Friday, 23 December 2022

Running up to Christmas

Water Rail (c) Bark

The extreme cold has yielded after a ten-day freeze that produced night-time temperatures as low as minus eight degrees and several days when the day-time temperatures failed to get above zero.

The next few weeks will determine what effect this has had on the bird life across Otmoor. It will be very interesting to see how birds like our Cetti’s Warblers have managed.
Frosty Robin (c) Bark

There was one winter over ten years ago when we lost our entire population, the birds returned, but it took well over a year before we heard them back on the reserve again, and several years before the population recovered fully.
Frosted plants can be stunning (c) Bark

Goldies just before they left

We were seeing large flocks of Golden Plover just before the cold snap and as usually happens the birds departed once the ground became too frozen for feeding.
A few Snipe clung on (c) Bark

Large flocks of Lapwings also left and will undoubtedly return as the weather recovers. Fieldfares and Redwings are still scavenging the last of the berries from the hedgerows.
Redwing (c) Bark

Chilly Wildfowl (c) Bark

The lagoons did not freeze over completely and a number of Mallard, Teal,  Shoveller    and Wigeon could be seen standing disconsonantly on the ice around the open leads of water.
Bittern (c) Trefor Knight

Bitterns could be seen from time to time either moving between feeding areas or taking advantage of the wintery sunshine.

Bittern (c) Darrell Woods

The Starling roost often collapses when the reedbeds freeze over, but this does not seem to have happened yet this winter.

The large numbers of Starlings continue to attract raptors, Peregrines and a single Ring-tailed Hen Harrier are often being seen along with the resident Marsh Harriers and Sparrowhawks. Red Kites patrol the edges of the reedbed every morning on the lookout for overnight casualties.

Yellowhammers (c) Bark

We have started the winter seed feeding programme alongside the hide. It has surprised us just how rapidly the birds have found this food supply and how rapidly their numbers have increased.

Linnets can be stunning when seen well. (c) Bark

Good numbers of Reed Buntings, Linnets and Chaffinches are predominant. However, there were at least seven Yellowhammers amongst them this weekend and the first male Brambling we have recorded this winter.
A Green Woodpecker has also been around the feeding station (c) Bark

Otters are still being seen regularly including one individual out of the water and walking around on the ice.

Water Rail (c) Oz

Cold weather often coaxes secretive birds out of cover and this cold snap has been no different. A Water Rail has been feeding out in open under the feeders in the Carpark Field. It has been interesting to see it beside the larger, plumper Moorhens and to appreciate just how slim and delicate it looks in comparison.

It has also been possible to see just how subtle are its colours, with beautiful slate blue flanks and its red dagger beak.

Goldfinch on Teasels (c) Darrell Woods

The Otmoor yearlist stands at one hundred and fifty-five species, and seems unlikely to grow any more his year, although species such as Little Owl, Ring-necked Parakeet, Grey Plover and Grey Partridge have not been recorded this year…..there is still time!
Moonrise over the reedbed (c) Tom N.L.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

End of November Update.


Peregrine(c) Bark

A very rainy month has meant that Otmoor is starting to look like a wetland again. The prolonged dry spell however had some advantages, it allowed the RSPB to carry out extensive remodelling and rotovation around all the large scrapes. Edges have been softened and drawn back, invasive rush and sedge has been controlled. It still looks raw but will be perfect for breeding waders next spring.

It has remained surprisingly mild throughout the month, and we have yet to experience a frost. Despite the recent stormy weather there are still leaves clinging to the trees. Haws and sloes remain bright in the hedgerows, and they are now being eaten by winter thrushes. There appear to be many more Fieldfares than Redwings on the moor at present.

Fieldfare and sloes (c) Bark  

There has also been an influx of Blackbirds, probably from the continent, that are competing for the same  berries. We have also noticed at least eight Stonechats usually in pairs. They have been seen at Noke, out at the Pill, on Greenaways and along the path to the second screen.

