Monday, 26 May 2014

Otmoor: kites vs. lapwings

A (very) early morning trip down to Otmoor RSPB nature reserve near Oxford was planned to take advantage of a slot of dry weather forecast before a period of rain. Recent sightings of glossy ibis and great white egret encouraged me to rise at the early hour; plus a chance to get some nice images of the moor in the early morning light.  As it turned out, the ibis and egret eluded me, but were seen by others.  Instead, I was able to focus on turtle doves, "purring" like cats from the tall scrub beside the bridle way, and watching a strong cast of waders displaying, feeding, nurturing their young....and fending off marauding red kites.

turtle dove
Nearly a hundred pairs of lapwings are nesting at the nature reserve this year, and half that number of redshank too.  Quite a concentration of waders in one place.

They are certainly of interest to the local red kites; a couple of whom have taken to preying on the wader chicks and even the odd adult bird.  The reaction of the lapwing colony to the kites is quite a spectacle.  The kites are harried by dozens of adult lapwings.  They are also joined from time to time by the local pair of crows and once or twice by curlew.  Irritating though the kites find the lapwing's attentions, they are often still on the winning side, and one more lapwing chick is taken away to feed a young kite.  How this will affect the lapwing population in the long term remains to be seen and is the subject of research.  Mark Avery writes eloquently about this new avian landscape in his blog.

red kite mobbed by lapwings
Water violets are starting to bloom in the ditches, and yellow flag iris clumps are scattered across the marshland.  Drizzle sets in earlier than expected and birdsong is more subdued.  Soon though another wading bird, the scarce and more elusive snipe, begin their "drumming" display. Looping up and down in flight, they spread their outer tail feathers on the downward loop to create the atmospheric drumming sound.  They love wet places and the dampness seems to encourage their display.  They are not so concerned about the kites, their nests and chicks are very well camouflaged and much harder to spot than the precocious and sometimes bold lapwing youngsters.

I also enjoy sightings of two hobbies, a group of six little egrets and an extended family party of ten mistle thrushes.
little egrets
Greylag geese are wary, heads raised on the lookout for predators, goslings hidden in the long grass.  This pair needn't worry too much: they are within the anti-predator fence, which is a fox free zone.  Still, it pays to be vigilant.

Greylags are somewhat taken for granted, but are as much a part of our evolving avifauna as other recent arrivals like the red kites and little egrets. They are a success in a modern landscape where they are protected from hunting and find new wetland habitats like Otmoor much to their liking.  At the start of the twentieth century a small native population survived on remote Scottish islands.  From the 1930s birds of captive origins began to nest in England and they are now a pretty common sight. That said, they are still a rare breeder in Banburyshire, with the main group inhabiting the lakes at Compton Verney.

grey heron - they have a nest with two chicks visible from The Lookout

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