Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Saturday and Sunday 24th and 25th June

Little Egret (c) Bark

The very high temperatures of the previous week had cooled to more normal summer weather and the moor was looking wonderful. When I arrived on Saturday morning I heard a cuckoo distantly and had one fly past me along the bridleway but by Sunday I did not hear any at all. They will be heading back to Africa even as I write, leaving their progeny to be raised by our Reed Warblers.
It will not be long before we are seeing young cuckoos that have outgrown the nest being fed out in the open. I had seen our rare hepatic cuckoo last weekend and once again been impressed by its stunning rich chestnut colour. It made me speculate about the frequency of this unusual morph appearing. The genetics are outside my expertise, but I wondered if any of the eggs from this individual would result in a similar looking offspring.
Reed Warbler with food...for a cuckoo? (c) Derek Lane
On both days this weekend, there were more individual birds singing again, presumably prior to embarking on second broods. I was serenaded by a very confiding Song Thrush near to the junction of the Car Park Field and the bridleway and once again we are hearing Willow and Grasshopper Warblers after several weeks’ silence.
Singing Song Thrush (c) Bark
At the reedbed there were regular but erratic Bittern movements seen. I have had several reports of and have also witnessed myself, Bitterns flying between the larger areas of reeds out on Greenaways. It might be that there are better feeding opportunities out there if there is now more competition within the reedbed itself.

Sedge and Chiffchaff (c) JR
On Sunday morning the Hen Harrier was seen again, flying across the northern lagoon and out towards the MOD land. It was noticed to be acquiring black tips to its wings and had much paler underwing feathers starting to appear. These factors suggest, that as we suspected, this is a sub adult male now beginning a moult into more adult plumage. The Marsh Harriers were also very much in evidence and on Monday this week four birds were reported in the air at the same time. If there are newly fledged young they will sit about in the stunted willows for several weeks and wait for the parent birds to bring them food. At this time they are very easily identified being a fairly uniform chocolate colour and having a very clear custard coloured head.
Digiscoped Tern chicks (c) Stoneshank
Out at the second screen on Sunday morning we watched the Common Terns chasing away potential predators from the area around and above the raft. They harassed several Red Kites, a Common Buzzard, a Marsh Harrier, a Hobby and a Lesser Black backed Gull. It was possible to pick out at least six dumpy chicks tottering about and begging the adults for food. There was a family party of Tufted Ducks in front of the screen and we were intrigued as to how the small fluffy ducklings managed to drive themselves down into the water when they were clearly so buoyant. When they surfaced from a dive they almost popped out of the water they surfaced so quickly.
Tufted Duck family (c) JR
The invertebrate life down on the moor drew our attention this weekend. We saw at least ten different species of butterfly between the first and second screens alone. The hedge beside the path has great swathes of brambles and this year they are all flowering profusely.

Nectaring Butterflies (c) Bark
This abundant supply of nectar and pollen attracts all kinds of insects. Because of its orientation this hedge is both sheltered from most winds and faces the rising sun. Dragonflies that need to warm up before hunting can be seen hanging on to twigs and branches, later on Darters take up regular perches from which to hunt the insects that are feeding on the brambles. A whole range of bees and flies also exploit this resource and ladybirds and their larvae prey on the Aphids that feed on the blackthorn leaves.

Darter and ladybird (c) Derek Lane
It was on the aphids “honey dew” that we spotted a couple of freshly emerged Purple Hairstreaks feeding, very intricately marked on the underwing and not seeming very purple on the upperwing until the sun refracts off them at the perfect angle and then their real colour glows out.

Purple Hairstreak (c) Bark
On Sunday morning I met an RSPB members group that was visiting from Dursley in Gloucestershire. They especially wanted to see Turtle doves and within ten minutes or so of them asking me about their whereabouts one of the regular males flew in, sat up in the oak and purred. The visitors told me that the species had gone extinct as a breeder in Gloucestershire five years ago, when the last regular colony disappeared. We hope that this will not be the fate of our birds and would really appreciate any records and photographs of juvenile birds seen down on the reserve. They are easily distinguished from the adults having no neck markings and being much duller. We too will be looking out for them and if we spot them I will be very happy to report it here.
Turtle Dove arriving on time for the visitors ! (c) Bark

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