Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Last of 2013 28th and 29th December


Teal Flushing

Over two hundred in this pic alone

Corvid versus Buzzard

Bittern from the screen All pics (c) Bark
 Saturday and Sunday offered a real respite from the run of wet and turbulent weather that has characterised the past few weeks. Both days were calm and mostly sunny and bright. There were plenty of birds to be found and some of them were particularly obliging.
Bittern was seen on both days from the second screen and on Sunday was feeding along the northern edge of the lagoon quite close to the screen and looking wonderful in the sunshine.
Two Peregrines were present in the fields to the west of the path to the second screen and judging by their size are probably males. They make frequent forays out over Big otmoor causing consternation amongst the Wigeon, other duck species, Starlings and the Lapwings. A Merlin was seen in Otmoor Lane by two different birders at least half an hour apart. There are many passerines feeding in the hedgerows there and perhaps there is less competition there with other predators.
Duck numbers are now much higher and the southern lagoon is hosting very large numbers of Teal which we estimated, when they flushed, at at least five hundred and possibly even more. There were several Pintail and larger numbers of Shoveler. It was good to see about seven or eight Pochard as they appear to have been absent for some time. The Whooper Swans are still present and are keeping company with at least sixteen Mute Swans on the fields to the north of the reedbed.
At least thirty finches are feeding on the grain by the cattle pens and there are Greenfinches, Reed buntings and Linnets among the more numerous Chaffinches. Further along by the hide there are a regular party of Yellowhammers and on Saturday I saw a Siskin in the same area. From the hide there are regular Stonechats and several Kingfishers are patrolling the water to the south of the hide.
One of the Otters was seen briefly from the second screen on Saturday and it is encouraging to know that they are still around.
I will be writing a summary of the year later and I wish all readers a very happy new Year and lots of exciting encounters with wildlife in 2014.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd December

Chilli chompers and gin sippers.

A rainbow over the carpark as I was leaving, an omen for next year?
 Saturday morning was largely a washout with most birding being done from under cover of the hide or the roof at the second screen. It is notable however that we now have a significant presence of Golden Plover on the reserve with a mobile flock of over five hundred. There are also similar numbers of Lapwing. In amongst these were at least two Dunlin and two Ruff both species only really noticeable when the birds flushed, which they did frequently.
Sunday morning started grey but rapidly gave way to bright winter sunshine and piercingly blue sky. A number Otmoor regulars met up for a several hours birding, nips of sloe gin, chilli chocolate, fudge, marzipan balls and mince pies.....and of course scintillating conversation about the highs and lows of 2013 and scurrilous gossip about everyone else! We managed to find fifty one species by eleven o clock and that was without the Peregrine seen by others on Ashgrave and the passing Raven. All the regular species were seen and it is good to record that the Whoopers are still settled and have now been joined by nine Mute Swans.
The current torrential rain will further flood the moor and this in turn may well draw in more wildfowl and perhaps something more exciting and unusual. I will be writing a review of the year over the Christmas period and will try to catalogue the highs and lows of what has been a brilliant year on Otmoor.
I wish the happiest of Christmases to all my readers and look forward to a great 2014

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Saturday and sunday 14th and 15th December

