Monday 13 May 2013

An Afternoon at Farmoor 13th May 2013

Monday and a morning sorting out the after effects of a week long business trip to Germany had me hankering for some fresh air and birding action. Farmoor, whilst guaranteeing fresh air in abundance does not always come up with the birds but I took a chance and duly found myself ascending the ramp from the car park in the early afternoon. The sun was shining but ominous black clouds promised an imminent shower or two as I made my way past a deserted yacht club and felt the full force of the westerly wind in my face. The wind was strong, very strong with waves crashing against the concrete and the prospect of walking into the wind on the exposed Causeway promised to be interesting. I got to the beginning of the Causeway and there on the concrete apron was a nice group of small waders running around like demented clockwork toys. Tiny against the surf, they ran hither and thither picking at invisible morsels of sustenance. Ten Dunlin and two Sanderling.

The Dunlin, now all in their summer finery of chestnut, black and white and slightly smaller than the Sanderling were wary and took flight in a compact flock low over the waves coming back to land from whence they had taken off. Time and again they lifted into the wind sweeping round in formation to come in to almost land but then off round again they went, until finally they settled. The Sanderling seemed caught up in the anxiety and often joined them on these excursions but eventually they all settled down. Possibly the strong wind stimulated them or just the strange surroundings made them jittery but they remained constantly nervous and edgy although I could see no real cause for their anxiety. It certainly was not because of me and no one else was around to alarm them. Looking at the Sanderling it was apparent one was in slightly aberrant plumage with a head that was mainly white and it was more advanced in it's moult into summer plumage than it's companion. No matter any Sanderling in summer plumage is a pleasure to behold with their rich spangling of chestnut, black and grey on the upperparts and their snow white underparts.

A vicious shower of rain, borne horizontally on the wind hit me full bore in the face as I photo'd the Sanderlings. I turned my back to the rain and wind  just as the Sanderling turned the other way to face into the wind and rain. Soon it was over and just the wind remained. 

The rain shower had brought many Swifts down to water level and Farmoor Two fairly swarmed with them. Like aerial ants they busily flickered across the water. Impossible to count individually as they careered into the wind I 'blocked' them into tens and counting through came to the astonishing total of in excess of two thousand. An incredible sight. It did not last, as once the sun returned many dispersed but even then there were still many hundreds that remained screaming up, down and across the Causeway and reservoir. Devil birds indeed. 

The Causeway had wisely been abandoned by virtually all birdlife apart from a lone Ringed Plover which soon departed for calmer environs. Unable to face lugging both scope and camera around the reservoir I had only the camera with me and noting some distant terns on the reservoir returned to the car to exchange the camera for the scope. I set about walking around Farmoor Two which as usual was devoid of anything interesting. Every time there is nothing but I still persist in the hope that one day, any day for heaven's sake something good might turn up. It never does and today was no exception. A third of the way round Dai came alongside in his car and offered me salvation in the form of a lift, dropping me at the far end so I could scope the terns I had seen earlier and informing me that he had found a Spotted Flycatcher at the back of Pinkhill. I scanned the heaving water waves and found five Arctic Terns, exquisitely balanced and delicate, surfing the wind and picking flies from the turbulence below them. What a joy they are to observe. So pristine and sleek at this time of year, seemingly lithe and elegant in everything they do and absolutely in their element of wide skies and open waters. 

A slightly chunkier but still delicate white bird manifested itself into a first summer Little Gull and I noted amongst the hurtling Swifts not only Swallows but House and Sand Martins as well. My phone rang. It was Dai. 'Ewan I have just flushed two Whimbrel from the Causeway, they are flying over the reservoir as I speak'. A slight panic but I soon picked them up flying towards me but landing on the wave wall of the adjacent Farmoor One. I walked towards the Causeway and watched them feeding on the grassy bank by the perimeter track. So much more refined than Curlews with their proportionately shorter and straighter beak. I left them and went in search of the Spotted Flycatcher and found it exactly where Dai said it would be, flycatching in a dead tree angled over the meandering Thames. The last one I saw was in Tanzania, moulting. What a fantastic journey this non descript little bird has made to be here. I left it in the sun by the river and returned back down the Causeway finding only a lone male Yellow Wagtail and accompanied by Swifts playing chicken with me as they flew after insects at incredible speeds beside and along the Causeway. The wind howled now, even stronger than before and uncomfortable despite the strong sunshine. Time to go home.

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