Monday, 20 February 2017

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th February

Otmoor Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th February

Great Crested Grebe and lunch (c) Andy Harris
The weather had relented this weekend and we have had a very mild couple of days. We are promised even warmer unseasonable temperatures for the rest of the week. It was not quite warm enough not to wear gloves however, as I discovered after about half an hour having left mine in the car.
It was once again a very “birdy” weekend with the huge numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plover holding centre stage with an equally large number of wildfowl in a supporting role. Big Otmoor is once again the hotspot the water levels are perfect both for feeding and for birds to loaf about, perhaps the higher water levels enhance the birds sense of security.

Big Otmoor (c) Bark
The flocks were harassed by the regular raptors, again we identified three different Marsh Harriers and the ring-tailed Hen Harrier was also present but as usual impossible to predict. Two Peregrines were noted and at times they almost seemed to be working in tandem. A Sparrowhawk was seen a couple of times and as usual was causing pandemonium among the finch flock beside the hide and up towards July’s Meadow.
Marsh harrier (c) Andy Harris
Wildfowl numbers are peaking now with wigeon spread across all the fields with a substantial number up on Ashgrave by the hidden lagoon. There were also four Shelduck there on Sunday morning. They appeared to be two separate pairs and eventually one pair clearly drove the other pair off. The Herons are back on the nests in the battered oak tree that sticks out into Ashgrave. We are not sure whether there is one pair or two as when we have seen them they were on one or the other of the nests. I also understand from the RSPB staff that they are showing signs of nesting again in the reedbed as they did last year, the Herons that is not the staff!
Pochard from the first screen (c) Bark
A Little Egret is back on the moor and there are two adult Great Crested Grebes on the lagoons and a couple of Chiffchaffs near the second screen. These along with last week’s Oystercatcher have brought the year-list up to ninety-four species so far.

Moorhen Wars (c) Bark
I met two keen birders on Sunday morning who had come to Otmoor from two different ends of the country. They had come to see the Starlings and had been delighted by the spectacle the previous evening, not just the Starlings but also the Lapwings and Goldies thronging the sky. They asked me where to go to see the Short-eared Owl. I took them to the spot by the gate but the bird was no longer on its favourite perch in its regular bush! I had not expected it to be there as it had not been there on Saturday either. It had stayed faithful to that roost all the way through January and then abandoned it. I had hoped that it had gone off to another favoured spot spontaneously. Sadly, I now feel certain that this was not the case.
Red Kite (c) Tom N-L
After a two-week absence, I was delighted to hear that the bird was back in the same bush on the same branch. It has been a real pleasure to be able to point out this scarcer, more unusual bird to visitors and be able to set up a scope and let people see it really well. The bird was perfectly happy so long as we stayed on our side of the gate and left the requisite safe distance between it and us. A photographer friend of mine who supplies me with wonderful pictures was photographing it from the regular spot. Another photographer started to climb over into the field. He was asked not to as he would flush the Owl, but replied that he wanted to get a closer shot and went in anyway!
The owl has now gone and may not be back this winter or if it is back it may not be in such a viewable position.
SEO from the right place (c) Tom N-L
I am staggered that someone can show so little sensitivity, such selfishness and such craven ignorance. The bird has been flushed and will no longer feel secure. More importantly hundreds of people who would have been delighted to see it now will not be able to. All the photographers I know are aware of the principal that the bird must come first and should never be harassed and hustled for the sake of a closer picture. The person concerned was not someone that was familiar to my friend and so is not regular on Otmoor, however he is very recognisable from the description I have been given by another volunteer warden. He isn’t welcome on Otmoor, I hope that he doesn’t come back, we certainly don’t need numbskulls like him spoiling things for everyone else.
Just ripples (c) Bark
Spot the Otter (c) Bark

On a much happier note I caught up with the Otter on Sunday. It has been seen several times in the last few weeks. What was most interesting about it was the fact that I was where it was for over half an hour. In that time, I only saw it briefly as it stared at me from under some overhanging branches. I had seen the bubbles and the ripples I had also heard the splashing and the noise of chewing as it consumed a fish, but had just those few seconds when I could actually see it. It was a very special encounter and my first with an otter for several years. It helped to raise my spirits after feeling so annoyed on hearing about the owl disturbance. Rather sadly it made me wonder whether I should mention it at all, for fear of enticing another stupid idiot down, to blunder about mindlessly on the moor.
The odd couple (c) Bark

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th February

Redwing (c) Tom N-L
It is often said that to truly appreciate a place one should see it all its different moods, if that is the case this week Otmoor was deeply depressed and dolorous. It was unremittingly grey and colourless with sleet and drizzle. I had the feeling that it couldn’t even be bothered to snow or rain with any conviction or effort.
                                         There is a leuchistic Reed Bunting by the hide.

