Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Doubling up at Farmoor 17th August

Yesterday I was at Otmoor but today found me at the other 'moor,' Farmoor, where yesterday evening a juvenile Little Stint was found feeding and resting on the edge of the smaller of the two reservoirs, Farmoor One as it is known

Coincidentally I had to make a visit to Dix Pit Landfill today, so with Farmoor just a few miles away it seemed a good idea to try my luck and see if I could find the Little Stint, should it have remained overnight. They often stay for some time in the late summer as the more relaxed pace of life at this time of year means birds can linger for a few days in one place. I called Dai who spends virtually every day checking Farmoor and he gave me the very good news that the Little Stint was still viewable from the central causeway and had now been joined by a second juvenile.

I wasted no time in getting up there and at ten thirty on another warm and sunny day set off up the central causeway, meeting Dai coming the other way. He told me the stints were still there so I relaxed and walked slowly up the causeway to a point just before the birdwatching hide and there were the two Little Stints, one asleep and the other feeding with two juvenile Dunlin at the water's edge.

As is usually the way with juvenile waders here, they were totally confiding and completely unafraid of me or anyone else for that matter, so it was no problem to sit on the low wall and take pictures of them at point blank range. Little Stints are not that frequent here, possibly one or two a year and you could hardly call their visits a foregone certainty, so when they do grace the reservoir it is always worth while, in my opinion, to pay them a visit. They are the quintessential appealing wader, petite and delicate, smaller than a sparrow with a benign expression and their confiding, endearing ways are hard to  fault. The birds that visit Farmoor are always juveniles in an immaculate plumage of variable rust brown, black and cream upperpart feathers with a prominent inverted creamy white V enclosing the mantle, and pure white underparts.

The two stints that were here today were slightly different in plumage tone with one definitely a warmer brown on its upperparts. I stood and watched the greyer toned stint sleeping, after it walked up the concrete apron and away from the water's edge. With its short black bill tucked into its mantle feathers it pivoted one way and the other on one leg, keeping an ever watchful eye open for any threat. I cannot imagine how birds sleep with one eye closed and the other open but that is what they do with only one half of their brain shutting down.

The 'browner' Little Stint
The 'greyer' Little Stint
After a while it shook its feathers and commenced preening, contorting  into various shapes as it twisted its neck at absurd angles to deal with feathers near its tail or on its belly. Then it was a quick wing stretch, both laterally and vertically and on with the serious business of refuelling to provide it with the energy to commence the next sector of its migration. 

Its colleague was much more active and judging by its plumage and the photos that appeared on the Oxonbirds web site the previous evening was the individual that arrived yesterday. The one I was watching fed only cursorily and on a number of occasions would leave the water's edge to rest higher up on the concrete apron, squatting on bent black legs on the warm concrete and looking the very image of contentment in the warm sun. Could it be that its less energetic behaviour compared to the other stint was because it was tired after a long migration?

I sat on the low wall also content and with the sun warm on my back. Farmoor today was a benign and welcoming environment for both myself and the stints. Being a weekday there were few birders about and I could sit for long periods on my own, admiring the stints parading before me. When a birder did turn up they would ask me whether the stints were still about and I would just point to below my feet and indicate 'right there'. Tiny and inconspicuous on the mottled concrete  and muddy margin of the water's edge it was easy to miss them and walk right on by.

An hour of happy viewing and taking pictures passed without notice. Dave joined me and was amazed at how close you could get to the stints and promptly went back to the car park to get his camera from his car as did another birder who never dreamt he would be able to get so close and had also opted to leave his camera in his car.

And so a second sunny hour passed as I watched these charming birds at close quarters enabling me to take this unusual opportunity to undertake some live 'in the field' study and revision of their plumage and  aspects of their behaviour.  One thing I had never seen before was when the greyer stint folded its legs and squatted on the concrete to preen and sleep, coming awake and cocking its head to look upwards in curiosity when a plane or helicopter passed overhead from the nearby Brize Norton air base.

The moment came, as it always does when you feel it is time to move on. I could always come back another day if these  migrating waders remain here for a while. Possibly they will move on when the predicted weather change comes on the weekend. Who knows?  I walked further up the causeway passing the two juvenile Dunlin which, unlike the stints were inseparable, faithfully following each other along the water's edge. The stints seemed less inclined to associate with each other and usually were some distance apart.

Just beyond the Dunlin I came across two Ringed Plovers, one an adult and the other a juvenile. They too were tame and unwilling to fly from my presence. Their feeding actions were very different to the constant perambulations and incessant pecking of the Dunlins and Little Stints. A few steps and then a stoop to pick something from the muddy edge, a pause and then the process repeated.

Juvenile Dunlins
Adult Ringed Plover
Juvenile Ringed Plover

I could not help but notice that all the waders I had seen so far were in two's. Just a coincidence I am sure. Dave meanwhile, had walked on and at the end of the causeway had turned right to walk round the eastern side of Farmoor One. I followed five minutes later, disturbing the massed ranks of Canada and Greylag Geese on the concrete apron of Farmoor Two, lounging in the sun at the water's edge like so many day trippers  on a crowded beach at the seaside and just as rowdy. In amongst them was the regular Common Pochard drake that has been here for some time. He appears quite content although Farmoor is not a usual summer haunt for this species of duck and I do wonder where he came from as he is very tame.

Common Pochard
My phone rang. It was Dai telling me that Dave had found a Greenshank further round Farmoor One. I could see Dave over on the east side and made my way to join  him and there was a lovely juvenile Greenshank, all slender green legs and upturned, long billed elegance, feeding in the froth generated by the rippling wavelets and in the anxious company of at least five Common Sandpipers. Both these species, in direct comparison to the waders I had just been watching are ultra wary and fly from you at long range. It always strikes me as odd that Common Sandpipers are so very nervous and cautious when other similar sized waders are so confiding and unconcerned at human presence. What has caused them to be that way? Is it just a genetic characteristic? There are probably many different answers from anyone you care to ask.

We walked slowly towards the Greenshank and the Common Sandpipers predictably flew, calling loudly but the Greenshank stood its ground and when we finally got too close for its liking, unlike the sandpipers, which headed to the other side of the reservoir, it just flew a few metres along the concrete apron and settled again. We stalked it gently and eventually got reasonably close as it stood in the bright sunlight and heat haze being reflected off the rippling blue waters and exposed concrete apron of the reservoir.

Common Greenshank
Dave and I walked on, chatting as we went, completing a circuit of the smaller reservoir and finding four Yellow Wagtails feeding on the sun scorched grass by the Thames Water Works and a mixed flock of Sand Martins and Swallows that were picking flies from the water by the Valve Tower or perching on the circular filter beds. A good way to round the morning off nicely. 

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