The beautiful whooper swans that turned up on the reserve on Monday (and which were talked about in my last blog), roosted in the reedbed again last night, so if you're down on the reserve today keep an eye out for them. They seem to be moving onto the grassland fields to feed during the day, so have a good look at any large white birds you see on the moor. There are two adults and two young ones with them. Whooper swans pair for life and the young will stay with the parents through their first winter and sometimes for even longer. The photos below were taken from the second viewing screen on the reedbed late yesterday afternoon by Terry Sherlock.
Even though we work on a nature reserve, it's not often we have the time to have a good walk round the reserve looking at nature. Because of this, I always look forward to helping with the Wetland Bird (WeBS) Counts during the winter months. Otmoor provides a great winter home for a wide range of birds and there are lots of berries, seeds, grass and insects for them to feed on. The WeBS counts are a great opportunity to see how many of the wintering birds have arrived and it's also a good time to see if there are things we can do (for example altering water levels, putting up kingfisher perches, spreading seed for the finches, tits and buntings), to make things even better for them.
Our WeBS records get fed into the national database managed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and it allows us and them to see how populations of birds are changing over the years on a national and local level. Adam and I surveyed the main section of the reserve yesterday, it turned out to be an amazing morning and I ended up having on of those special RSPB 'moments' that I have from time-to-time on the moor!
The first bird I saw was a male pintail flying across Big Otmoor, it was the first I had seen this season and although numbers of these elegant looking ducks should increase as the cold sets in and water levels rise, it's always great to see them. A lone golden plover flew past and wigeon were whistling from the open water areas. A kingfisher flew along the ditch beside us and a few small flocks of lapwings flapped lazily overhead. Cutting across Greenaways we stirred up a few hundred wigeons, which wheeled around above us. A couple of snipe were feeding on one of the shallow water scrapes and we got great views of them as they worked their way around the soft muddy edges, which we'd rotavated earlier in the year.
Things started getting even more exciting when the first bird we saw at the reedbed was a marsh harrier, hunting really low over the reeds, dark brown with its pale head glowing in the sunlight. It went down out of sight a couple of times so presumably found a suitable bird or small mammal to nibble on. Another male pintail was on the northern section of the reedbed and most exciting of all; 4 whooper swans were feeding in a field just off the reserve (they moved onto the reedbed to roost later in the day). I'd not see whooper swans on Otmoor before and they are a fairly unusual bird to see in Oxfordshire, so our WeBS count was delayed for a bit as we spent some time admiring them. As the swans grazed in the field a barn owl glided past, the marsh harrier carried on soaring around behind us, a water rail started squealing and about 300 fieldfare flew by, I was having my 'moment'. Whooper swans breed in Iceland and Northern Scandinavia and then move to warmer climes during the winter. Travelling in family groups they can fly at amazingly high altitudes. The family group on Otmoor will probably only stay for short while before heading onto their traditional winter haunts in the East and North of the country.
The morning was topped off by the sight of an agile hen harrier pursuing a small bird over the reedbed, a peregrine dropping into the middle of Big Otmoor and large flocks of a few hundred golden plovers, lapwings and wigeons out in the middle of the Ashgrave field. It was a true Otmoor winter spectacle.
Photos below taken by Peter Coombes (1 & 2) and Terry Sherlock (3). Whooper swans are named after their whooping, trumpeting call; they are a similar size to the commonly seen mute swan, with perhaps the most obvious difference being their bright yellow bills.
Results from today's count. 4 whooper swans picked up on neighbouring farmland is a nice addition to the count. Golden plover now here in numbers and lots of raptors about this morning.