Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Saturday, Sunday and Monday 5th - 7th December

Songthrush from 1st Screen (c) JR
Saturday and Sunday mornings were very similar although Sunday was brighter. Monday afternoon was in stark contrast with sharp broken sunshine and an almost complete absence of wind. On both morning visits the sky at dawn appeared bruised and battered with clouds reflecting purple, metallic grey and yellowish hues. The wind was very strong and birds could only easily be seen out on the margins of the lagoons or in the lee of the hedges.
Along the path to the first screen there is a very confiding pair of Stonechats that allow very close views. There are also at least two injured starlings that seem to be surviving without being able to get off the ground, with watchful herons and active weasels about I doubt that they will last long. With the massive numbers currently coming in to roost it is not surprising that there are occasional casualties.
Marsh Harrier (c) Derek Lane
There is now an obvious pair of Marsh Harriers apparently holding territory over the reedbed. They may well be last summer’s successful breeders. They are often being seen flying side by side just above the reeds without any signs of aggression or rivalry. Peregrines are again using the oaks across Noke Sides as lookout posts and below them there are feeding flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing. The volunteer work party have cut a superb “window” in the hedge by Noke sides and it is now possible to scan the field whilst staying sheltered and a little bit hidden. On Saturday morning there were over thirty Pied wagtails feeding just out from the hedge along the new ditch that goes across the field from east to west.
Wren (c) Derek Lane
We were also very lucky, whilst standing in the second screen, to have the Kestrel that seems to adopted that area, come and perch for thirty seconds on the roof above our heads. I have seldom had such a wonderful close view of a truly wild raptor. A slight movement from one of us and it was gone in a flash.
If spending some time at the hide it is well worth scanning the muddy edges around the near pools. What appears to be a rutted puddled edge with clumps and tufts of dead sedge was hiding over twenty five Snipe on Sunday morning. Their plumage is perfect camouflage for such an area when they hunker down low to stay out of the wind.

Starlings leaving the roost at dawn on Saturday (c) JR
I went down on Monday afternoon to take a group of friends out to see the Starling roost. For the first time in what seems ages it was calm and sunny. There was an anxious start to the event as on the previous two occasions I had been down the birds were arriving by three in the afternoon, but by half past there had been just a few small flocks. I was worried that I had led all those people down there for a non event. Fortunately all that had happened was that because the evening was so light they had delayed their return to the roost. We were lucky enough to witness one of the best displays that I had seen for years with an estimated one hundred and twenty thousand coming in in huge flocks. There was a dramatic precursor to landing as groups from different directions swirled into each other and coalesced into parabolas and arabesque swirls. Flocks came in from much greater heights rather than hugging the hedgerows as I had seen them do on previous visits. the sound of the wind through their wings as they dived down was extraordinary. They made several very low passes over the area in which we stood that drew gasps of amazement from the watchers.

Sunday night roost (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
In conversation three birders told me that they had seen a Corn Bunting up by the second screen, this is the second report of this scarce species for Otmoor and it represents the one hundred and fifty first species for the year.
Reed Bunting (c) Derek Lane

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