Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Cranes on Otmoor

Flying Cranes(c) JR

Anyone who regularly looks at the Oxon Birding site or at Otmoor Birding might well have wondered at the abrupt halt in reports of cranes on Otmoor. You may even have reported them to Going Birding and wondered why the report wasn’t mentioned. The reason for the information embargo ended sadly with a tragedy, but that individual failure conceals much broader and significant successes.

On Saturday 18th April two Common Cranes were seen circling Big Otmoor, they were still present on Sunday morning and were clearly un-ringed. On Wednesday 22ndApril a different two were found. Unlike the others they were seen to be carrying colour rings from the Cranere-introduction project on the Somerset Levels and Moors. 

They were spending time feeding out on quiet adjacent fields both on and off the reserve. Just to add a little more confusion three different Cranes from the Somerset Levels and Moors project were seen flying in to the Bicester Wetland Reserve, beforemoving on later the same day. So in the space of just a week we had had seven different Cranes in the county.

Ringed Cranes courtesy of  Geoff Wyatt
RSPB staff had been liaising with the Crane Project and we now knew that “our” birds were indeed a pair, the male known as “Wycliffe” the female as “Maple Glory". Their names were chosen by local primary school children as part of an engagement project; these children are now connected to 'their cranes' and will be incredibly excited that 'their' birds made a breeding attempt this year. Cranes form dedicated pairs and stay together all the time, except when incubating. At such a time the birds take it in turns to feed and to incubate. As soon as we started to see single birds feeding out on the fields or flying in and out of an area of the moor, our hopes were raised that they might actually be attempting to nest, despite being very young and inexperienced. We noted that one bird would fly in and then the other individual would fly out. At this time it was decided to minimise the information going out about them.

All was well for the next three weeks until the morning of Friday 12th June. The volunteers, who were watching the birds saw one fly in as usual and expected the other to fly out. Instead there was some commotion, some bugling and both birds flew up and off towards the east. RSPB staff talked to the Crane experts who said that if they didn’t return within two hours they would not return. This proved to be the case and so the RSPB staff went out to the location that the birds had been frequenting and found the nest. Sadly they also found a single egg that had been predated the culprit remains unknown although it is suspected to be a day time predator. The egg seems to have been close to hatching; there was sticky down on the inside of the shell.

Nest and egg pictures(c) Fergus Mosey
Thus the first attempt by Common Crane to breed in Oxfordshire for perhaps six hundred years* ended in failure. However I believe there are many positives to be drawn from this and they should not be underestimated. We now know that the site, despite its regular visitors, is quiet enough and large enough for these secretive birds to feel confident enough to make a breeding attempt. We know that they were finding enough food in the countryside and on the reserve and the habitat suited them. Although the birds had been hand reared they behaved just as naturally and warily as truly wild birds. Local farmers and landowners were thrilled to have such special birds on the land and took pride in them. The value of the habitat restoration and recreation undertaken by the hard work of RSPB staff and volunteers is highlighted when such rare and beautiful birds adopt it. Of course this is not in any way to minimise the value of the habitat for all of the other wildlife that is found here.

The Cranes may now remain locally and moult, during this time they will be vulnerable to predators but will be able to take advantage of the huge numbers of invertebrates that can be found in the grassland, especially grasshoppers. We can only wait now to see if they return and make another attempt to breed next year. They will of course be older, wiser and more mature by then.

*The Birds of Oxfordshire states:

Cranes were resident in Britain in ancient times, and Wilson (1987) reports bones of this species found in Oxfordshire dating back to Mesolithic, Romano British, Saxon, Medieval and post-Medieval times. Since then it has occurred very rarely.”
Cranes on Ashgrave (c) JR

1 comment:

  1. Also, the chicks can really gulp those predatory (don't they have teeth?) pike entirely without being harmed? Aren't the pike resisting/fighting all the way as well?!