Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th April

Spring Wren (c) Bark

A bright and mostly sunny weekend but with frosty mornings and a cold nagging north easterly wind which left one with a strong feeling that winter has still to completely release its grip.
Despite the cold there were Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and a Sedge Warbler announcing their presence.

Chiffy and willow warbler (c) JR        Dunnock (c) Bark
A Grasshopper Warbler had been heard reeling in the carpark field on Friday but was probably put off from calling on Saturday and Sunday by the inclement conditions. We had hoped to record the fist Otmoor Cuckoo of the season, as we had heard that a well-known and photographed bird at Thursley Common had been back a week. A Cuckoo was indeed heard on the moor but not until Sunday afternoon, a few hours after we had left!

Flighty Redstart Above two (c) Bark    below (c) NT

On Saturday morning a male Redstart was found in Long Meadow and it, or one very like it, was still there on Sunday morning. It was a stunning, brightly coloured male in immaculate breeding plumage, they are one of the most colourful and exotic looking of our regular birds. It was darting out from the base of the isolated bushes to snatch its insect prey from the ground, but as is usual for these birds, it was very shy, flighty and difficult to photograph.

Good Hare Day..... Above three (c) Bark      bottom two (c) JR

The Otmoor Brown Hares were very active this weekend with four individuals running circuits on Ashgrave on one occasion racing through the flock of Linnets feeding on the ground beside the hide and scattering them in panic. A couple were boxing out on Greenaways and another individual allowed a really close approach as it crouched on the bund, it was relying on stillness to hide it and in the end its courage failed, and it hurtled off down the path. I managed to take several pictures of it, and at one point it was so near that I couldn’t get it all in and annoyingly managed to cut off its ears. There was one shot however where if I enlarge it enough on my screen, I can see myself reflected in its eye.

Recently arrived Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

There now appear to be an additional pair of Marsh Harriers in and around the reedbed. There is a quite distinctively marked male that has much paler underwings than the regular male that has been resident for some time. On Sunday the bird was displaying climbing high and then hurtling downwards with a tumbling display. The “new” pair were seen mating several times on both days and food passes were being carried out by one or other of the pairs.

Blue Tit back in the box on the pumphouse (c) Bark and Blue and Great tits (c) NT

A Bittern can be heard booming regularly out from the first screen. Last year there were two booming males, with one in the linear strip of reeds that border the northern edge of Ashgrave and the other in the southern half of the main reedbed. The RSPB would like to know if anyone hears Bitterns booming from the area towards Lower farm at Noke.

G-C-G (c) Bark and Grey Heron (c) NT

This weekend with rising temperatures and a southerly wind we should record the four remaining regular warblers and in the fortnight or so to come we will be waiting with bated breath to see if the Turtle Doves have made it back…….fingers crossed!
Early morning Roebuck (c) Bark

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th April

White Stork (c) Bark

It’s been some since we found a scarce Bird on Otmoor, so it was a thrill to find a White Stork on Sunday morning. We were half way along the bridleway back from yet another abortive attempt to find any Wheatears at Noke, when JR noticed a large bird circling Big Otmoor. A glance with bins revealed it was clearly a White Stork and not as we first assumed a Crane. Its’ circuit brought it closer and its huge broad wingspan made it look a bit like a flying door! It circled for a couple of minutes, as if it might land but then vectored off towards Ashgrave, descending as it went.

White Stork (c) JR
We hurried to get to a spot where we could overlook Ashgrave but there were no large birds other than geese to be seen. We met a couple of visitors who said that they had seen a large bird they had taken to be a Crane heading out across Closes (they were very pleased to find out that it was a White Stork as they had seen Crane before and Stork was a lifer for them!) Further long the bridleway we met a man who complained that, “There’s not much about…it’s a bit dead” when I told him about the Stork he said he did see a funny looking heron heading over towards the MOD land. Several birders came down to the moor to look for it and spent some time checking out the areas to the east of the reserve, sadly it was not re-found. Today I discovered that it had in fact landed on a field that is adjacent to the range and not publicly accessible and was seen there by the range warden. It was feeding in the middle of the field for approximately an hour. Later that afternoon a White Stork was reported over Sturdy’s Castle heading towards Blenheim. It’s a great pity that more people didn’t catch up with it.

Willow Warblers and a Chiffy (c) Bark
This weekend I heard and saw my first Willow and Sedge Warblers of the year. The Willow on the far side of the moor and the Sedge by the entrance to the trail to the first screen. Despite the cool misty weather, it was notable how much birdsong could be heard.

