Tuesday 30 March 2021

A Sandwich at Farmoor 28th March 2021

c Mark Pidgeon

It was a cold blustery Sunday morning at Farmoor which frankly is about par these days. I was walking up the central causeway in the company of Mark but with little hope of anything good in the way of  birdlife showing itself. The reservoir as suspected was indeed hard put to provide any signs of birdlife apart from the raucous Black headed Gulls, staking out the filtration pontoon at the western end of the causeway. Some gulls managed to nest there last year, finding loose bits of straw, which comprises part of the filtration process, to construct flimsy nests on the flat wire top of the pontoon but the structure has been renovated this year and there is now little straw available for the gulls to make a nest from.Not that this lack of nesting material has put a stop to the gulls incessant squawking and territorial displaying.

It is such a shame that Thames Water cannot be bothered to do more to provide nest sites for the Black headed Gulls, Great crested Grebes and Coots that grace the reservoir. It would not take much effort to make things better but as of now there is absolutely nowhere for the birds to nest. Any suggestions from birders such as myself and others fall on deaf ears as far as Thames Water are concerned. A bit of a public relations own goal in my opinion as Thames Water along with other water companies have a deserved reputation for being one of the worst polluters of our waterways. Helping the birds would surely give them some welcome positive publicity, and especially as the reservoir is currently so popular with a covid constrained local populace but no one at Thames Water seems to have a care.

However let us move on. Grievances  with TW can be taken up on another day. 

The southwest wind was ferocious on the exposed causeway with just two Linnets braving the shuddering blasts of cold air, the tiny birds cowering amongst the weeds growing in the cracks of the retaining wall. You know it is bad when you cannot find a Pied Wagtail on the causeway!

When Mark and myself made it to the far end of the causeway it was to find ourselves in a blessed calm as we were shielded from the wind by the topography around us and we stood for  while enjoying the peace and absence of buffeting wind. As we stood wondering what we could do to find any birds our first Swallow of the year came twisting and swooping, flying into the wind and passing at speed over our heads then out over the troubled waters of the reservoir.

The sight of the Swallow brought an instant buzz to our senses and the morning became more bearable. No matter how dire the circumstances somehow something of interest always seems to turn up. Minutes later a few Sand Martins followed the same course the Swallow had taken, before it fell quiet again. Mark was determined to try his luck at seeing the usually showy Water Rail on Pinkhill Reserve just down from where we stood. It has almost become a standing joke now as the Water Rail once so reliable has become impossible to see despite our continued optimism and countless visits in the hope that one day it will appear 

As per usual there was no Water Rail. Plus ca Change!

Tired of looking at nothing other than reeds and water we went back to our former position at the top of the causeway I thought the strong wind might be good for a Little Gull or Common Tern to put in an appearance. A Little Gull  has already visited the reservoir for a day and both Common and Sandwich Terns have been seen recently at a gravel pit in the adjacent county of Buckinghamshire. Migrants seem to be arriving very early this year and in the case of Farmoor Reservoir sightings of both Sand Martins and Swallows have been the earliest ever recorded on the reservoir

I looked out over the grey waters of F2 and the teeming gulls, forever bickering and flying around above the pontoon. Then, in amongst the whirling mass of white, I could hardly believe my eyes as a tern joined the throng, flying close to the pontoon. In a state of high excitement I shouted above the noise of the gulls 'Mark. Look it's a tern!' Even in the dull light its shining white undersides and very pale grey upperparts stood out. A large black cap, shaggy at the rear and a long shiny black bill with a sulphur yellow tip told me it could only be a Sandwich Tern.

They are a good find inland and especially at Farmoor where they are an irregular passage migrant.This one was, in addition to its scarcity, very early (in fact it is the earliest ever recorded in Spring at Farmoor) and one could only speculate where it had come from and where it was bound. The Black headed Gulls, sensing it was different, immediately began harrying it but the tern was not to be deterred and landed on the pontoon but the gulls close attention unsettled it. This prompted another fly around before the tern settled once more on the pontoon to preen, albeit briefly, before flying off over the causeway to check out F1 before returning to fly around near the pontoon once more but then, rising higher in the sky, headed southwest over the surrounding trees and was gone from our sight.

We hung on in the faint hope it might return but knew in our hearts it had truly gone and was unlikely to return.The morning however had now taken on a whole new positive aspect and was enhanced further when I found a pair of Goosanders on the adjacent River Thames.

