The Beast of Otmoor was spotted wandering up the roman road last Tuesday, this shaggy horned creature was then seen lurking in the car park, before slinking off into the mist. I have seen the Beast myself, just once before, huddled in a hedgeline on the MOD land. It’s matted hair and bright yellow eyes suddenly emerging from the thorn as I walked past whilst carrying out an early morning breeding bird survey. Unfortunately rather than being some form of horned yeti, the Beast is a soay sheep, a hardy and ancient breed. This particular individual is part of a dwindling feral herd that has been living on the moor, favouring the high land round the edges, for the last few decades. Although very elusive, the sheep do very occasionally make an appearance on the reserve.
Talking of hairy animals, it’s looking like the young roe deer that appeared to be ‘stuck’ in the Closes field has now left. I saw a very similar looking individual coming out the end of the hedgeline running along the northern edge of the field and unless it’s being very elusive there doesn’t seem to be a deer in the field any longer.
People have been pleasantly surprised to see and hear a Cetti’s warbler in the ditch about half way along the bridleway over the past couple of weeks. Only one individual was picked up during this year’s breeding survey and so whether this is the same or another bird, it’s good to have it here. Last year’s cold winter hit the warbler population very hard and so the state of this winter will play a big role in determining whether this once familiar Otmoor bird is regularly heard again next year.
The number of starlings currently roosting in the Otmoor reedbed is a lot lower than expected with only 2000-3000 currently being seen. This may be because the reedbed is so dry at the moment, allowing foxes and other predators to wander onto the islands, scaring off the birds and putting them off from returning. There is a large starling flock of 10000-15000 birds being seen about 2 miles to the north of the reedbed and which seem to be roosting in an area of woodland. This may be the same large flock I saw coming into the reedbed last week, but which has since decided to abandon us for the relative safety of the trees. Hopefully when it finally rains and water levels go up on the reserve the traitorous starlings will return.
On the plus side the short-eared owls are still showing well. Four were seen yesterday evening (22nd Nov) by the Tuesday work party, with the setting sun as a back drop it made a fitting end to a good day of thorn coppicing.
The results from this months WEBS (WEtland Bird Survey) count are....
Reedbed: 12 black headed gulls, 1 cormorant, 5 mallard, 302 teal, 26 shoveler, 1 snipe, 2 coots, 52 wigeon, 1 grey heron, 51 lapwings, 1 buzzard, 1 kestrel
Big Otmoor: 116 canada geese, 2 greylag geese
Ashgrave: 81 greylag geese, 4 lapwings
Greenaways: 33 greylag geese, 1 snipe, 1 lapwing, 4 mute swans, 6 mallard