Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sunday 7th January

Bittern (c) Neil Long
The weather this weekend meant only one visit to the moor was practical so we attempted to dodge the showers on Sunday morning. It was certainly worth the effort and we had some stunning atmospheric views of the masses of birds that are currently feeding and roosting on and just off the reserve.
Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tom Nicholson- Lailey
Early on Sunday we had very sharp showers and dark lowering skies punctuated by patches of blue sky and sunshine. Rainbows are always good to see but out on the moor we seem to have so much more sky for them to shine in. A complete arc set against the leaden sky of the clouds that had just past was beautiful in itself; but looked even better when sprinkled with the glittering flight of windblown Golden Plover and the flicker of hundreds of Lapwings.
Sparkling goldies (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Both species are present in their thousands but there seemed to be very many more Lapwings and we tentatively estimated over five thousand individuals. Water levels have increased and there are now many more scrapes and pools for the wildfowl to occupy and there were very large numbers of all the duck species out on Greenaways, Big Otmoor and on Ashgrave. These included over forty Pintail on Big Otmoor
A larger party of over fifty snipe (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey
Occasional Snipe can be spotted, especially when flushed up from the wet grassland by raptors. The raptors themselves are still present and all the regular species were seen. The male Marsh Harrier is now showing much more mature male plumage especially on his wings and the female continues to patrol both the reedbed and the flooded fields. From time to time the two birds can be seen to interact confirming their status as a pair.
Yellowhammer (c) Norman Smith
Numbers are continuing to rise in the finch flock south of the hide. More Yellowhammers are being seen and a few Greenfinches too. There is an odd looking Reed Bunting that has rather more white in its tail than is normal but it is nonetheless a Reed Bunting.
Reed Bunting (c) Norman Smith
Bitterns are being seen daily usually in flight but also occasionally in the reedy margins out from the second screen. We had one that flew up from the bund as we walked along the footpath to the second screen. There would appear to be a very healthy population of Water Rails as well, as can be gauged from the number of squeaks and squeals that we are hearing from the reedbed and from the ditches. From time to time they can be glimpsed as they fly from one side of the reeds to another.

Yellowhammer and MuteSwan (c) Tom nicholson-Lailey

A Song Thrush is already starting to call in the carpark field and on Sunday morning at least three Skylarks were in song over Greenaways. There are three different Cetti’s Warblers calling now and if the winter carries on in this same mild vein we can hope that they will make it through until spring. Let’s hope that this winter doesn’t come with a sting in its tail.
Goldies (c)Neil Long

Monday, 1 February 2016

Saturday and Sunday 30th and 31st January

Stonechat (c) JR

It was another weekend when the sheer numbers of birds were almost overwhelming. The weather was fine on Saturday but on Sunday the low cloud and mist hid most of the action in the skies.
At times on Saturday morning the swirling, windblown flocks seemed to be across all of the northern and western horizons at once. There are clearly very large numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers resting on the drier southern edge of the flood Field. They flushed in response to Marsh Harriers, Red Kites and Sparrow Hawks. They were very flighty and nervous and at times they flushed for no obvious reason at all. It is fascinating to see that although the birds all go up together they very soon separate into species discrete groups, the Golden Plovers Higher tighter and faster than the Lapwings slightly more ponderous flocks below.

Swirling flocks of Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tom Nicholson-Lailey

The seed feeding beside the hide is again going well and is beginning to draw in the sort of numbers that we saw last year, on Sunday morning as P.G. trundled out his hopper and spreader small groups of Linnets appeared to be drawn in and sat waiting in the hedges along the track. I was reminded of the way that wild swans come in to collect food from the man with the wheelbarrow at Slimbridge or the Ouse Washes. The flock is composed of almost equal numbers of Reed Buntings and Linnets, but it contains a few Yellowhammers and Greenfinches, as well as larger numbers of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. Careful and patient watching could be rewarded by views of one or other of the Bramblings that are also in attendance.

Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings by the Hide (c) Derek Lane

There are a pair of Stonechats that can often be seen on the bulrushes just out from the hide another pair have taken up residence on the western edge of Greenaways, there is yet another to be seen at Noke and the last time I heard there were a couple out at the Pill. The two Grey Wagtails that have taken up winter quarters in and around the cattle pens have been joined by three Pied Wagtails. It is amazing that all five appear to finding enough sustenance to keep them going in such a small area.
Pied Wagtail (c) JR
We have one marsh Harrier that is catching fish something that I dont recall having heard of before.
Carrying a fish off to eat.(c) Norman Smith
Duck numbers across the reserve are still growing. One hundred and fifty Pintail this morning on the regular Webs count, approximately two hundred Shoveller, roughly a thousand Wigeon and six hundred or so Teal. The Wigeon in front of the hide are great to watch as they graze on the fresh grass, occasionally panicking and flying back into the water on masse, when not loafing or feeding many of them are displaying. Head bobbing, neck stretching and whistling their distinctive call.
Wigeon by the Hide (c) JR
Snipe are not so easy to see lying up beside the scrapes and pools on Greenways and are much more likely to be seen when flushed up from the grasslands by passing raptors. The Bitterns are still being seen regularly as they relocate within the reed bed and sometimes as they feed along the reedy edges near the second screen. Water levels look sure to rise over the coming few weeks, as this current stream of Atlantic low pressure systems continues to batter the country. The watery fields will attract feeding gulls and perhaps something more unusual like a spoonbill or an Ibis. Great white Egrets are very well established on the Somerset Levels now and I feel sure that it’s only a matter of time before they start to take up more permanent residence with us.

Starlings singly and collectively (c) Tom Nicholson Lailey

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th January

Meadow Pipit (c) JR

It was wonderful to be back on the moor after my enforced absence.(Many thanks to Tezzer and Oz for lifts to and from). Saturday was bright and clear despite fog elsewhere in the county. Sunday was opalescent, greyer and the light more subdued.

On both days it was the sheer numbers of birds that was most remarkable. We have reached that time of year when numbers of Lapwing, Golden Plover and wildfowl reach their peaks. The Starling roost is still active but a little diminished, the ice of last week having pushed some of the birds elsewhere.

Lapwings and Goldies (c) Tezzer

On both days the sky was filled with swirling flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, that flushed and moved between Greenaways and Big Otmoor. Amongst them were smaller tighter parties of Starlings that were finding enough sustenance on the reserve without having to venture too far afield. The birds were responding to both real and imagined threats, sometimes it was possible to pick out the threatening raptor and sometimes not. On Saturday there were two different Peregrines patrolling a large female and a smaller male.
Marsh Harrier (c) Pat Galka
The resident Marsh Harriers were seen frequently sometimes coming a bit closer to the first screen but never too near. They really only perturbed the Teal, flushing large numbers of them out from cover deep in the reeds. Bittern is still being seen intermittently as it relocates within the reedbed.
Bittern (c) Tezzer

A Sparrowhawk or perhaps a Kestrel has been using the first screen as a sheltered spot to pluck, eviscerate and eat its prey. There are all sorts of bits and pieces of Starling scattered around the screen area and blood and feathers all over the benches.
Kestrel at the hide (c) Derek Lane

Duck numbers continue to rise and it was very pleasing to see one flock of over sixty Pintail on Saturday and another of about thirty. Ten Pochard and fifteen Tufted Ducks were on the southern lagoon on Sunday and there was a significant scattering of Gadwall amongst them. The males looking especially smart and crisp in their clerical grey suits.

Tufties and Gadwall pair (c) JR
There are three large groups of Wigeon with the largest of them on Big Otmoor the other two groups on Ashgrave and Greenaways respectively. On Sunday morning two Shelduck were up on the distant lagoon on Ashgrave, the first we have recorded this year. It still puzzles me why we have not seen Goosander on the moor for the past few years. They used to be regular on the northern lagoons. There are enough fish to support a significant number of Cormorants. They appear to be almost common elsewhere in the county at present. The other bird that seems to be all over the county but not on Otmoor is Egyptian Goose, another bird that was regular on the moor but has not been recorded for a couple of years.
First Little Egret of the year (c) JR

Little Egret was another addition to the yearlist this weekend with one feeding on Ashgrave and the Closes on Sunday morning another addition were a couple of Common Gulls loosely attached to a party of Black Headed gulls.

On Saturday morning a Barn Owl was hunting in the Car park field giving great views. There were plenty of Bullfinches to be found in the same field. They are feeding on the blackthorn buds some of which are already in bloom. There are more Skylarks and Meadow Pipits around now, they can be seen and heard on and over the Closes, Greenaways and Ashgrave. Merlin, their principle predator, was also seen briefly on Saturday morning.
Mipit (c) JR

A male Grass Snake was seen on Sunday morning; it was moving very sluggishly “as if its batteries were run down”. It is extraordinarily early for one to be out of hibernation but the mildness of this winter has been unprecedented.

The week ahead looks as if it will be wet and we can expect water levels to rise even further, the weather looks as if it will flip between mild and cold and will be windy, these conditions should move birds around and the added water should attract even more wildfowl. I’m already looking forward to next weekend.

Teal and Shovellers (c) JR