Thursday 23 September 2021

A Wryneck at Lark Hill 21st-22nd September 2021

A Wryneck was discovered on 19th September at Lark Hill, which lies on the fringe of Wantage in my home county of Oxfordshire. Remarkably it was in almost the same place and at the same time of year as the last one I saw in Oxfordshire, which was in 2015. What it is about this location that is attractive to Wrynecks I cannot comprehend.

The Wryneck's choice of habitat is nothing more than an unprepossessing chalk track that dips  down and then up to join the Ridgeway and is regularly used by trail bikers, dog walkers and ramblers. A few tattered, wind blasted hawthorns and elders on either side of the track preside over thick grass and herbage bordering farmland which currently consists of vast open fields of stubble.

My initial visit was in the evening of Tuesday the 21st  where I joined half a dozen other birders staking out the track where it dipped down between some hawthorns. It was obvious the Wryneck was not on view when I arrived but I was told it would appear intermittently if I waited and watched where it had last been seen. Nothing much happened for half an hour until Sally arrived and, standing further back up the track from us, found the elusive bird sat low in a small bush. How had it got there when everyone who had last seen it was convinced it had dropped into the bushes we were scrutinising? Conjecture could wait as we all made a short and very rapid walk to join Sally and sure enough there was the Wryneck perched motionless on a stump, silhouetted by the sun.

Realising it had been discovered it soon flew further up the track and for the next forty of so minutes it was a game of cat and mouse as we followed it back and fore along the track, the Wryneck disappearing regularly as they seem so adept at doing and for the most part contriving to remain elusive.

Then, after another period of no sign, on turning round to look down the track I saw the Wryneck fly down from a bush to briefly land on the white chalk of the track. There was no time to waste or alert anyone and I pointed the camera more in hope than anything else at its dark form. Seconds later it scuttled into the long grass and then eventually flew back up into another bush, there to remain much obscured for a while before flying down once more and disappearing into the grass.

I should add that our observations were regularly punctuated by trail bikers using the track to access the Ridgeway.Also add in a few dog walkers who were refreshingly co-operative and locals out for a stroll and it became obvious that a track that appeared isolated and infrequently used, was far from being so.

I drove home into a glorious sunset happy with my Wryneck encounter.  

The next day I decided, after my regular morning stroll round Farmoor Reservoir, to revisit Lark Hill  as Wrynecks wherever they show up are a bird well worth spending time with, especially in Oxfordshire.I got there sometime after one o' clock on another pleasantly sunny but windy day. I parked by the sunken reservoir as usual and before taking the familiar track checked the chainlink fence that guards the reservoir.The fence often serves as a convenient perch for migrants and today there was a rather dapper Northern Wheatear and a male European Stonechat adorning the fenceline.

Walking down to the dip I found only two other birders there, neither of whom had seen the Wryneck nor had a clue where it was last seen and indeed it had not been reported for over two hours. I find the best way to locate a Wryneck that is shy (not all are) is to try and locate it and then wait for it to show itself better, be it in a bush or on the ground.This can take quite sometime as Wrynecks are notoriously reclusive and always take an age to reveal themselves after being disturbed. Unfortunately as neither of my two fellow birders had seen the bird, at this precise moment none of us had a clue where it was. 

This was going to be difficult. 

I opted to stand and wait at roughly where I saw it yesterday. It was as good an option as anything else I could think of doing. After a long and tedious wait I wandered off to check the few bushes further down the track  but could only find two Wheatears eking out an existence on a stubble field. I wandered back and joined the others. Another long period of very little activity ensued, apart from looking imploringly along the track at frequent intervals, hoping for a sign of the elusive Wryneck. 

It was not unpleasant standing on the track in the sun, sheltered by the scattered bushes from the gusting wind but of the Wryneck there was no indication when or if it would apppear.However, scanning the wide open farmland and skies brought a meagre reward in the form of a distant Marsh Harrier and a little later a Peregrine flew high overhead to be followed by a Raven. Grey Partridges called their rasping notes from the stubble and two Yellowhammers flew up from the same stubble into the hawthorns near us.

