Friday, 21 December 2012

Plovers, Peewits and Pingers

Otmoor sightings 21st December...
But first news from last week. Unfortunately not from Otmoor, but the confines of mine and my neighbours gardens in Oakley.
On the 14th Dec i just happened to be sitting in my kitchen, drinking a cup of tea, idly looking out over the back garden i noticed a bird fly into a tree in my next door neighbours garden. It was joined by four more. Having had five of these birds in my garden two years ago. I ran to the back door grabbing a pair of bins. Sure enough
five Waxwings. I was absolutely thrilled. Admiring the birds through the
bins i was suddenly aware that everywhere i looked in the two trees
there was another Waxwing. I counted thirty three birds together at one
time. Although there could well have been more as they were continuously
flying back and forth from another garden two doors down. It was late afternoon and very poor lighting conditions. (Grey and drab with low cloud)
First of all trying to photograph them from my backdoor. Rapidly adjusting the settings on my camera between frames I could still only get mostly silhouettes against the grey sky. Moving to my sons bedroom window and changing the angle, i did manage to get some visible colour in some of the shots.

Waxwings in silhouette.

Slightly better.

The light then faded completely and the birds disappeared.
The following day i had to travel down to Sunny Brighton for the once a year get together of the clan. Where the great and the good (And the slightly mad) fly in from all corners of the globe to convene for a family Christmas dinner. From as far afield as Thailand and Devon. Leaving early i had no time to look for the birds and after a huge Christmas dinner cooked with art and precision by my lovely sister in law (A mountain of roasties will always keep me quiet for a while). We arrived back home in the dark, with no chance of seeing the Waxy visitors. Checking the bucks going birding site for any news. Alas all was quiet on the Oakley front.
Sunday was a different kettle of fish altogether. Blue skies and glorious sunshine. Standing at the back door for no more than a couple of minutes the first of many small flocks of Waxies flew over my garden and landed in a garden, about three doors down. Frustratingly just out of sight. My patience was rewarded however with some lovely views in my garden and up and down the road in several other gardens. I counted twenty together at one time but i think there may well have been double that. As they were flying around in small flocks of sixes and sevens. They seemed to be everywhere along my road. A lovely Fieldfare was keeping three Waxwings company in an apple tree, in a garden just down the road. What a fantastic day.

Otmoor 21st December 2012...

Continuing on the Waxwing front. After driving through a very foggy Beckley village i was pleasantly surprised to find that the fog was just covering the hills and from Otmoor lane down it was relatively clear. Driving down the lane with my windows open. As i always do as a matter of course. Listening out for bird song. Approaching the farm turning on the left i noticed a flock of Fieldfare flying back and forth across the road. slowing down to see if i could see any Redwings amongst them. I heard the very distinct call of a Waxwing. It was very close. It sounded as if it was in the bushes right next to the car. Unfortunately a car came up behind me and i felt obliged to drive to the farm entrance and let it pass. Glancing back i saw that all of the Fieldfares had flown and the bushes appeared empty. Although i didn't see the bird i wasn't too worried as i had the fantastic views in my garden just days ago. But still pleased as it was a new bird for my Otmoor list.
A flock of some fifty Greylag were very vocal close to the path on Closes and a Kingfisher was sitting on one of the two tall posts close to the path on Closes, fifty yards before the feeders. A lot of birds were over the far right hand corner of Greenaways. But it was still a bit dark and murky to make anything out.

A female Hen Harrier was quartering over Ashgrave. Causing a large flock of Lapwing and Wildfowl to take to the skies. Two Little Egrets were paddling on the Ashgrave pools and another was on closes.
Walking down the path to the screens. I was treated to an awesome sight. The sun was trying to break through the clouds. Forming a very angry and breathtaking vista.
The photos do not really do it justice. A flock of Lapwing flew across the sun creating quite a spectacle.