I wonder what will be next to provide some excitement at Farmoor?

With grateful thanks to Mark for acting as team photographer

Friday 26 March 2021

Plover Perfection at Farmoor 24th March 2021

I went back to Farmoor early today, in the hope the three Black necked Grebes would have prolonged their stay but I was out of luck.They had gone, which was hardly surprising as the last I saw of them yesterday was as they were trying, with little success, to find an area on the reservoir that was not being encroached on by the sailing dinghys.

It was not all disappointment as I had managed to inadvertently flush two Grey Partridges first thing, from a field just outside the reservoir proper. These were very much a patch mega so the day had got off to a more than reasonable start. On finding there was a distinct lack of grebes, I wandered along the central causeway to discover a Dunlin, still in complete winter plumage, pottering along quietly at the water's edge. 

An hour later I returned along the causeway to find the Dunlin had gone but on getting to the concrete hard standing at the other end, where the yachts are launched, a small hunched form stood at the water's edge, almost lost amongst a mess of washed up gull feathers, quills and the odd crisp packet, while the waves, driven by the southwest wind, beat themselves to a froth on the concrete.

What could it be? Was it the Dunlin? Moving closer an involuntary cheer rose to my lips as I set eyes upon the agreeable form of a Little Ringed Plover, something I had been planning to go and see elsewhere but here was one right infront of me, newly arrived and  living confirmation of the onset of Spring migration. Like many of its kind it was relatively confiding and allowed me to approach reasonably closely without taking alarm.

As evidenced by the strong black banding on its head and breast I decided it was a male and on closer inspection I could see it still retained a vestige of brown winter plumage both within the black behind its eye and in the black breast band. They do not possess quite the chunkiness and robustness of their larger cousin the Ringed Plover. Everything about them is of a more delicate nature, the bill narrow, fine and black, the body attenuated and slimmer, the tail a fraction longer. Other aspects too identified it as a Little Ringed Plover, the bold, yellow orbital ring around each eye and the lack of white wing bars were both additional and conclusive pointers to its identity.

Little Ringed Plovers are one of the earliest Spring migrants to arrive on our shores, their wintering areas extending as far south as tropical Africa.They do not undertake quite the phenomenal migrations of their larger cousin, which covers vast distances to reach both wintering and breeding grounds. Nor do they show the Ringed Plover's preference for breeeding on coastal shingle, sandy beaches and strands but nest inland in freshwater habitats on areas of vegetation free sand and pebbles, often in active gravel pits, reservoirs or old quarries. The first pair to colonise Britain bred in a newly excavated gravel pit at Tring, Hertfordshire, in 1938 and with no shortage of new gravel pits being excavated in subsequent years their population has spread and increased until there are now up to 1300 pairs breeding from southern England to northeast Scotland.

Little Ringed Plovers used to breed at Farmoor, more years ago than I care to remember. I can recall sitting in the hide at Pinkhill and looking out when all I could see was a series of bare gravel islands and watching a pair tending their newly hatched young. Oh how I wish it were still so but the tiny reserve was left to its own devices with the result that vegetation and reeds took over, the habitat became unsuitable and the LRP's left, never to return.

I watched the diminutive plover running along the edge of the concrete, its fawn upperbody plumage making it nigh on invisible against the bleached concrete. It paused in its plovery way, then stooped  to seize something and running a few steps more, then stood quietly. The sun came out and its slim body took on a more rounded appearance as it relaxed. Seconds later it sank down on folded legs to sit in the sun with eyes beginning to close, the embodiment of content.

It could not last long. The area it favoured was also needed to launch the boats and soon the inevitable disturbance became too much to bear and it fled, leaving me with that familiar warm glow of achievement on discovering an unusual wild bird.

Tuesday 23 March 2021

A Fabulous Find at Farmoor 23rd March 2021

After days of cold northwesterly winds, strong enough to cause mild discomfort, the wind swung to the southwest overnight and as day follows night so the reservoir welcomed a smattering of summer migrants. Not too many mind - this is Farmoor after all and we do not want to get ahead of ourselves.

