Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Saturday and Sunday 12th and 13th January

Peregrine and prey (c) JR

A very blustery and windy weekend but mild and frost free. Great slabs of low cloud meant that we seldom saw the sun and all the colour seemed to have been sucked out of the moor.
There was still lots to be seen, especially along the path that heads up towards July’s Meadow, where the feeding programme is continuing to draw in large numbers of finches. There are a several game strips further up towards Beckley along the footpath and they too are providing food and shelter for seed eating birds. Should we encounter harsher weather later in the winter their numbers will almost certainly increase. There was a possible sighting of a female Brambling on Sunday but not seen clearly enough to be certain.
Wigeon landing (c) Bark

There is a good mixture of duck species out in front of the first screen including four Pintail, five or six Pochard and several pairs of Gadwall. We have been examining the Teal very carefully as there was an unconfirmed report of a Green-winged Teal. All our careful scoping at the weekend failed to result in our spotting any drake Teal with a vertical rather than a horizontal white stripe.
Pintail from first screen (c) Noah Gins

The regular raptors were seen at the weekend. The male Marsh Harrier was starting to display a little in the stiff wind and there were still two other Harriers present, one an adult female the other a more juvenile looking bird.
Peregrine making off (c) Bark
Two Peregrines had a dispute right over our heads on Saturday. As far as we could tell one of them had caught a Lapwing and the other tried to take it away or had in fact been given it in a food-pass. The unfortunate Lapwing was still not dead, and the strength of the Peregrine was evident in the effortless way that it handled both the gusting wind and its flapping prey.

Wigeon from the hide Above (c) JR    below (c) Bark
The leaky bund on Ashgrave has now been mended and we can confidently expect the water-levels in front of the hide to rise to their planned height. This should mean that we see many more waterfowl from the hide and later on there should be more waders around the margins.
Tail can be a problem in a high wind (c) Bark

The Year-list has started strongly, as always happens, and Siskin, Redpoll and Nuthatch have all been added in the last few days.

Fieldfares (c) Bark

Friday, 11 January 2019

First few days of 2019

Water Rail (c) Bark

The year has started much as it ended with grey skies, low cloud and poor visibility which makes photography a challenge. Despite the less than sparkling weather we got the year off to a respectable start on the first of January with a list of over sixty species for the morning. There was nothing new or especially exciting to see but it was encouraging to note early nesting species starting to show breeding behaviour.

Shoveller and Pochard in breeding finery (c) Bark
A case in point was some typical show off behaviour from a one of a pair of Ravens flying over Greenways, on Saturday what I assume were the same pair feeding together on the ground, with one of them picking up and offering sticks to the other. Red Kites too are calling and appear to be attempting to take possession of the old buzzard’s nest in the oak tree on the eastern side of the reedbed.

Turning up for seed. Yellowhammer (c) Tom N-L Linnet and Bullfinch (c) Tezzer
The feeding programme by the hide is really drawing in good numbers of Linnets, Reed Buntings and Chaffinches. We have not spotted anything more unusual with them other than a couple of Bullfinches and a few Yellowhammers. A Water Rail is also popping out onto the track from time to time to pick up seeds, but its visits are always brief.
Water Rail (c) Bark

On Saturday we saw two Marsh Harriers both our regular male and a female, although three individuals had been seen earlier in the week. We were lucky enough to have the Merlin fly through above the first screen on Sunday, it went over the reeds and then off along the hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways. The male Hen Harrier is putting in occasional appearances first thing in the morning as the starlings are leaving the roost and there was a report late last week of a ring-tailed Harrier. Two Stonechats could be seen out on Greenaways and another lone male was perched at the top of a willow in the northern section of the reedbed.

Our odd hybrid Barnacle Goose family was once again evident on Greenaways. The male is to all intents a regular barnacle Goose and is partnered by a female Grey Lag. With them are six identical offspring that most closely resemble Canada Geese. Yet when you look carefully their physical structure is that of Greylag and the markings echo the Barnacle. I wonder if they will be able to interbreed with other greylags when the time comes or whether they will be sterile.
Barnacle family (c) JR

On Tuesday last week the regular New Year Day survey for Brown Hairstreak eggs was held. Volunteers closely examine the same stretch of Blackthorn hedge. They found sixty-four eggs this year which I was told was a good count. A member of the group who had come back down on Saturday to photograph them very kindly pointed some of them out to us and his macro photographs revealed the astonishing structure of these tiny (full stop sized!) eggs.

