Monday, 17 September 2018

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th September

Whinchat ant the cattle pens.

This week continued much as the others of late with little that was particularly new or different to report. Autumn continues to creep on and the changing colours are increasingly evident in the trees and bushes.

However, this week there is a major development to report. If we are to believe the transport planning authorities (my beliefs are always strongly tempered with cynicism when they involve government) the whole of the Otmoor Basin is no longer being considered as part of the route for the Oxford to Cambridge expressway. I am delighted that the threat has been lifted from area that I care passionately about and that people who live in the surrounding villages can breathe a sigh of relief. Nonetheless it would be churlish just to glory in our good fortune when there are bound to be other special places and habitats that will now come under threat. We must be prepared to argue for the protection of any valuable wildlife sites that may now be in the firing line.

Whinchat at cattle pens and wind blown at Noke

I finally managed to catch up with passage Whinchats on Sunday having once again managed to be in the wrong places at the wrong times on Saturday. I found three hunting from the wires at Noke in a very blustery wind and caught up with another that has based itself in a large bramble at the eastern end of the cattle stockade on the edge of Greenaways. The particular bramble patch also held a fine fresh Common Whitethroat and a Lesser Whitethroat as well. In amongst the stakes and bars of the corral many of the weedy feed plants that we put out in the winter have grown and set seed and these are attracting a small flock of juvenile Goldfinches.

At Noke I counted four young Green Woodpeckers feeding on the short grass fields and Jays are to be seen and heard gathering acorns and flying noisily along the hedges.
We saw Hobbies on both days this weekend and the Kestrels seem to be everywhere. A female peregrine was seen during the week and this weekend a smaller male.
juvenile Hobby first screen

We had four Wigeon drop into the first screen on Saturday morning and their evocative whistling calls were yet another reminder that winter is now not so very far away.

Squirrel hiding nuts and Michaelmas Daisy signs of the season

Thursday, 13 September 2018

First two weeks of September

Wren with breakfast (c) Bark

I can’t remember a two or three week period on Otmoor, when there was so little that was new to report. We have slid into early Autumn with golden sunny days at the beginning of the month and a much greyer weekend that has just passed. There has been no significant rain and it is still very dry, with huge cracks in the soil along the bridle way, that are wide enough to twist and ankle if one is not careful. Leaves are beginning to change colour and on mornings that there has been any mist a myriad of spiders’ webs are strung with tiny water droplets like pearls.
(c) Bark

It appears to me that blackberries are more prolific this year than normal the brambles are heavy with fruit although the slightly smaller berries themselves reflect the summer drought. Few birds are taking advantage of this bounty although to judge by the quantity and colour of droppings beside the trails, badgers are feasting on blackberries by night.

On the lagoons there are morose ducks moulting and the water levels have stopped going down and we have insufficient mud to tempt down many passing waders. There were a few Snipe hunched on the small island that had started to appear on the southern reedbed, but the island remains frustratingly small.
Moulting Mallard at first screen (c) Bark

The Common Cranes have been gone for well over a fortnight, we assume making their brief migration back to the Somerset Levels for the winter. Marsh Harriers are now being seen very infrequently, in fact I don’t believe that they were seen at all last weekend. I expect them to return as the Starling roost becomes more established and larger as the autumn progresses.

New recruits to the Starling roost (c) Bark
Hobbies have been recorded most days with five individuals hunting dragonflies over Greenaways at the beginning of the month. On Sunday I saw a lone individual chasing hirundines above the reedbed. As is usual at this time of year there are several Kestrels hovering over the main fields or hunting from fixed lookout points.
Dawn Kestrel (c) Bark
Other passage visitors are eluding me. On Saturday I walked to Noke to look for Whinchats and found the fields and fences empty. On Sunday I see on Bird Log that Old Caley found six at the farm! Once again, I’m managing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! I scanned around the cattle on all three fields on Sunday and couldn’t find any Wagtails at all, just a couple of Magpies using the bull as a lookout point
Bull and Magpie (good name for a pub?)
…..on Monday evening the Robys had seventy-eight Yellow Wagtails going to roost in the reedbed and a Barn Owl hunting in The Closes.
Kingfisher at Noke (c) Bark
Kingfishers are back on the moor. They disappear during the summer as there is no suitable bank for them to tunnel into and return post breeding. I have seen them in the last couple of weeks on the first lagoon, the balancing pond at Noke and along the ring ditch around Big Otmoor and Greenaways. The ring ditches hold a lot of fish, so much so that there was a Cormorant feeding in the reedy ditch beside the visitor trail on Sunday.

Sometimes difficult to spot warblers in the depths of the bushes.

We are approaching the time when Bearded Tit irruptions happen and now is the time when we are most likely to hear and see them. It would be great to be able to welcome this wetland and reedbed special back to the moor again after a three-year absence. We will be listening out for “pinging” over the next few weeks.
Greenaways Fox (c) Bark

Thursday, 30 August 2018

August Bank Holiday Weekend

Kestrel (c) JR

It was certainly cooler and fresher on Saturday morning, but that was not the only change to the preceding weeks. There was also a subtler difference in the look and feel of the moor, we agreed that there was a touch of Autumn in the air, not obvious or easy to define but detectable nonetheless. Greenaways, Big Otmoor and Ashgrave have been topped and tidied.

The Phragmites reeds are setting seed and the silky tassels have turned. They are a beautiful purplish- bronze colour, difficult to describe precisely but emblematic of late summer.

