One of the chillier mornings on Otmoor! (Photo: Gary Smith)

One of the chillier mornings on Otmoor! (Photo: Gary Smith)

Whilst the winter may not have bought the constant cold weather we would expect for the start of a new year we have still had some great sightings on the reserve over the last few weeks and some of them during the most recent (albeit short lived) cold snaps.

Our last WeBS survey showed us that all the rain we’ve had that’s been topping up the ditches and footdrains has pleased the wigeon and teal as we had total reserve counts of 1660 and 1434 respectively.

The lagoon on Ashgrave was on my patch of the survey and joining the hundred or so shovelers and mallards, I saw 850 wigeon and 239 teal here alone! I also watched a Buzzard sat in the grass scanning the field with its back turned on all them! Obviously something else was getting its attention and so the ducks carried on dabbling and feeding regardless! A marsh harrier also made a short appearance before being mobbed and scared off by corvids. This is the furthest I’ve personally seen a marsh harrier venturing from the reedbed at Otmoor.  

So, the milder conditions may have meant that we haven’t had some visitors this winter (so far!) that we would normally expect and some species seemed quite low on our count with only 36 gadwall and 42 pintail. I’ve been regaled with stories of five or six hundred pintail on Flood field in the past but even with the high water levels there at the moment it hasn’t bought back that number.

But during the last cold snap on Otmoor, some have been particularly vocal, and (for once) well observed, including a group of seven water rail seen by some of our volunteers skating over the ice on the reedbed! (By this I mean the water rail were skating over the ice, NOT our volunteers!) This was a particularly rewarding sight for our work party last week after a couple of hard days cutting and burning reed in the northern phase of the reedbed.

The usual domain of the marsh harriers, the reedbed, is still providing occasional bittern sightings too as well as what may well be the start of the final throes of the starling murmurations for this winter. We’ve had fantastic counts this winter with up to 150,000 starlings estimated to have roosted in the reedbed. But there are still good displays to be seen as that number now seems to be diminishing, although is still in the tens of thousands!       

The rest of our WeBS survey produced good numbers of Lapwing (3033) and Golden Plover (3129) – two of my favourite birds to watch flying and spinning across the sky. Something about the shape of the wing on a Lapwing always makes me think they shouldn’t be able to fly as acrobatically as they do! But they’re a real pleasure to watch.

Here’s the rest of our WeBS count from last week:

Bittern- 1
Black-headed gull- 245
Canada goose- 359
Coot- 72
Cormorant- 5
Gadwall- 36
Golden plover- 3129
Great crested grebe- 2
Grey heron- 3
Greylag goose- 134
Kingfisher- 2
Lapwing- 3033
Lesser black-backed gull- 3
Mallard- 186
Moorhen- 2
Mute swan- 23
Pintail- 42
Shoveler- 174
Snipe- 15
Teal- 1434
Tufted duck- 5
Water rail- 3
Wigeon- 1660


 2 Marsh harriers, Grey wagtail, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Peregrine