The Family (c) Mark Chivers

(c) Mark Chivers

Synchronised swimming (c)Mark Chivers

Dawn Greylags (c) Darrell Woods

Secretive Snipe (c) Mark Chivers

Kes (c) Bark

Fieldfare in the sun (c) Bark

Starlings always underrated (c) Bark

A reflective Badger (c) Bark
Despite the fatality last weekend, the three remaining Whooper Swans seem very settled and have been much admired. The better light this weekend was appreciated by the many photographers wishing to photograph them. They have  settled into a predictable routine, feeding and then flying in to the northern lagoon to feed and preen. On Saturday when they flew in they were accompanied by a lone Mute swan but the resident Mutes soon formed up into their battle formation and drove it away. It was interesting to see the degree of interaction between the three with a series of head bobbing movements and calls that meant when they flew back to the feeding field, their take off was perfectly co-ordinated and from the onlookers point of view predictable.
There are still very large numbers of Fieldfares and a few Redwings feeding throughout the reserve they have been coming closer as the easier berries have already gone. There is now a regular flock of Bullfinches working the hedge that runs beside the path to the second screen, there are also several Greenfinches, Wrens and the usual mixed tit flocks. Both Lapwing and Wigeon numbers have risen steadily and there are always flocks of Starlings feeding out on the fields The starlings are performing well at roost time and are largely responsible for the good numbers of raptors to be seen. On Saturday I watched a Kestrel (behaving very much as a Merlin does) fly in very fast and low and take a Starling that was feeding on the ground. The Kestrel was then instantly mobbed by Rooks and Jackdaws until it was forced to relinquish its prey, the starling flew off rapidly but now with two corvids in hot pursuit. I don’t know whether they caught it or not, as they disappeared over the hedge into The Closes.
It seems to be almost certain that there are at least two Bitterns on the reedbed. Although not seen simultaneously two birds were seen to fly from the southern to the northern reedbeds within a short space of time and unless one bird jogged back under cover there must be two!
It is worth spending some time looking carefully around the margins of the first scrape on Greenaways. This is a regular spot for Snipe to lie up and once you get your eye in they can be seen hunkered down and beautifully camouflaged along the edge, hiding in the clumps and tussocks. On Friday twenty four were seen to flush from here when a raptor went over. In fact it is always worth spending some time just standing scanning over Greenaways, it is one of the best spots to pick up raptors and always holds something of interest.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th December

Three Whoopers in flight (c) Bark
two of the juveniles (c) Mark Chivers
The family group (c) Mark Chivers

Flying off to feed (c) Bark
Portrait (c) Mark Chivers

The berries will soon be gone (c) Bark
My delight last week at having a family of four Whooper Swans on the moor evaporated on Sunday morning when we realised that by then they had been reduced to three. The family group, of two adults and two second winter juveniles, looked very settled and comfortable, commuting between an arable field to the north of the reserve and the northern lagoon. On Sunday morning there were just the juveniles and one adult remaining, the body of the other adult was in the field and already being scavenged by Magpies ,Carrion Crows, Buzzard and Kites. It was not possible to get access to the bird to ascertain how it died but one must presume fox predation or some kind of illness. All four had seemed fit and well on Saturday and if it was disease it came on very quickly. It is very hard not be anthropomorphic about it. The fracturing of the family unit of a long lived iconic species is depressing but as a wise friend commented yesterday “We admire them because they are big and beautiful and remind us of aspects of ourselves. Remember that every day the raptors on the moor are taking out several dozen starlings from the roost and this is all a part of the same process”
Elsewhere the aforementioned raptors were very much in evidence with at least two Peregrines present one of which, probably a juvenile male, has several primaries missing from its left wing. The Hen Harrier was seen from time to time and there is a strong possibility that there are two. Kestrels are post sitting on Greenaways and I was fortunate to see a Merlin on Sunday as I drove up the lane towards Beckley.
The raptors are present and thriving because of the abundance of prey. Lapwing numbers on Sunday were nudging the thousand mark and Wigeon numbers are also approaching the same figure. The Starling roost is estimated at between forty and fifty thousand birds. There are still only smaller numbers of Golden Plover present but usually their numbers peak later on in the winter. Winter Thrushes are also very abundant but the hedgerow food supply is becoming very depleted and it will not be long before all the haws have been eaten. There has been an increase in the number of finches and buntings on the reserve with a count of fifty Yellowhammers last week near the hide and a population of Greenfinches that seems to have recovered from the slump of the last few years. It seems appropriate to end this week on that more positive note.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

2nd December Whoopers

On the lagoon as it got dark (c) Tezzer

Feeding in the field (c) Tezzer
 I was beginning to think that I had lost the ability to predict what was about to turn up on the moor and just in the nick of time four Whoopers spared my blushes!
As has often happened in the past the birds were favouring and feeding on the fields to the west of the reserve however at dusk they came in to the southern lagoon to bathe and presumably roost out on the water. They are clearly a family unit of two adults and two juveniles and it would be wonderful if they stayed around for a while.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Saturday 30th November and Sunday 1st December

