Monday, 18 February 2013

Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th February

Displaying Lapwings (c) Bark

Ringtail with missing primaries (c) Bark
Whitefronts on Big Otmoor (c) Bark

and earlier in the mist (c) Terry Sherlock

Despite misty starts both mornings it was possible to believe this weekend that winter is relaxing its grip and spring is not so far away.
The birds sense the difference too and there were Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Skylarks and Great Tits singing. Even more noticeable were the lapwings that have started calling, courting and displaying. Whether these are birds getting early pairing practice or breeding residents it is impossible to say, nonetheless it is very encouraging to see and enjoy. There is a slight flush now in the hedgerows and Bullfinches have started feeding on blackthorn buds in the car park field.
There are substantial numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers scattered over the main fields, when they flush it is possible to spot ten or so Dunlin flying with them. Amongst the birds causing them to flush were a male and ring-tailed Hen Harriers. The ringtail is missing at least one of its primaries from its left wing and is easily identifiable, it would be interesting to hear if there are any other ring-tailed birds present as there had been at least two in the earlier winter period. In addition a male Peregrine with an exceptionally white breast was hunting over big Otmoor on Saturday. There were also Sparrowhawks, a pair of Kestrels at Noke and several Common Buzzards and of course a procession of Red kites passing over the reserve. Barn Owls are hunting regularly over the reedbeds and have been seen frequently at both ends of the day.
Duck numbers remain high and included a party of fifteen Pintail flying together. There was also a single Shelduck on big Otmoor on Sunday.
The Bittern was not seen this weekend to the best of my knowledge, but was recorded on Friday morning from the first screen. With raised water levels on the southern reedbed it is likely that it can feed in deep cover.
There was a large congregation of Gulls loafing and feeding on the flooded fields at Noke. They were mostly Black headed Gulls but amongst them were twelve Lesser black backs, a Greater black back a Herring Gull and two Common Gulls. The latter being a new record for the year. The other addition to the yearlist was a Marsh Tit on the feeders, this brings us up to ninety species for the year.
We have seen very few different wader species so far this year and have yet to record even a Redshank. During the next couple of weeks we should have the Curlews arriving and after that other species will follow and with them the spring.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Saturday 9th February

The weekend epitomised in a picture (c) Bark

Visitors to the stock pens. All pics (c) Bark

Two pictures from earlier in the week when the sun shone (c) Terry Sherlock

Another great Barn owl shot (c) Andrew Marshall

Just one visit to the moor this weekend as the weather on Sunday was so dreadful. There is little worse than trying to keep optics and cameras dry, and if you wear glasses it is like looking at the world through a bathroom window. (not that I make a habit of looking through bathroom windows!!)
Saturday was only a little better than Sunday but we did manage to see a Barn Owl hunting in the car park Field as we arrived and there were a lot of wildfowl to be found. The three White-fronted Geese were still keeping company with the Greylag flock and seeming to commute between Ashgrave and the Flood Field. Duck numbers appear to be up again especially Teal and Wigeon. Now that the surrounding land has drained the birds are concentrated on and around the waterbodies on the reserve. There were over fifty Pochard on the northern lagoon the largest number that I have seen this winter. A Great Crested Grebe was the first one seen on the reserve this year. A few more ducks are now appearing on the Ashgrave pools in front of the hide amongst them two drake Pintails, looking particularly smart in the gloom.
Hen Harrier and Bittern had been recorded during the week but failed to put in an appearance on Saturday. There has been a lot of work done on the southern reedbed it is now much more open and views extend much deeper into it. A lot more edge has been created, which gives better feeding opportunities to the Bitterns and the water level has been raised to encourage small fish deeper into the reedbed. Already there have been some good Water Rail sightings earlier in the week. It could well prove to be much more attractive to waders when the spring passage takes place.
Goldcrests and Tits were easy to see in the hedgerows on the bare branches and there seem to be good numbers of Reed Buntings present everywhere at the moment.
I spent some time watching the comings and goings around the cattle pens where we put out a fine seed feed and was pleased to find a female Brambling coming in with the Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Redpolls and Dunnocks. It is well worth standing by the gate quietly and letting the birds come to you, it is surprising how confiding they can be. It can give you something good to see even on a disappointing grey and rainy day.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Saturday and Sunday 2nd and 3rd February

Bittern over the reeds (c) Bark

Bewicks on Greenaways (c) Badger

Bewicks again (c) Badger

Barn Owl over the reedbed (c) Andrew Marshall

Long tailed Tit on reed in the snow (c) Andrew Marshall

Barn owl hunting (c) Andrew Marshall

 I have not been down to the moor for almost three weeks. A fortnight ago it was too snowy and last weekend I was in Gambia. There was a difference of thirty degrees centigrade between this Saturday and the previous one, but it proved to be a very enjoyable and exciting morning despite the cold and the biting wind.
Very little seems to have changed on the reserve since my last visit water levels are still high and the surrounding fields still mostly flooded, especially the MOD land.
A ring tailed Hen Harrier is still present and was seen well on both days of the weekend, it seems to hunt over the whole moor and has a circular route that it appears to follow. It was very noticeable just how many Teal and Wigeon were hunkered down on Big Otmoor and only visible when flushed by the harrier. There are also significant numbers of Teal on the reedbed, again only really apparent when disturbed by potential predators. There were also twelve Pochard on the northern lagoon, an increase on earlier this winter. There are still what looks to be a family group of White-fronted geese keeping company with the Greylag flock. There are two well marked adults and another that has a very small blaze suggesting juvenile.
Star of the reedbed on Saturday was the Bittern or Bitterns. Bittern appeared at least seven times on Saturday flying from side to side of the southern lagoon. It (or they) were very restless and gave excellent flight views and rather less good views as it hunted at the back of the right hand channel. Two different individuals had been seen simultaneously earlier in the week.
A Peregrine was sitting out on the far side of Greenaways an area that it seems to favour, having been spotted there frequently this winter. A party of Redpolls are usually to be seen around the feeders and the stock corral.
Undoubted birds of the weekend were the party of Bewicks Swans that appeared to fly off the MOD land over the hedge and on to Greenaways where they settled, preened and dozed until around for o'clock when they flew off strongly to the west. They are very attractive birds, neat and compact. It was very interesting to see the size difference when seen alongside a mute Swan that had taken a dim view of their presence. One of them was a juvenile the others fully adult. They are the first Bewicks we have recorded on the moor for several years and I hope its not too long before we see some again.
I have had a number of reports of a pair of Barn Owls that are being seen hunting over the reedbed and in the Carpark field at dusk, several owl pellets were in the second screen area on Saturday morning.
With conditions being as they are it should not be long before we start to see some more waders on the reserve, there is certainly enough mud!