Monday 27 February 2023

February round-up and spring on its way.

Sparkling Male Teal (c) Bark

The colder weather of early in the month has given way to much milder conditions with fewer frosts and the frozen water bodies have thawed. As often happens at this time of year the Starling roost has collapsed, and they have moved elsewhere.
Thousands of Golden Plover (c) Bark

Despite the absence of all the Starlings, Otmoor is still hosting well over fifteen thousand birds. This number is made up by nearly five thousand Lapwings and five and a half thousand Golden Plover. Teal and Wigeon together number over four thousand and the other duck species make almost another thousand.  

Lapwings (c) Bark

(these figures come from the WEBS count taken this Monday 20th February, by the RSPB staff.) The count does not include the fluctuating flocks of feral Geese that are currently scattered across the moor and surrounding farmland.

Amorous Tufted Ducks and a breeding plumage Pochard (c) Bark

Bald numbers however do not do justice to the sheer spectacle of seeing so many birds flushing in response to hunting raptors or to other threats, real or imagined. It is sometimes possible to track the progress of a raptor hunting across the fields as flock after flock takes off in panic at its passage. At times the sky seems to be full of birds in every direction one looks.

Marsh Harrier (c) Dan Miller

The Lapwings and Golden Plover show different behaviours in their response to threats, with the Goldies flying tighter with more twists and turns, they fly higher and form loose skeins as they start to settle again. The Lapwings however spread out much more and their flocks are looser. On days when there is bright light in the south and lowering indigo clouds in the north the birds twinkle and sparkle as they turn in the sky flashing black and white.

Pintail in silhouette (c) Bark

Last Saturday we were helping a group of the Otmoor Volunteers with some winter id tips followed by a walk out to the reedbed to put the talk into practice. I had produced a Power Point presentation to illustrate some aspects of the id issues raised. My penultimate slide showed the difference between Eurasian Teal and Green-winged Teal and the difference between Eurasian Wigeon and American Wigeon. It mentioned that there had been an American wigeon at Port Meadow briefly and so it would be worth looking carefully at any Wigeon on the moor. I also explained that an American Wigeon would be a first record for Otmoor. We duly carried out our walk and spent some time scoping through the massive flocks of birds out on the Flood Field. We found the Black Swan that was also mentioned in the presentation, which I had not realised was there, but we failed to spot the American Wigeon. 

American Wigeon courtesy of Badger.

The bird was found by Fergus Mosey, the RSPB warden, whilst doing the WEBS count last Monday morning. It was seen occasionally during the day although the light was difficult and again on the next day. It has been seen intermittently throughout the past week sometimes on Big Otmoor and more regularly on The Flood.

Ted and partner ,Barn Field. (c) Bark

There are currently five Cranes on the moor a pair and last years successful pair with their offspring still in tow. They are very vocal at the moment and often announce the fact that they about to fly by bugling loudly. It may be that the pair with the juvenile may try to push it away now, if they are to breed again this year.

Coot wars are breaking out across the lagoons. (c) Dan Miller

There seems to be two clear territories with some common ground in between a lot of the bugling is about establishing boundaries. It will be interesting to watch the evolving soap opera as it develops during the spring, and to see if the cast is supplemented by any further pairs or singletons.

Long Tailed Tit with a tiny spider prey. (c) Bark

This month just as we expected and right on cue Redshank and Curlew have returned. There are only a few Redshank at present but there were thirteen Curlew recorded on Monday. An Oystercatcher has been seen and several Dunlin. The water levels are looking good for passage waders and the centre of Big Otmoor is looking as though it will soon become the Otmoor “hotspot”. It is very well worth checking it out from now onwards for early returning Garganey.

Lots of mammals, a very confiding Muntjac, a quicksilver Weasel and a mad Hare (c) Bark

It has been an exciting week and the Otmoor list now stands at ninety seven species, the only downside of the latest find on the Reserve is that it has made my “Birds of Otmoor” booklet outdated once again !

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