Stonechat by the bridleway (c) Bark

A blue flash by the hide (c) Bark

Reeds in the sun (c) Bark

Pintail landing (c) Mark Chivers

Snipe in front of the hide (c) Mark Chivers

Marsh Tit (c) Mark Chivers
 Another couple of bright sparkling mornings after the early low cloud lifted and on Sunday much better than the weather forecast had predicted.
There are very much larger numbers of birds around now. Many Starlings are not going a long way from the roost and the hedgerows are full of winter thrushes that erupt out of the bushes when one or another of the resident raptors goes by. Peregrine, Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Kites and Kestrels were all very much on show. There are still several Grey Herons stalking the slightly higher grassy parts of Greenaways and as Mark Chivers photo from last week shows they are feeding on bank voles. The voles have presumably been displaced from their lower lying burrows by the recent raising of  the water levels and are consequently easier to catch.
Wigeon numbers are at their highest levels so far this winter with over a thousand being counted in the “WEBS” count earlier in the week. They seem to be split into four separate groups with the largest two flocks being on Big Otmoor and on Ashgrave another smaller flock in front of the main hide and yet another group out on Greenaways. There are Shoveller, Gadwall, Teal and Mallard on the reedbed lagoons. A fine male Pintail was on the northern lagoon on Saturday.
The Lapwing numbers have also gone up steeply but it is difficult to get an accurate count as they were very spread out over the western side of Ashgrave, There were about thirty Golden Plover with them and on Saturday five Ruff flew in and were feeding on the grass along side them. There seem to be flocks of geese almost everywhere one looks but sadly they are yet to attract in any of their wilder cousins.
Two new species were added to the Otmoor yearlist during last week. A Tree Sparrow was seen around the feeders and another birder I spoke to said he had heard sparrows in the hedge beside the bridle way. A Little Owl was heard calling towards Noke.
Stonechats are becoming increasingly confiding along the bridleway and around the hide. A Kingfisher is hunting up and down the piece of water to the South of the hide and is giving some excellent close views. There have also been a number of Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings in the same vicinity. A Goldcrest picking its way through berried Hawthorn in the carpark was one of my weekend highlights but sadly not one that I was able to photograph.......still maybe next week.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th November

Fieldfare stripping berries. (c) Bark

and posing in the sun. (c) Bark

Redwing (c) Bark

Bullfinch eating berries (c) Bark

One end of the rainbow......

...and the other.(c) Bark
A quiet and calm weekend on the moor with Saturday being the pick of the two days offering the last blaze of autumn colours and a stunning rainbow as a light shower moved through. There was nothing particularly different or new on the bird front but numbers all round are beginning to go up and the larger flocks are attracting more raptors. This is especially true of the Lapwings with two large flocks present on Sunday each numbering between four and five hundred birds. A Buzzard that was mantling food out on Greenaways finally flew off with a pair of lapwing wings in its claws, probably not its own kill but something else's leavings. Duck numbers too are rising especially Wigeon. There are significant numbers out on Big Otmoor as could be seen when they were flushed by a male Peregrine, as well as that flock there is another feeding on Ashgrave and yet another on Greenaways. Shoveller numbers are also rising as are Gadwall and to a lesser extent Teal. There are now at least two pairs of Pintail on the reserve. Sadly there are no Pochard at present, reflecting their worrying population slump. A small flock of Golden Plover were around on Sunday and there were two Dunlin flying with the Lapwings on Greenaways.
It was wonderful to stand at the second screen on Saturday and have really good views of Fieldfares and Redwings stripping the haws from the bushes to the north of the hide, they fed quickly swallowing five or six berries at a sitting before flying off to digest a cropfull. These birds too are currently present in very good numbers. Bullfinches are once again using the same hedge and taking advantage of the berries that are still there later on they will switch to eating dried up blackberries.
The Starling roost too is getting larger and I heard that it was particularly spectacular on Friday evening. The birds made a dramatic display and were harried by a number of predators including the female Hen Harrier. One visitor described a Kestrel flying into the flock and coming out with a starling which it proceeded to eat not more than ten metres away from the onlookers.
Sadly my predicted winter Geese have not arrived yet and a party of five Whooper Swans spent a couple of days not far away in Bucks. I am sure that it wont be long before some larger winter visitors make it down to the moor.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th November

