An early visit to Otmoor, the RSPB reserve in Oxfordshire, always boosts my year’s species count and so on 6 Jan I ventured forth. Before my visit I had seen 41 species this year, now that figure has gone up to 54—despite it being a quiet day with not much bird activity. And I could not have predicted that I would see my first water rail for nearly a decade.
I was accompanied by the chuntering of fieldfares for the first part of the walk. The colours of the landscape were muted browns and greys, the shapes of the trees standing out.
Near the hide I saw my first yellowhammer of the year on the top of a bush.
There was a lot of chattering in the beautifully-shaped tree where linnets gather.
There wasn’t much going on at the hide, so I walked to the screens. At the second screen there was only a tufted duck on the lake but a marsh harrier flew up as I arrived. Beyond there was a tree with red kites and at one point they mobbed the harrier.
Back at the first screen, helped by another bird watcher, I saw two male and two female pintails. I hadn’t seen one since 2016. I also heard the call of a water rail.
I returned to the hide where someone had thrown down seeds. The linnets had moved in a great flock from their tree to the ground; here they pecked and fluttered like falling leaves. They were joined by chaffinches, goldfinches, yellowhammer and reed buntings.
From the hide I was lucky to catch a glimpse of a water rail, also enjoying the seed on the path, though it quickly scuttled away. I have only once before seen a water rail, fleetingly in Lincolnshire in February 2010.
So all in all, it was a very satisfactory visit.