Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Spring Bank Holiday

Bearded Tit

Pochard and ducklings

Just three goslings

Turtle Dove on Cattle Pen

Singing Reed Warbler  All above pics (c) Bark
Despite a chilly start to Saturday it was a warm, sunny weekend, not at all what we expect from a Bank Holiday. The flora and fauna on the moor responded readily to the mild conditions with more insects on the wing, birds were calling and feeding busily and there has been a huge spurt in the growth of the vegetation.
Bird of the weekend was a female/juvenile Bearded Tit which we found on Sunday morning. The bird was in the reeds that fringe the ditch beside the bridleway, it was initially picked up on call as it seemed to “ping”in response to a Sedge Warbler. There have not been any spring or summer records of this species in Oxfordshire that we know of and it is a pity that the bird was on its own. Perhaps it was the one from the Bicester wetlands site or has even overwintered out on Greenaways a survivor from our autumn visitors. It should have no difficulty in thriving in our reedbeds over the summer and perhaps may be joined by others in the Autumn, when we regularly host small irrupted flocks.
Other good news included three separate calling male Turtle Doves, they are starting to occupy favourite song posts and are most easily seen near the pumphouse and on the cattle pens (see the superb picture by T.S. on the Oxon Bird Log). We are very fortunate in hosting these beautiful birds and over the weekend I spoke to several birders from other counties who were visiting specially to catch up with this iconic summer visitor. For me their purring song and swift straight flight epitomise the season.
On the reedbed lagoons the Common Terns were still courting although by Monday one of them looked as if it might be sitting. There were two female Pochard with just three ducklings in tow, which seems like a small brood, likewise a pair of Greylags with just three goslings. It may be that the adverse conditions resulted in poor clutch size or hatching rates.
Hobbies were very much in evidence but tended to feed high except when resting on posts across Greenaways. The female Marsh Harrier was seen intermittently and annoyingly always seemed to be at the opposite end of the reedbed to me!
Snipe continue to drum and “chip” over much of the reserve but are most loud and visible between the bridleway and the first screen. In the same area is what must be the most photographed and obliging Sedge Warbler on the moor. It regularly calls and perches out a matter of feet away, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it had its own face book account and an agent!
A late Golden Plover was an interesting record on Monday. The Grey Herons in front of the hide have three chicks in the nest and as they develop I am sure that they will need regular feeding flights from the parent birds it was interesting to see the brooding parent shading them from the sun on Sunday.
Grass snakes were also taking advantage of the sun to warm up. On Monday the first Four Spotted Chasers appeared to join the Hairy Dragonflies and the Damselflies species that are already on the wing. Along the Roman Road sheltered from the breeze there were all kinds of Beetles, Flies, Bees and Hoverflies to be seen. It is brilliant just how much there is to see if only you take the time to stand and look.

Bug Supplement
Four Spotted Chaser (c) Bark

Bee Fly Sp. (c) Bark

Hairy Dragonfly (c) Bark

Cardinal Beetle (c) Badger

Froghopper (c) Mrs Badger

Damselfly Sp. (c) Bark

Monday, 20 May 2013

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th May

Hobby (c) Bark

Cronking Raven (c) Bark

Roe Doe on Ashgrave (c) Bark

Common Tern at second screen (c) Bark

Sedgie one way (c) Bark

and facing the other way (c) bark

Grass snake on the reeds (c) Bark

Two Heron chicks (c) Badger

Early morning Barn Owl (c) Mark Chivers (Early Birder)

After a week in the Mediterranean the moor seemed chilly on Saturday but on Sunday it was the perfect May morning warm, sunny and calm. It was extraordinary how green it had all become in the ten days since my last visit. Not just one shade but a vibrant range of fresh lush greens as all the trees and hedgerow herbage makes up for lost time.

There was plenty to see. There had been two Barn Owls hunting over the reedbed on Saturday and on Sunday one was still sitting on a post and patrolling over the footpath at seven thirty in the morning. A Hobby alternated between the posts at the side of the bridleway and the oak trees giving exceptional views, later on Sunday afternoon there were at least twelve feeding over Greenaways. It was very encouraging to see two separate pairs of Turtle Doves on Sunday morning, one pair favouring the Roman Road area and the other the wires by the pumphouse. There are two Common terns that appear to have taken up residence on the tern raft and one of them was definitely creating a nesting scrape. They are very territorial, chasing off a stray Black Headed Gull that tried to perch on the raft.

The Herons in the dead oak tree in front of the hide have two newly hatched young. As the chicks grow they will be making frequent feeding flights and should show well. This is the first successful hatch from this location for three years. A pair of Gadwall on the closes, near to the hide, have seven “gadlings” and elsewhere there are a number of Greylags and Canada Geese with goslings in tow. Ravens were seen and heard both days with one being harried off by a pair of Carrion Crows.

The Curlew Sandpiper seen during the week has moved on along with the six Dunlin that it was accompanying, I have also had confirmation of the Spotted Redshank seen several weeks ago. This brings our year tally up to one hundred and thirty nine species. I have also had a report of a Cettis Warbler heard along the visitor trail that runs south from the hide and would welcome any corroboration.

