Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Last two weeks in January

Short-eared Owl (c) Derek Latham
I missed blogging last weekend due to a trip abroad and so will fit in a fortnights events in one posting. It is significant over the last few weeks that not very much has changed on the moor, we are in the mid-winter doldrums, a pause before the first migrants start to arrive and leave.
We have had a period of sustained cold with most of the open water having iced over for much of this time. This of course makes for severe difficulties for wildlife but fortunately it was not quite cold enough to totally freeze the lagoons and on most days, the temperature rose just a bit above freezing.
Waiting for the thaw(c) JR
The same suite of birds is still on the moor. Lapwing numbers have risen steadily but the Golden Plover are much more erratic, sometimes present in huge flocks and on other days, such as yesterday, in a flock of thirty at the most.
The Starling roost is declining slightly and its main action is shifting to the northern reedbed and to the hedgerows. The scale of the damage that they do to the reeds is now very clear.
Starling (c) JR
The same set of raptors too, are still in residence. It seems likely now that there are four different Marsh Harriers present and they may represent two distinct pairs. Two different Peregrines are also being seen regularly.
Peregrine (c) JR
This Sunday we saw the smaller male make at least four passes over the reserve and on one occasion snatch a prey item from the mixed finch flock beside the hide. It then flew out into the middle of Ashgrave where it sat for the next half an hour, clearly digesting its meal. A pair of Red Kites have taken up squatter’s rights on the old nest in the large oak tree on the eastern edge of the reedbed. Their behaviour is very territorial and they seem to spend a deal of time clashing with the Marsh harriers. On Saturday morning, we saw one of them rob a harrier of its prey.
Harrier and Kite (c) Derek Latham
It has also been easy for them to pick up the inevitable casualties that are bound to occur around a roost of nearly a hundred thousand Starlings. Merlin has made occasional appearances as one did on Sunday. The Short-eared Owl in the carpark field has attracted very many admirers. It is site faithful and is very happy to be observed from the track. It would be extremely disappointing if anyone were to try to get any closer than the gate and so risk the bird abandoning its roost.
The secretive Owl
Wigeon numbers are around their winter maxima and we have had a small influx of Pochard with at least ten birds present on Sunday. Likewise, there are now a small number of Pintail out on the far pools on Big Otmoor. Teal too are present in good numbers but given their habit of lurking deep in the reedbed they are very difficult to count.
Bitterns continue to be seen regularly, moving within the reedbed and occasionally flying in from the vicinity of the River Ray.
It has been great to hear that Otters have been seen again on the reserve, they have been absent for a while. Their presence might help to deter the Mink that are a particular problem for our ground and reedbed nesting species.
Songthrush along the bridleway (c) JR
I took a trip out to Over Norton on Friday to catch up with the Little Bunting that has been found at the feeding station set up beside a small copse. The feeding programme is very like  the one that we are undertaking beside the hide and they are scattering a similar amount of seed each week. It has made me all the more determined to carefully go through the hundred or so Reed Buntings that are currently taking advantage of it. I can imagine that such a bird could easily in slip under the radar when so many birds are coming in and out to feed.

Linnet, Reed Buntings and Goldfinch in the frost (c) JR

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