The birds were keeping their heads down, except along the path by the hide where the winter feeding is being carried out. The lack of seeds and food for finches is approaching the most critical part of the year and there were very large numbers of the usual seed eating species feeding on the ground and occasionally flushing up into the hedgerow beside the track. It was good to see at least ten Yellowhammers amongst them and very pleasing to see twelve Stock Doves on the ground, although they are wary of venturing too close to the hide. They are overlooked beauties with the subtlest range of greys and purples in their plumage, which I have to say looks very much better in sunshine, which this weekend was totally absent.
Stock dove (c) Bark
Fieldfare (c) Tom N-L
As we arrived in Saturday morning the sky across Ashgrave and big Otmoor was filled with birds clearly flushed by a major predator like a Peregrine. Ducks, Lapwings and Golden Plover made up the bulk of them but there were several hundred starlings scattered amongst them. We walked half way along the bridleway towards Noke, Big Otmoor was thronged with birds and we estimated several thousands of both Lapwing and Goldies. There were also closely packed parties of Wigeon moving grazing on the grass, but close enough to get into the water if they felt threatened. I spoke to Fergus the Assistant Warden who had just arrived and told him of these huge numbers of birds. I met him again an hour later and he said that the highest count he had had was about forty Wigeon. It was the same on Sunday morning in the same places that I had seen huge numbers of birds on Saturday there was just a smattering. I have just heard from the Reserve staff that when they did the WEBS count this morning the numbers were right back up again close to the winter maxima. The duck count included nearly one hundred Pintail.
Throng of Lapwings on Monday (c) Tom N-L
As is usual on a large reserve like Otmoor with a range of different habitats, the “hotspots” change with the seasons. Despite the fluctuation in numbers Big Otmoor is definitely the place to watch at the moment. It is looking great for both ducks and waders. On Sunday we heard a Grey Plover calling from the northern edge of the field or perhaps even Noke Sides. We were unable locate it on the ground but nonetheless it is the ninetieth species to be recorded this year on the moor.
hare last weekend when it wasn't so wet (c) Bark
Up in the scrubby area on the higher part of Ashgrave there are two pairs of Stonechats. They are taking advantage of the rough scrub that is growing up and the shelter of Sling Copse.

Peregrine and Marsh Harriers as well as the ubiquitous Kites were the most obvious raptors this weekend. Sadly the Short-eared Owl has abandoned its regular perch in the car park field. I hope it has gone through choice and not because it was disturbed by anyone. The warmer weather forecast this week should start to bring in the first of our breeding Redshanks and for the next four months every visit will be accompanied by their calls.
Shovellers (c) Bark

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Saturday and Sunday 4th and 5th February

Yellowhammer (c) Derek Lane

It was an exceptionally “birdy” weekend on the moor. There were new species for the year list and also a first for Otmoor (not tickable)! Most exciting however were the sheer numbers of birds to be seen. The wet weather of last week has meant that water levels have risen and Ashgrave and especially Big Otmoor are optimal for large numbers of birds.
Golden Plovers and Lapwings are predominant with conservative estimates of over three thousands of each. It is very difficult to be accurate as both species are broken into separate large flocks and are moving from field to field. It is sometimes possible to track the progress of an over-flying Peregrine or Harrier as different flocks take flight in sequence across the whole reserve.
Snipe and Teal from the first screen (c) JR
Big Otmoor is also perfect now for ducks. There are several hundred Shoveller taking advantage of the newly flooded grasslands. There were very large flocks of Wigeon grazing across both this field and Ashgrave. Out in the middle we counted more than twenty five Pintail, both displaying to the females and also upending to feed. Teal are spread across the whole of the moor now but are concentrated on the reedbed, they too are present in significant numbers. On the northern reedbed there are pairs of Gadwall and the number of Pochard is now well over twenty five. Tufted Ducks have reappeared after being missing when the lagoons were partially iced over. As the water levels on the reedbed have risen the Snipe have been pushed closer together to roost and we counted at least fifty huddled together on the small mud bank straight across the water from the first screen.
Pied Wagtails pick their way around the margins (c) JR
Once again we saw three different Marsh Harriers present. Two of them are spending time perched up close together on bushes between the reedbed and the flood field. The Hen Harrier was also seen this weekend and again there were several Bittern sightings. It will soon be time to start listening out for booming males in the early mornings.
Shelduck over (c) JR
We heard Curlew on Sunday morning. The calls were coming from two different directions and so we knew that there were more than one. They have turned up right on cue although as yet in smaller numbers than is usual. Black Tailed Godwits were a welcome early addition to the year list. There were nine seen, out on Ashgrave, on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday morning we picked up five in flight over Big Otmoor they landed in the north eastern corner of the field and were feeding busily.
Two Egyptian Geese flew over the hide and out onto Ashgrave on Saturday and two Shelduck were on Greenaways early before relocating to Ashgrave later.

Budgie (c) Derek Latham

The first ever Budgerigar to be recorded on Otmoor was seen on Saturday afternoon near the first screen! If it can find the seed feeding site beside the hide, it might very well be able to survive (we even put millet out) however I don’t really know how readily they can survive the cold. There are three Cetti’s warblers out at the reedbed and others along the bridleway.

A pair of Stonechats are still out on Greenaways and seem to be surviving the colder weather well another pair were hunting from the fence around Big Otmoor. We have been surprised at the number of Robins that we have seen this winter. There are regularly four or five in the car park alone and others accompany us along all the paths and bridleways.
One of very maby Robins (c) Derek Lane
It was beautiful looking out over Big Otmoor on Saturday morning in the sunshine, the blue sky reflecting in the pools, ditches and scrapes. Scoping across the field from the bridleway the bright colour of the drake Wigeon and Shovellers shone out along with the iridescent green of the Lapwings. On Sunday morning a Chaffinch was singing in the oaks and two Skylarks were calling and chasing each other over Noke Sides. Hares were beginning to act “madly” chasing and boxing with each other. It is still February but spring is only just around the corner.

Otter in the ditch on Sunday. Top picture two weeks ago. (c) Derek Latham