Wednesday 3 April 2024

March Round-up


Displaying Great Crested Grebes (c) Bark

March came in like a lion and has departed in a similar robust fashion. There have been only a few dry, calm days but the temperatures have remained higher than average, with just a few frosty nights. The moor is still very wet but at least the sluices on the River Ray have been lowered and the water levels in the ring ditches have gone down. Fields like Greenaways and the Closes are at their optimum levels and birds are starting to nest on the higher drier sections. The ground-nesting waders are very much in evidence calling and displaying.

Curlew over The Closes (c) Bark

Curlew are making their iconic wild rippling trills, while undertaking their stalling display flights, both over our fields and the MOD land around the rifle range. Snipe are drumming and “chipping”  above the Closes and Greenaway’s, even in inclement weather. Some Lapwings are still pairing up and others are already sitting on eggs, the first nest was found by the RSPB on the 20th March, which is the expected first nest date. The concern now is that if we have further heavy rain nests could be flooded out and abandoned.
There has been much more activity from resident birds setting up territories and singing urgently.
Blackbird (c) Bark

Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes have been pairing up and singing. Two of the smallest species on the moor have been responsible for some of the loudest songs. Wrens and Cetti’s Warblers have been very voluble over the last few weeks, with Cetti’s seeming to follow us everywhere along the paths.
With Cetti's there is always a stick in the way! (c) Bark

Towards the end of the month the first Willow Warblers were heard in the carpark field and along the trail leading to the first screen and just at the end of the month the first Sedge Warbler, out at the reedbed and near the Greenaway’s cattle pens. There had been some singing Blackcaps from mid-month, but the most noticeable and common singing warblers were Chiffchaffs.

Chiffy singing (c) Bark

As the month had progressed they had been pumping out their bi-syllabic song at every opportunity. It seemed to me that that there have been more present this year than ever…a subjective and not a statistically based observation. One or two of the Chiffchaffs seen appeared to be much greyer and paler than the more regular yellower individuals, they may have been overwintering birds but of course it’s difficult to tell.

Two different Chiffs in the same bush at the same time very different colours (c) Bark 

Another species than seems to be present in greater numbers this year is Water Rail. They can often be seen scuttling from side to side over the puddles in the path between the bridle way and the first screen. They are much more likely to be seen than heard and they make a number of other strange sounds too, as well as the familiar “piglet squealing” call.

Looking out from first screen there is now much more activity on and around the Grey Heron nests in the reedbeds. This last weekend it was possible to discern at least two scruffy looking downy heads appearing beside the adults on the nest closest to the first screen.

Lots of Heron activity (c) Bark

Bitterns are booming from a number of different places that suggest that there are several different calling males. As in previous years there has been a regular boomer in the closest reedbed to the bridleway adjacent to the bench. We saw a male there, booming and sky-pointing on the edge of those reeds last weekend whilst another, presumably a female, flew out and over to the main reedbed.

Seventy Godwits from the second screen over Flood (c) Bark

The Flood Field is living up to its name and is still very flooded, as it has been since November. It is viewable from the Oddington track and has had vast numbers of wildfowl on it over the late winter and early spring. It has attracted our first Garganey of the year and for most of the month has hosted up to seventy Black-tailed Godwits, a flock that has commuted between Otmoor and Port Meadow. There have been a number of Dunlin out there often into double figures and several Ringed and Little-ringed Plovers. They have also been seen out on Big Otmoor.
Record shot of Avocet on Flood. (c) Bark

Right at the end of the month a pair of Avocets arrived and have remained there until into the start of April.

There are a number of different individual Marsh Harriers on site and both display behaviour and stick carrying has been seen.

Marsh Harrier (c) Bark

We think that there are at least four and possibly five different birds, two of which are clearly adult males. The over-wintering Hen Harrier is still being seen intermittently and irregularly and Merlin is still on sand around the moor we had a good sighting of it out on Ashgrave just two weeks ago. An Osprey was seen on passage towards the end of the month, a welcome addition to the year-list, as we failed to record one at all last year.

Blackthorn blossom (c) Bark
The Blackthorn blossom has been prolific this year and now as the flowers fade they shower the pathways with a light dusting of white petals like a first snowfall.

Blossom on the moor (c) Tom N.L.
There are splashes of yellow along the bridleway from the Coltsfoot flowers and they are attracting bumble bees. The first butterflies are on the wing and we have seen Brimstone, Peacock and Red Admiral recently out of hibernation.
Coltsfoot (c) Bark
There are Muntjac, Fallow and Roe Deer on and around the reserve and there have been recent reports of a Chinese Water Deer on the eastern side of Greenaway’s. A large male Otter has also been seen, and the RSPB trail camera recorded an Otter chasing a Badger out in the middle of the reserve.

A red-crested Pochard has dropped in (c) Bark

With April now here, there will be lots of new migrants arriving and fresh additions to the year-list, which stands as I write, at one hundred and thirteen species. Perhaps with conditions being so unusual we might manage to attract a rarer and more unusual bird….we will certainly be out there looking.

Five of the seven Shelduck That were present during March.

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