Friday 19 May 2023

An Unusual Visitor to Farmoor 18th May 2023

Following a visit to the dentist I decided to walk off the injected numbness in my jaw by taking a stroll up Farmoor Reservoir's causeway. It was about two in the afternoon, with warm sunshine and no wind, leaving the reservoir's waters in a mirror like calm,

Not expecting anything of a bird nature apart from the ever  present Pied Wagtails I only took my bins leaving the camera in the car to give my shoulder  some relief. I wandered up a causeway refreshingly and very  unusually, on a day like this, devoid of anyone else.

About a third of the way along the causeway I stopped to scan the larger basin to my left but apart from a few Black headed Gulls there was no sign of the hoped for terns.

I turned to resume my walk and as I did a distant melancholy note came from the sky, quickly followed by another. So quick and  so brief were  the calls they hardly registered, especially as a plane from nearby Brize Norton was flying overhead. . 

A bird surely? 

I waited to hear the call again to be sure of what I was hearing but was met with silence. I felt that almost certainly it was a Grey Plover. I stood for some minutes but with no more calls dismissed my assumption as unproven. I needed to hear it again to be positive of my identification

The time of day was also not auspicious for migrant waders so I let  the matter rest.

I walked further and saw a wader standing, alert and tense, by the water's edge of the smaller basin on the other side of the causeway. Checking through my bins I saw it was a Grey Plover, sadly not in its smart black, grey and white breeding plumage, so presumably this was a second calendar year bird that would not breed this year. It continued to stand alert but allowed me to approach closer and study it in my bins.

Yep, Grey Plover alright - a good record for Farmoor and a very welcome avian visitor at that. I chanccd my arm by edging closer but it moved away.

Not for the first time I chided myself for not bringing my camera but there was no point in berating myself further. The plover flew, to settle a good way further along the causeway. 

Farmoor suffers to a certain extent from suppression of bird sightings by a minority of local birders so I was glad to redress the balance in this case and put the news out on the Oxon Birding Forum, a WhatsApp group where you can instantaneously put out news of your sightings in Oxfordshire.

This achieved I took a chance, a slim one I admit, that the plover would remain on the causeway and walked back to my car to get my camera.There was a faint hope the plover might stay as it had not flown off completely. Of course, on returning, there were people walking from both ends of the causeway  and unsurprisingly no sign of the plover.

My phone rang.

It was Paul, another Farmoor regular.

Any sign of the Grey Plover Ewan?

Sadly no Paul.I think it has gone as there are now people on the causeway.

We arranged to walk around the perimeter track of the smaller basin and meet in the middle on the far side just in case the plover had flown there.

It hadn't and we resignedly walked back to the causeway and commenced walking down it towards the yacht club, accepting that the plover was long gone.

We were discussing the marked lack of Sanderlings so far this year  when Paul saw one feeding at the edge of the water. It was well on the way to acquiring its full summer plumage, already showing much chestnut brown in its upperbody feathers, wings, head and breast. In this plumage they present an agreeable sight and I felt glad we had at last broken our duck and seen one.Like most Sanderlings that arrive at Farmoor it was ridiculously confiding.

We walked a little further down the causeway and stopped, as you do, to chat about something and as we did a now familiar plaintive call came from right above us.Just one call and then silence.

Grey Plover!! 

We spoke in unison but where was it?

Seconds later Paul saw it alight by the water.For a bird that is quite a rarity on the reservoir this was a thrilling find and even better it allowed much closer views than Grey Plovers, which are notoriously flighty, normally do. 

The most noticeable features were its large dark eyes, which gave it a benign expression, and the black armpits (axillaries) under its wings.Otherwise it looked pretty nondescript in a mottled grey, brown and white plumage.If only it had been in its sumptuous full breeding plumage but really we were more than content to see this individual .

Paul was mightily pleased to see the plover as he thought he had missed it but no, here it was and with a bonus of a Sanderling too.

Let's head for the cafe and celebrate with a cup of tea he said

Great idea Paul.

Of interest a non breeding Grey Plover has been present at nearby Port Meadow for the past two days and it is thought that this individual might be the same bird.


  1. I think it’s very unfair to criticise birders who choose not to report their sightings. Many people prefer to find their own birds rather than simply twitching someone else’s second hand bird which requires very little skill (of course a rarity would be an exception). It’s very likely that regular bird reports from a site may even stop people visiting there as they may judge from the news that there is nothing of interest to see, too many lazy people out there reacting to social media who want instant results and simply collect ticks or ‘need’ the photo.

  2. Oxon Birding has helped me see loads of birds I would otherwise have missed. Keep on reporting and blogging, Ewan, it is much appreciated.

  3. Nonsense. You can’t beat finding your own birds