Monday, 17 October 2016

Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th October

Whitefronts (c) JR

Typical changeable autumn weather this weekend. Saturday rather lowering and Sunday afternoon bright and sunny after a very wet and windy morning. The sunshine on Sunday afternoon brought out the bright autumn colours that are now beginning to glow in the hedgerows.
Hedgerow colour (c) Bark
Changes are happening and whilst migrants are still not exactly flooding in, numbers of winter visitors are now going up steadily. Wildfowl numbers are rising more than a hundred Wigeon were on the southern reedbed and probably twice that number of Teal, the latter only really visible when they were flushed by the Marsh Harriers.

Marsh Harrier (c) Tom N-L
On Sunday a flock of over fifty Fieldfares were flying along the hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways and several slightly smaller groups of Redwings were seen on both days.

Stonechats (c) Bark
On Saturday two Jack Snipe were seen, another sign of the season were two Redpolls, found out at the Pill on Saturday. Several pairs of Stonechats are now resident on the moor both on and off the reserve and there are still a few Whinchats being spotted. On Sunday afternoon I counted over fifty-five Common Snipe on the exposed bank opposite the first screen. Some were sleeping some feeding and others interacting. Their cryptic plumage hides them perfectly when set among the cropped reed stubble. When they stand up straight and walk it is surprising just how tall they can appear.
Whitefronts and Greylags (c) JR
The small family party of White-fronted Geese is still out on Ashgrave with the flock of feral Greylags. They are much smaller than the other grey geese and the adults have a very pronounced white blaze above their bills, they also have dark barring on their bellies. The juveniles are less distinctively marked and are slightly harder to spot. There is a feral Barnacle Goose accompanying the Canada Geese and the Ross’s Goose too is still out there with some of its mixed Greylag progeny. It is puzzling that for the last three years we have had no records of Egyptian Geese on the moor, they are relatively common in other parts of the county but either the habitat or the presence of so many other geese discourages them.
Canada Geese joining the party (c) JR
The finch flock that feeds along the path beside the hide is also beginning to grow. It is composed mostly of Goldfinches, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Linnets at present but there has already been one Brambling found amongst them this autumn.
Juvenile Reed Bunting
The hornets’ nest on the apex of the southern face of the hide has grown to a massive size and is still home to a large number of adult workers. They can be seen feeding on sap oozing from cuts in the bark of young ash trees along the bridleway. I assume that the hornets chew through the bark specially rather than relying on finding a wound on the tree by chance.

Hornet City and feeding workers (c) Bark
Otmoor often surprises me with behaviours or events that I have never seen before or in some cases didn’t even know existed. This is how it was on Sunday afternoon; while standing and chatting with Tezzer on the bridleway he noticed the recently cut and piled up grass moving. We looked closely and spotted what looked like a small black football burrowing through the inch or so of soggy cut vegetation. It was a mole clearly looking for food in the shallow layer above the ground. When we looked more carefully we could see the winding track that the animal had made as it foraged. I have never seen a live mole before and it wore the smoothest, smartest velvet coat that I have ever seen. A couple with a dog were approaching and we were a little concerned for its welfare, so we lifted the grass a little and it scuttled off rapidly into the thicker grasses by the ditch, showing a remarkable turn of speed. Those are the kind of encounters and moments that keep me going back to the patch, as I do week after week, it really is never the same place twice.
Moles bum! (c) Bark


  1. Hello! I've been delighted to fins your blog this morning and I'm now even more keen for a visit to Otmoor this weekend! I was essencially looking for sightings of starlings and murmurations as I find this a good way to convince my kids to come out with me in the late afternoon. Any yet? Also do you know of any good map of the reserve with hides location? Thanks in advance. Katia

    1. Katia, there is a map here
      that you can download to or move to a smartphone (to avoid the environmental consequences of printing). There were some starlings murmurating when I visited a week ago, but only when they were pestered by the marsh harrier. If the starlings are your main priority then I would wait a week or two for the numbers to build up a bit.

      Others people may be better informed?


  2. The hornets in this video (jump to 45s in) I filmed on ash saplings on the bridleway on Otmoor (as in the post above).

    1. Don't be frightened of hornets - they may look scary but compared to wasps I have always found them much more easy-going (when away from their nests). I was sometimes just a few inches away when filming them feeding on the ash sap and they never paid me the slightest attention.