Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Farmoor Bonxie

It's been a rather quiet second half of the month. After the good weather which brought in lots of exciting early migrants the more miserable conditions for the last week or so have rather slowed things down. There have been no further little ringed plovers on Port Meadow after the initial flurry and the only real point of interest on the patch has been a trio of oystercatchers which were resting quietly late one afternoon. Usually I am on the opposite side of the floods to oystercatchers and so my photos are always distant and blurry but recently I've taken to going on the west of the floods and was therefore able to get a bit closer for my shot.

Three sleeping oystercatchers
A close up of one that woke up

A willow warbler and a cetti's warbler have both been reported on the patch which I've personally yet to catch up with. The latter is a nice find as last year was to my knowledge the first time that they've been recorded on the Meadow when we had a singing male for a few weeks though it eventually moved on. Let's hope that this one sticks around for longer.

I got a call early in the week from Farmoor stalwart Dai John saying that he had seen a rock and a water pipit along the causeway on his morning rounds. This and the fact that there were a couple of little gulls about as well was certainly enough to galvanise me into a visit down to Farmoor. Readers may remember that last year I had problems with water pipit with a bird I initially strung but then unticked and never did manage to catch up with in the end. In fact I have been left wondering just whether I have actually seen a proper water pipit in the county as the previous year my sighting had been almost as dubious as I was even more inexperienced then. I arrived at Farmoor to find conditions rather blustery and a quick walk along the causeway revealed no pipits (or indeed any birds) at all apart from a solitary pied wagtail. I met a fellow birder at the far end who said that he'd seen the rock pipit (a litoralis) but not the water pipit. Whilst I was at that end I nipped in the hide out of the wind to see if I could find the little gulls but had no luck. I'd just walked back along the causeway when I met the other birder again who said that he'd see the first winter little gull around the far side of Farmoor II. I hummed and haaed as it had started raining and I felt that I ought to make some effort at some work today but eventually decided to walk over there. I made another half-hearted scan through the legions of black-headed gulls but still without luck and so headed back for home rather despondent. Some days, things just don't click.

On the other hand, days like that are more than made up for by days when luck goes with you. A couple of days later I got a call saying that there was a bonxie at Farmoor. I had been contemplating a visit out to the Meadow but this required immediate action and I got my gear together and headed straight off for Farmoor. The traffic was rather slow and I seemed to be stuck behind one slow driver after another so it took a few minutes longer than usual to arrive there. As I pulled into the car park several other birders were also arriving and we raced up the slope to the reservoir. Ahead of me Justin Taylor seemed to be looking intently at something flying in the distance over towards Wytham Hill and I thought it prudent to see what he was following just in case it turned out to be important. Lucky that I did for it was in fact the bonxie which had just that moment flown off. Fortunately it turned around and headed back to the reservoir where I was able to get my scope on it whilst it was still in the air. It was a remarkably tatty bird with quite a number of its flight feathers missing though one could still make out the white streak across the outer wing. The bird wheeled around for a while without landing and gradually drifted off to the south and didn't return. Talk about going down to the wire: another couple of minutes and I'd have missed it altogether.

It turned out that there'd also been a first winter kittiwake on Farmoor I which had been seen just before I arrived but try as we might the assembled gang (what's the collective noun for birders - a "twitch" perhaps?) couldn't relocate it so it appeared to have moved on as well. With the help of Justin I managed finally to see the adult little gull which was hawking insects right on the far side of Farmoor II. Even at that distance its small size and very dark underwing and more rounded wings without the white leading edge stood out from the throng of black-headed gulls. A passing yellow wagtail was also briefly seen before it moved on. I lingered a bit longer after the others left, hoping to find the kittiwake (which I still need for the county) though without success. On my way back to the car I flushed a pipit on the causeway which had me excited for a while before it turned out to be a meadow pipit, albeit a rather richly coloured one.

A few more ticks for the year list to be listed and the skua is a county first for me.

National Year List 2010
123 great skua 31/03 Farmoor
124 yellow wagtail 31/03 Farmoor
125 little gull 31/03 Farmoor

Oxon Year List 2010
105 oystercatcher 28/03 Port Meadow
106 great skua 31/03 Farmoor (County Lifer)
107 yellow wagtail 31/03 Farmoor
108 little gull 31/03 Farmoor

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