on Friday a Downy Emerald Dragonfly was seen. A Banded Demoiselle was along the path out to the first screen. As can be seen from my photograph (on the blogsite only) a Red Admiral endorsed the RSPB sign about making a home for nature. I am sure ther will be more of the same in the summer weeks to come.
A home for nature! (c) Bark