Trip reports

Weekend Walk at RSPB Otmoor on Saturday 29th May 2021.

Weekend Walk at RSPB Otmoor on Saturday 29th May 2021.
Male garganey at Otmoor. (Neil Bew)

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Weather, initially cloudy but becoming warm and dry with a gentle breeze.
The Otmoor reserve covers nearly 400 ha of managed wet grassland, reedbed and hedgerows. The area is fed by ditches which support large numbers of waders. There are over nine miles of hedgerows and large sections are coppiced annually in the winter to promote new growth. The aim is to produce a mosaic of habitat that is suitable for a wide range of wildlife.

20 of us, possibly a weekend walk record, met in the carpark. The earlier arrivals listened to several species of warbler and a male and female cuckoo whilst waiting for those who arrived later. We divided into three groups to help ensure that everyone got to see the birds. In a large group, the back-markers often miss out on the sightings.

Our first stop was at a gate overlooking the large field to the south of the main raised causeway. There we saw little egret, cattle egret and glossy ibis. The latter was, unusually, perched in a tree in the hedge. Not a bad start! As we neared the main causeway path we were overflown by a curlew and then glimpsed sedge warblers flitting in and out of the hedgerow. From the causeway we saw a common crane and several very smart reed buntings and could hear a Cetti's warbler which obligingly flew across the path.

We set off along the path and got many glimpses of reed warblers and heard lesser whitethroat singing. A distant hobby was spotted perched on a post, waiting for the dragonflies and damselflies to take to the air. Whitethroat and blackcap were seen in the hedges and redshank, lapwing, various waterfowl around the ponds on our right.

At the hide there was not much to see so we set off for the screens. As we approached the second screen we saw a pair of hobbies in flight and they were joined by two bigger raptors, peregrine falcons, that appeared to be chasing the same prey. In addition to the usual mallards, pochards and tufted ducks, on the pond we saw a pair of shovelers, a very smart pintail and a male garganey. As we watched the ducks, a lesser whitethroat began singing close behind the screen. Three of us then spent some time searching for it before it helpfully moved into clear-ish view.

As we made our way back to the carpark we spotted at least eight hobbies in flight which indicated that the dragonflies were in the air, although we had not yet seen any. Jeff spotted a bittern just before it landed in the reeds and although we waited for a while it did not reappear. We then saw our first dragonfly, a female broad-bodied chaser, potential hobby food.

Several of us had hoped to see, or hear, turtle dove but we were unsuccessful. They appear not to have returned to Otmoor this year which is a further indication of their general decline in the UK. Equally worrying was the lack of hirundines. During the walk I saw only two swallows and no martins at all. Is it just me or are numbers down significantly this year?

Thanks to all who made the journey to Otmoor and thanks to Geoff and Alan for leading two of the groups.

Steve Williams