Occasionally really great birding days come along and today turned out to be one of them. It started yesterday afternoon when two snow buntings were reported on the information services as being on Farmoor causeway mid afternoon. I wasn't able to go as I had to ferry various of my offspring about the place but I called my fellow county year lister and he rushed off to secure the tick. The birds stayed until dusk so I decided that I would go first thing the next day and hoped that they would still be there.
Next morning the weather was pretty terrible with low solid grey cloud and persistent drizzle so there was every possibility that the birds weren't going anywhere. I arrived at Farmoor just before 8am and was the first person on the causeway. There was quite a bit of bird movement with a flock of eight oystercatchers flying through shortly followed by another bird which lingered a while and a flock of three small and two larger waders (probably dunlin and something else) also flew over. I didn't have to go too far along the causeway before I found the buntings, happily hopping around feeding on whatever they could find. I was soon joined by a few other birders and we all attempted to photograph the birds in various ways. I soon discovered that digiscoping has its downside in very poor light as you don't have the advantage of a flash at all so I was restricted to videoing and then taking a videograb later. I am more and more discovering how useful a technique this is especially when conditions are difficult such as they were today. Pleased to have connected with the birds I walked the length of the causeway to check that there wasn't anything else around then went and had a brief look for the black redstarts (which I couldn't see though they were later reported again) before heading for home, most pleased with the morning's birding.
Not much more than a record shot of the male snow bunting given the terrible light conditions.
Mid morning I was back at work when I got a call to say that someone had found a pair of Slavonian Grebes on the reservoir. My wife gave me a pitying look as I explained that I had to head back out to Farmoor but some twenty minutes later I was walking down the causeway, noting the buntings which were still there as I walked the full length of the causeway to meet up with my fellow year lister and a companion along the west shore of Farmoor II. The Slavonian grebes were hunting along this shore and after a while moved reasonably close so I once again deployed my video technique and got a reasonably good grab from it this time.
Given the light conditions I'm very pleased with how this digiscoped videograb came out of one of the Slavonian Grebes
Whilst we were there one of the others found a distant red-breasted merganser right out in the middle of Farmoor II. There was no possibility of getting anything even remotely decent in the way of a photo but once more a videograb produced at least a record shot of the bird which appeared to be a male. I didn't stay too long and stopped off for a spot of shopping by way of appeasement for my VLW.
Again just "record shot" quality for the red-breasted merganser which was out in the middle of Farmoor II
I have a self-imposed rule of not coming out to Farmoor more than twice in one day, this being instigated earlier on in the year when I had to go for black tern in the morning and then for a knot in the afternoon only to be told in the evening that there was a grey plover there which I didn't have the energy to go for. So after having made two trips there I was somewhat dreading getting a call to say that anything else had arrived but fortunately I was spared that agony. Nevertheless it had been an amazing day with three county year and indeed for me county life ticks coming within the space of a few hours. Coming on the back of the birds at the weekend as well it makes for a real purple patch for Oxon birding at present. I was also told that my total of nine oystercatchers was a record count for Farmoor and two of the above photos (not the snow bunting) were also used for the Farmoor blog which I was rather chuffed about.
The ticks are moving on nicely. I should also mention that my fellow year lister, who deserves to be named for his achievement (Jason Coppock) has broken the county year list record already with a stunning 195 birds and with six weeks still to go there might even be the possibility of his reaching 200. I should also mention that apparently one shouldn't be counting ruddy shelduck for the year list so my official figure should be one less than the 188 that I am showing below. I am keeping my lists as they are though as I happen to like ruddy shelduck! There are of course still the four sub-species which could retrospectively be promoted via "armchair ticks".
Oxon County Year List 2009
186: Snow Bunting 10/11/09 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)
187: Slavonian Grebe 10/11/09 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)
188: RB Merganser 10/11/09 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)
Official Count 187 + 4 sub-species
National Year List 2009
229: Slavonian Grebe 10/11/09 Farmoor Reservoir