Monday, 21 December 2015

Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th December

Marsh Tit (c) Tezzer
This was a much brighter and cheerier weekend than any I can remember for weeks. Sunday was particularly pleasant, bright and unseasonably warm. This was just as well as over the past few years a group of us have been meeting up on the last weekend before Christmas. What started as eating a chilli chocolate and having a sip of Mr Coleman's excellent sloe gin has over the last few years grown into a festive feast, with cakes, mince pies , stollen and sweets. The sloe gin has continued to take a starring role! It’s a great opportunity to talk about the highs and lows of the year, good birds and spectacular dips. Lots of gossip and tales of what and wasn’t seen.
Otmoor Massive
After the feast (c) Badger
During the morning Clackers kept score and we saw fifty one species including Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and of course our resident Marsh Harriers. The Harriers are becoming very territorial and were seen chasing off Red Kites, a Common buzzard and on Sunday morning a Raven. Later on after we had left, the Bittern was seen in front of the first screen relocating from left to right.

Harrier and well fed Peregrine (c) JR
Duck numbers are continuing to rise and on Saturday there were well over two hundred and fifty Wigeon in the pools and feeding on the grass in front of the hide. Every so often as they grazed, moving steadily away from the waters edge, something would spook them and they would splash back into the middle of the lagoons in a blur of wings and with a chorus of whistled calls. There were at least two drake Pintails out on the furthest reaches of Big Otmoor and six or seven Pochard on the southern lagoon. On the reedbed there are large numbers of Shovellers and Mallard. Their abundance only really becomes apparent when they flush, which happens most often when one of the Peregrines passes over. Though they need not have worried on Saturday as the Peregrine we saw passing close in front of the screen looked to have a very full crop.

Flushing Wigeon (c) JR
The abundant Starlings seem to be the dish of choice for all our raptors. Whilst walking round to the second screen we noticed at least four places where a scattering of feathers and blood suggested the demise of yet another. Something, possibly an owl or Kestrel had dismembered and beheaded one on the bench in the first screen, not something to sit on in the dark!

Goldfinch and Linnet (c) Tezzer
The number of finches and buntings taking advantage of the seed to the south of the hide continues to go up. Linnets are very well represented and are getting up towards the kind of numbers we were recording last year. There are also Goldfinches amongst them as well as occasional Greenfinches and Yellowhammers. A Brambling was also seen several times last week.
There are very many Canada and Grey Lag Geese on and around the reserve. It is about this time of year that we expect them to be joined by some of their wilder cousins although it may still be too mild to have pushed many south.
I would like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very Happy Christmas. I will be preparing an annual round during the next week that I will post in the new year.
Wren (c) Tezzer

Monday, 14 December 2015

12th and 13th December

Goldcrest (c) Mark Chivers
It seems as though it is never going to stop raining! On the rare occasions it does stop and the sun appears through the watery gloom it always seems to be at a time when I cant get down to Otmoor. The water is making a difference to the wetland though, levels on scrapes , in ditches and in lagoons are steadily rising although there is still some way to go to reach optimum levels. The mildness too is a benefit as birds are having an easier time than they do when there is a run of frosty nights. On the down side, perhaps the warmth has meant that some species that come south in normal winters have not yet been prompted to move.
Harrier at the back of Southern Lagoon (c) JR
There was nothing unusual or new to be found this this weekend. Yet again the Harriers showed well with one individual spending a long time sitting on the fallen willow at the far end of the southern lagoon. It was probably spending its time digesting a starling. Yet again I had reports of how spectacular it can be at dawn when the Starlings leave the roost. As for the evening roost it appears to be the case that good displays occur when it is fairly calm and a light evening rather than grey and blustery, as has been the default mode so far this winter.

Goldfinch and ReedBunting (c) JR
The finch flocks by the hide are beginning to grow again and on Sunday we felt that there were going on for two hundred Linnets present with forty or so Reed buntings and a similar number of Chaffinches. We noted one male Yellowhammer but there was no sign of the Bramblings that had been there a couple of weeks ago. It is also worth noting that although the birds can be flighty and nervous all the time, when the Sparrowhawk does show up they disappear completely for ten or fifteen minutes. It was nice to see a couple of Stock Doves feeding along the path, last year they showed up in large numbers towards the end of winter.
Siskins have been reported both in the carpark field and in the hedgerow up to corner behind the first screen. It would be nice to have some pictures of them to feature here !
It was encouraging to find the first drake Pintail of the season on the southern reedbed on Sunday morning. Many more Teal can be seen now, with the males bobbing their heads in display. Wigeon are out in small parties all over the reserve feeding on the grass which looks unseasonably fresh and green, another benefit of the mild weather.
Greenaways Snipe on a sunnier day last week (c) Derek Lane
On Sunday morning I saw a minimum of thirty Snipe around the second scrape on Greenaways. On Ashgrave from the hide careful scoping showed at least forty feeding and loafing around the poached and muddy edges. Again the weather has contributed to creating perfect conditions in which they can find their food.
Golcrest (c) Mark Chivers
There seem to be Wrens whizzing about everywhere as you move along the paths and when one finds the Long Tailed Tit flock there are almost always several Goldcrests accompanying them. A sight that can brighten up even the dullest morning.
Damp Red Legged Partridge Sunday morning (c) Derek Lane

