Thursday, 3 January 2013

2012 and into 2013

Female Goldeneye (c) Badger

Bittern from the first screen (c) Pat Galka

 Hare (c) Paul Greenaway

Some of the Otmoor Massive before Christmas (c) Bark

Just as over the last few weeks, extremes of weather have dominated the habitat and thus what we have seen on the moor this year. We started with extreme cold, which then became extreme drought and then in April it started to rain and seems not to have stopped since. The pattern of the birdlife has reflected these changes.
During the first winter period Short Eared Owls were seen frequently and in in good numbers. This must have been due to the excellent dry breeding conditions for field voles. During this winter period however we have only seen one and that was in transit. The extreme cold last winter before New Year meant that no Stonechats overwintered and none were seen in the spring, the milder weather this winter has encouraged at least six individuals to stay around. Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers are much higher this year than last and that must be to do with wetter and more helpful feeding conditions. There are also many more winter wildfowl present this year. Last winter they arrived, but when it froze hard in December they left and only smaller numbers returned with the thaw.
The spring wader passage failed to materialise in any very significant way, the best birds were a group of Little Stints on one of the new scrapes. We had very large numbers of passage Wheatears this spring, they arrived early and then were held up by contrary winds, there were a couple of Ring Ouzels around at the same time. Wader breeding was successful but not significantly higher than last year. Cuckoos bred as did Turtle Doves, we think probably three pairs were present and juveniles were seen. The Turtle Doves seemed to depart earlier than in previous years and with their status in this country being so tenuous they are probably our most vulnerable species. Hobbies were present throughout the summer and early autumn. All warblers did reasonably well except for Cettis. We had a singing bird in the early spring but it disappeared and since then there has only been one record of a bird calling on a single occasion, they are certainly a species that we would like to get back down on the moor.
Bittern and Bearded Tits turned up this autumn. The Bittern arrived early in the autumn and may have been an individual dispersing from the successful breeders in the Somerset levels. The Bearded Tits were still on the reedbed late in December and the Bittern put on an appearance on January 1st.
The Starling roost, which seemed to peak in late December, now seems to have declined almost entirely. The Starlings and latterly the large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plovers, have encouraged raptors to haunt the moor with increasing regularity. There are currently three different Hen Harriers hunting over the moor, two regular Peregrines and several Sparrowhawks. Merlin has been seen occasionally but not regularly.
Last weekend and today the birding has been excellent. It has been characterised by restless wheeling flocks of Golden Plovers and Lapwings, today set against stunning bright blue skies. We have seen the Harriers, the Bittern flew across in front of the first screen looking magnificent in the sunshine and Ravens have been seen on all recent visits. Wildfowl are hunkered down on Big Otmoor and it is not until the birds flush that you can see just how many there are are out there. Amongst them this morning were at least one pair of Pintail. Last Sunday there was a a female Goldeneye in front of the second screen, which is a very unusual bird for Otmoor. The yearlist after a mornings birding stands at fifty nine species.
Thanks to all members of the “Otmoor Massive”(you know who you are), excellent company, stimulating banter and many laughs. Thanks also to those photographers who generously send me their pictures for the blog they are very much appreciated. Finally thanks to David Wilding and his superb team, who have created and maintain a wonderful reserve for all of us.
One hundred and fifty two species for the year was a good total and gives us an excellent target for 2013. Speculation about our next “new bird” was rife this weekend and we rather fancy an interesting heron like a Squacco or perhaps a Little Bittern from Ham Wall, the chances are that it will be nothing that we have thought of at all, but I am sure,with it finally looking like a proper wetland, there will be something exciting.

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