An early early start on Sunday for a long overdue visit to Otmoor. Recent sightings on the Oxon Bird Log suggested the 5.30 alarm would be worthwhile.
An empty motorway and blue skies set the mood and apart from another early morning birder taking a pee where I normally park the car, serenity reigned as I arrived.
A group of Red Legged Partridge were seen just entering the reserve as I pulled in.
With the distant Greylag Gesse honking and warblers already filling the air with their song I made my way to my first usual stop, the feeders. Sadly today, there was no Barn Owl hunting across the Car Park Field but I did spot a distant Roe deer hopping into the foliage at the back of the field.
It’s almost a given that there will be a Pheasant or two under the feeders and today was no exception. This male looking resplendent in the sun:
The feeders were being visited in shifts by a variety of finches and tits, most notably today, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Blue Tit. On my visits last year it seemed that at around 7.30 each Sunday morning a Great Spotted Woodpecker would also raid the hanging feeders. Indeed, this one was seen on 3 or 4 consecutive Sundays. Yesterday was no exception as within a few minutes of my arrival I heard the familiar “tchik” call and there it was. Today however there was to be a bigger bully on the spot, scaring off a nearby Jay and then the woodpecker was this adventurous chap:
Alas for the squirrel the rodent-proof feeders were an unassailable challenge and he scurried off for easier pickings. Only a few minutes in and there was plenty of activity. As I turned to leave the feeders a Bullfinch was perched along the path from where I had just come:
I have found the Bullfinches at Otmoor quite elusive and they never seem to hang around too much. Sadly another bird in quite serious decline across the country, this was my first chance to grab a record shot.
With Snipe drumming overhead most of the morning (see previous Otmoor post) and Reed and Sedge Warbler loudly calling I made my way down the bridleway. There was at least one, possibly 2 Cuckoo calling across Otmoor too.
It was here, while scanning for signs of any Hobby, I heard the gently purring of another endangered species, the Turtle Dove.
A recent survey from 25 of the UK’s nature organisations has shown a huge decline in our nations wildlife. The Turtle Dove is one of the most vulnerable now with numbers down 93% since 1970. A summer visitor in the UK this bird has seen its’ natural habitat disappear as industrialized and intensive agriculture replaces the traditional farms. Fond of woodland and hedgerows, Otmoor and the surrounding environs offers at least some suitable habitat for these once common birds, with 4 or 5 spotted on and around the reserve in recent weeks.
With many of the occupying species at Otmoor now producing young, raptors were very much in evidence all day. Red Kites were constantly overhead and were subject to frequent mobbing by brave Lapwings. Life is hard for Lapwing chicks, subject to avian predation during the day and nocturnal predation by Foxes, Weasels and Mink. A skittish bird by nature, they were constantly up fending off gliding Kites.
Also seen were at least 3 or 4 Buzzards, circling high over both the reedbeds and the fields and mid-morning saw the arrival of Hobby’s. As the day warms up and the insects take to the air the drive-through fast food larder for the Hobby is open for business. Fond especially of dragonflies, Hobby’s are fast and agile, catching their prey on the wing.
I made for the reedbed hides, constantly lifting my head as Swifts criss-crossed the big skies, their scimitar shaped wings making me double-take to make sure they weren’t raptors.
Also seen were Tufted Ducks, Mallards and the Terns on the raft at the second screen. The Common Terns seem to have settled on the raft again and were aggressively shooing off anything that came too close, even the sedate drift of Mute Swans saw the male Tern take to the air to buzz them back to a safer distance.
My time at the second reedbed hide as accompanied by this Sedge Warbler giving full vent to its range of song:
Back on the bridleway I met up with some of the Otmoor Massive (Paul Greenaway, Peter Barker and Terry Sherlock.) If anything interesting is to be seen it often seems to happen when they are around and we headed off to go and investigate another part of the reserve, The Pill.
Half way down the bridleway among the Reed and Sedge Warbler chatter a distinctive ping! call was heard. We paused, waited….ping again….there is only one bird with a call like this…and in seconds skimming across the top of the reeds next to the path was a Bearded Tit…or was it? Or was it two?
Hope and confusion took hold for some seconds until we managed to catch the bird re-appearing high up on the reeds. Definitely a Beardie….and we could confirm it a female. Rarely staying still and traversing the narrow reedbed we were spread out waiting for pings and photo opportunities.
It showed again and again, pings and flights along the reeds, occasionally chased by Sedge and Reed Warblers it finally offered opportunities for proper confirmation.
Usually an autumn visitor to Oxford, a quick check confirmed this was the first sighting of a Bearded Tit in the county in the spring or summer.
It is testimony to the allure of this bird that we all ignored a Turtle Dove, a Lesser Whitethroat and 3 Curlew flying over as we attempted to catch some proper sightings.
I drew the conclusion that my day had probably peaked at this stage and headed back to London where news reached me of a Red Backed Shrike at Barnes WWT. Would Lake Farm be lucky enough again?
All these pics and more on the new tarted up Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/94900571@N05/