Time dragged on further and inevitably people became impatient and began to walk up and down the track which would mean there was even less chance of locating the bird. Two hours of nothing had brought on boredom and aching legs so I slumped down in the grass by the track and, warmed by the  sun, dozed for a while.Half an hour later I roused myself to find that most of my fellow birders had given up and left.I walked back up the track and stood contemplating, well, very little. Dave who had arrived earlier but walked on the length of the track to the Ridgeway came back and stopped to quietly tell me that he had just flushed the Wryneck from the edge of the field on our right and it had flown over the track to the edge of the field immediately on the other side. 

It had been feeding unobserved within yards of me!

Dave left and I checked the edge of the field and there was the Wryneck scuttling along the bare margin betwixt field and grass, its crouched form picking up ants as fast as it could with its long sticky tongue, this fact alone betraying its close relationship to woodpeckers. I got the attention of the only two other birders present and directed them onto the object of our desire. From a distance and in the shade the bird appeared Dunnock brown but when viewed closer it could be seen to be a marvel of cryptic colouring and patterning, consisting of greys, browns and buff, overlaid with bars, spots and vermiculations.

It proved difficult for the others to locate it at first but eventually it moved out from under the dead grass and into the stubble. It was very wary, not really happy at being so exposed and as a consequence stood upright, looking about intently and warily. However there were plenty of ants so it made a compromise but soon decided to seek the security of the field edge where it presumably felt re-assured by the overhanging canopy of grass and dead umbellifers. 

Eventually it disappeared into the grass and for twenty minutes we saw no more of it but then it flew to land low down in the centre of a hawthorn, gradually working its way to the top to perch openly on a broken branch and briefly remained there before flying down onto the track and straight back into the long grass

We waited for it to re-appear but there was little indication it would. A couple with their dog came down the track, became curious, asking us what we were looking at and we told them about the Wryneck.They carried on and we resumed our vigil. In the end we felt the bird had somehow given us the slip and walked up both sides of the grass strip where we were certain it was but there was nothing. Very strange. Confounded, we stood wondering what to do next. The couple with the dog came back and passing the grass where we had checked so carefully, the dog flushed the Wryneck which flew fast and low across the stubble field to a copse of deciduous trees. I followed it in my bins and saw it settle in an Elder on the edge of the copse.

I walked around the edge of the field and found the Wryneck hiding in the centre of the Elder. It saw me and, as Wrynecks often seem to do, worked its way up to the top of the Elder and perched in the sun and dappled shadows of the wind shaken leaves. It remained there for a couple of minutes and then flew back the way it had come, fast and low, to land once more in the margin between field and grass, before running into the grass and becoming hidden.

It was enough. The sun was now sinking lower, bringing on another fine evening as it spread its gentle light upon the land. I walked back along the track to my car with the Grey Partridges rasping their notes from far out in the stubble.


Saturday 18 September 2021

A Purple Patch 17th September 2021

Consulting the Oxon Bird Log four days ago I saw an entry that stated the following:

September 14th
Blenheim.Queen Elizabeth Island
Probable Purple Heron: A large brown heron on the island, flew to a nearby tree.Yellow beak,yellow legs.I am not sure of id but back home it seemed the most likely match.

A Purple Heron is a rare visitor to Oxfordshire. The last one in the county was another juvenile that frequented the RSPB's Otmoor reserve from August until October in 2016. I was more than a little intrigued by the report on the 14th but as the identity was unconfirmed other matters soon put it to the back of my mind, but yesterday came a second report on my RBA (Rare Bird Alert) app.

September 16th
Blenheim Park
Purple Heron again in reedbed by bridge at 1100 then flew to the island on Queen Pool

The bird was now very much back in my thoughts and there was only one thing to do and that was to go and try to see the bird for myself. Blenheim Palace dominates the still attractive market town of Woodstock, just over twenty minutes drive from my home, so I planned an early start the next morning before the regular deluge of visitors arrived.

