Wednesday, 4 December 2019

First weekend of December

Barn Owl (c) Paul Wyeth

Water levels across the moor have continued to rise as the water drains down the slopes from the surrounding woods and fields. The MOD land to the east of the reserve is flooded in a way that we have not seen for over four years. 
Flooding on Noke Sides (c) Tom N-L
There is also significant flooding on the fields to the west of the moor. These fields are attracting large numbers of Wildfowl, Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Gulls. Many of the birds are roosting overnight on the slightly higher and nearly dry parts of these fields, where the surrounding water offers some security from land predators. 
Golden plover (c) Paul Wyeth
Already the very low maxima of wetland species recorded last winter have been overtaken, clearly showing how dependent our wintering birds are on having high water levels.
Starlings (c) Tom N-L

The Starling roost is once again in full swing and although there is no guarantee that there will be a spectacular swirling murmuration the sheer numbers of birds coming in to roost is impressive just on its own. The sheer biomass of these birds is what draws in the raptors. 

Marsh Harrier (c) Bark
Marsh Harriers and Hen Harriers are regular attendees as are Sparrowhawks and Barn Owls. 

Barn Owls at the roost Above (c) Paul Wyeth and below (c) Tom N-L
This weekend there were four Common Buzzards hanging around the reedbed during the day. They may be looking out for the inevitable overnight casualties amongst the Starlings or perhaps the floods have concentrated their small mammal prey on the higher ground. 

Hen Harrier amid Starlings (c) Paul Wyeth
Grey Herons are stalking across the drier parts of the fields and competing with the Kestrels for the voles that are concentrated there.
Hunting Grey Heron (c) Bark
On Sunday huge flocks of ducks were out on the water of the MOD land. Both Teal and Wigeon flocks around the reserve are approaching one and a half thousand and will probably increase as the floods die down on the surrounding farmland and concentrate the birds in the wetlands. There were almost fifty Pintail recorded on the rspb Webs count last week and we saw them both on Noke Sides and on Saunders Ground. 

Pintail and Wigeon (c) Bark
They are the most beautiful of ducks, streamlined and powerful, as someone commented the other day “the Ferraris of the duck world”
Fieldfares and Redwings are polishing off the few remaining Haws in the hedgerows and in Morley’s (the carpark field) They are in competition with the predominantly male Blackbirds that have taken up “ownership” of particular bushes. 

Redwings (c) Bark
I was told at the weekend that the male Blackbirds we are seeing are European birds and their female counterparts’ winter further south.
Chilly Stonechat by the bridleway (c) Bark

The work last year to repair and stabilise the bund on the northern edge of Ashgrave has proved successful and the holes have been repaired. As a consequence, there is now a significant amount of water out in front of the wetland watch, at present it is largely being used by feral geese but as the winter draws on it will attract more varied wildfowl. 

Goldfinch and Reed Bunting (c) Bark
We have started the winter finch feeding programme alongside the hide and at the water’s edge and it is already drawing large numbers of seed eating birds, principally Reed Buntings and Chaffinches but there is also a smattering of Yellowhammers and Goldfinches. It will be worth looking here for the first Otmoor Bramblings of this  winter.

Frustrating Weasel (c) Bark

There is a Weasel that is holding a territory near the kissing gate and the path to  the first screen. I wasted a good deal of time trying to get a reasonably well focussed picture  of it on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. My camera choosing to  focus on the frosty grass rather than the quicksilver like animal. They are the most agile, active and sinuous creatures and a delight to watch. Otter sightings have tailed off a little of late but there was a sighting reported on Sunday.

Frosty foliage and the new moon (c) Bark

Monday, 25 November 2019

Last week of November

Long Tailed Tit in the rain (c) Bark

From the top of the Lane in Beckley you can see that once again the moor is a proper wetland. The rain of the last few weeks has transformed many fields into lakes with just hedgerows, bunds and banks standing clear. The MOD land is now all flooded as are the four fields of Noke Sides and they are attracting huge numbers of birds. 
Not much room left for Snipe
On Saturday we estimated that there were in excess of four thousand Lapwings in several different flocks that erupted from separate parts of the moor when flushed by one or other of the attendant raptors. The Lapwings were accompanied by flocks of Starlings that were not feeding far from their reedbed roost site. There were also large numbers of Golden Plovers that were more difficult to count, but certainly their numbers are in excess of two thousand.
Blizzard og Gulls (c) Bark

The flooded fields have attracted large numbers of Gulls. As well as the smaller Black-headed Gulls and at least one Common Gull there are  also many more larger Gulls than we normally find on Otmoor. Mostly adult Lesser Black backed Gulls, there were Herring Gulls, Greater Black backed and at least one Yellow Legged Gull, the latter a new addition to the year-list. Despite a lot of scanning we were unable to tease out a Caspian Gull. 
Yellow Legged Gull (c) Pete Roby
There are large numbers of very larger gulls around and so it is well worth looking through them to find what would be the first ever record of this species on Otmoor.

Hen Harrier (c) Bark and Marsh Harrier (c) JR
As is to be expected with such a high biomass present on and around the moor we have been seeing lots of raptors and seeing them more frequently. Where initially the Starling roost was their prime attraction, in addition it is also the flocks of larger prey species feeding out on the floods. There were four different Buzzards around the reedbed on Sunday and there are still two Ring-tailed Hen Harriers roaming across the moor. 

