Friday, 30 October 2015

Midweek Special 29th October

GGS (c) JR
A Great Grey shrike has spent a couple of days with us this week and may still be around. They do roam over large territories and so could still be on the moor. It favoured July's Meadow and hunted from the hedge surrounding the field. A great find by Tezzer.
(c) Tezzer

Whilst looking for it yesterday we had a flyover Crossbill that flew up into Sling Copse only the third I have seen on Otmoor. The Shrike and the Crossbill take the year list up to one hundred and fifty.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Saturday and Sunday 24th and 25th October

Redpoll (c) JR
Once again it was a Jekyll and Hyde weekend. Saturday cold, grey and wet and then on Sunday the most perfect autumn day, bright clear sunshine that lit up the orange, yellows and gold of the fading leaves. Over the next few weeks frost and strong winds will strip them from the trees but on days like Sunday they glowed with intense colour.
Autumn colour (Bark)
The annual College Lake and Otmoor Bird Race was held on Sunday and the winning total of sixty five species seen in four hours highlighted the good birding that can be had on the moor even at what can be a sparse time of the year. One of the highlights was a Barn Owl seen up at the Noke End of the reserve and also a fly over Siskin. I was personally pleased to hear that the record of seventy species, the winning total in a previous race was not bettered!
One of the Marsh Harriers over the reedbed. (c) JR
Marsh Harriers are still present with two different individuals, on Saturday they were seen to be interacting rather aggressively over Greenaways. Merlin was seen briefly on both days, as usual it flashed through low and at high speed.
Redpoll (c) JR
Redpolls are much more noticeable now and are taking advantage of the abundant seeding Rose-bay Willow Herb and other seeding plants along the paths and in the Carpark field. They can be very approachable once they settle to feeding and their small size and subtle plumage can really be appreciated. The numbers of Reed Buntings is going up rapidly and the mixed flock of finches beside the hide is largely made up of them, along with a few Linnets and some Chaffinches. As the winter progresses this mixed finch flock will grow and could well attract other seed eaters such as Bramblings, Tree Sparrows or even something more unusual.
Reed Bunting (c) JR
Bittern was seen again in flight as it re-located  in the reedbed, as the water level on lagoons rises it may alter its habits and be seen occasionally along the margins.
Fieldfares and Redwings, birds that epitomise autumn for me, are now well established in the hedgerows and the Fieldfares chuckling call joins the whistling of Wigeon as some of the signature sounds of Otmoor in winter.
Fieldfare (c) JR
Golden Plover were also around this weekend with several smaller flocks seen fast and low over the reserve and a much larger flock of approximately nine hundred seen high and to the west of the moor on Sunday.
Golden Plover racing through (c) JR
Both Snipe and Jack Snipe are being seen with at least three Jack Snipe reported on Friday. Short Eared Owls are also being reported  and we are hoping that this is going to be a year when we have good numbers of these birds over wintering. It seems that as the winter draws on they start hunting earlier in the afternoon and in the past have favoured the Carpark Field and Greenaways. It will also be worth keeping an eye on the scrubby area up towards the wood on the southern side of Ashgrave it looks like  a very happy hunting ground for owls.
Autumn colour (c) JR

Autumn colour (c) Bark

Monday, 19 October 2015

Saturday and Sunday 17th and 18th October

Bittern (c) JR
Despite the heavy greyness and the reluctance of the sun to emerge from the gloom, it was quite a good “birdy”weekend.
All the regular raptors were seen including a Merlin that flew across Ashgrave on both days.
Merlin (c) Derek Lane
On Saturday morning a big female Peregrine flew passed the first screen heavily laden. It eventually landed somewhere out on Greenaways to eat its prey. We were very uncertain as to what it had caught but careful examination of the photos showed it to be a Black-headed Gull. It did seem to be quite a large prey item and was clearly awkward to fly with.
Female Peregrine and Prey (c) JR
Two different Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Common Buzzards and the ubiquitous Red Kites made up the raptor numbers. Once again and sadly, Hen Harrier was noticeable by its absence from the list. In the evening there were probably two different Short-eared Owls hunting on Greenaways and adjacent fields.

