Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Last two weeks of October

Golden Plover (c) Bark

The weather has changed at last and this recent weekend we experienced early winter weather for the first time. Leaves have started to fall, and the grass was rimed with hoar frost. We still have had very little rain and the moor is dryer than I can ever remember it being at this time in the annual cycle. This lack of water has had a very significant effect on the number of wildfowl and waders on the reserve, it will take several weeks of steady rain to recharge all the scrapes and ditches across our fields.

Distant Fieldfares (c) Pete Roby
Fieldfares and Redwings have arrived in good numbers but are still very mobile, moving through towards the west and south rather than settling and feeding for long. Numbers of Wigeon and Teal are slowly rising but they will require more available open water in order for them to approach their expected numbers.
Goldies (c) Bark
The first small flocks of thirty or forty Golden Plovers are being seen, we were lucky enough to have some right over head last week, so close that we could hear the whoosh of their wings.
The Starling roost is still fairly modest but is building all the time. The birds at this time of year, when there is less pressure on feeding opportunities in the daytime and it is not below freezing at night, seem prepared to spend more time and energy in their pre-roost displays. This was very noticeable a week ago, when they congregated in the blackthorns beside the path and could be seen flying off, some with sloes in their bills as they went down into the reedbed. They looked stunning as they flew up on mass into the low golden light that picked them out and made them shine as they rose up from the hedge.

All Starling pics (c) Bark

Bitterns are being seen regularly, more often from the second screen than the first. Sometimes they can be spotted feeding on the edge of the reeds and at other times flying in and landing on the margins where they simply seem to melt away into the vegetation. Their cryptic plumage makes them almost impossible to pick out once they freeze and point their bills towards the sky.
Bittern (c) Peter West

Marsh Harriers are also regular over the reedbed and there appear to be three different birds being seen regularly now, adult male and female and a probable first winter juvenile. The Harriers drift above the reeds and the hedgerows and occasionally hunt out across the larger fields. They are frequently hassled by corvids that randomly appear to take an exception to their presence and pursue them until they lose interest or perhaps when they feel their honour is satisfied.
Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

Short-eared Owls are being seen regularly in the late afternoons over Greenaways and up towards the reedbed. Just as darkness falls Woodcock have been spotted flying out of the carpark field and onto Greenaways.
A Little Owl was heard calling from the Roman Road area last week, this is the first record from Otmoor this year of what is becoming an increasingly scarce bird..
Marsh Harrier (c) Peter West

It is very easy to become complacent and familiarity can eventually breed contempt. A visitor the other day remarked that there wasn’t much about and I found myself agreeing with him. Later while I was chatting with another Otmoor long time regular we agreed that if we had seen Bitterns and Marsh Harriers on a single visit to the moor ten years ago, it would have been a red-letter day. Another visitor from North Wales said he just couldn’t get over seeing so many Red Kites and I confess that we barely notice them now. I wonder how long it will be before we feel the same way about Great White and Cattle Egrets.

There was an unusual event on Saturday at the second screen. A group of four or five Cormorants appeared to be working in concert to drive fish into the shallower water up against the northern edge of the lagoon. One of them caught a very substantial looking Rudd and spent the next five or six minutes trying to first subdue it and swallow it.

Eventually the catcher was “mugged” by a larger bird that manged to get it down apart from just the tip of its tail, the throat of the cormorant wriggled in a very uncomfortable way, not perhaps for the cormorant but for those of us watching!

All Cormorant pics (c) Bark
Fallow Deer Stag (c) Bark
On Sunday in Long meadow there were few birds to be seen, but we were entertained instead by a fine young Fallow Deer stag that was bellowing out his rutting call and being answered by what sounded like a much larger and louder rival from within the Spinney. A small group of does fed nervously at the woodland edge. It seems to me that there is always something to see and be enchanted by………one only has to look.

One has only to look!

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