Monday, 7 October 2019

First Week of October

Kingfisher All pics this week (c) Bark

This weekend more than any before it this year felt and smelt like autumn despite the occasional sunshine and the clean blue skies. Leaves are beginning to fall, and the willows particularly are showing a mixture of yellow and pale green leaves. The rain during the last week and overnight at the weekend has further recharged ditches and scrapes and the water levels at the first screen are starting to creep up once again.


At least four Jays are gathering acorns from the Oaks along the bridleway and others are working along the Roman Road, their efforts mean that they have supplies hidden away for leaner times later in the winter, but also that buried then forgotten acorns will germinate and help to regenerate woodlands.

Another sign of the season was the sighting of the first small party of Redwings feeding in the bushes between Greenaway’s and the MOD land before very long both they and the Fieldfares will be feasting on the  berries across the whole moor.
At the first screen there were more ducks to be seen. At least thirty Gadwall had been counted earlier in the week and this species is one of the earliest out of eclipse. The males are competing fiercely with each other, displaying, courting and occasionally sparring aggressively. There are larger numbers of Teal showing now. The males are still mostly in eclipse but on one or two of them now it is possible to see the shadow of their breeding colours emerging from beneath the grey. There are at least twenty-five Snipe hidden amongst the dead stems of cut reeds on the island in front of the screen. Kingfishers are present and just occasionally come and perch right in front of the screen offering point blank views of their stunning colours.

There are still mixed feeding parties of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps moving along the hedgerows often in conjunction with mixed Tit flocks. Their colours are subtle but variable some looking much yellower and others greyer with a hint of orange. 
We found a couple of Greenfinches feeding on blackberries on the path to the second screen and we realised that usually the only place we expected to see them was at the feeders and then not very frequently.


We  saw two different Marsh Harriers this weekend an adult male and a female, we may also have seen another juvenile type bird. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel put in appearances from time to time and there is still one Hobby around over Greenaways. As we expect at this time of year we have had the first report of a Merlin.

Stonecats are out on Greenaways and on the MOD land and we still found a couple of Whinchats amongst them.
Reedbed Fox

Two foxes were out and about on the reedbed on Saturday causing the ducks to take to the water and then swim close enough to them but not too close. Just enough to let the fox know that they knew it was there. As the water levels rise once again the reedbed and lagoons will become a no go area for non-swimming predators.

Just as we were leaving on Sunday a Bittern strolled across the track out to the reedbed, my first sighting for over four weeks!
Bittern across the stone track

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Last two weeks of September

Black-tailed Godwit (c) Bark

After a dry end to summer the weather has finally changed and a we have experienced some very wet weather. This has had the effect of turning our dry parched fields green again and has begun the long process of recharging our ditches, scrapes and reservoirs.

Things have continued to change on the bird front too. Stonechats now outnumber Whinchats by three to one and on the 29th September there were thirteen reported out on the sedges and reedmace of Greenaway’s. As in other years the Stonechats appear to display over a chosen territory flying up vertically and hovering above a favoured perch. It is impossible to say if they are checking out the area, looking for other Stonechats or simply declaring their presence. As the winter comes on they will be seen more and more in pairs.
Wryneck (c) Ron Louch

A Wryneck added a welcome boost to our moribund year-list. It was seen initially on the ground and flying up into a hedge. It then disappeared, as Wrynecks often do, for several hours, before appearing briefly once again on bushes at the side of the reedbed. It was photographed by a visiting birder from Yorkshire who only really managed to id it from his pictures. It seemed to have been feeding on a meadow ant nest beside the path to the first screen. Interestingly it was seen about a hundred metres from the two other places where  Wrynecks have been reported over the last ten years.

Blackwits Above (c) JR below preening (c) Bark

There have been two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on the lagoon in front of the first screen for over two weeks now. They have spent most of their time at the far end of the lagoon feeding in the shallows but on Sunday came and stood on the small muddy island in front of the screen. There they proceeded to preen busily, showing how delicately and accurately a bird with a very long bill can give all of its feathers careful attention.

Pintails     Above in flight (c) Tezzer below (c) Bark

On Sunday we found two eclipse drake Pintail out on the water at the first screen. It is unusual to see them in this particular plumage and I can’t recall seeing them before on Otmoor. There have been reports of the first Wigeon arriving and Teal numbers are starting to increase. Three Ruddy Shelduck also dropped in briefly last week. 
Kingfisher (c) Bark
Kingfishers are now being seen regularly from both screens.
It will be worth checking the Snipe on the mudbanks carefully over the next few weeks as there has already been a Jack Snipe seen elsewhere in the county.
There are good numbers of Meadow Pipits on and over big Otmoor and Ashgrave. There seem to  be more of them this year and perhaps  they have had a successful breeding season. Jays are beginning to be seen gathering acorns from the oaks along the bridleway. A group of five juvenile Green woodpeckers on the field to the south of July’s Meadow was notable.

