A little groggy from a virus that has been troubling me for the past week I got it together to amble around Farmoor I Reservoir on a gloomy and chilly, mid morning Saturday. The incentive was to try and see the Greater Scaup that had been reported from here throughout the past week. First there had been one, then two and yesterday three were reported by Dai. This is one of my favourite ducks, as you can see from the number of images on this post, although it is difficult to be specific as to why.
Adult female Greater Scaup
I like their scarcity but it is more than that. The bulk of their head and body. The broadness of their bill and the subtleties of the immature and female plumages, all seem to strike a pleasant chord with me. A birder's bird maybe? All birders know this feeling where for no apparent reason a particular species is more appealing than another that is similar. Tufted Ducks? Nah, not for me.
I commenced walking up the Causeway and it was not long before I found an adult female Greater Scaup feeding with the Tufted Ducks, pleasantly close to the Causeway. I spent some time admiring her and the huge white blaze around her bill and forehead as it is not that often one gets this close to a mainly maritime duck. Finally I moved on and passed the new Hide which is now open again as Thames Water have finally found the key that unlocks the door. I understand the door will be left permanantly open from now on.
Just after passing the Hide a duck with a pointed profile flew high overhead, circling the reservoir and disappearing towards the Thames. Up with the bins and the welcome sight of a female Goosander greeted me. Up to four Little Grebes played hide and seek as I progressed to the far end of the Causeway and turned right around the top end of the reservoir. A blaze of autumnal colour greeted me from the bushes by the path down to the Pumphouse. It could almost be New England, the colours were so strikingly orange and red but these were not the famous Maples but pyracanthus bushes.
Nevertheless their colour was very welcome but totally incongruous on such an overcast day. Half way down the top end of the reservoir I came upon another group of Tufted Ducks. Many of the males are now regaining their black and white colours as they moult out their eclipse plumage. I checked the small flock and at first saw nothing to excite me but giving it a second go I found another Greater Scaup. This one was a first winter with much less of a white blaze around the bill, more like two oval, white patches each side of the bill with paler ginger markings on the ear coverts. It also did not have the grey suffusion on the upperparts that was very apparent on the adult female. This individual was much more wary than the other bird and at first kept it's distance but eventually as I stood motionless came closer.
First winter Greater Scaup
Again, I spent some time admiring it's plumage details, comparing it to the adult female I had seen at the other end of the reservoir. I reluctantly moved on and that really was virtually all the excitement for the day. The sun tried to briefly penetrate the clouds but thought better of it and the gloom seemed to permeate my surroundings even more and enter my very soul.
A tinkling of cheery, conversational calls, in stark contrast to the mood, betrayed half a dozen Goldfinches feeding on some dead seed heads and two Grey Wagtails bounded along the wave wall in front of me before tiring of being flushed, flew back behind me, settling on a fence and pumping their long tails frantically. I completed the circuit of the reservoir and at the end came upon ten or so Meadow Pipits feeding on the grassy bank. As I approached they flew up into a hawthorn, calling peevishly. When looked at closely they really are quite attractive in an understated way.
Two Goldcrests, their crowns glowing golden yellow in the overcast conditions, chased through a hawthorn nearby as I headed for the Car Park