Friday, 28 December 2018

End of December 2018

Shoveller (c) Bark

Frequent and regular rains over the last few weeks have worked their magic and the moor is once again looking like a proper wetland. Even so, water levels on the main fields still have some way to go to reach their target levels. On Ashgrave in front of the main hide, there are now proper pools and scrapes as water drains down from the field and the wood and accumulates at the bottom.

Lapwings and Goldies (c) Bark

The wetter fields suit our wintering Lapwings and Golden Plovers and both species are once again providing a winter spectacle as flocks of well over a thousand pattern the sky. Sometimes as the birds flush en masse they appear as tight dense flocks at other times, as they descend, they can be spread glittering across the sky. The Lapwings’ slower wing beats blinking black and white, while the Golden Plover flash white and then seem to disappear as they wheel and bank. The Lapwings fly in loose unstructured flocks whilst the Goldies fly in much tighter formations and make geometric chevrons against the void.

Starling Roost (c) Tom N-L

The other mass spectacle continues every evening as the Starlings go to roost. Their numbers are always astonishing but whether one will see a shape-shifting murmuration is almost impossible to predict. Sometimes it can be spectacular and at other times the huge number of birds come in from all directions and appear to be sucked down into the reeds as they arrive, like a tornado in reverse.

The Starlings, the Lapwings and the Golden Plover are a huge attraction to raptors and we continue to see Peregrines, Sparrowhawks and a male Marsh Harrier haunting the reedbed and surrounding fields.
Male Marsh Harrier (c) Bark
A mature male Hen Harrier has also been seen recently and we hope that it will remain in the area and show more frequently. After regular autumn sightings we have not seen any Short-eared Owls recently, and so must assume they have moved on.
Kite with Starling breakfast (c) Bark
As mentioned previously the Red kites patrol the reedbeds at dawn looking for overnight casualties. A party of Magpies have also taken up residence around some of the goat willows at the first lagoon and are also on the lookout for anything the Kites miss.

Linet, Goldfinch and Yellowhammers from the hide (c) Bark
After only two weeks the feeding programme beside the hide is starting to attract good numbers of seed eaters. At least forty Linnets and a similar number of Reed Buntings form the bulk of the flock but amongst them are Goldfinches, Chaffinches and six Yellowhammers.
Several Stock Doves can be spotted at the furthest point from the hide although as the winter progresses, we can expect their numbers to swell and for them to come closer as hunger makes them less wary.
Water Rail (c) Bark
There are at least two Water Rails holding territory in the reed mace bed that runs away from the hide towards the wood. They have taken to emerging from the dead vegetation to feed on the seed, they never come very far from cover but can still be seen very well.
Moorhen on the bridleway. (c) Bark

It has been unusual to see the number of Moorhens feeding along the bridleway first thing in the morning. The record count last week was seventeen birds spread between the pumphouse and well beyond the hide. They are particularly interested in the overnight molehills and the newly turned ground where badgers have been foraging in the shorter grass. There must be a lot of small invertebrates exposed that the larger animals miss in the darkness.

Bittern in Flight and landing! Above (c) Tom N-L below (c)  Bark

Bitterns continue to be seen regularly on both Greenaway’s and over the reedbed. About ten days ago no less than five were flushed on the same morning on a more remote part of the reserve. They are clearly doing very well and it will be interesting in two or three months to see if we have more than the two booming males that we had last spring. They are often seen flying from one side to the other at the first screen at dusk, as they relocate to roost. They then demonstrate their complete inability to land with accuracy, poise or grace. Bittern landings are always barely disguised crashes.

Wigeon Shovellers and teal (c) Bark

Wigeon, Teal and Shoveller numbers too have gone up markedly in response to the increased water levels. The wigeon are now feeding from the pools on Ashgrave, grazing on the grass until frightened back into the water by real or imagined threats.
Drake Pintail from first screen (c) Noah Gin
Otmoor Hardcore with a few notable exceptions. (c) Pete Roby (even though he's in it!)
We have also started to see Pintail on the main Lagoons and out on Big Otmoor, their numbers always peak in the late winter period as the cold weather digs in further north. Next week a review of 2018 but before that we still have a couple more days to try to get the year-list up to one hundred and fifty!
Swimming Grey Heron (c) Luke O'Byrne

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