Things started at my local patch on Port Meadow where on Monday I went for a post-lunch visit rather than my usual morning one. It was a good thing that I did because there on the far side of the floods was a single swan. Even at a distance through my scope a quick glance revealed that it was a lovely Bewick's swan. I decided to get closer to try to take some photos but when I got to the best position it had by then tucked it's head in and gone to sleep. I spent some twenty minutes waiting for it to wake up and managed to take a few shots of it occasionally putting its head up to check that all was ok before going back down. Then after a while it woke up properly and I was able to shoot off quite a few shots. It was a long way away and the light was so poor that I had to go to ISO 800 but with some post-processing to remove the noise the best photo came out quite well. Unfortunately the bird was gone by the next day.
The Bewick's swan on Port Meadow.
The next day at around 9:30am there was an announcement on Bird Guides that the grey phalarope was still present at Farmoor Reservoir but that there was also a great northern diver present as well. I already had seen a (different) grey phal a while ago on Farmoor but was very interested in the diver and needed no further encouragement. I generously suggested to my VLW (very lovely wife) that I take L, our two year old son, out for some fresh air to give her some time on her own so it was at around 10:15 that I pulled up at Farmoor and after some effort managed to get L and his all-terrain buggy up the steps that are around the back of the reservoir near Lower Whitely Farm. This south-west corner was the area where the bird had last been seen and using my local knowledge meant I could go directly there without the long walk from the car park. After some wrangling with L who seemed to want to run up and down the slippery steps, I settled down for a thorough scan of the water but try as I might I couldn't see any signs of any divers, just a few cormorants and great crested grebes. Cursing my luck for having dipped out I decided to walk around towards Shrike Meadow and Pinkhill to see if I could at least pick up a lesser redpoll which were supposed to be around. I'd gone about half way towards the causeway when I spotted something on the water and a quick glance through the bins immediately identified it as a cracking great northern diver. I then spent some twenty minutes digiscoping it though it was about 200m away and again the light wasn't that good. It was better than the previous day in that I could at least work at ISO 200 and the best shot came out surprisingly well. A few other birders were wandering around and I pointed out the bird to them, much to their delight.
The Farmoor juvenile great northern diver
After a while I decided to carry on towards Pinkhill to see if I could find any redpolls. I managed to hear the distinctive trill of one in the distance but wasn't able actually to see it. We made our way back towards the car, walking along the river part of the way and keeping my ears open but there were no further redpoll calls. Getting back to the car was a bit difficult as there were several narrow gates that required dismantling the push chair so it was all a bit of a struggle. However, as I was driving off, I kept the car windows open in order to listen out for birds and was soon rewarded with the distinctive "pitchoo"-ing of a marsh tit which was in the hedge row right next to the car. The bird seemed to be making its way back to the wood as I was driving slowly along so I saw and heard it a number of times. A most excellent sighting.
I'd already seen Bewick's swan this year though this one was a self-found life list tick. The diver constitutes one more tick for the year list.
2008 Year List
213: great northern diver.