Blenheim with its extensive parkland and two large lakes has and does attract some notable birds by Oxfordshire standards. Great White Egrets are virtually resident and for the first time in Oxfordshire Cattle Egrets have bred there this year. Little Egrets are a given and even rarer birds such as a juvenile Sabine's Gull in September 2009 and an adult Bonaparte's Gull in April 2019 have been recorded from there.

Fortunately, although you have to pay a considerable amount of money to enter the palace and its gardens, there are public rights of way which allow permanent free access to much of the large area of parkland and the two large lakes.

I arrived in Woodstock, just after seven and using a bit of local knowledge parked in a convenient side road which allowed me to walk a short way to an entrance gate allowing me free access to the grounds. Following the right of way around the far side of the lake called Queen Pool I made my way to the Grand Bridge, internationally famous due to its appearances in countless film and television period dramas. 

The Bridge acts as a divison between the two lakes, Queen Pool and Great Lake and its elevation gives a good view over both lakes and their reed and riparian vegetated fringes. There is an island with large trees and bushes on Queen Pool, near to the bridge, and it is here that the Purple Heron was seen to fly to yesterday morning. As mentioned this island has hosted a small breeding colony ( up to 4 pairs) of  Cattle Egrets this year and no less than eleven, a mixture of adults and juveniles, were seen to leave the overnight roost there this morning.

I stood on the bridge, entirely alone and not quite sure what 'reedbed by the bridge' the observer was referring to in his post yesterday.There was a fairly extensive one over on the far side of the lake but it was nowhere near the bridge and I could see no sign of any heron there just one Little Egret.

Fully prepared for a long wait until this secretive heron flew from wherever it was concealed I walked to the other end of the bridge and looked across to the tree covered island hoping the heron might be co-operating  by perching on one of the larger tree's boughs but no such luck. The Queen Pool has been left relatively untouched due to the covid pandemic and is now fringed by low sallow growth and reeds around much of its  circumference. I was examining one of these narrow areas below me in my bins, standing on a grassy bank just beyond the bridge, when my heart gave a leap as a large bird flapped out of the sallow growth but it was only a Grey Heron which flew to the island and perched on a bare branch.

I scanned further along the narrow but dense fringe of short sallow spikes, reasoning that if one heron was in there so could be another, one much rarer! It was a forlorn hope, more carried out as routine than with any expectation. A few Coots and Great Crested Grebes were footling about in the water beyond but my eye was caught by a brown lump close to the bank and mainly concealed by the vegetation. I could so easily have dismissed it as just a clump of dead reeds except that it moved, only fractionally but enough to intrigue me and set my heart racing - again. I moved closer and a reptilian head and neck snaked higher in the vegetation. A tiny striped head with a long brown and orange bill mimicked a pointed spear supported by a long neck that was pale brown and pipe cleaner thin.

It ducked down again. Aha! I could hardly believe it. The Purple Heron no less, crouched and hiding from me, unaware that from my elevated position looking down, it was not as well hidden as it thought. What luck at how easily and quickly I had found it. I had expected a long possibly fruitless wait but no, here it was, minutes after my arrival on the bridge.

I slowly moved closer but it was wary and almost immediately flew across to the island and perched on the  bough of a poplar tree. The overall impression I got was of a bird with a pale reddish brown upperbody and wing coverts while the flight feathers were black and the legs yellow. This Purple Herron was clearly a juvenile.

At this moment a birder from Woodstock, Gareth, arrived and I pointed out the Purple Heron silhouetted and standing on its perch. In conversation with Gareth I learnt that this was a lifer for him so now there were two very happy birders stood on the bank by the bridge.

The heron eventually flew down to the other side of the lake and pitched into the thick riparian vegetation there and was lost to view. We moved in that direction and soon were able to discern its head and neck poking above the vegetation, much like a periscope. We made for the spot but again, when we were still some distance away, it rose from its hiding place and flew across to the far side of the lake, turned and headed back to the island where it perched at the very top of a tree, its angular profile silhouetted against the sky.

It remained on its lofty perch for a few minutes and then flew across the bridge and over the other lake, there  to turn and drop into the reeds at the side of the lake.

