Thursday, 31 December 2020

Last two weeks of December 2020


Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

Things have remained been much the same down on the Moor during the last two weeks. What has changed is the huge amount of water that has fallen. The Roman Road has become a River and the MOD land is now an unbroken lake.

The Roman Road River and the MOD lake (c) Steve Roby

I cannot remember when it has been quite so watery down there.

The Closes before the floods (c) Bark

The majority of birds seem to have relocated now from The Closes to Noke Sides. The Closes is now far too flooded, there is little solid land for birds to roost on or to feed on. With the grass being submerged even the Wigeon have left and are now concentrated on Big Otmoor, Ashgrave and the Flood Field. The goose flocks are also now to be found on Ashgrave and on Noke Sides.
Egyptian Goose (c) Nick Truby

This week forty-seven Russian  White-fronted Geese were seen out on the field directly behind the first screen on the last field before the River. Amongst the other geese we have found Egyptian Geese and we still have a flock of nearly forty Barnacle Geese.
Canadas (c) Bark

There are nearly one thousand Canada Geese and probably four hundred plus Greylag Geese that make up the bulk of our goose population. Amongst them are scattered a number of odd hybrid geese of indeterminate parentage. As I remarked last time it is the presence of these feral geese that offer safety in numbers and encourage their wilder cousins to stay.

Chaffinches and Reed Bunting beside the hide (c) Bark

The winter-feeding programme beside the hide is continuing and is encouraging very many more seed-eaters to visit. Both male and female Bramblings are now being seen regularly. Alongside Chaffinches, Reed Buntings and Linnets. Other birds are taking advantage of the free food including Moorhens, Pigeons, Stock Doves and corvids.

"Luke" the leuchistic Pochard and two Tufties (c) Tom N-L

One of the shyer species that can sometimes be seen feeding on the seeds is a Water Rail which pops out from the ditch and scuttles rapidly across the path and partially emerges from the vegetation to pick up the finest seeds. Just as in previous years Sparrow Hawks are aware of the large numbers of small birds feeding and will occasionally power along the path scattering the birds everywhere and hoping to surprise a meal.

Some of the Coot Flotilla (c) Bark

On the lagoon in front of the first screen there has been a flotilla of around twenty Coots. The Coots are just beginning to get to the aggressive stage in their pairing up and courtship, when they bicker and fight with each other and with other pairs. Last weekend one of them seemed to be in difficulties thrashing and splashing about. The people watching realised that it was actually under attack from below and sure enough an Otter appeared beside it and carried it off.

Coot and Otter (c) Dan Miller

Most recent Otter sightings have been in front of the second screen. It seems no wonder that there have been very few wildfowl out at the second screen apart from four Mute Swans. Last weekend I did however see a Bittern lurking on the edge of the nearest reeds to the left of the screen. It appeared and disappeared so rapidly that all we could see were the reeds moving as it made its way back deeper into the vegetation.

Hen Harrier Top two pics (c) Bark bottom pic (c) Nick Truby

Raptors are showing well. There is a regular ring-tailed Harrier being seen both at the starling roost and hunting across Greenaway’s and the reedbed. We are sure that there are three different Marsh Harriers on site.

Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

One of them appears to be a first winter juvenile and may only recently have arrived as it comes much closer than either of the adult birds. Merlin is being seen most frequently over The Closes although that may change now that many of the birds from there have relocated elsewhere.

The huge throng when they flush Above (c) Bark and Below (c) Tom N-L

On Sunday last a male Peregrine was flushing all the birds from Noke Sides and spending quite some time perched in the old bare oak tree in the middle of the hedgerow halfway across the field.
Ruff on Noke sides (c) Bark

Courtesy of Badger.

I will be posting a review of the year in a weeks’ time and I am keenly looking forward to starting the 2021 yearlist off tomorrow morning.

Happy New Year, Bark.

Its getting chilly!

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

First two weeks of December

Drake Goldeneye (c) Bark

Over the last two weekends the moor has not been the same twice. It has been sunny, windy, foggy, cold and wet. I have experienced all of these varied weathers in the last two weeks and they have all had their effects on both the birdlife to be encountered and also the character of the place.
Blue Tit in the sunshine and wind (c) Bark

When blanketed with fog the sounds of the outside world are muted and it feels as though one is wrapped in a soft grey duvet. The enveloping silence allows one to appreciate the smaller, closer sounds as Wrens scuttle about in undergrowth or Moorhens bicker in ditches. 