Above Brown Hairstreak egg and below Lackey Moth clutch (c) Bark
He also showed us a long string of eggs like a bead bracelet that had been wound round and round a thin twig. These were the eggs of the Lackey Moth, the caterpillars of which live in colonial tents of fine silk and can be seen in early summer. Once again it showed that a trip to the moor can result in our knowing more when we left to that which we knew when we arrived!

Fieldfares: above (c) Tom N-L below (c) Tezzer

Monday, 7 January 2019

Last Weekend of December and a Review of 2018

Linnets (c) Bark

The year on Otmoor ended grey and dour with low cloud and slowly clearing fog, much as it has been for the past few weekends. As is to be expected at this time of year numbers of all species are continuing to grow. However, if wildfowl numbers are to reach similar maxima to other winters, we will need more significant rain. Scrapes are still only half full on all the main fields. Lapwings and Golden Plovers are still building up as they are less dependent on extensive areas of open water but need damp soft fields to feed in.

Five Magpies are permanent residents of the reedbed living on leftover Starlings!

The starling roost is still going strong, numbers having stabilised around an estimated sixty to seventy thousand birds. As I have frequently mentioned this is attracting good numbers of raptors including a fine male Hen Harrier. On Saturday morning, had one been in the right place at he right time, it would have been possible to see seven species of raptor. The only regular species not seen on Saturday was Merlin. Merlin was however reported earlier in the week and is by far the most elusive of our regular raptors. In the early days of the reserve there was a piece of farm machinery half way out along the track across Greenaways. For at least four years this was a favoured perch for a female Merlin that returned every winter and could be picked up very easily, if there is another favoured perch, we have yet to find it. Merlin is most often seen now along Otmoor Lane scanning from the pull in spot near the stables can sometimes be successful.

Teal top (c) JR below (c) Bark

From the first screen there are ducks displaying and courting. Teal circle in small groups the males bobbing their heads and from time to time thrusting their heads and chests out of the water. Shovellers taking very short flights just above the heads of their target females.
Linnet flock (c) JR

Water Rail also using the finch seed (c) Nick Truby

The Finch flock by the hide is now thriving and there are at least a hundred Reed Buntings using it and over one hundred and fifty Linnets. If the weather gets harder these numbers will grow and we can hope to find more Yellowhammers and maybe some Bramblings amongst them.
Ducks flushing (c) JR

It has been a strange year on the moor and much more significantly than ever has been affected by the weather. For the first time in ages the yearlist has failed to reach one hundred and fifty species, reaching just one hundred and forty-seven. There was no significant wader passage through the moor this year, in the spring due to the sudden cold snap in March and into April and by the autumn the hot dry summer meant that there were no scrapes or exposed mud for returning birds to feed on. This year we recorded no Stints, Avocets, Wood Sands or Spotted Redshanks. It was also the first year that we have not recorded any White-fronted Geese either truly wild or feral, there were no other rarer geese or any Mandarin Ducks. The only Pipits recorded this year were Meadow Pipits and there was no Ring Ouzel this spring. For the second year running we failed to find any Bearded Tits, which is very frustrating as we know that they bred close by only four years ago. It was a poor Quail year across the country and we too failed to hear any!
Turtle Dove 9c) Nick Truby

On the plus side we recorded our first Hawfinch during the national invasion that happened last winter. Turtle Doves returned but we had no evidence of birds having bred and they departed earlier than usual, they are holding on as a breeding species by a thread and I fear every spring for their return.
GGS (c) Steve Roby
 A brief visit from a Great Grey Shrike was the main highlight of the current winter period but sadly didn’t stay.
Cuckoos had an exceptional year on the moor with over seven individuals present in May including what we assume is the same hepatic female from last year. Bitterns had an excellent year with at least two females successfully fledging young this winter we are confident that there are at least seven individuals spread across the moor and it will be fascinating to see if we have more booming males this spring than the two, we
Bittern (c) Tezzer?

As always thanks to David Wilding and the whole Otmoor team; salaried staff, interns and the host of volunteers. Their collective efforts make Otmoor the gem that it is, despite the threat of encroaching roads and other development. It is a privilege to have such a vibrant nature reserve just a ten-minute drive from The Green Road Roundabout!
Thanks also to the regular Otmoor watchers, who I bird with, walk with, talk with and discuss everything from politics and sport to recipes and places to eat out and whose company makes the place even more special. I have no idea what 2019 will bring us but be assured we will be out there looking for it.
A study in concentration (c) JR