Monday, 26 April 2021

Farmoor, Balscote and Grimsbury Reservoir : 24-25 April 2021

It seemed a long week, probably as it was the first for a while that I'd worked all five days. It had been busy and so my birding had been restricted to a dash up to Boddington Reservoir on Thursday evening after work to see twelve arctic terns. An amazing hour with stunning birds, still water, a beautiful light in the late sun and bumping into Mike Pollard.

As has become the norm these days, I arose early and made my way up to Balscote Quarry arriving just before 6.00am. It was still cold, the car reading 1°C on the dial. Amazingly I wasn't the only one there and Iain Brown stopped by to pick up a moth trap that he'd placed out overnight - just a single resident when he empltied it. Iain didn't stay long as he'd promised to do some decorating for a friend. I picked up the usual suspects and spent an enjoyable hour and a half. Towards the end I saw a fox which has been spotted around the site - it also saw me and doubled back, appearing on the other size of the bowl a couple of minutes later. Many of the birds didn't give it much attention but the lone lapwing decided to do what it knows best and give chase - I suppose it is programmed and there it must despite not having a nest to defend.

I completed my sightings on the BirdTrack mobile app and saw there had been an update to say that there were little gulls again at Farmoor Reservoir - there had been a record 81 counted the previous day. Instead of heading home for breakfast or checking out a site that had been suggested over the county lines into Warwickshire, I jumped intot he car and made for Farmoor.

I arrived at a little after 8.00am and the temperature was noticeably higher and so I didn't bother with a coat. I reached the water's edge and found two birders watching a small flock of twenty little gulls - I joined them and soon we had a single arctic tern in the flock, and then a black tern. That would do nicely. A few common tern fished at the fringes and beyond.

Black tern and little gull

I decided to relocate and watch from the causeway, passing the second wooden structure before I reached what seemed to be the best vantage point. I watched a couple of passes before Ewan Urquhart approached from the far end - he tells me that of late he is walking about 50 miles a week around Farmoor. We watched as the little gulls made a couple more passes.

Little gull
Little gull
Little gull
Little gull

Eventually most of the little gulls landed on the water at the western end of the causeway and so we made for there. Observing from the causeway it was instructive to see the size difference of the BHG and little gulls together.

Little and black-headed gulls

As Ewan left towards the Visitor Centre, two swift appeared in the sky; we tried to out-do each other counting one more as others arrived but eventually ten was as high as we could get.

The previous day, Nick Truby had posted a superb photo of a grasshopper warbler from Farmoor and so I decided to move on and see if I could find it - Ewan told me that he'd heard it reeling that morning. I arrived to find Moth Clark in attendance and reports that the bird was still there but very elusive. Sure enough, I could hear it and we decided it was in the lefthand bushes along the track away from the reservoir, most likely in the area just beyond the dead specimen. We waited and waited but didn't have any sightings. After about an hour I was watching the back side of the bush a bird dropped down from the precise spot we'd suspected and into the grass - from then all reeling stopped and we had an almost silent hour to follow with only the briefest of calls. We made do with the singing sedge warblers and whitethroats.

Whitethroat
Whitethroat

I walked back along the river and had a single green sandpiper fly back towards the lock and a handful of Cetti's warbler call as I passed by, one showed reasonably well but I only got a photo as it popped higher up the tree - that time of year ...

Cetti's warbler

At the turn to climb back up to the reservoir I heard and then saw my first garden warbler of the year. Quite a dull bird in appearance, it's chattering song is quite a standout sound - not a looker like some returning migrants, such as redstart, but still a real sign that spring has arrived.

Garden warbler

Back across the causeway the boats had multiplied on the water and there was a dramatic reduction in the gulls and terns on the wing - I couldn't locate the black tern but still had a few common.

Back at the Visitor Centre I found Nick Truby, his wife and Ewan having a chat - Nick had been off looking for nightingales (and been successful). I joined them for a while and then we all made for our cars.

The next morning I slept a little longer but was still at Balscote Quarry by 6.40am. I noted the usual species and had a muntjac deer pass by but always partly obscured by grass and scrub. The linnets were a little jumpy and took to the wing on each pass of the kestrel. Both mistle and song thrush sang. A willow warbler joined in with calling chiffchaff and soon it was visible in trees and on the scrub to my left, close enough for a photo.

Willow warbler

At about 8.00am a WhatsAppr message came in with Mike Prentice reporting snipe and little ringed plover numbers - I hadn't seen him and so I was confused as to his report. I sent a message and he had been through before I even arrived! I had nothing new and decided to move on. I stopped to look at some trees that looked interesting with many woodpecker/nuthatch holes and watched for a while but only had starling enter. I did however find a family of foxes and they performed well - one adult had picked me out and kept an eye on me but didn't chase the cubs back into cover. A very nice experience.

Foxes
Foxes
Foxes
Foxes
Foxes

Back home I was working on my laptop after a late breakfast and lifted my phone to see there was some activity on the WhatsApp group - I was going to unpack some deliveries but decided to give that a miss for just now as a sanderling had dropped into Grimsbury Reservoir. I left immediately and on arrival at the Spiceball Park parking found there was a space - just. I made my way to the western side where it had been reported. I was dismayed to see that a sailing event was taking place and fisherman were plodding around the bank inside the fence. I met another birder coming the other way and he assured me the bird was still there but that it was doing its best to avoid the sailing dinghy's coming within metres of the bank. I came across a grey wagtail and was concerned as one of the fisherman had rounded the corner and was coming my way - he flushed the sanderling but fortunately it didn't leave and it landed a little back down the path. I dropped back and had good views, managing to take a few photos through the perimeter fencing.

Sanderling
Sanderling
Sanderling

It was already getting towards lunchtime and so I didn't hang around, passing Mike Curnow on the path. Approaching the car I bumped into John Friendship-Taylor while he was unloading his baby son (Luca) from the car into a pram - Luca's first twitch! I heard later that while Mike had been watching the sanderling for only a couple of minutes before the fishermen walked along the bank and it flew off - Luca's first twitch was unsuccessful but they did pick up a garden warbler by the river.

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