Friday, 16 April 2021

First two weeks of April


Goldfinch (c) Bark

Spring migration is well and truly underway despite the unseasonably cold last few weeks, that have produced frosty nights and even one morning of snow. One wonders what the newly arrived insectivorous birds are finding to eat.

Chiffy (c) Bark

Grasshopper Warblers were heard reeling on Tuesday morning for the first time this year. They were in the car-park Field and also out on Greenaways. Only Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler have still to arrive, of our suite of regular breeding Warblers.

Singing Blackcap (c) Bark

There has been migrating Yellow Wagtails feeding in the reedbed and it appears also roosting there . The reeds are very broken down and flattened this year, due to the winter rains and wind and the sheer weight of Starlings resting on them all winter. There must also have been a welcome hatch of small insects emerging amid this more sheltered habitat. They have also been seen feeding amongst the sheep at Noke.

Swallow at Noke (c) Bark

Cuckoo arrived last weekend and Whinchat just yesterday (14th April). Big Otmoor hosted an early Whimbrel, a species that visits annually, but more often in early May than mid-April. 

Whimbrel courtesy of Isaac West.

We found a Bar-tailed Godwit last weekend also out on Big Otmoor, a bird we failed to record at all last year. This area is looking very attractive to passage waders at present and will do so until the sedges grow up and the waters recede. Snipe are starting to drum over Greenaway’s and Big Otmoor and this activity will only increase as spring progresses.

Bar-tailed Godwit courtesy of Isaac West.

Singing Blackbird and Wren (c) Tom N-L

Residents and summer visitors are wasting no time in establishing territories and in finding mates , the volume of song and calling is going up all the time. We watched a pair of Goldfinches courting beside the hide.

Courting Goldfinches (c) Bark

Not just making their familiar twittering calls but they were flashing wings, spreading tails and almost seeming to pirouette at the top of the dead tree in some sort of courtship dance. It was a behaviour I had not noticed before.
Confiding Cetti's (c) Bark

There are three booming male Bitterns, one at Noke, another on the reedbed and the third out in the middle of Greenaways where we have often spotted them in the open. Two birds were seen together on Wednesday and so we can be certain that we have at least one female. The male in the photograph can be identified by its distinctly blue cere.

Distant Bitterns on Greenaways (c) Tom N-L

There have been regular sightings of Wheatears at Noke in the usual places beside the farm and along the fences.

Noke Wheatear in the rain. (c) Bark

Swallows have returned once again to the barns. There is a pair of Green Woodpeckers that are spending a lot of time feeding out in the sheep fields. There were over eighty Fieldfares out in the fields to the south of the Closes along with a few Redwings and a pair of Mistle Thrushes, one of which was singing loudly from the top of a bare tree.
Mistle Thrush (c) Bark

Across many of the fields Lapwings are sitting on nests and Redshanks are not far behind them in the breeding process, their calling, chasing and courtship seems to be everywhere.

Redshank (c) Bark

At the northern lagoon, a pair of Great Crested Grebes has arrived and may well be constructing a nest in the reeds to the left of the second screen.

Heron and Great Crested Grebe at the second screen.(c) Bark

Herons are coming and going bringing food to their chicks in the reedbed, where we think there may be four or five nests.

Peacock and Bullfinch (c) Bark

It is at this time of the year that one realises just how much Blackthorn there is across the moor as the hedgerows become blanketed with frothy white blossom. Birds sit amongst it and sing and insects feed on the nectar and pollen.

Bee-fly and Cootlings by the Hide (c) Bark

Brent Goose by Badger.

Friday, 2 April 2021

End of March

Glossy Ibis (c) Oz

Spring has truly arrived and perhaps seems just a little bit earlier than usual. Typical of the season however, the weather now looks set to flip back to winter after a run of warm southerly air. There have been new arrivals almost everyday with a smattering of choice scarcities amongst them.

Just two weeks ago singing Chiffchaffs and Cetti’s were the only warblers in town. This year the Cetti’s have been particularly vociferous and very showy.

Chiffchaff (c) JR

They have now been joined by Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps and the next couple of weeks should see the arrival of  the other common species, with Garden Warbler eventually bringing up the rear.
Cetti's Warbler (c) Bark

Wheatears have been seen in the expected places; out on the MOD land, around the farm buildings at Noke and near the cattle pens on Greenaway’s.

Wheatear (c) Jeremy Dexter

As is normal at this time of year Big Otmoor has become the “hotspot” the combination of pools mud and tussocks once again proving very attractive to passage waders, as well as to the normal breeding Redshanks and Lapwings.

Redshank Big Otmoor (c) Bark

There has been a winter plumaged Spotted Redshank, perhaps the one that has been seen several times around Water Eaton. Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers have also been seen and  Black-tailed Godwits in summer plumage have also been noted out there. The Godwits looking very impressive in their brick red summer plumage.
Garganey on Big Otmoor (c) Isaac West

I have heard this morning, as I write, that a pair of Garganey have arrived overnight, they exhibited territorial behaviours last year and may have bred but it was not possible to confirm it.

Two Whitefronts on Noke Sides (c) Bark

Five White fronted Geese were on Noke Sides last weekend, but now it seems just two remain. There was a Black-bellied Brent Goose again on Ashgrave, which is probably the same bird as was seen around Farmoor.
Brent goose (c) Isaac West

The Glossy Ibis that was quite elusive and difficult to find seems to have translocated to the Closes where it is much easier to see. The last Glossy Ibis that spent any length of time on Otmoor in June and July 2014, also favoured this field. The first Avocet to visit Otmoor for a long time was seen swimming
Glossy Ibis (c) Oz

at the second screen yesterday (31st March). We have not had a visit from this emblematic and attractive wader since 2016.