Yellowhammer in the fog (c) Bark

Foggy mornings are also windless, and so it becomes much easier to pick up subtle movements among reeds or twigs that betray the whereabouts and passage of small birds.

Lapwings and Goldies (c) Bark

Conversely when strong winds are blowing the focus shifts to the air where massive numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwings, Starlings and sometimes the larger wildfowl swirl across the whole sky in huge flocks that seem to render the wind itself visible. It is these very large numbers that are the major highlight of Otmoor at this time of the year. There are in excess of four and a half thousand Golden Plovers and at least three thousand Lapwings, with a total of over two and a half thousand Ducks and at least a thousand Geese.
Peregrine (c) Bark

It makes for spectacular displays when birds are flushed by hunting raptors. Not a murmuration, but there is also the egress of fifty thousand Starlings, when they leave the roost at dawn to head off in every direction to forage in the fields.
Goldies on The closes in the mist and rain (c) Bark

The birding hotspots on the reserve change throughout the year and are dependent on water levels and the season. The heavy rains of late have meant that The Closes are holding much more water than has been usual on this field and it is currently the best place to scan through the Lapwings and Goldies in search of other waders. There have been several Ruff, up to fifteen Dunlin, two Black-tailed Godwits and yesterday the Grey Plover, first seen a couple of weeks ago, was re-found. If the weather is overcast great scope views can also be had from the main Hide, although face masks and telescopes do not go together well!

Mallard (c) Bark

Big Otmoor is holding the largest numbers of ducks. Yesterday they included at least forty odd Pintail, over one thousand Wigeon and almost four hundred Shoveller. There are good numbers of Gadwall on the moor and the largest concentration of them is on the southern lagoon in front of the first screen, where yesterday we counted almost a hundred.

Whitefronts on Greenaways (c) Oz

Courtesy of Badger

Ashgrave is currently hosting the largest numbers of Geese including five of the twelve Russian White-fronted Geese that are now on the reserve. These Whitefronts are the first we have recorded since January 2017. There are a further five birds associating with the Greylags out on Greenaway’s. We also have a small flock of Barnacle Geese on Ashgrave.

Barnacle wash and brush up Ashgrave (c) Bark

We normally expect to find the odd individual and there has been one around for several years, that has interbred with both Canadas and Greylags, resulting in some rather exotic looking hybrids. There is no doubt that the flocks of feral geese make it more likely that truly wild geese will be drawn down to the moor. Even though many birders dismiss feral geese as “plastic” there is no denying the spectacle that they create when they re-locate en masse or whiffle down to land on the lagoons.
Whitefronts in flight (c) Tezzer

It is possible at the moment, with a bit of luck, to see all of the commoner raptor species in one visit, as Hen Harrier is being seen much more regularly now. Merlin is most likely to be spotted over The Closes.

Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

The juvenile Marsh Harrier was flying low over the rafted ducks on Monday causing them to dive or flush. I think it unlikely that it was hunting properly but was more likely to be looking for sick or injured individuals. The raptors hunting low over Greenaways are frequently flushing up small parties of Snipe and several Jack Snipe have been picked out among them.
Hidden Snipe at the first screen (c) Bark

Elsewhere, the feeding programme for finches that we are carrying out beside the hide is drawing in larger numbers of birds as resources in the wider countryside get used up.

Yellowhammer (c) Bark

The Linnet flock has doubled in the last couple of weeks and there are more Chaffinches taking advantage of the seed. Amongst the birds  was a female Brambling last weekend.
Female Brambling in the mist (c) Bark

The Fieldfares and Redwings have almost stripped all of the haws from the hedgerows now but are still gleaning the last of the berries.

Redwing (c) Tezzer  and Fieldfares (c) Bark

The Otmoor Year list is now one hundred and fifty-five species with the addition just yesterday of a female Ruddy Shelduck.

Ruddy Shelduck courtesy of Jeremy Dexter. 

Drake Goldeneye (c) Tezzer

Unfortunately, the very smart drake Goldeneye that was on the lagoon in front of the first screen, now seems to have moved on.
Otter second screen (c) Paul Wyeth

 Finally, I received a picture just yesterday of an otter in the water in front of the second screen, perhaps that explains why there are so few birds up there! Nonetheless it is a truly wonderful time of year to connect with the wildlife on Otmoor.
Hunters Moon with Goldies (c) Bark

Thursday, 3 December 2020

End of November


Whooper Swan (c) Tezzer

Over the last two weekends I have only managed one visit when the weather was bright and dry, the other three times were grey, misty, damp and cold! There has been further rain and the moor is looking like a proper wetland and one can begin to see what it might have looked like before it was enclosed, drained and modernised.

