Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Farmoor Shag & Black-throated Diver

Farmoor Reservoir has the ability to come up with a host of good birds out of the blue and yesterday was another such example. What had started out as a quiet Monday morning was perked up with a call from Farmoor regular Dai John that he'd found a shag on the new pontoons by the sailing club. After passing on the message to my fellow year lister I set off for the reservoir. Sure enough there was a lovely shag viewable from very close quarters which apparently had just been seen to catch a couple of fish before I arrived. The light was very good and the bird posed obligingly for some photos though the bright reflective water surface behind the subject meant that I had some problems with the metering though I got a couple that came out well.

A classic resting shag pose!
It's interesting to note how the bird squats down and raises its tail before taking a dump on the new pontoon!

Later that day I nipped out to Port Meadow to check on the gull roost. I was just making my first scan through when I got a call saying that a diver had been found on Farmoor and that it was thought that it was a black-throated. I made a half-hearted attempt to complete my scan before abandoning it and cycling back at top speed back home and jumping straight in the car. Some twenty minutes later I was pulling up at Lower Whitely Farm (as instructed) at the west end of the reservoir and racing up the bank to be met by three other birders who were already there. We moved around to a better vantage point and managed to re-locate the bird which was obligingly not diving that frequently but rather swimming purposefully about. It took flight briefly and we thought that it was going to leave but it circled low and came back. Shortly afterwards Dai John came up to us saying that he'd seen a kittiwake come in to join the gull roost. Abandoning the diver we all switched our attention to the gull roost though the light had now gone and we soon gave up on our attempt to sift through the many thousand of gulls for one slightly different one. Had we had Nic Hallam, the Farmoor gull guru there, we might have had a chance but for us mere mortals it was a tick too far. Still two county year list and indeed for me county life ticks was pretty good going and black-throated diver is not an easy bird to see in the county as they don't tend to hang around at all. Interestingly enough about a week or so ago a pair of divers were seen to fly in towards Farmoor, one came down and was identified as a great northern whereas the other, which had appeared smaller, turned about and went off. It's just possible that this was the second bird which had been lurking in the mean time in some overlooked gravel pit near by. Let's hope that it hangs around or is relocated elsewhere so that others can enjoy this elusive bird.

A couple of videograb record shots. Pretty poor quality but given the distance and the darkness it was the best that I could do. You can make out the white flank patch, the relatively fine bill compared to a Great Northern and the clean line dividing the white from the black on the neck.

The un-edited "record shot" video footage. In the conditions this actually shows things up better than the still video grabs. I think that this is something to do with our eyes being able to smooth out visual changes so they look better than they actually are.

Another couple of ticks for the county year list and indeed county lifers for me. I was reflecting on how great this year has been from the point of view of getting my county life list up to scratch and in fact the shag is my 200th county life bird and the diver my 201st. The top Oxon list in the county is 269 so there's of course loads still to see and I've just seen all the easy ones! Some of them, like surf scoter, aren't ever really likely to be seen in the county again but I don't really have great county life list ambitions so I won't fret over this too much!

Oxon County Year List 2009
189: Shag 01/12/09 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)
190: Black-throated Diver 01/12/09 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)

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