This frosty morning I paid an early visit to Oxford’s Farmoor Reservoir. Over the last few days images have been posted on Oxon Birding of a transient Bittern in Pinkhill Meadow, one of two nature reserves situated between the “concrete bowl” and the great River Isis (or Thames to non-Oxonians).
My reaction upon seeing the weekend’s photography had been that this bird was offering better value in observation terms than the now almost resident Bitterns at our local RSPB reserve, Otmoor. Providing a stopover location for this iconic threatened species, as birds move between south-west England and East Anglia, had been a prime reason for creating the Otmoor reed bed on former arable land back in the late 1990s. The top aim of breeding success has yet to be proven, though we await a year’s first booming male again in 2016 and are ever hopeful.
But the usual Otmoor experience of Bittern is a middle distance flight or reed-edge view from either of the reserve’s two viewing screens. The habitat at Pinkhill Meadow has enjoyed a major sprucing up in the recent past, I believe under the auspices of BBOWT, and the current visiting Bittern is one early result. A splendid new hide has also been built there, replacing the dingier one that burned down a few years ago.
There I joined two other Oxonbirders at just before 9am today. We must have been chatting too much because when a fourth Farmoor regular joined us he picked out the Bittern at once “right in front of us”. The bird was indeed practising its poses in the same spot where it had shown well on Sunday. It then moved gradually to the right before taking flight and relocating to an out of sight spot. The above collage, though nothing special includes my own first non-flight shots of this species.
Two other reed bed specialities, Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail are now very regular at this site. Today we enjoyed a close experience of the former, while the latter as so often was only heard. Pinkhill Meadow also has a resident pair of Barn Owl that were observed hunting over the reed beds (pictured below).
Just before leaving I enjoyed a closest ever view of Cetti’s Warbler through a condensation saturated window of the hide. As I crossed Farmoor’s central causeway on my way back to the car park, one of the two first winter Great Northern Diver that have been present here since November was active away to my left.
So all in all this wasn’t a bad morning’s birding just outside my home city of Oxford. Winter is now almost done and the spring passage season awaits.