Tuesday, 10 October 2017

7th October; Whoop, whoop, whooper!

whooper swan
With just a week to go before our annual pilgrimage to Cornwall and despite quite a few decent birds knocking around Mrs Caley and I decided that a local walk was in order. We chose Otmoor because it had been, unbelievably, 5 weeks since our last visit. On arriving at the car park we were astonished to see just one other car there, usually lots of other birders are out before us. A sign of the autumn doldrums perhaps, that time between the summer birds heading off south and the return of the winter migrants from the north when nothing much happens. It was a grey and overcast start to the morning but undeterred we strolled off down the path and onto the reserve.
red kite

I was keen to (hopefully) add a couple of Otmoor regulars to my list (but I don't keep lists really), namely the male hen harrier and the kingfisher that has taken to posing on the new perches by the first screen. We were soon on to a harrier but this was a marsh harrier which quartered Greenaways slowly in pursuit of prey. The congregation of greylag geese were none too impressed by the harrier gliding closely above them and muttered their displeasure continually. I spotted a pair of stonechats perched on reeds out by the scrapes but apart from them nothing much moved. There was a flock of long-tailed tits working their way through the adjacent hedgerow but I couldn't find anything else in with them. I'll get my chance in Cornwall. We continued on to the first screen encountering very few birds on the way. Autumn doldrums indeed!
male stonechat

At the screen the occupant of the other car was sat ready with camera trained on the kingfisher perches but there was no sign of the bird itself, and nor had there been. We settled in and surveyed the  familiar scene in front of us. Ducks of various species milled around in the shallows or stood preening at the waters edge. There were mallards, shovelers, teal and tufted ducks. They were joined by a couple of great crested grebes, some coots and a few moorhens. I decided to look at the cormorants, now that I'm familiar with separating shags from them after the recent birds at Farmoor, but these were as expected just cormorants. A small wading bird emerged on the bund and fed nervously around the bigger birds, a green sandpiper. Within seconds however it flew off and disappeared. This was hard work! I then spotted a snipe asleep on the muddy bank in front of the screen and soon found another, just its head showing above a small inlet. No sign though of the dunlin that had been seen here over the preceding few days. The (or another) marsh harrier sortied over the reeds but as per usual stayed well out of reach of my camera lens.
drake shoveler

green sandpiper (pic from BWR)

The teal and mallards suddenly all raced towards the open water and showed much anxiety, usually a good indicator for a raptor on the prowl, so I looked up expecting to see a peregrine or kite sail past. Instead the source of their collective concern appeared to be a swan! Now the regular wildfowl would be well used to seeing mute swans flying around but they were definitely bothered by this particular swan. It was by now flying northwards away from us but I realised that it was a whooper swan. Obviously an unusual shaped swan for the ducks! The whooper kept flying towards Charlton-on Otmoor church and then appeared to float down and land on the northern lagoon. I sent a text to Badger informing him of the swans presence and eager to get a decent shot of it, I dragged Mrs Caley off of her comfy seat and walked quickly to the second screen where I was sure the whooper would be waiting. Except it wasn't! In fact there wasn't a bird to be seen anywhere. Not even a coot. After a quick scan of the reeds see if any bitterns were around, they weren't either, we returned to the first screen again with me thanking my lucky stars that I had got the record shots of the whooper swan.

Initial record shot of the whooper swan

The other birder had been joined by another and they quickly informed me that "it's here now". I looked at the kingfisher perches and could see nothing and only then noticed the whooper swan standing in the water just in front of the nearest mudbank! The looks I got from Mrs Caley were enough to freeze the lagoon over! If we had just stayed put, as she pointed out, then the swan would have come back to us. Instead I'd taken us on a route march between the two viewing screens and back again for nothing! Still at least now I was able to reel off some pleasing images. 

The snipe numbers had now grown to over 30 and more were flying in. A small flock of about 40 lapwing passed over the second screen in the distance and descended into the field beyond, a portent of the winter birding to come. Finally the kingfisher put in an appearance but instead of using one of the oak boughs it just careered straight past whistling as it went. A few minutes later it came back and once again didn't stop. The whooper swan had now loosely attached itself to the company of a couple of mute swans and they now as group swam out towards the furthest bund. Then at roughly an hour after the whooper swan had arrived it took off and flew hard and high northwards, this time not appearing to land anywhere and was soon lost to sight. It had been seen by just four admirers.

"wisp" of snipe

grey heron
Half an hour later and with no further action we headed back again hoping to see the hen harrier. Needless to say that we didn't. We did mange to find a few chiffchaffs and goldcrests in amongst the long-tailed tits and saw another pair of stonechats but that was about it.
great tit
great spotted woodpecker

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