Sunday, 29 April 2012

Farmoor Grebes & Newbridge Storks

Readers of this blog from out of county may consider me to be a rather infrequent blogger as this offering isn't updated that regularly. However, the truth is that I am a dedicated Patch Worker and update my Port Meadow Birding blog on a near-daily basis. I've been dutifully visiting the Meadow each day recently despite the terrible rainy and windy weather and, loathe as I am to admit it, the truth is that it was starting to get me down. The spring passage with the floods nicely topped up should be a time of rejoicing, of looking forward with keen anticipation to each visit to see what's dropped in that day. However, despite the floods being almost lake-like in their hugeness the bald truth is that the birding has been pretty slow this last week with virtually no waders taking advantage of all the water. It wasn't until I paid an impromptu visit to Farmoor on Saturday that I realised just how much the lack of birds had been doing my head in. I'd dutifully done my chores that day: picking up a daughter from a sleep-over, doing the family weekly food shop and then taking some junk down to the dump. As a reward I negotiated with my VLW that I might have a visit to Farmoor in order to get a bit of a walk and so it was that at about 2:30 pm I turned up at the concrete bowl.

The first thing that struck me once I was up by the reservoir was just how many hirundines there were. They were everywhere and the poor weather had pushed the insects down very low so that one could get great views of them hawking low over the water. There were loads of swifts around too which is interesting because I've not had a single one yet on the Meadow. I took great delight in watching them all at such close quarters.

One of the reasons for visiting Farmoor had been to pay my respects to the Black-necked Grebes that were there. On Friday a total of nine of these birds had accumulated at the reservoir and five of them had stayed on the next day. I hadn't realised that the birds were feeding quite so close in. They were often no more than a few metres from the bank and one had crippling views of these delightful birds in full summer plumage, certainly the best views that I've ever had of this species. I spent a little time taking some shots with the super-zoom though light conditions were pretty poor.

The Black-necked Grebes

After that I took a stroll down the causeway in the company of Peter Law. Regular readers may know that I like to wrestle with tricky ID issues and there were a couple of Arctic Terns in amongst the Commons to get to grips with. In such circumstances I always bring to mind what Ian Lewington told me: if you only think you've got an Arctic Tern then you haven't, they're that obvious when you actually have one that there's no doubt. Indeed they were really striking when you actually saw them: whilst their back, mantle and wing coverts were a uniform grey, their flight feathers were very "clean" and unsullied and had such a lovely translucent quality to them that they looked almost silvery. The Common's on the other hand had a much dirtier look to them and they were starting to develop the dark wedge on the outer edge of the primaries. When they came close one could also make out the differences in the bill lengths and the thin dark line along the trailing edge of the underside of the primaries which is of course narrow and well-defined with the Arctic but broader and more diffuse for the Commons.

 Arctic Tern with the thin underwing band...
 ...And Common Tern with the thicker more diffuse band

There shots are clearly far too good to have been taken
by myself and are courtesy of  (c) Nic Hallam

As I walked back along the causeway I grilled the wagtails, finding quite a few Whites and a handful of Yellows. There was even a Wheatear working it's way along the causeway ahead of me. Back at the car I realised that I'd really enjoyed my Farmoor visit in stark contrast to my recent Meadow trips. There'd actually been some birds to look at, they'd been showing well at close quarters and there been something interesting to learn about ID issues. Apart from perhaps a new tick one couldn't really ask for much more out of a birding trip.

After I got back home that afternoon, the news broke that the six White Storks that had been seen a few days earlier had been re-found, this time near the Standlake/Newbridge area. As I already have this species on my county list (thanks to a five minute bird on the Meadow last year) I wasn't too fussed about this and wasn't going to press my VLW for another trip that same day. The next morning four of the birds were still there and I received regular updates throughout the morning from the other county birders who went to see them. Come mid afternoon and my VLW and daughter no. 2 both wanted to go shopping in town but wanted a lift in because of the continued rain. I suggested that I take Luke (our five year old) off for a walk as he'd not been out much the whole weekend so after we dropped off the shoppers, Luke & I headed off in the Gnome-mobile towards Newbridge to see if we could find the Storks. 

I decided to go along the Thames footpath to find the birds rather than trying to see them from the Standlake/Pit 60 side as one would have a clearer view of the other fields if they moved. We were just setting off along the path when I met an actual fan of this blog. A very nice chap called Martyn from Milton Keynes recognised me from my new hat and said how much he enjoyed the blog and that it had even inspired him to take a birding trip down to Cornwall. I'm never sure how many people actually read my ramblings as I don't seem to have many Followers compared to some other blogs so it was very nice to have some positive feedback. Anyway, apparently the Storks were still there so Luke and I made the 10 minute amble to the third field where we could see one birder trying to digiscope something. We arrived to be told that the birds had been actively drying their wings and that they looked like they could leave pretty soon. Wasting no time I rattled off a few super-zoom shots and sure enough within a few minutes first one and then the other three took off and flew rather low right over our heads before disappearing off to the south west. They were flying rather low so I wouldn't be altogether surprised if they're still in the general area. 

 Drying out...
 ...Take off...
 ...Heading off into the distance.

I was pleased to have arrived just in time and Luke was pleased that we didn't have to hang around for ages whilst I photographed the birds so both happy, we turned round and headed back the way we'd come. On the way back we stopped to admire four families of greylags with goslings, I spotted a Common Tern flying along the river and also heard my first Whitethroat of the year.

Oxon's incredible run of good birds seems to be continuing what with the Grebes and now the Storks. It's interesting to see how many of the more seasoned county birders still needed the Stork for their county lists but I expect that sightings of these birds will become more common in the same way that Spoonbills, Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibises and Great White Egrets have. One can't help but wonder what's going to turn up next as we move into May, historically the most productive month for turning up Scarce in the county (see my analysis here). Finally, spare a thought for poor old Badger, stuck on the warm and no-doubt dry island of Lesbos whilst all the hot birding action is going on here. I'm hoping that the long-staying Dotterel might actually linger long enough for him to get it on his return.


Martyn said...

Hi Adam, thanks for the namecheck. Pleased you got there in time. Glad to give feedback. It must take time and effort to do these blogs and please don't doubt that they are invaluable to out of county birders, such as myself. You, Peter Barker, Badger et al, all come across as informative and enthusiastic for your patches, and it is never a "grip-fest", as in "look what I've seen". I've only been birding a couple of years, so know all about id issues, but even I was fairly sure about the Storks! Finally, please tell Luke he did a super job with the photo of your hat. He nailed the details perfectly. Something for you to aspire to! (only kidding). Keep up the good work. Regards-Martyn

Adam Hartley (Gnome) said...

Thanks Martyn, it was good to meet you!

Unknown said...

Hi Adam. Wondered if it was you we saw there. Was nice to meet you! We were the pair who arrived just in time for them to fly over our heads (I also sent you some pics to the Oxon blog). Went to Farmoor afterwards and saw the BN Grebe's to less than 10ft and also saw the Dotterel and co before heading back to Notts. All in all a good day out!

Cheers, Sam

Adam Hartley (Gnome) said...

Hi Sam, nice to meet you too & I'm glad that you got there just in time for the storks.