Monday, 13 March 2017

Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th March

Yellowhammer (c) Bark
Saturday was grey at first but developed into almost the perfect spring day and Sunday was wet at first but had improved by the afternoon. As we expect at this time of year, there were new arrivals on the moor both in the preceding week and at the weekend. We are also now beginning to notice some significant departures.
The most obvious departure is probably the Starlings from the roost. The latest reports suggest that it has finally dwindled to less than a thousand birds after having enthralled huge numbers of people during the course of the winter. The large flocks of Lapwings also appear to have left. We still have good numbers of them present but they are our resident breeding birds and they are really going to town now on their tumbling noisy courtship flights.
Chiffy at the first screen (c) Bark
Redshank numbers have shot up over the last week and their distinctive yodelling call as they pair up and mate has become part of the Otmoor soundscape again. If you scan across Big Otmoor now they are scattered across the whole area feeding, displaying and walking about purposefully.
Avocet (c) Stoneshank
Wildfowl numbers are still large both on Ashgrave, Big Otmoor and on the reedbed lagoons. There were well over thirty Coots on the northern lagoon on Saturday morning they are extremely bellicose at this stage of the year. Disputes seemed to break out at random just like they do outside city centre pubs at closing time on Saturday nights. A bird would take exception to another from quite the other side of the lagoon and hurtle across the water to confront it with head down and wings raised. It is hard to see why any particular individual is being picked out for attack amongst so many, perhaps one bird just looked at the other “a bit funny” as the drunk would say in Cornmarket on Saturday night.
There were fifteen Pochard on the southern lagoon on Sunday morning and they were spending their time swimming around in a group, they were either displaying to the three or four females that were there or just showing off to each other. There were also a pair of little Grebes courting in front of the screen, whinnying their distinctive call and diving rapidly to pop up like corks in another part of the pool. There was a single Great Crested Grebe out in the same part of the lagoon and it was making its strange mournful call.

Nice weather for ducks, Little Grebe, Pochard and Tufty in the rain. (c) Bark
I counted over sixty Pintail out on Big Otmoor on Sunday and nearly a hundred Shovellers. The Wigeon were difficult to estimate but there does not appear to be any reduction yet in their numbers.
The estimate of Grey Herons building in the reedbed has gone up again and I now think that there may be as many as five pairs. There are also two pairs nesting in the dead oak tree on Ashgrave one of which is already sitting. It is interesting to notice that some of them are showing the bright orange bill that they acquire for a period when breeding.
Heron with twigs (c) JR
Bird of the weekend has to be the Little Gull seen and photographed from the first screen on Saturday morning. I think the last record of one on Otmoor is about fifteen years ago when the reedbed was mostly water, that was certainly the only one that I have seen down there. There were also records from other sites in the county on Saturday so there was clearly a passage of them. Another good bird was the Avocet found and photographed by Paul Greenaway during the week. Along with a smattering of Ruff and Dunlin it was out of Big Otmoor.
Little Gull (c) Derek Latham
I yomped along the bridleway to Noke on both Saturday and Sunday with the hope of finding our first Wheatear of the year. The track is very muddy and reminiscent of how it was along the whole track before the RSPB laid the path from the car park to the kissing gate. The first Wheatear was found as we expected amongst the black sheep on the fields adjacent to the reserve. I didn’t find it but Andy Last did, about an hour after I was there, such is birding! It could have been his younger, sharper eyes but I put missing it down to rain in my optics! We can expect a steady passage of Wheatears now over the next six weeks or so.
Phonescoped Wheatear (c) Andy Last
All the regular raptors were on show, including a close fly past on Sunday by the Hen Harrier. I can see on my photographs the beginning of paler feathers coming through on its back and upper wings and wonder whether it is moulting into male adult plumage. Any suggestions or observations would be welcome.
Hen Harrier (c) Bark
We continued our walk on Saturday past Noke and on around the southern edge of Ashgrave. I have not done this walk since the early autumn and it is a good vantage point to look over the Ashgrave lagoon which is at its most full. The footpath is very soggy in places. The area at the top of the field is being allowed to scrub up and will make an excellent extension to Julys Meadow. This will provide more potential breeding sites for birds such as Grasshopper Warblers and hunting areas for Short Eared Owls in winter. We heard three and saw two Nuthatches on the edge of Sling Copse and a party of four Coal Tits in Noke Wood.
Jabba the Hutt (c) Tezzer
The Little Gull and the Nuthatches have taken the year tally up to one hundred and six species and over the next few weeks the list will rise even further as the fresh waves of migrants come in. This must be the very best time of year to be out and about birding.
Primroses Noke Wood (c) Bark

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