That was the last I saw of it as I had to leave but I had alerted others via the Oxon Bird Log and I met a couple of local birders already heading for the bridge as I walked back to the entrance gate. 

The heron was seen occasionally and briefly thoughout the day at various points on both lakes and also back on the island.

A very pleasant and rewarding early morning foray to Blenheim before the crowds arrived.


Sunday 12 September 2021

Going Green at Bempton 10th September 2021

Green Warbler c Adrian Webb

I was standing by a hedge, in a field, at a place called Sarsden which is near my home in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, unsuccessfully trying to locate a couple of elusive Common Redstarts that had been reported here yesterday. To add to my misery I had just received a right good soaking from an unexpected shower of rain. It was not a happy time.

My phone rang.It was Mark my twitching buddy. 

'There's a Green Warbler at Bempton!' he breathlessly informed me. 

'It's been trapped and ringed!' 

A Green Warbler is a true mega with only six accepted records in Britain excluding this bird.They breed in deciduous and mixed forests and on mountain slopes up to the treeline from northern Turkey, The Caucasus and west central Asia to northeast Iran and winter in southern India and southeast Asia. For a long while this species was considered to be a race of Greenish Warbler but since 2008 the British Ornithological Union (BOU) has split Green Warbler as a separate species based on mitochondrial DNA samples and differences in plumage and song

You going for it? I enquired 

'What do you think! I am at Tring Reservoir at the moment. It will take me an hour to get home and get everything together. Drive to mine and we can go in my car.' he added.

The warbler had been released into the copse where it had been caught which was at a place called Buckton, a half hour walk north along the cliffs from the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs reserve. Birders were asked to park at the reserve's car park and walk to the copse which, although on private land, was accessible as the sympathetic farmer had granted access. 

I pointed out to Mark that it was now almost one pm and it would take me one and a half hours to get to his house and then it would be another four hours minimum to get to Bempton Cliffs, by which time it would be six thirty pm at the earliest. Also we would need to add a subsequent half hour walk to the copse and that would leave very little time to find a warbler that, having been trapped and ringed earlier, was now not unexpectedly proving very elusive.

Mark suggested it would be quicker for me to drive on my own to Bempton and we could meet up there but I baulked at the prospect of going all the way to Bempton for such a short window of viewing opportunity.

I dithered and equivocated. Should I go or should I wait? After all this was only the seventh Green Warbler seen in Britain and I would forever chide myself if it had gone by tomorrow. Further it was the first to be relatively accessible as all the others had been on distant islands. I had dipped one on Lundy only three years ago. However I had  slept really badly last night and was dog tired. The energy, both mental and physical was just not there for a four hour, two hundred mile marathon drive to Yorkshire and then back again.

After much soul searching I decided I would wait for news of the warbler being present tomorrow, Friday, and if it was still around drive myself to Bempton, now a place that has become very familiar due to no less than six trips this summer to see the famous albatross that has taken up residence on the cliffs. 

Meanwhile, Mark had also phoned Les, a mutual twitching pal and they decided to go immediately. I could but wish them all the best although feeling they were taking a huge risk.

Later on I was still very much in two minds what to do about the warbler.The sensible and logical course of action would be to wait until news came out that it remained in its favoured copse tomorrow. However this is twitching where very often precisely the opposite to logical thought and common sense holds sway.

I went to bed early on Thursday night, having elected to leave the house at  six am on Friday, despite this being too early for any updates about the warbler's continued presence.If it was reported as not there on Friday I could always turn back en route

Leaving home at six am would mean a ten thirty am arrival at Bempton. Of course it did not work out this way as, having slept for only two hours, I awoke at midnight, my mind racing. I tried to tell myself to be calm but after an hour of lying in bed wide awake and fretting I decided I had best get up and get going.I wanted to be on site at first light as undoubtedly many other birders would be heading to Bempton and from all reports I had seen earlier the viewing possibilities were restricted. 

