Thursday, 28 September 2023

August, September and Pallid Harrier.


Pallid Harrier (c) JR

August was a disappointment in regard to its weather. It was a not a string of idyllic summer days, but often rainy windy and cooler than average. A result of a wavering jet stream trapping us in cooler northern air rather than the excessive heat of continental Europe. The pattern of bird activity progressed much as we have come to expect at this season of the year.

Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff in mixed warbler flock (c) Bark

We found mixed feeding parties of warbler and tit species moving together along the hedge rows. There were also family groups seen frequently, made up of freshly fledged youngsters still accompanied by their parent.

An extremely fruitful autumn. (c) Bark

As August drew on we saw the regular passage migrants starting to appear in their predictable haunts, like the Pill area and in Long Meadow.

Whinchats at the Pill (c) Bark

Numbers fluctuated, but on several occasions, there were larger than usual numbers of Whinchats at the Pill and Redstarts in Long Meadow.

Long Meadow Redstarts (c) Bark

Just at the beginning of September I came across a family party of Stonechats on the MOD land. There were two adults and four very downy young birds that might suggest that they had not bred too far away.
Juvenile Stonechats (c) Bark

On another occasion, there was a high count of Spotted Flycatchers seen in Long Meadow.
Spotted Flycatcher Long meadow (c) Bark

The most notable birds throughout this period were all three Egret species: Great, Little and Cattle. Cattle Egrets were frequently out with the grazing animals and roosting overnight in the bushes in middle of the southern lagoon.

Little Egrets (c) Bark

There were several counts of well over twenty and one that may have been as high as forty. They are very mobile and divide their attention amongst the herds in different fields. After a time feeding they often returned to the lagoons to preen and rest.

Cattle Egrets  top two juveniles bottom adult and young (c) Bark

There were both adult and juveniles within the flocks and we assume that the young birds came from breeding successes at Blenheim. Usually seen in ones and twos the Great White Egrets used the main lagoons as both feeding and roosting places.

Great Egrets (c) Bark

On one memorable occasion however seven were seen settling to roost at dusk at the first screen. Little Egrets could be seen on almost any open piece of water feeding steadily around the margins or out in the deeper water, characteristically stirring the bottom mud with their feet to attract small fish within range of their strike.
Still lots of Southern Hawkers around.(c) Bark

After a rather stop-start summer a minimum of three Common Cranes have returned to the moor for the autumn. They have been extremely vocal and behaving in a very territorial way even to the extent of carry out courtship behaviours and mating on Ashgrave.

Bugling flyover (c) Bark

It remains to be seen if they will return to Somerset as they have done in previous years or perhaps remain on the moor throughout the winter.

Pallid Harrier (c) Bark

Without doubt the most exciting, unusual and rarest bird to come through made its appearance on Saturday 9th September. The bird in question was a juvenile male Pallid Harrier, a first for Otmoor and only the second to be recorded in Oxfordshire.

Pallid Harrier (c) JR

A photograph taken on Saturday morning early looked a little ambiguous between a Montague’s and a Pallid, but subsequent pictures confirmed its identity. I had arrived late at the Noke end of the moor, on a morning that I hadn’t really intended to visit and initially believed that I had just missed it. My luck was in however, as it was making a wide circuit of the main fields and we spotted it as it came back over Big Otmoor, initially on the far north western end of the field it then swooped down on some potential prey, missed it and began to fly strongly towards us and then passed very close over our heads and out onto Ashgrave, where it was seen hunting for a while before finally moving off high and to the south east.

More Pallid Harrier pics (c) Bark

It was my first sighting of this Harrier species in the UK and a very spectacular one. Once again, just as we have produced an updated new edition of “The Birds of Otmoor” it has been made inaccurate by the addition of another new species for the list! Forgivable by such a spectacular, beautiful and elegant bird. It is very noteworthy that Otmoor has hosted all four European Harrier species this year.
Juvenile Marsh Harrier

Early morning Fallow Deer (c) Bark

Thursday, 3 August 2023

July Round-up.

Cattle Egret (c) Bark

I hasn’t felt a lot like summer! This has been the wettest coolest July that I can remember. In a normal year there would be very little standing water left across the fields and the wet scrapes of spring would by now be dry and dusty. There have of course been drier interludes, but windy showery conditions have prevailed between the much wetter times. As is normal at this time of year the pace of birding has slackened off as the birds have got quieter and all our breeders are getting on with raising young.

Foraging Sedge warbler (c) Bark

Bitterns have been making feeding flights and their offspring should be on the wing soon. although young bitterns are competent fliers their skills at landing are even worse than the adults. One of the dedicated group of volunteers who had been watching Bittern movements in the reedbed, was able to take a wonderful photograph from the monitoring hide, which shows a female Bittern with four young, almost fledged youngsters. To raise this number of chicks shows both persistence on behalf of the adult and an abundance of food across the reserve.

Female Bittern with four chicks almost fledged (c) Sue Carruthers

Some birds are actively feeding young and already there are mixed flocks of juvenile tits and warblers foraging along the hedgerows.

Chiffchaff in the Roman Road (c) Bark

Some warblers are advertising for mates and territory, perhaps to raise second broods. Grasshopper Warblers have been heard reeling again from several places across the moor. There are still Sedge Warblers singing, although not with the vigour and regularity of spring.
Sedge Warbler (c) Bark

Passage Redstarts have already been reported in some of their regular haunts and post breeding Spotted Flycatchers have been seen in the Roman Road.
Sparrow Hawk over (c) Bark

All three Egret species are present in varying numbers. There have sometimes been double figures of Cattle Egrets, but they are very difficult to count as they move with the grazing animals through the long grass.

Cattle Egrets (c) Bark

Great Egrets have been roosting in the reedbed and on one morning there were five individuals on the lagoon in front of the screen. There always seem to be one or two Little Egrets on the scrapes or in the southern lagoon in front of the screen.
Great Egret at the first screen (c) Bark

Sadly, there have been no further sightings of the Night Heron first seen in late spring. It may be the same bird that has been frequenting the southern end of Peep O Day lane south of Abingdon.
Record shot of the Night Heron from Peep O' Day Lane. (c) Bark 

It did entice me away from Otmoor on the Sunday morning that it was first seen!

As is usual at this time of year Butterflies and other invertebrates are one of the main attractions on the moor.

Painted Lady (c) Bark

It is possible to see over fifteen species of Butterfly on the wing in just a couple of hours. As in the past the Brown Hairstreaks are a real draw for butterfly enthusiasts and the Roman Road is the most reliable place to see them.

Two brown Hairstreaks and a purple Hairstreak

There are Purple Hairstreaks there and even the occasional Silver-washed Fritillary. Bumblebees, Honeybees, Wasps and Hornets are all to be seen foraging on the extensive brambles with their abundant flowers.

Hornet and Bumble Bee sp. (c) Bark

The larger dragonflies are now on the wing and amongst them the  Blue-eyed Hawker (Southern Migrant Hawker) has already been seen and photographed.

Roesel's Bush crickets are very common on the MOD land beyond the Roman Road (c) Bark

As we go through August we can hope for warmer more settled weather and can expect a few more migrants to pass through on their way south. If water levels fall on the northern lagoon, we might also hope for a few more passage waders to drop in.

Three of the four common Sandpipers resting in a willow at the first screen. (c) Bark

It will be worth scanning the edges of the scrapes and pools carefully for Spotted Crakes, the calling birds from spring may well have bred and their progeny may well be seen. They have been seen in other years as summer begins to wane.

As the longer grass is cut, so it is easier to see Hares and Fallow Deer (c) Bark