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

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Spring into Summer


Common Crane (c) JR

Spring has rather passed me by this year in terms of keeping a regularly updated blog. This is by way of a catch-up and some rather random jottings and pictures.

Bittern (c) Bark
The weather has generally been helpful to our wildlife without any late unexpected sharp frosts and there has been sufficient rainfall to keep things fresh green and growing. The rain has also topped up the water levels in the scrapes and ditches as well as keeping the ground softer for birds that probe for their food like Curlew and Snipe.
Common Tern (c) Bark

It has at times been very windy but that seems not to have had many adverse effects on the spring migration.

Crane family (c) Bark

The Ashgrave Cranes have been the great story this Spring. It has been very exciting to have a pair of Cranes with two chicks in tow walking about and feeding in the open on Ashgrave in front of the hide. Sometimes they are huge distances away but can come quite close, much to the delight of visitors. As I write this the chicks are almost nine weeks out of the egg and are looking strong and healthy as they lose their ginger down and start to fledge up properly.

Cranes (c) JR

It was possible to see the parent birds attentively feeding the chicks early on and now it is obvious that they are foraging for themselves and judging by their steady growth finding lots to eat. They still stay close to the parents and as the grass has got longer often disappear from view completely. In fact, the parents themselves often cannot be seen at all but their heads appearing just above the grass will eventually give away their location.

"Ted" and his partner (c) Bark

There are another pair of Cranes present on the moor and they can often be seen feeding out on Noke Sides or flying over Greenaways and the fields beyond. Their breeding attempt sadly failed this year.  They can often be heard bugling as they fly, and the male “Ted” is easy to identify as he is much larger than his companion. Although the birds spend the entire winter in large flocks on the Somerset Levels, they are very territorial when breeding and very vocal should one pair venture into the range of another.

Newly fledged Reed Bunting (c) Bark

There have been frequent visits from all three Egret species with Little Egrets being the most frequently seen. Little Egrets tend not to be around so much in the spring and early summer, and we have speculated that they may be breeding nearby. Cattle Egrets are breeding at Blenheim and just as last year we expect that they will be seen more frequently as the summer wears on out on the fields around the grazing livestock.

Carpark Garden Warbler (c) Bark

All the warblers arrived on cue and there were probably three or four reeling Grasshopper Warblers across the moor.

Cetti's above (c) JR and Common Whitethroat below (c) Darrell Woods

There is a very persistent and showy Garden warbler in the car park field. It has a very complex and beautiful song and hearing it one can appreciate why they are sometimes referred to as “ a poor man’s nightingale”.

Showy Sedgie (c) Bark

Every year we seem to have one extremely confiding and dynamic Sedge Warbler somewhere along the bridleway. This year has been no different and a male Sedgie has entertained us all and become the subject of hundreds of photographs. The energy expended by the bird, in its furious and demented song culminating in a parachute descent, is enormous. It has looked stunning, especially when singing among the dog roses.
Gropper Reeling (c) Bark

Cuckoos on Otmoor seem to be bucking the national downward trend. Last weekend (12th June) we saw at least six birds together chasing and calling, flying between the oak trees on the bridleway, the permissive path and the trees behind the first screen.

Top picture (c) Tom NL others (c) Bark

It may be our healthy population of Reed Warblers that attract them and sustain their population.
Reed warbler (c) Bark

For the third year running we have singing Corn Buntings on the moor and are hopeful that they will breed again successfully this year.

Corn Buntings (c) Bark

Female Bitterns are undertaking feeding flights and can often be seen across Greenaways, the males take no active part in raising the young.
Bittern coming in with food (c) Bark

There have been some more unusual sightings this spring including a Spoonbill that spent a number of days on and around the moor. It often seemed to disappear as it fed along the ditches with its head down.

Spoonbill (c) Dan and Trish Miller

An Osprey flew over the reserve just last week but did not tarry. A Tawny Owl was seen and photographed in a tree close to the hide.

Male Marsh Harrier hunting over Greenaway's (c) Bark

Marsh Harriers have been ever present and on Sunday the first of this year’s progeny was seen perched on top of a bush eating a prey item supplied by one of the parents. There was a strong passage of Hobbies earlier in May with over twenty being seen across Greenaway’s on one evening. There are still several about that can be seen hunting dragonflies, usually from mid-morning onwards.
Songthrush by the first screen (c) Bark

Snipe are still drumming and there seem to more pairs present this year, they are displaying over Greenaways and Closes.

Curlew (c) Bark

There are still active Curlew nests across the moor, the practice of putting low electric fences around them once they have been found deters mammalian predators from taking the eggs. There is however a flock of Curlew present that is probably composed of birds that have been unsuccessful in breeding this year. We were treated to a very close encounter with a pair of Redshanks that were moving their clutch of five chicks from Greenaways across the bridle way to Closes.

Adult and chick Redshanks (c) Bark

The birds called and flew close and low over our heads in a distraction display while five chicks with absurdly large feet tottered across the path and disappeared again into the long grass.

Male Bullfinch collecting food (c) Bark

The moor is at its most lush and verdant right now, with dog-roses, brambles and a host of other weeds bursting into flower, and grasses are setting seed.  Birds are gathering food to supply hungry nestlings as the insect population swells.
Common Lizard (c) Bark

 Lizards can be seen basking outside the first screen and there are loopy leverets running down the paths oblivious of to our presence until the very last moment.
Loopy Leveret (c) Bark

It is a wonderful time of year to be out and about on Otmoor.
Dog Rose (c) Bark