Saturday 29 July 2023

World Travellers at Farmoor Reservoir 24--27th July

Where does the time go? Already the vanguard of returning arctic breeding waders  have reached my local Farmoor reservoir and in the last few days two very colourful examples in the form of an adult Turnstone and Knot have brightened the reservoir's grey concrete shores.

The Turnstone is a regular visitor in small numbers to the reservoir and at this time of year are still in their tortoiseshell patterned breeding plumage, the mixture of orange, black and white always to my eyes attractive. On their favoured habitat  of seaweedy rocky shores the colours blend in perfectly and make the birds far from conspicuous but on the bare concrete of a temporary stopping off point such as the reservoir they appear far more conspicuous and the colours really stand out.

Complimenting the variegated plumage are legs of bright orange red. They will change rapidly in the next few weeks as the coat of many colours will be replaced with dull overall brown for the winter although the orange legs will remain.

Judging by the plumage of this latest Turnstone at Farmoor it was possibly a female, suggested by the large amount of black streaking  on its crown and the small amount of white on the sides of the breast Sexing Turnstones is very tricky unless a pair are seen together when the differences can be compared although still by no means foolprooof.The fact this bird was a female would make sense as many species of arctic breeding waders follow a strategy where the females return south first, leaving the male to look after the young and move south with them in the coming weeks.

The Monday afternoon I saw the Turnstone was dull and overcast and I struggled with the light but fortunately, as with many waders that visit the reservoir, this individual was very confiding and allowed me to approach it closely unlike the adult Dunlin that was associating with it and was far more circumpsct about my attempts to get close. 

Nonetheless I spent a pleasant hour watching and photographing the Turnstone and as I always do pondered the wonder of this small bird's travels, knowing it had most probably come from Greenland or northeast Canada, possibly via Iceland, or even flying non stop across the Atlantic to pitch down for a day or two to rest and recuperate on the reservoir, the next best thing to its normal coastal habitat, before becoming restless once more and flying  onwards to an unknown seaside destination.

The next day I went with my birding pal Mark to spend a couple of days in East Yorkshire in order to visit the  seabird colony at the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs.

On Wednesday a Knot decided to  stopover at Farmoor Reservoir and I had to wait until my return from Bempton on Thursday evening to go and see it. The Knot was a far scarcer visitor than any Turnstone and attracted quite a bit of interest especially as it was still in faded summer plumage which is an attractive pale orange on its underparts and chequered brown and buff upperparts.

Normally migrating waders gravitate to the central causeway on landing at the reservoir so I made haste towards there but just as I was passing the small yacht marina I glanced down onto the concrete shelving and there was the Knot wandering along below me, nonchalantly picking  off invertebrates.

It was ridiculously tame and walked right past me without a second glance.The evening was fine, warm, windy and sunny which all sounds good but the position of the sun and the harsh light it cast made photographing the bird far from straightforward.Eventually I managed to get positioned on the wall where it was walking below and towards me and the sunshine was not intrusive.

I cannot recall when last there was such an early returning Knot at the reservoir, let alone in summer plumage.Interestingly there was a summer plumaged Knot seen associating with returning Black tailed Godwits, two weeks ago, at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge in the neighbouring oounty of Gloucestershire.

Usually Knots in summer plumage are only seen at the reservoir in Spring and then very infrequently..Birds returning from their breeding areas tend to arrive rather later in the summer than July and most are grey plumaged juveniles.

Like the Turnstone this bird had already travelled a phenomenal distance, similarly coming from Greenland or northeast Canada maybe even the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia. Yet again watching it quietly feeding by the water's edge I felt a surge of emotion rise within me knowing how far its travels had been to get here to my local reservoir.

Thursday was the last day the Knot was seen and it must have departed overnight. I wait now to see what other waders will arrive to brighten my day. Hope springs eternal as they say and is what brings me back to Farmoor Reservoir on an almost daily basis.

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