Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Farmoor 'Boneys' 22nd April 2017

Incapacitated by damaged knee ligaments, the last three weeks have been somewhat frustrating as my mobility has been severely curtailed and I am still not out of the woods yet, but today I just had to get out birding somewhere and Farmoor with its benches and handy walls to sit on seemed as good an option as any.

Being a weekend it had to be an early visit before the yachtsmen, windsurfers, fishermen, walkers and yes, birders arrived en masse, so I duly drove through the entrance of the reservoir just after it opened at 8am on a wonderful morning of sunshine, blossom, greenery and blue skies.

The northwest wind was keen enough to require warm clothing but once a fleece jacket was donned I was all set to go or rather to limp painfully slowly to the central Causeway. My plan was to sit there and try to catch up with the Bonaparte's Gull that was found here by The Wickster two weeks ago on 8th April and looks like it may be staying for an extended period.The gull is an immature in its second calendar year so will not breed this year and therefore is in no hurry to go anywhere and it is our good fortune that it has found Farmoor to its liking

It has been my misfortune to miss it on the other three occasions I have tried to see it, frustratingly by only minutes the last time, but unless it appeared near to the beginning of the Causeway I had little chance of encountering it as I could not walk round the whole reservoir due to my bad knee.

I was making my way slowly from the car park when Dai drew up beside me in his car and informed me the Bonaparte's was present today but was away over on the far southern side of Farmoor Two reservoir which is just about as distant as possible from where we were. I groaned as there was no way I could walk there but Dai must have seen my concern as he generously offered to drive me round the reservoir to the area where he had seen the gull just a few minutes earlier. I should point out that Dai is one of the fortunate few who has permission from Thames Water to drive round the perimeter track of the reservoir. 

I was not about to turn down such a kind offer and away we went and five minutes later we stopped opposite a small white gull sat on the water eating a small fish. It had its back to us but I said 'That's it Dai, I'm sure'. It turned its head and there was the dainty black bill and distinctive head pattern to confirm our identification and we both managed some quick photos before it took to the air displaying salmon pink feet and legs.

Dai offered to leave me here but I would be stranded and unable to make it back to the car park if he did, so he drove me all the way around the reservoir and back down the central Causeway where a nice group of six or so White Wagtails were chasing the numerous flies along the concrete walls. 

White Wagtail
Dai left me by the Yacht Club where I could rest on a bench and get a cup of tea from the cafe if I wished before making my way back to the car. However, having been here only thirty minutes I was not in the mood for leaving Farmoor just yet.

I decided to check the nearby large grass bank by the Thames Waterworks for White and Yellow Wagtails but there was no sign of either, though there was more than adequate compensation in the form of a lovely female Northern Wheatear sitting quietly  in the short grass and daisies. 

Northern Wheatear
I say it was a Northern Wheatear but its size suggested it may have been a Greenland Wheatear but being a female it was beyond my powers of identification although for a female Northern Wheatear it struck me that it was unusually strongly coloured. So who knows? It was a good find and I watched as it bounced on black legs after insects, slowly depressing its tail as it stood looking around for fresh victims. The Swallow pair that are nesting in the adjacent Thames Waterworks, cruised inches above the grass, their backs shining midnight blue as they glided back and fore in an effortless liquidity of motion and higher above the reservoir excitable Common Terns exclaimed to each other, cleaving the air with wing-beats of supreme elegance as they strengthened their pair bond, often with one of the birds carrying a fish as a trophy gift to its partner.

The verdant presence of  Spring and its boundless vitality was in evidence wherever you looked and it was a joy to be out amongst it all..

I met Warren and Charlie, two birder friends from nearby Buckinghamshire who had come for another attempt to see the gull having failed last weekend and I told them where the Bonaparte's was. They managed to see it distantly through their scopes from where we stood and then decided to walk to where it was, some quarter of a mile away but I was unable to follow due to the distance involved. They set off, leaving me feeling somewhat forlorn but in the end I had a minor brainwave, working out that if I left the reservoir and drove round to Lower Whitley Farm I could access the reservoir from the gate there and would be close enough to the gull to allow me to limp the comparative short distance to see it.

This I duly did, not without some discomfort but I was driven on by the incentive of getting close to the Bonaparte's and eventually I rejoined Warren and Charlie. The Bonaparte's was still in the same area and alternately flying above and swimming on the waters of the reservoir, close to the wall where we stood. 

It eventually settled on a pontoon next to an immature Black headed Gull which provided a good opportunity to compare the two.The Bonaparte's was the smaller and had a more delicate appearance and seemed very keen to get as close to the Black headed Gull as possible. Settling down it slept and preened but soon took to the water again looking for food.

Meanwhile yet more evidence of Spring manifested itself as a nearby fisherman flushed a party of six Common Sandpipers from the wave wall and they flickered their way out over the water to land some hundred metres further along the edge of the reservoir's blue waters.

As we watched the gull it was all too apparent that, like its namesake it was a feisty little thing and took no nonsense from the larger Black headed Gulls.  Both gulls had a strategy whereby they would follow the Great crested Grebes that were fishing nearby and mug them for any fish they brought to the surface. The Bonaparte's was adept at this and although not always successful in competition with the Black headed Gulls, gained several small fish in this manner, consuming them and then resting on the water, watching until it espied another grebe surfacing with a fish.

The Black headed and Bonaparte's Gulls going in for an attack on a grebe

We watched the Bonaparte's Gull for an hour or so, being joined by several other birders and then parted to go our separate ways. Another two hours of birding bliss had come and gone, the memory of which will certainly sustain me as my knee slowly heals and mobility returns 

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