Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - Day's Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxon & Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) Farmoor Reservoir, Oxon. 9th Novembr 2008.

Despite seeing Cattle Egret at East Lavant, West Sussex earlier in the year I couldn't resist heading over to Days Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames today to see the recently arrived individual, it meant that I could then head to Farmoor Reservoir to see the Great Northern Diver that has been present for a few days and hopefully head to Calvert in Buckinghamshire to see Jack Snipe, I need to catch up on a few species that I should have seen by now and today was a good opportunity to do so.

Having been to Days Lock before I knew where to go and after parking the car I headed off over the River Thames and towards the scrape. By now it had started to rain and as I arrived at a small gap in the bushes my hopes of digiscoping the Egret diminished, I viewed out across the fields and zooming in on the cattle that were grazing in the field I soon spotted the Cattle Egret feeding beneath them, it soon was lost to sight behind some of the cattle that were now sitting down in the field. I viewed the rest of the scrape whilst waiting for the Egret to reappear, 100+ Greylag and 10 Canada Geese were present in the field, a single Egyptian Goose, 9 Cormorant, Wigeon & Teal present on the pools and good numbers of Lapwing dotted around the fields and pools.

I then headed along the footpath that runs alongside the scrape to get a closer view of the Cattle Egret and as I did so the rain stopped and the sun finally came out, as I made my way along the path I noticed the cattle herd and Egret heading across the field towards where I was walking to. Three people were watching the Cattle Egret from the footpath and within a few minutes of my arrival the bird was in full view just in front of us. I quickly got my camera out and took a few photos, the sun was shining and the bird was showing incredibly well, much better than my views of the bird at East Lavant that disappeared behind a hedge just as I got my camera out!

Cattle Egret

The Cattle Egret is a rare annual vagrant to the UK usually being seen in spring and summer, most sightings are along the south and east coasts. Over the last few years the Cattle Egret has increased it's range dramatically on a global scale, both it's population and range has increased noticeably in Europe. It had often been predicted that they would turn up on our shores at some point and join their close relative the Little Egret which also now breeds in the UK. Last winter they invaded, when dozens of Cattle Egrets touched down in south-west England, mainly in Devon and Cornwall. This year at least 2 pairs bred in Somerset and it is believed to be the first recorded breeding in the United Kingdom for this species. With the Little Egret now a common sight in many parts of the UK and an established breeder surely the Cattle Egret will follow in their footsteps.

I left Days Lock with the sun still shining and headed off to Farmoor Reservoir. I arrived at Farmoor just as it started raining again and made my way from the car park to view the F2 reservoir, the wind and rain picked up and viewing the basin became almost impossible, searching for the Great Northern Diver was going to be difficult in these conditions and with a number of windsurfers making the best of the weather on F2 I thought the Diver would have moved to the F1 reservoir and headed off towards the causeway. As I crossed the causeway the wind was so strong it buffeted me sideways and getting to the wooden huts in the centre of the causeway I climbed down off the causeway to escape the wind and rain, I huddled up against the side of the hut and scanned the F1 reservoir with very little being visible, a few Tufted Ducks, Coots, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant. I was now in the centre of the reservoir and deciding to brave the weather I headed across the causeway towards the Pinkhill Reserve, the wind and rain didn't let up and I was now soaked to the skin and I think it was at this point that I realised that there was no point in heading back to the car as I couldn't get any wetter than I already was, anyway there was a Diver to find and I was going to find it whatever the weather. As I approached the western end of the causeway I met a birder who told me the Diver was on the southern end of the F2 reservoir, he was looking for the Water Pipit and I told him where I had seen it a few weekends ago. We said our goodbyes and I headed off south along the west side of the F2 reservoir. God was I soaked and each step I took expelled large puddles of water from my very unsuitable footwear, I love my "Vans" trainers and have the knowledge that I'm not following trends as I owned a number of pairs back in the 80's when I was a BMX dude, however they really aren't suitable for birding and after today's soaking they might not be suitable for wearing any longer either.

Reaching the south-east corner I finally found the Great Northern Diver some 50ft away from the edge of the basin, I watched it as it fed in the vicinity of the southern most point of the reservoir often diving for long periods. There was no way I could even attempt a photo of this bird with the weather so bad so I decided to film it each time it surfaced after diving for food, I tried to estimate it's surface point as I walked north along the east side of the F2 reservoir, unsuccessfully I have to add as it always surfaced just in front of me. It certainly made the walk back to the car more bearable in soaking wet clothes and I left it still fishing near the water tower on the F2 reservoir. It was great to see despite the weather and it means that I have managed to see all the common Divers in one year for the first time.

Great Northern Diver

I left Farmoor and made my way home as there was no way I could make it to Cavert, with the heater going full blast I slowly dried out and by the time I got back to Watlington I was starting to warm up. As I drove up Watlington Hill towards Christmas Common I noticed in the distance a pair of eyes shining in my car headlights, I slowed down and watched as an adult Muntjac stood in the middle of the road. The Muntjac remained in the road and seemed obvious to all around, I dipped my lights so not to blind it and it moved to the opposite side of the road where it stood looking back across the road. I suddenly got a shock as a tiny baby Muntjac appeared on the verge and walked in to the road, it remained in the middle of the road for at least a minute with it's parent stood on the drivers side verge, it really looked like a small piglet as it stood in the car headlights with the exception of being brown with white spots, slowly it crossed the road and joined it's parent. There are lots of Muntjac in the Chilterns but I have never seen a young Muntjac and was surprised to learn that they breed throughout the year. Good day despite the weather.

Added To My Year List.

215. Great Northern Diver

Both videos can be watched in high quality on my YouTube channel here, simply select the video clip and then click on "watch in high quality" under the video player screen.

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