Monday, 14 January 2013

Saturday and Sunday 12th and 13th January

Male Hen Harrier (c) Roger Wyatt

Female Hen Harrier (c) Roger Wyatt

Whitefronts on fly about All pics (c) Bark

Early morning kestrel (c) Bark

Sun on Reeds (c) Bark

Chiffy at the second screen (c) Bark

Contrasting days this weekend with Saturday chilly, damp and grey and Sunday sunny, crisp and clear, the finest kind of winter day.
The birds that we are seeing on the moor have settled into a regular winter pattern but are no less interesting or exciting for that. On Friday two Bitterns were seen one flying off towards the second screen and the other almost immediately emerging from the vegetation to the right of the first screen and swimming across the channel where it then started to hunt. The most Bitterns we have been able to confirm in the reed bed were three in the winter of 2009/10 and there may well be that number there now or perhaps even more, it is a very extensive reedbed!
The eleven White-fronted Geese are still present although on Sunday they went for a long fly about but looked as if they finally descended onto the flood field. They associate both with the very large numbers of Canada Geese currently in residence and also with the Greylags, showing no particular preference for either species.
Both Hen Harriers have been seen this weekend the ring-tailed bird appears to hunt over the reedbed much more than the male, which tends to prefer the more open fields. This may be a reflection of the prey species that they are capable of taking, the male as with most raptors, being much smaller than the female. Peregrines, both a male and a female, have been noted again this weekend and on Sunday we had spectacular close views of a male flying past at great speed.
A Whooper Swan was found on Saturday with the Mute Swan flock that seems to favour the fields to the north and west of the reserve, but on Sunday we were unable to relocate it.
The icy conditions are beginning to concentrate the wildfowl around areas of open water and there are very good numbers of all the expected duck species present, with the exception of Pochard, of which we could only see two or three. Wigeon and Teal were out in the middle of big Otmoor in large numbers.
There are now regular reports of two Barn Owls hunting over the reedbed at dusk despite the fact that the Starling roost no longer occurs. There are still four Chiffchaffs resident along the edge of the path to the first screen and on towards the second. Along with the Stonechats they will find the current cold snap very challenging and it will be interesting to see how or if they come through. It will be worth checking out the area around and beyond the feeders all the way into the Roman Road as there have now been three separate sightings of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in this area, an increasingly rare bird that is well worth seeing.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th January

Whitefronts with Greylags (c) Badger

Goldcrest (c) Mike Kosniowski

Green Woodpecker (c) Mike Kosniowski

Ringtailed Harrier (c) Mike Kosniowski

Male Harrier (c) Terry Sherlock

Still very wet (c) Bark

Male Harrier (c) Bark

The moor had the very best of its winter birding on display this weekend. At different times on both days: Bittern, two different Hen Harriers (male and female), Merlin, Bearded Tits and Peregrine were all seen. As a bonus there were eleven Whitefronted Geese hanging out with the Greylag flock, but I believe that they left late on Sunday morning. They could be seen well on Sunday feeding and dozing out in the middle of Greenaways. All of these birds could be seen between regular swirling flocks totalling at least two thousand Lapwings and fifteen hundred Golden plover. These birds that were loafing out on the northern side of Greenaways were very flighty and flushed at the slightest hint of a raptor. In the same area were significant numbers of wildfowl. We counted sixty Pintail and and similar number of Shoveler. The Wigeon and Teal were very difficult to estimate but seemed much more numerous than at any time this winter. There were also three or four hundred Teal out in the middle of the Reedbed. Ninety Gadwall and fifty Tufted Ducks were on the northern lagoon in front of the second screen.
Bird of the weekend must be the male Hen Harrier that has been with us for a couple of weeks. It gave superb views on Sunday as it hunted over Ashgrave and the Closes before being hustled off by a Crow.
Bullfinches and Reed Buntings were in most hedgerows and the corner of the track turning towards the second screen was good for Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs.
There are still,several of the commoner species that have yet to make it onto the yearlist including Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Treecreeper. So there is lots to look for and at this time of year masses to enjoy.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

2012 and into 2013

Female Goldeneye (c) Badger

Bittern from the first screen (c) Pat Galka

 Hare (c) Paul Greenaway

Some of the Otmoor Massive before Christmas (c) Bark

Just as over the last few weeks, extremes of weather have dominated the habitat and thus what we have seen on the moor this year. We started with extreme cold, which then became extreme drought and then in April it started to rain and seems not to have stopped since. The pattern of the birdlife has reflected these changes.
During the first winter period Short Eared Owls were seen frequently and in in good numbers. This must have been due to the excellent dry breeding conditions for field voles. During this winter period however we have only seen one and that was in transit. The extreme cold last winter before New Year meant that no Stonechats overwintered and none were seen in the spring, the milder weather this winter has encouraged at least six individuals to stay around. Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers are much higher this year than last and that must be to do with wetter and more helpful feeding conditions. There are also many more winter wildfowl present this year. Last winter they arrived, but when it froze hard in December they left and only smaller numbers returned with the thaw.
The spring wader passage failed to materialise in any very significant way, the best birds were a group of Little Stints on one of the new scrapes. We had very large numbers of passage Wheatears this spring, they arrived early and then were held up by contrary winds, there were a couple of Ring Ouzels around at the same time. Wader breeding was successful but not significantly higher than last year. Cuckoos bred as did Turtle Doves, we think probably three pairs were present and juveniles were seen. The Turtle Doves seemed to depart earlier than in previous years and with their status in this country being so tenuous they are probably our most vulnerable species. Hobbies were present throughout the summer and early autumn. All warblers did reasonably well except for Cettis. We had a singing bird in the early spring but it disappeared and since then there has only been one record of a bird calling on a single occasion, they are certainly a species that we would like to get back down on the moor.
Bittern and Bearded Tits turned up this autumn. The Bittern arrived early in the autumn and may have been an individual dispersing from the successful breeders in the Somerset levels. The Bearded Tits were still on the reedbed late in December and the Bittern put on an appearance on January 1st.
The Starling roost, which seemed to peak in late December, now seems to have declined almost entirely. The Starlings and latterly the large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plovers, have encouraged raptors to haunt the moor with increasing regularity. There are currently three different Hen Harriers hunting over the moor, two regular Peregrines and several Sparrowhawks. Merlin has been seen occasionally but not regularly.
Last weekend and today the birding has been excellent. It has been characterised by restless wheeling flocks of Golden Plovers and Lapwings, today set against stunning bright blue skies. We have seen the Harriers, the Bittern flew across in front of the first screen looking magnificent in the sunshine and Ravens have been seen on all recent visits. Wildfowl are hunkered down on Big Otmoor and it is not until the birds flush that you can see just how many there are are out there. Amongst them this morning were at least one pair of Pintail. Last Sunday there was a a female Goldeneye in front of the second screen, which is a very unusual bird for Otmoor. The yearlist after a mornings birding stands at fifty nine species.
Thanks to all members of the “Otmoor Massive”(you know who you are), excellent company, stimulating banter and many laughs. Thanks also to those photographers who generously send me their pictures for the blog they are very much appreciated. Finally thanks to David Wilding and his superb team, who have created and maintain a wonderful reserve for all of us.
One hundred and fifty two species for the year was a good total and gives us an excellent target for 2013. Speculation about our next “new bird” was rife this weekend and we rather fancy an interesting heron like a Squacco or perhaps a Little Bittern from Ham Wall, the chances are that it will be nothing that we have thought of at all, but I am sure,with it finally looking like a proper wetland, there will be something exciting.