Monday, 27 July 2015

Weekend Round up and the return of Marsh Harrier as a breeding species.

Juvenile Harrier (c) Mark Chivers
An unseasonably cool weekend and  after a dry start a very wet one. However it did little to dampen our enthusiasm, as over the course of the last week it has become increasingly clear that Marsh Harriers have bred this year on Otmoor. This is the first  recorded breeding in Oxfordshire since the early nineteenth century. The Birds of Oxfordshire ( Brucker ,Gosler and Heryet) says in the species account, quoting Aplin (1889)..... “In Dr. Lambs time (1814) it was the most common hawk in the marshes around Newbury and it may have bred in those days around Otmoor

Courtship. The male is the smaller bird (c) JR
I have frequently referred over the last few months to the pair of female Marsh Harriers that were going through a deal of nest building and half hearted courtship displays. It was widely assumed that these were a pair of females producing a practice nest. This is a behaviour often seen in raptors. Last Sunday instead of the familiar two birds there were three and then by Tuesday there were four. The two new birds were not chased away by the resident pair but were seen to interact with them. The “new “ birds were uniformly coloured with pale yellow caps and chins, in fact classic juvenile freshly fledged plumage.
It still seemed puzzling as to how this had all come about. I collected together a series of images that had been taken on the moor over the past several months and sent them off to our esteemed County bird recorder. Ian Lewington’s huge experience and forensic eye identified the smaller of the two birds as a second calendar year male that was in a retarded juvenile plumage. He was able to trace the bird back to early in the year identifying it through slight nicks and damage to certain of its primaries.
Male showing signs of moult (c) JR
The most recent pictures of this individual show it is now going into a rapid moult into more conventional adult male plumage. This will happen very quickly now that the chicks are fledged. Both yesterday and today we were able to observe the youngsters loafing about in the low bushes together and then taking to the air as soon as one or other parent appeared.

Food pass (c) JR
We were lucky enough to see several food passes and photographs of these as well as the adults and young can be seen on my Otmoor Birding Blog. Yet again it is an example of how if the right habitat is provided wild life will find it and fill it. It is a credit to the reserve staff and volunteers that this has happened.
Bittern seen regularly this weekend
Bittern or Bitterns were seen at least seven times from the northern screen on Saturday and seen again on Sunday before the rain drove us off. The bird or birds are following a fairly predictable track out into a bushy area in the middle of the reeds and returning to the ditches around the edge presumably to feed. The Common Cranes are still being seen flying out on the northern side of Greenaways but the grass is so long and the terrain so uneven that they disappear as soon as they land.
Reed Bunting as an antidote to raptors (c) JR
Common Sandpiper on the Tern Raft (c) John Edwards
Elsewhere we had a Common Sandpiper on Thursday  which was a welcome addition to the yearlist. On Sundayy morning there was a Green Sandpiper and a Greenshank feeding in one of the Greenaways scrapes probably the same bird recorded on Saturday on Big Otmoor.oA Wheatear seen on Thursdayowas an early autumn record and the Starling roost although modest by mid winter standards ( currently 2000 ish) is attracting its share of raptors including a large female Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine on Thursday.

It is a great time to be involved with Otmoor and to realise just how far it has come in the last fifteen or sixteen years.
(c) JR


  1. Fantastic news! I had a feeling this would be the outcome all along, if only I had put money on it...