Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th January

Meadow Pipit (c) JR

It was wonderful to be back on the moor after my enforced absence.(Many thanks to Tezzer and Oz for lifts to and from). Saturday was bright and clear despite fog elsewhere in the county. Sunday was opalescent, greyer and the light more subdued.

On both days it was the sheer numbers of birds that was most remarkable. We have reached that time of year when numbers of Lapwing, Golden Plover and wildfowl reach their peaks. The Starling roost is still active but a little diminished, the ice of last week having pushed some of the birds elsewhere.

Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tezzer

On both days the sky was filled with swirling flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, that flushed and moved between Greenaways and Big Otmoor. Amongst them were smaller tighter parties of Starlings that were finding enough sustenance on the reserve without having to venture too far afield. The birds were responding to both real and imagined threats, sometimes it was possible to pick out the threatening raptor and sometimes not. On Saturday there were two different Peregrines patrolling a large female and a smaller male.
Marsh Harrier (c) Pat Galka
The resident Marsh Harriers were seen frequently sometimes coming a bit closer to the first screen but never too near. They really only perturbed the Teal, flushing large numbers of them out from cover deep in the reeds. Bittern is still being seen intermittently as it relocates within the reedbed.
Bittern (c) Tezzer

A Sparrowhawk or perhaps a Kestrel has been using the first screen as a sheltered spot to pluck, eviscerate and eat its prey. There are all sorts of bits and pieces of Starling scattered around the screen area and blood and feathers all over the benches.
Kestrel at the hide (c) Derek Lane

Duck numbers continue to rise and it was very pleasing to see one flock of over sixty Pintail on Saturday and another of about thirty. Ten Pochard and fifteen Tufted Ducks were on the southern lagoon on Sunday and there was a significant scattering of Gadwall amongst them. The males looking especially smart and crisp in their clerical grey suits.

Tufties and Gadwall pair (c) JR
There are three large groups of Wigeon with the largest of them on Big Otmoor the other two groups on Ashgrave and Greenaways respectively. On Sunday morning two Shelduck were up on the distant lagoon on Ashgrave, the first we have recorded this year. It still puzzles me why we have not seen Goosander on the moor for the past few years. They used to be regular on the northern lagoons. There are enough fish to support a significant number of Cormorants. They appear to be almost common elsewhere in the county at present. The other bird that seems to be all over the county but not on Otmoor is Egyptian Goose, another bird that was regular on the moor but has not been recorded for a couple of years.
First Little Egret of the year (c) JR

Little Egret was another addition to the yearlist this weekend with one feeding on Ashgrave and the Closes on Sunday morning another addition were a couple of Common Gulls loosely attached to a party of Black Headed gulls.

On Saturday morning a Barn Owl was hunting in the Car park field giving great views. There were plenty of Bullfinches to be found in the same field. They are feeding on the blackthorn buds some of which are already in bloom. There are more Skylarks and Meadow Pipits around now, they can be seen and heard on and over the Closes, Greenaways and Ashgrave. Merlin, their principle predator, was also seen briefly on Saturday morning.
Mipit (c) JR

A male Grass Snake was seen on Sunday morning; it was moving very sluggishly “as if its batteries were run down”. It is extraordinarily early for one to be out of hibernation but the mildness of this winter has been unprecedented.

The week ahead looks as if it will be wet and we can expect water levels to rise even further, the weather looks as if it will flip between mild and cold and will be windy, these conditions should move birds around and the added water should attract even more wildfowl. I’m already looking forward to next weekend.

Teal and Shovellers (c) JR

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Saturday and Sunday 16th and17th January

Bittern (c) JR
Here is the second of my “virtual” reports from the moor, based on conversations, texts and e-mails from a brilliant set of mobile roving correspondents.
Winter has finally arrived with harder frosts, some ice and a light dusting of snow. The cold, clear weather has also meant that the sun has appeared, relieving us of the unending grey gloom of the last couple of months. As is usual at this time of year the bird numbers have risen sharply with Lapwings and Golden Plovers present in their highest numbers this winter. Both species separately topped over three thousand in the latest WeBS count on Monday morning.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Interestingly the cold conditions have not yet initiated the abandonment of the reed bed roost by the Starlings, but should the lagoons freeze experience from other years would suggest that the birds will go elsewhere. On Saturday and Monday evenings it was reported to be just as spectacular as normal and I have been sent some great pictures to prove it.
Starlings on Monday (c) Francis Josephs

Swans oblivious to the throng. Both above pics (c) Tom Nicholson -Lailey
As the cold bites and conditions out in the fields become more difficult we will certainly draw more birds down to the grain feeding along the track to beside and to the south of the hide. Correspondents all remarked that these numbers were still rising. As well as the Reed Buntings and Linnets that make up the bulk of the flock there are also Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers and still at least two Bramblings. As has become normal, this concentration of feeding passerines is attracting regular visits from one or other of the Sparrowhawks that scatters everything to the four winds.
Reed Bunting (c) JR

Flood on the MOD (c) Pete Roby
Water levels have continued to rise over the last week and now the moor is looking much more like a proper wetland. Saunders Field and the Hundred Acre fields out on the MOD land are now flooded. Most exciting of all is the rise in the water level on the Flood Field. Years ago it always attracted huge numbers of wildfowl, I remember one year when we counted over six hundred Pintail out there and another year when it drew in a flock of seventy four White-fronted Geese. It has not been possible to allow it to flood up properly since the re-profiling work was done on it, as the root and soil structure needed to become properly established, so as to withstand regular flooding. This year will be the first when it holds water again properly and I will be fascinated to see if it can still pull down substantial numbers of birds. It provides a quiet, undisturbed area for wildfowl that are flushed off the main part of the reserve to loaf, feed and rest. There will be considerable amounts of grass seed and invertebrate food available there this year.

