Thursday, 7 October 2021

All of September


Great white star of the month (c) Bark

Autumn has truly arrived and the equinox has come and gone. It has been an averagely warmer September than usual. After a steady run of generally dry warm days the end of the month there has been a pattern of low-pressure fronts bringing occasional spells of heavy rain.

Otmoor Pearls (c) Bark

The cooler nights have meant that we have experienced some early morning mist and fog patches, that in the still air, have laced the abundant spiders’ webs with strings of pearls.

Comma and blackberries (c) Darrell Woods

GWE showing off (c) JR

I could populate a whole blog with the series of stunning images that have been taken by many different photographers over the past two weeks of the Great White Egret. It has spent most of its time on and around the lagoon in front of the first screen and has been remarkably confiding.

GWE (c) Tom NL

It has been coming so close to the screen that photographers have had to remove teleconverters from their equipment in order to fit the bird on their screens. It has been fascinating to watch its fishing techniques, sometimes stalking purposefully and stretching its extraordinary neck out to the side, at other times literally hopping and fluttering over the water, presumably to flush the fish.

Neck out to one side (c) Bark

It has often seemed to work in concert with the Cormorants, taking advantage of the diving birds as they panic the shoals of Rudd.
Landing (c) Tezzer

Fishing accomplices (c) Bark

We have also become very blasé about the Cattle Egrets that have been out around and amongst the livestock.
Two adult and two juvenile Cattle Egrets (c) Bark

Although their numbers have gone down during the last couple of weeks, after a peak of over twenty at the start the month, there are still two or three to be found out on one or other of the fields.
Egrets preening (c) Paul Wyeth

Little Egrets too have been ever present, sometimes in double figures and often feeding out on the Greenaway’s scrapes.

Young Garganey first screen (c) Bark

Garganey were present for all but the last couple of days of the month with a maximum count of ten mid-month, there were six young birds and four eclipse adults. It was interesting to notice that when they were swimming, they appeared to be lower at the front than at the rear, something we had not realised before and possibly another id pointer. The first of the Wigeon have arrived still in their rather plain eclipse plumage.

Shovellers (c) Bark

There are also rather more Shovellers present than earlier in the month. The two, apparently juvenile, Pintail continued to spend a lot of time at the far end of the lagoon.
Bittern in the mist (c) JR

Bitterns are being seen regularly as they move between feeding areas in the reedbed and along the ditches.

Black-tailed Godwit Lapwings and Snipe (c) Darrell Woods

Snipe have been abundant on the lagoon and there have been a few other waders coming through including occasional Black-tailed Godwits and a mobile flock of what we assume are resident Lapwings.

Winchat at the Pill (c) Bark

Out at the Pill and on Greenaways there have been Stonechats, Whinchats and a smattering of Wheatears. We have often come upon mixed feeding flocks of Tits and Warblers, these feeding parties often seem to coalesce around flocks of Long-tailed Tits.

Chiffy spotting the fly and taking it.(c) Bark

Although most of the warblers have gone there were still Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs amongst them, last weekend, they were flycatching insects among the brambles at he second screen. After a period of relative quiet Cetti’s Warblers are become more vocal again as they stake out territories for the winter.

Spotted Flycatcher (c) Bark

In the middle of the month there were a couple of Spotted Flycatchers hunting from the dead elms, midway along the bridleway.
Late Reed Warbler (c) Bark

It was very encouraging to hear that “our” Cranes have made it back to the Somerset Levels with their youngster in tow and we look forward to their return next spring. It was also very exciting to hear that one of the three Curlews chicks fledged on the MOD land, that were ringed and given numbered “flags” on their legs had appeared and been identified on the west coast of Ireland in County Kerry, three hundred and forty miles away!

Kingfishers are back at the first screen (c) Bark

We have recently taken delivery from the printer of the first edition of “The Birds of Otmoor”. It is a booklet produced in cooperation with the Oxford Ornithological Society as a part of their “Patchwork Project” which produces guides to important sites within the county. In it I have described the over two hundred and twenty species that have been recorded in the Otmoor Basin. I have also added a site map, a seasonal guide to the moor and also a record of the mammal species that are to be found there. It can be purchased from the Abingdon Arms in Beckley, by post from Barry Hudson the secretary of the O.O.S. whose e-mail address is: or from myself on the moor most Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Rest of August and into September


Success at last! Early days.  (c) Fergus Mosey

August is often a quiet birding month but this year it has been quite the opposite on Otmoor. Autumn passage has started somewhat earlier than we usually expect. There has been a steady stream of waders coming through the scrapes and lagoons.

