Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th May

Reed warbler (c) JR

A fine weekend on the whole, with days that started cool but by lunchtime you realised that you really hadn’t needed the extra layer and regretted it!
There was a lot to see but if anything, the moor was a little quieter than last week as birds were setting about nest building and raising young.

Juvenile Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tit (c) Bark
Already there are many newly fledged youngsters to see, offspring of our resident birds, including at least four or five different family parties of Long-tailed Tits and a brood of young Goldfinches in the car park field. A Grasshopper Warbler has started reeling again in Morleys, although it is very difficult for my hearing to discern, unless I am very close to it.
GWE (c) Bark
A Great White Egret is still on and around the reserve. On Saturday it flew across the southern lagoon and showed well from the first screen before flushing up right in front of us as we made our way to the second screen. As it flew away from us the extreme kink in its neck was very obvious.
GWE flies onto Big Otmoor (c) JR
Later as we were scanning across Big Otmoor it, or another bird, flew into the middle of the field and started to hunt along the ditches and once again the extreme “S” shape of its neck was unlike any of the other heron species we are familiar with. A Little Egret was feeding out on Ashgrave and it was good to have the chance to compare the two. The difference in shape and flight dynamics, even when it is not always possible to get any sense of scale, is very distinctive.

Four ,Two and one Bitterns (c) Euan Urquart

Although we didn’t see any Bitterns ourselves this weekend, no less than five had been seen simultaneously on Friday. Four birds  were in the air together over the reedbed, whilst another was on the ground out in the middle of Greenaways in the area from which they have frequently been reported. One of them has a secondary feather missing from the centre of its left wing and shows a large gap. This will make it easily identifiable until its next moult.

Marsh Harrier food-pass (c) JR

On Saturday morning we watched a food pass between two of the Marsh Harriers. The aerial prowess involved in such a manoeuvre is remarkable and is superbly illustrated by JR’s pictures.
The battle between Kites and Lapwings goes on. (c) JR
On the northern lagoon the Tern raft is a very busy place. It is hard to be certain but there appear to be at least ten pairs using it. Birds were sitting, coming and going and sometimes mating. The raft itself has a tendency to swing on its anchors and as it has a bit of a list to one side. Sometimes it is easier to see the birds on it than at other times. Courtship involves males presenting their partners with food to strengthen the pair bond. We noticed a bird coming in that looked as though it was about to present its mate with some tangerine skin, but a quick look with the scope revealed that it was in fact a Goldfish!  His mate struggled to swallow it easily, but it went down in the end. It suggests that they might be travelling as far as Oddington, Charlton and Noke to hunt, despite the very healthy fish population in the ring ditches.

Curlew and Skylark (c) Bark

We circumnavigated  the moor on Sunday as the range was not being used. It is a wonderful walk and takes in a much quieter and less busy part of the reserve. It was lovely to walk across the MOD whilst being serenaded by Skylarks and hearing the calls of Curlews and drumming Snipe.

Small Copper, Common blue and Damselflies mating (c) Bark

Butterflies are on the wing and more dragonfly species are emerging. I stopped to photograph a Dandelion “clock” on Sunday and when I got the picture up on my computer screen noticed that there was some kind of small insect on it with the most enormous antennae, which illustrates just how much there is to see and how much we can miss, if we don’t look closely enough. (any help with insect id would be appreciated)

The closer we look the more we see (c) Bark

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th May

Common Tern (c) Bark

On Saturday morning I was helping with a group of Otmoor volunteers who wanted to brush up on their spring visitor id. It is always easier to make a direct connection between a bird and its song when you can actually see it whilst it is singing. The Otmoor warblers did not let us down in this respect.

Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat (c) Bark
Both species of Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warblers plus Blackcap and Chiffchaff all sat out prominently and sang. A Garden Warbler, by the bench along the bridleway, was more elusive but sang non-stop and allowed a comparison to be made between it and a nearby Blackcap. Cetti’s as usual, remained deep in cover yet called and sang all morning, there was a Willow Warbler calling loud and clearly in the car park field, but none showed themselves elsewhere on the reserve.

Common Whitethroat (c) JR and Sedge Warbler (c) Paul Wyeth 
In addition, Wrens, Goldfinches, Bullfinches, Reed Buntings and Linnets were out about and active. The finches and buntings can be seen in bushes and trees gleaning invertebrate food from under leaves and around flowers, rather than foraging their regular seed-based diet. They are clearly gathering insects and caterpillars for their nestlings.