The light remained poor for photography for most of the morning. Only improving as i walked back to the car at midday. That's my excuse for the poor quality of the bird photos today. It has nothing to do with me being a useless photographer. (cough)
Meeting up with a friend at the first screen he informed me, he had seen both a male and a female Hen Harrier over the reed bed. We later saw the male from the 2nd screen and again on our second visit to the first screen on the way back. The second screen was quiet productive with several wisps of snipe flying around there and again at the first screen. Forty five birds in total. Two Tufted ducks and eighteen Gadwall. The first of four Chiffchaffs and a Great spotted Woodpecker also at the second screen. It is noticeable that the large flocks of Fieldfare seem to have disbanded. Although still common there are nowhere near as many as there were, even a week or two ago. as the bushes are virtually stripped of their berries. Only a handful of Redwing seen this morning as well.
On our second visit to the first screen. Looking out to the left of the screen. I found two Bearded tits making their way along the reed frontage,  Not sitting still for more than a couple of seconds, i only managed to get one poor photo of the back of one, before they disappeared.
(Apologies for the quality)

Bearded Tit (Just)

Chiffy (Just)


More Snipe.
 Several Goldcrests were seen or heard on most parts of the reserve. Although i made a few attempts to photograph one. None of them were usable. I have been trying to get a good shot of an Otmoor Goldcrest all year, with little success. Some, you can see they are Goldcrests. But that is the best anyone could say about it. Then someone comes along and absolutely blows me out of the water. Andrew Marshall has done it again. After sending me one of the best photos i have seen of a Kingfisher. (See post.. Rocket propelled Peregrine 25th September) He very kindly sent me a shot, he took last week, at Otmoor of a Goldcrest. Not just a Goldcrest, but a Goldcrest in flight. Again i cannot remember ever seeing a better one. (Cheers Andrew) I take great pleasure in including it in this blog. Stunning!!

(C) Andrew Marshall
The walk back towards the hide produced five Stonechats (in total) at the top of the path and the hide area.
Walking back along the bridleway (Greenaways) just one of the many Otmoor specialities began.
Massive flocks of Wildfowl, Lapwing and Golden Plovers, began to wheel about the sky. Although there were no obvious birds of prey or other predators visible. I can only guess as to why they were so skittish. Huge flocks would suddenly, for no apparent reason take to the sky, before settling again moments later. 500 plus (est)mixed Wildfowl including eleven Male Pintail, twenty two Shoveler, among the Wigeon, Teal and Mallard. 1,000 Lapwing (est) and 600 plus Golden Plover (est) were constantly on the alert.

Wildfowl over Greenaways.
Golden Plover and Lapwing over Greenaways.

Massive Golden Plover flock Greenaways.
Female Hen Harrier causing a stir on a misty Ashgrave.
Hills in the mist, Ashgrave
Sunrise over Closes field.
I will raise a glass or two and wish. A very Happy Christmas to you all.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Winters Tale

After waking up to a find a thin layer of snow had fallen overnight. I began to contemplate over a hot mug of tea. Whether my planned trip to Otmoor was still to go ahead. Examining the road outside my house for ice. It didn't seem that bad. So I decided to give it a go. . After i felt the car slide for the third time, I did begin to question my sanity. The icy slope of Otmoor lane was particularly fun.
Arriving at the car park. I was heartened to find, not surprisingly i was the only one there. I don't know what it is, but it allways seems like an added bonus when you have the place to yourself. Even if it is just for a little while.

Snow covered Car park.

Nobody here but us birds.
And me
The Car park field was unusually quiet. With just one fieldfare and a robin seen from the kissing gate to the new path. Two Reed Buntings were feeding on the snowy path leading to Greenaways. Lots of birds around the feeders. With the usual Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Blue and Great Tits, feeding avidly on the nuts. (Still haven't seen anything feeding on the new Niger feeder) A Redpoll was in the bushes opposite the feeders near to the bridge. A gaggle of Greylag were noisily making their presence known on closes field.

Reed Buntings in the snow.
Male Reed Bunting.
Greylags on Closes.
Snowy Greenaways.

