Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Beginning of November

Bittern in front of 1st Screen (c) Mark Chivers

With the change in the month we have experienced a change in the seasons too. As I drove down to the moor on Sunday morning the sun rose orange in a cloudless sky and lit up the last brown and golden leaves still holding on to the trees.
Not Siberian but feeling chilly (c) Bark
Winter has arrived with the first real frosts riming the grass, glazing the puddles and speeding the leaf fall. Large numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings are now plundering the berries in the hedgerows and flying off noisily as you walk by. They are wary at present but as the winter wears on they will become less reluctant to show themselves.
Fieldfare (c) JR
There has been a lot happening down on the moor in the last few weeks including the arrival of a Whooper Swan, which looks a bit like the bird that was at Ardley earlier in the week but might equally be a different individual. It is much more difficult to identify individual Whooper Swans by their bill markings than it is Bewick’s.
Whooper portrait (c) Stoneshank
This along with a brief visit from a red headed (female) Goosander on Monday morning has taken the Otmoor Yearlist up to one hundred and forty-six and it now looks unlikely that we will reach the one hundred and fifty species that we recorded last year, but there is still time and hope. (Having said all, that a possible Pink –footed Goose from yesterday has been confirmed on Greenaways this afternoon and so we are now up to one hundred and forty-seven species!)

Above Goosander (c) Derek Lane    Below record shot of Pink-foot (c) Tezzer

It has been a very raptor filled time of late. There were two Hen Harriers at one point but I have only ever been lucky enough to see lone individuals. There were certainly three Marsh Harriers spotted simultaneously although they are much more likely to be seen in ones and twos. There is a regular Peregrine and two different Merlin have been reported. In addition there are several regular Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Kites. As night falls there have been sightings of Barn Owls and Short-eared Owls, while Tawny Owls call from the Roman Road.
Roosting Shorty (c) JR
One of the reasons for this concentration of raptors is the steadily growing Starling roost. Numbers are hard to estimate but over a week ago we estimated that there were at least forty thousand birds coming in at dusk. The birds poured in from all directions but perhaps more from the north and east. They fairly quickly came in to roost in the reeds and seemed to be settled until one of the Hen Harriers swept in low and fast and flushed the whole flock with a thunderous beating of wings. They flew up en masse to the hedges and the tall poplars beside the reedbed and sat up there chattering in an agitated way until another raptor flew straight at the trees causing another panic. It looked for all the world as if the trees exploded as everything flew out in all directions. It is worth saying here that the Starling roost is proving to be a very popular spectacle and at the weekends visitor numbers are rapidly overwhelming the carpark. Weekday evening visits and car-shares when possible are a good idea.

Blizzards of Starlings (c) Bark

This weekend I was fortunate enough to see all the possible raptors with the exception of the Hen Harriers on Saturday morning. Merlin was as usual the most fleeting and the most unpredictable. I saw it streaking across Greenaways and earlier one was seen flying up Otmoor Lane in front of a car. The latter being a regular spot where they are seen. We also were able to pick out a roosting Short-eared Owl in the carpark field. It was sufficiently far into the field so as not to be disturbed by its admirers although as the morning drew on it retreated deeper into its chosen bush.
Creepimg Bittern (c) JR flying Bittern (c) MC
Bitterns are now being seen regularly, either flying in front of the first screen and more often working their way along the reeds on the northern edge of the lagoon in front of the second screen. It is possible to see them feeding and picking their way through the reeds. They have a very slow and deliberate way of moving, placing their feet carefully as if testing the vegetation so as to be certain that it will support their weight.
There are still very few Golden Plover or Lapwings on the moor but it may be that it is still too dry in our fields for them and the cold has yet to really dig in and push them south.
Barnacle Goose (c) JR
Wildfowl numbers are now beginning to build again and the birds are mostly emerging from eclipse plumage. On Sunday morning many of the Teal were looking very smart and colourful in the sunshine, as they loafed on the muddy bank in front of the first screen. Parties of Mallard drakes were courting females, circling and bobbing their heads, the green as they turned flashing an iridescent purple in the sun.
Smart Shoveller (c) Derek Lane
A pair of Pochard had arrived at the northern lagoon on Sunday. There are still four White-fronted Geese with the Greylag flock. There is also a Barnacle Goose looking very delicate and out of place amongst the bigger grey geese.
Wigeon over (c) Bark
With the rise in wildfowl numbers has come the urge by some people to hunt them. It is of course perfectly legal for people to shoot over their land. When the land adjoins a nature refuge where wildfowl is encouraged and attracted it seems cynical to take advantage of this. It is a bit like putting out a bird table in a neighbour’s garden and then shooting the birds that come down to feed. There is a dead Greylag Goose on the spit at the end of the southern lagoon and another Canada Goose on the Greenaways scrape that was looking very moribund both days this weekend. They may of course just be natural casualties but it might not be coincidental that they have appeared just as the shooting has increased.

Tree Rat and Rat (c) JR

There is a Brambling being reported regularly in the finch flock beside the hide and a sparkling Grey wagtail was flitting about on the mud banks in front of the first screen on Sunday. There are reports of large numbers of Waxwings coming into the country and one was spotted yesterday in the county. Hopefully they will turn up on the moor as they make their way westward across the country and brighten up the days as we move towards the winter solstice just over seven weeks away.
Cattle in the gloaming (c) Tom N-L

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