Tuesday 18 September 2012

An Evening at Farmoor 18 September 2012

A windy but sunny evening found me walking up from the car park to stroll around Farmoor in the hope of finding some waders by the water's edge. At the top it became apparent just how strong the wind was as it whipped off the water. I got to the start of the central causeway but my attention was drawn to the many Pied Wagtails feeding on the mown grass by the works. I looked through them and to my delight found two White Wagtails feeding amongst their British cousins. After watching them for some time and comparing their subtle plumage differences I set about heading up the causeway. 

I was virtually blinded by the sun shining directly into my eyes and the strength of the wind blowing straight at me made my eyes water. The reservoir was devoid of fishermen or indeed anyone else apart from the wind surfers making the most of the conditions on Farmoor Two. I headed for the new Birdwatching Hide (congratulations must go to Thames Water for erecting this) perched halfway along the causeway, reasoning that I could get some respite from the wind inside it. 

Just as I was getting there two things happened. A small bird flitted out from the leeward side of the Hide where it had been obviously sheltering from the strong wind. It disappeared momentarily and then popped up on the wall. A Northern Wheatear. Watching it, three small waders caught my eye, feeding on the concrete apron by the water's edge.

Juvenile Sanderling with two juvenile Dunlin

Juvenile Sanderling
Two were juvenile Dunlins but the other was a juvenile Sanderling, clearly so much whiter and marginally larger than its companions. Juvenile Sanderlings are so marvellously patterned with a chequering of black, grey and white on their upperparts and the white underparts positively gleamed in the evening sun. The majority of waders that arrive at Farmoor are confiding, showing no apparent real fear of humans and can allow very close approach before taking flight. So it was with these three. 

I wondered where they had come from and where they would be going. I always do this with the waders. Sentimental I know but they are such great travellers and  their presence always brings a little mystique to the mundane concrete vastness that is Farmoor Reservoir.I wandered on up the causeway
and headed around Farmoor One.

The Tufted Duck flock still exceeded a hundred - 116 to be exact and were sleeping in a raft on a sheltered part of the water. I carried on round the Reservoir and found two more Dunlin, separately feeding amongst the myriad moulted gull feathers and occasional dead trout at the water's edge. 

Juvenile Dunlin.
Note that some of the juvenile scapular and mantle feathers have already been replaced with grey winter plumage and this bird also has aberrant yellow legs and feet
A flock of around seventy five hirundines flew overhead, revelling in the wind and consisted of a mixture of Sand and House Martins. Coming back to earth I looked along the grassy bank on my left and a flock of thirteen Magpies seemed to be finding something very interesting in the grass. These gangs of Magpies always remind me of groups of teenagers, full of energy, mischief and virility, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and seeing how far they can go. As I approached they chackered to themselves and flew off cackling into the hawthorns no doubt to create mischief somewhere else. I approached the works and as I did another small passerine flew up onto the wall. Another Northern Wheatear. 

Northern Wheatear

Or was it the same bird I had seen on the Causeway? Probably not as this individual eventually allowed me to approach very close indeed. Wheatears, indeed all chats are some of my favourites. They possess such charm and have such an appealing demeanour. Constantly bouncing around and giving off an air of positive optimism. Forgive me I have unashamedly in this piece not only succumbed to sentimentality but am now guilty of anthropomorphism, but then why not? Watching birds cannot all be science and cold logic. There is romance and joy as well. Just look at the wild sunset that bade me farewell as I left the Wheatear on its wall. Who could fail to be moved by such a sight?

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