Monday, 15 February 2016

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th February

Male Sprawk (c) JR
The folk origins of Valentine’s Day arose through the belief that it was on this day in February that wildlife, especially the birds, chose their mates for the year. Although we know that this is just an old wives’ tale there was much more evidence that courtship and display was getting going. The cold grey sleet and strong winds of Saturday gave way to sunshine and a chilly start on Sunday and it was on Sunday, St Valentine’s Day itself, that this “choosing” was most evident.
Valentines Swans (c) Bark
As I arrived a Song Thrush was singing lustily from the blackthorn in the carpark field and where I heard just one Chaffinch singing last weekend, on this Sunday I heard at least ten, spread out across the reserve. Skylarks were performing aerial displays above Greenaways and chasing each other across the sky. Great Tits and Dunnocks were also starting to sing more noticeably. Over the reedbed the resident pair of Marsh Harriers were reinforcing their pair bond flying together and simulating a food pass almost locking talons.
The skies were again dominated by huge numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers. My impression was of more Goldies than Lapwings but the birds were so spread out and flushed so often that it is very difficult to estimate accurate numbers. As the morning drew on they gradually became less nervous and flighty and flushed less frequently. They have been feeding on the Noke sides Fields and while there it is possible to go through them carefully and look for an American cousin. Sadly, none was found on Sunday but with such large numbers of birds it is quite possible that there might be an odd one, after all it happened twice on Port Meadow!
Another sign of the advancing season was the first returning Redshank found on Thursday morning, as we move towards March so their numbers will increase and we can also expect the first Curlew to arrive any time soon.

Sparrowhawks (c) Norman Smith

Although much reduced from its earlier numbers the Starling roost is still impressive and one of the reasons why we still attract lots of raptors to the reserve. It is easy to find the “walking wounded” feeding on the grassy edges and adjacent hedgerows during the day time. Unable to fly properly they scuttle off into the longer grasses and bushes as you come across them. It is inevitable that there will be casualties and ailing individuals and they offer an easy meal to both avian and mammalian predators alike.
As I have reported before, the winter seed feeding beside and to the south of the hide is proving again to be a great success. It provides food at a critical time for birds that rely on small seeds and weedy field margins, which are a fast disappearing resource. There is a “hungry gap” for seed eaters that extends into spring before the first weeds set seed and also those winter months when finding food is more difficult. We are now attracting over two hundred Linnets, well over a hundred and fifty Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and this week twelve Yellowhammers, a bird that has been much scarcer on Otmoor since there has been a decline in arable farming in the area. It has also attracted Mallards, Wood Pigeons, Moorhens, five Stock Doves, assorted Rooks and Jackdaws and of course a pair of Sparrowhawks. So much available food will as everywhere else inevitably attract raptors. The male Sparrowhawk will often pause for a while right next to the hide on the fence, as it did on Saturday, offering superb views.

Taking advantage of the seeds (c) Bark

Out on Greenaways there are at least two pairs of Stonechats and another pair were found over on the Oddington side on Sunday. Bitterns are being seen regularly but as yet not a single boom has been heard. Over the next week we will be listening out for it and also for the first returning curlews.
Chilly Robin 9c) Bark

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