Wren from second screen (c) Bark

Water Rail (Bark)

Half a beardy (c) Bark

Starlings and Hips (c) Darrell Wood

North of the reserve before the sun disappeared (c) Darrell Wood
After a bright start on Saturday the weather became very grey and damp, but at least it was not windy.
The calm conditions meant that we were able to find Bearded Tits on both mornings. On Saturday there were two individuals feeding down close to the waters edge. On Sunday we heard and saw some in flight and felt that there were possibly up to five. Perhaps it will be become clearer over the next few weeks just how many we have, this is after all the time when irruptive movements take place. It seems as though we have had a recent influx of Water Rails. I could hear at least six or seven different individuals screaming from the reedbed and several others from other ditches around the reserve. I assume that they are setting up winter territories and warning off rivals rather than trying to attract mates. Wren numbers also seem to have risen markedly over the last few weeks and they can frequently be heard and seen buzzing and flitting about in brambles and reeds. Bittern was seen on both days but only briefly whilst changing location within the reedbed but it is still worth scanning carefully along the northern edge of the second lagoon as it has shown there beautifully in the past.
The Starling roost continues to grow but is very variable in terms of the length and the variety of the display. Recently the birds have tended to dive straight into the reeds and have only really shown well when flushed by a raptor. A Hen Harrier and a Sparrowhawk have been regular attendees both in the evening and when the birds leave the roost at dawn. An adult and a juvenile Peregrine are also being seen regularly. On Sunday morning almost a thousand Starlings had chosen not to go too far from the roost to feed and were feeding around the feet of the cattle on Greenaways. A male Stonechat one of at least six on the reserve has taken a severe dislike to his reflection in the window of the hide, pecking at himself and giving very close views if one is on the inside. (excellent picture by Nigel Forrow on the Oxon Bird Log)
There are at least seven Grey Herons stalking across Greenaways and they appear to be feeding on the grassland rather than in the ditches and pools, it may be that the sharp rise in water levels has pushed prey items nearer to the surface.
Perhaps the predicted blast of arctic air this week will bring us some interesting visitors by next weekend, but if not it is worth keeping eyes open and ears alert for Otters as they have been seen and heard regularly over the last couple of weeks. There are no favoured sites and they could turn up almost anywhere both in or out of the water.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Thursday 14 November Starlings and Bittern

Feeding along the edge (c) Tezzer

Building a platform (c) Tezzer

Starlings all pics (c) Bark
I thought that I would take my own advice and go down to see the roost on a weekday evening. Although windy it was dry and bright.
In the event it was not the Starlings that made the evening but a Bittern that stole the show.
Paul Greenaway had seen a Bittern earlier in the day feeding in the open along the northern edge of the far lagoon. It had subsequently disappeared but when arrived at the second screen at about two thirty it was working its way along the margin and giving superb views in the sunshine. I have not had such a sustained view of a Bittern for a long time and it was demonstrating some interesting feeding strategies. It seemed to be picking food out of the reedy detritus left as the water levels on the lagoon have dropped. It also spent time with the tip of its bill in the water waiting to snatch small fry.
Another novelty for me was watching it construct a platform to stand on. After climbing up some reed stems about a metre high it proceeded to hook in vertical reeds with its bill and construct a more solid reed platform where it stood sheltered from the wind and indulged it some serious feather maintenance. It did not remain there to roost as later we saw it heading down to roost in the southern reedbed.
The starlings when they came were quite numerous, but perhaps due to the wind,  came in low and fast and dived straight into the reeds. There was a spectacular moment when a large number were flushed by a Hen Harrier and a Sparrowhawk, but almost immediately settled again. We estimated the numbers coming at about fifteen thousand. It does seem that for an aerial spectacular to happen calm weather is needed but equally I am sure I can remember seeing great displays on grey and windy days. As an afterthought does the word "murmeration" refer to the sound they make in the reedbed once settled or to the flock flying and displaying?