Chiffchaffs have been singing along the Thames Path these past days but only when the sun is shining. Up to four of them. Ornithological metronomes, they seesaw a two note song endlessly, from high in the bare trees. A simple signal of the Spring returning, bringing annual hope and renewal. The feral Greylags are pairing up now, each pair seeking privacy from their fellow geese, scattering to separate territories along the still rain swollen river and raucously guarding their chosen space. A minority of Greylags seem reluctant to foresake the now greatly depleted winter flock and the lone Russian White-front hangs on with just five of its larger cousins. It has been here for over a month, always in the company of the Greylags and surely it will be heading northwards soon. I will be sorry to see it go.

I got to the reservoir later than usual today, just before 9am, as I had planned to give pounding the concrete a miss but a WhatsApp message from Paul changed all that when he reported seeing a Little Gull, a Swallow and some Sand Martins at the reservoir earlier in the morning. Spring migration had commenced in earnest. At least by Farmoor standards! 

By the time I got to the reservoir there was no sign of any hirundines but the delightful Little Gull was out in the middle of the larger basin that is Farmoor 2, light as thistle down, dipping to the water with precision and infinite grace to pick insects from the surface, its flight buoyant and effortless, rendering it unmistakeable when compared to the more laboured flight style of the larger  Black headed Gulls. It was an adult in winter plumage, as evidenced by smoke grey underwings and faint grey smudges on its white head.

I stood with Paul at the furthest end of the causeway and we chatted for a while before going our own ways.I went to show a visiting birder where the white-front was in the fields behind the reservoir and then returning to the reservoir I bade farewell to my new found colleague, planning to sit and scope the reservoir in the hope of finding a Sand Martin or Swallow.

Badger rang before I could even sit down, to tell me that Justin had found three summer plumaged Black necked Grebes by the causeway that divides the two reservoir basins.They were on the larger basin and at the moment quite close to the causeway. 

The grebes had not been on the reservoir earlier and it became obvious they had just arrived, probably persuaded to take a welcome rest as the wind had increased considerably, disturbing the waters of the reservoir into mini waves.

Spring Black necked Grebes are something of a speciality of Farmoor and hardly a year goes by without one or more gracing the reservoir on their way to  breeding areas further north.Where this splendid trio had come from was anyone's guess but quite a few winter on the south coast of England so maybe this is where these originated. Invariably there is the not inconsiderable bonus that the grebes are virtually in full breeding plumage when they appear. Their soot black  heads have a distinctive and curious profile due to the elevated cap of feathers on the crown, and possess a spread fan of gold feathering across each cheek and eyes of demonic red.

Tiny birds, not much bigger than a Little Grebe, they were often almost lost to sight in the roiling waters of the wind scoured reservoir but water, calm or otherwise, is their exclusive habitat and they remained unphased by the tossing and rolling they received from the waves, one minute gliding down from the crest of a wave, the next almost invisible as waterborne they slid further into a wave trough. The diffused sun, not quite breaking the light cloud was turning the grey choppy waters to silver and the grebes became black silhouettes on the shining surface.Photography was going to be difficult!

I joined Justin on the causeway and we chatted. A catch up. Close human contact. Something that has become un-natural in these straitened cautious times. Neither of us having seen each other since well before lockdown, we enjoyed the moment. Other Oxonbirders, scattered themselves at a sensible social distance along the wall of the causeway to enjoy the sight of the colourful threesome, riding out the remainder of the morning on the water. The grebes stuck close to each other, alternating between looking about warily and settling to feed, the three birds adopting a synchronized swimming routine, diving in unison and re-surfacing together. For half an hour I watched them and then it was time to leave to fulfil a prior commitment.

The grebes slowly drifted further out towards the centre of the reservoir, becoming ever more cautious and distant as the yachts from various private schools that use the reservoir, took to the water. I hope the grebes stay for longer than a day. In the past they sometimes have done and at other times not so.

Whatever happens, they have returned to Farmoor for yet another Spring, a welcome re-affirmation of the natural order of things as my life seems to be slowly edging back to something acceptable and bearable.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Frog Porn 16th March 2021

Today I decided to forgo my daily visit to Farmoor Reservoir and took myself to another part of Oxford to seek out a favourite amphibian of mine, the Common Frog, which is found throughout Europe, extending as far north as Scandinavia and east to the Urals of Russia. The furthest west it can be found is Ireland. 

For me it is still a notable event when I encounter a frog, which is not surprising as frogs maintain a very low profile except when gathering to mate, for they have many predators, such as herons, ducks, crows, gulls and even Weasels, Stoats, Badgers and Otters will eat them. Many others fall victim at mating time to cars on our roads, as they make their way to their traditional breeding ponds. They are not endangered as of yet but their numbers are declining due to habitat loss and a parasitic fungus which is deadly to both them and other amphibian species worldwide and is a growing concern with regard to their future welfare.

