RSPB Otmoor is a wetland reserve a couple of miles from Oxford. The area, originally marshland, was drained and used for arable farming until the 1990s. Since 1997 the RSPB have been returning the farmland to reedbeds and wet meadows. This has involved the planting of over 150,000 reed seedlings by hand!
Otmoor reserve is in a remote area (for Oxfordshire) and has limited visitor facilities. Despite this, I’d still recommend a visit to families, as it has some amazing bird watching opportunities.
We visited at the weekend, and for once it wasn’t raining. There are several rights of way around the area but as most of the surrounding fields were flooded we quickly decided on the 1.5 mile visitor trail. This takes in the main bird hide and a couple of screened viewing areas.
The aptly named bird restaurant at the start of the walk was very busy with goldfinch, chaffinch, blue tits, reed buntings and a great spotted woodpecker.
Otmoor has always flooded but during this particularly wet winter it was difficult to know which parts were flooded and which were supposed to be under water!
Bird life abounds, and we saw huge numbers of birds. Whilst I can identify many species I’m not an expert by any means. Fortunately there were other birders around and on several occasions specific birds were pointed out to us. The kids were also lucky and got to see some little egrets through another birdwatcher’s telescope.
Particular highlights were a hen harrier hunting over the reed beds, huge flocks of lapwing and golden plover, a peregrine, several kestrels and a barn owl. There was also loads of water fowl on the reed beds which I’m not very good at identifying!
Otmoor is probably most famous for the flocks of starlings that congregate just before dusk throughout the winter months. This was a spectacle I’ve wanted to see at Otmoor for a long time but with the slightly longer evenings we were there way too early. The kids went back to the covered hide for a while to warm up and came back full of excitement about a kingfisher they’d seen up close.
The reserve became much busier nearer dusk, with groups of people arriving at the viewing spot solely to see the starlings. The others around us were better prepared, with flasks of soup and hot chocolate, whilst we were already cold from an afternoon spent on the reserve.
Our toes were like ice blocks by the time the starlings finally arrived. Despite this, it really was an amazing sight. You see the starlings low on the horizon heading towards the reserve like a giant plague of locusts. As they approach they swoop and swirl in formation (known as a murmuration). I didn’t take photos because of the low light but it was great just to stand and watch. A perfect end to an enjoyable afternoon.
- Further details can be found on the RSPB website.
- Be aware there are no toilet facilities at the reserve!
- Take binoculars and some refreshments.
- The visitor walk is flat and if the ground is dry it’s fine for wheelchairs and pushchairs. However, it was incredibly muddy and the track was covered with big puddles on our winter visit.