Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Farmoor, 30th September 2018

I was at football on Saturday when a Black-necked Grebe had been found at Farmoor. by Dai the site stalwart, not much gets past his sharp pair of eyes. There's a recurring theme when it comes to better birds being seen locally and me attending matches and it's not one that favours me. Nothing much gets found in Oxfordshire until I'm somewhere else for the day! Not that I need to see a Black-necked Grebe, I have seen plenty around Oxon and have one from Farmoor on the 12th May this year (see Black-necked Grebe), but it's always nice to see something different.

summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe, Farmoor 12th May 2018
Mrs Caley, myself and my attendant slight hangover nurtured from the previous day, decided to head to the reservoir on Sunday morning anyway in the hope that the Grebe had remained, to cut any type of story short it hadn't, but we knew that they'd be other birds to see and I'm always happy clicking away with the camera. Farmoor offers a nice easy walk for my tired old legs too. It was a fairly calm morning with the windsock only being tickled lightly by a slight breeze and the water on both basins was hardly being ruffled. Not the best conditions for birding at Farmoor, events here are most often more lively on windy days.

We struck off down the causeway as is our norm and noted the large numbers of Pied wagtails still present. The numbers of these delightful little birds increased suddenly about a fortnight ago and will swell further through the autumn. They'll be joined by some of the nominate and continental White Wagtails too but for now they were all of local Pied stock. I've tried and failed to capture the wagtails in flight before and this morning I gave up trying after the first one had flown past. They have a shifty habit of flying erratically away like the Swallows that I also have trouble with.

Pied Wagtail
About half way down the causeway I noticed a small group of waders fly out from the bank of F1, when disturbed by a couple of walkers, and settle again slightly nearer to us but still a few hundred yards away. I strained through the bins to try and clinch their ID but couldn't be totally sure but felt that some of them looked very much like Ringed Plovers. It was only when we got to about a hundred yards from the birds that I remembered the scope that I was carrying on my back! Hangovers certainly channel your senses. By then we were close enough to ascertain the birds identities without resorting to the extra magnification, there were 5 Ringed Plovers and 2 Dunlin. Wading birds of most species, Common Sandpiper being the exception, are usually very approachable at Farmoor and this group were no different allowing us to walk up to within 30 feet or so. I took some photos, mainly of the Ringed Plovers since we hadn't seen one here for some time and were pleased to see them. I have lots of snaps of Dunlin so I wasn't so bothered with capturing images of them but they're still smart birds too. 

Ringed Plover

Some of the birds were comfortable enough to actually "sit" down by the waters edge and snooze. Interestingly both species were impartial to who they "slept" with, one of the Dunlins seemingly very friendly with a Ringed Plover.

We left the sleepy birds to it and moved further along the embankment where we got an eyeful of Mallards copulating! Duck sex isn't for the faint hearted and the drake certainly appears to get the best of the deal since he just about half drowns the poor duck whilst giving her a good nip while going about his business! Fortunately for her it doesn't last very long (mmm....familiar?) and she's soon breathing air again. After the act he puffs his chest out and seems to proclaim "I'm the Daddy!".

Another birder who had encountered the flock of waders didn't possess the required stealth and startled the birds into flying which was a win for us since they flew past us calling as they went and thus enabling me to get some flight shots. 

We left the reservoir and headed towards the river. The bushes were alive with warblers and a couple of elder bushes were teeming with a party of Long-tailed Tits. I never tire of watching these active and acrobatic little balls of feathers although tying them down for a photo is never easy. We found a group of mixed warbler species and noted Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Common Whitethroat but only a male Blackcap stayed still for long enough. In a couple of weeks we'll be in Cornwall spending a lot time searching through bushes and trees in the hope of finding some scarcer warbler species so this was an opportunity to practice and re-hone our skills in pinning them down. The practice is definitely needed!

male Blackcap

Long-tailed Tit
I wanted to check the lock at Pinkhill out since I'd seen some nice photos of Kingfishers that have been taken there recently on the brilliant Oxon Bird Blog. Sadly there were none of the fabulous water birds around but we did see a Stonechat in the rough grasses close by. A Grey Heron was stood ankle deep in the river but soon took to flight as we approached.

Grey Heron
The walk downstream as far a Shrike meadow yielded no Kingfishers and we were back at the reservoir without seeing anything more interesting than a Robin. We spent a bit of time admiring one of the many Little Grebes the are present now the breeding season is over but despite searching the whole of F2 there was no sign of the Black-necked version of the family.

Little Grebe
Farmoor also hosts a few hundred of Great Crested Grebes outside the breeding season and a few of these were fishing close in to the bank. We'd seen a couple catch some small fish already when one bird surfaced with a sizeable Perch. Another Grebe had noticed the catch too and made a play to wrest the fish from the catcher. The Grebe with the fish was far too wary though and easily out ran (literally) the other across the water. We had noticed before on a previous visit recently that Great Crested Grebes would rather surf across the water than take to flight to avoid unwanted attention. After ensuring that there was no further threat from its neighbour the Perch was expertly despatched.

Great Crested Grebe
Back on the causeway we noted that the small flock of waders were still present but had become much more unsettled and wary, probably owing to the increased disturbance by walkers and fishermen. At one point they flew far out from the bank and disappeared but they were back again further up the causeway again a bit later.

A beautiful Black-headed Gull drifted effortlessly past. These Gulls are very adept at catching very small fish right at the surface of the reservoir and we've witnessed their prowess on several occasions in the past.

Black-headed Gull
Our walk (over 12000 steps according to the app!) had earned us a coffee in the cafe although we spurned any calorie laden accompaniments this time. Just as we turned to leave the reservoir behind I noticed a female Red-crested Pochard close in by the marina, the first we'd seen at Farmoor since the day we'd seen the summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe back in May. I caught the duck eyeing up a small fly which I believe it duly ate, seems rather a small meal for a bird of its size.

female Red Crested Pochard
So no scarce Grebe and no Kingfisher but a decent few hours regardless and good therapy to get rid of that fuzzy head!

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog and great captures! I initially noticed your "grebe vs perch" shots. So was that big fish really the same thing swallowed down in the end? Fascinating the bird managed a 3-way battle first off! Does the fish put up a good fight and I wonder if it stands any slim chance of escaping the birds stomach or even damaging it if eaten in that condition?! Also, does the bird manage to digest its unlucky prey bones and all?? Sorry for all the questions, but thanks for the feedback/information! ;)