Thursday, 14 September 2017

12th September 2017 Grimsbury Reservoir

grey phalarope
 Grimsbury reservoir sits on the northern edge of Banbury and at first glance looks a rather soulless place. Essentially a concrete basin with no waterside vegetation save for a few weeds and surrounded by a 2 metre high fence, it's not the most attractive place for birding. Thankfully a few locals do watch the place regularly and one of these loyal patch workers, John Friendship-Taylor, struck gold on Monday evening when he discovered a grey phalarope feeding on the reservoir. It was still present on Tuesday morning (and indeed still is as I write on Thursday evening) so I took a sneaky hour off from work to go and see it.

Grimsbury reservoir with the Kraft factory in the distance 
I left the car and broke into a very quick walk, since I wanted to be back at work within an hour or so, and got stopped in my tracks by Ewan arriving. A quick hello and an explanation that I had to get going quickly and I was on my way again. The water and its edges appeared totally devoid of any birdlife except for a flock of greylag geese and the black chain link fencing made it difficult to see far up the reservoir. I carried on at a pace and still saw no grey phalarope and, as usual, the doubts crept in that I'd maybe missed the bird and that it had gone. There were no other birders around either. However as I approached the northern end of the basin I saw the small wading bird swimming about a foot out from the edge and relaxed. By the time I had drawn up level, the grey phalarope had walked out on to the concrete edge and pecked away at the flies and other insects there. It intermittently fed either in that fashion or by swimming in the shallow edge and picking up food that way. Occasionally it would rest and just sit at the waterside whilst it caught breath.

The phalarope at the waters edge through the fence
Grey phalaropes are true maritime waders and our closest breeders are in Iceland where confusingly they are known as red phalaropes! In breeding plumage they are red coloured and in non-breeding grey hence the variation in terminology. We only tend to get them on passage, post breeding, mainly along the west coast of Britain and Ireland but in periods of stormy Atlantic weather some get blown off course and end up on inland water bodies. I saw my first and then my second grey phalaropes (both juveniles) at Farmoor at the end of November 2015 so this was the third that I've seen in the county and my first adult bird. This bird was just one of two score or more that have been found over the last week on inland lakes and reservoirs throughout the country and one of three in Oxfordshire (the others at Farmoor and Sonning).

Phalaropes of all species (there are also red-necked and wilson's) are quite approachable and usually allow close views and this little beauty certainly did just that. I was able to get right next to the fence and point my camera through the wire mesh and fire off shot after shot. The bird showed no sign of being fazed by either my camera shutter or Ewan's who had now caught me up. I stayed for half an hour and then made my way back to work. It has taken me far longer to go through the 180 photos that I took in that time! By my standards though some of my pictures are among the best I've ever taken! Testament to the birds approachability and the nice sunny weather rather than my prowess I fear.

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