Kestrel being mobbed by Jackdaws (c) JR

There were still two Hobby present on Monday and Kestrels can be seen almost all the time. They are often noticed when being harassed by Jackdaws and Crows. Three different Marsh Harriers are still in the vicinity of the moor and certainly cover a much larger area than just the reedbed.
Three weeks ago I suggested that we had seen the last of “our” Cranes for the year and duly the RSPB were sent a picture of a Crane flock on the Somerset Levels that conclusively includes at one of our birds the male “Wycliff”
Cranes on the levels (c) John Crispin

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th September

Water Rail (c) JR

Two perfect early autumn days, crisp and chilly to start with a light mist hanging over the lowest parts of the moor that melted away as the sun rose. It was bright, sunny and clear right to the horizon once the mist had lifted.
I can’t clearly remember a time when the water levels at the first screen were so low. Although the sluices are closed the levels have dropped due to evaporation.
Our Resident Little Egret (c) Bark
The mud is now very extensive and has continued to attract occasional waders. Last Thursday a Ruff dropped in and on Sunday two Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the shallows at the northern end of the lagoon. 
Wandering Water Rail (c) Bark
Between fifteen and twenty Snipe can be spotted with a little patience, either feeding on the margins and mudflats or roosting amidst the stalks of cut reeds where their cryptic colouration makes them very hard to see. Water Rails were easy to see on Sunday morning. They seem to be busy establishing winter territories and chase each other in and out of the reeds squealing like piglets. Sometimes taking to the wing to cross open water.

Early morning Whinchats  above (c) Bark  below (c) JR

It is the best time on Otmoor to see Wheatears and Chats. Several Whinchats have been seen out along the stone track on Greenaway’s. Around the farm at Noke on Friday and Saturday there were four Wheatears and a couple of distant Whinchats. On Sunday and Monday there were four Whinchats and at least one Stonechat out at the Pill, with an additional Wheatear there for good measure on Monday.
Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
A late Redstart was around the crossroads area on Sunday morning and presumably the same individual, a female, was seen and photographed near the first screen later the same day.

Yellow Wagtails (c) Bark

On Saturday morning the cows on Ashgrave slowly made their way over to the area in front of the hide bringing with them their attendant Yellow Wagtails. It was interesting to see that the birds tried to stay in the shadow of the cattle just slipping out to snatch insects. There were family parties amongst the Wagtails I saw several juveniles still begging for food from the adults.
Chilly early morning Meadow Pipit (c) Bark

There  has been an influx of Meadow Pipits onto the reserve and there are several small flocks feeding out on both Ashgrave and Greenaway’s. It will not be long before we get our first autumn record of Merlin as they seem to follow the Meadow Pipits south. In other years we have noticed that the Hobbies and Merlin tend to overlap by two or three weeks at either end of the winter.
Sparrowhawk (c) JR

Two different Marsh Harriers were present at the weekend, one much scruffier and mid moult than the other. A young Buzzard with a very pale breast has been spending a lot of time perched out on a post in the middle of Greenaway’s. It seems that whenever one  looks out over the fields at the moment, somewhere there will be a Kestrel hovering. People who have been on the moor around dusk have reported two Barn Owls hunting over Greenaway’s and on the eastern side of the  reedbed.
fallow Deer (c) Bark
A couple of young male Fallow Deer made their way across Saunders Field on Sunday looking beautiful in the sunshine and looking as if they were dressed specially in autumnal colours.
Nectaring Brimstone (c) Bark

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th September

Wheatear at the Pill (c) Bark

Saturday was grey, cool and breezy, Sunday in contrast was bright, very cold to start with, but as often happens at this time of year, by mid-morning I was feeling overdressed. Autumn was certainly in the air.
Long tailed Tits (c) Bark
On Sunday the tits and warblers were taking advantage of the fine weather to feed on the abundant insects while the seed eaters were tackling the fluffy heads of thistles, spiky teasels and sticky burrs.

Saturday was quiet and unremarkable until we walked out to the Pill. On our way we found a Spotted Flycatcher hunting from a dead hawthorn in the lee of the hedge. 

Spot fly and Tree Creeper (c) Bark
There were two Tree Creepers gleaning insects from the nearby branches. At the Pill itself we found four Whinchats, one Stonechat and a very confiding Wheatear.

Wheatear and Whinchat (c) Bark
While standing on the bridge at the Pill we could just see the Common Cranes feeding in Greenaway’s where they had been for most of the morning. Distracted by the chats we failed to  notice them take off but then saw they were flying. 
Going for the winter?
We watched them circle over the moor gaining height all the time until we lost them in the low clouds. This behaviour has been seen occasionally over the last several  weeks and they have eventually returned. I did not see them on Sunday and  have not heard of any subsequent reports, perhaps this time they have left for their wintering grounds in Somerset.

Goldfinch and juvenile Bullfinch (c) Bark
Walking along the bridleway on Sunday morning with bright sunlight behind me I was struck by the large numbers of Goldfinches both adult and juvenile. Bullfinches too would appear to have had a successful breeding season with family parties including very recently fledged juveniles feeding along the path to the first screen. Mixed feeding flocks of warblers were working through the prolific blackberries snatching at insects attracted to the ripening fruit. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were amongst them as were both species of Whitethroat and the occasional Reed Warbler.

Warblers and a Wren (c) Bark

They were shooting on Sunday and so I was unable to get out to the Pill again. A walk towards Noke found Whinchats sitting on the electric fence posts at the western end of Ashgrave. At least a hundred Yellow Wagtails are roosting in the reedbed at the moment and a small flock of them were feeding restlessly on the cut grass close to the cattle. On Monday a party of fifteen or so Meadow Pipits were reported on Greenaways.
As the green of the leaves start to fade in the hedgerows the bright colours of the hips and haws start to glow, the days are contracting, changes are happening and birds are on the move.
Comma on Blackberries (c) Bark