Good to see Goldies back 
Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers have finally started to climb after a rather quiet autumn. We estimated a thousand Lapwings in two or three distinct flocks and possibly as many as two thousand Golden Plovers. The Lapwings are settling out on Greenaways, Ashgrave and the Flood Field. They can be seen as they take flight when flushed by a hunting raptor.
Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

The Golden Plovers seem to spend more time in the air than on the ground and at times seem to be scattered across the whole sky, forming loose skeins that form and dissolve continually. All the while their plaintive soft and evocative calls can be heard.


They are flushed and unsettled by the regular raptors that are now resident across the moor for the winter. Last Sunday I was lucky enough to see a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks, four different Marsh Harriers several Buzzards, several Kestrels and a pair of Peregrines hunting above the reedbed.
Peregrine and Marsh Harrier 

The Peregrines clashed angrily with a corvid that came too close to them. A Hen Harrier has been seen occasionally, often in the late afternoon or early morning.
On the hunt (c) Bark

As the number of roosting Starlings continues to build it is likely more raptors will be seen as they take advantage of this ready source of prey. At least one Short-eared Owl is still being seen hunting across the moor during the late afternoons.

Lone drake Pintail at the second screen (c) Bark

Probably due to the very dry autumn, the number of  wildfowl is much lower than we would      expect at this time of year. Both Wigeon and Teal are present in lower numbers and we are seeing just a handful of Shovellers. As rainfall increases and the water levels rise we hope that the birds will return. It may take persistent heavy rain that floods the fields to attract back the large flocks we usually host in winter.

Reed Buntings feeding on Phragmites seeds (c) Darrell Wood

Our resident Canada and Greylag Geese have been joined by what appears to be a family party of White-fronted Geese comprising two adults and four youngsters. They have been moving with the greylags but once settled on the fields remain just a bit separate from the main flock.

Linnets are eating dried up blackberries (c) Bark

A juvenile Kittiwake was seen briefly on the reserve last week. There were several other reports from across the county, including sadly, a dead bird found near Cholsey. It was just the second record of this species for Otmoor, the first being seen in January 1998, in flight over Saunders Field.

Juvenile Kittiwake (c) Malcolm Bowey

I had thought that the Kittiwake was the only scarce species that I was going to mention in this posting, but since I started writing a Dartford Warbler has been reported from the MOD land adjacent to the reserve. This is only the fourth record of this secretive and fascinating warbler, the last one being found in the same area in October 2014. It constitutes the one hundred and fifty-fourth species to be reported on Otmoor this year.

Roe Deer (above) and Fallow Deer (c) Bark

Roe Deer are grazing out on Greenaway’s and Fallow Deer are on the MOD land. Otters are proving most popular with visitors.
Young Otter (c) Bark

There is a single, possibly male, Otter that is appearing regularly at the second screen, its serpentine contours give a passable impression of the early photographs that were once passed off as being the Loch Ness Monster.
North Lagoon Monster! (c) Bark

There are perhaps three other Otters present around the reserve, but their locations and appearances are much less predictable.

A misty view of the hide and a fantasy dream! (c) JR

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Mid September


Cattle Egret (c) Darrel Wood

On misty, dewy mornings it is possible to appreciate just how many spiders there are at large in the country. Hedges, brambles, reeds and tussocks are all smothered with gossamer threads. Some appear to be unformed tangle traps whilst others show more careful deliberate design.

Orbwebs (c) Bark

Some look like carpets around a central hole where their builders lurk waiting for unwary prey to stumble across the tripwires. Others are more conventional orb webs that are strung first thing in the morning, with pearls of dew. One wonders how any insects at all manage to avoid being caught and consumed!
Strung Pearls (c) Bark

The recent rains over the last few weeks have encouraged a new flush of grass across the fields that for so many weeks this summer have been parched, sere and bleached. The fields have mostly been topped but in such a way as to leave areas of rougher longer grass and rush for the benefit of small mammals and seed eating birds alike.

