An early start today as the Met office were forecasting showers at Otmoor by noon. I was on the road before 6.30 and immediately regretted not packing any gloves as the temperature remained at 2 degrees or below for the 45 minute journey.
Apart from the customary Red Kites along the M40, the first sighting of interest occurred just as I entered Beckley village – a single Red-Legged Partridge crossed the road. Warm temperatures and blue skies were a recent memory from the last visit. Otmoor today was cold and breezy, occasionally teasing the fingers with brief showers of warm sunlight.
Despite the conditions, seasonal activity was continuing apace. Chiffchaff were calling from warbler alley and both Canada and Greylag Geese could be heard honking in the near distance. Lapwing were constantly rising, twisting and falling while making their comedic pee-wit calls, and several noisy Wren flitted in and out of the hawthorn leading to the feeders.
I met up with Peter Barker on the Bridleway. He had sad news with regards to one of Otmoor’s Barn Owls. Please see Ewan’s blog for an eloquent and thought-provoking report on the incident. We have been fortunate enough to witness ringing first hand (as blogged last June) and I fully understand the views expressed in Ewan’s post. While there may possibly be more knowledge to be gained from ringing certain species, there are now technologically advanced and safer alternatives to this process.
From the negative to the positive as Peter and I met up with Terry Sherlock and Peter Law and headed for the Wetlands Hide. Here we had a distant Sparrowhawk, several Little Egret, a spring of Teal (collective noun alert!) and many Redshank over with their “ti-you” call. The Grey Heron also seem to be preparing to nest in last year’s dead tree again.
As we left the hide, a large flock of mostly Golden Plover took to the air followed by Redshank and a few Black-tailed Godwits. Terry spotted a Peregrine making it’s way either through or across the flock before seeing it land, presumably with a kill.
On to the newly opened first reed-bed hide where my bird of the day was to be found. A very obliging Wheatear that spent the whole morning in the same small patch of grass adjacent to the hide. Although several Wheatear were spotted Saturday, this was the only one seen during our visit on Sunday and it’s confiding nature made it quite a draw. The Wheatear is one of our summer visitors, seen in the UK from March to October. Otmoor is a regular passing site at the beginning and end of the breeding season.
A Great-Crested Grebe also caught our attention at the first hide as it swallowed three perch in succession. To give an idea of size, this would be like one of us swallowing half a cucumber whole.
Also on the water here were Pochard. The males were chasing the females with their bodies almost flat in the water. This is part of their courtship display.
With the Wheatear getting more attention, we headed for the second scrape on the way to Noke, hoping that Saturday’s Little Ringed Plover was still around. There was no sign but Redshank were everywhere. Frequently taking to the air and hunting for food all around the scrape, I think this is one of the largest numbers of these waders I have seen in my three years visiting Otmoor.
With constant threats of heavy showers, we made our way down Warbler Alley where Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Linnet were seen and a Treecreeper heard. From there onto Long Meadow and to the Spinney, a wood at the end of Long Meadow which is not part of the reserve but where we had hoped a Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker may be lurking. With both Green Woodpecker and Great-Spotted heard, hopes were raised. But other than a Red Kite patrolling it’s nest and causing a lot of noisy Corvid chatter, our long walk was fruitless, or rather, birdless this time.
Other species seen today were Dunnock, Blue Tit, Reed Bunting, Great Tit, Pheasant, Magpie, Great-Spotted Woodpecker, Rook, Crow, Cormorant, Wood Pigeon, Mute Swan, Water Rail (heard), several Buzzard, Wigeon, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Gadwall, Song Thrush, Robin, 12 Fieldfare over, Shoveler and Bullfinch.
More of the pics on our Flickr page