Saturday 5 September 2020

An Osprey Double at Farmoor 3rd/4th September 2020

I made a late afternoon visit to Farmoor Reservoir today in the hope of something interesting turning up. It had rained sporadically all day but now the weather front had passed, leaving a brisk and warm southerly wind to stir the waters of the reservoir into miniature waves.

A message came on my phone from Badger informing me about an Osprey that had recently been seen over the reservoir. Unfortunately I was just too late, only minutes but it had disappeared. In such situations, after the initial disappointment, there is nothing to be done but give a shrug and accept the situation. Let's face it worse things can happen.

The wind was fierce as I walked the causeway and there was little bird life about, certainly no waders on the causeway and only a few gulls riding the wind. At the far end a familiar friendly figure in the form of Peter came into view and he asked if I had seen the Osprey. Through gritted teeth I had to tell him I was just too late in getting to the reservoir and as a consequence had missed it.

We stopped to chat and Peter told me how the Osprey, a juvenile, had circled the reservoir but had been unsuccessful in catching a fish and was last seen departing to the south.We leant on a railing, looking out over the smaller basin of the reservoir that is Farmoor One and I mentioned, more in hope than expectation, that the Osprey might still be around and return to the reservoir. It has been known that Ospreys sometimes do this at Farmoor in autumn but it was a slim hope, especially as this bird had departed south.

For twenty minutes we chatted as Jack and Sue also stopped to say hello. Some minutes had elapsed as I passed the time with them when Peter exclaimed. 'Its back!' The Osprey had returned and was now circling over the northwest corner of Farmoor One and the five of us watched in some excitement as it flew around the far side of the reservoir.

At first it was quite distant, circling high over the far bank but slowly it worked its way across the basin towards us as we stood on the causeway, becoming ever larger in my camera lens. It circled over the smaller reservoir several times, dropping down to just above the water on three or four occasions and even hitting the water feet first in one attempt to seize a fish but was unsuccessful. We watched it for some twenty minutes as it continuously circled the reservoir, sometimes high and sometimes low, before it crossed the causeway and flew towards the southeast corner of Farmoor Two, the larger basin.The last I saw of it was as it slowly flew over the yacht club and towards Wytham Woods, on the other side of Farmoor Village.

Naturally I was very pleased to have seen it, especially as I was convinced I had missed my chance. 

At home that evening I mulled over my experience and thought it highly possible that the Osprey would have roosted nearby and possibly would return to the reservoir early the next morning. Nothing ventured, nothing gained they say, so at 6am the next day I rose, departing our village under an apochryphal sky, afire with yellow and orange and magenta colours. 

Twenty minutes later I arrived at the reservoir which at such an early hour was closed.

However there is a place where you can view the reservoir from outside the boundary fence and I determined that I would look for the Osprey from there. For forty minutes I  scanned a glass smooth reservoir, every bird standing out in stark profile on the silk like waters. The birds were mainly Mallard, Coots, Cormorants, Great crested Grebes and Black headed Gulls. Not exactly exciting and certainly nothing to detain you for overly long.

I was just becoming bored when I heard and then saw a mass of gulls wheeling around a much larger bird in their midst. It was the Osprey! It was 7.15am. The Osprey was flying across Farmoor Two from the direction of Wytham Woods, where it had possibly roosted and was now intent on finding a fish but the gulls had other ideas. The Osprey flew towards me over the larger reservoir basin and then commenced patrolling along the near edge of the reservoir, making one unsuccessful stoop at a fish before being mobbed by a Greater Black backed Gull.This seemed to be the final straw and the Osprey departed the reservoir and was lost to sight behind the trees and I could not re-locate it. I had watched it for about ten minutes.

Pleased with myself, in that my hunch had proved correct, I took the Thames Path that runs parallel with the west side of the reservoir and at 8am entered the reservoir proper. I made my way to the central causeway and elected to walk down it and then around the perimeter of Farmoor One the smaller basin. At the far end of the causeway I came to a halt and scanned the sky for Swifts.This year they seem late in departing and small numbers are still present each morning hunting insects above the waterworks.Today there were at least fifteen sharing the sky with a large number of mainly juvenile House and Sand Martins.

As I stared skywards Paul joined me and we commenced to walk round the perimeter of Farmoor One. Paul knew of the Osprey having been seen here yesterday evening and I commiserated with him on missing it. Paul has been desperately keen to see an Osprey and literally lives within a stone's throw of the reservoir and I  reckoned if the Osprey had roosted in Wytham Woods it may well have flown over or very near to his house this very morning.  I related to him how close the Osprey came to us yesterday and Paul smiled gamely but I could tell he was hurting so shut up about the Osprey. It was a case of so near yet so far. We walked further discussing the chances of another Osprey visiting the reservoir when Paul suddenly exclaimed 'I can see an Osprey!'

Indeed he could. There, coming over the reservoir's northwest corner, just like yesterday was an Osprey, very probably the individual from yesterday and earlier this morning. It flew along parallel to the perimeter track we were on and came ever closer until its image filled our bins and my camera lens, so much so I was having to reduce the zoom on my lens to get all of the bird in frame.

What a superb sight it presented in the dull, early morning light. I could see the coverts on its brown upperwings tipped with buff  indicating it was a juvenile, its long wings were heavily barred underneath and its head white with a broad band of brown encompassing each eye.So close did it come I could even detect the golden yellow colour of  its eyes.

It cruised past us and then turned away, crossing the reservoir, passing over the causeway and the other larger reservoir basin before disappearing once again over the trees on the far side. 

In excellent spirits we walked back to the causeway in case the Osprey should decide to return but there was no sign of it doing so. Sally and Dave joined us as news of the Osprey's presence spread but still there was no sign of it. We sat on the retaining wall and were entertained by House and Sand Martins, juveniles mainly, settling on the causeway and picking at the tarmac surface.What they were after I have little idea, maybe grit or possibly flies, but whatever, it was an impressive sight as over two hundred hirundines fluttered down to cluster onto the tarmac. A couple of vans driving down the causeway had to slow to a stop in order not to crush them as the martins were in no hurry to leave, waiting until the very last moment before flying away.

Juvenile House Martin

Juvenile Sand Martin

So we sat and waited. Badger joined us and then, at around 1030, Sally announced she could see the Osprey once more, coming  back over the trees on the far side of Farmoor Two although it did not venture any closer but cruised along the far side before ascending to a great height, circling in the sky and drifting away toward the River Thames.We followed it in the sky until it became a blur and I gave up trying to follow its progress.

More and more people arrived in the hope of seeing the Osprey but it had not returned by one pm. Perhaps this evening it might put in an appearance or maybe it carried on with its migration following the river southwards.

It has, after all, a long way to go and being a juvenile will not return from Africa for two years.

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