Cuckoos above (c) Bark  below (c) Paul Wyeth
Over the whole weekend Cuckoos were very active, calling and chasing across the moor. On Sunday we were certain that there were five different individuals present and as well as the familiar male “cuckoo” call the females chuckling bubbling call could also be heard. Sometimes the males could be seen flying in a slow stalling flight whilst calling continuously.
Common Whitethroat (c) Bark

Bitterns too were very much on show. On both Saturday and Sunday there were two individuals out and about in the open on Greenaways. The sedge is still low enough for the bittern’s head to appear above the vegetation like a periscope. It may well be that there are particularly good feeding opportunities out there in the middle, with frogs and other amphibians around the shallow ditches.
Common Tern with offering (c) JR

At the second screen the Tern colony is now well established on the raft. It is difficult to determine just how many pairs there are, as the birds are coming and going all the time. It certainly seems that there are more pairs out there than last year. Courtship behaviour involves a great deal of screaming, calling and presentation of food to strengthen pair bonds.
Redshank (c) Bark

There has been a smattering of passage waders out on Big Otmoor including Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a couple of Greenshanks. There have also been occasional sightings of Garganey both there and out in front of the first screen.
Swalow drinking (c) Paul Wyeth

Hobbies are currently very much in evidence, either perched out on posts on Greenaways or later in the morning hunting low over the ditches, increasingly taking dragonflies as their numbers are increasing as more and more adults appear. On Monday morning this week at least fourteen individuals were on and over Greenaways. It will be worthwhile looking through these falcons carefully as we might perhaps find another Red-footed Falcon amongst them. We had a fine male over Greenaways for one day in 2007 and it would be wonderful to see another one.

Hawthorn and Water violet (c) Bark

More and more plants are coming into bloom. In the ditches we are seeing the first clumps of water violet and Hawthorn is showing on shades of white and more rarely pink. In front of the first screen a large of flag Irises are just about to burst into flower, it is a very dynamic and colourful time of year.
Lackey moth caterpillars. (c) Bark

Monday, 13 May 2019

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th May

Common Whitethroat (c) JR

On Saturday morning over thirty people assembled in the carpark at about 4.45 am for a dawn chorus walk. It was a cloudy but dry morning and the birds did not let us down, although Sunday morning was warmer and sunnier with wall to wall birdsong.
Dawn on Saturday (c) Bark 
There are at least four cuckoos present on and around the moor now and they were in good voice. The hepatic cuckoo that we have watched for the last two years is amongst them, but unfortunately, I have yet to see her this year. Cuckoos on Otmoor parasitise Reed Warblers as surrogate parents and up until this weekend there seemed not to be as many around as we have come to expect.
Cuckoo (c) Pete Roby
There has been an influx of them during the last week as they were much easier to find along the ditches and in the reedbed this weekend. Once the cuckoos have mated, we will be looking out for the females sitting out on fenceposts and bushes as they wait for their moment to slip into the warblers’ nest and secrete their egg.

Wren and Sedge warbler (c) Bark

The only warbler species that eluded us on Saturday was Grasshopper Warbler, where in the previous weekend we had recorded at least four across the reserve there was no reeling to be heard this week. This is a pattern that we have noticed in other years, the birds arrive and call for a couple of weeks and then go silent, presumably having mated and set up nests and started to raise young.

Backcap and Chiffys (c) JR
In three or four weeks’ time we may very well hear them calling again as they seek to repeat the process. We were able to hear the full richness of the spring dawn chorus as we made our way out to the screens although by Sunday morning in the sunshine, the birds were singing from more exposed songposts rather than from deep cover.

Bitterns (c) JR

It has been a wonderful weekend for seeing Bitterns. The male that has been displaying and booming out on Greenaways was strutting his stuff again on Sunday and was visible along with another bird that we assume is a female, for over an hour on Sunday morning. This was very much to the delight of many visitors, who got excellent scope views from the bridleway. Once again, they were in the area of rank grass and sedges rather than staying hidden in the depths of the phragmites reedbed. On Saturday in the morning another bird was seen from the first screen swaying unsteadily at the top of the reeds. It was sad that most of the dawn chorus visitors had left when one flew very close and slowly past the screen.
Hobby (c) JR

Hobbies have been seen most  mornings perched up on the posts and gates of Greenways and by late morning they have been on the wing hunting the dragonflies and hawthorn flies that require the temperature to rise in order to get going. On Saturday by midday there were over  twelve of them on and over the main fields and reedbeds. We often tell visitors who ask where to see them, that they are like teenagers and never really get up until lunchtime!
Magpie from the first screen (c) Bark
Pied Wag feeding young at Noke (c) Pete Roby

