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

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

28th July to 5th August High Summer

Soon to be late Great crested grebe chick! (c) Bark

The weather had finally broken and there had been some rain on Friday night so there was a clean freshness to the air on Saturday morning. Sunday was very wet, which kept me away from the moor, but by Monday the weather had begun to settle down once again. The showers and the heavier rain over-night has rejuvenated the vegetation and must have encouraged more insect life to emerge. A very confiding young Song thrush was foraging in the damp grass near the kissing gate and seized a bright yellow snail which it proceeded to batter out of its shell right in front of us.
Songthrush and prey (c) JR

Over the weekend we added our one hundred and fortieth species to the year-list, in the form of a Black necked Grebe, it was found late on Saturday afternoon and departed some time on Sunday evening……needless to say, I missed it. It was on the southern edge of the northern lagoon in and out of the reedy margins.
Black-necked Grebe. (c) Tezzer

Apart from the grebe all continued much as it had in the previous few weeks. The consensus among those watching the Marsh Harriers closely is that there are now four newly fledged birds around, that often spend much of their time loafing around in the bushes waiting for one of the three adults to bring in food and pass it to them. There is one adult male and two females and the youngsters respond to all three of them, often spotting them coming from a distance and flying up to collect their rations.
Grebe family (c) JR

The grebe family of two youngsters and two adults that were out on the water a week ago by Saturday only had one chick left, but sadly by the time I visited on Monday evening the chick had gone. The adults seemed to have a very casual approach to its welfare. They were seen trying to feed it a small Pike at least twice its size on Friday and when carrying it on their back would frequently dive, leaving it bobbing about on the surface like a cork. At such times it would have been very vulnerable to predation from both above and below.
Tufted duck with tuftlings (c) JR

As is to be expected at this time of year the Brown Hairstreaks along the Roman Road are attracting plenty of admirers and it does seem to be a particularly good summer for them.
Purple Emperor (c) John Friendship-taylor
A young visitor on his first trip to Otmoor was sharp eyed enough to spot a Purple Emperor in one of the Roman Road oaks. Well done to Callum, it is the third or fourth record of this beauty on the reserve this year.
Brown Hairstreak (c) Bark

A smattering of Green Sandpipers are being seen on the rapidly disappearing scrapes on Greenaways, but as yet there has been no significant wader passage on Otmoor.
Redstart (c) Pete Roby

Other signs of the changing seasons are happening however. More Redstarts are being spotted in their regular haunts, although they are very difficult to track down choosing to bury themselves deep in the bushes. On Sunday a Whinchat was a surprise find so early in the season. It was on a spindly willow near the Wetlands Watch, later the same morning a couple of visitors also reported an early returning Wheatear on the roof of the hide.
Whinchat (c) Bark

On Sunday morning we were lucky enough to see some rather strange behaviour from what was undoubtedly a juvenile Bittern. A young fledgling Marsh Harrier stooped down on a part of the reedbed at the far side of the southern lagoon. It flew off almost immediately and then slowly a long neck appeared periscope like above the reeds it twisted round and climbed up a little higher. Just like an owl it showed the ability to turn its head snake like to look over its shoulder. After four or five minutes it launched itself awkwardly into the air and took several inexpert wingbeats before crashing back into the reeds.

Juvenile and adult Spotted flycatchers (c) Bark

We were very pleased to find a pair of Spotted Flycatchers feeding two newly fledged young in a hedgerow in Long Meadow. The young birds are very speckled on the front and spangled on their backs and one of them still showed a little bit of yellow gape in the corner of its mouth. It is good to know that they have bred successfully so close to the reserve.

 Lesser Whitethroat. (c) Bark
There were also a number of Lesser Whitethroats and several “willowchiffs”.

Yellow Wagtails (c) Bark
The first family parties of Yellow Wagtails have appeared as usual they are foraging under the feet of the cattle, looking tiny and vulnerable so close to the hooves of the heavy beasts.

Common blue, Ruddy Darter and Devils Bit Scabious (c) Bark
Common Blue Butterflies seem very abundant this year although they have yet to reach the astonishing numbers we saw ten years ago. Rain is forecast for next weekend and judging by the enormous cracks and fissures in the surface of the bridleway and the fields it will take an awful lot of rain to bring us back to anything like normal.
Common lizard (c) Tezzer