|Juvenile Common Crane (c) Derek Lane|
It has been beautiful just driving down Otmoor lane over the past two weekends. The fine sunny weather coupled with some rain has meant that the vegetation is at its lushest and most verdant. The lane is foamed with cow parsley and every bush is wearing its freshest brightest green foliage. The hedgerows now are spangled with dog roses in every shade from pink to white.
The car-park field is still full of birdsong but now one is more likely to see birds gathering food for chicks than staking claims to territory or attempting to attract a mate. This Sunday we watched at least four Common Whitethroats gathering small green caterpillars from the bushes and low willows in one spot beside the bridle way. They were disappearing into the brambles and then re-emerging to continue their foraging. Chiffchaffs are still pumping out their disyllabic call but I did not hear a Willow Warbler this weekend. Male Sedge Warblers however are still performing their manic, muddled songs and making their parachute displays. Out on the grassland the air is rich with the sound of Skylarks and the occasional drumming Snipe. Individual Snipe can be seen on sentinel duty standing on top of gates and fences.
|All three Cranes and "our" pair in flight (c) Derek Latham|
Out on the grassland our regular pair of Common Cranes are now showing often, pacing and feeding. Often only their heads can be seen on Greenaways, rising every so often like periscopes above the long grass. Occasionally as they move out onto shorter grass areas the whole of their bodies can be seen stalking steadily and stately through the buttercups. This pair of Cranes made a third breeding attempt this year and unfortunately as in the last two years their attempt failed. We have no idea as to exactly what happened, but we think that the birds managed to hatch a chick or chicks and move it or them away from the nest site. After that we think that some predation event happened or perhaps the chick just died. As we have said before Cranes are long lived birds and as they become more experienced parents they should be able to raise and fledge their young. The population of Cranes at Lakenheath has shown that it takes a number of seasons for the birds to raise young successfully. Just over a week ago a third crane appeared on the scene. This bird is clearly a juvenile and is unringed. It has no red on its head and only a very small bustle. “Our” birds are not very well disposed towards it and if it gets too close to them they drive it away. Interestingly it’s presence provokes them to display and show a little of their dancing behaviour. The fact that this bird has chosen Otmoor is a tribute to the quality of the habitat and the undisturbed space on the reserve and the MOD land.
I make no apology for not having written about the Cranes until now. It is of course impossible to hide or deny the presence of such large and vocal birds. They are extremely nervous and wary, so it was felt better not to draw attention to their presence, while they might be engaged in raising young.
|Hepatic Cuckoo (c) Norman Smith|
It has been a brilliant spring on Otmoor this year for Cuckoos. None of the regular birders can remember seeing and hearing so many as we have this year. Amongst them now is a hepatic, morph. It is a very stunning rufous bird, the term “hepatic” referring to its raw liver colour. They are all calling and chasing continually the males contending with each other or pursuing the females to mate. It is great news for the cuckoos but perhaps less so for the Reed Warblers that the Otmoor Cuckoos parasitise. It was good to meet an elderly couple arriving on the moor as I was leaving and have them remark to me….”we could go home right now, happy because we’ve heard a cuckoo and we haven’t done that for years and years.” Within a month the cuckoos will be gone and we will then be looking for their offspring and their surrogate parents once they have outgrown the nest.
|Cuckoo Pics top three (c) Derek Latham, bottom one (c) Derek Lane|
The last two weeks have seen our Hobby numbers peak at over fourteen birds. This is regular at this time of the year and they spend time on the moor feeding up before dispersing to breed. This Sunday there were perhaps two or three birds hunting over Greenaways whereas on the Sunday before they had been present in double figures.
|Turtles above Derek Latham, below (c) JR|
Our other iconic summer visitor, the Turtle Dove, continues to attract visitors from far and wide. We certainly saw three birds on Friday and unless they are all male, we assume that they are nesting either on or just off the reserve. As usual they can be heard purring from their favourite song posts on the telegraph pole, and from a bare branch in the second oak tree along the bridle path.
|Marsh Harrier (c) JR|
Out at the reedbed there have been four Marsh Harriers. We can safely assume that they are breeding but cannot be sure about which pair is which and where they are nesting. We have observed a number of food passes between them over the weekend. We have as yet no evidence of the Bitterns breeding and we are not likely to do so, until after the females begin regular feeding flights. The number of Grey Herons and Little Egrets on the moor suggest that there is no absence of food out there for them.
|Juvenile Moorhen stretching (c) JR|
The Tern Raft on the northern lagoon looks to be a more popular residence than in previous years. On Saturday morning, there were fourteen Common Terns on it. Some are clearly sitting and others are bringing in fish as offerings for their mates. They are ranging across the whole reserve to find food. With more birds present, there is more hope of successful breeding as there must be a degree of safety in numbers, a colony being better able to defend chicks and eggs than just a lone pair.
The large flock of mixed juvenile Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls finally seems to have departed, leaving just a few pairs of Black-headed gulls on Big Otmoor. Their impact on our breeding Lapwings is yet to be assessed but will be significant and negative. There have also been large numbers of Geese and goslings out there. Just over a week ago we saw a Magpie attack, kill and eventually manage to fly off, with a Grey Lag gosling. The flight just cleared the anti-predator fence before the Magpie crashed into the hedge. None of us had seen such predatory behaviour from these birds before.
|Predation on Big Otmoor (c) Justin Hoffman|
Things will quieten down over the next few weeks and we can start to enjoy the dragonflies and butterflies as well as monitoring the breeding success or otherwise of our birds.
|Four Spot Chaser (c) Derek Latham|