With just a couple of weeks to go until the end of the year and with no vagrants having dropped into the county, the only bird left for me to chase was the elusive merlin. Regular readers will know that I've been trying for this bird in the county all year and indeed unsuccessfully for previous year as well (when I was doing a national year list). With one having been seen at Otmoor on each day over the weekend and also on the Monday it seemed that one was definitely in the area so on Tuesday morning I elected to get up before dawn and made my way cautiously along the icy roads to get to Otmoor. Of course I had the entire reserve to myself as no one else was stupid enough to be down there in sub-zero temperatures! There had been a small overnight snowfall and everywhere looked magical with all the trees and branches lightly dusted in white. Otmoor Lane was alive with early morning birds: pheasants along the road side and thrushes in the hedges. The Car Park Field was teeming with fieldfares with some redwing and blackbirds also thrown in. Fortunately the overnight snow had covered the ice which made walking along the paths relatively easy and there was little wind so I soon warmed up as I walked briskly along. Along Greenaways itself there was not much about with only a kestrel seen flying off from the hedgerow. The turn-off for the first screen is a good strategic spot as from there one can view Ashgrave, Big Otmoor and also Greenaways so I decided to spend a bit of time here. I walked over to the new hide to have a look around. I was just watching the winter resident stonechats flitting around near the frozen scrapes when at that point blow me if a merlin didn't appear! It shot low over the Closes and disappeared into the hedgrow. I hadn't expected to get it so quickly and was most pleased finally to have caught up with this bird.
Having already achieved my target, I no longer needed to spend ages scanning the fields waiting for a fly-through so instead I decided to take a quick look at the two screens. At the first screen there was one clear patch of water which was occupied by teal, wigeon and a few shoveler and gadwall. A kite flew over, just visible in the mist. A party of bullfinches was working its way along the hedgerow towards the second screen at which there were more teal and wigeon though they took flight as I approached and headed over to the first screen pool. A small flock of meadow pipits was working its way along the frozen channels on Big Otmoor and several wrens and robins were flitting around in the hedges hungrily looking for food. Quite a few snipe were flying around over Greenaways.
A wonderfully wintery view across Greenaways from near the first screen
One advantage of the snow was that it was possible to see animal tracks that had been left there by nocturnal visitors. I managed to find a couple of prints which I think I've identified correctly
I think that this is a fox print
With the strong claw marks and large size I think that this is a badger
So one more tick for the county and indeed national year lists and it's in fact a county lifer for myself. I'm not expecting any more ticks now unless something unexpected drops in but with a county year list total of 195 I'm certainly not complaining! I'll do a review of the year for the next entry.
Oxon County Year List 2009
195: merlin 22/12/09 Otmoor (county lifer)
National Year List 2009
234: merlin 22/12/09 Otmoor