Our latest excursion was an early morning jaunt up to Otmoor on May Bank Holiday Monday. With clear blue skies and a cool but fresh temperature forecast, we were hopeful of a good day. Clearly, more than a few people had the same idea – the car park was well over half full as we arrived just before 8am. One of my favourite indulgences when visiting Otmoor is those first few minutes when the car door is opened and the cocooned silence is broken with a flood of bird noise. The sounds of waders, warblers, garden birds, all making a contribution and promises of sightings to come.
Summer visitors were making their presence known in both sight and sound from the moment we set foot on the reserve. Our first encounter was this Whitethroat by the Car Park Field.
The unmistakeable scratchy call of Sedge Warblers could be heard all along the pathway adjacent to the Car Park Field but they remained elusive. We were granted an audience with another of the warbler family shortly afterwards by the Pump House courtesy of this Willow Warbler.
No doubt too that this was a Willow Warbler rather than a Chiffchaff as we were able to watch it singing with its lovely liquid rising song, a nice change from the two-note Chiffchaff.
We then had a moment of furrowed brow and intrigue as Mrs Sausage saw one or two birds make fleeting appearances in the long grass of Greenaways. We were able to pick out male and female Reed Buntings but there was another, grey headed seed-eater with an almost russet-coloured back we kept seeing and could not clearly identify.
A summer plumage Paul Greenaway was also somewhat befuddled by this sighting, but I put that down to the ropey pictures I had as the bird was at the limit of my camera’s zoom.
Fortunately we stumbled across Otmoor sage Peter Barker later who suggested this was most likely a Linnet. Further investigation and the help of the Facebook bird identification site have confirmed Peter was right. Excitement over, we made our way along the Bridleway, serenaded by Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and less melodiously, Reed Bunting and Goldfinch.
There was some sporadic duck action on Greenaways too. A Shoveler pair were serenely paddling across the water, the morning sun highlighting the chestnut belly and iridescent head of the male.
Joining the Shoveler pair was this single Gadwall. Thanks to my fellow birder Wendy for advising that this is an adult in eclipse plumage and not a juvenile as I first thought.
With Kestrel, Lapwing, Swift, Swallow and Red Kite all seen on our way down to the first screen, a palpable sense of spring activity was in abundance at Otmoor. The first screen saw a Pochard pair and the usual Coots, Tufted Ducks and Greylags. A House Martin skimmed across the top of the hide and a Cuckoo could be heard somewhere towards Noke. Our stroll down to the second screen had more elusive Sedge Warblers, duo-tone Chiffchaffs and a single loud call from a Cettis Warbler whilst Mrs Sausage glimpsed a Treecreeper momentarily and Common Terns could be seen hunting over the reed bed.
As we approached the second screen, a very confiding Greylag was sat on the mound next to the screen. It made no effort whatsoever to move even as people passed close by.
Size and plumage suggest that this may be a juvenile and has yet to learn any fear. It certainly remained stoically placed next to the hide for the duration of our time there and beyond.
The previously heard Cuckoo then made an appearance. Flying in from the direction of Noke, it came straight over our heads and for a moment perched on some exposed branches at the edge of the reeds. Before I could get my camera ready it was off again, heading towards Greenaways. Our first Cuckoo of the year and a pretty close encounter too!
The second screen saw at least one pair of Common Tern on the raft and we had one Hobby over while we were there. I also finally managed to pin down a Sedge Warbler for a picture. This was one was just next to the hide and was calling without any respite but only broke cover occasionally.
The walk back from the second screen brought one more Sedge Warbler into view. All of a sudden, I was on a Sedge roll!
The field next to the pathway was also drawing a small crowd scene. Whatever was there was beyond clear binocular range but thanks to some friendly fellow birders we were able to use a scope to just about see two Ruff at the far end. The male was in magnificent summer plumage and was accompanied by a more subdued female. A first for both of us!
Our return to the first screen also brought us into very close contact with a young Muntjac Deer. At first it was leisurely grazing within the semi-dense foliage and I managed a few shots through the overgrowth.
It wasn’t long after we had moved away to the first hide again that we saw that the deer had broken cover, crossed the path and was up on the bank nibbling away.
The warm temperature of the day also brought Otmoor’s cold-blooded life out to bask in the sun. The lizard hotel at the first screen was very active.
In the above picture, next to the Common Lizard you can also see a single Paederus Rove Beetle. Click on the pic to enlarge and the beetle is at eleven o’clock. There were plenty of Common Lizards out enjoying the warmth though, including one without a tail.
Newborn chicks could also be seen around the reserve. Coots and Moorhens could both be seen with trailing young and Otmoor’s Lapwing population had also produced. The constant harrying of Crows and Red Kites by brave adult Lapwing showing just how vulnerable the grounded chicks are. This Greylag family were seen at the first screen.
I think we completed the full gamut of Otmoor’s wildlife when we were also able to photograph our first Orange Tip butterfly of the year.
We also saw Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma’s during our visit. Adding to the raptor count was a Buzzard over the car park as we were packing up and finally this unidentified bird which noisily buzzed over the reserve.
Otmoor rarely disappoints on any visit but spring-time is a real highlight. The constant warbler cacophony, fly pasts of waders and fowl and the busy activity of our more common birds combines wonderfully with the reptilian, insect and mammalian life to be found. We counted 40 avian species during our visit and probably missed a few. A perfect way to spend the best day of spring so far.