Monday, 16 February 2015

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th February

Valentines Day Swans (c) Bark
It was grey, moist and a bit foggy both days this weekend. On Saturday however, because of the nature of the mist it was extremely atmospheric and beautiful. The mist came and went in shifting veils, lit through sometimes  by a hazy sun, which appeared and disappeared all morning.  At times it felt as though one was walking through a watercolour painting. On Sunday the greyness was more uniform and made birding difficult and photography almost impossible.
Magical misty light (c) Bark
Earlier on Saturday morning during one of my occasional spots on Radio Oxford I had said that St. Valentines Day was mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer as the day that the birds found their mate for the year. On Saturday morning they certainly looked to be out to prove the old folklore true. Two pairs of Mute swans were going through their courtship rituals on the first scrape on Greenaways.
Necking Swans
It was beautiful to see their synchronised head movements and mutual preening, coming and going in the still grey water against a diffuse misty background. In the carpark field two Songthrushes were getting their vocal chords going, Chaffinches sang from the hedgerow, Great Spotted Woodpeckers drummed in the Roman Road and a Greenfinch slurred out its song near the feeders.
While we still have large numbers of visiting Lapwings on the reserve one or two of the, presumably resident, birds were starting to swoop and call over chosen territories.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) JR
Large numbers of Golden Plover are still with us. One flock of over a thousand flushed up from Greenaways as one of the two Marsh Harriers, which were seen this weekend, passed over. The Marsh Harriers are easily told apart, one has a lot of creamy marking on its head, the other almost none. Peregrines were again noticeable often perching in their favourite tree to the west of the visitor trail.
Bearded Tits were heard but not to my knowledge seen this weekend .I heard them pinging in the southern half of the reedbed fifty metres or so past the turning to the second screen on Saturday morning. There are certainly two calling Cetti’s Warblers in the reedbed one at the northern end the other near to the first screen, where one was also seen on Saturday. Two Black- tailed Godwits were found on Big Otmoor during last week and were a new addition to the year list, as was a Chiffchaff seen by the second screen. The White fronted geese are still with us as is the Ross’s goose which for all its dubious provenance is still a very attractive bird.
Ross's Goose out in front (c) JR
Damp Hare (c) JR
It is not just the birds that are responding to the oncoming spring. Frogs are croaking from the ditches, two Brown Hares behaved as though it was next month already, leaping and boxing on the bund between the reedbeds and a weasel did its strange sinuous “weasely” dance close to the second screen.
Weasel second screen (c) JR
As is usual on my Radio Oxford chat, the interviewer asked me at the end what I hoped to see this weekend. I replied that I wasn’t looking to see anything particular this weekend but I would really like to hear a Bittern booming and a Bittern booming is what I heard on Sunday morning. I heard three loud deep booms from the south western quadrant of the northern reedbed. I was on my own and had just begun to doubt myself a bit, when I was joined by Mark Chivers and then the bird boomed again twice and I could be sure that I hadn’t imagined it. It sounded like strong full bodied boom unlike one of our previous boomers that really only grunted.

Next time I’m on the radio I’m going to wish for a Penduline Tit. Who knows it could happen…….
Wigeon (c) JR

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