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Saturday, Sunday and Monday 5th - 7th December

Songthrush from 1st Screen (c) JR
Saturday and Sunday mornings were very similar although Sunday was brighter. Monday afternoon was in stark contrast with sharp broken sunshine and an almost complete absence of wind. On both morning visits the sky at dawn appeared bruised and battered with clouds reflecting purple, metallic grey and yellowish hues. The wind was very strong and birds could only easily be seen out on the margins of the lagoons or in the lee of the hedges.
Along the path to the first screen there is a very confiding pair of Stonechats that allow very close views. There are also at least two injured starlings that seem to be surviving without being able to get off the ground, with watchful herons and active weasels about I doubt that they will last long. With the massive numbers currently coming in to roost it is not surprising that there are occasional casualties.
Marsh Harrier (c) Derek Lane
There is now an obvious pair of Marsh Harriers apparently holding territory over the reedbed. They may well be last summer’s successful breeders. They are often being seen flying side by side just above the reeds without any signs of aggression or rivalry. Peregrines are again using the oaks across Noke Sides as lookout posts and below them there are feeding flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing. The volunteer work party have cut a superb “window” in the hedge by Noke sides and it is now possible to scan the field whilst staying sheltered and a little bit hidden. On Saturday morning there were over thirty Pied wagtails feeding just out from the hedge along the new ditch that goes across the field from east to west.
Wren (c) Derek Lane
We were also very lucky, whilst standing in the second screen, to have the Kestrel that seems to adopted that area, come and perch for thirty seconds on the roof above our heads. I have seldom had such a wonderful close view of a truly wild raptor. A slight movement from one of us and it was gone in a flash.
If spending some time at the hide it is well worth scanning the muddy edges around the near pools. What appears to be a rutted puddled edge with clumps and tufts of dead sedge was hiding over twenty five Snipe on Sunday morning. Their plumage is perfect camouflage for such an area when they hunker down low to stay out of the wind.

Starlings leaving the roost at dawn on Saturday (c) JR
I went down on Monday afternoon to take a group of friends out to see the Starling roost. For the first time in what seems ages it was calm and sunny. There was an anxious start to the event as on the previous two occasions I had been down the birds were arriving by three in the afternoon, but by half past there had been just a few small flocks. I was worried that I had led all those people down there for a non event. Fortunately all that had happened was that because the evening was so light they had delayed their return to the roost. We were lucky enough to witness one of the best displays that I had seen for years with an estimated one hundred and twenty thousand coming in in huge flocks. There was a dramatic precursor to landing as groups from different directions swirled into each other and coalesced into parabolas and arabesque swirls. Flocks came in from much greater heights rather than hugging the hedgerows as I had seen them do on previous visits. the sound of the wind through their wings as they dived down was extraordinary. They made several very low passes over the area in which we stood that drew gasps of amazement from the watchers.

Sunday night roost (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
In conversation three birders told me that they had seen a Corn Bunting up by the second screen, this is the second report of this scarce species for Otmoor and it represents the one hundred and fifty first species for the year.
Reed Bunting (c) Derek Lane

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Saturday and Sunday 28th and 29th November

Linnet (c) Nick Truby
I have said before that to truly know and understand a place one should see it in all its shades and tempers. On Sunday the moor was in a very lowering and stormy mood indeed. Saturday had started with sharply angled sunshine at dawn that soon was overcome by leaden skies and light misty rain, on Sunday the sun failed to appear at all! The gloomy greyness had photographers tutting and grumbling about ISO’s and shutter speeds. The gales hurled flocks of birds across the sky like wind blown leaves, especially corvids and winter thrushes.
Fieldfare (c) Derek Lane
Redwing (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
In the relative shelter of the Car Park Field there were large numbers of both Fieldfares and Redwings exploiting the last of the berries and many Tits and Finches taking advantage of the feeders. There seemed to be more Goldfinches both here and in other parts of the reserve than has been the case recently. A large number of Starlings from the reedbed roost had yet to make their way off to feed and were chattering in the hedgerows and on the wires heads down facing into the increasing force of the gale.
Goldfinch (c) Derek Lane
There were lots of birds to be found on both days and they were often concentrated where there was a little shelter in the lee of the hedges. Not so for the larger flocks of both Lapwings and Golden Plover that are feeding out on Noke Sides (the fields to the west of the path to the second screen). The numbers of both species are rising and we thought at least four hundred Lapwings were present and a slightly smaller number of Goldies.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
They have attracted a pair of Peregrines, we assume a pair because of the difference in size between the two. The birds are using the vantage point of the large oaks across Noke Sides, just as Peregrines did last year and it seems quite likely that they are the same birds. They interacted once or twice with the Marsh Harriers which in turn were not over pleased to have Red Kites cruising over “their” reedbed. Raptors do resent each others presence.
Duck numbers continue to rise and the areas of open water for them to exploit are also on the rise, literally! Shovellers are most noticeable on the main lagoon and more Wigeon can be seen feeding out on the grass beside the pools on Ashgrave and Big Otmoor.( For a wonderful description of Wigeon feeding read Mark cockers description in the Country Diary section of the Guardian on 1st December its obtainable on line. I wish I could write like that !) We have yet to see more than the odd Pintail perhaps it is still too warm for them to have been pushed south. There are also fewer Pochard than I would have expected at this time of year. The Grey Lag and Canada Goose flocks are very large and it is about now that they might be joined by their wild and more exciting cousins. So its worth scoping through the flocks, last year the Whitefronts spent most time associating with the Greylags.
Redpoll  (c) Derek Lane
Kingfisher from the hide (c) Nick Truby
The Bramblings are still with the Finch flock by the hide although they can be elusive and a visit from the Sparrowhawk can scatter the flocks for quite some time.
Bittern in the wind and gloom (c) JR
The Bittern put in a slow flypast on Sunday as it was making heavy weather of flying into the wind. A very dapper Grey Wagtail has been seen around the cattle corral over the last few days its smart clean plumage and bright yellow underparts are in stark contrast to the muddy manured area it is patrolling. It is a lovely bird to see and not one that is common on Otmoor. With more gales forecast who knows what might appear next. Perhaps Farmoor will lend us one of their Phalaropes!
Long tailed Tit and reflection (c) Derek Lane