A Bittern appeared out of the gloom on Sunday (c) JR
The resident Marsh Harriers are also likely to be seen as well as Kestrels and Sparrowhawks. Peregrines are now being seen regularly and the only expected raptor not seen this weekend was a Merlin. We also had the bonus of seeing a rather damp and disconsolate looking Barn Owl in the hedge beside the bridleway today.
Bedraggled barn Owl (c) Bark

Duck numbers across the moor have gone up very significantly but they are not being seen on the lagoon in front of the first or second screens. They have plenty of other places to be at the moment and undoubtedly the continuing presence of a family of three Otters in the reedbed is keeping them away for now. 

Otters above two (c) JR below (c) Bark
The Otters are being seen almost every day and seem quite used to being watched from the screen. Sometimes the youngsters can be seen rolling and tumbling in the water, at other times hunting and feeding and once today out on the edge of the bank. 
Weasel (c) JR
Last weekend we were lucky enough to see Weasel along the path to the screen, the Otters at the screen and finally a Stoat near the hide. Its not often you can see three mustelids in a day! The flooding has concentrated many small mammals on the higher ground and as with the birds it is also concentrating their predators.

Reed bunting and Meadow Pipit from the hide (c) Bark

 Have started the winter feeding programme alongside the hide and on the path towards July’s meadow. After only a week it is attracting a large number of Chaffinches, Linnets and Reed Buntings. As the winter hardens it will  attract many more and hopefully a few more of the scarcer finches. 
Blue Tit in the rain (c) Bark
Last year there were very few sightings of Redpolls or Siskins on the reserve and just a couple of regular Bramblings, hopefully we will find a few more this year.

Fallow Deer (c) Tezzer and cheeky Hare (c) JR

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

First two weeks of November

Hen harrier (c) JR

The wet and stormy weather over the last few weeks has had a huge impact on the way that the moor looks and feels. It has also had a massive impact on the birdlife to be found around the reserve. Scrapes, pools and lagoons are once again full, and the long summer drought seems a long time ago.

Autumn Colour (c) Tom N-L
The leaves on all the trees and in the hedgerows are flaring with last blaze of autumn colour.
What has taken the eye and attracted the most interest recently has been the raptors. That are now much more active and obvious. 

Harrier Kite and Kestrel (c) JR
Over the weekend we recorded all eight of the regular winter species including the more elusive Merlin and the rare Hen Harrier. Peregrines also made appearances, but unpredictably, as they tend to be. We were pleased to have identified from photographs two different juvenile Hen Harriers. They are roaming widely across the moor and are best looked for from the bridleway looking across towards the northern boundary hedge. Merlin was seen both across Greenaway’s and the Closes but as always these are” blink and you miss it” sightings.
Lapwings and Starlings (c) Tom N-L

What has attracted these birds is the steadily rising number of prey species. Two or three hundred Lapwings are frequenting the moor with at least a similar number if not more of Golden Plovers.
Starlings (c) Bark
There is a substantial Starling roost taking place but as yet there have been no spectacular displays. The birds have been arriving and going straight down to roost without producing a shape shifting spectacle. This roost has been attended by Marsh Harriers and by at least three Barn Owls.
Barn Owl as it gets dark! (c) Bark
Out on Greenaway’s two Short-eared Owls have been seen just as darkness falls. As the fields have flooded many small mammals have been forced to move to higher ground and several were witnessed swimming out in the fields, offering easy targets for opportunistic hunters.
The very friendly Hare is once again close to the screen. (c) Derek Lane
On several evenings Woodcock have been spotted flying between the scrub in the Carpark Field and the flooded areas on Greenaways and Closes.
Water Rail (c) Bark

On Thursday evening three swans were seen coming in the gathering dark, from the north and landing on the southern lagoon. 
Whooper Through starlings (c) JR
When I looked closely, I realised that one was a Whooper Swan. The mute swans that it had landed with were quite belligerent and the male threatened it and chased it around the back of the island and out of sight. It is always exciting to see these “ proper” wild swans and it was the one hundred and forty third bird to be recorded on Otmoor this year.

Whoopre Swan (c) Bark

Wigeon numbers have finally started to grow perhaps as a result of the colder weather and northerly winds encouraging them south.

Wigeon and Teal (c) Bark
 Redwing and Fieldfare numbers on the other hand are still low although we did find a small mixed flock feeding in July’s meadow on Saturday morning. As is usual with these birds they are very skittish and flighty when they first arrive.
Fieldfare (c) Bark

Snipe are taking advantage of the flooded grassland and on Sunday morning at least thirty were steadily flushed out from part of Greenaway’s as the cattle moved through the area where they had been feeding.

Otter pics (c) Trefor Knight

The Otters have continued to be great crowd pleasers. They have appeared daily, often several times during a day, at the southern lagoon. They have seen to be catching plenty of fish some of them of quite respectable size. However, this weekend if one wanted to see the animals it was always better to be at the first screen when I was not in there as I missed them by minutes on at least three occasions! This week three were seen together confirming that this is indeed a female with two cubs.

Long Tailed Tit and the first touch of frost (c) Bark