After a frustrating autumn passage period in which almost all birds of note barely lingered, Oxford’s Farmoor Reservoir has enjoyed a purple patch over the last fortnight. Grey Phalarope, Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe is a good threesome for an inland site and many visitors have been drawn to our “concrete basin” to experience these scarce birds.
First up was an adult Grey Phalarope that arrived on Sunday 22nd November. I observed this one the following day and again on Thursday of that week, both times at close quarters in common with other local birders several of whom posted photographs on Oxon Birding. Then last Monday this hyperactive little wader was joined by a second that was identified as a first winter individual. These two Phalaropes have since been pretty much inseparable, delighting an almost constant audience along the north shore of Farmoor One.
Our now long-staying Red-necked Grebe remained throughout this period, prompting a resurgence of national interest on the part of visitors. Indeed this is the bird I have been asked about most often during my own visits in between commuting to a work project in Suffolk. Then on Wednesday 2nd December a juvenile Great Northern Diver appeared while I was birding in Norfolk, and that was another must see.
I myself have trod the concrete basin’s bleak and goose-turd strewn perimeter on each of the last three mornings since returning from Suffolk. On arrival on Thursday I called patch worker Dai who was searching for the Diver with fellow Oxonbirder Tezzer. They suggested I walked the other way around Farmoor Two and upon meeting we had all drawn blank. So I took the opportunity to photograph the Phalaropes instead in that morning’s poor light. These are what I consider to be my most interesting and slightly different, if grainy “watercolour” shots.
The GND was reported again by a visiting birder that afternoon when I was otherwise engaged, so yesterday morning saw me back on site again. This time Dai and Badger had seen the bird on F1 before losing it to view again. Once more we agreed to walk in opposite directions around F2, and part way round I got a call saying the diver was close to the south shore. I eventually picked it out swimming across this larger of the two reservoirs, before meeting the others and more birders and getting my pictures. Some of those posted on Oxon Birding exhibit a pleasing blue tint, but my own modest and muddy efforts (below) are of the more frequent grey hue. The bird was still present this morning (5th).
All bar one of my sightings of each of these species have been at Farmoor. Though not actively year listing in 2015 I have still kept track of my Oxon tally that these sightings brings to 166, two more than my 2014 total. Whilst this is disappointing given the extra time I’ve had for local birding this year, I will be satisfied to pass my 2011 figure of 171 before year’s end. 2012 and 2013’s 181 species each, when I took all this more seriously, is completely out of range.