Monday, 23 November 2015

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd November

Brambling (c) JR
Winter certainly arrived this weekend and the whole feel of the moor has changed. There are now large numbers of Fieldfares chacking and chortling their way along the hedges and hoovering up the remaining berries. They are accompanied by smaller numbers of Redwings.
Fieldfare (c) JR
There is a growing number of finches taking advantage of the seed being scattered along the path south of the main hide, and this number will only grow as the weather gets colder and finding food becomes tougher. There are currently at least sixty Linnets, a similar number of Reed Buntings, twenty or thirty Chaffinches and this week they have been joined by two Bramblings. The Bramblings bright orange and strong contrast certainly make the Chaffinches look drabber in comparison. There have also been a couple of Yellowhammers present but they have not been so regular. There is a report of a Corn Bunting on the board in the hide and it would be good to have some more information and confirmation of it. They used to be seen quite regularly on Otmoor but I cannot remember a sighting in the last few years, possibly because there is very little arable farming going on locally and also as a result of their declining numbers.

Linnet, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch and Brambling. (c) JR
The newly ploughed and harrowed strip at the southern edge of The Closes has been sown with a wild bird cover crop designed specifically to benefit threatened farmland birds. This could well encourage them back and also help to tempt back Tree Sparrows a bird that always used to be seen on Otmoor. It is well worth scanning through the feeding finches for these smart looking Sparrows because I believe there is a small population fairly near, further up the river Ray in Bucks. As usual the mixed finch flock has attracted its fair share of attendant small raptors including  the very familiar Sparrowhawk and the occasional visit by a Kestrel.

Sparrowhawk and Kestrel with prey. The Kes was seen to grab the bird out of a bush. Is it a Cettis? (c) JR
I led a guided walk out for the Starling roost on Sunday afternoon and the birds are still arriving in spectacular numbers. The current estimate is the largest yet, at somewhere in the region of one hundred thousand birds. There was a short, spectacular display by the first large flock to arrive but once they had decided where to roost the subsequent arrivals simply poured down into the reedbed in the same area.
Starling roost (c) Ben Smith
Several passes by one of the Marsh Harriers caused much consternation in the flock, flushing, flying and frequent relocation. Most notable is the sound they all make; their constant chattering, muttering and when flushing the whirring of so many wings is a sound unique to these great gatherings. The roost is also attracting a lot of human visitors and once again sadly, many were arriving well after the event. Parking is becoming an issue and it would be really helpful if people could car share in order to maximise the limited car parking spaces.
Shoveller (c) JR
Duck numbers are rising steadily and there are now many more to be seen from the main Hide as the water levels on Ashgrave start to improve. On the reedbed on Saturday there were at least seventy Shovellers, more Gadwall than of late and a small party of Tufted Ducks.

Goldcrests (c) JR
There has been a large influx of Goldcrests and as the leaves have been stripped away they are much easier to see, as they glean insects and spiders from the vegetation. They were described by a friend as behaving as if they were suffering from A.D.H.D (Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), they are always busy and never seem to be able to keep still for a moment. Their white eye ring makes their eyes seem too large for their heads and gives them an endearing clown like appearance. They often move about in company with Wrens and mixed parties of Tits.

Preening Wren and Mipit (c) JR
Bittern is still present and was seen while relocating within the reedbed on Saturday afternoon. There are still two Marsh Harriers here and one of them is a particularly scruffy looking individual in need of a good moult!

Scruffy Harrier and another below pursued by corvids (c) JR