Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2017 A Roundup.

Hen Harrier (c) Tezzer
Looking back over the year and the one hundred and fifty-five species that have been recorded on the moor there are some interesting differences between this year and last year. There have been very few standout rarities or real scarcities. The year had started with the first ever record of Cattle Egret on the moor, soon to be eclipsed when six of them were found on a pig farm in the north of the county.
Cattle Egret (c) Paul Greenaway
Despite optimistic speculation as to what the next new heron species would be nothing more than, Grey Heron, Bittern, Little and Great White Egrets were seen in 2017. Although fifteen years ago that would have represented a great year! Bitterns bred again and although we were sure that there were two nests after a short while, one set of feeding flights ceased, and we assumed that the nest had failed. We managed to confirm at least one breeding success in the other location. As at least one freshly plumaged individual appeared in the reedbed after the appropriate interval between feeding flights and fledging.

Bitterns    above (c) JR  below (c) Derek Latham

We recorded both Bewick and Whooper Swans this year on Otmoor after having no records of either species in 2016. We also had a brief visit from a small flock of Pink-footed Geese but sadly they did not linger and were only seen by a few lucky people. A Brent Goose passed through and two or three Barnacle Geese have remained with the feral Canadas and Greylags. Amongst the ducks Goosander have appeared on the moor again after a year of absence. A Bufflehead of dubious provenance was the only other duck of note.
Gooseander (c) Tezzer
Bufflehead (c) Bark
The long staying Hen Harrier was the most interesting of the raptors, it arrived in the autumn of 2016 as a ringtail and we have enjoyed watching it moult into second winter male plumage through the late summer and autumn of 2017. It was joined in November by another ringtail and also more recently by another second winter male. Marsh Harriers bred for the third year in succession. There were two nests being provisioned by one male. The nests fledged four young but one of them was found dead close to the reedbed shortly after fledging.

Marsh Harrier above (c) Tom N-L Merlin  below (c) JR

“Our” Cranes came back early in the spring and once again nested. From their behaviour we were able to deduce that they had hatched a chick and had moved it away from the nest. It seems likely that it was predated not long afterwards. The birds are getting older and more experienced and we hope that, should they return in 2018, they will eventually be more successful.

Common Cranes

Spotted Redshank and a Temminck’s Stint were the most unusual waders to be seen this year and our breeding waders had another successful nesting season.

Top Two Turtles (c) JR juvenile from 2015 (c) Bark

Cuckoos and Turtle Doves, our special summer breeding birds were present again. Cuckoos had an especially good year, judging by the number of adults present and by the number of juveniles we saw later in the season. We hosted an unusual hepatic female amongst the four or five birds using the reserve. We also finally managed to confirm that the Turtle Doves had nested and eventually after one failed nesting attempt fledged one juvenile late in the summer.
Juvenile Cuckoo
A Ring Ousel stayed around the western end of the reserve or over a week in the spring but there were no new or unusual passerines to report. The most noteworthy bird was noticeable more by its absence and not by its presence! There was no record of Bearded Tits this year and only one brief record from the year before. With our extensive wet reedbeds and drier reedbeds on Ashgrave we would certainly expect to have a resident population by now.
The last Bearded Tit in 2014
We were very surprised that after what has been reported as a very successful breeding season for them elsewhere, none of them made to us during the autumn irruption season. We also failed to find a single Hawfinch this autumn despite them being seen apparently everywhere else in Oxfordshire!

The RSPB bought the first part of the reserve in 1997. When they acquired the land, there were eleven pairs of Lapwings, four pairs of Redshank and no drumming Snipe. Bitterns and Marsh Harriers were a pipedream close to fantasy. This year we hosted one hundred and three pairs of Lapwings, ninety-one pairs of Redshank and had thirty-two drumming Snipe. I have already referred to the Bitterns and the Marsh Harriers.

Redshank Snipe and Lapwings our important waders.
An astonishing achievement in just twenty years and I am sure that it will go on from strength to strength. It will continue to offer a respite from busy urban lifestyles for everyone, expert naturalist and beginner alike. Most importantly it will offer young people, who might until now have had little contact with nature and wildlife, the opportunity to connect with and develop an interest and a passion for birds, bugs, botany and beasts. Without this unfettered access where will the scientists and amateur naturalists of tomorrow come from?
Bird of the year Male Hen Harrier (c) Tezzer

Thanks as always to the RSPB staff who keep the reserve building from strength to strength through sensitive and innovative management, thanks also to the army of volunteers on work parties that carry out that programme. Thanks too to the Volunteer Wardens who maintain a presence on the reserve and who help explain to the public what it is all about. Finally, a special thankyou to the disparate group of friends that I meet, walk and talk with on the moor, week in and week out. Their enthusiasm, optimism, good sense and scintillating conversation make it a continual pleasure, even in the rain and on days when there is not very much to see!
Otmoor Massive Christmas 2017 with notable exceptions! (c) Pete Roby

No comments:

Post a Comment