On reaching Greenaways, a bitterly cold northerly wind greeted me. Scanning the field i found the first Golden Plover of the day, huddled up close to a Lapwing.
Later i saw a small flock of seven drop into the Barn field, A larger flock of fifty or so fly onto the Flood field. Three more were on closes (Seen from the hide). And three more in the same place as i had seen the first one on Greenaways, among a flock of seven snipe.

Distant golden Plovers with Snipe Greenaways.
As the sun broke through the breaking clouds it made for some spectacular skies.

Early morning Greenaways
Sun hitting the far side of a Watery Greenaways

Big Otmoor Bridleway.

Snow on path to 1st screen.

A peaceful walk
 And now for an Otmoor mystery. Reaching the bridge to the hide. I noticed on the pool immediately to the left of the bridge, were three sets of footprints on the ice. Appearing out of nowhere. They lead to a hole in the ice. One set of footprints then lead to a smaller hole to the right and another single set of footprints lead to the left and another hole in the ice.

Icy footprint mystery.
Who fell through the ice ?
A Red Kite and a Hen Harrier were quartering over Big Otmoor. Later on over the far side of big Otmoor, i saw the Red Kite being harrangued by a pair of Peregrines. A juvenile Buzzard was also perched on the top of a nearby tree, close to the action.
Two Stonechats were around the hide area. With one flitting back and forth, at the top of the screens path. A second bird was feeding in front of the hide.
Distant Hen Harrier over Big Otmoor.

This lovely Stonechat was by the path to the screens.

Stonechat in flight.
Stonechat in front of hide.
Lots of birds around the hide area. Fieldfare, Redwing, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Long tailed tit, Goldfinches, Robin, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Grey Heron, Mute Swans, Snipe, Golden Plover all seen here.
Large flocks of Greylag and Canada Geese out on Ashgrave. Just the one Little Egret there this morning.

Male Bullfinch.
A charm of Goldfinches.
A lamentation of Swans.
A Whisp of Snipe.
 Snipe seen just about everywhere on the reserve. Several were feeding close to the path (To 1st screen) Greenaways. The largest group comprised of around forty birds seen flying towards the flood field, from the 2nd screen. Another flock of twenty also seen from the 2nd screen along with smaller parties and individuals.

Twenty Snipe.

Another whisp following the same path.
The first screen was again very quiet. Not surprising really as it was almost frozen over. A flock of Starlings were perched on a nearby Oak tree. By far the most common bird on the reserve at the moment. A foxes footprints were in the snow, just past the first screen. They trailed off, all the way past the 2nd screen.

A Fox Footprint.
A set of Fox prints
By this time the sun was up. Although still cold, it turned into another glorious day.
The wind had thankfully lost some of its bite. And the walk down to the 2nd screen was very scenic. The ice in the fields was begining to melt and Black Headed Gulls were taking advantage of the gaps in the ice.

Ice, Snow, reflections and Golden sunshine.
Breaks in the ice.
Starlings near the 1st screen.
B-H Gull in melted channel
Flooded ice fields
The 2nd screen area was very productive. Lots of wildfowl. Including a lovely male Pintail swimming amongst a large flotilla of Gadwall. B-H gulls, Snipe, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Fieldfare and the occasional Redwing there also. The wildfowl consisted of Pintail, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted, Mallard and Shoveler.

Gadwall against a powder blue sky.
Gadwall, Tufted and Pochard.
Male Pintail.

Meadow Pipit.

Fieldfare eating hip.
Fieldfare eating sloe.
Grey Squirrels Feeding on hips.

Walking back in the sunshine. It struck me as to what a great day it had been. Lots to see and in wonderful peaceful surroundings. Although i was glad of the warm clothing. with slightly numb fingers i ambled back to the car. but not without first taking the time to get some quick shots of a grey Heron on the Bridleway and a Kestrel that was carrying its prey.

The walk back.

Grey Heron.

Kestrel carrying prey.

What difference a few hours make. The last two photos show the path to Greenaways. The first early morning, Cold, grey and forbidding. The second blue skies, melted snow and glorious sunshine.