Wednesday, 30 August 2017

August Bank Holiday Weekend

Kingfisher (c) Derek Latham

Summer finally arrived and provided the warmest august bank holiday weekend for years. Yet again I managed to miss most of the best birds that were around especially the adult Red Backed Shrike that was found in Long Meadow on Sunday morning perched in the hedge on the left, about a hundred metres in, sitting and preening in the sunshine. The most galling part of this being that at about this time I was close by in the carpark! It is always a good idea to carry a mobile phone and be able to get through to Oxon Bird Log just in case one comes upon something unusual such as this shrike. The observer also found five Redstarts in the same field, although by later in the day they had moved into July’s Meadow and now numbered ten. There were Stonechats and Whinchats out at the Pill and on the part of Ashgrave that borders July’s Meadow.
Spot Fly at the old stop butt (c) JR
We are also experiencing a rise in the number of Spotted Flycatcher sightings that always occurs at this time of the year. As well as being seen in Long Meadow and along the main bridleway, we saw one flycatching from the very top dead branches of the oak behind the first screen on Saturday morning. Yellow Wagtail numbers are still on the rise. They are hunting around the feet of the cattle on Greenaways and Ashgrave and can also be seen coming in to roost on the reedbed at dusk.
Looking out from the first screen there have been regular wader sightings. There have been three Greenshanks, two Common Sandpipers and two Green Sandpipers as well as lots of Snipe. Larger flocks of Lapwings are beginning to be seen with a party of at least one hundred and twenty over the reedbed and Noke Sides on Sunday.
Snipe (c) Derek Latham
The waters’ edge and the mudbanks look as though there has been a light snowfall. It is the down discarded as the moulting ducks continually preen, primp and pluck at their feathers. Already some of the Gadwall and a few Mallard are beginning to show some colour as they emerge from their drab eclipse plumage.

Circling Cranes as they left (c) Norman Smith
The Common Cranes appear to have left now. They were seen by several observers last week as they flew over Greenaways bugling loudly and then circled for a while still calling, and gaining height, before finally heading off in a south westerly direction. They left a week or so later than last year and they may just have been waiting for favourable conditions and good thermals to give them lift. It has been wonderful having them on the moor and although they failed to raise any young again this year it is a credit to the reserve and the habitat that has been created, that they tried. We expect that they will over-winter on the Somerset Levels, as they have for the last two years and look forward to hearing them and seeing them back again next spring.
Bitterns are still with us but are still unpredictable and elusive being seen mostly in flight. Later in the autumn is the best time to see them on the ground as they haunt the reedy fringes of the northern lagoon.

Sprawk and Hobby (c) Derek Latham
There are a variety of raptors on and around the reserve at the moment. The Hen Harrier is showing more frequently but always at a considerable distance usually on the northern side of Greenaways.
Distant Hen Harrier and Kestrel (c) Pat Galka
Hobbies are present but not in the large numbers that we would normally expect to see pre-migration. Peregrine is being noticed a bit more frequently and should become regular as we move on through the season. Marsh Harriers are ever present as are Common Buzzards and Kestrels. The latter appearing in small loosely associating family parties. Several Sparrowhawks too are hunting the small passerines in the hedgerows and the reedbeds.
Kestrel (c) Bark and Sprawk at the screen (c) JR
News of a Night Heron just a few miles away in Buckinghamshire has piqued our interest and we will be looking carefully for any grey and black egret sized birds that might be lurking around the edges of the reedbed.
Still here! (c) JR

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th August

Young Sedgie (c) JR

It was a mostly dry weekend with rain overnight. Sunday morning was cool yet sunny with gin clear air and perfect light. The suite of birds on show were largely as we would expect in late summer as we nudge into autumn.
As we wandered along the bridleway and the trails there were many feeding parties of mixed warblers and tits to be seen.
Long Tailed Tits (c) Tom N-L
Juvenile warblers are a challenge to photograph and identify, they never stop moving as they feed busily, building up condition and fat stores for the journeys they are about to make. I walked through the recently reopened seasonal path in the carpark field on Sunday morning.

Elusive warblers (c) Bark
Sometimes the odd individual bird would stop for a few moments to warm up and preen in the early low sunshine. It is particularly rich in wildflowers, Fleabane and Loosestrife splashing the side of the paths with colour. It is certainly worth the detour.
Purple Loosestrife (c) Bark
All of our regular summer visitors, apart from Cuckoos, are still with us. The Common Cranes were seen flying in and out of Greenaways on both days. Hobbies are still hunting the abundant large dragonflies over the larger fields.
Ruddy Darter (c) Tom N-L
Turtle Doves are also still present, two were seen together sitting and preening in the dead trees that jut out into Ashgrave from the bridleway. They were too far away to see if either of them were juveniles even with a telescope, we have yet to make a positive identification of any newly fledged birds.
Several different Marsh Harriers came and went and the we have no way of knowing if the juvenile seen was one of “ours” or a visitor. The extra pale Common Buzzard was noted several times sitting on its favoured post out on Greenaways. A Peregrine over on Sunday was the first that I have seen for some weeks.
Reed Bunting (c) JR
There has been a steady stream of waders through, mostly viewable from the first screen. The mud exposed as the water has drawn down is attracting Greenshanks, Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers and of course lots of Snipe. The latter can be very difficult to pick out as they are so perfectly camouflaged. Two Ringed Plovers dropped in one day last week. Other birds can be seen creeping about on the margins amongst the moulting ducks. One of these is a juvenile Water Rail that at a distance can look disconcertingly like a Little Crake. Having said that, this is the time when we are most likely to see a passage Crake on Otmoor. There have been a number of Spotted Crakes seen across the country in the last week or so and Spotted Crake has been recorded from the first screen once before in late August.
Yellow Wagtails with the cattle (c) Bark
Out on Big Otmoor there were a couple of Wheatears feeding in one of the areas that were flooded and since drying out has been grazed down by the Geese and the cattle. When the cows came close enough to the bridleway it was possible to pick out the Yellow Wagtails that were hunting just beside their feet in the shorter grass. Their numbers will build up during the next few weeks and it fascinating to think that these same birds feeding between the legs of Otmoor cows could be feeding under the hooves of Ankole Cattle, Zebra or Wildebeest in just a few months’ time.  

Whinchats courtesy of Badger please view at 1080p HD

At Noke and out on Ashgrave to the left of the hide were small groups of Whinchats. There were still at least two juvenile Stonechats out at the Pill on Saturday morning. On one of the short grass fields near to Lower Farm there were five Wheatears on Saturday morning.
Unwell Sparrowhak (c) James Mackie Walker
A Sparrowhawk that appeared to have been stunned or had some kind of accident was eventually taken into care by some considerate birders who got in touch with St Tiggwinkles. They sent someone out who picked up the bird and took it into their hospital. The bird had not been hit or hurt but was in fact starving, as it had been infected by the trichomonas parasite. Sadly it was too far gone to save and succumbed. The parasite is most commonly found in finches where it blocks their throats and prevents them from feeding. We can only assume that it ate an infected finch and so was became host to the parasite. I had not heard of this happening to raptors before but an infected and weakened finch would be much easier for a young inexperienced predator to catch. A less than cheerful end to the weekend.
Our Ashgrave Fallow Deer are still with us. (c) Tezzer