Friday, 17 January 2020

Middle of January

Stonechat (c) Bark

Otmoor and its bird life have remained very much the same since the turn of the year apart from the rapid collapse of the Starling roost. There are now just a scant one or two thousand coming in to the reedbed to roost. We have had tempestuous winds and heavy rain, as has the whole country and water levels across the moor are high, as they should be on a floodplain.

Goldies and Lapwings (c) Bark

The number of Lapwings and Golden Plovers continues to fluctuate from day to day as flocks move around in the vicinity, but there are seldom fewer than three or four thousand of each species either on the reserve or in the nearby fields. 
Long-tailed Tit (c) Bark
The extent to which fields are flooded or not flooded has a big influence on where they sit out the days. On the reserve Big Otmoor is currently most favoured, but large numbers are also spending some time on the less accessible Flood Field. Thinly scattered amongst the Lapwings are anything up to a dozen Dunlin and up to fifteen Ruff. 
One eyed Buzzard (c) Bark
From time to time we have  picked out a single Curlew flying over the back of Greenaway’s and over towards the Flood.

Kestrel  above (c) Bark   and below (c) Tom N-L
The large flocks are spectacular. In last weekend’s gales they were whirled and tossed across the sky like autumn leaves, their undulating flight and tight formations making the tumult in the air visible. Once again last Saturday we had to explain to a party of visitors and a walking group that it was not the Starling murmuration they were witnessing, but actually Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
Ducks in a row! (c) Bark

Duck numbers are reaching their winter maxima. There are currently almost two and a half thousand Teal and well above three thousand Wigeon scattered over the site. Interestingly there were over two hundred Pintail recorded on Monday, a large count compared with recent years. 
Brown Hare (c) Oz
There are at least sixteen Pochard present and they spend most of their time on the northern lagoon. I understand that they are in serious decline and our group although small in number is nonetheless important and significant.

Linnets and Reed Bunting (c) Bark

The mixed finch flock beside the hide is attracting larger numbers of birds and will continue to do so as natural food supplies run down. The most frequent visitors are still Linnets and Reed Buntings with a scattering of other species amongst them. 
Stonechat at the Pill (c) Bark
There are at least four pairs of Stonechats on the reserve, there is one particularly confiding pair along the path to the second screen around the area that was roped of for Starling viewing. I trudged out to the Pill on Sunday, accessible now that the floods have receded, and found another pair near the small bridge. 
Wolf Moon rising over the lagoon (c) Oz
I had hoped to flush a Jack snipe but was unable to find one. They have been very few and far between of late and last year was  the first when there was no record of them on the moor.
A melee of birds over the reedbed (c) Tom N-L
A fly-over Great white Egret has been the highlight of the year so far and the year-list currently stands at eighty species.
Two Black Swans a surprise last weekend. (c) Bark


Saturday, 4 January 2020

The end of 2019 and into 2020

Bittern (c) Bark

As we start the new year Otmoor is once again a real wetland, after three years of less than average rainfall and very dry summers. The fields surrounding the Reserve are all flooded, and it is obvious why no houses were ever built on the floodplain. Our reedbed reservoir, ditches and scrapes are all well above their target water levels and once again we are attracting massive numbers of waders and wildfowl.
The path on the western edge (c) Bark

This last week we have seen well over a thousand mixed ducks bobbing about on Saunders Ground ( the first of the large MOD fields ) now more of a lake than a field. Scanning through them showed predominantly Teal and Wigeon but with a significant number of Shovellers and well over fort Pintail. On the reedbed lagoons there were approximately fifty Tufted Ducks, and up to twenty Pochard and a similar number of Gadwall.
Vast numbers on Big Otmoor (c) Tom N-L

Lapwings and Golden Plovers are present in the kind of numbers we have not seen for several years. We estimate that there are currently well in excess of four thousand Lapwings and over six thousand Golden Plovers. 

Separately and collectively above (c) Bark  below (c) Tom N-L
The flocks are very mobile spending time both on our fields and neighbouring fields. Occasionally it is possible to appreciate just how many birds are there when a Peregrine makes a long pass over the whole area and its progress can be tracked by the separate flocks flushing up in turn as it passes over.
Kestrel (c) JR
An Otmoor regular had to explain to a number of people on the bridleway that they were not seeing the Starling murmuration over the northern edge of Greenaway’s as they’d thought, but Lapwings and Golden Plovers flushing from the Flood field. As they fly up, the tight flocks of Golden Plover wheel, flashing their white bellies as they turn and flicker like snowflakes against dark clouds.
On the flooded grassland of Noke Sides there were at least fifty Pied Wagtails feeding with a smaller flock of about twenty on The Closes. I assume they are heading into the reedbed to roost. Just as last year the number of finches coming in to the feeding programme beside the hide are starting to increase. 

