Field Event Reports

7 January: Birdwatching walk, Farmoor Reservoir

Leader: Tom Wickens ( Oxford Ornithological Society)

The group were startled by a sudden flight of gulls

An excellent group of 17 assembled, including a number of visitors, in the Farmoor Reservoir Car Park where we were met by our leader Tom Wickens - a very regular birder at Farmoor.  The sky was clear blue with a temperature not much above freezing, but while basking in a warmish sun, there was some trepidation as we were sheltered from the brisk northerly wind - so all were wrapped in several layers of clothing.  The wind certainly hit as we walked up onto the bank to have our first clear view of the Reservoirs.

An initial scan revealed the usual residents - Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Tufted Ducks (there were hundreds of these around the waters), Great-Crested Grebes, Cormorants, the odd Herring and Black-Headed Gulls, and Pied Wagtails skittering along the concrete banks.  Unusually no geese were to be seen! Tom spotted a group of five or so Little Grebes, so we moved a short way along the Causeway to get a clearer view, watching them as they ducked below the water, making bets on where they would pop up next.

We then retreated back to the perimeter road and walked along the Eastern side of Farmoor I with the Sewage Works below- only a lone Magpie was seen there. Our target was a largish group of Tufties in which Tom had spotted some Goldeneye. We stopped a number of times to get views of both males and females, until they were very close - up to six at a time dived and popped up frequently in unison.  At one point a lone 'twitcher' came panting up to the group having run from the middle of the Causeway after seeing our large group peering out over the water - he hoped we had spotted something 'special', but was very disappointed when told we were just enjoying the Goldeneyes, rare for us but nothing special for him!  A further detailed survey by the expert birders with us spotted the female Scaup that had been present for some days - it took some expertise to spot this duck as it so closely resembled the Tufties and the 'lay' birders would never have spotted it, especially as it kept its head tucked down most of the time. Four of our group, including two children, decided it was already getting too cold and sped off back to the Car Park along the Causeway.

A Grey Wagtail was spotted among the Pied Wagtails, then Tom saw a 'lbj' (little brown job) farther  down the bank. The hope was that this might be the Water Pipit seen fleetingly the day before - sadly as we got nearer it was identified as a Meadow Pipit.

The group reached the western bank and descended the grass bank down towards the Pinkhill Reserve, immediately getting the benefit of the shelter from the wind. A group of Bullfinches were spotted in the bushes.  We then entered the new Pinkhill Hide that had replaced the one burnt down some time back. This gave excellent views across the lake and marshes.  The only bird life was a solitary Mute Swan cruising the water. We hoped a Water Rail might pop out as they were often seen here, but to no avail.

As the time was now approaching midday an option was given - return via the Causeway (quicker but in the teeth of the wind) or the longer walk around below Farmoor II, which was more sheltered with variable habitats, so more likely to see different birds.  The group split at this point, myself, Tom and a number of others taking the longer sheltered option along the Nature Trail. This one hour walk yielded Meadow Pipits and Fieldfares on the grassland banks (one obliging Fieldfare sitting prominently for some time on a near fencepost), Redwings, more Bullfinches and a notable Lesser Redpole in the hedgerow, a flock of Teal swooping over the Thames, and a Goldcrest among a tit flock in the woods.   A group of hundred plus Greylag Geese and a few Canada Geese were feeding on the meadow on the other side of the Thames, which suddenly en masse decided to fly right across us back to the Reservoir. The final part of the walk was the muddiest and we emerged back into the Car Park around 1pm, an excellent three hour walk yielding some 38 species of bird. Thanks were conveyed to Tom for his guidance and expertise and we walked back to the cars which were pleasingly warm inside as they had been sitting in the sun.

Birds Seen:
Red Kite, Kestrel, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, (Greater) Scaup, Teal, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe, Great-Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Herring Gull, Black-Headed Gull, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Green Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-Tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Wren, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Fieldfare, Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Starling, Dunnock, Lesser Redpoll, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Carrion Crow.
David Guyoncourt, Mr & Mrs Felicity Jenkins, Chris Biggs, Mike Wilkins, Michael Bloom, Eleanor Dangerfield, Jaco & Elena de Groot + Teo & Anna, Richard Lewington, David Newton, Hugh Summers, plus three visitors.

Graham Bateman