Kestrel and  Rook (c) JR
Sadly we were unable to relocate the Brambling that was seen on the path to July’s Meadow during the week. On Sunday we finally managed to get near to  one of several Redpolls that have been seen in the Carpark Field and along the bridleway to Noke. As in the last few weeks there were large numbers of Goldfinches on the seeding thistles. Sometimes they would relocate, flying in fairly tight flocks but each individual bird looking as though it was bouncing along on its own personal strand of elastic.
Redpoll in the carpark field (c) JR
There is a Grey Heron that has staked a claim to the bridleway as its own particular territory. We assume that it is specialising in catching voles or mice but we have yet to see it do so. It allows a much closer approach than is usual in this species and it will fly short distances ahead of you as you approach. Eventually it will have been pushed along too far and will fly out over Greenaways and circle round to take up its post again on the track behind you.
Bridleway Heron (c) JR
We had excellent views of the Bittern again on Sunday. It flew up from the reedy ditch beside the path to the screen and flew slowly back towards the reedbed before disappearing. It would be useful, although difficult to establish whether there are more than two birds present. If we do get some severe cold then we may find out, if they are driven to hunt along the narrow strip that of water that is always the last to freeze on the northern lagoon.
Flushed Heron (c) JR
Two large flocks of Fieldfares were seen on both days and there was a small party feeding in the carpark field on Sunday morning when I arrived. We also saw several smaller groups of Redwings moving along the hedgerow.
We might just have had a brief “ping” from the reeds beside the path but it wasn’t repeated and it was very windy. Now is definitely the time when “Beardies” will turn up if they are going to, so we will keep on looking and listening.

Starlings and sunset (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Monday, 12 October 2015

Saturday and Sunday 10th and 11th October

Blackheaded Gull and prey (c) JR
The weekend didn’t quite live up to expectations. Saturday particularly was grey, cool and misty for most of the day. It was only later on Sunday morning that the sun really came out and allowed the autumn colours to flare out in all their glory.
On the bird front I had expected an influx of winter Thrushes, apart from a party of about thirty Redwings seen on Sunday morning they didn’t appear. There is plenty of time for them to turn up and the steady easterly winds predicted for this week should help them to come over.
Flying snipe (c) JR

Cryptic Snipe (c) Badger
There were plenty of other birds to enjoy. The Snipe at from the first screen continue to delight and entertain visitors. They are so cryptically camouflaged that when lying up or roosting they are almost invisible against the mud and dead reed stubble. As the water has drawn down on the lagoon so new feeding areas have been exposed and they can be seen feeding mostly along the margins but occasionally wading out into deeper water. From time to time small groups of them will fly up and make several circuits of the lagoon before settling again almost where they started. Their speed and agility can really be appreciated as they fly so low and so close to the screen.

Wigeon and Shoveller (c) JR
Duck numbers are creeping up and again the number of Wigeon has increased. There are more Shovellers too and the males are steadily moulting out of their drabber eclipse plumage but are yet to obtain their full breeding colours. Teal and Mallard are building up too, the latter drakes already in their full colours. An adult Little Grebe is still being followed by a well grown juvenile that still shows a little striping on its head. I didn’t see it being fed and it was diving alongside its parent, every so often the adult would take off across the water perhaps in an effort to shake off its persistent attention.
Fleeing Little Grebe (c) JR
The Bittern made a brief appearance on Saturday morning, moving from one feeding area to another. It is good to know that they are still here and have been now for well over a year.
Marsh Harrier is showing frequently and well from the screens. There is a very white buzzard around, often sitting high up in the oak trees along the northern edge of Big Otmoor. It could easily be mistaken for an Osprey if seen fleetingly or in bad light.
Marsh Harrier from the first screen.(c) JR
Short Eared Owls have doubled in numbers with four being reported on Sunday evening. It may turn out to be a good year this year for this charismatic hunter, last year they were few and far between. The grassland has been very dry this autumn and this should have encouraged a healthy vole population to keep them fed. As the winter draws on they frequently hunt more and more in the late afternoon often favouring Greenaways and the Carpark Field. The other raptor to look out for now is the Hen Harrier. Last year we only had one bird for a short while, when in other years they have been more frequent and stayed longer. With the English population struggling to survive, sadly it might just become an occasional vagrant on Otmoor rather than the regular winter visitor it used to be.
On a more positive note we are long overdue some Bearded Tits and perhaps they will put in an appearance in the next week or so to cheer us up. We will certainly be looking and listening for them.
Lapwings are back (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey

