On Saturday afternoon the winds had increased form the East and several small parties of Black Terns had been reported from various inland reservoirs across the Midlands. I kept a constant check to see if any had been found close to home but none were. Owing to the Lockdown we had failed to see any of the Black Terns that had passed through Farmoor in April and early May, but a few enterprising local birders had managed to see them, albeit at long range, by viewing through the perimeter fence whilst the reservoir was off limits to the public. The weather forecast promised more Easterly winds on Sunday so I thought that it would be worth checking Farmoor for Black Terns in the morning.
Current restrictions meant that access to the reservoir is only permitted from ten o'clock and I wanted to get out earlier so I hatched a plan to walk along the River Thames footpath first and enter the reservoir itself bang on ten. I drove to Lower Whitley Farm where there are limited parking spaces next to the Thames Path. Well, there used to be parking space there but now we were greeted by new signage declaring that, "No Unauthorised Vehicles Past This Point" on the road in, and at the parking areas, "Resident Parking Only". Obviously the locals had become irritated by folk parking there during the Lockdown closure of the reservoir carpark and had complained enough to get Thames Water to erect the signs. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the residents, we turned around and drove out again. Luckily I remembered that there is a lay-by next to the main road at the Farmoor village end of the reservoir and that access could be gained to the Thames Path from there. This change of parking plan would prove to be my second lucky break in as many days!
We found the Pinkhill section of the path after a false start which took us into a boatyard. Sitting at a picnic table by the boat moorings next to Pinkhill Lock while soaking up the early morning sunshine, we could hear Common Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers singing but our attention was claimed by a Black-headed Gull flying along the river towards us. We were interested because it was attempting to carry a long stick to its nest, probably on one of the reservoir rafts, and looked rather comical. The stick was unwieldy and awkward to manoeuvre in the breezy conditions and just as the Gull reached us it dropped it. Instead of trying to pick it up again, the Gull abandoned its prize and left it to the river to take it back downstream. Maybe the Gull wasn't on nest restoration duties but just playing a version of "Pooh Sticks" instead.
|"Reg" the Sedge Warbler|
We were stood by a fence that marked the boundary of the Pinkhill nature reserve and as we watched the Gropper, it flew right past us and into the dark recesses of another tree the other side of the fence. There the bird was trickier to see and I forgot to alter the camera settings, so when the bird stopped momentarily on an exposed branch before dropping into the grass, I rather wasted a fantastic opportunity to grab some equally fantastic images.
But I needn't have worried because our views and my photographic chances were to improve considerably when the Gropper appeared again, this time on the fence itself. This time its bill was stuffed with insect food so it became clear that nestlings were being fed so once the Gropper had dropped into the grassy patch to deliver the meal we moved right back to the Willow to give the bird more space.
A few moments later and there were two Grasshopper Warblers perched on the fence, one at each end. This was getting silly! I concentrated on the furthest bird which I assumed was a different bird from the one that we'd been watching previously because that one had stayed loyal to our end of the fence and grassy patch.
Time was pressing on though, and I wanted to get up reservoir side and see if my prophecy that Black Terns would favour Farmoor today had come true. We left the Groppers to their parental duties and continued along the Thames Path towards the sluice works where there is access up to the reservoir. On the way we paused to admire a beautiful Great Crested Grebe that was taking time out in midstream to preen and to stretch its wings.
|Great Crested Grebe|
Black Terns, when they stay far out from the banks are actually difficult to photograph owing to their habit of flying well above the water and then dipping quickly down to secure a fly. When they are above the water, between five and ten metres at a guess, the trees that line the reservoir fool the cameras focussing abilities. Add to that the fact that the birds, despite their name, are actually more grey than black and therefore blend in against the dull grey waters of the reservoirs.
The best chance of getting better photos, for me anyway, came when the birds rose above the tree line and were silhouetted against the sky, then the camera coped better. They were still too far away though! I've decided that I'm struggling too much to get the images that I want so a new camera and lens kit is under consideration!
I stuck it out for as long as Mrs Caley's patience lasted and was rewarded towards the end of our stint when the Black Terns began to venture a tad closer to us allowing me to get some slightly better shots. Black Terns are one of my favourite of the Tern species, one that I never saw much of until the last few years but now one that I look forward to reconnecting with each spring and autumn now. That said I'm yet to get a really good photo of an adult Black Tern from anywhere let alone Farmoor. I'm already waiting eagerly for the juveniles when they visit Farmoor on their migration southwards in August. Maybe there will be a few adult birds that don't stay so resolutely out in the middle of F2 with them.
Returning along the causeway towards the river path, we tarried to watch some tender love between a pair of Coots and their young which rested on the pontoon in the north-western corner of F2. This pontoon, installed I believe as housing for barley straw which acts as an algae reduction agent, has been commandeered by a noisy colony of Black-headed Gulls as a nesting platform. No young Gulls yet but it won't be long before the eggs hatch. Great Crested Grebes already have well grown young and one drifted past as we sat on the embankment wall.
|Coot & Cootlets|
|juvenile Great Crested Grebe|
Farmoor had certainly delivered this morning!