Young Reed Bunting (c) Bark

Cattle egret (c) JR

A stunning feature of the last two months has been the presence of, at one time as many as forty Cattle Egrets, not surprisingly on and around the grazing cows. They moved from field to field, seeming to prefer the herd on Greenaways more than the others.
Egrets and cows (c) Bark

They also return from time to time to the reedbed lagoon to bathe, preen and drink. Numbers have declined over the last couple of weeks and the majority of the Oxfordshire flock appears to have relocated to Wytham.

Cattle egret (above) and Little Egret (below) (c) Bark

The southern reedbed lagoon has been steadily drained down so that repairs can be carried out on the sluice that is used to manage the water level. This has meant very extensive muddy areas have appeared and they have attracted down a number of  interesting passage waders.

Wood Sandpiper (c) Sam Hill

Amongst the highlights were three Little Stints that were seen last week although a Sparrowhawk flushed them, and they did not return. A Wood Sandpiper was another scarce visitor that spent a brief time in front of the first screen. There has been a regular trickle of Green and Common Sandpipers through, and on occasions Black-tailed Godwits.
feeding Snipe (c) Bark

There are always Snipe feeding in the shallows or resting camouflaged and motionless amongst the reed stubble. Lapwings fly in from feeding in small parties and as soon as they land walk down to the waters edge and drink.
Drinking and bathing Lapwings (c) Bark

A juvenile Water Rail has been picking its way around the scrubby margins appearing and disappearing at will.

Juvenile Water Rail (c) Bark

As is normal at this time of year Kingfishers are back, whizzing across the water with a blue flash and high-pitched call or perching on reed stems and purposefully placed sticks. They have also been seen fishing along the ditch beside the bridle way.
First screen kingfisher (c) Bark

A Little Grebe has also taken up residence on the southern lagoon and on Sunday was diving right in front of the screen and frequently coming up with little fish. Two Ruddy Shelduck were at the southern lagoon for a couple of weeks and a Black-necked Grebe was present for several days.

Ruddy Shelduck above (c) Bark below (c) Darrell Wood

Another passage bird that we saw just over a week ago was an Osprey. It came off the reedbed where it must have been hunting, flew along the ditch on the northern edge of Greenaway’s and perched for three or four minutes in a tall bush in the hedge between Greenaway’s and Saunders Field.

Hobby (c) Bark

Hobbies have been out and about earlier in the mornings than we usually see them, and they have been hunting the very abundant large dragonflies across the reedbed and along the track to the second screen. Several Kestrels, probably a local family party, are hunting small mammals over the newly mown areas.

There have been Redstarts on and around the reserve since mid June when I found a male in Long Meadow on the sixteenth of that month. There are still at least four or five in the vicinity.

Whinchat at the Pill (c) Bark

Whinchat numbers have risen steadily and there have been several family parties out on Greenaways, in the Pill area and towards Noke. There have been occasional single Wheatears passing through.

Common Cranes (c) Bark

The summers’ star performers have been gone for nearly three weeks now. The Crane family should be making their way back to Somerset for the winter. We hope that we will be informed of their progress and safe arrival when someone manages to read Maple Glory’s leg rings. The juvenile and her male partner are unrung. It was disappointing that both chicks did not survive to fledging but it was fascinating to watch their progress over the weeks as they changed from small fluffy ginger chicks, finally into just one large flying juvenile.
Otmoor's  Royal Family ! (c) Bark

We look forward keenly to their return next March.

There are still flocks of mixed warblers and tits to be found around the hedgerows, in the carpark field scrub and along the Roman Road. There are many Chiffchaffs and just the occasional Willow Warbler.

Young Reed warbler and Whitethroat (c) Bark

There are still Reed Warblers along the ditches and after four or five quieter weeks Cetti’s Warblers are finding their voices and beginning to establish winter territories.

The effects of the drought and the extreme heat can be seen in the premature yellowing of the leaves and the rapid ripening of seeds and berries. If autumn comes early, it may make for a longer, harder winter period.

Painted Lady and Small Copper (c) Bark

Water levels across the moor are very low and we need several weeks of continuous, steady, heavy rain to recharge the scrapes and ditches and properly wet up the fields again.
Early morning Red Kite (c) JR