Monday, 27 January 2020

Last two weeks of January

Cetti's Warbler (c) JR

During the course of a year the “hotspots” on Otmoor vary with the season and the birds that are around. Currently the second screen is a good place to spend some time, as is the gap in the hedge adjoining Noke Sides where the fields are partially flooded.
Lapwings and Goldies

At the second screen a pair of Stonechats have become very obliging and confiding, sitting out on the fence and on the reeds that edge the water. 

Stonechats on ice (c) Bark
When it has been frosty they have been picking small insects off the ice and when not frozen picking food from the waters surface. 
Male Stonechat (c) JR
The huge bramble on the left-hand side of the screen is home to a very vociferous Cetti’s Warbler that just occasionally shows itself in a very un-Cetti’s way. It is a good time of year to spot these noisy but usually invisible birds. 

Cetti's (c) Bark
Vegetation is at a minimum and the birds can be seen creeping about in the leafless low bushes stopping briefly to make their high decibel familiar calls. They also produce a series of shorter sharper contact calls. On Sunday this week we were able to  watch two birds in the same bush calling and conversing with each other very  near to the path. They are getting territorial already and from the number of birds we are hearing, suggests that we have a very healthy population on and around the reserve.

Golden Plovers (c) Tom N-L
The partial flood on Noke Sides is suiting the Lapwings and Golden Plovers very well. A single huge flock of between two or three thousand Goldies were out there this last weekend. They form a golden-brown carpet on the edge of the water all the while keeping up a continuous quiet chattering. The Lapwings are not in such a tight concentrated flock, instead they are scattered across all four of the Noke Sides fields feeding in the grassy areas that stand above the water. Every so often all the birds lift off in a mass panic the Golden Plovers wheeling in tight formations getting higher until the flocks fragment peppering the sky with black dots before slowly returning to the ground. 

Goldies and Lapwings flushing (c) Bark
There are good reasons for the alarms and mass flushes. What appears to be an established pair of Peregrines are spending a good deal of time perched up in a bare dead oak tree in the first hedgerow across the field. From time to time they make forays across the feeding Lapwings and Plovers causing mass panic. 
Sparrowhawk on Ashgrave and Peregrine on the dead oak (c) Bark
Last weekend we saw the larger female bird returning to the tree with a prey item, but we were unable to see at that distance what it was. The Peregrines are  certainly staying close to their larder!
When the feeding flocks are scoped, we can usually find a few Dunlin scattered among the Golden Plovers or near the feeding Lapwings. They are also more noticeable when the flocks take flight often showing out at the bottom of the flying flocks. 

Pintail Wigeon and Teal (c) Bark
Last weekend a sharp-eyed Old Caley picked out a lone Redshank amongst a lot of Lapwings loafing in the field. It’s the first one for the year  and has arrived much earlier than we would normally expect to see  one on the moor. A small flock of Ruff are also in the vicinity either on Noke Sides or more often out on big Otmoor. 
Blackbird (c) Bark
There are many blackbirds foraging among the tussocks and along the bunds around the reedbed and they are nearly all males, which I understand are more likely to be winter visitors than residents.

Reed bunting feeding on reed seeds (c) Bark
The RSPB staff and volunteers have made the annual reed cut and have cleared a large area to the  left of the first screen. As in previous years they are now raising the water levels  to check the regrowth of phragmites in this area. The area should be good for wildfowl to feed in, for spawning fish in the shallows and in turn offer fishing opportunities to Bitterns. 
Kestrel (c) Tom N-L
Over the reedbed there were three or four different Marsh Harriers. Two of them were certainly indulging in courtship behaviour. A Short-eared Owl was seen over Greenaway’s on Sunday morning and this is the first one that we have seen for over five weeks. The Hen Harrier was seen and photographed on Sunday morning. 

Barn Owl (c) Trefor Knight
Barn Owls are being seen regularly, hunting out from the back of the second screen and in the eastern corner of Greenaway’s.
Pintail;; (c) Bark

Friday, 17 January 2020

Middle of January

Stonechat (c) Bark

Otmoor and its bird life have remained very much the same since the turn of the year apart from the rapid collapse of the Starling roost. There are now just a scant one or two thousand coming in to the reedbed to roost. We have had tempestuous winds and heavy rain, as has the whole country and water levels across the moor are high, as they should be on a floodplain.

Goldies and Lapwings (c) Bark

The number of Lapwings and Golden Plovers continues to fluctuate from day to day as flocks move around in the vicinity, but there are seldom fewer than three or four thousand of each species either on the reserve or in the nearby fields. 
Long-tailed Tit (c) Bark
The extent to which fields are flooded or not flooded has a big influence on where they sit out the days. On the reserve Big Otmoor is currently most favoured, but large numbers are also spending some time on the less accessible Flood Field. Thinly scattered amongst the Lapwings are anything up to a dozen Dunlin and up to fifteen Ruff. 
One eyed Buzzard (c) Bark
From time to time we have  picked out a single Curlew flying over the back of Greenaway’s and over towards the Flood.

Kestrel  above (c) Bark   and below (c) Tom N-L
The large flocks are spectacular. In last weekend’s gales they were whirled and tossed across the sky like autumn leaves, their undulating flight and tight formations making the tumult in the air visible. Once again last Saturday we had to explain to a party of visitors and a walking group that it was not the Starling murmuration they were witnessing, but actually Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
Ducks in a row! (c) Bark

Duck numbers are reaching their winter maxima. There are currently almost two and a half thousand Teal and well above three thousand Wigeon scattered over the site. Interestingly there were over two hundred Pintail recorded on Monday, a large count compared with recent years. 
Brown Hare (c) Oz
There are at least sixteen Pochard present and they spend most of their time on the northern lagoon. I understand that they are in serious decline and our group although small in number is nonetheless important and significant.