Stonechat (c) Bark

In the winter people from the surrounding villages would catch fish and eels and they would also hunt wildfowl. They would then sell this wild harvest in the market in Oxford.
A blizzard of ducks over Big Otmoor (c) Bark
Wildfowl numbers are very high especially Wigeon, Teal and Shovellers. A couple of Saturdays ago we spent some time scoping a very misty damp and flooded Big Otmoor. We attempted some counts, although visits from a Peregrine and Marsh Harriers frustrated us when everything flushed, and we had to start over again. 

Stonechat (c) Derek Lane

We did establish that there were at least two thousand two hundred Wigeon out there and at least five hundred Shovellers. Teal were more difficult to count as they were well tucked in amongst the sedges. There were also sixteen Pintail that we could see, although I had counted more than these out on the Flood and in a flyover between Flood and Ashgrave.
Snipe at the second screen (c) Bark

Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers are also very high as they particularly like the very flooded Fields. There are over Four thousand Golden plover and approximately three thousand Lapwings. All of these birds with the addition of forty or fifty thousand Starlings roosting every night, means that there are plenty of potential meals for raptors and as usual we are drawing more of them in. As well as our “resident” Marsh Harriers we have two different Peregrines visiting regularly, one of them significantly larger than the other. 

Sparrowhawk(c) Bark

There are several Sparrowhawks, one of which we assume, is the bird that leaves the remains of Starlings in the window of the screens and we also found one unfortunate, partly eaten Starling hanging in the brambles along the pathway. Merlin, both male and female are being seen regularly. I have twice seen one over Closes and once over Big Otmoor. 

Short-eared Owl (c) Roger Wyatt

Two Short Eared Owls were seen hunting over the north eastern side of Greenaway’s last week, their prey however is more likely to be mammalian rather than avian. They were the first to be seen for over three weeks.

The flooded fields have also attracted large numbers of Snipe, on Monday a flock over one hundred and fifty were seen flying together when flushed by a raptor, while another flock of over a hundred were seen at the same time on another part of the reserve.

Reflective Mute Swan on the one fine visit I had lately (c) Bark

Amongst the ducks that have been seen was a male Goosander last week. These are fairly unusual birds to find on the moor as they favour moving water. 

Six adult Whoopers on The Closes (c) Tezzer

Best birds of recent days however have been two visits by two different parties of Whooper Swans. On Monday seven birds were seen to fly in and land on Ashgrave, they stopped for a bit of a “wash and brush up” before moving on again after just twenty or so minutes. This was obviously a family party of two adults and five cygnets.  
First family party in the mist (c) Steve Roby ( it is possible to see bill colour)

Despite the grey misty and murky conditions, the photographs show two of them have yellow bills and the others have pink coloured bills and rather grubby off-white plumage rather than the clean bright white of the adults. On Tuesday, another group of seven Whoopers turned up and this time the pictures clearly show that they were all adults. They landed on the Closes and again did not stay for very long. The Goosander and the Swans bring the yearlist up to one hundred and fifty-three species.

Reed Buntings (c) Bark

The winter finch feeding programme is starting to attract larger numbers of birds, as the natural resources start to be depleted in the wider countryside. There have been up to fifty Reed Buntings and smaller numbers of Linnets and Chaffinches. 

Yellowhammer in the gloom (c) Bark

This past weekend I found five Yellowhammers amongst them. When one stands quietly and patiently by the gate it is surprising just how close the birds will come once they start feeding. It is well worth checking through them carefully as a similar feeding programme in the north of the county in 2017, attracted a Little Bunting, which stayed for nearly a week.

Cetti's Warblers (c) Old Caley

I have no very clear idea just how many Cetti’s Warblers there are on the moor at the moment but there must be at the very least twelve. There are regular places that they call from and they also have a range of rather “chuntering” sub-songs. They often seem to call in response to movement. Now that the leaves are off trees it is much easier to see them properly as they forage through the bushes and brambles.

Wren (c) Old Caley

 I have also noticed just how many Wrens there are about especially along the track to the second screen. Both the Cetti’s and the Wrens will be vulnerable if we experience any sustained periods of very cold weather.

Hare (c) Old Caley and Early morning Muntjac (c) Bark