Warblers, Wits And Tits

Ahh Bank Holiday Monday, Mrs Sausage far away in the frozen north and a pile of ironing and chores to do. The solution to this situation? Set the alarm for 0530 and drive to Otmoor of course!

Dry and bright, if a little fresh, the “Otmoor noise” hit me as soon as I opened the car door. Distant Greylag and Canada Geese honking away and the buzzing of warblers. My first bird contact was this very noisy Sedge Warbler.

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Ashgrave had two Little Egret and a sprinkling of Mallard but was otherwise dominated by constantly active Lapwing, protecting their recently hatched chicks from the ever present Red Kites.

Down to the cattle pens and I noticed that Blue Tits have taken up residence in the nest box on the wardens hut.
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A distant Cuckoo was calling from beyond the Closes and the occasional Snipe was drumming overhead, completing the spring soundscape perfectly. I made my way along to the first patch of reeds. They were reverberating with Reed Warbler calls but the owners were very well camouflaged. Patience was the name of the game, and a keen eye scanning the dense reeds for movement.

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The trees opposite the reeds were busy with Blackcap, Chaffinch and Reed Buntings. Goldfinch could also be seen, their chirruping song often being heard first before they settled onto branches. Adding to the small bird collection here was this Chiffchaff.

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The constant feature of the day was made by Lapwings constantly leaving the ground to fend off Red Kites. Acrobatically twisting and turning, mobbing the bigger, gliding raptors, they were skittish and brave in equal measure. Mark Chivers was telling me he watched as many as five Lapwing chicks taken on Saturday, Red Kite and Sparrowhawk alike finding rich pickings among the young.

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Paul Greenaway joined us and we took a walk towards Noke. As we scanned Big Otmoor another birder called out that he thought he had seen a Ruff land. Paul scanned across and immediately found the bird, not a Ruff though, a full breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit. Sadly too far away for a picture, it was easily seen through a scope and looked magnificent in it’s bright orangey-brown summer plumage.

Continuing toward Noke again, Paul heard a Garden Warbler calling. Similar to a Blackcap with it’s melodious call but just a little lower in tone and softer, they are often heard more than seen. We were lucky today though, as this was a very showy bird. All thanks to Paul though for his expert song identification.

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Quite a plain, almost drab bird, the song more than makes up for it and to have one so bold and so close was a real bonus.

Also drawing some attention on Big Otmoor was a small white goose. The consensus among the Otmoor experts was this was a feral Snow Goose, possibly an escapee. It certainly stood out among the Greylag and Canada Geese.

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Big Otmoor was the busiest of the Otmoor fields, with the Godwit, Lapwings, Redshank and geese all showing. We also had several Mute Swans, two Oystercatcher, a clutch of a dozen Mallard chicks and two Gadwall. The trees on either side of the pathway were busy with Whitethroat and Reed Bunting in particular.

Most of the fowl across Otmoor were nursing young along. Greylag, Coot, Moorhen and Mallard young were all seen during my visit.

The second reedbed hide was largely quiet, a few Tufted Duck, Mallard and Pochard sharing the water with the Common Terns on their raft. The trees along the path were scattered with the odd Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting.

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As I made my way back to the first reedbed hide I could see at least two Hobby hunting across the reeds. As I entered the hide and watched with Mark Chivers, we counted five Hobby in total. Despite the lack of dragonflies at the moment, we could see them still catching insects, their legs dropping down to grab flying insects with regularity.

Both Swift and Swallow were seen over the reedbed as well, suggesting a healthy supply of airborne insect food was available.

As I made it back to the junction of the bridleway and the Wetlands hide the previously heard Cuckoo made a low-level flight across my path, heading towards Noke. I tried to follow it’s path but lost it as it went low and disappeared. Compensation came in the shape of Long-tailed Tits. First it was just this one:

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But as I followed its movements and those of a few others the sight was revealed. In among the leaves and branches was a whole volery (collective noun alert!!) of young Long-tailed Tits.

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Bunched together and almost hidden away, the activity around them was frenetic. Small grey balls of feathers would dart in and out on what looked to me like feeding runs. You can just about see open mouths in this picture.

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A day when so many of the larger birds at Otmoor were raising young, finished with one of the smaller species doing the same.

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As always, please click on the pics for a bigger image, more to be seen on the Flickr page

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