Busy at the first screen please click the cog and view at 720pHD

Monday, 5 October 2015

Saturday and Sunday 3rd and 4th October

Peregrine (c) JR
The mist lifted quickly this weekend giving way to soft golden sunshine that complemented the autumn colours shining out in the hedgerows. On Sunday the complete lack of wind and the atmospheric conditions meant that we could not hear the normal traffic noise from the A34 and the M40. The silence was complete and so every cheep, chirp, call and song was clear and discernable.
The water levels at the first screen have finally fallen and the muddy banks and stubble from reed cutting are creating a perfect feeding area for Snipe. There were well over thirty on both days either roosting, preening or picking and probing busily along the margins or wading in the shallow pools. We examined them carefully but could find no Jack Snipe amongst them but one was found later on Sunday by the Robys out on the MOD land.
Snipe (c) JR
There is still one Dunlin amongst them and on Sunday there were three Green Sandpipers. There are now well over forty Wigeon on the southern lagoon, a small number compared with the thousand or so that will be with us in winter but a significant increase on last week and another sign of the changing season. Another sign of that change was the first significant party of Golden Plover this autumn with at least twenty five being seen on Sunday morning.
Green Woodpecker from the first screen (c) Pat Galka
There have been no winter thrushes yet on Otmoor but there was a significant passage of Skylarks moving over. They appeared mostly to be heading in a south westerly direction in small parties of up to ten birds. They might of course have been the same birds flying in a big circle but I think not!
Rodent control on Otmoor (c) JR
There are at least ten Stonechats out and about on the moor, with a pair near July’s Meadow another pair close to the hide and six birds out on the MOD. There were also three Whinchats in the same location on Sunday. A small party of Redpolls was seen again on Sunday in the Carpark Field and there are two large flocks of Goldfinches that are feeding on the seeding thistles both in July’s Meadow and along the path to the first screen. The larger flock contained at least sixty individuals but they were flushed by a Sparrowhawk before I could finish counting them.
Several chiffchaffs are still feeding with the roving tit flock. Amongst the tits in the Carpark Field were a couple of Coal Tits, not a common species on the moor. In the Roman Road on Sunday there were four Marsh Tits that were probably a family party.
Blue tit and Chiffy (c) Bark
More raptors are about and on Friday a Snipe was seen to have a lucky escape when stooped on by a Peregrine, that just missed it. Two different Marsh Harriers are being seen both over the reedbed and the along the back of Greenaways. Two Short Eared Owls are being seen on the MOD land and perhaps there may be more soon.
The last of this years Hobbies? (c) JR
A mystery raptor was seen on Saturday morning by three of us. It came across Ashgrave being pursued by several corvids. It was carrying prey and at first we thought it was a Buzzard but it was longer winged and longer tailed . It was a uniform dark underneath and I managed to get a scope on it just before it disappeared over the hedge into Greenaways, it showed a very slightly notched tail. None of us were confident enough to call it and so we put it out as a possible Black Kite. By the time we had rushed round to the bridleway from the hide it had gone, leaving us out of breath and with the adrenaline rush of seeing something unusual and the frustration of not being able to firmly I.D. it. Such is birding!
Fox on closes (c) Pat Galka