Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th February

Wren (c) JR
Last week’s posting certainly stirred up a great deal of comment both directly and even more so in e-mails and conversations. Everyone commenting were in complete agreement, the birds must come first and photographers should show restraint and respect for their subjects.
This weekend was mild but very windy and for a few hours on Sunday morning the sun shone over the moor but at the same time dark, inky, indigo clouds were gathering all around. This led to a very spectacular effect as thousands of Golden Plover wheeled and whirled in the sunshine against a very dark background. They sparkled and glittered like windblown snowflakes and as the sunshine became more broken they flickered as they flew in and out of the shafts of light.
Goldies (c) Bark
Big Otmoor was once again the place to be and it was covered with birds, in addition to the Lapwings and Goldies there were very high numbers of Wigeon and Shovellers. At least fifty Pintail could be seen on the farther reaches of the field and several pairs were much closer, yet another pair was on the nearest scrape to the trail beside the Closes.
Closes Pintail (c) Bark

Curlew numbers were up to five on Saturday and there have been a small number of Black Tailed Godwits present out on the Big Otmoor scrapes. Amongst the Golden Plover standing out on Big Otmoor we picked out a Dunlin feeding alongside them. I saw my first Redshank of the season patrolling the edges of a ditch on The Closes. At the same time Lapwings were calling, tumbling and doing their strange courtship behaviour which involves a bird on the ground sticking its rear end up in the air and waving it about!
Chaffinch (c) Bark
All of this made one feel that spring is only just around the corner. In addition, there were more singing Chaffinches this week, a Song Thrush has taken up a song post on an oak along the bridleway and a couple of Reed buntings were scratching out their songs from the reedy ditch beside the path to the first screen. On Sunday morning, we could hear one of the Grey herons vocalising from one of the dead oak trees in the piece of woodland that juts out into Ashgrave. There were already two birds standing on one of the established nests so it could indicate another potential breeder. The sound could not reasonably be termed a song as it consisted of a series of grunts and squawks and it took a moment or two to locate the source of it.
Blackwits (c) JR
There are now five Barnacle Geese keeping company with some of the Canadas and the six White Fronted Geese reported last week have probably gone. Two Shelduck continue to spend time on the Ashgrave lagoon.
The Hen Harrier is still on the moor and was seen on both days this weekend. As before the best chance of seeing it requires a patient wait on the southern edge of Greenaways watching the hedge on the far side. It is most often seen hunting along this hedge although it was reported from the northern reedbed on Sunday morning. A large adult female Peregrine has taken to spending considerable amounts of time sitting up on a gate on Greenaways somewhat to the east of the stone track.
Marsh Harrier (c) JR
The marsh Harriers continue to haunt the reedbeds and we have yet to establish if there are one or two pairs present. Bittern was seen on a relocation flight on Sunday but as the water levels have risen so they have become more secretive and harder to see.
Otter (c) Tezzer
An Otter has been spotted again and as before both its whereabouts and its likely behaviour are impossible to predict. If you should be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it is worth standing still and quiet, as it can be very confiding and confident, and so can be seen really well.
In the car park field the Snowdrops, the Pussy Willow and the trilling territorial calls from Wrens tell us that winter is nearly over.

Signs of spring.   Flowers (c) Bark    Wren (c) JR

Monday, 20 February 2017

Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th February

Otmoor Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th February

Great Crested Grebe and lunch (c) Andy Harris
The weather had relented this weekend and we have had a very mild couple of days. We are promised even warmer unseasonable temperatures for the rest of the week. It was not quite warm enough not to wear gloves however, as I discovered after about half an hour having left mine in the car.
It was once again a very “birdy” weekend with the huge numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plover holding centre stage with an equally large number of wildfowl in a supporting role. Big Otmoor is once again the hotspot the water levels are perfect both for feeding and for birds to loaf about, perhaps the higher water levels enhance the birds sense of security.

Big Otmoor (c) Bark
The flocks were harassed by the regular raptors, again we identified three different Marsh Harriers and the ring-tailed Hen Harrier was also present but as usual impossible to predict. Two Peregrines were noted and at times they almost seemed to be working in tandem. A Sparrowhawk was seen a couple of times and as usual was causing pandemonium among the finch flock beside the hide and up towards July’s Meadow.
Marsh harrier (c) Andy Harris
Wildfowl numbers are peaking now with wigeon spread across all the fields with a substantial number up on Ashgrave by the hidden lagoon. There were also four Shelduck there on Sunday morning. They appeared to be two separate pairs and eventually one pair clearly drove the other pair off. The Herons are back on the nests in the battered oak tree that sticks out into Ashgrave. We are not sure whether there is one pair or two as when we have seen them they were on one or the other of the nests. I also understand from the RSPB staff that they are showing signs of nesting again in the reedbed as they did last year, the Herons that is not the staff!
Pochard from the first screen (c) Bark
A Little Egret is back on the moor and there are two adult Great Crested Grebes on the lagoons and a couple of Chiffchaffs near the second screen. These along with last week’s Oystercatcher have brought the year-list up to ninety-four species so far.