The Flood Field as we like to see it (c) David Wilding

The issue of wildfowl and indeed wildfowling is a vexed issue. Landowners have a legal right to shoot ducks and geese over their land even when that land adjoins a nature reserve. This is the case for instance at Titchwell where a shooting syndicate owns the next door saltmarsh. But I am a little disappointed to find that a landowner can receive a substantial grant in order to make his land more wildlife friendly and then use the subsequent improvement to lure down more birds to indulge his interest in shooting them. So we now have a scatter of duck decoys out on the fields to the west of the path to the main screen. It all seems a little cynical to me, but perhaps I’m just being na├»ve. 
Unconvincing Decoys Noke Sides (c) Tezzer

Raptors are all being seen regularly and we have now had a Merlin record from this half of the winter. With the vast biomass of over a hundred thousand Starlings and over ten and a half thousands of ducks and waders it is not surprising. Often they are cleaning up the sick and the injured birds that are an inevitable part of such a concentration. Short Eared Owls are being seen regularly but have not yet taken to hunting in the late afternoon.
Kestrel lunching on Blackbird (c) Paul Greenaway

Bittern or Bitterns are being seen every day and in just four weeks or so we can start to listen out for booming. It happened last year but the consensus of opinion was that they didn’t boom long enough to suggest breeding. Nationwide one hundred and fifty six boomers were recorded last year and sixty four nests were recorded. Let’s hope that this year we can join that number.
Thanks to all my roving reporters and photographers and thanks too for kind enquiries as to my recovery. I may even get down to the moor this weekend if it’s not too icy and dangerous for a wobbly birder on crutches!
Siskin from elsewhere but needed for the 2016 Yearlist! (c) Derek Lane

Reports from: PG, PR, SR, JU, TN-L, TS, FJ and RSPB staff.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Saturday and Sunday 9th and 10th January

Another one bites the dust (c) Early Birder
Well here’s the first of my “virtual” Otmoor reports that’s compiled from the reports and conversations that I have had with other moor regulars.
Everyone has commented on just how much water levels have risen over the last week. The RSPB staff report that on most fields they are just at or just below the ideal levels for this time of year. Interestingly there is now much more water on the Flood Field and I wonder if it will now draw in the huge numbers of wildfowl that it has attracted in the past. The track from Noke Farm to the bridleway is now flooded and S.R. and P.R. report that the Roman Road out to the Pill is now “half way up wellies”, a depth that I am sure we can all understand!
Hedgerow Bullfinch (c) Tom Nicholson- Lailey
Several of my correspondent’s report many more Bullfinches in the hedgerows, they are starting to get to the stage where they eat blackthorn and hawthorn buds. Usually they would do this much later in the winter but the warm weather has encouraged the buds to start to swell early and in fact there is already blossom to be found in the most sheltered corners of the Carpark Field. Several people have noticed small parties of Redpoll both in the carpark field and along the bridle way between the pump house and the entrance to the MOD. People have also mentioned Siskins from the same area but I have yet to have a confirmed sighting. There are still Grey Wagtails occupying the area around the cattle pens and they seem set to stay throughout the winter.
Carpark blossom (c) Paul Greenaway
Numbers of both Lapwing and Golden Plover are going up but have yet to reach their late winter maxima. An average of observations would suggest that there are over a thousand Goldies and perhaps six hundred Lapwings. These numbers always fluctuate wildly as birds feed on farmland well outside the Otmoor basin. The Golden Plover are particularly attractive as they wheel against the sky. P.G. was lucky enough to see a flock flying in bright sunshine but against a dark leaden sky he said that:” when the Goldies turned in the sky they sparkled like Christmas tinsel”. Oz said that he saw a small wader flying with them on Saturday but could not confirm it as a Dunlin, he failed to refind it when they flushed again.
Ducks over the reedbed (c) Tom nicholson -Lailey
The Starling roost continues and alongside the higher Duck, Lapwing and Goldie numbers is proving very attractive to raptors. A Red Kite was photographed carrying off a dead or dying Starling. A large female Peregrine spent a long time sitting on top of a post on Greenaways and a male was spotted on one of the regular Oak trees across Noke Sides. Short-Eared Owls are now being seen regularly but seldom in the same places. As the MOD floods up they might well re-locate to the drier parts of the reserve such as the southern edge of Ashgrave and The Carpark Field.
and yet another one! (c) JR
We had an unconfirmed report of a White Fronted Goose out with the Grey Lags on Noke Sides at the weekend. This is the time that they often show up and I would like to hear of any more information about them.
As water levels go up over the next few weeks and the cold starts to bite we may get an influx of new birds. It will be worth looking through them carefully for more unusual species. The water also attracts more gulls to feed, loaf and roost on the surrounding fields. This is especially true as those fields flood up releasing more invertebrate food. We failed to find a Yellow Legged Gull last year at all, perhaps this year we will be lucky.

Thanks to Paul Greenaway, Pete and Steve Roby, Jon Uren, Tom Nicholson –Lailey and the RSPB Staff.
(c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey