Tuesday 30 April 2013

Up and Downs 30th April 2013

Dotterel is a hard bird to see in Oxfordshire although one did turn up at Balscote Quarry last year and stuck around long enough for everyone and anyone interested to see it. Even Badger who had been away in Lesvos got back in time to see it and add it to his county list. Another Dotterel turned up on Saturday but just the wrong side of the county border, on Bury Down in Berkshire. Roger Wyatt managed to get some great photos and also one of the bird in flight when it was actually in Oxfordshire airspace but that is about as far as it went and it soon returned to it's favourite field in Berkshire.

However this was the least of my worries when I found myself in the car park at the top of Bury Down near to West Ilsley on a blustery Sunday morning. I was surprised to find myself alone. Not another birder was in sight and I naturally assumed that the Dotterel had gone. After some confusion as to the precise field it was or had been in, which initially sent me the wrong way but resulted in my flushing five Grey Partridge, I found the right area and there it was in the field and relatively close. What a beauty, a female, so it's plumage was much brighter than a male but looking closely it was apparent it still had a little way to go before it was in it's full glory. It was, as I said, reasonably near to the fence line by the Ridgeway and the views in the scope were about as good as it could get.

A few other birders cum photographers joined me but there was never a crowd and a couple of walkers on the Ridgeway came over to casually enquire what all the interest was about. On showing them the object of our desire they remarked on the beauty of the bird and were suitably impressed at how far it had come and where it was going. 

The wind, thankfully, although strong was from the southwest so warmer, if that is the right word than yesterday's cold northwesterlies. The sense of space from up on the Ridgeway, looking down and across into Oxfordshire was palpable and the Ridgeway itself being relatively devoid of people only enhanced the sense of space and isolation.

Dotterel field with Oxfordshire beyond
I spent an hour or so looking at the Dotterel which had the field to itself apart from a few Northern Wheatears. One of these was an exceptionally well coloured and large male, putting it's companions in the metaphorical shade - surely a Greenland Wheatear? 

I got quite excited as this particular sub species has the most phenomenal migration. It undertakes one of the longest  migrations of any passerine, covering some 30,000 km  (18,640 miles) from it's sub Saharan wintering grounds in Africa to it's northern breeding grounds. First leaving Africa and arriving on our shores it then  makes an incredible non stop flight over the Atlantic to Greenland. Here it was on the Downs only about half way to it's destination, feeding up frantically for it's mammoth flight. Extraordinary and somewhat humbling.

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