Goldfinch and Reed Bunting (c) JR
Principally Linnets, Chaffinches and Reed Buntings, there are now more Yellowhammers and Goldfinches to be found amongst them.

Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer (c) Bark

On New Year’s morning we were treated to a close and sustained view of a Bittern at the first screen. We first saw it swimming along the edge of the closest clump of reeds. It slipped amongst the stems and then proceeded to work along the margin, appearing and disappearing briefly. The cryptic plumage meant that when it froze at times it was almost invisible, yet still remained in plain sight, provided one knew where to look! 

Bittern (c) JR
Sometimes when hunting it lay its head flat on the water almost submerging its eyes. Eventually it “sky-pointed” prior to taking off, fluffed out all its feathers and flew clumsily across the narrow bay before tiring of its hunting, relocated to another more secluded part of the reedbed.
Skypointing Bittern (c) Bark

The Starlings continue to draw crowds of admirers, but as ever their displays are unpredictable and their numbers hard to estimate but we feel that there are at least fifty thousand coming in to roost nightly. The paths are very muddy but passable with wellies and the viewing area has cut up very badly. It is worth while walking further round the reedbed to the second viewing area as this is considerably drier. Great care must be taken when driving down Otmoor Lane from Beckley, there is a particularly deep and difficult set of potholes at the bottom of the steepest part and right on the bend.

Stonechats on the path to the second screen  above (c) Bark   below (c) JR

We ended last year with a list of one hundred and forty-four species seen on the moor. It was the lowest total for twelve years and reflected how few different species of wader we saw in 2019. The very wet start to this year means that conditions will be much more favourable and attractive to passage waders. Already we have a small flock of Dunlin feeding on the Closes and a small flock of ten Ruff out over the flood field.
It will be fascinating to see what the coming year has in store for us. I was talking to a well known birder last week who was saying that with the huge numbers of  birds around the moor at present, there is a real possibility of one or two scarcities amongst them, perhaps even a real rarity, it’s just a matter of digging them out. I might suggest that big Otmoor is the first place to start looking.

Starling swansong      above Tom N-L     below (c) Bark
It now looks as though the Starling roost has “crashed” and the birds have moved elsewhere. Please let anyone who may be thinking of visiting that this has happened, There is no particular reason that we can discern it may just be that food reserves in the immediate vicinity have been depleted.  
Teal (c) Bark

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th December and on towards Christmas.

Goldfinch at the first screen (c) JR

The wet weather continued during the last week and at the weekend we had overnight heavy rain and showers in the daytime. The whole of the moor is flooded and from the top of the hill the term “flood plain” is perfectly described. The reason why there are no houses built inside the ring of the seven villages is clear to see.

Pintail on Noke Sides   above (c) JR below (c) Bark

Despite the showers the moor was beautiful at the weekend. Indigo clouds scudded across the sky and dark clouds gave way to brilliant clear rain-washed air and short  periods of bright low sunshine with a brief double rainbow that arched across the sky. For a moment the rainbow suggested a pot of gold might lie beneath Charlton church!
Pot of gold? (c) Bark

Just as over the last few weeks the spectacle of thousands of birds either at dusk with the Starling Roost or during the daytime with ducks, geese, Lapwings and Golden Plovers has been the defining theme on the moor. 

Goldies and Lapwings (c) Bark
As raptors crisscross the fields and reedbeds clouds of birds ascend in tight flocks to  evade the hunters and then slowly settle back down to the ground sparkling like snowflakes as they turn against the background of dark blue-black clouds.
Wigeon (c) JR
There are many more birds out on The Closes and on Big Otmoor than there have been recently and alongside Lapwings and feeding amongst the Golden Plovers were at least ten Dunlin and three Ruff.  

Hare from two sides (c) JR and below (c) Bark
The Monday morning WEBS showed that numbers of all species were high with Wigeon and Teal having increased strongly. During this last weekend we had a sudden influx of Tufted Ducks juat as we were beginning to wonder where they had got to.

