Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th July

Reed warbler (c) Bark

Saturday was unseasonably cool and damp, not wet enough to soak, but enough to fog optics and spectacles. Sunday saw a welcome return to warm and mostly sunny conditions.
Car Park Field Songthrush (c) Nick Truby
This weekend young, newly fledged or fledging youngsters took centre stage: Common Terns on the northern Lagoon, Marsh Harriers around the whole reedbed and parties of mixed tits and warblers in the hedgerows.

Common Terns (c) Nick Truby
Over the last few years the Tern raft out from the second screen has only attracted one or at most two pairs of Common Terns. In one year, they managed to raise just one chick to adulthood and last year both chicks were predated. This year has been very different, nine pairs have raised at least seven young, based just on the part of the raft we can see. I am sure that there are more than that out there. Their numbers mean that they can feed, provision the chicks and still have sufficient adults left over to drive off potential avian predators and the extra strand of wire on the electric fence appears to have kept any mammals at bay. The chicks are now starting to fly and when watching them it is quite amazing to see just how adept and manoeuvrable they are on so little flying experience, judging landing however is taking a bit more learning.
Lunch arriving (c) Nick Truby
The parent birds are having no trouble at all in finding sufficient food to keep them growing. Birds were arriving all the time with quite large fish mostly unidentifiable as to species, however last week one photographer posted a picture of a bird arriving at the nest site with a goldfish in its bill!
Sedgie (c) JR
The Marsh Harriers have fledged their young and their disposition has confirmed what we had thought, namely that there were two nests. Two females with a single male between the two. There are two juveniles being seen from the second screen and a further two that are in the hedge on the southern side of the big oak tree and on the northern edge of Greenaways. We witnessed several food passes over the weekend. The young birds sit in the trees and bushes, watching and waiting for the adults to return and then fly up to take the prey item from their talons or to chase it down when the adult releases it. When they are sitting up waiting it is possible to scope them very easily and you can admire their beautiful, uniform and pristine chocolate coloured plumage set off by a ginger cap and face.

Young Moorhen above (c) Derek Lane  and Young Water Rail below (c) JR
Two Common Cranes were seen on Sunday flying in from fields to the east, some very poor photographs that I took do not appear to show any colour rings on them, but that might just have been due to their distance and my blurry pictures. It could well be however that we still have four or even five individuals in the vicinity.
Long Meadow Redstart (c) Pete Roby
The Hen Harrier is still being seen from time to time and it is looking very scruffy as it starts to moult into plumage that confirms as we thought, that it is a young male. Over the coming weeks, assuming it remains, we should begin to see it looking much smarter.

Above Brown Hawker and prey (c) Derek Lane   below Teazel and Bee (c) Bark
The first returning Redstarts have been found in Long Meadow, with three individuals seen and heard on Sunday. They will be with us for a number of weeks now as they moult and fatten up for migration, a reminder that nature and the seasons never stand still and autumn is lurking around the corner.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th July

Reed Warbler building second nest (c) JR

“Summertime and the living is easy……” as George Gershwin wrote…..and that is true right now down on the moor. Birds are taking advantage of the massive numbers of insects that are thriving on the lush vegetation. We are seeing small birds foraging everywhere and dashing back to chicks with beaks stuffed with insect food.
Young Sedge Warbler (c) Bark
Out on Greenaways up to four common Cranes have been feeding in the long grasses. The grasses have subtly changed colour shifting from the rich greens of two or three weeks ago to gold, warm browns and ochre as they set seed. Walking through the grass it is impossible not to notice the huge numbers of grasshoppers that leap and scatter at your passage. It is likely that it is this abundant food source, that the Common Cranes are feeding on as they moult into their new flight feathers. Careful and patient scanning is needed to spot the moment when one or other long neck appears above the grass, like a periscope on a submarine. As well as “our” Cranes there appears to be another pair that are able to fly and are visiting, all four were seen close together last week.
Taking advantage of the seed put down for their rarer cousins (c) Derek Latham
Bullfinches appear to have had a successful breeding season so far, this year if the number of family parties that are about is anything to go on. They are very noticeable in the carpark field, along the bridleway and on the path beside the hide. Chaffinches are very evident too, taking advantage of the seed that is being put down specially for the Turtle Doves. The cattle have commandeered this area by the stockade and it is difficult to get near it to scatter the feed. There are currently several large flocks of juvenile Starlings around on the moor, last week we had a flock of at least three hundred feeding in the long grass in Long Meadow. There is one such group that is staying close to the cattle and it is easy to see that they are all brown juvenile birds, I assume that the adults are all off raising further broods.
Cattle and Starlings (c) Derek Latham
The first trickle of returning or non-breeding waders have appeared. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on the Greenaways scrape on Saturday morning and there are reports of Green Sandpipers being both seen and heard last week.
Little Ringed Plovers(c) Derek Latham
At the first screen, along with the regular eclipse ducks, were two Black headed gull chicks that can only have come from a nest in the reedbed one of them swimming about in the middle of the lagoon accompanied by anxious and very noisy parents. The other was pottering about on the emerging mud patch on the left-hand side of the channel and accompanied by attendant parents. There were also three juvenile Little Egrets and two adult birds in the same area. The juveniles could all fly well enough and so are not likely to have fledged on the moor, but their landing and perching skills still need a lot of practice.