Black-tailed Godwit (c) Bark

As the water levels have drawn down at the first screen reed stubble and mud has been exposed, offering excellent feeding conditions for waders.
Snipe (c) Bark

The water has been receding slowly, which steadily allows access to new feeding areas as it does so. Snipe have been taking advantage of this and there have been up to fifty present, although they are difficult to count, their cryptic plumage blending perfectly with the reed stubble.
Snipe (c) Bark

Greenshanks have been regular, delicately picking their way around the margins, as have Green and Common Sandpipers.

Greenshanks (c) Bark

Lapwings have been using the muddy banks not for feeding but as safe daytime roosts, where they can preen and rest.

Early returning Golden Plover (c) Bark

Three weeks ago, there was a very early returning Golden Plover still in remnants of its summer plumage.

Greenshank (above) and Little Stint (c) Bark

An exciting find just this weekend was the second Little Stint to be seen on the moor this year, the other was a spring passage bird seen in a more remote part of the reserve. It was good to have the chance to appreciate just how small this diminutive wader is, as it was towered over and sometimes chased about by Snipe.
A chance to see how small when next to a Snipe (c) Bark

Ducks too are loafing on the banks as they moult their feathers. There are still several Garganey amongst them and there are three eclipse plumage Pintail out at the far end of the lagoon The scattering of white and grey feathers can sometimes make it look as if there has been a light dusting of snow.

Mandarins on the Tern raft (c) Bark

At the second screen up to seven Mandarin ducks have been seen, often perching on the low branches of the willows on the right-hand side or sitting on the now deserted tern raft.

All three Egret species have been very much in evidence across the reserve.

Great White Egret (c) Tom N-L

Cattle Egrets have gone from being rare vagrants to regular residents in just a few months. They feed out among the grazing animals and return to the  islands in the lagoons to rest and preen.
Cattle Egrets flying in (c) Bark

There have been up to four juvenile birds amongst them probably the youngsters that were raised at Blenheim this summer.
Tow adults and a juvenile (c) Bark

As we have become more familiar with all three Egrets, it has become possible to recognise their very different flight patterns and wing profiles, they each display a very distinctive jizz.

Whinchats have appeared in all the regular places that we expect them every Autumn as have Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers.

Male Redstart (c) Tezzer

Sightings have been reported from The Pill, Long Meadow and Lower Farm at Noke. There were at least four Whinchats together out at the Pill last weekend.
Long Meadow Spot Fly (c) Bark

The biggest news this month however has been confirmation of the first successful fledging of a Common Crane on Otmoor. Certainly not the first ever but probably the first for over five hundred years! I have reported the comings and goings of “our” Cranes over the last six years and their trials and tribulations in attempting to breed.

Juvenile and Adult Common Crane (c) Fergus Mosey

Whenever chicks have been successfully hatched, they have inevitably succumbed to predation at different times before they mastered flight. Ground nesting birds such as Cranes are vulnerable to predation at all stages of their breeding cycle. The Cranes that did finally succeed were not our original pair, but a second pair that first arrived on the moor in 2020 and manged to hatch a chick that unfortunately did not survive as long as a week. This year however “Ted” and “Excalibird” the parents, took advantage of the rapid grass growth that hid their nest and once hatching had occurred also concealed their chick.
The whole Crane family just appearing over the grass (c) Fergus Mosey

Otmoor had remained wet for much longer than recent summers which helped to ensure an abundant source of food for the developing youngster.

Swallows at Noke (c) JR

Swallows and Martins are gathering in small flocks and feeding over the reedbed and will soon depart to be replaced in a months’ time by a different suite of birds. In that transitional time something rare and interesting might well appear.

Oddington Wryneck (c) Mark Stanley-Price

Already there has been a Wryneck feeding on a lawn in a private garden in Oddington, which by my criteria qualifies it for the Otmoor list and makes it the one hundred and sixty-third species for the year.

The colours of autumn are starting to appear (c) Bark