|Male Brambling All pics this week (c) Bark|
It was never a very bright weekend, but it was not cold and it didn’t rain more than a little bit. The moor has changed radically after the last two week’s rain and is now looking much more like a proper winter wetland. The bird life has responded to this change in the habitat and we are now hosting huge winter flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwings. Wigeon numbers too have risen steadily and there are now well over a thousand spread across the reserve and the surrounding fields.
|Goldies and Lapwings|
There were in excess of five thousand Golden Plover around on Saturday and we felt that was a conservative estimate. They were divided into two large groups, one centred around the flood field and the area beyond it, the other large group split their time between Noke Sides and Big Otmoor. On several occasions both flocks were in the air at the same time although on different sides of the sky. There were at least two thousand Lapwings present the highest concentration of them out on Big Otmoor.
Once again, we are being treated to the wonderful sight of huge numbers of birds, sometimes flying tightly together, undulating and twisting like shoals of fish and at others scattered across the whole sky like windblown leaves in a gale. As the Golden Plover wheel and turn their white undersides flash against the dull greys and browns of the fields. The larger Lapwings making a slower and looser counterpoint to the smaller faster plovers.
Duck numbers are fluctuating, on Saturday both lagoons held significant numbers of wildfowl yet on Sunday there seemed to be fewer. With more open water available on other parts of the reserve and the moor there is a much greater choice of places to feed, loaf about or rest. We counted twenty plus Gadwall and just about double figures of Pochard. The number of Tufted ducks has increased with thirty-two birds present on Saturday, the majority of them males. Bitterns came and went as they do, occasionally and unpredictably. Sightings last week would suggest that there are certainly three different individuals present.
|Starling wash and brush up before bed.|
With the Wigeon spread across the moor grazing near open water it was unusual to see a single drake Wigeon in the ditch from the bridleway close to the turning to the first screen. It didn’t flush but swam along and then turned into the reed lined ditch beside the trail to the screens. As we turned down onto the trail it swam out again and headed off away from us along the ditch, stopping briefly to flap its wings but not taking off. When it was about thirty or so metres up the ditch it seemed to dive and without splashing or commotion simply disappeared. Wigeon are not diving ducks. We were puzzled and still are. Was it taken by an Otter? If so why was there no disturbance or bubbles. Perhaps the ditch holds a huge Pike that could take it straight down. It is a real mystery and on our way past the spot where all this happened there was still no sign of anything untoward having happened, but more crucially no sign of the bird at all!
|Mystery disappearing Wigeon|
On Sunday morning we were treated to a long flypast by one of the male Hen Harriers hunting over the northern reedbed and then out along the hedge on the northern edge of Greenaways, difficult to say which of them it was. There were certainly three Marsh Harriers over the reedbed and on Saturday morning we saw a male merlin briefly on Noke Sides perched initially in the tree that we used to refer to as the Peregrine Tree before heading off along the hedge.
The Feeding programme beside the hide is attracting more mixed finches including a male Brambling on Sunday morning, perhaps the same individual that was seen from the first screen on Saturday high in the oak tree. There were also twelve Yellowhammers, but we have yet to attract a Tree Sparrow or a Corn Bunting. Tree Sparrow was not recorded on the moor at all last year and it must be ten years since a Corn Bunting was seen.
|Also at Hide|
BBC Country File on Sunday evening featured the Crane release programme on the Somerset Levels. We know that that is where “our” Common Cranes originated and we know from observations of the winter flock and from their colour rings that that is where they go to overwinter. It was really encouraging to see how some of the local farmers there have taken the Cranes to their hearts and are helping them with some supplementary feeding. We look forward keenly to their return next spring.