Tuesday, 26 March 2019

".....and out like a lamb." second half of March.

Sparrowhawk (c) Bark

I was fortunate to be overseas and to miss the worst of the stormy winds and rain of early March, as described so perfectly by Steve’s post: “In like a lion….” The change when I finally got back down to the moor was massive. The spring that was just being hinted at in late February and early March has truly arrived. There are leaves bursting in the hedgerows, Blackthorn starting into flower, Pussy Willow bright yellow with pollen and Coltsfoot in flower along the bridleway.

Spring signs (c) Bark

We saw the first Swallows on the 16th March flying low across Big Otmoor and this last weekend Sand Martins were seen on both days. This was unusual as most years Sand Martins usually the first hirundines of spring.
Big Otmoor Oystercatchers (c) Bark

More waders are being seen, last weekend there were nineteen Black-tailed Godwits over the first screen and out onto Big Otmoor. Two Ringed Plovers were seen out on the same field in the middle of last week and a Little-ringed Plover was seen on Sunday. Ruff and Dunlins have also been reported. At least four Oystercatchers are on site.
Blackwits (c) Pete Roby

Curlew (c) Bark
Curlew are making their evocative calls and circling over Greenaways and the MOD land. Redshanks seem to be feeding around the edges of almost every pool. Lapwings are displaying and calling across the whole reserve looping and diving in what looks to be to be a totally reckless way.
Redshank (c) Bark
Large numbers of seed eating birds are still coming to the food that we are putting out beside the hide. A Brambling was heard and seen briefly along the bridleway last week. This is a difficult time of year for finches as the first herbs and grasses are yet to flower and set seed, and with no stubbles and tiny field margins, supplies out in the wider countryside are largely exhausted.

Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting (c) Bark

Resident birds are pairing up and building nests. The first Chiffchaffs are calling in the carpark field and others still moving through can be spotted feeding in the hedgerows.
Chiffy (c) Bark

Nest building Wren (c) Bark
On Sunday this weekend I heard seven different Cetti’s Warblers calling between the carpark and the second screen, there will certainly be more than these when taken over the whole reserve. The first Wheatear was seen out on the Noke sheep fields on Saturday morning and doubtless there will be more of them coming through in the next few weeks, they really favour the short grass fields.
Marsh Harriers are displaying over the reedbed with two different females and a male present this weekend.
Sprawk (c) Bark
Last weekend as walked out to the Pill I flushed a Sparrowhawk out of the hedge it flew up but didn’t go far and when I returned, I flushed it again from the same place where I saw was feeding on a Wood pigeon. It was good to see this super predator so well and so close.
Some of the hundreds of Black Headed Gulls on big Otmoor (c) Bark

There is a huge flock of Black-headed Gulls on Big Otmoor. Many of them are starting to display and take up nesting territory. This weekend there were two Mediterranean Gulls amongst them one a second winter bird and the other an adult. It is very difficult to pick them out from the throng of the commoner black-headed Gulls. So far this year we have avoided the invasion of non-breeding subadult Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. They might well have had an impact on the breeding success of our waders last year.
Common Lizard (c) Tezzer

Common Lizards were out sunning themselves at the first screen and as Sunday warmed up Grass Snakes could be seen basking on the dead reeds beside the bridleway.
The next few weeks are amongst the most exciting of the birding year, full as they are of arrivals and departures. Once again the moor will overflow with birdsong and be busy with urgent breeding activity.
Amourous Pochards (c) Tom N-L

Saturday, 9 March 2019

In like a Lion?

Curlew courtesy of Terry Sherlock.

Mid February to early March.

February can often be a drab and dreary month in the birding calendar but certainly not this year, even so it seemed very strange to be walking around the reserve in a short sleeved shirt during the afternoon. Still, an early arrival often found very cold conditions and an overnight frost but it soon warmed up and afternoon temperatures were reaching the high 'teens in glorious sunlight. It felt like early summer but a closer look around the reserve reminded us of the true time of year with bare branches on the trees and snowdrops poking out here and there.

Some days a persistent fine mist slightly hampered viewing but on the days this burnt off the conditions were as perfect as they get. The air was extremely clear with none of the pollution or haze sometimes associated with warmth later in the year. This allowed us to look deep into the fields and more easily find birds at great distances, quite handy on Otmoor really. It also offered great photo opportunities.

Barn Owl courtesy of Terry Sherlock.

Resident birds were clearly enjoying the conditions and could be heard in full song with Skylarks seeming to be everywhere all of a sudden. The shortening nights improved our chances of finding both Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl at either end of the day and wildfowl looked absolutely wonderful in the sunshine.

As much as we enjoy the dry sunny weather the reserve does rely on water and there hasn't been nearly enough of it this winter, so it was a relief to receive some overnight rain as we moved into March. Wading birds are to the fore at this time and we could watch Lapwing displaying over Big Otmoor and notice the first Golden Plovers starting to obtain their beautiful summer plumage. Redshank numbers are increasing well and two birds could often be seen very close to the bridleway picking their way around the pools. Careful observation may also reveal a few Snipe around the edges here too but their wonderfully cryptic plumage means they remain very difficult to detect, no matter how close by they are. 

Oystercatcher courtesy of John Uren.

The loud piping calls of Oystercatcher may be heard on the reserve once again usually alerting us to an impending fly past. Also vocal are some of the twenty or more Curlew currently on site. On Saturday two Dunlin could be seen among the Plover flocks all of which drew the attention of a very smart male Peregrine.

Marsh Harrier courtesy of Terry Sherlock.

Over at the reed bed it has been fun trying to figure out how many Marsh Harriers we have at the moment. Currently the answer is five with the resident male joined by two adult females and two younger birds, thought to be another male and female. Three pairs of Grey Herons continue with their nest building and Little Grebes have been showing well around the edges while Cetti's warblers and Water Rails call among the reeds.

Oystercatchers courtesy of John Uren.

Stonechat can still be found albeit often quite distantly on Greenaway's while other winter visitors such as Redwing and Fieldfare have mainly moved on. The first Chiffchaffs have just been reported and it is to be hoped that there is no repetition of last year's disastrously cold weather and that spring be allowed to flourish bringing in more waders, wheatears, warblers and maybe a nice early surprise. 

Steve Roby - standing in for Bark this time

Grey Heron courtesy of Terry Sherlock.