Monday, 8 August 2022

Staying Local 2nd August 2022


Having determined in my sleep befuddled mind that nothing much would be around birdwise at Farmoor Reservoir today I opted for tackling some long delayed admin matters at home. 

My phone rang. It was Paul

Hi Ewan, are you at Farmoor?

No Paul. I am at home.

A sinking feeling of dread spiced with anticipation entered my soul. 

I knew what was coming. A good bird had been found. 

Paul would not ring me otherwise.

There's an Osprey here that has just caught a fish and is eating it on top of one of the electricity pylons in the farm fields by the reservoir

There was never a doubt in my mind what to do next and ten minutes later I was on my way to Farmoor.I met Paul who had kindly remained near the distant pylon to keep an eye on the Osprey. Phil joined us and for the next half an hour we watched as the Osprey fed on an enormous trout it had caught in the reservoir, before it flew to a more distant pylon with a now half eaten trout hanging from its talons.


Delighted to have caught up with the Osprey we retired to the reservoir cafe for a coffee and a slice of Mary's celebrated bread pudding, any thoughts about waistlines temporarily banished.

The Osprey was not seen again that day and I assumed it had probably continued its journey south. The next morning I was resuming the abandoned admin when my phone rang. 

It was Peter this time.

Are you at Farmoor?

No. I groaned and just knew what was coming. My morning rapidly began turning sour, yet again.

The Osprey is here.

I abandoned my work and in mental disarray arrived at the reservoir half an hour later to meet Peter but this time there was not such a happy result. I had missed the Osprey by twenty minutes. We walked round the reservoir but it failed to re-appear so it was back to the cafe for a coffee and commiserations while Peter returned home.

Now I was at the reservoir but with little to see apart from a couple of juvenile Dunlins and a long staying Turnstone, I decided to go and see a Green Sandpiper that had been showing very well in front of the Shrike Meadow Hide which lies by the River Thames on the reservoir's western side. I was, as is often the case, on my own in the hide and looking out onto the placid scene of water and lush summer vegetation, the sandpiper did not disappoint as it waded through the shallow water on long green legs, like some highly strung athlete, wandering in and out of the dark green spiky clumps of rush and shocks of bright pink Purple Loosestrife. They are such elegant birds, perfectly proportioned and although possessing similar characteristics to a Common Sandpiper, both with gently undulating hindparts, their longer legs and slightly larger size bear no semblance to the prosaic, crouching dumpiness that seems such a part of the Common Sandpiper's appearance.






The feeding was good and allowed the sandpiper to periodically stop to rest or preen before resuming its quest for food, all the while keeping a careful eye out for the resident Moorhen pair, one or other of which would rush at it when they saw it. This would result in a flash of startling white rump and barred tail as the sandpiper flew to put some distance between it and the truculent Moorhen. The surprise of revealed white was made even more distinctive by way of contrast with the sandpiper's dark brown upperbody and wings. 





After an hour I felt that quiet satisfaction that comes over one when communing with a bird that is often hard to get close to and began wondering how best to spend the rest of the day. An idea came to hand. Last year, courtesy of Wayne, I saw for the first time ever a Wasp Spider, at Radley which is but twenty minutes drive from Farmoor.

I set myself the challenge of going to the same spot to see if I could find a Wasp Spider for myself. 

Parking the car at Radley I set off along the old railway track and followed another smaller track garlanded with bramble, grass and a profusion of the yellow daisy like heads of Fleabane. There was little sign of any spider's web and I began to lose heart. Maybe lightening does not strike twice in this case after all. The spot where the spider had spun its web last year was unoccupied. I walked on a few  metres and there hung, suspended as if in air, on virtually invisible threads of silk, a glory of black. yellow and white bands encircling a plump body, no bigger than my fingernail. It was a female Wasp Spider.





It hung head down and motionless in the centre of its web, eight legs, spreadeagled in four pairs, balanced the  spider on its trapeze of silk. Could it see me? Was it aware of my presence? If it was then it gave no sign and I  tiptoed around it taking images from all possible angles. This was a jewel of a find in this tangle of vegetation, no more than eighteen inches from the ground and I marked the spot carefully in my mind, for certainly I will want to come and see it again. They are not truly native to Britain, although as they colonised Britain from southern Europe from 1920 onwards  I guess they can be accepted as one of our own spiders now.They are certainly a spectacular addition to our countryside and very welcome as far as I am concerned.

It was by now early afternoon and my thoughts returned to the Osprey at Farmoor. Galvanised by my success with the spider, I became enthused with the thought it might return to fish the reservoir as it had not caught a fish in the morning when Peter had watched it. I had nothing better to do and the sunny weather and warm wind would make the reservoir a pleasant place to be.

That was it decided then. Back to Farmoor. The reservoir these days is very busy post covid and many yacht's were criss crossing the larger basin as groups of schoolkids were being taught the rudiments of sailing.This did not augur well for an appearance by the Osprey if it was still here, as it would be put off by all the activity and unable to fish.

I wandered to the far end of the causeway which gave me an uninterrupted view of both basins.If an Osprey arrived I would be sure to see it. Forty five minutes later all I was enjoying was the pleasant warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze. I scanned the reservoir for the umpteenth time and noticed a gull harassing a larger brown bird quite high above the reservoir. A close scrutiny revealed it to be an Osprey but it made off towards the river and I lost sight of it behind some trees.

Brian joined me and said he had just seen the Osprey earlier, trying unsuccessfully to catch a fish. Another half an hour passed and then the Osprey returned but it was very high in the sky and circling amongst a group of large gulls which made it hard to pick out. Again it seemed to be put off coming lower by the yachts on the reservoir and headed once more for the river where it made one unsuccessful stoop at a fish.

Another period of on and off distant sightings ensued before at last it came fully over the reservoir and not too high, circling the larger basin first, then crossing over to the smaller basin where it turned at the far side and flew back above us as we stood on the central causeway. Frankly we could not have asked for better views as it sailed over our heads and made its way back towards the river.








Both of us, happy with this ultimate Osprey fix, called it a day as the sun slowly slipped down the sky and the reservoir was bathed in that incomparable golden light that comes at the end of a sunny day at Farmoor.

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