Field Event Reports

21 January 2015: Marvellous Murmuration

Leader: Peter Barker

The murmuration was well worth the wait.

On a cold overcast day (but much better than forecast) 16 members met in the RSPB Otmoor car park at 2oclock, where we were met by our guide for the afternoon Peter Barker, who was accompanied by another RSPB Volunteer Terry Sherlock, who provided an extra pair of expert spotting eyes. Peter warned us that our main target, the Starlings, were being 'Wild Birds', currently unpredictable as to where they would roost and how many. Even before leaving the car park we saw a number of Bank Voles, which had taken up residence in the bushes, apparently feeding on food morsels intended for the resident ‘car park Robin’. Alongside Moorleys a pair of Bullfinches ignored our attentions as they fed on developing Blackthorn buds. A good selection of tits and finches eagerly fed on the feeders at the top of the path. The water-filled scrapes and ditches viewed across to Greenaways gave us our first glimpses of waterfowl and plovers, including masses of Wigeon and Mallard, along with colourful male Shovelers, and glimpses of Snipe, Lapwing and Golden Plover in flight. Terry pointed out a Buzzard perched on a distant post, while a Kestrel preceded us up the bridleway. Birds visible from the main hide across Ashgrave revealed the ubiquitous Wigeon, a large flock of Canada Geese, a distant Little Egret, and the Fallow Deer that thinks it is a cow! But the main event from the hide were the dozens of Reed Buntings and hundreds of Linnets that were feeding on a fine seed mix scattered on the path towards Noke (the intention being to provide forage for such farmland birds during the so-called ‘hunger gap’ in the later months of winter). 

The walk to the first screen, and indeed the view from it, was somewhat bereft of birds (noteworthy being one of the local Herons that have apparently developed a taste for field voles). Another RSPB Volunteer passed by and gave Peter good advice on where the Starlings had roosted the night before and the best places to see them – if they did the same again tonight! So we all decamped back to the main hide and waited, on the adjoining path, eyes skyward. After some time of no action, the shout went up “Starlings overhead”, as the first group of a hundred or so purposefully zoomed over us to the far side of Ashgrave, where they appeared to settle on the grass. More and larger flocks joined the assembly over the next 15 minutes as dusk descended. Finally the whole mass rose into the Western sky, and swirled through various massed manoeuvres – we had our mumuration. But where were they going? To the somewhat distant hedges at the edge of Ashgrave that they occupied the previous night? No! Slowly the main swirl wheeled back and forth toward us across Ashgrave, finally sweeping en masse over our heads, with birds in every direction. As we watched to the East across the Closes, marvelling at the display, finally they descended into the hedgerow alongside the bridleway – our path back. How many birds we asked our experts – 25k to 35k was the estimate. Not to be outdone, a flock over a hundred or so Lapwing flew by in the dimming light as we left, when Terry shouted “there is a Peregrine above them”, which some of us saw attempt a stoop into the flock – sight was lost behind the Hide. Our walk back was rewarded by sight of two more smaller starling flocks descending into their traditional roost in the reeds followed by a cacophony of sound as we walked by the flock that we had seen earlier,now noisily jostling for position in the hedge beside us. Back to the car park as darkness fell, coldish, but all delighted with the afternoon. Well deserved thanks were passed to Peter and Terry – both seemingly very relieved that the 'Wild Birds' had actually put on an excellent show.

Species seen:
Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Snipe, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Red Kite, Kestrel, Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Pheasant, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Pied Wagtail, Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Starling, Rook, Carrion Crow, Magpie
Fallow Deer, Bank Vole: 41 +2
Sally Ainslie, Graham Bateman, Chris & Bridget Gibbs, Michael Bloom, Jo Cartmell,Nigel Gregory, Jackie Hudson, Felicity Jenkins, Priscilla & John Morris,Tony Rayner, Diane  Sainsbury, Hugh Summers + 1

Graham Bateman