Thursday, 20 June 2019

6th-16th June

Six Sedgies (c) Bark

After a few very dry months the rains have certainly come at last. The pools on Greenaways have refilled and the Ashgrave scrapes are much wetter. The grasses have shot up and when the sun has occasionally appeared between the showers the moor is verdant and lush. The refreshed foliage is full of insects and the birds with chicks to feed are busy foraging and provisioning their broods. 
Common Tern (c) Bark
The rain has not benefited everything however, the Tern colony, which was doing so very well ten days ago, is much reduced. There are now just six birds still sitting and only three chicks can be seen on the raft. They are at very different stages of development and so must come from different broods. The heavy rainstorms and chill winds will have taken their toll on the downy chicks.
Tern Raft Before the rain (c) Bark
There are young birds everywhere along the hedges and in the bushes. Blue and Great Tits are already coming together into mixed flocks and they are working their ways through the foliage picking up all kinds of invertebrate food.

Blue and Great Tits and a Young Robin (c) Bark
We were lucky enough to be on hand at the first screen just as a clutch of six Sedge Warblers left the nest and huddled together at the top of a hawthorn. The parent birds fed them a couple of times and then coaxed them up into the larger hedge and the oak trees behind where they spread out and didn’t present such an easy target.
Sedge Family (c) Derek Lane
There were another family group being fed outside of the nest in the reeds by the bridge near the hide. I also saw young Blackcaps, Wrens and Robins on Sunday.

Blackcap (c) Bark and Wren (c) Paul Wyeth
There are Tufted Ducks, Pochard and Shovellers all with ducklings of different stages of development on both the main lagoons.
Tufty family (c) Bark
On and over the reedbeds there is lots of activity by the Marsh Harriers. As yet however, we have not observed female Bitterns making their regular and predictable feeding flights. There have just been occasional more random sightings.
Bittern (c) Derek Lane

There are a number of Warblers setting territories up for second broods. There is a particularly loud and persistent male Common Whitethroat advertising his presence by the kissing gate with almost continuous calling and aerial displays. Sedge Warblers are still bickering with neighbours and the Grasshopper Warbler has started reeling again in the carpark field.

Common Whitethroat (c) Bark

Cuckoos are still chasing and calling, and the females are still looking for opportunities to drop their eggs into Reed Warbler nests. They will not linger long however once mid-summer day has passed.
Cuckoo (c) Bark
There are Hobbies on and around the larger fields and one was showing particularly well on Sunday flying out from a fence post to seize large dragonflies which it returned to its perch to dismember and eat.
Hobby and prey (c) Bark
Invertebrate life is burgeoning. As it gets warmer more and more Dragonflies and Butterflies will be on the wing. Just over ten days ago before the rains set in, I spotted my first Meadow Brown of the year and there were four or five Small Tortoiseshells along the bridle way in the last weekend. There are strange and interesting bugs to be found if one looks carefully enough.
Golden -bloomed Grey longhorn Beetle (c) Heather Banyard
We have been sent pictures of a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle and a Rhinoceros beetle. There should be black Hairstreak Butterflies on the wing along the Roman Road and it will be fascinating to see if we record Purple Emperor again this year.
My first Meadow Brown of the year.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Paul Greenaway, Otmoor Stalwart and Friend