Above Marsh Harrier  below Hen Harrier and Peregrine (c) Tezzer

The same range of raptors are present. Marsh and Hen Harriers, Peregrine, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and of course the ubiquitous Red Kites. What has been particularly noticeable is the increase in the number of Common Buzzards on and around the reserve. It is not clear if they are actively hunting or simply taking advantage of casualties or preying on birds that might be unwell or injured.
Common Buzzard (c) Bark

Bittern is being seen regularly on the reedbed and out in the middle of Greenaway’s. The winter finch feeding programme is well under way and is attracting good numbers of Reed Buntings, Linnets ,Chaffinches and a smattering of Yellowhammers. 
Yellowhammer (c) Tezzer
If or when the winter hardens it will doubtless attract even more. There are Stonechats out near the cattle pens and on Sunday we found a pair near the farm at Noke.
Stonechat (c) Tezzer

We are ending the year with the moor looking like a real wetland after two  extremely dry years. It is exciting to see it, once again an open, wild, wet place in the midst of our rather unremarkable agricultural Midland landscape, onwards and upwards!

Robin (c) JR and Reedmace (c) Bark


Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th December

Peregrine (c) Nick Truby

A very bird filled weekend with Otmoor at its winter best. Saturday morning was initially overcast but brightened by mid-morning and Sunday was a jewel of a day. After heavy overnight showers the skies were blue, rain-washed and clear. 
Early morning Lapwings (c) Bark
The low sunlight lit everything brilliantly and from the start there were very large numbers of birds to be seen. At first the waves of Starlings leaving the roost at dawn. Then the huge flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwings sparkled and swirled across the sky as they responded to threats both real and imagined. 

Peregrine (c) Nick Truby
The real threats took the form of two Peregrines, at least one Hen harrier, a Marsh Harrier and several different Sparrowhawks. It is very noticeable how when the Lapwings flush, they stay loosely together and descend again quite rapidly.
Goldies higher than Lapwings (c) Bark
The Golden Plover however always seem to go much higher than the Lapwings and scatter into smaller groups and flocks, flying in loose vee formations before finally coalescing and descending more cautiously, having spent much longer on the wing.

Golden plover   Above (c) Nick Truby  Below (c) Bark
We were fortunate on Sunday to watch a young Peregrine making a number of attempts to catch  Wigeon. The ducks panicked and flew but only out into open water rather than up into the air where they might have been more at risk from the Peregrines aerial agility. What was so impressive from the Peregrine was its ability to suddenly accelerate whilst still in level flight just as if it had dropped down a gear, also evident was its bulk and power.
Curlew over (c) Bark

We were surprised to  see and hear two Curlews at the weekend normally we expect to see an influx of them towards the end of February. There  was also a Black-tailed Godwit seen feeding out among the ducks. 
Shelduck (c) Nick Truby
Several Shelduck have been seen over and around the reserve over the last few weeks most often out on the large lagoon halfway up Ashgrave or flying between there and one of the adjacent flooded fields.
An interesting arrival on Sunday was a Common Crane. Its rings identify it as a bird known as Bopbop !! It is a female and has visited Otmoor before on a couple of occasions. It is odd that it hasn’t yet gone down to Somerset for the winter as “our” regular pair have. They are currently amongst the large flock on the Somerset Levels.
Canada Geese (c) Nick Truby

Large numbers of geese and ducks are to be seen out on the Closes which is more flooded this year than I can previously remember. It appears that the wildfowl are favouring areas that have not been flooded for some years as there is a wealth of grass seeds and invertebrates that have been lifted out by the water. On the Closes the grass had until very recently been grazed and so there is plenty of short green stuff for Wigeon and geese to graze.
Fieldfare (c) JR

We feel we have seen fewer winter thrushes this year than we remember from previous autumns. It may be that there hasn’t been the usual abundance of Haws and Sloes on the reserve this year, due partly to a very late hard frost last spring. They may already be feeding out on fields as they normally do once the fruit has been consumed.
Goldfinch by the screen (c) JR

With the Starlings in the evenings and the early mornings, the Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Ducks during the day, Otmoor is offering some wonderful spectacles at the moment. For sheer numbers of birds and of course their attendant raptors there is nothing else in the Midlands to match it.
Wigeon over the Flood (c) Bark