Our Common Cranes are getting restless and will soon be setting off on their short migration to the Somerset Levels for the winter. On Saturday they moved from one field to another but between settling on the ground flew high and wide. They took advantage of the wind and of thermal up-draughts to gain height rapidly before returning gently to the ground. When the Cranes take to the air they call to each other continually and can often be heard before they are seen.

All Crane pictures (c) Bark

On Saturday we found a very obliging juvenile Kestrel that seemed to have little fear of people. It allowed us to get within six or seven metres without showing and signs of fear. We were concerned that it might be injured or sick, but it was quite capable of flight and wings and feet appeared to in good working order.
Kestrel (c) Bark
It was sitting on a gate and every so often would fly down to pick up something from the ground. I remember that there was a similarly tame Kestrel once at Farmoor that allowed a very close approach.
Kestrel (c) JR
On Monday there were a large number of Sand Martins and House Martins feeding over the water at both screens. They were almost hovering over the hedges allowing the stiff breeze to blow prey out of the hedges or picking insects off the surface of the water.

Sand Martins (c) Bark
There are ducks of all the common species out on both lagoons and as is typical they are beginning to shed a lot of feathers as they go into moult. The water levels on both lagoons is drawing down and the northern lagoon will be the one that falls the most as that is this reed bed that is due to have some reed cutting this year.
Moulting Gadwall (c) Bark
There is already a muddy area appearing out directly in front of the first screen and we hope that it will draw down some waders as well as offering a place for Snipe to rest and feed.
The resident Marsh Harriers are much less in evidence than they were when they were servicing their newly fledged young. The juveniles have dispersed, and the remaining adults are looking very tatty as they go into moult, both of the birds I saw at the weekend had some primary feathers missing.
Sparrow Hawk at the second screen (c) Bark

I checked out both the Noke Farm and the Pill area at the weekend to se if any Whinchats or Wheatears had arrived, they had not on Monday but by Tuesday there were four Whinchats on the Pill and a further four over on the western side of Ashgrave, doubtless a smattering of Wheatears will follow.
Whinchats (c) Tezzer
There are still Redstarts in Long Meadow, I found three on Monday morning, as usual I heard them before I managed to pin them down. I look forward to seeing more of these passage species over the next few weeks hopefully with something scarcer in tow.

Long meadow Redstarts (c) Bark

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

7th -20th August

Willow Warbler (c) Bark

The weather has continued to cool a little from July’s highs but at times it has been quite humid and uncomfortable. There has been some rain but not really significant amounts, the cut areas on the fields however are looking greener. The moor is quieter now and has settled into a midsummer languor.
Languid Hare (c) JR

Blue Tit (c) Bark
There are very large, busy parties of mixed tits both in the car park field and along the bridleway. They move along the hedgerows, as they feed the birds from the back flying over and ahead of the birds in front, creating a loose rolling action. They seldom stop and communicate with each other using a range of short sharp contact calls that must be universally understood although there are frequently three and occasionally four different species in the flock.
Young Reed Warbler (c) Bark

The Warblers do not seem to have aggregated together yet in the mixed species flocks as they do shortly before migration. They can be found either as lone individuals or as family parties. Whether on their own or in small groups they too keep up a quiet chattering. It is particularly challenging at this time of year to try to differentiate between the “tacks”, “huweets” and “tseeps” coming from the depths of the bushes. Is that a willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff or perhaps even a Redstart? Patience and persistence will usually be rewarded with a brief sighting of the caller, it took us ten minutes at the first screen on Saturday to finally nail down a Willow Warbler!
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By the kissing gate on Saturday we watched a family party of Reed warblers shimmying down the reeds to pick emerging flies from the surface of the water. Their acrobatic skills are remarkable as they balance upside down like Olympic gymnasts. In Long Meadow we found at least four Redstarts but there may well have been more to judge by the birds we heard calling, they were as usual very elusive. A young Spotted Flycatcher was seen briefly along the bridleway towards Noke on Sunday morning.
Distant Redstart (c) Bark
We are getting the impression that seed eaters have had a very productive summer so far. There is a large flock of mostly juvenile Chaffinches by the cattle pens and the seeding thistles near the feeders are attracting large numbers of Goldfinches. Although not often visible Bullfinches can be heard making their rather weak “seeep” calls and they too seem more abundant.
Goldfinch (c) JR

Seven Stock Doves dropped in to drink at the tiny remaining pool on Ashgrave but there have been no sightings in the last week of Turtle Doves and regrettably we have not seen any juvenile birds at all this year.
Reflective Moorhen (c) Tom N-L

The Common Cranes are still around the moor and can often be spotted feeding out on the northern edge of Greenaways. They often emerge onto the shorter grass before disappearing again into the still uncut areas of rank grasses.
Cranes Passing (c) Bark

The number of ducks on the lagoons is slowly starting to rise and they are uniformly drab in their eclipse plumages, it is still possible to sort one species from another but more difficult. There are several Kestrels on and around the reserve at the moment. They seem to disappear in spring and clearly breed elsewhere. Now they are back they are hunting opportunistically and often can be seen hunting from a perch and taking grasshoppers and other large insects as well as their more regular mammalian prey.
Kestrel (c) Derek Lane

Hungry Hornet (c) Bark
Once again Hornets are chewing away at the bark of the stunted ash trees along the bridleway and feeding on the sap that seeps from the wounds. There are splashes of colour across the hedgerows now with Purple Loosestrife flowering and berries and sloes starting to colour up. I was lucky enough to see my first Clouded Yellow butterfly of the year last weekend, when I ventured out to the Pill. They are a really lovely mix of yellows and orange.

Clouded Yellow, Loosestrife and Guelder Rose. (c) Bark