Linnets and Reed Bunting (c) Bark

The mixed finch flock beside the hide is attracting larger numbers of birds and will continue to do so as natural food supplies run down. The most frequent visitors are still Linnets and Reed Buntings with a scattering of other species amongst them. 
Stonechat at the Pill (c) Bark
There are at least four pairs of Stonechats on the reserve, there is one particularly confiding pair along the path to the second screen around the area that was roped of for Starling viewing. I trudged out to the Pill on Sunday, accessible now that the floods have receded, and found another pair near the small bridge. 
Wolf Moon rising over the lagoon (c) Oz
I had hoped to flush a Jack snipe but was unable to find one. They have been very few and far between of late and last year was  the first when there was no record of them on the moor.
A melee of birds over the reedbed (c) Tom N-L
A fly-over Great white Egret has been the highlight of the year so far and the year-list currently stands at eighty species.
Two Black Swans a surprise last weekend. (c) Bark

Saturday, 4 January 2020

The end of 2019 and into 2020

Bittern (c) Bark

As we start the new year Otmoor is once again a real wetland, after three years of less than average rainfall and very dry summers. The fields surrounding the Reserve are all flooded, and it is obvious why no houses were ever built on the floodplain. Our reedbed reservoir, ditches and scrapes are all well above their target water levels and once again we are attracting massive numbers of waders and wildfowl.
The path on the western edge (c) Bark

This last week we have seen well over a thousand mixed ducks bobbing about on Saunders Ground ( the first of the large MOD fields ) now more of a lake than a field. Scanning through them showed predominantly Teal and Wigeon but with a significant number of Shovellers and well over fort Pintail. On the reedbed lagoons there were approximately fifty Tufted Ducks, and up to twenty Pochard and a similar number of Gadwall.
Vast numbers on Big Otmoor (c) Tom N-L

Lapwings and Golden Plovers are present in the kind of numbers we have not seen for several years. We estimate that there are currently well in excess of four thousand Lapwings and over six thousand Golden Plovers. 

Separately and collectively above (c) Bark  below (c) Tom N-L
The flocks are very mobile spending time both on our fields and neighbouring fields. Occasionally it is possible to appreciate just how many birds are there when a Peregrine makes a long pass over the whole area and its progress can be tracked by the separate flocks flushing up in turn as it passes over.
Kestrel (c) JR
An Otmoor regular had to explain to a number of people on the bridleway that they were not seeing the Starling murmuration over the northern edge of Greenaway’s as they’d thought, but Lapwings and Golden Plovers flushing from the Flood field. As they fly up, the tight flocks of Golden Plover wheel, flashing their white bellies as they turn and flicker like snowflakes against dark clouds.
On the flooded grassland of Noke Sides there were at least fifty Pied Wagtails feeding with a smaller flock of about twenty on The Closes. I assume they are heading into the reedbed to roost. Just as last year the number of finches coming in to the feeding programme beside the hide are starting to increase. 

Goldfinch and Reed Bunting (c) JR
Principally Linnets, Chaffinches and Reed Buntings, there are now more Yellowhammers and Goldfinches to be found amongst them.

Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer (c) Bark

On New Year’s morning we were treated to a close and sustained view of a Bittern at the first screen. We first saw it swimming along the edge of the closest clump of reeds. It slipped amongst the stems and then proceeded to work along the margin, appearing and disappearing briefly. The cryptic plumage meant that when it froze at times it was almost invisible, yet still remained in plain sight, provided one knew where to look! 

Bittern (c) JR
Sometimes when hunting it lay its head flat on the water almost submerging its eyes. Eventually it “sky-pointed” prior to taking off, fluffed out all its feathers and flew clumsily across the narrow bay before tiring of its hunting, relocated to another more secluded part of the reedbed.
Skypointing Bittern (c) Bark

The Starlings continue to draw crowds of admirers, but as ever their displays are unpredictable and their numbers hard to estimate but we feel that there are at least fifty thousand coming in to roost nightly. The paths are very muddy but passable with wellies and the viewing area has cut up very badly. It is worth while walking further round the reedbed to the second viewing area as this is considerably drier. Great care must be taken when driving down Otmoor Lane from Beckley, there is a particularly deep and difficult set of potholes at the bottom of the steepest part and right on the bend.

Stonechats on the path to the second screen  above (c) Bark   below (c) JR

We ended last year with a list of one hundred and forty-four species seen on the moor. It was the lowest total for twelve years and reflected how few different species of wader we saw in 2019. The very wet start to this year means that conditions will be much more favourable and attractive to passage waders. Already we have a small flock of Dunlin feeding on the Closes and a small flock of ten Ruff out over the flood field.
It will be fascinating to see what the coming year has in store for us. I was talking to a well known birder last week who was saying that with the huge numbers of  birds around the moor at present, there is a real possibility of one or two scarcities amongst them, perhaps even a real rarity, it’s just a matter of digging them out. I might suggest that big Otmoor is the first place to start looking.

Starling swansong      above Tom N-L     below (c) Bark
It now looks as though the Starling roost has “crashed” and the birds have moved elsewhere. Please let anyone who may be thinking of visiting that this has happened, There is no particular reason that we can discern it may just be that food reserves in the immediate vicinity have been depleted.  
Teal (c) Bark