Egrets et al (c) JR     Black Headed Gulls and chick (c) Bark
We were pleased to see two newly fledged Marsh Harriers making their first flights at the weekend. Like the Egrets they can fly reasonably well but getting back down is a skill that is still to be mastered. Their landings in the low willows and bushes being no more than very wobbly flappy crashes. It is great to be able to report that the Marsh Harriers have bred successfully for the third successive year. Bitterns have been seen again intermittently and observations made last week suggest that there are feeding flights being made but as yet we have seen no newly fledged birds.
At the second screen the Common Terns chicks are growing apace. They are demonstrating different stages of development at least one bird looks very much as though it will be fledged in about a week, others are still at the portly downy stage. They are being brought a steady stream of fish, some of them large, the returning adults often coming in from the direction of the River Ray. While watching the Terns we were alerted to the presence  of a raptor by the behaviour first of  a group of starlings on the flood and then the Terns themselves, it was the Hen Harrier and we saw it briefly as it passed over the Barn Field before disappearing behind the hedge. Nonetheless it was good to know that it is still here.

Fritillary, Comma and Peacock all between the screens (c) Bark
Back on the insect front we were very pleased to find a Silver Washed Fritillary quite close to the second screen nectaring on thistles, some way from woodland but near to an oak hedgerow. The first pristine Peacocks were on the wing. Last week a swarm of bees was seen flying over the second screen before settling in the hedgerow behind it. They had moved on by Saturday perhaps occupying one of the hollow, pollarded old willows that line the Ray, but once more showing that there is always something new to see and find on Otmoor.

The Swarm (c) Stoneshank

Monday, 3 July 2017

Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd July

Turtle Doves (c) Derek Latham
After some overnight rain both days were sunny and warm but not as hot as they had been in the last few weeks. It has been perfect growing weather for plants and for the myriad of insects that feed on them.

Knapweed (c) Bark              Flowering Rush (c) Stoneshank
There is a busyness about the smaller birds as they forage in mixed flocks in the hedges, ditches and rank vegetation. Other individuals can be seen gathering insects and then flying back with beaks full of food to satisfy hungry broods. The Turtle Doves are commuting between regular song posts along the bridleway and another way over in a dead oak in Long Meadow. They are often being seen feeding on the fine seed put down for them by the cattle corral.
Turtle and interloper Collared Dove (c) Derek Latham
Two Collared Doves have found this food supply as have a family of Mallards and they are all taking advantage of it.
The Marsh Harriers are still hunting over the whole moor and it’s no wonder, as I have heard today (Monday) that the first of the Marsh Harrier chicks has made a short flight above the place we think one of the nests is located. In less than half an hour three separate food drops were seen above this presumed nest which suggests there is more than one chick.
Still grinding out his song (c) Bark

Out in the grasslands there may be up to five Common Cranes. “Our” regular pair have been joined by another pair as well as the lone juvenile that has been seen intermittently over the last few weeks. On Monday (today) four birds were seen together and apparently comfortable in each other’s company and with the proximity of one pair to the other.
Bitterns are still being seen making what we assume are feeding flights most of these feature the northern Reedbed although birds have been seen landing in the isolated reed clumps on Greenaways. One bird coming from there flew over my head on Saturday morning on route to the reedbed. It was making a strange grunting call in time with its wingbeats.
Common Tern (c) Bark

At the second screen, there is lots of action on the tern raft. We manged to count nine chicks of very different sizes tottering about on it and feel strongly that there will certainly be more than this. The parent birds are bringing in lots of small fish for them, some of the fish are even longer than the chicks themselves and take a great deal of swallowing. We watched one of the larger ones take a good five minutes of gulping and gagging to get a fish down. It is no wonder that they are thriving so well given their abundant food supply.
Grebe pair with one chick. (c) Bark

There is a pair of Great Crested Grebes on the northern lagoon. They only appear to have managed to hatch one stripy chick, it is riding around on the back of one or either parent.

There are very large numbers of butterflies along the tracks and up in July’s Meadow. It is possible to get a sense of how rich the country side must have been before pesticides and intensive farming cleared away the weedy margins. Mostly Meadow Browns and Ringlets they have been joined by an emergence of fresh Gatekeepers, one of the prettiest and underrated of the commoner butterflies.
Fresh Gatekeeper (c) Bark
Walking between the first screen and the bridleway we spotted a Silver-washed Fritillary nectaring on bramble flowers. We decided to walk up along the southern side of Ashgrave and when we reached a bramble that was in flower and importantly in the sunshine, we saw over twelve of these beautifully marked, super bright creatures feeding and flirting with each other over the flowers. Who says that there is nothing to see in July?

Silver-washed Fritillaries (c) Bark