Monday, 8 September 2008

Chasing Phalaropes

Recently there's been a large number of grey phalaropes seen about the country and, being in land-locked Oxfordshire, it was rather frustrating to see all the sightings appear around the coast on Bird Guides. So when a pair of birds, an adult and a juvenile, turned up in Bucks at at Western Turville reservoir I contemplated going over to see them. Though the adult flew away the same day, the juvenile hung around and was reported as being seen the next day so I thought that a lunch-time trip over there was in order. I finished off a piece of work and headed for the door, pausing only to bundle my birding gear in the car. I'd been to Western Turville before and set off into what became a torrential downpour.

It was still pouring with rain when I arrived at the reservoir so I put on my full waterproof gear and set off the short distance to the reservoir dam wall where the bird had been reported as being located. When I arrived there were no birders present (an ominously bad sign) and a quick scan revealed no sign of the bird. Given how confiding they are it was unlikely that it was hiding so it looked like it had gone. As I stood in the pouring rain contemplating this ignominious dipping out, there was a clap of thunder and the rain doubled in intensity and couldn't help but think that someone up there was adding insult to injury! I got home and checked the various internet sources that I had only to discover that the bird had flown about an hour before I arrived. Not only that but due to the highly efficient manner in which the Bucks birding community sends updates, it had been reported on the news group as having flown before I set off so had I had the common sense to check for updates before departing it would have saved me a journey and a thorough soaking!

However, I soon got an opportunity to make up for this when next morning I got a text from a local birding pal that a grey phal had been seen at Farmoor reservoir. Whereas Bucks reports everything via their yahoo news group, Oxford seems to be more of a clique when it comes to birding news with text messages sent round to the "inner circle" but less public reporting. Fortunately, thanks to this contact I was often able to pick up the news and, although the initial report was also on Bird Guides, he was able to confirm via text that the bird was still present mid morning so I arranged my work so that I could nip out to Farmoor at lunch time to maximise my chances of connecting with this bird.

I arrived at lunch time, at the same time as another birder from Swindon, and we walked together to the west end of the causeway where the bird had been reported. We were fortunate enough to meet Mr. Farmoor himself (Nic Hallam - who told us exactly where the bird was. He also pointed out a leucistic house martin that was flying around which looked like some amazing ghost martin with pale brown feathers where it should be blue. The phalarope itself was sheltering behind the pump station inlet on Farmoor II, being buffeted by quite strong waves in a strong wind. Even though the bird was only a few metres away it was bobbing up and down so much that it was rather difficult to take any decent photos though I did manage this rather blurry one just holding the camer in my hand with no use of the scope at all.

The Farmoor Phalarope bobbing in the waves, taken using a hand-held camera in windy conditions

As it turned out the bird was rather a long stayer and was still present till at least Sunday evening. I went back there on Sunday afternoon with my two year old son, L and in much better conditions I managed to take the shot below, again without a scope. As the bird was constantly moving it was very difficult to photograph using traditional digiscoping methods though, as Nic Hallam mentions in his blog, this must be one of the most photographed phalaropes of all time with countless excellent shots up on Bird Guides taken from point blank range with huge lenses.

The Phalarope again in calmer conditions

There was also a very confiding dunlin on the causeway who was more cooperative in standing still whilst I digiscoped it.

An obliging dunlin.

I was pleased to connect with this enchanting grey phalarope and with the recent red-necked in Gloucestershire that just leaves the Wilson's still outstanding. It's one more tick for the year list with 200 surely within my grasp now.

199: grey phalarope

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