Sunday, 3 January 2016

2015 The year on the Moor

Marsh Harrier (c) JR
This year has not really been one for amazing rare birds but much more about exceptional breeding successes. These include a first breeder in Oxfordshire for over two hundred years and another species’ first attempted breeding in over six hundred years! I am of course referring to the Marsh Harriers and to the Common Cranes that gave us huge excitement during the spring and early summer. Our breeding waders also had a very successful year with increased fledging and more breeding pairs recorded than last year. Snipe did exceptionally well with more drummers seen and heard than for many years. More Redshank pairs were recorded and the only downside was the reduction in the number of breeding Curlew that were found.
First Cranes (c) JR

"Our" Cranes (c) Roger Wyatt

The unusual weather this year has had a largely beneficial effect on the wildlife of the moor. As I write on the last day of December temperatures are still in double figures and we have not had any more than one or two light frosts. Small passerines are doing well and not yet struggling to survive. The large numbers of Wrens, Goldcrests and Tits buzzing around the hedgerows has been very noticeable this winter.
Starling Roost (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey
The annual Starling roost is larger this year than any of the previous years. The mild damp conditions mean that the surrounding land can support a larger population. By this time last year, the roost had collapsed and been abandoned, due in part to a brief freeze up on the reedbed, which made a reed stem a much riskier place to spend the night.
Food Pass (c) JR
As mentioned earlier the Marsh Harriers fledged two chicks this year. It was a confusing time with much speculation about whether or not they were a true pair or not. However, the sight of four birds together with the two rather dishevelled looking adults making food passes to two very active and vociferous juveniles, dispelled any doubts. Marsh Harriers have been ever present on the moor now for over eighteen months. Unfortunately, in contrast we have only had one or two records of Hen Harrier this year.

Young Hobbies (c) JR
This may be to do with the mild weather not having pushed them further south, but sadly is probably much more to do with their persecution at the hands of the grouse shooting fraternity. Peregrines have also been ever present. They take up temporary residence when Starlings, Lapwings and Golden Plover form their largest winter flocks. It is a sure sign that Peregrines are passing over when everything including large ducks flush from the fields and scrapes. Merlin have been present during both winter periods, but they have always been elusive and unpredictable. Hobbies as usual spent the spring and summer with us and entertained visitors with their high speed aerial skills, catching and eating dragonflies on the wing.
Cuckoo (c) JR

Cuckoo and Reed Warbler (c) Paul Thomas

Our other important summer visitors had mixed fortunes. Cuckoos appear to have done well when judged by the number of adults calling and displaying in the spring and by the number of juveniles seen in the hedgerows during the summer. Turtle Doves are of much greater concern. The most seen were three early on in May but there was really only one bird purring away in its regular spots. Unlike last year we failed to find any juveniles at all. May this year will see us wondering anxiously if they will return.
Turtle Dove (c) JR
We have had visits from some scarcer birds. A Wryneck in the late summer was a particular pleasure as it has been a bogy bird in Oxfordshire for me. A Great Grey Shrike and a Red Backed Shrike were both seen in July’s Meadow during the autumn and early winter. A Black Tern in the spring was a pleasure as was a brief visit from a Spoonbill.
Black Tern (c) JR
Bittern (c) JR
Disappointments this year are mostly to do with birds that we had hoped would breed but in the event didn’t. Bitterns have been ever present all year and we are certain that sometimes there have been three different individuals. Careful examination of photographs suggests that the Bitterns seen most frequently this summer were first year birds. The other disappointment was the disappearance of the two or three bearded Tits that were in the small reed bed near the Noke farm. They were still present in March and we hoped that they would stay and breed. Sadly, this autumn we have not had any new birds arriving.
Great white Egret (c) Badger
Once again thanks are due for the fantastic work done by both the RSPB staff and the huge team of volunteers. I would also like to thank the great group of friends who I meet and walk round with every weekend, super birders, excellent company and great conversation. I would like to say a very special thankyou to the brilliant photographers who generously send me their photographs to enhance and illuminate my blog.
Some of the "Otmoor Massive"
There is a lot to look forward to in 2016. Will Bittern return to the list of breeding birds for Oxfordshire? Will Bearded Tits reappear unexpectedly and breed again as they did in 2013? Will “our” Common cranes return and make another breeding attempt? What rarities will turn up out of the blue to delight us all? I look forward to being able to report what happens even though there may be a few weeks when I can’t get down to the moor.
Happy New Year to everyone. Bark

1 comment:

  1. Dear Otmoor Birding

    Just a quick note to say how much I have enjoyed reading your blog (apologies - I don't the name of the person that produces the posts). I was introduced to Otmoor by Derek Lane, who I'm sure you know as I see his photos on your blog (Hi Delboy !). Two quick things - can you give me details of how to send you photos from my visits in the future ? Also - I would like to give you sight of a book that I have produced, covering a year of 'garden leave' spent mainly taking up wildlife photography. The book includes a section towards the end specifically on Otmoor and some of my visits there - meeting I'm sure, some of your 'team' - all of which were welcoming and friendly. This is the link to the PDF of the book :
    I hope this works ! Thanks once again to you and also the RSPB for the great work you do at Otmoor ! Happy New Year from Andy Harris