Another early start this Sunday as I drove into the car park at Otmoor around 6.30, finding that at least half a dozen other birders had the same idea. With forecasts that this was to be the hottest day of the year so far, a few hours in the relative peace and quiet of early morning Otmoor seemed the sensible choice.
Contributing to the decision were reported sightings during the week of one of Otmoor’s favourite summer visitors, Turtle Doves and an interesting new one in the shape of a Glossy Ibis. With no Glossy visible on my first look at the Closes I made my way along the Bridleway in hope of Turtle Doves.
Already there was Mark Chivers, you can see his excellent photos on his blog, The Early Birder. Two Turtle Doves were indeed present but were none too obliging in terms of posing for a portrait. The reason became apparent as the purring male flew from his semi-covered perch to mate with the female several times. This did not deter us voyeuristic avian paparazzi from crouching and stretching for at least one clear shot.
Not as good as last year’s pictures, but I hope to return once their nuptials are over and they are a little less pre-occupied. It is always a privilege to see these birds and something of a miracle that they complete their journey from Africa’s Sahel Desert to the south of England every year.
With Mark advising that he had seen the Glossy Ibis already this morning I decided to wander down to the Wetland hide to see if it was visible from there. With mostly Sedge and the occasional Reed Warbler serenading my walk I also saw Blackcap, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and one Treecreeper along the way.
It was mostly quiet at the hide, with Lapwing, Little Egret, Coot and Mallard dotted around. With no Glossy Ibis visible I decided to go back down to the feeders for another look.
I met up with Mark again who had been joined by Peter Barker and following behind was Paul Greenaway. Paul and I paused at the cattle gate for a scan across Greenaways. It was here I spotted a lot of birds mobbing a raptor across the back of the field, as usual Lapwing were up but gulls were joining in too. Finding the raptor in amongst the angry throng it stood out as being very pale, so definitely not a Buzzard or a Kite. I asked Paul if he knew what it was. A Monty’s was his opinion. The pale plumage and buoyant, almost Tern-like flying style being distinctive features of a Montagu’s Harrier. It very much looked like the bird was passing through rather than hunting, it was being ushered away from Otmoor by the mob with no little ceremony, although the elegant flight of the harrier suggested it was largely unperturbed by them.
With this news the assembled members of the Otmoor massive decided to head for the Pill. With the possibility of the Glossy Ibis spending some time there and the hope that maybe the Montagu’s would make a brief stop-over, we made our way through the damp field, gathering at the bridge for a group scan. No Glossy, no harrier, but plenty of warbler activity and a lovely, clear sighting of a reeling Grasshopper warbler care of Jon Prowse and his well tuned ears. Only visible through a scope so no pics unfortunately, this was a very bold bird. Grasshopper Warblers follow the trend of being heard more than seen, but this one was topping a dead bush for us all to enjoy.
Back to Otmoor and finally the Glossy Ibis. Foraging in and out of the sedge on the Closes, it maintained a fair distance from us, only briefly falling within half decent camera range. I’m none too happy with my photo’s of the Glossy Ibis, both light and distance were against me and the bird, when visible was perpetual motion. Here is an excellent video of the Otmoor Glossy Ibis courtesy of Badger from the Oxon Bird log.
Sightings of Glossy Ibis are becoming more frequent now. After an initial influx of around 20 birds around 2007 records show a similar number arriving each year since 2009. The British Birds Rarities Committee removed the bird from the rarities list in January this year due to the frequency of sightings. Nevertheless, it is a fine bird to see with a plumage of metallic greens and bronzes and chestnut brown. Certainly a touch of the exotic in rural Oxfordshire and it makes up for missing one at Rye Meads last autumn.
Other bird species seen today but not previously mentioned were, Red Kite (as always), Kestrel, Greenfinch, Pheasant, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Carrion Crow, Mute Swan, Red-legged Partridge, Mallard, Redshank, Common Snipe (drumming), Wood Pigeon, Skylark, the feral Snow Goose, Canada and Greylag Goose Jay, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Cuckoo (heard), and Grey Heron (juvs and adults)
As the summer approaches Otmoor become home to a vast array of insect life. Various species of dragonfly (which I am no expert on) lure in Hobbies in good numbers. My last visit saw five, Sunday had as many as nine reported.
Several hornets were spotted and I finally managed a decent shot of a Brimstone butterfly for the year.
Although my pictures from this visit really don’t do justice to the day, it’s impossible to not look back on a day when I saw a Glossy Ibis, a Montagu’s Harrier, Hobbies and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler as anything other than a total birding success.