Lapwing (c) Tom N-L   and Curlew (c) Bark
Lapwings and Curlews calling over Greenaways. From the hedgerows and thickets Dunnocks, Chaffinches and Linnets are doing their utmost to attract mates and hold territory. When walking around the reserve Cetti’s Warblers can be heard shouting from the hedges and bramble patches.
Robin nest building (c) Bark
Their strident calls seem to be stimulated by movement as you pass their individual territory and they appear to escort you to the edge of their patch. I believe that we have more of them on the reserve than ever before. The milder winter has helped them, and it is only five years ago that they were completely wiped out across the moor.
Skulking Cetti's (c) Bark
We saw a male Peregrine on both days this weekend, for some of the time it was perched out on one of the posts on Greenaways. The Marsh Harriers were very active over both the reedbed and the adjoining fields, several food passes were seen between the male and female. During the last couple of weeks two Short-eared Owls have been seen regularly hunting over Greenaways in the early evening.

S.E.O (c) Tezzer    and Buzzard (c) JR

On Saturday we walked right around the moor and over at the western edge we found a flock of seventeen yellowhammers feeding on a recently ploughed and harrowed field. The males standing out vividly against the dark brown soil.
Yellowhammer at Oddington (c) Bark
There is still a flock of sixty Linnets coming in to take advantage of the seed being scattered by the hide, whilst elsewhere others are holding territory and setting about breeding.

Linnets (c) JR
Brown Hares were very active across Greenaways and Big Otmoor, chasing and boxing. When they take off on a run their extraordinary pace and manoeuvrability can be seen and appreciated.

Brown Hares     above (c) JR       below (c) Bark

Last time I suggested that this week I would be able to report the arrival of Sedge and Willow Warblers, which came to pass almost as I published my blog, I am sure that we will have other new arrivals to report in my next posting.
Calling Great Crested Grebe (c) JR

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Saturday and Sunday 30th and 31st March

Dunnock (c) Bark

Huge contrast between the two mornings this weekend, on Saturday by ten o clock I realised was wearing one fleece too many on and on Sunday morning one too few. Saturday warm and sunny by contrast Sunday was grey with a cold easterly wind.
Chiffy (c) JR

As I got out of the car on Saturday, I heard my first Blackcap of the year singing from the Roman Road and then again along the bridleway. Chiffchaffs are getting going properly now and there were five or six calling repetitively across the reserve.
Garganey pair (c) Tezzer
We were keen to get out to the first screen to see if the pair of Garganey from the previous evening were still there but disappointingly they had moved on and were not seen again all weekend.
There was still lots to see and enjoy.

Flying Bittern (c) Above (c) JR below (c) Tezzer
A Bittern was seen on the edge of the reeds directly out from the first screen. It moved along the edge appearing and disappearing, showing just how cryptic its plumage can be. Eventually it flew low across the water and disappeared for good into the south eastern corner of the reedbed, its flight prompting a machine gun like volley of shutter releases. From the photos that I have seen the bird appears to have bluish lores which I understand suggest it is a male.

Tufty (c) JR               Teal (c) Bark
All of the male ducks are looking very smart and our regular leuchistic drake Pochard seems to be holding his own amongst the other drakes, despite looking very different. Tufted Ducks and Teal drakes are absolutely looking at their best.

"Luke"  the leuchistic Pochard (c) JR

There are probably four Marsh Harriers present at the moment and they are hunting over the reedbeds and out across big Otmoor and Ashgrave. We had a close encounter with a Peregrine on Saturday morning when one passed very low just over our heads as we made our way through the carpark towards the bridleway. It was probably a male as it appeared relatively small.
Marsh Harrier (c) JR

Curlew, Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Redshank are all adding their voices to the Otmoor soundscape. There were five Oystercatchers present on Saturday morning and I saw four Curlew displaying over the northern part of Greenaways and the MOD land. There are many of pairs of Redshanks across the reserve including two pairs that are frequenting the scrapes in front of the hide often feeding right in front of it, close enough to make it possible to appreciate the subtle detailed beauty of their plumage.

Redshank (c) Bark

The Linnet flock is showing little sign of shrinking, although there are fewer Reed buntings and Chaffinches taking advantage of the free handouts. On Sunday they were accompanied by a Red-legged Partridge!
Red Legged Partridge (c) JR

On Saturday the sun was beginning to bring out the Grass Snakes in increasing numbers. We talked to an expert herpetologist who believed that there was nowhere better in the UK to see so many and so reliably. The Common Lizards too were once again taking advantage of the sun to raise their metabolic rates.

Common Lizard (c) Bark     Grass Snake (c) JR

We are expecting a cooler wetter week and it might well push down some migrant waders, next week I hope that I will be able to  report our first Willow and Sedge Warblers of the year.

Reed Bunting and Dunnock (c) Bark