There were Hairy Dragonflies on the wing this weekend and two species of Damselfly were also reported. Snakes are to be seen basking beside the visitor trail when the sun comes out. The flattened reeds beside the ditch next to the bridle way is an excellent place to spot these reptiles. As the weather warms up it will be worth looking carefully at the area of broken pots and logs by the first screen to try to see common Lizards. Birding in the Med is exciting but it was nice to be back with the familiar at such a beautiful time of year.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

May Bank Holiday Weekend

Whitethroat (c) Bark

Singing (c) Bark

Collecting nest material (c) Bark

Always a beauty (c) Bark

One of four drummers (c) Bark

Coot (c) Bark

Dawn Saturday (c) Peter Coombes

Darth Vader goes birding (c) Bark

All over the reserve birds are trying to make up for lost time and making the most of the warm settled, and atypical Bank Holiday weekend weather. Birds were singing, feeding and gathering nesting material almost everywhere that one looked.
Thirty hardy souls turned up on Otmoor for a dawn chorus walk on Saturday morning. It was amazing to hear just how noisy it was when I arrived at 4.30 am. Three different Grasshopper Warblers were reeling in the carpark field and were even calling through the night, interestingly they tended to be quieter during the middle of the day. All the other common warblers were heard and seen, with Garden Warbler the most difficult to both see and hear. Cetti’s is still absent and should anyone be lucky enough to catch up with one on the moor we would be very pleased to hear about it. Snipe continue to drum and Curlew can be heard calling frequently.
The two Whimbrel on Ashgrave were still present over the weekend, they have now been here for over a week, which suggests that this is a significant refuelling stop for them on their northward migration. There were differing numbers of Dunlin passing through and using the scrapes on both Greenaways and on Big Otmoor. There were also a couple of Ringed plovers seen. Two Shelduck are also present on the Western edge of Ashgrave.
Most unusual sighting was a Short- eared Owl hunting in the Carpark Field on Sunday morning seen by Clackers and J.T. both of whom said that it was one of the very best sightings that they had ever had of this species. Barn Owls were seen on both the Beckley and the Oddington sides of the moor.
I carried out my first BTO breeding bird survey yesterday and it was a bit disappointing. I recorded fewer species than in previous years and probably fewer birds in total. Hirundines were completely absent and seem to be still on the move and not out feeding in large numbers. I have yet to see a Swift on the moor although they have been reported. Up to seven Hobbies have been recorded and two or three Turtle Doves although they have not yet been heard purring from their regular songposts.
A very low pass by the Oxford Balloon Company at probably no more than one hundred and twenty feet over Ashgrave, Big Otmoor and the reedbed caused all the birds to flush and panic. It’s bad enough at any time of year, but it is sad that the low flying restrictions are not always adhered to and that sensitive breeding colonies such as our Lapwings, Redshank and some of our other breeders species should be so casually and carelessly disturbed.
I had hoped that the two Common Cranes seen yesterday over Farmoor might be headed our way as they have often been seen at this time of year, but I have not heard where they touched down, they could of course be feeding happily out on the MOD land protected by the rifle range red flags.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Monday 29th Evening and odd notes.

Turtle dove last August (c) Bark

Stop Press: Stoneshank has just phoned me to say that he has just had a Turtle Dove fly past him along the bridle way. Female Marsh Harrier and the two Whimbrel still present.

I received the following E-Mail from Steve Roby entitled "Otmoor Serengeti" who had a brilliant encounter on Monday evening:

"Sorry to have missed the weekend, I half froze to death walking around Iffley Fields early Saturday morning and then had family commitments both days. Anyway I got to Otmoor yesterday evening and was lucky enough to witness a dramatic predator vs prey encounter.

In order to have the sun behind me I went in at Noke and soon found a Peregrine sitting in the farmers field, right next to a fence post, almost looking as if it was trying to conceal itself from unwary birds on the nearby pool. Down at the second screen the Barn Owl left it's daytime roost and set-off over the reed bed. Some time later as I took cover near the reeds, serenaded by numerous warblers and Water Rails, it flew right over my head, not noticing me until it passed by. 

Back at the first screen the Peregrine flew over carrying a dead bird, perhaps its tactics had paid off. A male Sparrowhawk surveyed the reeds from a fence post before startling a pair of Mallard and a Hare by flying off strongly just over their heads, for a moment I even thought it was going to have a go at one of the ducks. Red Kites flew lazily over the reeds in the setting sun.

The main drama was to take place as I walked back towards Lower Farm. I had managed to make a very close approach to a fox intent on digging up something in the grass. Although staring directly at me it didn't seem to see me as I remained still. It went back to digging, then noticed an approaching Hare and dropped into the classic ambush predator position, hidden by the tussocky grass. The Hare came within a few metres of loping right past before seeming to become aware of the danger and changing course. However it stopped again and apparently intent on following it's original course bounded back and then disastrously turned once again, this time directly onto a collision course. I was holding my breath as it headed straight for the jaws of the motionless fox, only pulling up at the very last second.

There was a moment of stillness but the Hare was now clearly within striking distance and all of a sudden the fox lunged out and made its move. There was a sound of teeth or claws raking the hide but the Hare had also reacted and after a brief flurry and chase made it's escape. By now I had moved to follow the action and the fox stared at me again before turning tail and retreating. The Hare continued running around, apparently none-the-worse for its close encounter. 

Another one of those great wildlife moments."

Anyone wishing to hear more about Otmoor may be interested in a talk that I am giving in Witney at the Methodist Church, upper hall to the Witney Natural history Society entitled "An Otmoor Year" on Friday 3rd at 7.15 for 7.30.

For even more intrepid souls Joe Harris, the recently appointed reserve warden, and myself are leading a Dawn Chorus walk from the car park at 5 am this Saturday morning.

Finally if you were the person who reported a summer plumage Spotted Redshank last Thursday and wrote it up on the whiteboard in the hide, would you please drop myself or the RSPB office an e-mail so that we can formally enter it into our records.