Tuesday, 24 April 2018

21st and 22nd April

Last weekend Bark said that spring had finally arrived, and this week it felt like we had gone straight into summer. With the hottest April day recorded in the country for 70 years, and with a hot weekend forecast crowds of people came down to the moor to enjoy the birds, wildlife and countryside walks. The weather also helped the migrating birds as more of the regular summer migrants swelled the ranks of the early arrivals to fill the hedges, skies and reed beds. The Blackthorn bushes are full of blossom and the sunshine this week has really got the leaves going on the trees and bushes.

Blackthorn in bloom

Lots of different warblers can be heard from the car park, and if you listen carefully you can hear the distant reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling in its usual area up by the feeders. Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff soon followed. The walk from the car park to the main bridleway had more warblers singing away, while some were hidden in the bushes, others decided to get on the top of the bush to blast out their song. The skulking Lesser Whitethroat kept hidden away, as did the Grasshopper Warbler, but the Sedge Warblers could be seen near the tops of the bushes with their heads back singing away. A Whitethroat perched on the wires along the track and had a quick burst of song before diving for cover. Lesser Whitethroats are calling from all over the moor but so far there aren’t as many Common Whitethroat about. I expect they will soon arrive in numbers and be spread over the moor as usual by next weekend.  Cetti’s Warblers were easily picked up around the moor as they blasted out their song, often as you have just walked past. A Grasshopper Warbler was quite showy half way along the track to the first screen in the same place as last year. Garden Warblers were new arrivals this week and could be seen along the Roman road and the main bridleway, out in the open in the same area as last year. With Reed Warblers singing in the ditch around Greenaways it doesn’t take long to notch off the ten warblers that are usually found on the moor each year. With patience all the warblers can be seen well on the moor. There’s still time to pick up a passing Wood Warbler so hopefully one will drop in this week to keep the year list ticking over.

Sedge Warbler

Garden Warbler

There have been a few sightings of Wheatear on the moor this spring and even though the number of sighting may be down on previous years there were three around the cattle pens on Friday, one on the Closes on Saturday and two on Big Otmoor on Sunday.


With clear skies some of the raptors stretched their wings and circled up high above the moor. Red Kites, Buzzards and Sparrowhawk all circled overhead. A Peregrine was seen out on its regular post on Sunday on Greenaways and the regular Marsh Harriers were seen coming and going over the reed bed area. A single Hobby was seen on Friday evening and another three were seen on Sunday which were new for the Otmoor year list.

Hares were dotted around the reserve and can be seen quite easily at this time of year. The sunshine encouraged the Grass Snakes and Common Lizards out into the open along the bridleway and at the Lizard Lounge in front of the first screen.

Common Lizard

Ravens can often be picked up by their kronking call and one was seen flying over towards Oddington and two were seen drifting up high on a thermal over Greenaways. Woodcock and Jack Snipe were both seen over the weekend and were probably passing through. Booming Bittern was heard from the reed bed and three were seen flying over in the week. Grey Herons can be seen on nests in the reed bed and around the moor hunting for food.

Grey Heron

Even though there are a good number of birds singing away on the reserve the Skylark must take the prize as the most persistent as they are all over the reserve brightening up the day with their song filling the air. Meadow pipits were heard singing out on the moor and Cuckoos were heard more often than they were seen however there are at least three flying around the area.

Cuckoo, courtesy of John Reynolds

A Curlew was seen chasing off a Red Kite that must have got too close for comfort south of the reserve and others were calling off to the east. Snipe have started drumming and are a great addition to the sounds on the moor at this time of year. There is still at least one Black Tailed Godwit on Big Otmoor and another new addition to the year list was a Whimbrel seen out on Big Otmoor. These birds are often picked up each year flying over so it was nice to see one hanging around on Saturday and Sunday.


Without doubt the bird of the weekend was a Pied Flycatcher and was seen by two of the weekend regulars. A great bird for the Otmoor year list and quite a difficult one to catch up with in Oxfordshire each year. Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and even though we searched all over for it we couldn’t find it again. It just goes to show that things are passing through and you have to be out and about to pick them up. Who knows what new birds will be added to the list over the coming week, hopefully something new for the reserve, well you have to live in hope!



