Monday, 28 November 2016

November 26th and 27th

Probable Whoopers (c) Pete Roby

Last week I mentioned that we needed some rain to bring the moor back to life, and we certainly had some this week! As such the lifeblood of the moor is once again filling the ditches and scrapes, and the moor is starting to look like a wetland again. It’s surprising how the water changes the look of the place so much. We still need a lot more to really bring the birds in, however I’m sure we’ll get our share over the next few weeks and the number of wildfowl and waders will start to increase. This is already apparent outside the Wetlands Watch hide as now over 150 Teal, Wigeon and Mallard are feeding and preening close by. The mixed flock of finches, buntings and tits on the opposite side of the hide is increasing in numbers and a lovely male Yellowhammer has joined the flock. It was easy to pick it out each time the birds flew up to the bushes and wires along the track when an alarm call sounded. A lone Snipe was hunkered down in the marshy corner of the Closes but even though we had a good scan of the area we drew a blank for any Jack Snipe.

Winter wildfowl continue to arrive including Teal left and Wigeon (c) P.R

Winter Swans were once again on the list this weekend but unfortunately we couldn’t say for certain if they were Bewick’s or Whoopers, even though they flew over our heads! We didn’t see them until they were right on top of us, and they continued to fly directly away from us in an easterly direction without stopping. If we’d only looked the other way moments before, we could have clinched the identification. How many times have we all thought that over the years, as other birds have eluded us! If only I’d been here five minutes earlier, or if only I’d been looking behind me. 

There are lots of ifs and buts when you’re out birding but you can’t always see everything. That’s why it’s good to have another pair of eyes with you. Some days I pick out a lot of birds and other days Steve is on form and picks up everything. With all the regulars and volunteers on Otmoor there is always someone to help point things out. After saying that, none of us could say what the Swans were, but the general consensus was that they were most probably Whoopers, even though Bewick’s would have been a year tick on the moor. With a confirmed sighting of a Whooper and two other sighting of winter Swans in the last few weeks I hope some will soon stick around and maybe join the herd of 20 Mute Swans seen around the western edge of the moor on the weekend.  They aren’t annual birds on the moor but always brighten up a winter day’s birding. Good to see the birds fly past but very frustrating at the same time!

Male Pintail and Wigeon in front of the second screen (c) Pete Roby

It was nice to see a splendid male Pintail in amongst the wildfowl from the second screen. I always think they look classy with their heads held high and the white line down their necks standing out. Always great to see and they should increase in numbers over the next few weeks. There were over 20 Gadwall swimming around in pairs and they look fairly drab at first glance but upon close inspection they are a really nicely marked bird. 

The Bittern had been seen flying into the reeds on the far side before we entered the second screen, and after about 15 minutes all the ducks swam quickly away from the reeds and slowly a Bittern poked its head out and crept along the edge feeding as it moved along. What a great bird, always a delight to see. At times it melted into the reeds as it moved slowly along and couldn’t be seen at all, but soon after it would appear again and continue its hunt for food. After watching it hunting for a while we decided to leave it in peace and head back to the first screen. This was partly due to the fact that we were starting to freeze as the cold easterly wind was being squeezed through the windows of the screen, and somehow concentrated into an arctic blast that could cut you in half. 

On Friday we found a flock of about 500 Golden Plover to the west of Otmoor and they could be seen flying high in the distance from the first screen. Small flocks could also be seen over the reserve on the weekend. Small parties of Snipe are often flying about, darting from one area to another in tight groups, often flushed by one of the raptors hunting over the moor. The male and female Marsh Harriers showed well over the reed bed and at times had a little interaction with a passing Buzzard to see it off. We were lucky enough to see the Hen Harrier both days flying along the hedge at the back of Greenaways. Brief views but good to know that one or more is still around. The Short-eared Owl was seen early on Friday morning and is probably still around even though it has stopped roosting out in the open in the bush near the car park. 

Feral Barnacle Goose, a welcome addition to the gaggle (c) Paul Greenaway

The Peregrine was seen well over the weekend and landed in the tall Peregrine tree to the east of the reserve. Yes, another tree we have named. From the bridleway near the cattle pens look north east and in the distance you’ll see a tall tree leaning to the left, on the left side of a row of trees. It’s a long way off but we’ve seen the Peregrine in that tree loads of times over the years and on Sunday I watched it fly over Greenaways and all the way into the tree where it sat for around an hour.
The hedges seem to have a red tinge to them as there are so many berries left on them and a lot of the leaves have now fallen. The Fieldfare and Redwing are mopping them up and we found a mixed flock of around three hundred birds on Friday helping themselves to the bumper crop. Also in the bushes are mixed tit flocks dancing along and Bullfinches apparent from their piping calls and white rumps disappearing in the distance. The ditches and reed beds held calling Water Rails and Cetti’s Warblers but unfortunately no view of the Otter for me this week. Three Stonechat on Greenaways were seen perching up at the top of the stems and a Dunlin was seen in with one of the Lapwing flocks flying overhead. The White-fronted Geese are back from their day out to Port Meadow and all the Geese looked great as around four hundred Canada's and Greylag's flew low over the Wetlands Watch hide from the Closes to Ashgrave.

The most unusual record this week was a Ring Necked Parakeet in the Starling roost on Friday evening. I’m not sure why that was in the roost but would have liked to see it on the moor as I’ve never seen one there before. Well, there’s always next weekend!

Pete and Steve Roby

A different Ring-necked Parakeet. 

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