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

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