Thursday 18 September 2014

Otmoor Cameo 17th September 2014

After two successive days of driving into London on business and enduring traffic hell I was in desperate need of solace so took myself off to the RSPB's Otmoor Reserve to restore body and soul and found myself sat at the first screen for an hour or four of quiet contemplation. The fact it was midweek helped as for the most part I was on my own.

I sat contemplating the swaying and sighing reeds being blown gently by an easterly wind and soon my inner being was returned to normal or whatever passes for normal in my life these days. I had hoped to get some pictures of the Kingfisher which habitually perches on a post conveniently positioned in the water right in front of the screen. Today the Kingfisher seemed to have other ideas and apart from two rapid circuits of the reed fringed bay in front of the screen, decided that the wind ruffled water was not to its liking and departed for some distant reeds overhanging calmer waters. Even here despite two spectacular dives it was unsuccessful and finally departed with shrill whistles for even more distant parts of the reedbed

A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew haltingly over the reeds, stalling and hanging into the wind with flapping brown wings and dangling legs whenever it saw a potential source of food. A phalanx of Jackdaws accompanied it at a discreet distance though obviously aggrieved at its presence. The harrier was unperturbed and carried on low over the reeds, its progress being betrayed by alarmed ducks hurtling up from the reeds and rapidly flying off  like formation fliers.

Time gently passed by and I sat and let the spirit of the moor enter my soul as the early morning mist and grey cloud slowly gave way to sun and warmth. With the warmth came circling Red Kites, a couple of Common Buzzards and best of all a Hobby, swooping and darting after dragonflies. 

Many ducks, mainly Mallard and Teal whiled away the morning in the shelter of the reeds, away from the wind. A drake Shoveler had a wash and brush up out on the water, his harlequin finery disguised now with the varying browns of eclipse plumage. The only real key to the fact he was a male being his bright yellow eyes, although if you looked carefully you could see the underlying patterns of  his male plumage. With a final stretch of his wings he too sought the shelter of the reeds and companionship of the other ducks. 

All the ducks are now in their drab eclipse plumage and careful scrutiny of the assembled ducks identified a couple of Wigeon and also a few Gadwall. A Golden Plover circled the moor, its plaintive call betraying its presence in the sky before it became more and more distant and its cries subsided, lost on the wind. Two Common Snipe rocketed in at breakneck speed and, ever wary, as soon as they landed, ran for invisibility at the base of the reeds whilst a Green Sandpiper pootered about on a distant muddy spit.

I sat with the sun now warm on my back. Life felt good. A Grey Heron with huge bowed wings and dangling long legs landed in the shallow water in front of me with a loud raucous squawk and made its way to the edge of the reeds. Obviously it had come to try its luck with the numerous fish that are here. Its movements were almost imperceptible as it hunted in the water, its long neck extended and projecting its reptilian head and formidable bill out over the water in front of it. Stealthily, it moved one leg in front of the other through the water, causing hardly a ripple but it was out of luck. It waded further out into the water and soon appeared to be swimming in deeper water which was a somewhat incongruous sight. Slowly it made its way to shallower depths and stood for a while having a scratch and quick preen of some irritating feathers. It then gave a brief impression of an excitable exotic dancer with its head plumes fully erected before returning once again to the reeds to recommence its patient fishing.

Slowly, ever so slowly it progressed along by the base of the reeds. It stopped, the extended neck was lowered very slowly as it examined something in the water close to the base of the reeds. Its neck, bill and head slowly recoiled into its body and then with a lightening movement the neck shot out and head and bill stabbed into the water, completely submerged with a considerable splash. In seconds it re-merged with a sizeable fish grasped firmly between its mandibles. The fish was a small Pike and it hung from the heron's bill, gasping for air and tail flapping feebly.

The basilisk yellow eye of the heron was pitiless and it stood as any fisherman would, proudly displaying and admiring its catch for a few moments as if undecided what to do. Then with a sense of evident purpose it waded for the shore and dropped the fish on the earth presumably because it was so large and it would be easier to handle on dry land. The heron regarded the Pike again and with a vicious stab of its bill seized the now moribund fish and manouevering it in its bill swallowed it whole, head first down its capacious maw. It was over in a few seconds.

I followed the unfortunate Pike's progress down the heron's bulging neck and then the dramatic sequence was over. The heron stood for a minute, not without a distinct air of self satisfaction I may say, before marching over to stand amongst the sleeping ducks, there no doubt to reflect on life and digest its fishy meal.

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