Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Saturday - Monday 10th-12th August

Redstart (c) Paul Wyeth
An unseasonably windy and stormy weekend. It was difficult to find any birds at all on Saturday it was so stormy! Small birds were hunkered down in the bushes and hedgerows, and difficult to pick out in the moving vegetation. At the first screen ducks are loafing about and are slowly undergoing their annual moult. Snipe are feeding along the margins, resting and preening among the dead reed stems. They can be difficult to see and if they flush en masse it is always surprising to realise just how many have been lurking, perfectly camouflaged and unnoticed.
Muddy margin southern lagoon (c) Bark
On Sunday in the sheltered areas out of the wind, there were many mixed flocks of warblers to be found. On the path to the second screen Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were darting in and out over the brambles, along the bridleway Garden Warblers were feeding in the willows near the bench.

Warblers (c) Bark
In the areas along the bridleway, that were cleared in the hedgerow rotation programme last winter annual weeds have sprung up in profusion, thistles, groundsel and willow herb have all set seed, Goldfinches, Reed buntings and Bullfinches are taking advantage of this abundance. Goldfinches in particular look to have had a very successful breeding season with a much higher proportion of juveniles to adults.
Young Goldfinch (c) Bark
There are at least seven and maybe more Kestrels over and around the reserve a mix of  adults and juveniles. They probably represent two family groups one of which hunts along the hedge on the north side of Greenaway’s and out over the Flood Field and the other over Big Otmoor and Ashgrave. It must be the peak time for numbers of small mammals, and I have seen several Kestrels making off with little furry bundles in their talons. 

kestrels (c) Bark
The young Marsh Harriers have moved away but the adult birds are being seen from time to time. The male is in primary moult and his wings are looking very scruffy and sparse. Peregrines are now being seen regularly over the moor, having been much more of an occasional sighting during the summer.

Common Blue Butterflies (c) Bark

About twelve years ago we experienced a massive explosion in the population of Common Blue butterflies along the track to the second screen. Whilst not on the same scale as that bumper year, there are now many more of these small, attractive, brightly coloured butterflies to be seen along this path, than there have been since that unusual year.
Mallow along the path (c) Bark

On Monday several Redstarts were found out on the MOD land beyond the Pill and last week two females were seen in the vicinity of the Roman Road.

Long meadow Redstart above (c) Paul Wyeth and 100 acre field Redstart below (c) Steve Roby
I went down too Noke in the hope of finding some Yellow Wagtails amongst the sheep but drew a blank. However, I did find a pair of Wheatears feeding from one of the fences near the farm, the first of this autumn’s passage. This was  pleasing, as their passage in the spring was very patchy. 

Wheatears at Noke (c) Bark
A hobby was swooping repeatedly over Ashgrave and clearly catching large dragonflies which are also now at their most abundant.
Southern Hawker (c) Paul Wyeth

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Saturday and Sunday 3rd and 4th August

Lesser Whitethroat (c) Paul Wyeth

High Summer, and for the first time this year there is very little that is very new or different happening on the moor. The colours across the fields have changed subtly and the topping of the grasses has left stripes of ochre and green. The phragmites are starting to show their bronzy tasselled silky seed-heads in the reedbed and along the ditches.

Willow Warbler, Blue Tit and Robin (c) Bark

The numbers of small passerines are approaching their peak but are still being swollen by the addition second and even third broods. 
Long-tailed Tit (c) JR
The abundance of mixed parties of Tits and Warblers suggests that the weather pattern has swollen invertebrate numbers, which in turn  has meant that it has been easier to provision large broods. On Saturday we noticed a young Marsh Tit foraging along the bridleway along with a large number of Blue and Great Tits.
Marsh Tit (c) Bark

Wader passage is picking up, with the rapidly expanding mud in front of the first screen, it has usually been possible to find a Common or Green Sandpiper delicately picking flies off the surface of the mud and the shallow water. Common Snipe are feeding in the shallows and Lapwings are loafing about on the mudbanks having been feeding in the recently hayed fields on Noke Sides.
Saturday morning Muntjac (c) JR
We are hopeful that we might find something a little more unusual in the coming few weeks, perhaps a Wood Sandpiper or Spotted Redshank. It would also be good to have a visit from Greenshanks; they were very scarce in the spring passage with just a couple of records. The pattern of weather over the next few weeks suggests that there will be frequent heavy and blustery showers, and these can force migrating birds down to rest and feed.

Redstarts above (c) Bark below (c) Paul Wyeth

Our late summer Redstarts are around in the usual places and are just as flighty and elusive as ever, but as yet  we have not found any post breeding family parties of Spotted Flycatchers nor have we seen any more young Stonechats around the reserve. The cattle were feeding close to the hide on Sunday and we scanned carefully around them to look for Yellow Wagtails. 

