Monday 29 April 2024

Welcome to Farmoor ! 28th April 2024

It seems forever that the wind has blown from the northwest bringing rain and a raw cold to chill my bones. This Sunday morning was no different and I found myself wondering when it will ever end, feeling resigned to the fact  that yet again there was no intimation of the climate becoming milder and more like Spring.

I awoke to the lashing of rain against the windows and pondered whether it was even worth getting up.I stuck to my plan however which was to go to Farmoor Reservoir in the hope the foul weather might bring in some more good birds to the reservoir. Yesterday similar conditions, after a long and fruitless vigil in the causeway hide staring at very little apart from a multitude of swifts and hirundines, brought the excitement of four adult Little Gulls and half a dozen Arctic Terns for an hour in the early afternoon. Such is birding in an inland county.

Common Swift

Arriving at the reservoir mid morning I donned my waterproofs and made for the central causeway. Farmoor was at its malevolent worst with a strong and very cold wind blowing forcefully and unhindered across the wide expanse of water that comprises Farmoor's larger basin. Wind driven, the rain added that extra touch of misery.

Nic had published a very nice photo of a Swift on our Oxon Bird Log last night and this, together with the presence of Little Gulls yesterday seemed to have acted as a stimulus for a number of photographers to descend on Farmoor to see if they could emulate Nic's success. I prefer to keep my own company in situations such as this, finding stopping to talk a distraction, so diverted into the cafe with Mark P for a coffee and to wait for the causeway to become less 'busy'.

Although the miserable weather conditions were making life thoroughly unpleasant it did have one benefit for us birders cum photographers in that it meant hundreds of Swifts,Swallows and martins were milling around the causeway, seeking to feed low over the smaller basin, close into the causeway wall in the lee of the wind, where the water was more sheltered. They were feeding on insects that  despite the hostile conditions persisted in hatching into a decidedly uncertain future.

Fortified with an expensive coffee (isn't everything nowadays) from the cafe we made our way to the causeway. It soon became obvious that the large numbers of Swallows and some House and Sand Martins were still feeding very low over the water and would be coming very close to where we stood.

It is not often that one gets the opportunity to see Swallows, which were in the majority, so well and for such a prolonged period but here they were literally feet below us as we stood on the causeway looking down on them. When seen so close one can see how attractive is their plumage with a brick red face, royal blue head and upperparts and a tail, when spread, revealing a ribbon of elongated white panels.Flying into the wind they were moving particularly slowly, some purposely stalling, held by the wind, in order to dip their head and pick a tiny insect from the disturbed waters.

The birds were obviously struggling to find hatching insects and had to resort to flying just above the choppy water to seize what they could. It was tough going for them as time and again they flew into the wind alongside the causeway then turned to be swept back downwind and start the process all over again. A repeated spectacle of constant elegant movement.

I can recall only one other time see here  where Swallows have struggled so much with the weather at Farmoor and this was even more extreme as the birds actually landed on the mossy waterside concrete in the lee of the wind and fed on the ground, shuffling along, their short legs and tiny feet totally unsuitable for ground feeding.Thankfully today it had not come to that but some birds did resort to briefly perching on the wave wall looking very discomfited.

They were exceptionally close at times, seeming to come along in pulses of birds as I tested my camera skills, often unsucessfully, to capture them in flight.Observing them with the naked eye they appeared to be moving relatively slowly but looking through a camera lens they were revealed to be surprisingly quick and erratic in flight but never lacking that intrinsic grace with which Swallows in particular are endowed.

Fun and frustration came in equal measure for the next hour but in the end I felt satisified that I had got some 'keepers' as my friemd Mark R, a proper photographer, would say.

A flock of around thirteen Yellow Wagtails, a good count for Farmoor these days, stuck together on the causeway while two Dunlin and three Common Sandpipers fed at the water's edge and a Little Ringed Plover called from the sky but annoyingly remained invisible. Despite hoping there might be a repeat arrival of Little Gulls or Arctic Terns it was not to be but the 'swallow fest' more than made up for that.

By noon the rain had ceased and the wind lessened as it moved to a westerly quarter. Almost immediately the reservoir became devoid of any hirundines as the afternoon promised something more pleasant and Spring like.

Here lies the paradox, pleasant weather conditions bring few birds but unpleasant will almost always deliver.

You take your choice. 

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