Monday, 16 April 2018

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th April

Chiffy (c) JR

Full on spring seems to have happened at last, after what has seemed an interminable wait. Saturday morning was the epitome of a spring morning on the moor, with the first Cuckoo calling from the Roman Road and both Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat singing in the carpark field.  On Saturday morning there was a good scatter of Blackcaps singing in the hedgerows and there were several Sedge Warblers staking claims to territories with their demented, frenetic songs.
Sedge warbler being shy (c) Bark

Willow Warbler (c) Bark
It was as if a dam had finally burst and new sounds and fresh life were flowing in through the gap. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were in full song from he bridleway and one Chiffchaff was so stained with yellow from the pollen of the pussy willow around it that, but for its song it would have been tricky to identify.
Chiffy covered in pollen. (c) Bark

There is a steady trickle of passage waders going through with three Black-tailed Godwits out on Big Otmoor on both days this weekend and a very elusive male Ruff. Redshank are everywhere one looks and have two pairs of Oystercatchers spending time both on and off the reserve. They flew low over us on Saturday morning and what fell on my head demonstrated that it is not just RAF Tornados that are adept at precision bombing!
Reedbed Teal (c) Bark

There were still significant numbers of ducks on the Big Otmoor pools and fifty or sixty Teal still on the reedbed lagoons. There are still Wigeon and a minimum of ten Pintail on Big Otmoor. Four Shelduck have been commuting between Noke Sides and Ashgrave, they are often present at this time of year but as yet we have no evidence of breeding attempts.
Little Egret (c) Bark
A Little Egret was stalking the margins of the Ashgrave pools presumably in pursuit of frogs, whilst in the reedbed Herons come and go to their hidden nests. It has now been proved that there are two booming male Bitterns on the moor, one in the main reedbed and the other in the linear reedbed nearer to Noke. Timed observations of the booming on Thursday evening proved that there must be two, short of having just one bird with a cloak of invisibility!
smart pair of Gadwall on Ashgrave (c) Bark
A dead goose out on Ashgrave has attracted a pair of Ravens that were spotted several times over the weekend flying in to feed and then flying off, presumably to feed young. The Marsh Harriers are very active both over the reedbed and the wider fields of the reserve. The male Hen Harrier is still with us, immaculate now in full adult plumage. It seems to be hunting further afield over the moor and is not always staying distantly on the far sides of the field. Barn Owls too are putting in regular appearances and hunting both at dawn and at dusk.
barn Owl (c) JR

With the presence of Whitethroat and on Sunday at least three Lesser Whitethroats the Otmoor year list is leaping ahead. There was a male Redstart in Long meadow on Friday and only this morning the first pair of Garganey of the year were spotted. The list currently stands at one hundred and twenty. Next week I expect it to go even further but I will not be there myself to record it……..I will be watching much less exciting things in Lesvos. Fortunately Steve and Pete will be filling in in my absence and I just hope that that they don’t turn up anything too exceptional.
Pristine Peacock (c) Bark

Monday, 9 April 2018

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th April

Kingfisher (c) Bark

At least the weather has finally become a little more spring-like, on Saturday it brightened up eventually with some watery sunshine, but Sunday reverted to the damp showery conditions that have characterised the first week of April. There was a marked difference in the air however, it was softer, warmer and smelt of growing. The Blackthorn is beginning to flower in earnest and it will not be long before the bushes are dressed in a fresh white froth.
Blackthorn (c) Bark

There are now Willow Warblers singing to accompany the monotonous chanting of Chiffchaffs. By Sunday morning there were at least four singing along the bridleway and others in the carpark field. The first Blackcaps of the year were heard on Saturday morning singing in the lane just outside the carpark.
Chiffchaff (c) JR

The first Swallows were seen over Greenaways and we noticed odd ones and twos feeding low over the water at the lagoons and the first Sedge Warbler was reported on Friday morning and another was heard singing up at the Noke end on Saturday.
Barn Owls were seen both at Morleys and out at the second screen on both mornings. They have become a regular feature of early morning visits and I understand that they are being seen just as frequently in the late afternoon and early evening.
Barn Owl (c) Tom N-L

A Sparrowhawk has been making frequent forays along the path by the hide, where the winter-feeding programme is still going on, scattering the finch flock, which seems to contain more Linnets currently than at any earlier time in the winter. The Linnets retreat to the tops of the bridleway oaks from where they keep up an incessant chatter. The Marsh Harriers are almost always to be seen either patrolling overhead or perched on low bushes and sapling willows in the reedbed. On Saturday one of them was performing a sky-dancing display, starting high it spun, spiralled and stalled in a series of tight turns behaving and looking like a kite in a strong wind when one of the kite-strings has snapped. A female Merlin was seen again over the MOD land. Our long staying male Hen Harrier is still putting in occasional appearances and has still to make the perilous trip north.
Female Pochard (c) JR

As we walked along the bridle way on Saturday morning we heard the Bittern booming from the reedbed on Ashgrave, although when we made it along to Noke this weekend we couldn’t find any Wheatears in the sheep fields or on the fences by the farm. The pastures nearest to the bridleway are still flooded, which must be creating headaches for the sheep farmers at Noke especially as their ewes have just started lambing.
Oystercatchers at Noke (c) Bark
There were three Oystercatchers and several Redshanks stalking through the floods feeding. On the MOD land to the east of the reserve many of the fields are still flooded and amongst the large numbers of Black-headed Gulls feeding there were eight Common Gulls.

fox through the flood (c) Bark
It was a good weekend to catch up with some of our cold-blooded residents. The watery sun had encouraged twenty-six Grass Snakes out onto the dead reeds along the ditch beside the bridleway to sunbathe and warm up.