First you see it and then you don't Painted Lady (c) Bark
Each year as the summer progresses, we find a small flock that will feed around their feet and take advantage of the large numbers of flies that they attract as well as the other insects they disturb as they move through the pasture. For five or six weeks at the end of the summer Yellow Wagtails roost in the reedbed prior to their migration but they have not yet started to do so. We have yet to record Grey Wagtail on the moor this year, so there’s something else to look out for.

Hare in a hurry (c) Bark

On Saturday morning a Hare almost ran into me as it wandered through Long Meadow realising at the last moment that I was there. I had already stopped taking pictures as it was too close!

Common Blue (c) Bark and Brown Hairstreak (c) Paul Wyeth

As predicted last week the Brown Hairstreaks are now attracting butterfly enthusiasts in large numbers. They can most easily be seen when they come down to nectar on thistles or brambles, the rest of the time they can be spotted flitting high around the top of their favoured ash tree along the Roman Road. In the same location it is possible, if you are sharp eyed, to find Brown and Rosel’s  Bush Crickets, the Rosel’s sporting their Nike sponsorship “swoosh” !

Above Brown Bush Crickets ? and below Rosel's (c) Steve Roby

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Last two weeks of July

Juvenile dunnock (c) Bark

We have experienced everything that the British summer can throw at us during the past fortnight. We have had extremes of heat, sunshine, humidity and downpours. I have also had rather cool breezy mornings and even some mist. The moor and its wildlife have proved to be remarkably resilient in the face of exceptional conditions.

Redshanks and Common Sand (c) Bark

The water levels in front of the first screen have continued to reduce and more mud is being exposed and is consequently attracting more waders. We have had a regular flock coming and going of over one hundred and sixty Lapwings many of which are juveniles. The youngsters have very small crests and show a yellowish “nicotine stained “ face. Their feathering is more scaly than regular  adults. A lone very young Little Ringed Plover was also seen both weekends. 
Lapwings (c) Bark
This weekend there have been four juvenile redshanks feeding across the mudbank and two young Common Sandpipers have been picking insects from amongst the drying vegetation and venturing into the reeds themselves. 
Blackwits (c) JR
Last week three Black tailed Godwits dropped in, but we could not locate them again out on Big Otmoor. Post breeding parties of Snipe can also be spotted among the dead stems of last year’s reeds although numbers are difficult to assess as they are so well camouflaged. A newly fledged group of five young Curlew are frequenting Greenaway’s and are very likely to have been raised in the greater Otmoor basin.

young Curlew (c) Bark

Elsewhere on the reserve young birds and parent bird with bills full of food seem to be everywhere. I have seen several clutches of freshly fledged Blackcaps being provisioned away from the nest, they keep in touch with the adults and each other using a sharp “tzack” call like two stones being rapped together. 

Young Blackcaps (c) Bark
A notable find on the twentieth of July was a juvenile Stonechat near the cattle pen on Greenaway’s. This is the second consecutive year that we have seen very young Stonechats on the moor in July and wonder if it means that they are breeding close by.
Juvenile Stonechat (c) JR

Last weekend there were at least eleven Common Redstarts a field close to the reserve. This area must be very important for moulting, feeding and fattening up before migration. They can usually be heard before they are seen as they use a “wheeet” call similar to that of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff but a little more drawn out and stronger.
Distant Redstart (c) Bark

Common Terns are still on the raft and around the ditches and lagoons but breeding activity seems to have stopped now for this season. Bitterns are still being seen over Greenaway’s and the reedbeds but not with the same level of regularity which we saw last year. 
Common Tern (c) JR
Young Marsh Harriers can be seen loafing in the low bushes around the northern reedbed. Once again there has been an influx of Kestrels onto the reserve. It seems to be a regular annual occurrence. They appear not to breed on the reserve but arrive post breeding to take advantage of the abundant large insects and rodents out in the grasslands. On Saturday there was one group of four loosely associating over the flood field and  another couple of adults over Big Otmoor and Ashgrave.
Kestrel (c) JR

Our star butterfly, the Brown Hairstreak, is now on the wing and can often be seen along the Roman Road. Over the next few weeks I am sure that they will attract many admirers once again. 

Brown Hairstreak (c) Paul Wyeth
A Purple Emperor was spotted at the top of one of the oaks in the Roman Road, this is the  second year that one has been recorded in this vicinity and suggests that there may be a satellite colony becoming established. We are not very far away from the very strong population in Bernwood.
Cinnabar Caterpillar (c) Bark
My last posting's mystery insect was an icheumon wasp (thanks to Jeremy Dexter) This weeks is even weirder!
???? (c) Paul Wyeth
On Tuesday of last week, we scattered Paul Greenaways ashes, appropriately enough in the middle of Greenaway’s, in accordance with his wishes. Attended by his brothers, some of his birding friends and a fly over Curlew we let him go, it seemed totally appropriate to leave his final remains in the place that he loved so much. Rest in peace Paul.
Curlew over (c) Bark