The year-list moved on again last week with the first Whinchat coming through, a female seen out near the farm at Noke on Thursday, it didn’t stay around and as yet we have not heard of any others.
Terns at the raft (c) Bark
At the second screen there were at least twelve Common Terns on and over the tern raft. They are very noisy and active as they sort out mates and the pecking order of the colony, screaming their harsh ragged calls. They are very aggressive, and they challenge any Gulls that have the temerity to enter their airspace, unlike some other birds they don’t pull out when they go into an attack. Later on, they are very successful in defending their vulnerable young from potential predators.
It's that hare again! (c) Bark

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

May Bank Holiday Weekend 3rd - 5th May

Common Whitethroat (c) Bark

An unseasonably cold weekend and often windy and grey. As I suggested last week there  has been an influx of Hobbies over the last ten days. On Wednesday afternoon last week, there were over twelve of them, circling high over Greenaways and the reedbed. They were clearly feeding on the insects that were being carried up by a thermal. By the weekend there were fewer present, but they were feeding much nearer to  the ground, perching on the posts and gates on Greenaways and heading out to snatch prey.
Peregrine Saturday morning. (c) Bark

Over the weekend there was significant passage of hirundines and the first large parties of Swifts moving through and pausing to feeding over and around the reedbed and the Flood Field.
There has been a smattering of waders showing up on Big Otmoor, with a Grey Plover and both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers out on the middle scrapes. The Grey Plover was in partial moult into its smart summer plumage. Hopefully we will see a greater variety of passage waders moving through over the next few weeks.
Cuckoo (c) JR

The moor was alive with birdsong on Sunday morning and as the wind had died down the singers were much more obvious in their choice of song-posts. At the second screen it was possible to stand for fifteen minutes or so and both hear and see seven different species of warbler.   
Common Whitethroat with nest material (c) JR
A Common Whitethroat is building a nest out to the left of the screen, coming and going with nest material and stopping occasionally to sing. Further towards the corner a Lesser Whitethroat was singing almost continuously as it establishes a territory.
Cetti's Warbler (c) JR
There has been a Cetti’s in the vicinity for weeks and from time to time it would appear in the hawthorn bush beside the water. Its calling was often stimulatedby the movement of a Dunnock that was gathering small green caterpillars from area.
Dunnock with caterpillars (c) Bark
A Sedge Warbler was shouting from the reeds to the right of the screen and the more measured and regular calls of a Reed Warbler were coming from the reeds on the left where it would show from time to time.
Blackcap (c) Bark
From behind the screen a Chiffchaff was moving backwards and forwards along the hedgerow and a Blackcap was also singing from twenty metres or so down the track.
Sedge Warbler (c) JR
At the first screen a Bittern was booming every five or six minutes from the thick reeds in the south eastern corner. A different, female Bittern flew in and landed clumsily on the closest reedbed directly in front of us.

Bittern (c) Bark
It swayed unsteadily on the top of the reeds stretching his head up and peering about like a periscope, it demonstrated an almost owl-like ability to turn its head and look behind. It descended to the edge of the water with a very inelegant slither and then sat hunched on the waters edge, just occasionally stretching out its neck to lay its bill flat on the surface of the water, a very strange behaviour! It may have been connected with its fishing activities as at one point it plunged its whole head under water. It was certainly aware of the booming from nearby, but its only reaction was to raise its head and look in the vague direction from which the sound was coming. After twenty minutes it simply melted away into the reeds behind it, disappearing almost as if by magic.
Shoveller touchdown (c) Bark
A Little Egret was seen over the lagoons on Saturday and on Monday its big cousin turned up. The Great White Egret was seen initially in flight across Greenaways and then landed in front of the first screen giving excellent views to the visitors there. If any one managed any pictures of it, I would love to have a copy to use on this blog.
Goldfinch (c) JR

We  saw two Wheatears out on Greenaways on Saturday morning feeding on the shorter grass on the eastern edge of the field. The Turtle Doves while present occasionally are not purring from the regular places and are very elusive. There are now only two regular visitors that have yet to appear on the moor, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher.
Moorhen and Chick (c) Bark
With warmer temperatures and a more southerly wind predicted for the coming week I would expect to hear that they have been reported in the next few days. There is a good passage of Black Terns going through the county at present and in good years we do find one or two wanderers feeding over the northern lagoon, so it will be worth keeping an eye out for them there. The Tern raft is already occupied by a couple of Common Terns and the raft had only been out for a couple of hours before they took up residence!
Sedgie (c) JR