Anyone who visited Otmoor more than a few times since the start of the Millennium would probably recognise Paul Greenaway who sadly, died last week. He had borne his illness just as he lived his life with quiet fortitude, calmness and humour.
I first met Paul over twenty years ago on Otmoor and our friendship grew around our shared passion for birds, nature and the unique character of the place. Paul was an amateur naturalist in the classic Victorian tradition. He was curious about all aspects of wildlife and would avidly research anything that he came across. He became our “go to” expert on flowers and plants and would photograph and then identify anything that he could not immediately identify. He often contributed images of insects, plants and mammals to the Oxon Wildlife blog and of course posted his bird sightings on the Oxon Birding Blog under the name “Stoneshank”.
He gave a huge amount of time and effort to winter and summer bird feeding programmes. He was conscientious, and he worried about the welfare of the birds if there was harsh weather. His regular and detailed observations were a huge help to the reserve management in documenting and tracking the breeding successes of our scarcer birds.
What we will miss more than anything however is his quiet, helpful and friendly personality. Paul was always happy to talk to people and share his knowledge and experience, as is demonstrated by the number of warm comments that have been made on the Oxon Bird log and on the Otmoor Facebook page.
Over the years I have spent very many hours in Paul’s company walking, talking and watching. It seems impossible to me that we will no longer see him, coming along the bridleway with his scope over his shoulder, walking with his very distinctive rolling gait that meant we could tell it was him from a great distance. It is sad that we  will not be able to joke with him about his winter and summer plumage ( a beard in the winter and clean shaven in the spring and summer). Paul was a true gentleman and an enthusiast. A birding friend once said of Paul that he was “a plumber with the soul of a poet”, I couldn’t disagree with her. The moor will not seem quite the same without him and we Otmoor regulars will miss him massively.

With the Otmoor Massive in winter plumage

With other Otmoor inhabitants, In summer plumage.
There will be a simple ceremony at the Oxford Crematorium at 2.30 on Monday 24th June to which all are welcome.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd June

Swan and Cygnets (c) Paul Wyeth

A very warm weekend with a fairly strong breeze and  a little rain by late on Sunday. The moor has quietened down over the last couple of weeks as birds seek to feed hungry broods. There is not the same desperate drive to attract a mate or defend a territory. Despite that we had heard eight of our nine resident warbler species by the time we had got to the path to the first screen.

Whitethroat ,Garden Warbler and Blackcap (c) JR
Grasshopper Warbler eluded us , but that may well have been our increasing deafness rather than the birds not calling, they have to be very close now for me to pick up their reeling. We noticed several more singing Garden warblers this week than last which may well reflect the fact that they were the last migrant Warbler to arrive.

Great Crested grebe and chick (c) Noah Gins
At the first screen the pair of Great crested Grebes are carrying two stripy chicks around on their backs. They were reported to have three chicks on Friday but by Saturday and Sunday there were just two. Last year they failed to fledge any youngsters at all, such is the attrition rate in and around the reedbed.
female Bullfinch (c) JR

On Saturday morning a Spotted Flycatcher was seen in the oak trees along the bridleway. It was hunting from the dead branches, sadly we were unable to relocate it later but there are places on and around the moor where we will look for it in the coming weeks. I have also heard belatedly of a passage Osprey earlier in May and so the Otmoor Yearlist moves on by two more species, to one hundred and thirty-five.
Osprey (c) Terry Jones

Common Tern (c) Bark

The Common Terns on the Tern rafts have not wasted any time in getting going. There are already three chicks on the raft and when the staff went out to the raft, to replace the battery for the electric anti predator fence , they found there are fourteen nests. We watched a parent bird failing to get a fish that  was just too big for it, down a very small chick. The parent bird kept flying out with the fish and dipping it in the water, perhaps to try to lubricate it. Eventually the fish was fed to what must have been the birds’ mate.  
Newly fledged Black Headed Gull (c) Bark
A visitor pointed out a cream coloured bird to us on Sunday morning , standing on the edge of one of the scrapes. When we looked closely, we could see it was a very young newly fledged Black Headed Gull, clearly one of the first from the colony that has  taken up residence on big Otmoor.
Plum pockets (c) Bark
Some of the Blackthorn bushes have grown large distorted hollow sloes. We looked up what they might be, and they are described as “plum pockets”, similar to a gall and are caused by a parasitic wasp, they have certainly grown much faster than the sloes and I can’t recall ever seeing them before in such numbers.

Hairy Dragonfly, Broad bodied Chaser and Four spot chaser (c) Bark

The warm weather has brought on the emergence of adult dragonflies and more butterflies. There are now pristine Four-spotted Chasers, Broad bodied Chasers and Hairy Dragonflies, to be seen in the reeds and along the hedgerows. In addition to the various Damselflies in the vegetation beside the reedbed we are now noticing a few Banded Demoiselles.
Female Banded Demoiselle ? (c) Bark

Last week I put up a  picture of a strange insect that I had spotted in the corner of a photograph of a Dandelion clock. It has been identified as a longhorn micro moth called Nemophora degeerella (thanks to Carolyn Tovell )
Longhorn moth (c) Carolyn Tovell

This weeks puzzle is a very beautiful iridescent beetle seen eating pollen in a Buttercup flower. Its rear legs look as if it has been on a body building course or like a bumble bee that has collected lots of pollen.