I left the house at one am on a mild and still night, the roads wet and shining in the moonlight due to a recent rain shower. Following familiar roads across the Cotswolds I finally made the motorway, consumed by anxiety and self recrimination. It always works out this way with me on the initial part of a solo  twitch. I should be used to it now but still feel the spectre of a domineering father looking down on me and calling my actions into question. It was the curmudgeonly poet Philip Larkin who famously wrote the following:

They fuck you up,your Mum and Dad
They may not mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had 
And add some extra, just for you

How true.

After an hour these feelings of guilt and anxiety always pass and on this occasion a sip or two of coffee made matters better. Driving at night to or from twitches used to be almost pleasant in a perverse kind of way but these days, one often finds the planned route curtailed or diverted due to the closure of major roads and motorways for maintenance or repair. Tonight was no exception as the slip road off the M40 onto the M42 was closed for no accountable reason. The roads around Birmingham seem particularly prone to these closures. A six mile detour ensued, which is the last thing you need when you have almost two hundred miles to travel and are already tired and fraught. Eventually I regained the motorway.

Brexit is rightly blamed for the lack of lorries and drivers and tonight the motorways were  markedly less populated than normal by lorries, whilst private cars were almost non existent.This made for quite a pleasant journey north with little traffic to negotiate and I  achieved the four and a half hour trip with but one stop at a Motorway Services in the 'Devil's Hour' of 3am,  so called because so many people choose to die around this time. There was an aged couple sat in the middle of the  deserted concourse of the services as I entered, just staring at their mobile phones.What were they doing, where were they going, why did they look so unhappy? The slightly disturbing painting 'Night Hawks' by Edward Hopper sprang to mind on seeing them.

With a sense of relief I left the brightly illuminated temple of naffness and returned to the road and the night, eventually leaving the motorway, following country roads that crossed the Yorkshire Wolds, heading east to finally find myself driving through Bempton, looking for the familiar brown RSPB signs that pointed the way to their reserve at Bempton  Cliffs. I fully expected the reserve's car park to be full when I got there but was pleasantly surprised to find only a handful of cars  with their occupants either asleep or just stirring.

It was 5.45 am and it would almost be light by 6am. I parked the car and got out into a pleasantly mild and breaking dawn. It took a few minutes to get body and soul together after such a long drive and then I ran through a mental check that I had everything I needed. Other birders began walking in the direction of the cliffs. Indistinct dark shapes making their way down to the cliff edge path and then walking north for a half a mile to turn left and cross a fallow field to the copse. 

I followed them.

Nobody spoke as we trudged along in single file. Everyone dulled by the early start, especially those who had slept overnight in their cars. Like soldiers on manouevres with scopes, tripods, bins and camera bags slung over our shoulders we yomped across the uneven ground in the growing dawn, the growling of nesting Gannets rising up from the cliffs below.

Crossing the fallow field we drew up to stand at a discrete distance from the edge of the copse and  look down a ride of sorts that had been cut through the bushes and stunted trees that flanked each side with, at the bottom,  two horizontal wooden planks crossing the ride, forming part of a Heligoland Trap. 

The Ride

There were about twenty to thirty of us but only those already right in front of the ride would have a clear view.The rest of us would have to cram together as tightly as possible behind, in order to get a view. It was far from satisfactory but it would have to do for now. 

We stood in silence as the dull light slowly improved and the wind continued to sway the leaves of the trees in the copse. No one knew if the warbler was still present. We had arrived imbued with the eternal optimism and vague hopes that are the essence of twitching. In my case it was founded on the weather, as last night was cloudy with rain and not conducive to bird migration. A long subsequent hour passed with just the occasional flicker of an unidentifiable phylloscopus warbler zipping across the ride, only to disappear into the restless leaves, never to be seen again. Some chattering Tree Sparrows flew up from the copse as did a group of five Greenfinches.The mournful cry of a lone Golden Plover came from the leaden skies above but nothing now moved in the copse and certainly not in the ride.

Then, suddenly and thrillingly, there was a flash of bright yellow and white. A milli-second of movement and colour, a small bird, a 'phyllos' warbler, gone almost before it registered. It flew into the right side of the ride where I could not see, due to my position in the scrum. Others better placed announced they could still see it perched on the edge of the bushes.

