You never quite know what you’re going to see on the moor and so it was a nice surprise to come across a field vole nest yesterday. It had at least 5, very young pink vole pups snuggled up in it. The nest was tucked away in a hole I’d buried a lapwing nest camera battery in. As well as chewing up part of the dry bag (that protects the battery) to make the nest, a lot of dried grass had also been collected up to make a cosy protective shelter. I have found lots of toads and newts in these holes too, so have inadvertently been creating some good, dark and secure homes for various beasties.
Other recent sightings on the moor have included lots of hobbies, at least 2 turtle doves (I saw a pair sitting on the Greenaways cattle pen yesterday), a curlew sandpiper, lapwing chicks, drumming snipe, ruff, marsh harrier, grasshopper warblers and a whimbrel. Grass snakes are being seen and it’s been exciting to hear that a pair of common terns have taken up residence on our tern raft. They’ve been seen feeding each other and making a nest scrape, so fingers crossed they’ll breed.
Cattle are now out on the Ashgrave field and the Tuesday volunteers have been hard at work erecting a long section of electric fencing to keep them in the sourthern, drier part of the field. During the bird breeding season we are trying to protect the lagoon area and we are also wanting to keep cattle away from the area along the northern side of Ashgrave to let the reed area establish itself more. The cattle are a great benefit to the reserve but can also be quite troublesome at this time of year, as after spending winter inside they can be quite boisterous. Because of this it wasn’t a huge surprise to hear Zoe ended up having to frantically herd the marauding bovines back over to the right side of the fence this morning after they sneakily burst through it during a battery change over.
Yesterday’s lapwing nest monitoring showed that most nests inside the anti-predator fence have now hatched. We now just have to hope that the small balls of fluff can make it through the next few weeks until they fledge and are able to fly.
Lapwing chicks are well camouflaged and their defence strategy is to sit perfectly still (hopefully underneath some dense vegetation), whilst the adult birds try and distract/mob any potential predators, swooping and calling loudly until the threat goes. These calls act both to deter the predator but also to tell the chicks to stay where they are. Once the threat has passed the adults will round up any chicks that haven’t been eaten.
Lapwing chicks don’t stay in the nest for very long and soon after hatching are off wandering around looking for food, they might keep returning to the nest for a couple of days but pretty soon they are roaming around, with the parents in close attendance trying to guide them to suitable feeding areas.
Last year it was possible to get good views of chicks feeding on the muddy edges around the large scrapes on Big Otmoor, so hopefully it will be the same this year.
The photos below were taken yesterday and show...
1.) A recently hatched nest with the small shell fragments that I was rambling on about in the last blog post
2.) A recently hatched chick doing a good job at hiding, its egg tooth is still present
3.) An older chick, with no egg tooth, doing a very poor job at hiding
It's always exciting at this time of year when the lapwing nests start to hatch out. Five of the nests have hatched so far, with more due to follow soon. The first picture below shows a typical egg following hatching, with the 'flat' end of the egg having been chipped away. The adults take the egg shells away from the nest, but tell tale small fragments are often left behind in the lining of the nest. The second picture shows a very recently hatched lapwing chick, still slightly wet from being in the egg and the egg 'tooth' is still visible on the end of it's bill. When a chick becomes too large to absorb oxygen through the pores of its eggshell, it uses its egg tooth to peck a hole in the air sac located at the flat end of the egg. This sac provides a few hours worth of air, during which the chick breaks through the eggshell to the outside. The egg tooth falls off several days after hatching.
A slightly different view of the reserve... This photo is taken looking towards the hide from the West side of the huge Ashgrave field. It clearly shows the large 'secret' lagoon on the hill, which you can just about glimpse from the hide and which you can get views of from the path that goes around the outside of Ashgrave.
The muddy edges of the lagoon are providing lots of feeding oppurtunities and the greenshank that's lurking on the lagoon has been now been joined by a ruff. At least 10 swifts were feeding overhead yesterday (my first for the year) and a couple of shelduck were loafing around. A lot of redshank and lapwing are also feeding on insects around the edges of the Ashgrave lagoon, so after some patient watching it was good to find a couple of lapwing nests not too far away, which can become part of this years monitoring project. With the recent BTO bird atlas showing further contraction of the breeding range of lapwing, it's important that we monitor core populations like those on Otmoor to ensure we are doing all we can to help these distinctive birds.
Migrating birds are still passing through the moor at the moment on their way to their breeding grounds. I saw four hobbies hunting for large insects over the reedbed yesterday and a wheatear was hopping around out on the Ashgrave field, proudly showing off it’s prominent white rump as it flew from tussock to tussock. We were also lucky enough to see a greenshank on the lagoon on Ashgrave, as well as three ringed plover and a lone little-ringed plover. These latter 2 species can at first glance be tricky to tell apart but with careful observation, you can pick out distinguishing features such as the eye ring of the little-ringed plover and the orange legs and bill of the ringed plover.
The lagoon was teaming with lots of small insects and flies yesterday, perfect food for wading birds that feed round the muddy edges of the shallow water features we have created and which we continually manage on the reserve. We even found a rather impressive chironomid specimen, these blood worms are the larvae of non-biting midges a key food for the wading birds and their chicks... so the swarms of flying creatures on the reserve can be annoying when you have to walk through them, but they provide an essential food source for the lapwing chicks when they hatch out.