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.

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