Friday, 6 January 2017

Review of 2016 and Bank Holiday birding

Prince (c) JR
It has been a fascinating year on the moor with a few interesting and unusual birds appearing to add variety and savour to the mix.
The star of the show must be “the heron formerly known as prince”. The juvenile Purple Heron that turned up on the seventh of August and stayed for over seven weeks until a cold snap sent it on to way to warmer climes. It was never an easy bird to see and the longer it stayed the harder it was to find, so much so that it took a week to be sure that it had finally departed. More often than not it was seen in flight over Greenaways, where it systematically worked along the ditches frequently out of sight until reappearing a long way away from where it had first been spotted. It is unusual for a such a bird to stay around for such a comparatively long time and perhaps we can look forward to its return in late spring.
Purple Heron (c) Tezzer

The other very unusual appearance was a Great Skua that arrived at the first screen in September. As far as I know this was the first record of any Skua species on Otmoor and it surprised many of the regulars who turned up to see it. Sadly, I was not amongst them as it arrived at a time when I was out of the country!
Great Skua (c)  Pete Roby

The best news this year on Otmoor was the confirmed breeding of Bitterns. Dedicated observation and recording enabled us to confirm not just one but two nest sites, with two different individual females servicing them. It was all the more exciting and surprising because there had not been an observed or recorded period of “booming” in the early spring. Spotting Bittern has now become almost commonplace at the reedbed and we seldom visit without seeing one or two of them relocating within the reedbed or flying out to feed in the ditches on and around big Otmoor and Greenaways.
Bittern (c) Tezzer

The Marsh Harriers bred again, this year they managed to fledge one youngster. It clearly showed that last year’s success was not just a one-off event, Marsh Harrier is now established back on the list of county breeders. They, like the Bitterns, are becoming part of the Otmoor wallpaper, seen so regularly that it almost passes without comment. There are at least three birds present as I write, occasionally being seen together, one of them may very well be this year’s fledgling.
Common Cranes 

The Common Cranes returned this year and made another attempt to breed. We feel that this year they were more successful than in 2015, although they again failed to fledge a chick or chicks. Circumstantial behavioural patterns suggest that they managed to hatch one or two chicks and move them away from the nest site. After ten days or so their behaviour changed and it seems likely that this was when the young bird or birds succumbed, most probably to predation. Young birds take time to learn how to become successful parents and we are optimistic that next year they will return and make another attempt.
Our core breeding species; Lapwings, Redshank and Snipe had a very successful breeding season. The Lapwings managed to fledge at least one chick per pair which ensures that we have a growing rather than a declining breeding population.
Snipe (c) JR
We recorded at least thirty drumming Snipe over the whole reserve, including several from parts of the moor that we have not recorded them on before. We estimated that this year there were seventy odd pairs of Redshank.
Turtle Dove (c) Derek Lane
Turtle Doves, our other key endangered breeding species were present most of the summer but left earlier than usual. We had just one record of a juvenile but no evidence of any breeding on the reserve itself. We will as usual wait with bated breath and fingers crossed to see if they make it back this year, an anxiety that is always compounded by the fact that they are usually the last of our summer migrant to arrive.
Cuckoo (c) JR

We did very well with Cuckoos this last summer. Not just calling and displaying adults, but through the mid and late summer periods a good number of juveniles could be both heard and seen being fed by exhausted looking Reed Warblers. The Cuckoos are present in good numbers because we have such a large healthy population of Reed Warblers. Other species of Warbler did well too, Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warblers seemed to have had a particularly successful year.
We had a smattering of waders through in both spring and autumn but conditions were not at their best for either of the passages. Nonetheless we recorded three Wood Sandpipers a pair of Avocets and the expected Ruff, Dunlin and both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers.
In the last new year winter period, there were very large numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plovers out on Ashgrave and Big Otmoor. By winters end the flocks of both were in their thousands.
With the reserve looking so good we can anticipate another exciting year, more of the same with hopefully the addition of a smattering of rare and unusual visitors. Perhaps a Little Bittern or Cattle Egret, perhaps the Purple Heron will come back with a friend or something quite unexpected or unpredictable like this year’s Great Skua. Whatever it is I will report it here and hopefully be able to illustrate it with pictures by the superb photographers who generously send me their images. Thank you all very much for that. Also thanks to all of you who read it and follow it, it is a pleasure to have such a vibrant local patch to report on. Finally, thanks on behalf of all Oxfordshire birders to David Wilding, the permanent staff and all the volunteers whose work helps to make and keep Otmoor such a special place.

Christmas and New Year Period
Frosty Linnet (c) Mark Chivers
I have been down to the moor over the festive season several times. I have experienced all manner of winter weather but it has been predominantly foggy cold and grey. The only exception for me was New Year bank holiday Monday. There had been a frost and the sky was cloudless and the light sparkled. There had not been sufficient cold to freeze all the lagoons but some of the pools were ice rimmed. All the key birds that we hoped to find to get the 2017 yearlist off with a bang were there. Raptors were very much in evidence including Peregrines, a Hen Harrier and three Marsh Harriers.
New Years Day Peregrine (c) JR

Bitterns too showed up giving excellent views. At the second screen one climbed up the reeds on the northern edge of the lagoons spent a few minutes looking around before launching itself off and making a splendid flypast.
New Years Day Bittern (c) JR
The flock of mixed finches along the path beside the hide is growing rapidly and undoubtedly will grow more as the winter proceeds and food becomes harder to come by in the wider countryside. If we get any Bramblings this year it will probably be there that we find them.
Fieldfare (c) JR
With Waxwings in Banbury it cannot be long now until they make it further south into the county and hopefully they might stop off for a while on Otmoor, you can be sure that we’ll be looking for them.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bark,

    great annual summary - your crystal ball was spot on with the cattle egret!!!