Breeding Grey Heron (c) Bark

There are a number of Grey Herons Nesting in the reedbed their heads are sometimes visible from the second screen The reeds this year are very flattened. They are much easier to see as they make their feeding flights out and about to the River Ray and across the reserve.
Drake Tufty (c) Bark

There have been regular sightings of both Great White and Little Egrets around the moor possibly feeding on the amphibians that are currently breeding in the ponds and ditches.
Breeding Toads (c) The Early Birder

We now think that there are as many as three booming male Bittern across the site. I have had reports that they can be heard in Oddington and a friend in Noke says that booming can be heard at night.
Often overlooked, a Treecreeper in the Roman Road (c) JR

The Otmoor Year-list is now standing at one hundred and twenty-six species, which is fourteen species higher than it was at the same time last year.
Drake Pochard beside the bridleway (c) Bark

We often speculate what might be the next “new” bird for Otmoor or perhaps even Oxfordshire, perhaps another heron species or something completely out of left field. Now is the time to be out there in the field looking, at what is one of the most exciting times of the year.
Snakeshead Fritillaries would once have been right across the water meadows and are now restricted to a Garden in Noke

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

First Two Weeks of March

Glossy Ibis (c) Bark

There is an old saying that: “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. We can only hope that this adage will hold true this year. We have experienced a very stormy start to the month and a softer, warmer and more lamb like second half would be most welcome.
Little Grebes (c) Tom N-L

Water levels across the moor have gone down considerably and are currently at their optimum levels for the time of year and the start of the breeding season. It has become slightly warmer again after another cold snap at the start of the month, but nights can still be frosty.
There are still some Redwings feeding on the paths. (c) Bark

The seasonal comings and goings have continued and gained pace, despite the vagaries of the weather. Redshank numbers have gone up dramatically and there are pairs displaying and calling across all of the main fields.

Heron Nest building (c) Bark

The resident Lapwings too are getting on with the business of reproduction, there are still overwintering Lapwing flocks, but their numbers are gradually reducing.

Goldies (c) Bark

The number of Golden Plovers on site has also shrunk considerably, despite this there are still almost a thousand, mostly hunkered down on the Flood Field or Big Otmoor and only really showing themselves when flushed by one or other of the raptors frequenting the moor.
Greenaway's Curlew (c) Bark

Curlews are pairing up and beginning to display and adopt territories across the whole moor.

The Closes, Big Otmoor and The Flood Field are proving to be very attractive to passage waders. There have been up to twenty-seven Black-tailed Godwits present many of them moulting into their smart brick red breeding plumage.

Blue Tit gathering reed mace ? (c) Tom N-L

The Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks often include a sprinkling of Dunlin flying amongst them when they flush in response to a real or an imagined threat. Careful scoping will often reveal them, feeding amongst the larger birds busily picking up scraps from amongst the tussocks or along the water’s edge. There have also been up to fourteen Ruff feeding out on The Closes and Big Otmoor.
Courting Gadwall Tom N-L

Pintail Pair Big Otmoor (c) Tom N-L

Many of the ducks are pairing up and those yet to acquire mates are pursuing females in gangs. The Pochard Drakes have developed deep rusty red heads in which their bright vermillion eyes glow.
Female Pochard (c) JR

Pairs that have adopted a nest site are very reluctant to leave it and there was such a pair in the ditch alongside the bridleway last weekend. The female almost melted away into the dead reeds lining the ditch, while the male paddled off, reluctant to take wing.
and again (c) Bark

A Water Pipit is still present and was seen on the weekend before last from the second screen. It was feeding in amongst the reed stubble. It is probably the same individual that was photographed in the late autumn beside the stone track and seen in a similar area after the New Year.

Water Pipit courtesy of Dave Lowe

Chiffy in the Roman Road (c) Bark

In the hedgerow survey that we started last week it was notable just how many Chiffchaffs we picked up, one or two of them are now singing actively. We were also finding and hearing Cetti’s in places that we have not heard them before and are increasing our estimates of just how many we now have on Otmoor.
B.H.G. at the first screen (c) Bark

The Black -headed Gulls are starting to pair up and there were up to fifteen individuals on and over the lagoon in front of the first screen. They were characteristically very noisy as they displayed and paired up.

Dramatic Marsh Harrier food pass over the reedbed (c) Dan and Tricia Miller

If they behave as they did in the last couple of years their numbers will increase rapidly over the next few weeks. They will move onto Big Otmoor to nest where they can be safe from mammalian predators and their numbers will help to deter avian predation.
Glossy over (c) Tezzer

We have had three exciting new additions to the year-list, which now stands at one hundred and ten species. A Little Gull was seen at the second screen last weekend, it is the first one on the moor since 2018. A Little Owl has been heard calling and we failed to record this species at all last year.

Glossy Ibis (c) Bark

Glossy Ibis by Badger.

Finally, a Glossy Ibis was seen last Friday in flight and it would appear to have taken up temporary residence in one of the remoter corners of the reserve, although it can be seen from the public right of way on the northern side of the moor. It might well be the same individual that was photographed towards the end of last year. There have been enough flooded fields around the moor for it feed on over the last couple of months!
Shouting Wren (c) JR

Perhaps by next weekend we will have recorded our first Wheatears and Sand Martins of the year.

Red Kite behind the first screen (c) Bark