One then said,

'That's it! I can see the bar on its wing and the bright yellow breast!

Already crammed elbow to elbow we swayed and gravitated en masse towards him to try and get a view but the warbler had gone and we were confounded and frustrated. I suppose I could say at a pinch I had seen it but had to rely on the person who had confirmed it was the Green Warbler. From my point of view it was totally unsatisfactory. I had to see its diagnostic features for myself.

What had just passed was, for me, an untickable view.

Shortly after, a small warbler flew up out of the bushes and disappeared down the slope to the far end of the copse. Someone down there indicated he could see it was the Green Warbler  and a mass exodus ensued but by the time any of us got there it was too late and the bird had disappeared into the bushes once more.

I noted that the prime position, looking right down the ride, had been vacated in the rush and made my way back up the slope as fast as possible to secure a better viewing point. Job done and now all I had to do was hope the warbler would return. Others had the same thoughts and the scrum of birders increased to such an extent that there was literally no room for movement of any sort without subtle use of elbows or knees. Everyone remained well behaved but there was no warbler action. Another small bird appeared in the tangle of dead branches at the bottom of the ride. Greyish brown with a lot of white in its wings. It was a Pied Flycatcher. They are always nice to see and it re-appeared on a number of occasions.

Pied Flycatcher c Adrian Webb

A brief appearance by a Willow Warbler at the back of the ride prompted some to claim it was the Green Warbler but it wasn't. 

However the next warbler to appear in almost the same spot most defnitely was the Green Warbler and for about thirty seconds revealed itself, even hovering in the open to catch an insect before diving back into cover and invisibility.

The Green Warbler showed briefly three more times over a period of one hour and the last view was the best, as it was on view for about a minute hopping through the foliage. I managed to see the wing bar and note its bright colouring and strong face markings even amongst all the leaves and twigs.

I had promised myself  that after this final view I would go down to the end of the copse and look for the warbler there. I was getting a little fed up with the cramped conditions, people breathing down my neck and being unable to move for fear of getting in someone's way. Frankly it was a relief to leave and go down the slope and turn left into the field. Here I could look back at the copse as it ran up the slope and see the bushes around the Heligoland Trap.More to the point I had limitless room and could use my scope.

The copse  from its northern end.The Green Warbler frequented the bushes just in front of the pole

I joined two other colleagues, Adrian and Les and we waited for the warbler to show up which took a little while but eventually it did and how. It flew into a low sallow that had been cut back and fed there, moving from one end to the other which took about two to three minutes, during which time it gave fabulous views in my scope.I was taken with just how bright it was, almost looking like a Wood Warbler such was the intensity of the yellow on its throat and breast and its yellowish green upperparts. The diagnostic wing bar formed by yellowish white tips to the greater coverts was clearly evident along with a strong dark eyestripe, prominent yellow supercilium and pale lower mandible. I kept up a running commentary on its movements as Adrian, standing next to me performed miracles with camera and lens to get the superb images which adorn this blog, my camera currently being out of action.Not that my efforts would have come anywhere near the quality of Adrian's

Green Warbler c Adrian Webb

Several more views were afforded us over the next hour  but never quite as good as the extended one in the sallow. Willow Warblers continued to get  mistaken by some for the Green Warbler but once you had seen the real thing it was obvious just how much brighter in colour it was.The Pied Flycatcher contrived to put on a good show too, zipping around, as they do, low down, from bare bough to bare bough and even a Common Redstart put in a brief appearance.

I chatted to Adrian and waited for just one more view of the Green Warbler. It came when it perched lengthwise on a thin branch, beating a large invertebrate into submission before swallowing it. Then with a flick of its wings it was gone.

It was still only ten thirty but more and more birders were arriving as I began to feel the effects of my sleepless night and all that driving. I needed to be on the road for home before noon as the M1 on a Friday afternoon is not a good place to be.

