Wednesday 22 July 2020

The Return 21st July 2020

It was as recently as mid May this year that I found three Turnstone's on the concrete shore of Farmoor's central causeway. They were on their way north, dressed in an attractive finery of black, white and chestnut brown breeding plumage.

Today, two months later, I found a returning Turnstone, an adult, at Farmoor, feeding quietly along the gently lapping water's edge and, as often is the way with waders here, showing little concern about my or anyone else's presence. I paused to think on its journey. Where had it been? Where was it going? What distant land had it taken off from? The long flight from where it went to breed in north east Canada, Greenland, Arctic Siberia or maybe closer in Fenno Scandia bringing it once more to our shores, to spend the rest of the year on the coast of western Europe including Britain or further south in North Africa.

Its early return indicated it was either a failed breeding bird or probably a female judging by its plumage, as they are known to depart early from their breeding areas and leave their young to be tended by the male, until they too are ready to fly southwards, the males leaving with the fledged young from August to early September. The breeding season is very short in the far northern parts of the world, a window of no more than eight to ten weeks to find a mate, lay eggs and raise young.

The Turnstone was already in moult, some of its summer scapular feathers replaced by the dark brown feathers that form its winter plumage with just a few bright chestnut feathers retained, a reminder of summer.

It fed at the edge of the water, finding globs of soft weed into which it inserted its bill, turning the weed over by upward thrusts of its stubby black bill. I noted the sturdiness of its short orange legs, that remain the same colour year round. The thick legs doubtless impart to the bird the strength to brace its body while it overturns seaweed and stones in its search for prey hidden beneath.

It diverted to run up the concrete shelving to seize an earwig, no opportunity to refuel its depleted energy reserves was ignored.

I left it to its meanderings as a procession of human visitors on the causeway walked past, unaware unheeding, maybe uninterested in this remarkable world traveller, that today brought the wonder of migration to Farmoor Reservoir.

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