Monday, 19 September 2016

September 17th-18th

Septembers mellow fruitfulness.

Bark is unable to do his blog this weekend, and on Sunday I was asked if I could possibly write a guest piece as I'm often on the moor on the weekend. I'd already been down on the Saturday but wasn't planning to go on Sunday, however now I needed to go to enable me to put something together. I explained to my lovely wife that I couldn't really write a weekend piece without visiting both days, and immediately she agreed that it was an honour to be asked to write on the blog, so I'd better get down there. That was easy I thought, why hadn’t I used that excuse before?  

My lovely wife has just read my draft copy and has informed me that I won’t be able to use that excuse next week!

Before we get to the weekend round-up I have to mention a few birds that have been seen during the week. They include one new bird for Otmoor and probably another one for the year list.

We have often predicted a Little Bittern or Cattle Egret as the next new bird for the moor, but none of us expected to see the bird that landed in front of the first screen on September 15th. The highlight of the week, and maybe the bird of the year for Otmoor, was a Great Skua that dropped onto the water behind the reeds on the afternoon of Thursday 15th

Great Skua photo’s courtesy of Chris and Ann.

A couple of wildlife photographers were at the screen at the time, and I heard Chris say to Ann “what’s that up there”. I looked up from counting the 78 Snipe feeding and hiding amongst the reed stems, to see the Skua dropping down towards the reed-bed. I said “That’s a Skua, quick get some pictures”. Luckily they both got some excellent shots and have kindly allowed us to use them on the blog. 

Great Skua photo’s courtesy of Chris and Ann.

As it dropped in you could see the white flashes on the base of its primary feathers. Unfortunately the bird dropped in behind the reeds and I couldn’t quite believe what I’d seen. Was that really a Skua that just dropped into the reeds! Chris and Ann showed me some of the pictures they had taken, and I could see that indeed it was. What was it doing here, shouldn’t it be at Farmoor? 

Was it still behind the reeds or had I missed it flying off low over the reeds somewhere else? After a quick call to Badger to get the word out to the local birders, I ran around to the western side of the reed-bed to see if I could see it from there. It was one of the hottest days of the year and I soon found out that I wasn’t as fit as I used to be. 
Running with a scope, camera and bins isn’t recommended. After a minute or two I could just see it through the tops of the reeds drifting in and out of view. On tip-toe I tried to get a couple of pictures to send to Badger, but it seemed almost impossible to hold the camera still above my head and not focus on the reeds. After 5 minutes of taking shots of reeds heads, and some blurry Skua shots, the bird wasn’t showing any longer. I sent Badger a shot to show that it was still here and ran back to the 1st screen to see if it could be seen from there. When I arrived I found quite a few of the local birders had already arrived, and the bird was now in full view from the 1st screen, and lots of them were busy taking photos.

Great views of the bird and a new Oxfordshire tick for many of the locals. A steady stream of local birders turned up over the next couple of hours. Some of them panting heavily after running from their parked cars to add it to their Oxfordshire lists, much to the amusement of everyone already there. It wasn’t until later on that evening that I realised it was an Oxfordshire tick for me as well! I already had Long Tailed and Arctic on my list so now I only need a Pom. It’s highly unlikely, but you never know, one might turn up on Otmoor one day!


Great Skua please view at 720p

The other birds of note seen during the week were an Osprey that stopped off to catch a fish from a ditch in the south-west corner of Greenaways, and a Ringtail Harrier seen over Greenaways and the Closes. Unfortunately there wasn’t any further sighting of the Harrier to confirm the ID.

Osprey stopping off for lunch over Greenaways courtesy of Eddie McLaughlin

Weekend round-up 17th/18th September

Quite often the two days on the weekend are quite different weather wise and this was the case this weekend. Saturday turned cold and grey with fine rain and a stiff northerly breeze, while Sunday was a much better day with a gentle breeze and a warm sunny afternoon. 

The bushes on the moor are showing their berry crops and soon the Redwings and Fieldfares will be helping themselves to this plentiful supply of food. It still seems early for these winter thrushes but the first Redwings have already arrived on the east coast. 
A Chiffchaff was singing in the car park on Saturday morning and we could hear the piping call of Bullfinches along the hedgerows.  