Moorhen Wars (c) Bark
I met two keen birders on Sunday morning who had come to Otmoor from two different ends of the country. They had come to see the Starlings and had been delighted by the spectacle the previous evening, not just the Starlings but also the Lapwings and Goldies thronging the sky. They asked me where to go to see the Short-eared Owl. I took them to the spot by the gate but the bird was no longer on its favourite perch in its regular bush! I had not expected it to be there as it had not been there on Saturday either. It had stayed faithful to that roost all the way through January and then abandoned it. I had hoped that it had gone off to another favoured spot spontaneously. Sadly, I now feel certain that this was not the case.
Red Kite (c) Tom N-L
After a two-week absence, I was delighted to hear that the bird was back in the same bush on the same branch. It has been a real pleasure to be able to point out this scarcer, more unusual bird to visitors and be able to set up a scope and let people see it really well. The bird was perfectly happy so long as we stayed on our side of the gate and left the requisite safe distance between it and us. A photographer friend of mine who supplies me with wonderful pictures was photographing it from the regular spot. Another photographer started to climb over into the field. He was asked not to as he would flush the Owl, but replied that he wanted to get a closer shot and went in anyway!
The owl has now gone and may not be back this winter or if it is back it may not be in such a viewable position.
SEO from the right place (c) Tom N-L
I am staggered that someone can show so little sensitivity, such selfishness and such craven ignorance. The bird has been flushed and will no longer feel secure. More importantly hundreds of people who would have been delighted to see it now will not be able to. All the photographers I know are aware of the principal that the bird must come first and should never be harassed and hustled for the sake of a closer picture. The person concerned was not someone that was familiar to my friend and so is not regular on Otmoor, however he is very recognisable from the description I have been given by another volunteer warden. He isn’t welcome on Otmoor, I hope that he doesn’t come back, we certainly don’t need numbskulls like him spoiling things for everyone else.
Just ripples (c) Bark
Spot the Otter (c) Bark

On a much happier note I caught up with the Otter on Sunday. It has been seen several times in the last few weeks. What was most interesting about it was the fact that I was where it was for over half an hour. In that time, I only saw it briefly as it stared at me from under some overhanging branches. I had seen the bubbles and the ripples I had also heard the splashing and the noise of chewing as it consumed a fish, but had just those few seconds when I could actually see it. It was a very special encounter and my first with an otter for several years. It helped to raise my spirits after feeling so annoyed on hearing about the owl disturbance. Rather sadly it made me wonder whether I should mention it at all, for fear of enticing another stupid idiot down, to blunder about mindlessly on the moor.
The odd couple (c) Bark

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th February

Redwing (c) Tom N-L
It is often said that to truly appreciate a place one should see it all its different moods, if that is the case this week Otmoor was deeply depressed and dolorous. It was unremittingly grey and colourless with sleet and drizzle. I had the feeling that it couldn’t even be bothered to snow or rain with any conviction or effort.
                                         There is a leuchistic Reed Bunting by the hide.

The birds were keeping their heads down, except along the path by the hide where the winter feeding is being carried out. The lack of seeds and food for finches is approaching the most critical part of the year and there were very large numbers of the usual seed eating species feeding on the ground and occasionally flushing up into the hedgerow beside the track. It was good to see at least ten Yellowhammers amongst them and very pleasing to see twelve Stock Doves on the ground, although they are wary of venturing too close to the hide. They are overlooked beauties with the subtlest range of greys and purples in their plumage, which I have to say looks very much better in sunshine, which this weekend was totally absent.
Stock dove (c) Bark
Fieldfare (c) Tom N-L
As we arrived in Saturday morning the sky across Ashgrave and big Otmoor was filled with birds clearly flushed by a major predator like a Peregrine. Ducks, Lapwings and Golden Plover made up the bulk of them but there were several hundred starlings scattered amongst them. We walked half way along the bridleway towards Noke, Big Otmoor was thronged with birds and we estimated several thousands of both Lapwing and Goldies. There were also closely packed parties of Wigeon moving grazing on the grass, but close enough to get into the water if they felt threatened. I spoke to Fergus the Assistant Warden who had just arrived and told him of these huge numbers of birds. I met him again an hour later and he said that the highest count he had had was about forty Wigeon. It was the same on Sunday morning in the same places that I had seen huge numbers of birds on Saturday there was just a smattering. I have just heard from the Reserve staff that when they did the WEBS count this morning the numbers were right back up again close to the winter maxima. The duck count included nearly one hundred Pintail.
Throng of Lapwings on Monday (c) Tom N-L
As is usual on a large reserve like Otmoor with a range of different habitats, the “hotspots” change with the seasons. Despite the fluctuation in numbers Big Otmoor is definitely the place to watch at the moment. It is looking great for both ducks and waders. On Sunday we heard a Grey Plover calling from the northern edge of the field or perhaps even Noke Sides. We were unable locate it on the ground but nonetheless it is the ninetieth species to be recorded this year on the moor.
hare last weekend when it wasn't so wet (c) Bark
Up in the scrubby area on the higher part of Ashgrave there are two pairs of Stonechats. They are taking advantage of the rough scrub that is growing up and the shelter of Sling Copse.

Peregrine and Marsh Harriers as well as the ubiquitous Kites were the most obvious raptors this weekend. Sadly the Short-eared Owl has abandoned its regular perch in the car park field. I hope it has gone through choice and not because it was disturbed by anyone. The warmer weather forecast this week should start to bring in the first of our breeding Redshanks and for the next four months every visit will be accompanied by their calls.
Shovellers (c) Bark