Monday, 21 November 2016

November 19th and 20th

Fieldfare (c) Tom Nicholson-lailey
Bark is away this week and has asked me and Steve to step in once again to do a write up on the weekends birding on Otmoor. I informed my lovely wife that I’d been asked to do the write up so would have to go to the moor on both days. After having me at home with man flu for the last couple of weeks I think she was relieved to hear that I would be off the sofa and not under her feet any longer.
We didn’t make it down for first light like some of the early birders that visit the moor, but arrived at a much more sensible time of around 8am. This made perfect sense to me as I’d had some friend over the night before and enjoyed a few cold ones. It was a cold frosty start to the day and the sun was shining so the light was good, and the leaves and berries seemed to glow on the trees and bushes. Straight away we picked up Bullfinches, Goldfinches and Goldcrests around the car park area, along with good views of Fieldfare and Redwing flitting about in the nearby bushes up the lane. There are lots more Fieldfare and Redwing on the reserve this weekend jumping out of the bushes as we walked along, chuckling and sipping as they moved along the hedgerow helping themselves to the bumper crop of berries. 

Bittern (c) John Reynolds

From the bridleway we scanned over Greenaways for raptors but nothing much was stirring. As we panned around Steve spotted a Bittern and we saw a darkish looking individual fly along and land in the reed-bed in the middle of Greenaways. I’ve always thought it’s a good days birding if you see a Bittern on Otmoor. Years ago we would dream about the day we would see Bittern on Otmoor, and now I see one almost every time I visit. Further scanning from the bridleway produced the four White Fronted Geese that were not too far out, however they took a bit of finding as they can soon drop behind a rise and be out of sight. A Cetti’s warbler let us know it was still around half way along the bridleway which is always nice to hear, as in the past after a cold winter I didn’t hear one on the reserve for a whole year.  

Reed Bunting (c) John Reynolds

The mixed flock feeding on the seeds along the footpath by the Wetlands Watch hide are slowly building up, and hopefully there will be Bramblings joining them again this winter. Wigeon and Teal could be seen on the water on Ashgrave and hopefully the numbers will build up once we have some decent rainfall to top up the reserve. Loose flocks of a few hundred Lapwing drifted around the reserve in different areas and one lone Golden Plover joined them and called loudly as it flew overhead. A Green Woodpecker hopped up the track towards the first screen with its bright red head standing out against its green back. As most of the action tends to be around the reed-bed at the moment we headed up there and and not long after we got to the first screen Steve spotted another Bittern flying over the reeds. 

Everyone enjoyed great view as it circled around and flew directly towards us before heading over towards the second screen. Two Bitterns were seen at the same time from the second screen on Saturday and Sunday and this is becoming a popular place for the visiting photographers to sit in wait for a picture. From the first screen a Water Rail dashed out of the reeds on the left of the centre channel and stopped at the water’s edge, turned around and ran back into the reed-bed. Then it plucked up the courage to have another go and ran back to the water’s edge before flying over to the reeds opposite. Soon after it was seen creeping through the edge of the reeds past the sleeping Common Snipe. There were only a handful of Common Snipe on Saturday but over twenty opposite the screen on Sunday, unfortunately none of them were Jack Snipe. A pair of Shoveler were facing each other in the water outside the first screen with their heads side by side in the water as they swam around in circles with their heads in the middle, feeding on whatever they could find, which was something I’ve never seen them do before. 

Lapwings (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey

The weather worsened throughout the morning and the grey clouds rolled in and sat over the moor and didn’t move, even though we could see blue sky in the distance in all directions. That also turned grey as the day progressed and with the low temperature and cool breeze it felt very wintry. 

A distant Short Eared Owl was seen flying in high from the north east and landed on Greenaways where it was mobbed by Crows. Possibly a new arrival, but it might just be one that’s been seen on the reserve over the last couple of weeks spreading its wings. A short eared Owl was seen later that afternoon hunting the car park field along with a Barn Owl. Otmoor is always great for raptors and male and female Marsh harriers were seen over Greenaways and Buzzards, Red Kites and Kestrels can be seen all over the reserve. One Kestrel put on a good show hovering close to the bridleway and we could easily see it's head locked in position as it hovered above the grass looking for its next meal.

Kestrel courtesy of Tom Nicholson Lailey

At the Starling roost the elusive Hen Harrier put in an appearance to help spook some of the 50 thousand Starlings that were pouring in for the night. Sparrowhawk and Peregrine also helped to stir things up.  

Three Winter Swans were seen flying over the reserve early on Saturday morning but although the yellow bills were seen it wasn’t clear if they were Whoopers or Bewick’s. There wasn’t any further sign of them on Saturday.

A look around the north of the moor on Sunday only produced a herd of 12 Mute Swans. Sunday was a dull and grey day and as such visitor numbers were down. This didn’t stop the birds from showing themselves and as I scoped the reed-bed from the bridleway I immediately picked up a Bittern flying over the reeds and dropping in left of the diagonal track. Another good day on the moor I thought to myself. One visitor I met on Sunday was very pleased to have seen his first ever view of a Bittern. In fact he saw two of them fly out of the reeds from the second screen. 

Peregrine Falcon (c) Badger

The Peregrine was seen on Sunday sitting on a post in Greenaways and later on flying over Noke sides towards the African trees. These are the ones that Bark thinks should be in a French painting, but me and Steve think they look like they should be on the African plain and have always called them the African trees. 
As Bark has been to Africa many times he knows better than we do what the trees look like there, but we’ll continue to call them the African trees when we are shouting out directions for a passing birds which will probably confuse everyone else. Even though most of the time the weather was dull on the weekend the brightly coloured Stonechats around Noke farm and on Greenaways, and the Kingfisher seen from the second screen added a splash of colour, and the quality of the birds seen always make a trip to the moor worthwhile.

Someone was lucky enough to see two Otters from the second screen on the weekend which is always a highlight of any visit. Hopefully we’ll get to see them again soon, who knows, maybe we’ll be the lucky ones next weekend!

Pete and Steve

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