Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Notmoor and Otmoor Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th March

Houbara Bustard

Many thanks to Steve and Pete who did a sterling job on the blog last weekend during my absence. It’s great to know that the blog is being written by a couple of people who are equally as passionate and just as enthusiastic about the place as I am.

I took a mid-March trip once again to Fuerteventura for a week of warm weather, peace, good food and relaxation. I had all of these and I had some great birding too. I have a regular pattern when on holiday, I get up and go out as soon as it is light, spend a couple of hours birding, return and have breakfast and then spend the rest of the day with my non-birding partner.

Last Christmas I wrote a piece for the regular “Clackanory” spot (see below) which described my first ever encounter with a rather inept Houbara Bustard doing his display. This year I could not believe my luck when on my third morning out on the gravel plains I saw the whole thing again. This time not half a mile away as it had been the previous year but very much closer. My photographs this year are not of a rather blurry ball of cotton wool half way up a distant hill, but show the extraordinary plumage and behaviour in much more detail. They are the most spectacular birds and although not brightly coloured they really give Birds of Paradise a run for money in the dramatic plumage stakes.
His Ladies
I was not only lucky with the Bustards, having found two females and another distant male, but also finally managed to get some half way decent pictures of Cream Coloured Coursers, which had eluded me on all my previous visits.

Black Bellied Sandgrouse
I found Black-bellied Sandgrouse creeping along beside the track and using the car as a hide managed to get close to them and photograph them too. Previously I had only ever had brief flight views. The Canary island sub-species of Great Grey Shrike was much more wary and unapproachable and I only managed distant shots of it.
Koenigi subspecies of Great Grey Shrike

I also caught up with one of the few birds that occur on Fuerteventura that I had not seen before. I flushed a Barbary Partridge that ran off up a hillside. A very distinctive bird with a dark line on the top of its head and with very different and distinctive colouration. Desert birding can be challenging but patience and persistence allowed some great encounters with shy and elusive species.

Cream coloured Coursers

The beach also offered some excellent opportunities to get close to species that we always find very nervous and flighty here. A Whimbrel feeding on the rocks allowed me to get within fifteen feet or so before moving a short way away and a Ringed Plover also allowed a very close approach. The only special bird that I failed to find this year was the Fuerteventura Stonechat, there are certainly easier sites for it than the ones that I was visiting. Despite this slight disappointment it was a great weeks’ birding and a great holiday.

Trumpeter Finch and Spanish Sparrow All Fuerteventura pics (c) Bark

Clackanory- A previous encounter with the Houbara's of Fuerteventura. 

Otmoor Saturday and Sunday 25th and 26th March
Back on the moor on Saturday morning I was struck by how much it has changed in the two weeks since my last visit. It was bright after a frosty night and there was a keen easterly wind blowing. As I always seem to do when I have been away, I was under dressed for the weather and had forgotten my hat and gloves. Some changes were particularly marked, the greenness of the fields, the swell of soft colour in the budding hedgerows and of course the earliest frothy white flowers of the Blackthorn.

G.C.Gs above (c) JR below Tom NL

The Otmoor Yearlist has been moving along smartly and we set off on Saturday morning with great intentions of adding to the tally. I know that sometimes we get can get carried away with hope and excitement in early spring and forget that the season and its migrants progress in fits and starts, the whole system governed by wind direction and weather.
Despite our disappointment at not finding a new incoming migrant there was a lot to be interested in and to enjoy seeing. There are a pair of Great Crested Grebes building their nest directly in front of the first screen. It is something of an apology for a nest as yet, they are still cementing their relationship with each other rather than adding vegetation to the pile. They have been head shaking, “dancing” and presenting each other with weeds. It is fascinating to watch, as it will be to follow the progress of the nest and the stripy grebelings when they hatch.
Pintail (c) Tom NL
As in recent weeks the birdiest part of the reserve is still Big Otmoor. There are still significant numbers of Teal, Wigeon, Shoveller and Pintail out there, as well as large numbers of breeding Lapwings and Redshanks. Amongst all these birds it is possible to find Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and occasional Ruff. There are five Oystercatchers on and around the reserve but they roam far and wide one pair favouring Noke Sides and the other Ashgrave.
Four of the five Oystercatchers (c) JR
All weekend there were displaying and calling Curlew over the western edge of Greenaways and over the MOD land. I was pleased on Sunday morning to hear and see my first drumming Snipe of the spring, the drummer was being called to by a mate “chipping” from the grass. We saw a small flock of Golden Plover on Saturday but the massive numbers of only a week ago seem to have departed.
Already successful Moorhens (c) Derek Latham
It looks very much as if Black Headed Gulls will be joining the breeding birds on big Otmoor. I was initially concerned that this could impact on our breeding waders and we would lose more Lapwing and Redshank chicks to gull predation. However the situation may not be as difficult as it first appears, the gulls are very aggressive when defending their eggs and young and so it might well be that they act as a deterrent to the predatory Crows and Kites. We will see.
Full volume Cetti's (c) JR
On the raptor front we seem to have two pairs of Marsh Harriers in residence at the reedbed. There were definitely four individual birds in the air simultaneously on Sunday morning. There are clearly two different males one looking much less mature than the other. The Hen Harrier is still with us and made a slow flypast over the reedbed on Sunday morning. There are two different Peregrines over and around the reserve but hard to know if they represent a pair or not.
Chiffy (c) JR
I sometimes wonder just how huge our population of grass snakes is and how normal it is. Last week steve and Pete counted thirty seven basking in the sun on the dead reeds beside the bridle way, this weekend on Sunday we spotted thirty four. There must be a very much larger population than that sspread across the whole moor.
Ball of Grass Snakes (c) Carl Gray
The next wave of migrants should be coming in this week now that the wind has swung around to a more gentle southerly direction. Willow Warbler and perhaps a Sedge warbler next weekend?
March Hare (c) Tom NL

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