Thursday, 5 July 2018

Last week in June and start of July

Bittern (c) Tezzer

I missed the last weekend of June on Otmoor as I spent a few days in south west Wales, including a couple of nights on Skomer. There I was able to experience a spectacle that many of my friends have described, namely sitting at “the Wick” and watching hundreds of Puffins coming in from the sea, wings whirring and going like small guided missiles their bills full of sandeels. It was even better that we were on the island on Monday when no day visitors come and so had the island and “the Wick” effectively to ourselves.

Puffins (c) Bark
I had not realised just how habituated and unafraid the birds are, nor how they have to run the gauntlet of piratical Herring Gulls waiting to mug them and take their catch. It was great to be in Pembrokeshire and have the chance to reacquaint myself with many of the coastal species that are never or seldom seen in Oxfordshire.

An elegant Teasel and a wild Cornflower  above (c) Bark   below (c) Stoneshank

Meanwhile back on the moor things have slowed down as is the way in mid-summer. I was surprised at how much the vegetation has changed in just a fortnight. The grasses have set seed and already the fields are more pale and ochre coloured than green. All apart from the phragmites reeds that continue to push up higher and are bright emerald in colour.
Young Reed Warbler (c) Bark
There has been news however and sadly it concerns our pair of Common Cranes. For the fourth consecutive year they have failed to fledge a chick or chicks. We had very high hopes this year and we know that they managed to keep the chick safe and growing for over six weeks from hatching. For the first time this year we managed to catch sight of the chick and by the time it perished we know it would have been nearly two feet tall. We can only assume that it was predated and probably at that stage the only likely predator would have been a fox. The birds arrived in the spring within a couple of days of when they arrived last year.  They demonstrated all the same behaviours of the previous three seasons so that we were able to calculate hatching dates and then follow their progress with the chick from the nest site and out into the surrounding areas. They are becoming much more practiced at chick rearing and every year they have managed to keep the chick or chicks alive for longer and longer. This year we calculate that the chick was just three or four weeks from flying, apart from the presence of predators the habitat is clearly right for them, and we can only hope that as they get more mature and experienced they will be successful eventually.
Marsh Harrier with prey (c) Tezzer
Our resident Marsh Harriers are having another successful year and we are confident that there are two pairs and on Sunday I saw a brief first flight from a juvenile bird. The juveniles are uniformly chocolate brown with a pale straw-coloured head. They are also not the most accomplished flyers early on. However, their confidence and competence will grow rapidly, as parent birds come in with prey items, call them up into the air and then drop the prey so that they start to catch it in mid-air.
Bittern on a feeding flight (c) Tezzer
Bitterns too are making feeding flights and can frequently be seen from the first screen heading across the reedbed. Young Bitterns disperse fairly quickly from the nest and then are found out in the reeds around the nest-site by the mother birds and fed. The male Bitterns play no part in raising the young.
Young Pochards (c) Old Caley
There were at least six young Pochard on the northern and southern reedbeds on Sunday and there are good numbers of juvenile Shovellers as well as Tufted Ducklings and Mallards.
There have been a few returning waders seen including a party of Black-tailed Godwits and the first Common Sandpiper reported on Otmoor this year.

Brown Hawker and Purple Hairstreak (c) Bark

During this quieter time the fine weather has proved to be good for butterflies and other insects. Last week White-letter Hairstreaks were found among the suckering elms along the footpath along the northern perimeter of the reserve just past Oddington. They have been recorded there before but not for some years. We found ten or more Purple Hairstreaks in the roman Road area on Saturday and it along there that the Brown Hairstreaks should be appearing in the next couple of weeks.
Juvenile Long Tailed Tit (c) Bark
Here are already mixed flocks of juvenile tits foraging together in the hedgerows and also groups of young warblers. I have not yet had any reports of juvenile Cuckoos being spotted but I am sure it will not be long. We were surprised to have two calling adults still on the moor on Saturday and Sunday this week.

Dust bathing Pheasant and Common Lizard (c) Bark

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