Twitching the Green Warbler from the field

I had one more stop however and that was to the estimable Copperfields, an unpretentious but superb little cafe in Flamborough where scrambled eggs on toast and a large cappucino set me up for the long haul home.

The Green Warbler remained until 14th September but was not seen again after that day.


Wednesday 1 September 2021

Just like Buses 31st August 2021

At the beginning of August, well the 3rd to be precise, a juvenile Purple Sandpiper graced the concrete shores of Farmoor Reservoir, remaining into the next day.This was the first recorded at Farmoor since May 2011, just over ten years ago.

Today, on the last day of August, I went to the reservoir to renew acquaintance with a juvenile male Ruff which had arrived yesterday on a Bank Holiday Monday that true to form was cold, windy and grey.

I walked up the causeway but there was little to see apart from a huge gathering of Sand Martins brought low by the cloud and mizzle and scudding back and forth over the reservoir's waters. Some even settled on the tarmac surface of the causeway and looked thoroughly miserable.

Juvenile Sand Martins

Up to fifteen Swifts scythed through the murk above the martins but soon they too were feeding low over the waters as a result of the miserable conditions. Further along a juvenile Dunlin, with twinkling legs ran amongst the Pied Wagtails at the edge of the water but that was the sum of it.

At the end of the causeway I could see a scrum of photographers on the western bank of Farmoor Two, the larger basin, obviously intent on getting the ultimate image of the feeding Ruff. Not feeling inclined to join them I turned in the other direction to make a circuit of Farmoor One, the smaller basin. Sadly there was little to excite until, on getting to the eastern end, I found a juvenile Ringed Plover feeding by the water.

I decided to continue onwards and make a circuit of Farmoor Two, hoping to intercept the Ruff as I did so and then return down the causeway for a coffee at the cafe. On getting to where the Ruff had been I could not find it which was a disappointment and so set off down the causeway to console myself at the cafe.The weather had improved slightly, the cloud lifting  and with it the Sand Martins departed as did the Swifts. Two thirds of the way down the causeway I could see three small waders feeding at the waterside.

On getting closer I could see that two, feeding close to each other, were juvenile Dunlins, an expected and regular migrant at this time of year. The third bird was further along and looked like it might be another Dunlin, although it was markedly less active. On closer inspection of this bird I could see that it was obviously darker and its feeding style was slower and more deliberate, the bird crouching on bent legs and slowly making its way along the water's edge picking at the wet concrete.

It took just seconds to realise that this was another juvenile Purple Sandpiper, following the one that had been here earlier in the month. I could hardly believe that here was a second individual in less than a month, totally unexpected and thrilling to find, after all the hours and days walking the reservoir with nothing really to show for it.That well known cliche about buses sprang to mind!

This Purple Sandpiper was in a more advanced state of plumage than its predecessor and its bill and legs more strongly coloured orange yellow. Like the previous bird it was totally confiding, possibly even more so and if you had a mind to, you could walk right up to it.Obviously it had never encountered human beings and had not learned to fear us.

It was touching, in a way, to stand within feet of this tiny wader stuttering along the edge of the water. I am so used to birds flying in fear of me that when a bird such as this shows no fear and is confident that my intentions are benign, it catches at something within. 

There is some evidence that a majority of the wintering Purple Sandpipers in Britain originate from Canada and this individual was presumably making its way to the south coast of England, maybe further south to the Low Countries or Iberia, to spend the winter, joining with other Purple Sandpipers at traditional favourite rocky places on the seashore.

I sat on the wall for ten minutes admiring it and taking lots of photos (see below) but birding being what it is today I needed to inform other local birders of its presence or I would not be popular. I knew Dai and Dave had gone to the cafe and would want to see it so I called them but they did not answer. I called Ian Lewington our County Bird Recorder and he put the news out. Dave called back and soon he and Dai joined me on the causeway.

For the next hour I treated myself with close and personal views of this surprise and welcome visitor.

Below are quite a lot of images of the sandpiper but I am sure you will understand that for me this was an exceptional and exciting occurrence on the prosaic shores of my local inland reservoir, so please indulge me.

Purple Sandpiper video by Badger.