Local Reserves - Oxford

Guilty as charged.  

I really do spend too much of my Oxford time thinking, planning and plotting ways to spend time elsewhere.  But just occasionally I have a Oxford weekend when I spend time enjoying the bits of Oxford I really like.

I'm not talking about the dreaming spires and gated colleges, although these are what draw most visitors to Oxford.  

I'm talking about the local nature reserves.

Over the weekend I spent time at 'my' two local reserves. One day at the RSPB Otmoor Reserve, and one at the BBOWT C S Lewis Reserve.

RSPB Otmoor has been developed since we've been in Oxford - it's been a major restoration project, returning drained farmland to the reed beds of the past.  The reed beds are now a fantastic wildlife draw - and we visited late in the day to see what I really think is Oxford's best wildlife attraction.

Late in the day at this time of year there are huge gatherings of starling - murmurations - that can completely fill the sky.  As we walked from the car park we saw what looked like mini-murmurations of both golden plover and lapwing, and as we got closer to the reed beds a pair of marsh harrier were swooping low over the reeds too.  

The main attraction, though, are the starlings.  

As the light starts to fade small groups of starlings start to swing low over the reeds looking for somewhere to roost, and as if by magic the groups coalesce, slowly building into huge dark clouds of birds.  Sometimes the birds spread out until they almost seem to disappear, at other times they come together until it seems impossible that something so dark and huge can fly so silently.  If you get really lucky the flock (which might be up to 75,000 individuals) will pick a spot close to the edge of the reed bed, gradually the birds spin down to the roosting spot, the silence becomes the white noise of 150,000 wings beating and then the raucous chatter of the birds jostling for position alongside each other.

Otmoor Murmuration, February 2016
Otmoor Murmuration, February 2016

My other entertainment - on the first Sunday of most months - is at the BBOWT C S Lewis nature reserve just outside the Oxford ring-road in Headington.

This reserve, once part of the author C S Lewis' back garden, is a little sanctuary between houses on one side and farmland on the other - it's nice to think that Lewis might have taken inspiration for the Narnia stories from spending time sitting around the filled-in clay pits on the reserve.  The reserve is somewhere I've regularly visited over the years, and a couple of years ago I spotted the signs (goodness knows how many times I must have wandered past them without looking) mentioning the regular volunteer work parties that help maintain the reserve.

It always feels good to spend a few hours chopping, picking or digging on the reserve - and there is real satisfaction from walking up steps that you've helped build or reinstate.

The reserve is another local sanctuary for wildlife - there are muntjac deer around (at least some of the work is about making it difficult for them to eat new growth), there are regularly kingfisher and heron around the pond margin, along with mallard, moorhen and coots and, if your timing is right, bats swooping across the ponds too.  On this visit I was able to spend ages watching a great spotted woodpecker around the tree tops. February is a splendid time to spot woodpecker - they are really active and they don't have so much foliage to hide behind.

C S Lewis Reserve, February 2016

Neither reserve is easy to find, or particularly well sign-posted, but both are worth the effort!  

There are directions to Otmoor on the RSPB website, and to the C S Lewis Reserve on the BBOWT website.  Maybe see you there!

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