Sunday morning ten o' clock and I am sitting quietly with my wife in Oxford Station awaiting our train to London to take us to meet her brother and relatives, exchange presents and have a really nice convivial meal in a trendy pub in Islington. I sip my tea and we chat about this and that. My Blackberry alerts me to a text message. I say to my wife jokingly "I bet this is Badger telling me about a mega". Two years ago I was in exactly the same location with my wife, again catching a train to London and received a text from Badger advising me that there was a Citrine Wagtail at Farmoor. Heroically I resisted that time and carried on to London with my wife, reconciling myself that I could go and see the wagtail the very next day. As those of us who turned up bright and eager the next day know, it had gone. The text this time had just three words. Falcated Duck Farmoor. I told my wife I could not believe it. "What?" she enquired. 'There is a Falcated Duck at Farmoor'. "A what?" 'A Falcated Duck. It's normally found in Asia and kind of a mega if it's a wild one.' "Then you had better go and see it." 'Pardon?' "It's alright, I quite understand. It's OK. Really it is." 'Are you sure? What's in that tea?' "I can explain to the relatives, they think it is a hoot anyway what you get up to with your birding." She smiled. I was in a dilemna. I could invoke the gods of birding and wait until tomorrow in the hope it would still be around. I hummed and haaahed and drank more tea. I was in shock both from the news and even more from my wife's conciliatory and supportive encouragement of my obsessive birding. I know she relishes telling her friends about my ever more extreme birding behaviour and exploits and this one surely would go down in the annals. "Go on dear you must go." I played the game and reluctantly said "Oh alright then". How about that though for loving support. Lucky or what?
The next problem was the ticket I had just bought from First Great Western but again my wife advised me that I could get an immediate refund by going to the window and asking for a refund on the ticket I had just purchased. I joined a long queue courtesy of First Great Western who at this peak time had contrived to have only one staff member dispensing tickets. At last I got to the window and got my money back. A hasty farewell to my wife promising to pick her up from the station when she returned in the evening. Let's face it I would promise anything now!
I set off hotfoot back to the car park and headed for Farmoor. The next logistical obstacles were that I had no optics and was trendily dressed in black lightweight clothes for London socialising not traipsing around the concrete wastes of Farmoor. A hurried call to Badger and he willingly agreed I could borrow his scope to view the duck when I got there. As for the clothing well we would just have to get on with it. It was a nice duck so smart casual seemed appropriate. While all this was going through my mind I pressed down on the accelerator of the Audi as we came up to the Botley roundabout, crossing over the A34. There was a lurch and a loud bang from under the bonnet, German technology was instantaneously in ruin and my car morphed into "Vorsprung without the technik," stuttering and spluttering and barely moving. I managed to get the crippled car across the roundabout at a very slow pace and sought sanctuary in a layby. It sounded like the turbo had gone. Serious money, very serious money would be required to fix this but even worse there was now no prospect of getting to see the duck although frustratingly I was within just a few miles of Farmoor Reservoir. I called Badger and optimistically told him there would be a delay in my arrival. A phone call to the RAC and miraculously I had only a forty five minute wait before rescue and potential salvation arrived. "What's the problem mate?" 'The turbo's gone, I think.' "Describe to me what happened". I told him. "I know what's wrong. It's not the turbo, it's just a pipe to the turbo that has come adrift". A technological explanation that went clear over my head was delivered.
I must confess I was not really listening but just rejoicing about the fact I would not be parting with thousands of pounds for a new turbo and now was back with a good chance of seeing the duck "I will have you on your way in half an hour". A miracle. This truly was the Saviour. I did not complicate things by telling him about the duck. I doubt he would understand although I am sure he has met more than his fair share of eccentrics in his line of work. My new found hero proceeded to re-attach the errant pipe and I was on my way with an Audi now restored to smooth running technology. Vorsprung durch technik lives again.
I drove cautiously, as instructed by the RAC man, to Farmoor, parked the car and headed apace up the Causeway. I reconciled myself to the immediate invocation of Farmoor's Law which every Oxonbirder knows is 'The more desired and rare a species the further will it be from the start of the Causeway.' Invariably this means it will be right at the other end of the Causeway and possibly beyond. I joined Oxonbird's finest clustered around their scopes, feeling a little conspicuous in my men in black ensemble. Clackers hove into view and kindly let me look through his scope. Sighs of relief as the beautiful Falcated Duck, a drake in full and glorious plumage filled the scope. After all I had experienced this morning I just revelled in and marvelled at amongst other things, it's glossy green head with purple brown forehead and crown, the beautifully vermiculated breast and outrageously long tertials drooping over its hind end. It really was a beauty. The last time I had seen this species was in China and in not too dissimilar environs to Farmoor, although in China it was a salt lagoon rather than a reservoir. It stayed well out on the reservoir and appeared none too tame, in fact positively wary. Wild or an escape? Who knows but well worth seeing just for it's sheer beauty. No doubt speculation will rage about the provenance of this bird. Birdforum will go into overdrive and everyone will have an opinion. Myself? Well it is wary, there has been an influx of both Mallard, Pochard and Tufted Ducks onto Farmoor very recently and it is unringed. Also why would anyone in their right mind allow such a desirable duck to be unpinioned? The BBRC (British Birds Records Committee) will have less idea than those of us that have seen it so really it is up to each and every birder to decide for themselves what they want to do and whether to include it on their list. We are a funny lot seemingly desiring an august body such as the BBRC to tell us whether it is a genuine wild bird or not based on secondhand reports submitted by us. When they come up with their verdict which is usually negative or equivocal we then complain if it is not accepted as a wild bird. Just make up your own mind and go see it anyway, as if it is an escape it is now in the wild and it is a beautiful duck not swimming around in an enclosure .
I had another eyeful through Badger's scope and then headed back to the car and drove home to Kingham, collected my optics and camera and retraced my route back to Farmoor for a second dose of duck drooling. Another long walk up the Causeway and now it was even further away in the furthest corner and the wind was getting really strong from the north. Very few people were around, and in fact by the time I got to where the duck was, there was no one. I was a lone birder enjoying this fantastic specimen all to myself. I took lots of images as it swam closer but never very close. It stayed on it's own a lot of the time but seemed to prefer at times to keep in the proximity of the numerous Mallards, even displaying a couple of times to a female Mallard. As the afternoon wore on I was joined by various other Oxonbirders and strangers not encountered before. Paul and Vicky joined me, a breathless Paul telling me he had run round the reservoir to get here. I gave him and Vicky free rein of my scope. We watched it for another half an hour and then went to find the Slavonian Grebe and the three Greater Scaup in amongst the Tufted Duck flock. It had been quite a day for a variety of reasons and I was feeling both emotionally and physically drained. I drove back to Oxford Station. My wife's train from London was delayed by an hour but I was happy to wait. It was the least I could do.