Mystery Beetle (c) Bark
The Dog roses are now out in force splattering the hedgerows with every shade from white through to deep pink, pannicles of elder flowers are scenting the air with their distinctive smell and along the path to the first screen is a Privet in full flower giving off its strong perfume.
Cuckoo (c) JR
Dog Rose

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th May

Reed warbler (c) JR

A fine weekend on the whole, with days that started cool but by lunchtime you realised that you really hadn’t needed the extra layer and regretted it!
There was a lot to see but if anything, the moor was a little quieter than last week as birds were setting about nest building and raising young.

Juvenile Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tit (c) Bark
Already there are many newly fledged youngsters to see, offspring of our resident birds, including at least four or five different family parties of Long-tailed Tits and a brood of young Goldfinches in the car park field. A Grasshopper Warbler has started reeling again in Morleys, although it is very difficult for my hearing to discern, unless I am very close to it.
GWE (c) Bark
A Great White Egret is still on and around the reserve. On Saturday it flew across the southern lagoon and showed well from the first screen before flushing up right in front of us as we made our way to the second screen. As it flew away from us the extreme kink in its neck was very obvious.
GWE flies onto Big Otmoor (c) JR
Later as we were scanning across Big Otmoor it, or another bird, flew into the middle of the field and started to hunt along the ditches and once again the extreme “S” shape of its neck was unlike any of the other heron species we are familiar with. A Little Egret was feeding out on Ashgrave and it was good to have the chance to compare the two. The difference in shape and flight dynamics, even when it is not always possible to get any sense of scale, is very distinctive.

Four ,Two and one Bitterns (c) Euan Urquart

Although we didn’t see any Bitterns ourselves this weekend, no less than five had been seen simultaneously on Friday. Four birds  were in the air together over the reedbed, whilst another was on the ground out in the middle of Greenaways in the area from which they have frequently been reported. One of them has a secondary feather missing from the centre of its left wing and shows a large gap. This will make it easily identifiable until its next moult.

Marsh Harrier food-pass (c) JR

On Saturday morning we watched a food pass between two of the Marsh Harriers. The aerial prowess involved in such a manoeuvre is remarkable and is superbly illustrated by JR’s pictures.
The battle between Kites and Lapwings goes on. (c) JR
On the northern lagoon the Tern raft is a very busy place. It is hard to be certain but there appear to be at least ten pairs using it. Birds were sitting, coming and going and sometimes mating. The raft itself has a tendency to swing on its anchors and as it has a bit of a list to one side. Sometimes it is easier to see the birds on it than at other times. Courtship involves males presenting their partners with food to strengthen the pair bond. We noticed a bird coming in that looked as though it was about to present its mate with some tangerine skin, but a quick look with the scope revealed that it was in fact a Goldfish!  His mate struggled to swallow it easily, but it went down in the end. It suggests that they might be travelling as far as Oddington, Charlton and Noke to hunt, despite the very healthy fish population in the ring ditches.

Curlew and Skylark (c) Bark

We circumnavigated  the moor on Sunday as the range was not being used. It is a wonderful walk and takes in a much quieter and less busy part of the reserve. It was lovely to walk across the MOD whilst being serenaded by Skylarks and hearing the calls of Curlews and drumming Snipe.

Small Copper, Common blue and Damselflies mating (c) Bark

Butterflies are on the wing and more dragonfly species are emerging. I stopped to photograph a Dandelion “clock” on Sunday and when I got the picture up on my computer screen noticed that there was some kind of small insect on it with the most enormous antennae, which illustrates just how much there is to see and how much we can miss, if we don’t look closely enough. (any help with insect id would be appreciated)

The closer we look the more we see (c) Bark