2016 Oxon autumn wader passage: 1 – Little Stint

One of my favourite phases of the local birding year around Oxford is the return passage when waders migrate south from their Arctic breeding grounds. Something that appeals especially is each season’s juveniles passing through Farmoor Reservoir. Being unused to humans these new creatures have no fear and so allow a very close approach. And possibly most attractive of all is that in these circumstances I can achieve comparable photography to that great majority of birders who own far more sophisticated and expensive cameras than my own.

When I started this blog in September 2014 the first post was a collage of passage waders at Farmoor (see here). 2015 was a disappointing autumn when some of the less often seen species I was alerted to had gone through by the time I got on site. The current year’s spring was especially good, with every regularly occurring British wader being recorded at our county’s major birding locations. But I was in France when some of the scarcer ones passed through. Hence I entertain a certain expectancy of the coming autumn and will present here in a mini-series any publishable images obtained.

On Tuesday evening this week Farmoor patch watcher Dai called me at work to say the year’s first Little Stint for the reservoir had arrived. Two juveniles were then observed throughout Wednesday when I went to Cornwall. Yesterday I checked with Dai in the morning and these birds were still present so an Oxon year tick was in my sights. In the car park I spotted the fabled Black Audi, and then I met Ewan himself on the causeway contemplating the two Little Stint (pictured below) feeding busily within yards of their observers.

In a very informative post on his own blog (see here) Ewan points out that these two individuals exhibit a slight plumage variation that is described in some reference books. The left hand bird has richer and warmer colour tones on its upperparts making it appear rufous, whilst the right hand one looks paler and greyer. To quote the Helm guide to confusion species, juveniles are immaculately patterned with golden, chestnut and buffish feather fringes. Most distinctive is the characteristic white V down the sides of the mantle, while the underparts appear very white. This species’ split supercilium is also apparent in the pictures.

I by no means consider myself to be a bird photographer but these pictures (above) are better than their 2014 equivalents (see here). Once again the conditions on a fair weather day at Farmoor had made for somewhat above average results. To my mind the gunge that collects along the water’s edge in the concrete bowl makes for a photogenic (in its way) background, so long as gull feather and other detritus can be cropped out of each image. But the disappointing days of grey, grainy photography remain far more, no pun intended frequent

Ewan also describes in his own post how these two migrants seemed to be ill at ease in each other’s company and at times antagonistic towards one another. But in these final pictures (above) I managed to capture them in a moment of harmony. We watched the Little Stints for around 30 to 40 minutes, and then as they themselves will do before too long went on our way.


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