Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Saturday and Sunday 17th and 18th March

Whooper from the second screen (c) Tezzer

Just when I thought that spring had arrived we flipped backwards into a nasty reminder of winter. All weekend there was a strong, spiteful penetrating wind, that numbed exposed skin and quieted the birdsong of just a few days ago. It snowed a little on Saturday but a lot more than a little on Saturday night into Sunday. The overnight snow turned the moor back into a bleak monochrome place, where the emphasis for wildlife switched away from reproduction to survival.

A monochrome moor (c) Bark

We had optimistically hoped that the year list would surge forward this weekend with fresh arrivals but were disappointed, but not surprised, not to find Wheatears, Sand Martins or Garganey. Despite the disappointment we were still able to find enough to look at. The three Marsh Harriers were very active on both days and the male is now looking very smart in his fully developed mature plumage. A male Peregrine flushed Teal and Shovellers from the reedbed on Sunday, but there was no repetition of the aggressive interaction we saw last weekend with the Harriers.
Flushed shovellers (c) JR
A pair of Buzzards are behaving in a very proprietorial way around an oak tree on the northern edge of Big Otmoor. As we arrived in the snow on Sunday morning there was a Barn Owl hunting in the carpark field and there is another that is hunting regularly over the reedbed at dusk, it seems likely that this bird is using the second screen as a sheltered spot to eat and preen. There are a good number of pellets scattered there that suggest it. On Friday evening a Bittern was heard “booming” from the reedbed, the inclement weather probably discouraged more vocalisations over the weekend but it will certainly be worth listening out for again over the next few weeks.

Redshank on ice (c) above Bark......below JR
On Sunday a passage flock of twenty-three Curlew were seen and other waders were much in evidence. Noke sides is flooded and there were three or four hundred Golden plovers feeding there with Lapwings, a smattering of Redshanks, seven Dunlin and two Ruff. There were Oystercatchers out on Big Otmoor and on the westernmost field beside the path to the second screen.
Whooper (c) Tezzer

The juvenile Whooper Swan is still out between Oddington and Noke with about thirty Mute Swans. On Saturday morning they were hunkered down in the rape field as the snow whipped past them horizontally, the Whooper was alone and separate from the rest of the swans. We speculated hopefully that the two birds currently at Eynsham might somehow pick it up when it’s time to migrate back north.

Feeding by the hide (c) Bark

There is no doubt about the value of the finch feeding programme by the hide. It was thronged with birds on both days this weekend. Most obvious this week were the Reed Buntings and looking down from the hide as they fed it looked as though there were more black headed males present than females. The Linnet flock twittered backwards and forwards between the path and the bushes, always more skittish and nervous than the other birds. Once again there were Stock Doves down feeding and there were more than twelve Yellowhammers standing out brightly from the rest.
Male Reed Bunting (c) JR

We had a close encounter with a Hare on Sunday. It flushed up from beside the path from the first screen but then could not go forwards or back because of approaching people, eventually it made up its mind and hurtled past us, offering some great photo opportunities as you can see. They are very beautiful creatures and even more so when seen against the snow.

Co-operative Hare Above two (c) Bark      below (c) JR

We have reached the vernal equinox and from now onwards the days will be longer than the nights. For birders we are entering the most exciting two months of the year as the winter birds move on and the summer visitors arrive. These two months are always spiced with the possibility of something more unusual coming through and you can be sure that we will be out there looking for it whatever it might be!

The first Blackthorn and "us out there looking" (c) Bark

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