Monday, 30 October 2017

Saturday and Sunday 28th and 29th October

Juvenile Whooper (c) JR

There was just a slight frosting on the grass along the bridleway this Sunday and for the first time since last spring, gloves and hats were dusted down and dug out of draws and cupboards. The wind was keen and there were new birds to anticipate as autumn migration really gets underway.
We spent all weekend listening out for the scratchy, dry flight call of Hawfinches. There has been an unprecedented influx of these attractive birds into the country, due to a lack of food in Scandinavia. They seem to have been popping up all over Oxfordshire during last week and we hoped that sooner or later they might come through Otmoor. As far as I know they have never been recorded on the Reserve and if they do turn up they are likely to be in Noke Wood or Sling Copse. Sadly, the closest ones to us were seen in Worminghall this weekend.
Vis mig Fieldfares (c) Bark
Parties of both Fieldfares and Redwings were seen frequently flying through, but have not yet settled to begin stripping the berries from the hedgerows.
On Saturday morning, a Mute Swan flew into the southern Lagoon, accompanied by a juvenile Whooper Swan. The Whooper was yet to develop its distinctive lemon-yellow bill, the part that would later be yellow was still ivory coloured and the tip of the bill was pink. Unlike juvenile Mute Swans that shade through from brown into their pure white adult plumage, this juvenile showed grey that would ultimately become white.
Juvenile Whooper (c) Bark
Juvenile Mutes (c) Derek Latham
Two Peregrines were noted on Saturday and one of them landed for a while on the mud bank in front of the first screen. We usually have regular Peregrines overwintering, with the Starlings, Golden Plovers, Lapwings and wildfowl there is plenty of food to sustain a healthy population of raptors.

Kestrel above (c) Bark         below (c) JR
Three Marsh Harriers were seen on both days, two of them seem to be very much a pair, and appear intent on pushing the interloper out. Another Ring-tailed Harrier has appeared, being picked up on Sunday morning hunting along the northern side of Greenaways.
Peregrine (c) Derek Latham
There is still at least one Whinchat about on the reserve. It was frequenting the cattle pens on Saturday and on Sunday we found it, or perhaps another, in the game strip sown on the Closes. Stonechats are settling onto clear territories and we watched a pair on July’s meadow patrolling up and down the hedge.
Whinchat on closes (c) JR
Goldfinches (c) JR
There are substantial numbers of Linnets and Chaffinches feeding on the path beside the hide. There are smaller numbers of Reed Buntings and Goldfinches amongst them and there are one or two Yellowhammers as well. Bramblings were reported as were Redpolls from the same area, but they were very elusive and we failed to connect with them.
Dunnock (c) JR
Bittern flying away (c) JR
We can say with absolute certainty that there are three Bitterns in and around the Reedbed. They are being spotted flying between feeding areas and there is clearly one individual that is commuting between the reed fringe on the southern edge of Ashgrave and the strip of reeds beside the path to the first screen.
Squabbling B H G's (c) JR
The moor is stunningly beautiful at the moment showing the richest of autumn colours and a particular seasonal suite of birds. I am very grateful to Badger for putting together the short video below that shows much more clearly than I can articulate; just how lovely it is.

Please view at 1080p HD

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd October

Female Stonechat (c) Bark

There seems little doubt that if we wish to give the year-list a boost when it gets stuck, all I have to do is to go overseas! While I have been away four new species have been added to the list taking it to one hundred and fifty three. It was good to get a Whooper Swan down on the moor as we did not have a visit from either of the winter swans last year. It is interesting that at the same time on the same day there were half a dozen at Farmoor.
Brent Goose (c) Stoneshank
Just as it was with the Brent goose that appeared briefly last week. It was seen in front of the first screen at the same time as a small party of Brents were at Farmoor, so probably a straggler from that small flock. The other additions were a female Brambling, hopefully one of many more later on this winter, and finally a couple of Siskins.
There has been significant change since I was last on the moor. The autumnal yellows and golds have intensified on the leaves that are still clinging to the trees after the stormy winds of last week.

Otmoor and Harrier in the strange light (c) Tom N-L
Whilst away I missed one day when the winds had whipped up Saharan dust and the sky itself took on a strange yellow and orange hue, like dusk at mid-afternoon. The light on Saturday was pale and milky and on Sunday much brighter but both days were very windy. The wind meant that most birds preferred to keep their heads down and skulk in the bushes or the lee of hedgerows.

