Bank Holiday Monday and despite dire warnings from the Met Office the morning was dry and the predicted rain was now not due until midday. Seizing the opportunity to get some fresh air I headed for Farmoor and was in fact the first to arrive, having to await the gates being opened at 8am.
Although dry the cloud base was low, and the wind still strong but now westerly and milder than of late. Sauntering up the Causeway it was immediately apparent that there were many Common Swifts feeding low over the reservoir and demonstrating their supreme flying skills by zooming at great speed along and over the Causeway as I walked along.
The wind was whipping up quite a surf along the southern side of the Causeway but it was here that I found a nice flock of waders comprised of three Turnstones and ten Dunlin.
The Dunlin are all very nice with their natty black bellied underparts and streaked chestnut upperparts but it was the Turnstone's appearance that your eye was drawn to. Gone was the drab, dark brown of their winter plumage to be replaced by a startling harlequin combination of tortoiseshell upperparts with a black and white head and breast pattern and bright orange legs. Quite a transformation. Two were in virtually full breeding plumage while the other was still to attain its full glory like its companions.
The flock pattered along the concrete apron before me, dodging the surf and picking at invisible morsels that only their eyes could see. The Turnstones have a long way to go to their breeding area and their presence this morning brought to the prosaic surroundings of Farmoor and before one's very eyes, the reality, the excitement and the sheer marvel of long distance bird migration.
|Turnstones and Dunlin|
Initially the flock was quite flighty but soon settled down and demonstrated the usual confiding nature of these migrating wader flocks. The Turnstones in particular seemed untroubled by my close presence but then they usually are whenever I encounter them at whatever time of year.
Common Terns were feeding out on the reservoir but not having my telescope with me I was unable to tell if there were any Arctic Terns with them but all the terns that came close enough for detailed scrutiny were Common Terns.
I left the reservoir and wandered along the Thames Path that runs below the reservoir. A Barn Owl, looking huge and very white in the dull light flew up onto a post but on seeing me decided that it would be better off across one more field's distance. The Cuckoo was calling from a hawthorn near to Lower Whitely Farm and as before allowed quite close approach. I think this year has, for me, been one of the best for getting good views of this declining species and it is good that they still manage to cling on here.
The reeds and bushes were, as usual, alive with warbler song, scratchy and unmusical from the Reed and Sedge Warblers, rich and tuneful from Garden Warblers and Blackcaps.
A Common Whitethroat flung itself high into the sky on an erratic excursion of singing before dropping back to the bushes and commenced scolding me with churring notes as I passed by.
I went back to the reservoir, meeting Mark and we rejoined the Causeway. For a Bank Holiday there was not too many people around but the wader flock had now dispersed or departed leaving just three Turnstones and a Dunlin on the Causeway.
A couple of White Wagtails and a Yellow Wagtail flew past us onto the retaining wall and on getting to the end of the Causeway we stopped and admired a couple of House Martins that were settling on the concrete apron of Farmoor One reservoir to collect mud and straw to construct their nests under the eaves of the adjacent Thames Waterworks buildings.
As we watched them a lone Dunlin came pitter pattering along the concrete apron, coming ever closer before it stopped and regarded us coyly, as if it could not quite believe what it was seeing, and suddenly realising how close it was to us flew in a wide arc out over the reservoir, making that lovely delicate purring trill they utter when alarmed and landed at what it considered a safe distance back along the wave washed concrete.