Tuesday, 13 December 2016

10th and11th December

Bittern (c) Tezzer
This weekend, which includes my visit to see the Starling roost on Friday evening, I was lucky enough to see all eight species of raptor that Otmoor currently holds. On Friday we identified three different Marsh Harriers it seems our regular pair have been joined by another female. The Hen Harrier was also seen cruising just above the hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways. On Sunday morning a female Merlin landed briefly in that same hedge. A pair of Peregrines were also recorded on all three days. There are a couple of very white fronted Buzzards on the moor at present and they can be rather confusing, we have tried several times to turn them into Rough-legs but it just doesn’t work, they are unfortunately just Common Buzzards! A Sparrow Hawk has started to target the finches feeding along the track by the hide, just as one did last year. Red Kites and Kestrels are ubiquitous the Kites seeming much more numerous of late.
Juv male Peregrine (c) Derek Latham
Bitterns were present on all days but showed particularly well on Sunday morning. There are certainly two, we saw them virtually simultaneously, but judging by the areas from which they flew, three seems much more likely. One bird seems to favour the channel on the right close to the first screen flying in and out of that area twice.
(c) Tezzer
The most dramatic change on the moor this week was the massive increase in numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers. There have been some flocks Lapwings but many fewer Goldies. Both species appear to have arrived in large numbers during the past week. The presence of the aforementioned Peregrines has made it much easier to gauge just how many there are now. A Peregrine passing over the field is guaranteed to flush everything. When they flew we estimated at least a thousand Lapwings and perhaps eight hundred Golden Plover on Sunday morning. In the sunshine they sparkled as they flew, giving the characteristic alternate flashes of black and white that gives them their name.
The finch flock beside the Hide is growing steadily.

Finches from the hide(c) JR
It is still predominantly made up of Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and Linnets. Linnets have increased noticeably although they have yet to reach the numbers that we experienced last winter. A couple of Yellowhammers were seen during the last week and as food becomes less readily available in the countryside at large we hope that we will attract more of them, perhaps with some Bramblings and some Redpolls. The regular seed feeding in this area will now continue through the next four months.

Fieldfare (c) Bark

There are substantial numbers of Canada and Grey-lag Geese out on Big Otmoor and on Ashgrave. Amongst them it is possible to pick out the four White-fronted Geese, a Barnacle Goose and the Ross’s Goose plus his progeny. The Barnacle Goose has become very attached to a Canada Goose and the pair of them flew right over our heads on Sunday. All the while the Barnacle was giving its delicate little quacking flight call. The geese are spending a lot of time out on the furthest edges of Ashgrave and it is difficult to see quite what is out there without a scope.

Starling roost (c) Tom N-L

The Starling roost is once again providing some spectacular viewing even if it is not quite on the scale of the one seen in Rome in the final episode of the Living Planet! The birds do not always perform a shapeshifting routine but nonetheless are an astonishing natural phenomenon, just for sheer numbers alone. They are starting to beat down some of the reeds in the southern lagoon and it was interesting for me to see that as they come in, they go down to the water’s edge and drink and even bathe before settling. As before my advice is to car share whenever possible and avoid weekends, also get there well before dark. I have occasionally met people going down to the roost as I have been on my way back to the carpark after it has finished.

Anyone around the first screen should keep their eyes open for a very small warbler. It was seen by several people on Friday evening in a bush to the right of the screen. It was only on view for the briefest time. The only thing that we who saw it can be certain of, is the fact that it was not a Cetti’s nor a Chiffchaff. A real mystery!
Seasonal (c) Bark

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