Mallard (c) Bark and Shovellers (c) JR
From the first screen the ducks are looking much smarter in their crisp new plumage and instead of loafing around preening, are courting and displaying especially the Mallard drakes. We do tend to take them for granted but their bright emerald green heads, conker coloured breasts and yellow bills really shine out brightly in the autumn sunshine. Shovellers spin in pairs creating a vortex to draw up food from deeper water. There is still a slow but steady increase in the numbers of both Wigeon and Teal.
Bittern (c) Bark
Bitterns are once again very much in evidence and seem to be undertaking longer flights between feeding areas. We estimate that there are at least three different individuals, based largely upon where we see them fly to or from and where they next appear. A very imprecise method but the only one at our disposal.
Hen harrier (c) Derek Latham
The second winter male Hen Harrier is still with us and has now been present for a whole year. It seems likely that as the starling roost gets established, with its ready supply of food for raptors, there will be no need for it to stray too far from the moor. A Ringtail was reported on Saturday and might just be the one that was present early last month.
Lesser Black backed Gull over screen (c) Bark

A Short-eared Owl was seen well on Saturday and again briefly on Sunday morning, hunting along the hedge on the north-eastern side of Greenaways.
I have been reliably informed that this is the optimum time for Stonechats to be on the move and we have seen really good numbers on the reserve and surrounding areas. Six were seen in one location on Saturday and at the same time we were watching a further pair just up from the hide towards July’s Meadow. On Sunday ten were counted out on Greenaways and a late Whinchat was seen on both days, associating with the Stonechats.

Stonechat (c) Bark and Whinchat (c) Pete Roby
On both days we saw small parties of both Fieldfare and Redwing passing over but as the wind finally comes out of the south westerly quarter I am sure their numbers will rise dramatically.
Kingfisher at the Pill (c) Stoneshank
Finally on Saturday we watched a young Fallow Stag make its way across Ashgrave. It is probably the offspring of our resident Fallow hind. The one that had serious identity issues as for a whole year it appeared to think it was a cow! The hind also had a fawn this year and we will enjoy watching the small herd develop.
Young Fallow Stag (c) Bark

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

14th & 15th October

The weekend was a mix of overcast mornings and warm sunny afternoons and evenings. I saw people in short sleeved shirts, and kids in shorts, as everyone enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather. Not what you normally expect in the middle of October. No wonder the winter birds haven’t turned up yet, it still feels like summer.

Last week there was a nice female Brambling in with the mixed finch flock at the Wetlands Watch Hide. We couldn’t find it on the weekend so it’s probably passed through. The RSPB are putting out seed for the birds along the track so it’s always worth checking through the feeding birds for something unusual. It is also a great place to get some close photos of the birds.

Brambling courtesy of Pete Roby

This is the time of year to listen out for the high pitched “tseep” call of the Redwings as they fly overhead. This is how we picked up a few small flocks flying around from the bridleway. I was hoping for a picture of one on the reserve this weekend but they haven’t arrived in numbers yet. They are often heard after dark as they migrate, so listen out for them if you are outside in the evenings.

Even though Greenaways often looks empty it’s always worth a scan with the bins or a scope. Straight away we got onto a nice couple of Roe Deer that are often out in the middle of the filed. Another six Roe Deer can often be seen over Noke Sides as you walk up to the second screen. Further panning over Greenaways turned up a Sparrowhawk sat on a post, a Kestrel on another, unfortunately no sign of the Merlin, but there were at least four Stonechat perching up on top of some distant rushes. It’s difficult to get an accurate count of the Stonechat but there could easily be eleven or more on Otmoor at the moment. Six were seen at the Pill area on Saturday morning and another three were at Noke, with at least another two or more on Greenaways. A Whinchat was reported with the Stonechat on Greenaways on Sunday so there is still a chance to catch up with one of those passing through.

Stonechat courtesy of Tezzer

On Saturday four Redpoll were seen feeding on rosebay willowherb along the track to the first screen. A nice bird to catch up with on the reserve and the second sighting this week. Hopefully there will be more sightings in the coming weeks. They flew towards the bridleway where there is another patch of rosebay willowherb but they weren’t seen again. Siskin was also reported in the week and again from the Wetlands Watch Hide on the weekend.

Lesser Redpoll courtesy of John Reynolds

Around a hundred Lapwing were seen flying around north of the reserve and small flocks of Golden Plover flew overhead calling and circling the reserve. The largest flock was eighty one birds and we should get more turning up in the coming weeks. They always look great as they twist and turn in the sunshine

The male and female Marsh Harriers were seen drifting around the reserve as usual and what great birds they are. We see them so often it’s easy to take them for granted but what a loss they would be to the reserve if they ever left. There were at least two Bitterns, and possibly three seen flying about on Saturday and Sunday over the reed bed, and also over Greenaways from the bench along the bridleway. During the week around 150 Pied Wagtails were seen gathering around the reed bed before going to roost.

Pied Wagtail courtesy of John Reynolds

Five Water Rails were heard squealing along the ditches from the car park to the second screen, and at least five Cetti’s warblers acted like motion detectors as they blasted out their calls whenever you walked past. From the hedgerows we could hear the piping call of the Bullfinches and the busy calls of the Long Tailed Tits as the mixed tit flocks passed along. There are still a few Chiffchaffs flitting around with the tit flocks as well as the tiny Goldcrests. I was beginning to think that the excellent male Hen Harrier had left as it hadn’t been reported since last Wednesday, but we managed to see it on Sunday afternoon hunting along the back hedge of Greenaways. If it hangs on until next Monday I might have to bake it a cake as it would have been on the reserve for a year.

Marsh Tits and a Tree Creeper were seen along the Roman road and a very tame Wheatear was seen out at the Pill on the weekend.

Wheatear courtesy of Pete Roby

With hurricane Ophelia passing close by you never know, it might just blow something new onto the reserve this week!


The Roby’s