Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Last weekend in February and first weekend in March

Wren at the first screen. (c) JR

What a contrast; at the end of February it looked for all the world as if spring was well and truly on its way and yet during the last week and weekend, winter returned with a vengeance.

The moor in the snow (c) Bark

I am always concerned when there are several consecutive days when the temperature remains below freezing and even more so when a blanket of snow covers up potential feeding areas. On Otmoor we worry particularly about the Cetti’s Warblers, Stonechats and the Bitterns. During the last especially cold spell, about six years ago, we lost all the Cetti’s on the moor for more than a year and saw just one Stonechat in the following season. It was reassuring for us to hear at least four different Cetti’s calling on Sunday as the thaw began to set in, and to find a male Stonechat up at Noke.
Stonechat hanging on (c) Bark

The frozen water bodies and fields mean that the huge flocks of birds seen over the preceding weeks have reduced markedly. Wildfowl numbers too are much lower although there were still some ducks to be found in and around the unfrozen leads on the two largest lagoons. Amongst them were about ten Pintail and some courting Pochard.
Courting Pochard (c) Bark
New in this weekend was a flock of nine feral Barnacle Geese feeding together out on Ashgrave beyond the larger Grey Lags and Canada’s. Interestingly they had not been joined by our long staying individual that behaves as though it is a very small Grey Lag! Last week it was shepherding a Grey Lag away from the others whilst calling and this week was accompanying what we assume is the same bird out on big Otmoor.

"Our" Barnacle Goose   Above (c) JR below (c) Bark
Last weekend we noticed just how many of the resident bird were starting to sing, especially noticeable were Chaffinches, Great Tits and Wrens. The latter pushing out a huge volume of sound so much in contrast with their diminutive size. They too will have been vulnerable during the bitter weather last week and yet again it was reassuring to see them active and still calling, as the snow was starting to melt on Sunday.
Teal on ice (c) Bark

On both weekends there were large numbers of birds taking advantage of the seed that is spread beside the hide. There are always large numbers of Reed Buntings around but the Linnet flock can vary from just a handful of birds to well over two hundred. If they are not down on the ground feeding they are most likely to be sitting up at the top of the largest oak trees beside the bridleway. I assume that they need some time to digest their food and when they are perched in the topmost branches are less likely to be ambushed by the Sparrowhawk. On Sunday there were nine Stock Doves feeding just down from the hide, they are certainly amongst the most underrated birds, beautifully coloured and delicately marked.

Stock Doves (c) Bark

In the snow on Sunday morning it was possible to see just how many mammals are using the reserve at night. There were four or five different sets of Badger prints, muntjac and Roe Deer slots and other less easily recognised tracks. By day we have spotted several foxes both at Noke and around the reedbed, they are yet another hazard for our breeding birds to contend with.

Sleeping Fox (c) JR Fox with Lunch (c) Bark
Moles had been busy along the bridleway, their hills stood out above the snow and were the focus for foraging Song thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks. There must be tiny invertebrates available in the freshly turned soil.
Songthrush (c) Bark
Our regular raptors are still being seen frequently and both the Hen Harrier and the Merlin have been seen since the bad weather. Barn Owls are being reported both from the reedbed at dusk and from the Car-park field.

Sparrowhawk attack (c) Bark

Let’s hope that the worst of the winter has now passed and over the next few weeks can look forward to the first trickle of returning migrants until by April the trickle has become a flood.
Hare (c) JR

A NOTE OF CAUTION. There is a particularly vicious crop of pot-holes along Otmoor Lane. The worst of them are just at the blind right-hand bend at the bottom of the steepest part of the hill. (assuming you are coming from Beckley) You can be in them almost before you can see them. The largest of them has already damaged wheels and tyres! Please report any damage to the County Council Highways Department as it is their responsibility to maintain that section of the lane.

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