Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Ferruginous Duck

Fudge (c) Badger
Bittern flypast (c) TS

Marsh Harrier (c) Roger Wyatt

The drake Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca) found yesterday morning by Joe Harris, while doing a WEBS count is the first recorded on Otmoor. It is a beautiful richly coloured bird but difficult to see well, as the water level on the northern part of the reed bed is very high allowing the bird to swim off into deep cover  if it feels threatened. It is the first pure one that I have seen in Oxfordshire as one at Burford some years ago was of dubious parentage. Interestingly our bird was seen to be displaying to a female Pochard this morning, so perhaps more hybrids will be on their way.
While looking for it yesterday the first Marsh Harrier of the year was seen, as well as the Ringtailed Harrier, Peregrine and a Bittern.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Sunday 24th March

Short eared Owl at Noke

Ruff and Lapwings

Dunlins at Noke    All pics above (c) Badger

I only managed one visit to the moor this weekend, the weather being so atrocious on Saturday morning. Water levels have shot up again across the reserve and even the stone track across Greenaways is flooded again. This flooding may have some impact on any Lapwings that have started to lay. Normally RSPB staff expect to have found the first clutches of eggs by the 20th of March. It may be that the birds have delayed laying but some disruption to the breeding cycle seems inevitable. The pattern of returning migrants has also been disrupted. The first Wheatear was found on the fields at Noke on Sunday and a male Garganey on Big Otmoor on Friday afternoon was the one hundredth addition to the yearlist. Another addition to the list was a Woodcock that I flushed from the side of the bridleway on Sunday morning.
Curlew are calling and displaying over the whole site with one pair spending a lot of time on the western end of Big Otmoor an area that they have not frequented in the past. There are also a few pairs of Redshanks that are displaying and calling over Big Otmoor and Ashgrave.
The seven long staying White fronted Geese are still on Ashgrave and while conditions remain as they are there seems little prospect of them heading north yet. The Ring tailed Harriers are still present and the Barn Owls, beautifully photographed last week by Roger Wyatt, are seen frequently in the carpark field and over the reed bed. Peregrines have been making regular forays over the field and flushed the largest numbers of birds from Big Otmoor which the wildfowl and waders seemed to be favouring. A Short Eared Owl was seen in the Noke area on Sunday afternoon.
There are larger numbers of Dunlin coming through and there were at least five Ruff with a flock of over five hundred Golden Plovers on Big Otmoor. The Golden Plovers are well worth a careful look with a scope as many have moulted or are still moulting into summer plumage and are looking very smart.
I am really concerned at what kind of breeding season our birds will have this year. When migrants finally do arrive will there be sufficient insect food? Will resident birds be in condition to breed successfully? Will the late emergence of leaves effect the caterpillars that many small passerines depend on to feed their chicks? Whether this is major climate change or simply an aberrant year, it is sure to be a difficult one for our wildlife.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th March

Snowy Coot (a new species?)

Coltsfoot on Friday

The view from the hide on Sunday morning
Carpark mid morning

Ashgrave    all pics (c) Bark

I naively thought on Saturday afternoon that Sunday morning couldn't possibly be worse than the very wet, cold and grey morning that we had that day. I could not have been more wrong. On Sunday a very light patchy drizzle as I left home seemed to tie in with the weather forecast and I confidently expected it to get better. Instead after making it to the hide, it began to snow a little, then a lot and then a blizzard. It almost stopped and we ventured out to the first screen and then it snowed even harder and we beat a retreat, leaving the reserve and what few birds could be seen, to a stoic band from the West London RSPB members group who had left London in the morning in fine weather!
Amidst this travesty of spring there were just a few highlights. Three different Hen Harriers were seen two Ringtails working across Greenaways together on Saturday and the male seen late on Sunday afternoon. Barn Owls continue to be seen regularly with one in the carpark field at lunchtime on Saturday between the showers. Curlew are flying around in pairs calling and doing their spectacular kamikaze display flights. There are significant numbers of both Lapwings and Golden Plover on the western side of Ashgrave and the seven White Fronted Geese are still present, but not always visible. Despite the snow on Sunday morning Coots on the pools in front of the hide were battling aggressively with each other sometimes almost drowning their opponent, presumably in an effort to establish territory. Peregrines continue to spook all the ducks across the whole of the reserve and there are large numbers of Snipe lurking around the pools and sedges of both Ashgrave and Big Otmoor. A Jack Snipe flushed from under the feet of Zoe Edwards as she was working on Big Otmoor and it brushed against her wellington boot as it took off. Showing just how tight they sit before flying. This was the ninety eighth species for the yearlist, if spring does get to happen in the next month or so we can expect many more additions.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Sunday 10th March. Avocet after all.