You can imagine my enthusiasm when Mark, a birding colleague who I met on Otmoor last weekend very kindly gave me directions to where I  could find a large number of breeding frogs and today, a half hour drive from my home, found me parking the car at the bottom of a housing estate on a steep hill and taking a track further downwards through woodland to where a stream ran in the bottom of a small wooded valley, part of which is now a local nature reserve.

A ten minute walk through the woodland brought me to a more open marshy area with a sequence of four 
small, shallow pools of clear water in which I had been told I would find the frogs. The first pool I came to was devoid of frogs or frog spawn but walking to the next two I found a mass of frog spawn in both but not a sign of a frog. 

A pond full of frog spawn

Surely they had not all gone? Would it be fourth time lucky I asked myself as I walked a few yards further to the last pool which, unlike the others, was filled with reeds that were just emerging as upright, short green blades protruding above the still water.

The pond favoured by the frogs on my visit. The frog spawn can be seen bottom centre of the image

The numerous ripples on the water betrayed the fact that this was where the frogs were. They had seen me coming and sunk below the water in alarm, leaving just expanding circles on the water to mark their disappearance. 

A mass of frog spawn lay along the nearer edge of the pool, right by the boardwalk that stretched across the marshy ground. I sat quietly by the pool in anticipation, waiting, and soon little goggle eyed heads protruded above the water and emboldened, as I sat still and silent, the frogs resumed the business of courting and mating.

Their courting is hardly subtle, no formal introductions or elaborate foreplay forms any part of the frog's amorous repertoire. Accompanied by a constant croaking from 'the choir' of unattached males, their vocalisations sounding like a distant motorcycle, they would sit in the water unmoving and then suddenly become active and blunder amongst the already laid spawn, searching for an unmated female or trying to dislodge a male already clasped to the back of a female. Their movements were spasmodic and for long spells they lay in the water, immobile, with just their heads protruding like miniature gargoyles above the surface.

Any movement from another frog and especially a mated pair seemed to be sensed, possibly by the slight vibrations transmitted through the water, and it would immediately attract any nearby frog to it. The way the frogs clambered amongst the spawn, was vaguely pornographic as the jelly like coating slimed over their bodies while they wrestled with each other or endeavoured to dislodge a lucky male already clinging in tight embrace to the back of a female. 

Nothing could dissuade the other frogs from endlessly trying to muscle in on any happy couple in the act of procreation, with sometimes three, four and even five suitors pestering a mating pair but usually the male that was already attached to the female managed to kick away any rivals with its back feet and somehow, despite all the interference, the business got done.

The small corner of the pond with the spawn seemed to be the favoured area and all the frogs made for here, presumably as they knew this was where the females preferred to discharge their spawn, which the male, clinging to her back, fertilises with his sperm as it is laid. I estimated there were between fifty to sixty frogs in this one small pond  and their swelling white throats stood out against the dark water as they croaked their passion and ardour, which I am told allows the female to discern which male has the loudest and longest croak and would get the chance to jump on and have his froggy way.

Frogs can lighten and darken their skin to blend with their surroundings and during the mating season the male frog turns greyish blue and its throat greyish white while the slightly larger female is more colourful especially on her throat and belly.

A mating pair of frogs,the more colourful female is

Fortunately, this morning only one or two people came along the boardwalk although it is an obviously popular area to walk in, so I was able to sit quietly and undisturbed, listening to and watching the frogs. The breeding season for frogs is mainly from March to April and typically this congregation will all be over in a matter of days, as such a closely packed gathering makes the frogs even more vulnerable than usual. Not that the frogs seem to care as they abandon all caution in their desire to mate. The females will lay their eggs and leave the shallow pond immediately to seek out those hidden damp places in which to hide and the males will remain on the chance of finding another unmated female but once they realise there are no more females they will do likewise.Outside of the breeding season frogs have solitary lives eating insects, worms, spiders and wood lice and in the worst of winter they hibernate.

