Thursday 10 April 2014

A Spring Farmoor morning 10th April 2014

The mist slowly drifted away above the westerly wind  ruffled, grey waters of Farmoor. A patchwork of grey and blue formed in the heavens as the sun slowly filtered through the dispersing mist. The all pervading concrete contours of the reservoir, so obtrusive and unforgiving on the eye are no longer surrounded by the stark, bare bushes and trees of winter but are now muffled and softened by the burgeoning green of emerging leaves and the surrounding resurrected vegetation somehow makes the reservoir less stark.

The landscape of winter has ceased to be brown and has become one of green growth as far as one can see. A much more appealing  prospect, bringing with it the eternal and annual optimism of renewal and expectation.

Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs have arrived unheralded during the previous nights after perilous journies across land and sea, and now sing to announce their presence from high perches in willows and hawthorns. Each bird so nondescript in appearance but their appeal to us enhanced by the knowledge of what has been achieved by each and every one of them to get here

The walk up the central causeway, as so often, was unexceptional. The only gulls were hundreds of Black headed Gulls feeding on the myriad of flies across the reservoir. Small groups of Coots, possibly non breeding birds, picked lazily at the weed in the water and a few Pied Wagtails flew before me along the concrete pathway. The female Mallard still has her twelve young and four 'orphaned' golden ducklings were feeding in their own little group, dangerously unsupervised by a parent.

Great Crested Grebes flew unsteadily across the Causeway from one reservoir to the other whilst single individuals whiled away the morning asleep or casually feeding. Two amorous Great Crested Grebes, breast to breast, bill to bill, glanced sharply left and right in unison, almost mechanical in their actions as they displayed to each other.

Great crested Grebe
I turned off the Causeway to walk along the top end of Farmoor Two and look for the Red necked Grebe. Now something of a celebrity, having been here for five days with a constant stream of birders and or photographers tramping the concrete to admire it and take its picture. I found it easily, all alone in a  sheltered area of the reservoir, it was fishing not far from the bank, catching small unidentified fish, often trailing strands of weed in its bill from the murky green depths where the fish had been snatched. The grebe played with some of the fish before swallowing them head first and then picked off a few flies from the water's surface to complement its fishy repast. This is the highlight of the morning. This is Farmoor

Red necked Grebe

Now the morning's bright sun and blue sky had taken over and lulled one into a sense of warmth and benign well being but the sharp west wind reminded otherwise. This is early April and  ever capricious at this time of year, the weather can turn in a moment. Indeed Farmoor seems to have a climate of its very own. Out of the wind it was warm and soothing with clouds of flies hanging in the still air behind the windbreaks of the hedges. Exposed to the wind it was uncomfortable in the least.

Blackcaps warbling, rich and throaty, are here in force now and seemed to be singing from every suitable point and Chiffchaffs rivalled them for abundance. I walked back to the Causeway with Dai and left him to go down the Causeway while I carried on round Farmoor One.  Four wagtails prinking and preening on the path were unusual here. They are usually found further down the Causeway. They kept together, obviously a group and were a little nervous and flighty. They were White Wagtails, migrants, stopping here on their way to, well, who knows where. They did not remain  long and soon, with irrepressible loud cheery calls, took to the air in a group and disappeared northwestwards. Migration in action. This is the other highlight of the morning for me.

White Wagtail
I wandered down to the path running by the Thames and snaking, sinuous as the river along the back of the small reserves at Pinkhill and Shrike Meadow.

No redstarts were in the hedge, maybe next week, just a lone Robin darting out onto the path and back into the hedge, doing a passable impression of a redstart.

A Little Egret sunned itself  on the edge of the reeds at Shrike Meadow but as soon as it saw me took off in a flurry of dazzling white. Many migrants are yet to come. The bleached, dead, reed stalks, taller than a man and each with a tufted pennant of a purplish, dead, flower head, form an avenue through which I wander. The reeds  do not yet harbour Reed or Sedge Warblers but they will come shortly. For now just a few singing Reed Buntings make do. A pair of Bullfinches pull at the heavy white blossoms on a flowering cherry, nibbling the petals fussily in their stubby black bills. Ever secretive they slip away piping their diffident call note to each other. Heedless of my presence two Wrens fall from a bush to scuffle in a frenzy of aggression at my feet before noticing me and flying off, still continuing their dispute but now on blurred and whirring wings

Butterflies woken by the sun warm themselves on the dry mud of the path. Peacocks mainly, seeking out the sun warmed earth where the wind is diverted by thick hedgerows frothily white with Blackthorn blossom.

Brimstones, all males, come to prominence later in the morning. They are never still, constantly flying, lemon yellow over the  low, emerging nettles and umbellifers or along the hedgeline in a constant unknown quest. Cowslips in random splashes of rich, yellow, trumpet heads, nod in the wind amongst the short grass of the reservoir banks

I love this time of year. So short, so transient, just eight weeks of vitality and perfection as everything in ever increasing profusion adopts its finest to reproduce and perpetuate.

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