Tuesday 4th August; No News Is Not Always Good News
A friend of ours, Mark had reported seeing a Little Stint, a bird still missing from our year list, on Farmoor 1 during the afternoon. I was working but would make it home by three-thirty and would be on site just a couple of hours after Mark had sen it. Despite the constant disturbance that wading birds are now getting at Farmoor from the continuous merry-go-round of walkers and joggers, I was hopeful that the bird would stay a bit longer. Mark told me that he'd seen the bird, in tandem with a Dunlin, in the north-east corner of the smaller reservoir which would place it right by the waterworks and just a few minutes from the carpark. We arrived at just past four o'clock into breezy conditions, the favoured weather for Farmoor, marched to F1, and to no sign of any wading birds whatsoever! Sometimes, despite best efforts, you miss the birds. Thinking positively though I surmised that the Little Stint could still be around, just pushed off by one of the recreationists, and may be elsewhere on the complex so we started off on a circuit of the reservoir in the hope that we'd find the wading birds in another part. While I walked I checked the excellent Oxonbirding website for any updates and saw that a photo of the Little Stint had been uploaded, which was great to see but equally I was a tad disappointed to see that the photo was taken on Sunday! Later I discovered that the finder of the Little Stint had decided to post the news and photo of the bird solely to the Oxfordshire Ornithological Society's website which doesn't seem to have as big a readership as Oxonbirding, and therefore the record went unnoticed by most. Maybe it was intended as a test to see how many folk look at the OOS page. Guilty of not looking regularly there myself, and not being able to visit Farmoor on a daily basis, any quick dissemination of news helps me enormously, and many others too I would think, to get to see birds. When a sighting is kept quiet or only put out discretely, for no matter how long, then personally I feel it's a great shame since I think all birders should be given a chance to connect with all good birds seen in the county. It wouldn't have taken much effort to post the sighting to Oxonbirding as well. Some will say that it was only a Little Stint but what if it had been something much rarer? Oh well, never mind, as the saying goes.
We walked the whole of the northern side of F1 and our only reward was a Common Sandpiper which in true form flew rapidly away before we could get within fifty metres of it. I still think the Common Sandpiper should be renamed the "Seen You, I'm Off Sandpiper". It is very rare that you get close to a Common Sandpiper at Farmoor.
Friday 7th August; Flying Ant Day
Many people hate Ants and on the few humid days at the end of July and beginning of August, when the flying version of the insects emerge in the garden and zoom off skywards to establish new colonies, then one of the most important creatures to the wellbeing of our shared planet, sadly become even more despised. Ants like most other inhabitants of Earth are vital to the ecosystem that keeps the status quo in place, it is us Humans that are detrimental to that. I actually look forward to flying ant day, except for the heat and humidity since I prefer it much cooler and fresher, not only for the spectacle the swarming insects present but also because I know that some of our resident birds eagerly await the mass dispersal too. The birds of course don't watch the insects for pleasure but instead take advantage of one of natures bounties and take to the air to grab a tasty snack or two.
Above our house the sky was filled with maybe a hundred Starlings that were launching off of the surrounding trees and roofs whenever an ant passed close enough to snatch. Higher up there were also a few Swifts, a flying Ant would be no match for them. Some Gulls, mainly Black-headed but also a few Herring, were also joining in the feast. For an hour or so I tried, and largely failed , to capture some images of the Starlings in flight and "in the act" of capturing an ant. It isn't easy to photograph birds flying above my back garden because the surrounding houses and trees limit the amount of sky on view but I had fun anyway. I didn't manage to obtain any award winning photos, nor do I ever really, but I'll share a few anyway.
Saturday 8th August; Back Farmoor!
The Little Stint hadn't been seen again at Farmoor during the week but with wader passage in full swing now we headed back to the reservoirs on Saturday morning. For a change the gates were open early and we were able to get in without the masses that would turn up around ten and eleven o'clock. Farmoor is so much better when the boats, fisherman and other folk haven't arrived. I prefer Farmoor on dull, even wet days when I know fewer people will bother with the place since it's not very welcoming in dreary conditions. However today was promising to be another warm one but at least it was breezy which would help to cool us down a bit.
A Grey Heron, standing guard on the marina railings, welcomed us in and a Yellow-legged Gull, which had chosen what looked a bit like a dead Turtle to stand on, but which was actually, I think, a piece of washed up felt, eyed us suspiciously as we passed. I like adult Gulls, it's the juveniles that bug me since they are so hard to identify.
The Dunlin had approached so closely that we could actually see the foodstuff it was garnering from the algae covered concrete, none of which looked too palatable to our eyes but all of which was dispatched with no lack of zeal by the Dunlin. Like most wading bird species Dunlins make long migration journeys, so stopover sites like Farmoor are vital places for them to refuel on those travels.
A couple of Common Sandpipers whistled past and I at least managed a record shot of a part of them other than their backsides as they passed. Ewan had told me that there was a particularly confiding Common Sandpiper at the reservoir right now but up to now I hadn't come across it and the ones that I encounter continue to be of the "Seen you, I'm off" variety!
The amount of people around by mid-morning was too much for us and we made our way back to the car. I stopped to admire three Yellow-legged Gulls at one end of a raft and a Cormorant at the other. There appeared to be a bit of animosity between them and each party was watching the other intently.
|Yellow-legged Gulls & Cormorant|
Sunday 9th August; Ruddy Listing Hell!
Ducks can be a nightmare, not in a scary sense but in terms of whether they are genuine or plastic, and by plastic I don't mean plastic as in actual plastic but more as in unreal or unauthentic. Confused? Yep, I am too, but welcome to the world of Ducks and whether they can be accepted as genuine wild wildfowl or non-genuine non-wild wildfowl. Examples of plastic ducks, other than those found at the end of your bath, are escapees from wildfowl collections that wander around either by themselves or in feral flocks, or birds that have evolved from reintroduction schemes that take place frequently around the globe. There are so many grey areas revolving around the world of ducks that I personally find it bewildering and why my lists that I keep don't adhere strictly to the rules of listing. To my own aims, a bird that I see living wild and free, unless it is an obvious escape from captivity, is fair game particularly if I've had to make an effort to see it. Certain species of ducks attract conjecture and raised eyebrows, Ferruginous Duck and Baikal Teal being two prime examples. So many records of ducks, that have seemingly strong cases for recognition, are thrown out by the listing and record authorities whereas others are accepted even if the evidence is less appealing. It's very confusing and often I think that the basis for acceptance of a certain duck sighting and record comes down to whether members of the adjudication panel have seen it for themselves or not!
Another species of duck that is generally considered as being plastic and therefore uncountable on proper lists is the Ruddy Shelduck. I've seen quite a few Ruddy Shelduck before and I've always counted them on my year lists. Indeed some have been accepted as being true Ruddy Shelducks in the past, but others have been deemed as artificial and consigned to the bin. The reintroduction schemes have also helped to muddy the waters further. Last year I actually twitched one in Lincolnshire so that I could get it onto my year list, not specifically since we had gone up there for a Pomarine Skua, a claim and addition to the list that attracted quite a bit of scorn from some of my peers, not that I cared since I had seen it anyway.
A few days before a flock of nine Ruddy Shelducks had been found resting on the Queens Pool in Blenheim Park, where you'll find Blenheim Palace, near Woodstock. The flock of nine had also been seen previously in Somerset and originate from a reintroduction scheme on the Germany/Switzerland border where a large non-self sustaining feral flock has become well established. Apparently this places the birds in category E of the British list, truly wild birds are in category A, B or C. For more information on the listing principles see the BOU website. Alternatively stick your head in the sand, like me, and happily get on with your life.
We decided that we'd go and see the Ruddy Shelducks early on Sunday morning and avoid the late rising tourists and other recreationists, that plague any available bit of parkland or beauty spot these days. As we approached the Lake I scanned from a distance and instantly saw the Ruddy Shelducks, no problem then and, as far as I'm concerned, our 204th species of this year. I could see another birder walking close to the edge of the water but didn't recognise him from where we were. By the time we reached the Pool edge the Ruddy Shelducks had disappeared and I cursed under my breath at the other birder for scaring them off. The birder turned out to be Mark again, and of course he hadn't flushed or scared the birds at all, they had just swum into a small inlet of the pool but couldn't be seen from where we stood. Mark had arrived a while before us and had initially found the birds on the main lake but they had then flown to the smaller pool to which they had been faithful since arriving during the week. By walking a little further on we were able to see that the whole flock was stood preening in the shallow stream.
|Ruddy Shelducks (7 of 9)|
With Farmoor just a few miles away, it made perfect sense to drop in there again and have a quick look at what was around on the causeway. We took our time, the reservoir tends to be less busy on Sundays than Saturdays, and drank a coffee from the marina cafe which through necessity can only serve outside and resembles a school tuck shop. It was a nice coffee though and while we sipped I scanned F2 for any Black Terns or Little Gulls, wishful thinking on my part, or anything else that might be around. Ewan was there and he joined us for a chat. He said there was little about but that the approachable Common Sandpiper was showing particularly well at the marina end of the causeway on the F1 side so maybe I would finally get my chance to get some decent photos of it.
The Common Sandpiper was indeed feeding along the edge of F1 just fifty or so metres from the marina. We employed our usual tactic of walking past the bird by using the opposite side of the road so that it wouldn't see us pass and ducked in carefully behind the wall. We also had the advantage of having the sailing club hut behind us which served to break up our outlines. Then we waited for the Common Sandpiper to approach us which, for once, it dutifully did, and I got the photos that I'd been trying to get for a while. The Sandpiper came close enough for us to even see the minuscule titbits that it was eating! I'm now going to have to revise my name for the species at Farmoor.
We had had a really enjoyable week, and the weekend especially, birding locally despite dipping out on the Little Stint. Our wanderlust was growing though and as we finished of our beverages we discussed where we'd go next. And we could hear that Vulture was calling us again.