The Purple Heron was seen around 10am flying from the diagonal ditch next to the track in Greenaways. This seems to be one of its favourite hunting grounds and could be the best place to look for it if you are coming to the reserve to see it. Cetti’s Warblers called from time to time in the hedges along the bridleway. There are at least two or three on the reserve blasting out their distinctive call. A Water rail was heard calling from the ditch behind us as we scanned Greenaways for the elusive Purple Heron. There were about 30 Linnets near the hide that were flushed by a Sparrowhawk diving down looking for an easy meal. We couldn’t see if was successful this time but it’s a regular place for these hunters.

Whinchat courtesy of Andy Last

Even though the Bittern and a Whinchat had been seen from the 1st screen earlier in the day, a distant view of a Wheatear towards Noke farm prompted us to march down there for a better look. Unfortunately we couldn’t re-find it but did notice a marked increase in Meadow Pipit numbers as mentioned by Bark last week. Yellow Wagtails could be seen flitting around under the feet of the cows and sheep near Noke farm, with others flying overhead onto Big Otmoor. A family party of Green Woodpeckers are often found in the field with the black sheep, and they were seen looking straight up in the air an unusual position as a pale Buzzard drifted low overhead.

Female Kestrel courtesy of Andy Last

The rain started to come down so we headed back to the car park and stopped on the way to chat to other birders waiting to see the Purple Heron. As we waited we managed to see the Bittern fly over the reed-bed in the distance for the second time today. A single Ringed Plover made a short stop on the scrape in front of us but didn’t hang around. Time was marching on so we continued back to the car and picked up two Ravens over the Closes as we left.

Some of the many Snipe benefiting from the reduced water levels in front of the first screen 

Sunday was a much brighter day and I soon picked up the grey colours of Stock Doves busily feeding in the Closes near the car park. There was also a Red Kite walking about in the field not far from the track looking very large. The sun was shining and as such the raptors took to the air and could be seen in all directions. Red Kites, Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels. At the bridleway I was lucky enough to find Badger filming the Purple Heron that was out in full view to the left of the diagonal track. It was out in the open for over 10 minutes! During that time we managed to get other birders waiting to see it from further up the bridleway down to our spot so they could also see it and get some photos. I knew there would be something worth photographing today as I’d forgotten my camera, and there it, was the Purple Heron out in the open in all its glory. We waited a while after it crept slowly into the reeds before we decide to look around the rest of the reserve.

Purple Heron please view at 720p

From the 1st screen the Snipe were showing well, we managed a maximum count of 66 birds. A single Wigeon was seen in amongst the Mallard, Shoveler and Teal. Two different Marsh Harriers drifted lazily over the top of the reeds from time to time, which are always great to see. The sun brought out the Common Lizards near the screen, and were very much appreciated by the families visiting the reserve. We walked past the Wetland Watch hide and spent some time watching the Hornet nest under the rafters at the back of the hide, before walking up to July’s meadow. 

The intricate Hornets nest nestled under the gable of the Wetlands Watch Hide
(c) Andy Last

A smart female Stonechat perched up on the bushes and posts not far from the hide.  As the Whinchats pass through on their way south, the Stonechats turn up to over winter on the moor, so expect to see more of these showing up in the next few weeks. 

Female Stonechat (c) Badger

A Little Egret flew from one ditch to another and back out of sight. Small flocks of tits and warblers, including Chiffchaff and Blackcaps flitted through the hedges as we walked along keeping us on our toes, hoping for something unusual in the mixed flock. The Starlings put on a bit of a show before going to roost in the reed-bed, with Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harriers causing them to gather together in tight flocks. Over 65 wagtails were seen going to roost and most of them were Yellow wagtails but they also included some Pied.

Next weekend we may see the first Redpolls or Siskins of the autumn, or even an early returning Short Eared Owl. You never know what will turn up, and that’s why I’ll be out there again next week with the other regulars enjoying the great reserve the RSPB have created at Otmoor.

Pete Roby

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