Grassnakes Above (c) JR below...Medusa's Head (c) Tom N-L
There are both Common Toads and Frogs spawning in the ditches and occasionally giving each other lifts to other parts of the reserve!

Toads porn, Frog and exhausted photographer (c) Bark......  Frogspawn (c) Stoneshank
While trying to photograph a frog a Kingfisher landed nearby in the reeds, slightly unusual as Kingfishers do not breed on the reserve due to an absence of the right sort of river bank, but it did offer super views.
Kingfisher (c) Bark
The year list now stands at one hundred and fourteen species and as yet lacks any stand out exciting or unusual sightings. During the next few weeks anything could turn up.

Dunnock and Chiffy (c) Bark...........Reed Bunting (c) JR

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Easter Weekend 30th March - 2nd April

Wheatear (c) Bark

The old saying was that “March will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb” March 2018 had not read the script! This month came in like a lion and went out like one, not just any lion but a very cold, grumpy and wet one!
The wettest March for thirty years has meant that water levels are at their highest for a long while and many of the adjacent fields, such as the sheep fields at Noke, Noke Sides and the MOD land are flooded. From the top of the hill at Beckley the moor looks like a small version of the Somerset Levels. From the sky it must stand out to migrants like a beacon and it has tempted passage visitors down.
Wheatear at Noke (c) Bark
On Saturday morning we were pleased to find our first Wheatear of the season and by Sunday morning there were at least six out on the sheep fields and by the farm at Noke. The males look wonderful, very fresh, bright and colourful. They are easy to spot sitting up on fence posts or hopping about on the short grass fields looking for insect prey.
Ruff on the sheepfields (c) Bark

Ruff courtesy of Badger.

We were pleased to find some passage waders on Saturday too. There were a pair of male Ruff feeding on the edge of the floods at Noke and further out in the same field in deeper water, there were two Black Tailed Godwits. The Godwits also spent some time in and over Big Otmoor. On Monday there were three Ringed Plovers and three little Ringed Plovers in the same location.
Nesting Grey Heron (c) Tom N-L

There are two pairs of Oystercatchers on the moor and their distinctive piping calls can often be heard as they fly from one field to another. They have often attempted to breed I the past but as far as I know have yet to succeed in raising any chicks. They seem likely to be trying again this year as a pair was seen mating on Friday.
Oystercatcher (c) JR

An Osprey passed overhead on Friday perhaps attracted by the expanse of water. There has been a steady passage of them through the county and we normally expect to see one or two in a year. On the same day the first hirundines were spotted over the reedbed lagoons in the shape of two Sand Martins battling their way north as the weather calms down and warms up it will not be long before the first Swallows follow.
Pied Wag (c) Bark

Redshanks seemed to be everywhere this past week. Their pairing up and courtship accompanied all the time by their yodelling calls. When the land they raise their wings like banners to display their presence to rivals or suitors.
There are still about two hundred and fifty Golden Plovers out in the middle of Big Otmoor stoically facing into the wind. Many of them now showing the distinctive black bellies of their summer plumage. Among them were about six Dunlin feeding busily around their legs.

Marsh Harriers (c) Tom N-L

Raptors have been very noticeable over the weekend. Four Marsh Harriers are hunting over the whole of the reserve, not just the reedbed and often interacting with each other. Two adult Peregrines, one much larger than the other were around on Saturday. There was no obvious behaviour to suggest that they were a pair. A female Merlin was seen out on Greenaways on Saturday morning. If previous years  are anything to go by it is likely that she will still be around for a week or so after the first Hobbies arrive, the two species usually overlap at both ends of the year by a week or so. Our fine male Hen harrier is still being seen and is a stunning bird crisply dressed in black white and grey. If he does go north for the summer, we can only hope that he avoids the English grouse moors where his chances of surviving are sadly very poor. Barn Owls are still out hunting in the daylight, both over the reedbed, in the car park Field and over Greenaways. It may be that they have extra mouths to feed or just that they have had difficulty in hunting during the recent wet nights

Barnies above (c) JR    below (c) Bark

There is a Bittern booming from the broad strip of reeds that lies along the lower northern edge of Ashgrave. This linear reedbed is a substantial area of phragmites and is a drier reedbed than the larger more conventional one out on Greenaways. The sound could be heard most clearly and loudly from the bridleway, it is a strange deep bass call that resonates and a sound that carries a considerable distance.
Looks like Spring (c) Bark

Finally, on Tuesday Steve and Pete Roby found three Little Gulls feeding over the floods on the MOD land. This is an unusual bird to find on Otmoor although there have been other infrequent records in the past. This attractive dainty Gull has taken our year list up to one hundred and ten and we expect to add many more to it in the coming few weeks.
Shovellers (c) JR