Frogs amongst the spawn

I have only ever seen such a large gathering of frogs once before. It was in Shetland, a few years ago when I twitched  a Tengmalm's Owl in some landscaped gardens near Lerwick and where we discovered there was an artificial pond full of frogs. Indeed the frogs were so abundant, not only in the pond but all around in the grass as they made their way to the pond, it was almost as exciting as seeing the very rare owl. There were hundreds of frogs everywhere and you had to be careful not to tread on them. However the fifty or so I encountered today was not a bad substitute and the outskirts of Oxford is a might less distant to travel to than Shetland!

Frogs are not fussy where they lay their eggs, even a small garden pond will often be blessed with frog spawn. I put in a small pond in my garden last summer and earlier this month was delighted to find a mass of spawn in the pond. However I never saw any frog in the pond so they must have been very quick, laying the spawn overnight and then departing.

I spent almost three innocent hours watching the frogs. It was constant theatre as they muscled around and softly croaked the morning away, often almost enveloped in the spawn as they blundered through it with only one thing in mind. A Chiffchaff, stimulated by the emerging sunshine sang from high in a willow tree as the frogs sat in the water and reeds. Spring is here at last. 

What better way to spend a few hours?


Thursday 4 March 2021

A Pleasant Surprise at Farmoor 3rd March 2021

Every Wednesday and Friday I take a stroll around Farmoor Reservoir with my friend Phil in an attempt to keep body and soul together during these difficult times. Both of us had a covid vaccine jab some weeks ago now and are beginning to feel that sense of irritation that comes in the knowledge that soon we will have a second vaccination and hopefully then be free to expand our horizons, well at least beyond this part of Oxfordshire.From my point of view that day cannot come too soon.

We decided that instead of walking around the perimeter track of the reservoir, as we usually do, we would take what Thames Water call their Countryside Walk, which circumvents the outside of the  reservoir and where one hardly meets anyone else. 

The welcome two days of weekend sunshine and mild temperatures were but a memory as today had reverted to winter, dull and raw with not a breath of wind to stir the layer of mist that, although not affecting visibility, nevertheless had reduced the surrounding landscape to a sullen monotony.The water on the adjacent reservoir was flat calm, receding into a blurred and hazy distance.

Of birdlife there was little to see or hear, as if they too had given in to the prevailing conditions and like us felt a dampening of the inner spirit, and that quelled their desire to sing. It looked very much like it was going to be one of those forgettable days at Farmoor when chatting about the world and its woes would be more entertaining than birding. 

We came to a small copse and found a few birds hopping about in the bare tree tops, the twigs and branches forming a lattice work against the grey sky. Two Bullfinches piped to each other in that melancholy fashion of theirs but remained invisible, the calls growing ever more distant, denoting they had eluded us and moved on. A small movement revealed a Chiffchaff. The tiny bird, a harbinger of the coming Spring, was threading its way through the twigs, its plumage an overall dull olive, the colour of the emerging buds it assiduously searched for insects but its actions today were uncharacteristically sluggish, entirely in tune with the general ambience. There was little chance of its cheery onomatopoeic song ringing out on a morning such as this but its mere presence lightened the mood. 

Moving on towards Lower Whitely Farm, a flock of over a hundred Redwings were searching for worms in the lush grass fields to our left. This was the essence of this transitory month of March, where just a moment ago we had seen signs of Spring with the Chiffchaff, an arriving summer visitor and now we were encountering Redwings, winter visitors, grouping into flocks and soon to depart for distant lands. Nervous and flighty the Redwings flew from us, and eventually perched in the topmost branches of some mature trees by the lane, joining a clutch of Starlings, there to wait for us to pass by.

We followed a boardwalk into another small patch of open woodland, pausing to scrutinise the bird feeders which were doing brisk business with visiting Great and Blue Tits. A Coal Tit, even smaller than a Blue Tit arrived, to nervously seize a seed and retreat into cover, but despite its timid nature returned regularly, undaunted by its larger cousins. A Marsh Tit joined the throng, shortly to be joined by another, their coffee coloured bodies and shiny black caps, a contrast to the green, blue and yellow plumage of their more populous tit brethren. 

Marsh Tit

Finally a Nuthatch flew in. Stabbing at the feeder with its chisel bill, wastefully tossing seed that was not to its taste to the ground, before it grabbed a seed to its liking and took it back to hide amongst the twisted corrugated boughs of the overhanging oaks. 