Despite what I wrote on Sunday it seems that we did have an Avocet on the moor.It was on Ashgrave and it was seen by Paul Greenaway and almost immediately flew off. The timing would tie in  with the arrival of the sixth bird on Port Meadow.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Saturday and Sunday 9th and 10th March

Egret on ashgrave showing signs of breeding plumage

Smart Wigeon dropping in.

Last weeks blackthorn buds have burst.

The Carpark Field Songthrush

Four White fronts in flight       All above pics (c) Bark

Whitefronts on the ground (c) Terry Sherlock

What the well dressed Beckley lamb is wearing this season. (c) Badger
The promise of last weekend disappeared and we reverted once again to cold, grey, wintery bleakness.
Redshanks are now back as are Curlew and both could be heard calling as they flew over and around Big Otmoor, Greenaways and Ashgrave. It was a “six raptor” weekend. Two ring-tailed Harriers were seen on both days flushing Snipe, Golden Plovers and Lapwings as they drifted over the fields. A Peregrine was also seen both days spending at least two hours perched on the ground on the northern side of Greenaways. Best sighting of all this weekend was of a pair of Merlin that flew across Ashgrave close together and calling to each other. One of them flew off across Greenaways and the the other, a male, turned back and headed across Ashgrave. I have never heard them calling like that before and whether it was some early pair bonding or one chasing another out of its territory I don't know. It was an exhilarating experience to see two birds so well and so close flying really quickly.
Ducks are getting more confident in front of the hide and the drake Wigeon and Teal are looking particularly spruce at the moment. Many of the other ducks are out on the lagoons or on the pools in the middle of Big Otmoor. Seven White fronts were present again and a group of four were seen flying.
There have been eight Little Egrets present on the reserve since last autumn. In previous years they have been absent for the best part of the winter only returning in the early spring. They are spending their time mostly on Ashgrave and Closes and clearly have been able to find sufficient food throughout the frozen spells. They are beginning to show breeding plumage and I wonder if they may become the next species to breed on Otmoor. I am not sure if the small copse on Ashgrave, where Herons have bred in previous years, is large enough or secure enough for a breeding colony.
Many more passerines are starting to call and sing with much more purpose. Skylarks were particularly noticeable this weekend and the regular Songthrush in the car park field has taken up its song post. A hNuthatch along the Roman Road was the ninety fifth species to recorded on the moor this year, still seven behind Port Meadow, which is experiencing a purple patch. You would think that Avocets at least would make for Otmoor ,they are after all on our logo!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Saturday and Sunday 2nd and 3rd March

Obliging Kestrel

First Curlew

Barn Owl

Bittern over the reeds

Pintail and Wigeon over

Blackthorn buds. All above pics (c) Bark
Kite Canada interaction (c) Terry sherlock

Male Hen Harrier (c) Terry Sherlock
Despite a very heavy frost over night on Saturday there were still lots of signs that the seasons are changing. I had not been down to the moor for a couple of weeks and the most obvious change is the stabilised water levels, with most of the flooding beyond the reserve having subsided. This has had the effect of drawing in wildfowl to our pools, lagoons and scrapes. It is only possible to appreciate just how many ducks are present when the firing on the rifle range starts up for the first time in the morning. It initiates a mass flush across all the fields and reedbeds. There are almost two thousand Wigeon spread over the reserve and at least a thousand Teal. Shoveller, Gadwall and Tufties are present in good numbers and there were over fifty Pochard on the Southern reedbed on Sunday. When the birds flushed from the middle of the northern section there was a party of up to forty Pintail amongst them. We now have seven Whitefronted Geese feeding with the Greylags and Canadas. There have been Whitefronts present in different numbers and probably different groups since before Christmas and they seem comfortable and confident amongst their larger cousins. One pair of Canada Geese were being hassled by a Red Kite and eventually one of them flew up and tried to threaten it. I have not seen such an interaction before. (thanks to Terry Sherlock for the picture viewable on my blog)
Bittern was seen over the reedbed and at least two and probably three different Hen Harriers were seen. The male Harrier flying very fast and low around Greenaways and over the reedbeds. A Peregrine was sitting out on the ground on Ashgrave and occasionally flushing all the ducks, Golden Plover and Lapwings. Barn Owls are frequently being seen over the reeds and in the Carpark Field. Resident Lapwings are displaying and already flying up to challenge passing Carrion Crows above Big Otmoor. There was one flock of approximately a thousand flying up from the MOD land on Saturday morning.
The first lone Curlew has arrived, normally there would be twenty or thirty at this time so perhaps the rest will turn up this week. There have been no Redshanks, Ruff or Oystercatchers yet this year but it will not be long before we are hearing them again.
In the carpark field there is a very confiding Kestrel that seems to enjoy having its picture taken and below it on the blackthorn the flower buds are swelling. With the wind set to come in from a warmer south easterly direction this week, we could well be looking for our first arriving migrants next weekend.