Monday 9 August 2021

Today its Plovers and Terns 9th August 2021

Most days I go birding at my local Farmoor Reservoir. It's a familiar routine, one I welcome and to which I have grown accustomed. I feel at ease and know the place intimately now. 

At this time of year nature seems to embrace a slower pace as the late summer months of August and September come upon us. The expected trickle of returning migrant waders have been appearing at the reservoir, Dunlins,Turnstones and Ringed Plovers mainly  but last week there was the excitement of a Purple Sandpiper and a Wood Sandpiper, both highly unusual visitors. Frankly anything can turn up which is what keeps me coming back.

Today the rain abated mid morning and despite a brisk wind it turned into a warm, sunny and very pleasant day. A wander up the causeway brought the discovery of two Ringed Plovers, pitter pattering along the shoreline. Their manner of feeding is utterly distinctive, a few quick steps and then a downwards tilt of head and body to seize something, then head up, a seconds only glance around to re-assure all is well before the process is repeated.

The two Ringed Plovers

Both were adults, their sand coloured upperpart plumage showing distinct signs of wear with many frayed feathers. One still looked the part though, in splendidly marked plumage and compared to its companion appeared very bright.The other was duller with a less well marked bill but regardless the two of them kept close company, two small waders putting down here to refuel and rest and finding each other's company re-assuring in the atypical environment of an inland reservoir. 

I speculated as to where they might have come together. Could they be a returning pair, maintaining their bond while journeying south from their breeding grounds or had they met up on some far distant shore and carried on their journey together, maybe even met high in the sky as they travelled over a foreign land? Would they carry on their migration together or depart separately?Who knows? There are always questions.

The duller bird squatted on the sun warmed concrete, possibly tired and taking some rest, as and when it could. Its companion would keep an eye out and raise the alarm if necessary.

A large military aircraft from nearby Brize Norton came unusually low over the reservoir, its engines deafening, a training flight probably. The duller Ringed Plover cocked an eye in its direction but remained squatting on the ground reluctant to move.

The two birds resumed feeding but then seemed to lose the urge and in an exaggerated cautious walk moved up the concrete shelving and away from the water, to stand quietly, all primal urges abated for now. This was a brief interlude in which to embrace a slower pace to their lives, although it is still frenetic by our standards

The sight of these two migrants visibly chilling out was infectious and I too felt the sun on my arms and face, persuading me to sit quietly on the wave wall, lost in reflection as I watched the sun create a million sparkles on the waters of the reservoir, the sound of the gentle waves lapping the shoreline, soporific.

I enjoyed the moment but soon the plovers were moving off and I too roused myself and headed in the opposite direction. At the far end of the causeway  Common Terns have adopted the line of straw filled wire cages that act as filtration for the water being pumped from the River Thames into the reservoir.Their numbers are slowly building and today twenty five are perched on the wire mesh. Amongst them there are at least half a dozen juveniles, which idle away the hours on the cages, waiting while their parents go fishing for them on the reservoir.When a juvenile sees its parent approaching with a fish it sets up a beseeching, repetitive calling and the parent flies in to deliver the fish without settling. The process is over in seconds as the fish is transferred from one bill to another. The camera captures perfectly the grace of the adults flight as it delivers the fish and then rises and sweeps away to find yet another victim for its demanding offspring.

The juveniles are perfectly able to fish for themselves and regularly take feeding flights around this corner of the reservoir but if their parents are still willing to bring food then why make too much effort.The time will come, all too soon, when life will get a whole lot more perilous as the young tern's leave the reservoir and, having to fend for themselves, head for their winter home off the coast of Africa.

But for now the sun is shining, it's a warm wind that is blowing and food is plentiful .............................

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