One of the things I hope to do over the Christmas break (must do some Christmas shopping soon!) is to see one of the UK's wildlife spectacles.
Our nature reserve at Otmoor is a lovely place in Oxfordshire. I remember back in the early 1980s (I think it was) buying a small chunk of Otmooor to try to prevent the M40 going right through it. And I'm glad that it doesn't, because Otmoor is a special place at any time of year.
Otmoor is a bowl which has always flooded in winter. It has a lot of history associated with it - it is said that Lewis Carroll looked down onto the fields of Otmoor, and thinking that they looked liked a chessboard spreading out below him, he began thinking about Alice's travel across a chessboard in Through the Looking Glass.
Our involvement on the ground at Otmoor started with land acquisition in 1997 (and of course we were keenly interested before that) and since then we have added parcels of land to our land holding - but it's still work in progress. Even so, the transformation is dramatic - a landscape which had been drained and converted to wheat production is now partly returned to a more natural wetland where wading species live in the summer and flocks of wildfowl in winter.
Otmoor is now a breeding wader hotspot in central England - lapwings, redshank, snipe and curlew nest at Otmoor. In summer it's a great place to see hobbies catching dragonflies over the reedbed or water-filled ditches. And it is very rich in butterflies too - one of the very few places where both black hairstreak and brown hairstreak butterflies occur. And red kites are now often seen overhead.
Over the last decade we have added to our nature reserve here, sometimes a field at a time, to create a more natural wetland. But Otmoor is still work in progress - wetlands often are. Our nature reserve boundary doesn't fit with where the water wants to go so we have rather too many bunds that are needed to separate our wet land from our neighbours' drier land. And the winter floods at Otmoor help to soak up and store water which might otherwise cause people problems further downstream.
Piecing a nature reserve together often takes decades and we are now in the second decade at Otmoor. To get this far we have had support from a large number of organisations and individuals, including: the Heritage Lottery Fund; Landfill Communities Fund through WREN, Biffaward, Viridor Credits, TOE, Thames Water and SITA Trust; our partners the Environment Agency, Rural Development Services/DEFRA, Cherwell District Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, charitable trusts, RSPB members and local volunteers. And I apologise to anyone I have unintentionally missed.
Peter Cox, Managing Director of WREN, summed it up well at the 10th birthday celebration: ‘WREN has recognised the strategic importance of the RSPB Otmoor reserve to the overall biodiversity improvement plan in Oxfordshire and is proud to be part of such an important and unique wildlife site. We acknowledge that after 10 years of hard work, the RSPB have now created this wonderful wetland habitat which will provide a haven for wildlife and an inspirational amenity for the general public to visit and enjoy.’
So what is this wildlife spectacle that I might try to catch over the Christmas break? Starlings! Thousands of them, in fact a few tens of thousands of them, wheeling over the reedbed as the light fades at dusk. They make a fantastic show - it's difficult to think of it in any other terms although I doubt that the starlings are imagining the pleasure that they give a human observer. If you can't make it to a starling roost yourself over the winter period then here are some images to give you an insight into what you are missing.
Starlings are common birds - although rarer than they used to be - but the fact that we are familiar with them doesn't make their individual or collective beauty any the less. Whether it is a squabbling flock of starlings on a bird feeder, a single bird singing from a rooftop doing its characteristic wing rotating display, or those winter flocks which paint the darkening skies with fleeting but memorable images - I like starlings!
Yes Mark,they are a really lovely bird when looked at closely which they seem to be quite comfortable with.There is a big variation in summer between adults and young and perhaps because there were so many and common,even in the 70s to 90s a real pest which I feel sure will upset some people but on the farm we had real trouble stopping them messing in the calf food and had to resort to netting any openings in buildings.We never did anything more drastic and they seemed to nest all over the place in the other buildings and any holes in trees they could find.On the plus side in winter in mid 70s we had about 100 Elms on farm(before dutch elm disease)and the starlings used to come over in small flocks of perhaps 200 staying in a tree for a minute or two then moving on a few yards repeating the process and other small flocks following on behind all making their way to a massive roost in a wood where it was said they were killing the trees with you know what and I think they were considered such a nuisance that they were talking of using Crow scarers to move them on.It seems almost unbelievable the difference in numbers now as although large numbers where we get these spectaculars nothing compared to that period I believe.An example of how good a mimic they can be was in those days if the phone went in the house for me and I was in the buildings Sweep had a brilliant piercing whistle and unfortunately one or perhaps even more Starling found easy to copy and quite often found myself running thinking I was needed on the phone only to find it was Starling or if lucky I might see him on top of roof and see it was him.
Great pictures of a great sight - love starlings - enjoy your Christmas break there!
Yes Mark still in agreeing mode we both are,wonder if I am anywhere near 200 comments.What a lovely surprise for Lindybird to comment,perhaps shows plenty of bottle and feel sure if I ask you to you will welcome her to this site,assuming it is the first visit and if not feel sure she would forgive me anyway for my assumption.Lets hope she continues to comment(we both need more)and think I could speak for both of us that this site quite broad minded.We have a wonderful spectacular of Starlings on Somerset levels in the reed beds,they move around a bit but are sometimes in RSPB Ham Wall and surrounding area.Fantastic photos on Foxybiddy site and scroll down until you see Starling Spectacular,really well worth looking at.We have seen her down there and really dedicated photographer.
Just realised that the bit where you have put 'here' can be clicked on to access some really wonderful pics - thank you!
Thanks, Mark for a very interesting insight into how such places are maintained. I realise a lot of work goes on behind the scenes as it were to keep things at the right balance for both nature & man.
Thanks too for the lovely photo- it must be one of the best wildlife spectacles we have on these islands, to see so many birds moving as one - just wonderful.
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