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
Otmoor is still proving to be an amazing area for raptors with short-eared owls being seen everyday (seven reported on 15th Nov) and hen harriers, merlin, peregrine, kestrel, buzzard, sparrowhawk and red kite all being seen over the past couple of days. After the Wednesday work party this week I got amazing views of two of the owls over Closes, one seemed in a particularly bad mood, as it started off attacking the crows that were mobbing it, then grappled with a kestrel, talons locking as they tumbled to the ground and then it started attacking the other calmer owl that had been circling overhead. The owls have been seen over all the fields on the reserve and are more noticeable in the early evenings as they quarter the grassland. Look out for high flying birds too, as the owls aren't just being seen low to the ground. Groups of mobbing corvids are also worth checking for a shorty in their midst.
The work parties have been doing lots of willow coppicing this week and we're doing well at getting all the willows on the reserve into a three year coppice cycle. Work has been done clearing the channels feeding the reedbed sluices and conditions are looking good for us to soon start doing this years reed cut.
Three bearded tits were reported in the reedbed this week (15th Nov) although they've not been seen or heard since and the starling roost is continuing to build. I estimate 10000 birds roosted in the northern phase of the reedbed on the 15th Nov, they started arriving at 15:45 with most of the birds coming in from the north and east. The flocks ranged from about 20-2000 birds, but unfortunately although the individual flocks did swirl around and display for a few minutes there was never a moment when all 10000 were in the air together and the birds fairly quickly went into roost. There was also the issue of the first starling I saw getting grabbed by a sparrowhawk which ambushed it from an oak tree.
With the glut of berries and loads of seed around there are lots of passerines along the bridleway between the feeders and the hide. This morning (17th Nov) lots of chaffinches and reed buntings were feeding on the seed spread in front of the Greenaways gates and mixed flocks of tits and finches were working their way along the hedgeline. A water rail was calling from the ditch, a great spotted woodpecker was on the feeders with an out of place snipe underneath and I got excellent views of two treecreepers in one of the sections of mature hedgerow which have been nicely opened up by the recent flailing.
As well as doing a WEBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count every month, we also do an ‘unofficial’ WEBS count once a month. November's count was carried out on Monday 7th November and the birds recorded were...
Greenaways: 4 mute swan, 16 mallard, 1 grey heron, 1 lesser black back gull, 3 snipe, 3 teal, 1 buzzard
Ashgrave: 8 greylag geese, 1 grey heron
Big Otmoor: 87 canada geese, 99 greylag geese, 25 mallard, 1 little grebe, 4 teal, 12 lapwing, 1 kestrel
Reedbed: 28 mallard, 4 shoveler, 35 wigeon, 181 teal, 1 mute swan, c.350 lapwing, 1 cormorant, 1 moorhen
The short-eared owls are still being seen most days, a merlin has been spotted hunting over Greenaways and a few grey partridge seem to have taken up residence on Ashgrave. The first brambling of the year has been reported and although none were picked up on the unofficial WEBS count, numbers of golden plover are building up on the moor.