Thursday, 8 April 2010

Cranes over Farmoor

I had been contemplating a last blog entry to tidy up loose ends before I head off on holiday but was worried that there wasn't really much to report. I'd been up to Linkey Down a couple of times for the ring ouzels but hadn't found any though they have been seen on other days when I wasn't free to get down there. I'd managed at least to hear the Burgess Field Cetti's warbler and finally caught up with willow warbler there as well. As usual most of my time's been spent on Port Meadow catching up with the various migrants as they pass through. Today I'd decided to take the day off to help with the packing for the holiday and was somewhat gripped off to hear about a black-winged stilt at Rainham Marshes which I'd have probably gone for had I been free. Instead I nobly decided to take some junk to the dump as my VLW had been nagging me about it for ages. As I was (roughly) in the vicinity I thought it would be rude not to go on to Farmoor afterwards as I wanted to see if I could photograph some white wagtails there.

It was a gorgeous spring day, sunny with just a gentle breeze as I arrived at Farmoor. In the car park I met Brian Shaw (of Withymead NR) who told me that there were at least a couple of white wagtails and some yellows along the causeway. The fly hatch was in full swing with insects buzzing around everywhere, perfect for wagtails I presumed. The black-headed gull passage was in full flow with at least a thousand birds on the two reservoirs. I found a couple of yellow wagtails on the settling beds by the water treatment works and did a bit of videoing. More and more I turn to the videograb option for my digiscoping photos unless the bird is really close and in good light: the chances of something coming out are so much better when one is effectively taking multiple frames per second and the video autofocus make it more likely that at least some of them will be in focus. The only real downside is the photo size is only 640 x 480 pixels so its of record shot quality only.

I had just started off along the causeway when I met a fellow birder (whom I didn't recognise) coming in the opposite direction. He asked me if I knew what a couple of birds were which by now were circling high up beyond the south east corner of Farmoor II which he was thinking might be cranes. I had a look and they did indeed look like cranes. I managed to get them in my scope and could clearly identify them as cranes and I could even see the white stripes down their necks. They were circling higher and higher in a thermal together with a couple of buzzards. I wasted no time in calling the appropriate people on the off-chance that they might be able to connect. Nic Hallam managed to get there in a few minutes but not until after they flew off strongly in an easterly direction (not westerly as I erroneously reported on Bird Guides in my excitement!) so he just missed them. The chap who'd found them said that they'd flown from the north west corner right over the reservoir and he'd even got a pretty good photo which he showed me though unfortunately he left before I was able to ask him for a copy.

Once all that excitement was over I continued down the causeway where I found a couple of white wagtails which I spent some time photographing. I tried both video and stills though the latter all came out out of focus so once again it was the videograb which saved the day. As I worked my way back along the causeway more wagtails had flown in so there were at least five whites in one group along the causeway and at the east end near the water treatment works were seven or more yellows sitting in a row.

A videograb of a yellow wagtail on the settling beds

A white wagtail along the causeway though somewhat distorted by the heat haze

So a rather exciting day in the end with a county lifer for me. Cranes are seen in the county from time to time so they're not that rare though I was extremely lucky to have connected with these birds in the way that I did: once again I'd managed to be at Farmoor at just the right time. A few more ticks for the year lists though of course I've already got crane on my national year list after my recent Norfolk trip.

Oxon Year List 2010

109 house martin 01/04/2010 Port Meadow
110 green sandpiper 01/04/2010 Port Meadow
111 red-legged partridge 01/04/2010 Linky Down
112 cetti's warbler 02/04/2010 Burgess Field
113 willow warbler 06/04/2010 Burgess Field
114 COMMON CRANE 08/04/2010 Farmoor

National Year List 2010

126 house martin 01/04/2010 Port Meadow
127 green sandpiper 01/04/2010 Port Meadow
128 cetti's warbler 02/04/2010 Burgess Field
129 willow warbler 06/04/2010 Burgess Field

Off to Cornwall tomorrow and I'm really hoping that the woodchat shrike at Church Cove manages to stay another couple of days for me. I'm also rather hoping I don't miss anything too good back here in the county: I remember last year coming back to the news that a Bonaparte's gull had been seen at Farmoor though fortunately it ended up staying long enough for me to see it.

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