Friday 28 July 2017

My Farmoor Convalesence Continues! 28th July 2017

I seriously injured my right knee in April and it is only now that I am able to walk freely and without pain. Part of the recommended treatment is to exercise my knee regularly hence my sudden conversion to walking the concrete wastes of Farmoor Reservoir. It is flat, and its circumference is just about manageable and enough to leave me feeling righteous after having given my knee a good workout.

So today I made a return visit and trudged around the reservoir and down the Causeway. If you expect little from Farmoor then generally you are not disappointed but at this time of year there is always the hope of encountering some waders, returning from their breeding grounds and using Farmoor as their equivalent of a Motorway Service Station.

Today also offered the continuing attraction of the Ruddy Shelduck, still in residence on the far side of Farmoor Two, the larger half of the reservoir. I got to Farmoor deliberately early, before the fishermen and yachts people arrived, and duly wandered round to the deserted far side of Farmoor Two. There was cloud and rain predicted for later this morning but  currently it was sunny although with a strong southwest wind blowing.

I found the Ruddy Shelduck easily this time, it was upending in the shallower water by the side of the reservoir in the company of a large number of Coots, many of which were standing along the edge of the reservoir looking a bit like an avian ecumenical convention, dressed as they were in a plumage of black and white.

The Ruddy Shelduck was a bit uneasy about my presence and swam further out into the reservoir but if I remained still and kept a reasonable distance it felt confident enough to swim back nearer to the edge of the reservoir. I watched it for thirty minutes, swimming about and generally doing very little. By now the sun had disappeared,

Further out on the reservoir there were a large number of Sand Martins, ceaselessly criss crossing the reservoir, flying low over the water. I estimated there must have been about six hundred but surely they cannot be migrating already? It is not even August yet. Maybe they came from a wider area where they are breeding or have bred in their colonies,  knowing that the waters of Farmoor will provide good feeding? It is noticeable that larger numbers usually appear when there is cloud and rain threatening, forcing the flies they feed on  to come down low. So is there a large population of Sand Martins feeding up above the reservoir, out of sight in the sky when it is sunnier and the flies are much higher?

I proceeded onwards round the perimeter track, finding a quiet corner of the reservoir in the lee of the wind. A female Mallard was sat on the concrete apron by the water with four newly hatched ducklings. This seemed very late for a newly hatched brood. Five Little Grebes swam, in close formation, out from the reservoir's edge. Two were still in summer plumage and three in winter or juvenile plumage. Was this a family party just arrived or had the three winter plumaged Little Grebes I saw on Monday been joined by another two?

There are always questions.

I walked down the Causeway, meeting Geoff and we stopped for a chat about birding matters and congratulated each other on our good fortune at seeing the elusive Amur Falcon in Cornwall recently. I noticed that the single Common Swift I saw on arriving at Farmoor had now been joined by another fifty or so, their dark sickle winged forms flying at high speed up, down and across the Causeway but noticeably keeping together as a loose flock. Could these be migrants heading southwards for their winter home in the Congo? Most are usually gone by the first week in August. I felt a little deflated as I witnessed yet another reminder of summer coming to an end.

Three Yellow legged Gulls disputed perching rights on top of the Valve Tower, their presence another reminder of approaching autumn.

Two Turnstones were perched on the retaining wall of the Causeway, rather, than is more usual for them, running along by the waves lapping on the concrete shelving below. Maybe the splashing waves were too much to endure in the fierce wind. They stood facing into the wind and seemed tired and not interested in feeding. One stood on one leg, reluctant to move and when it did refused to lower the other leg but just hopped along on one leg - a curious but not uncommon behavioural characteristic of small waders. 

Two juvenile Dunlin were below them, on the concrete shelving by the waves, running non stop, feeding frantically, and eventually the Turnstones descended to join them but still refrained from searching for food.

Turnstones are very attractive birds in their summer plumage although one was already showing signs of its summer finery fading and commencing to acquire the dull brown plumage of winter. I was close enough to them to see how frayed the edges of some of their breeding feathers had become. Still, despite the wear and tear to their plumage they continued to look very smart, almost exotic, as they stood on the concrete. It has been a good few days for Turnstones here at Farmoor with, by my estimation, at least eight individuals having passed through Farmoor recently. They are never here for long though, just a couple of days at the most before they move on.

Hopefully the wader passage will continue and other waders, not just Turnstones will  arrive to cheer my therapeutic orbiting around Farmoor. Five newly fledged juvenile Swallows were perched heads into the wind, on a wire strut of one of the disused filter beds, awaiting their parents arrival with food.

I headed past the Yacht Club for the Car Park, passing the two Egyptian Geese now occupying one of the sailing club's pontoons. A movement on the water underneath the walkway to the pontoons caught my eye and I found a Great crested Grebe using the sheltered waters beneath to relax, away from the rough wind driven waves beyond the pontoons. It looked at me casually but was disinclined to move and I left it in peace in its sheltered corner.

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