Tuesday, 6 December 2016

December 3rd and 4th

Bittern (c) JR

It was something of a shock to find myself scraping the ice off my car on Saturday morning, when I left Johannesburg earlier in the week the temperature had been 34 degrees! The moor had changed hugely in the three weeks since my last visit. Water levels had risen and then it had frozen, the hedgerows were rimed with frost and only reduced areas of the lagoons were ice free.
The most obvious birds this weekend were the winter thrushes. Still very flighty and garrulous they exploded from the hedgerows in very large numbers. One flock on Sunday morning flying along the northern edge of Greenaways must have numbered well over five hundred birds. Despite the attention of the Fieldfares and Redwings there are still plenty of berries on the trees. The birds appear to have favoured the darker haws rather than the lighter red ones, we speculated that perhaps the dark fruits are more mature, riper and are possibly more nutritious or digestible. At the rate they are being consumed it will not be very long before even the lighter fruits are gone.

Berry Munchers     Redwing and Blackbird (c) Derek Lane    Field fare (c) JR
The apple tree on the path to the second screen that has carried such a massive crop this autumn still has some fruit on the tree and the ditch below is absolutely full of windfalls. The Starlings are taking advantage of the way the frost has softened the remaining fruit and are feeding on them greedily with considerable competition for the best perches. We hoped that there might be a few left should the expected Waxwings make it down this way.
Raptors were also much in abundance this weekend. There are two Peregrines being seen regularly, a large mature female and a smaller probably juvenile male. One of them was seen to snatch a Starling from the pre roost display on Thursday afternoon. The two distinctly different Marsh Harriers were seen from time to time over and around the reedbed. For over an hour on Sunday morning one of them, probably a juvenile perched just a couple of feet up in the reeds directly out from the first screen where it could be seen preening and simply loafing about. Two Hen Harriers were also noted, on Sunday one of them was pursued all along the northern edge of Greenaways by a Kestrel. It was difficult at times to work out who was mobbing whom, as they seemed to alternate in the role of aggressor. Red Kites and Buzzards were common, one Buzzard with a great deal of white on it attracted particular attention. I have not heard of any sightings of Merlin but this doesn’t mean that they are not here anymore. They certainly range far beyond the edges of the reserve out onto the MOD land and beyond.
Kestrel and vole (c) Derek Lane
Bitterns are now regular and it would be unusual not to see at least one on a visit. We were particularly lucky on Sunday when we saw at least three individuals from the second screen. For a short while two could be seen standing on the reed margin only twenty metres or so apart. When the birds meet as two did on Thursday, there is a great deal of threat and bluster with feathers fluffed up and a lot angry posturing. It is of course impossible to say whether these birds are “our” breeders or indeed their offspring. Many Bitterns come over from the continent to winter in the UK.
Bittern over ice (c) Derek Lane
As well as the Bitterns being pushed out of the reeds and onto the edges by the cold, so are the normally secretive Water Rails. There are good numbers on the moor, but usually only their strangled pig squeal calls reveal their presence. Several different birds could be seen picking their way along the edges of the ice or flying with rapid wingbeats from one side of the lagoon to another.
On Sunday as the frost melted in the sunshine there were at least thirty Snipe probing around the tussocks on the Closes. It must have been the only place that they could feed, frozen ground must be a particular challenge to long billed birds that rely on probing for their food.
Two new species were added to the Otmoor year list while I was away, the Ring-necked Parakeet that was in the Starling roost over a week ago and last week a Water Pipit that was found on Big Otmoor. This brings the annual total up to one hundred and forty nine species a shade under what we recorded last year, however there are still three weeks to go in 2016 and according to those in the know the Waxwings are on their way!

Very many thanks to Steve and Pete Roby who with Badgers help kept the blog going while I was away.

Blue Tit and Quizzical Reed Bunting (c) JR

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