We walked onwards, complaining about the depressing and unsympathetic decimation of the surrounding hedgerows by both the local farmer and Thames Water. Both resort to those dreadful tractor driven flails that with no acknowledgment to finesse, bludgeon and desecrate the hedgerows, leaving bare, torn, scarred spikes, that like broken bones jut out at angles, the bark stripped to white wood. Why it is considered necessary do this is beyond comprehension but it is prevalent now throughout the land, manifesting humanity's increasing detachment from nature. The irony is that our abuse of nature has, in another form, brought about the current pandemic that has so disrupted the world and currently, as a result, has caused more and more people to realise that the natural world can provide great solace in this time of distress, but still the destruction continues and the lesson goes unheeded by many farmers, local authorities and landowners. It was not lost on both Phil and myself that we were walking something called a Countryside Walk yet Thames Water totally miss the point and feel the hedgerows have to be ground into submission, crudely manicured, as if in some nightmarish landscaped garden. Sheer and utter folly.

Having seen very little so far and wanting to get away from Thames Water's inopportune 'landscaping'  I suggested we walk down by the river, where it is wilder, to see if the lone white fronted goose that has been here for a couple of weeks was still enjoying the company of the ever garrulous Greylags. We found some of the Greylags on the other side of the river, stood in the grass close to the bank but there was no sign of the white-front amongst them, so we walked to where the path goes upriver towards Bablock Hythe. We could hear the usual conversational chatter of the feral Snow and Barnacle Geese which were obviously nearby, feeding on the grass on 'our' side of the river.

We crossed a small wooden bridge, no more than a plank really and traversed a narrow few yards of muddy path that took us through a hedge out to the edge of a large grass field and encountered the Snow Geese, feeding within yards of the path. A shock of white bodies and I am not sure which of us was the more surprised but the geese hardly moved. We skirted the flock and followed the river bank for a short way and checked the few Greylags that were scattered amongst the other geese but again could find no sign of the desired white-front.

Then from the river, initially hidden from us by the bank's sloping edge, seven geese walked up the bank and out onto the grass. I looked once and looked again, hardly believing what I was seeing.  Before us were seven Russian White-fronted Geese! So calm were they it was difficult to accept that these were really wild birds but they most certainly were, no doubt re-assured  by the lack of alarm shown by the other geese.

What a find. Not the hoped for single white-front but now seven! The group consisted of two adults and five juveniles and were in my opinion a family. If this were true, they had travelled together all the way from Arctic Russia, survived the many perils that would have confronted them so far and presumably will be heading back to Russia in a month or so. I found their trusting nature touching and could but feel a hope they would make a successful return to Russia.

The two adults were very dashing with broad, irregular slashes of black spanning their pale brown bellies. The gander was typically assertive, strutting about with head raised on extended neck, keeping a close eye on us and his family.

When setting off for our walk I had expected very little of interest and consequently left my camera in the car and now I had to go back for it if I wanted to record the geese. Phil carried on his walk and we agreed to meet back at the reservoir cafe for a coffee and cake, once I had photographed the white-fronts.

I returned with my camera, fearful that in my absence one of the many dog walkers that use the Thames Path might have disturbed the geese but on returning I was relieved to see they were still present but had moved further out into the field where they were contentedly grazing the grass.

They kept to themselves, as did the Snow and Barnacle Geese flocks, whilst the few Greylags were more randomly distributed, some having already formed pairs and obviously preferring to be on their own. 

Snow Geese

Barnacle Geese

I watched the geese for a while and took some photos to record this unusual event. This has been an exceptional winter for white-fronted geese at Farmoor. Prior to this winter, the last record was of a single bird on 25th January 2016. This winter there have been no less than three records; nineteen flying west over the reservoir on 30th November last year, a single juvenile from 17th to the 27th of February this year at least and now this family group of seven today.

Sadly my time with the geese was destined to be limited. A dog walker arrived and the sight of the dog instantly put all the geese on high alert.They show much more alarm at the presence of a dog than they do towards a human. Could it be the ancestral memory of arctic foxes, that are an ever present predator on their breeding grounds that cause them such concern when they see a dog, which is similar in profile to a fox?

The dog, even though relatively distant was sufficient to persuade all the geese to take off  and they flew across the river. The white-fronts circled the large field on the other side and I prayed they would settle there with the Greylags and indeed it looked like they would but at the last moment they seemed to have a change of mind and flew higher and away to the northwest. 

There are a number of fields in that direction that would be ideal for them and maybe they landed there out of sight but I did not have the time to drive round and check. Hopefully they will remain nearby or possibly they will rejoin the local geese once more. 

Now that would be nice!