Monday 25 September 2017

Last Orders 24th September 2017

On my last visit to Farmoor and once I had detached myself from the excitement of watching the Red necked Phalarope, found that morning by Dave, I walked around Farmoor 2, the larger of the two bodies of water that comprise Farmoor Reservoir and which by and large I had all to myself. Whilst walking around there I noticed a Great Black backed Gull in some distress, just about managing to stand on the concrete banking that shelved down to the water, wings drooping and with a great bloody gash on its head. It looked in a very bad way, but then one fairly often sees sick and dying gulls here so I was not that concerned and after a casual glance I carried on past, assuming it was not long for this world.

Today, four days later, I walked round Farmoor 2 again, looking for a reported aberrant Coot that has its normal dark grey plumage liberally speckled with white. While walking along looking for the Coot I came across the same Great Black backed Gull of a few days ago, surprised to find it still alive but still the worse for wear although looking better than the last time I saw it. The bloody gash had gone or at least the blood had but leaving an area of missing feathers indicating the gash. One wing also gave the impression it was damaged which might prove more serious in the long term, as if it cannot fly it will find food scarce and difficult to come by in the coming winter months on the reservoir. There again it could always feed on the regular dead gulls that are washed up from the overnight roost.

It looked at me and did not move but then stood up and slowly walked a few paces away obviously a little concerned  about my continued presence.This was a good sign as a very ill bird would not have bothered to move.  Dai drove up in his car as I was watching the gull and told me that the gull had been in a fight a week ago with another of its kind and come off much the worst but now seemed to be recovering, eking out an existence by eating dead fish of which there is no short supply at this time of year. Dai had tried throwing it some bread but it was not interested.

I looked at the gull and thought on how the mighty had fallen. This huge gull as well as being a scavenger is a killer, a top predator preying on weak and injured birds and indeed even healthy ones. You only have to look at its massive bill to realise what havoc and carnage it can cause and does. The state of this gull with its injuries was also testament to the power of that bill. Greater Black backs can easily swallow a Puffin whole and I have had the dubious privilege to see one do so. I have also seen one tear a sickly Manx Shearwater to shreds.

Whether this brute will live to resume its murderous existence, who knows? I could not help but feel a little sorry for it as it walked slowly and slightly unsteadily away to settle once more on the concrete shelving and continue its convalescence.

I left the injured gull in peace, sitting in the sun on the concrete and carried on walking round the reservoir. This side of the reservoir was sheltered from a southwest wind, that was warm but definitely more than a breeze. Great crested Grebes were also taking advantage of this more sheltered area, sleeping on the calm water with head withdrawn and bill snuggled into the side of their neck and breast, well away from a mass of small yachts each with a lone young sailor being tested for a proficiency badge of some sort. The grebes were the very image of relaxation although always keeping one cautious eye open. 

Further round the reservoir I found the aberrant Coot swimming just offshore with a dozen of its companions, The dark grey plumage was liberally covered and almost obscured with white feathering on its body but curiously not so on the head and neck although on closer examination there were tiny flecks of white hardly visible on its head. It looked like it had been in some mishap with spilt paint but in a way was quite attractive.

It was, judging by its behaviour, a male and spent much time diving, bringing weed to the surface and sharing it with a companion, presumably a female, as they showed no aggression towards one another and kept reasonably close.The other Coots were untroubled by its aberrant plumage and all was as harmonious as it ever can be in a Coot's antagonistic world.

Naturally, as I was at Farmoor I had to make another pilgrimage to see the juvenile Red necked Phalarope, just one more time, as it is such an unusual event having one here and may not happen again for a long time, if ever.  It had moved to the western corner of Farmoor 2, just off the central Causeway and it was not hard to see where it was, as a huddle of admirers were sat on or standing by the retaining wall, admiring it. Whilst walking up the Causeway to get to the phalarope, a juvenile Dunlin came pit pattering over the myriad gull feathers that are washed up at the water's edge, discarded by the thousands of gulls that roost on Farmoor at night. This individual had quite a long bill which might indicate it was not a British bred Dunlin but one from another race alpina which breeds in Norway and northern Russia and is the commonest race of Dunlin that winter in Britain. 

I left the typically confiding Dunlin picking food from among the feathers and walked on towards the phalarope. Just as yesterday, it was feeding very close to the edge of the reservoir and providing everyone who was interested with close up views. What was nice this time was the fact that being a weekend it was not just birders showing  an interest but also members of the public out for a casual stroll. All were charmed by this  tiny, charismatic wader, looking so fragile and vulnerable on the open waters of the reservoir but in reality a tough little bird that will travel thousands of miles to distant oceans, there to spend its winter far from land, an inconsequential speck on the mighty ocean.

I resisted the huge temptation to take more than a handful of photos of the phalarope and just watched it, swimming, with its lobed feet clearly visible in the sunlit shallows where the sun could just about penetrate.

The Greater Black backed Gull did not survive and my cause for optimism concerning its recovery was misplaced as it was found dead on 25th September per Jeremy Dexter

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