Wednesday, 24 June 2009

When I found this bird on Saturday at 6pm, my initial interest was drawn to the constant mimicry from a bird low down in the willow tree (with the horizontal bough). By the time it got on to the 5th consecutive species, I was locked on to get a view of what hopefully was a Marsh Warbler. It didn't stop singing for the first 45 minutes, and went through at least 11 species in that time (Common Blackbird, Blue Tit (one of its favourites), House Sparrow, Common Whitethroat, Goldfinch, Robin, Linnet, Barn Swallow, Wren, Great Tit). Each was a perfect rendition without hiccup and jumped from one to the next without a break. Not once did it stop to give any acro style notes or churrrs, nor were there any repeated phrases. Many of the views I got were down its gape! - as Jan Hein described well, but it was keeping low and active enough for me not to get any decent views of the primary pattern.

What a contrast to Monday night then, when in an hour it uttered one phrase which was more akin to the descriptions on this site, a bit quiet and an indistinct attempt at mimicking a Blue Tit with many churrrs, and almost an element of phraseology.

I'm left wondering if the bird had been in for a few days before Saturday,and having got no responses from any other Marsh Warblers, is reducing his repertoire. I was involved with wardening the Marsh Warblers in Kent in the late 90s and they usually sang continously on arrival and then over time went quiet, to the extent that some thought they had left the site(unfortunately that didn't apply to the abuse from the eggers).

Fortunately, this bird seems very site-loyal to that part of the field, which contains some of its favourite food plants (with thanks to Phil for that snippet!), and it'll be interesting to see how it continues to behave during its stay (Jonathan Braggs)

MARSH WARBLER still present

The Amwell MARSH WARBLER was still singing at 0545 hours this morning (Barry Reed)

NORTHERN SHOVELER: excellent breeding record - female with 9 ducklings at Kings Mead on 4 June (Alan Reynolds)

NORTHERN POCHARD: female with 5 ducklings at Kings Mead on 4 June (Alan Reynolds)

MONTAGU'S HARRIER: a ringtail flew south over the A505 towards Sandon village on 10 May and a male was seen near Wallington in mid June.

GREEN SANDPIPER: the first returning bird was noted at Tyttenhanger GP on 13 June (Steve Pearce)

BLACK TERN: adult at Wilstone and Marsworth Reservoirs, Tring, on 1 June, with another on Wilstone on 3 June (Jeff Bailey) and a further over Stanborough South Lake on 13 June (P. Thornley)

EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE: following the singing male present in Ayot St Lawrence from 3-30 May (many observers) and others at Datchworth village green from 10-16 May (M. Craig), Hatchpen Farm, Reed, on 15 May (M. Johnson), Kettle Green, Much Hadham, on 21 May (M. Baverstock), near Larkins Wood, Whempstead, on 24 May (David Booth), Amwell NR on 25 May (Jan Van Steenis), 2 near Rivers Hospital, Sawbridgeworth, on 28 May and in flight over Lilley on 29 May and Batford on 30 May (both Mike Russell), a further 10 were recorded in June - an impressive four birds around Bygrave village on 1st (R. Broadie), another flyover at East Hyde on 6 June (Mike Russell), a 'purring' male at Datchworth Green on 9 June (D. Beynon), a singing male at Bovingdon Brickpits from 14-17 June (LGRE), one on wires NW of Hilfield Farm, Aldenham, on 14 June (Jack Fearnside), Datchworth again on 17 June (K. Hornby) and at How Wood, St Albans, on 19 June (C. Byrne).

There is also a report of a TREE PIPIT at 'Hatfield' on 13 June. Does anyone have any details of this record? I do not have any acceptable records of this species in Herts in 2009.

Also noticeable dearth of SPOTTED FLYCATCHER records in the county: I haven't seen one yet despite a lot of trying. Can you kindly email me ALL records of this species so that I can detail the precarious position this species currently holds in the county.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

MARSH WARBLER still singing this morning - further images

The singing male MARSH WARBLER is still present at Amwell this morning, singing frequently and showing occasionally. This collection of images was taken by Jonathan Lethbridge.

Monday, 22 June 2009


Skulking singing male MARSH WARBLER at Amwell NR on 21 June 2009 (Phil Bishop)
With the relocation of the Royal Tern in North Wales on Saturday afternoon, I was unfortunately otherwise engaged when Mike Ilett and others confirmed the presence of a singing MARSH WARBLER at Amwell that evening and it was not until this morning that I finally had the opportunity to see it (it had stopped singing when I arrived at 2100 hours last night).

As it was, I spent from 0930-1200 hours at the site this morning, during which time the bird was singing almost continuously and was showing well intermittently. I enjoyed several prolonged full-frame 'scope views as it sang from the large Willow bush. It is a very intriguing bird.

It has a rather slow-paced song, is rather quiet and subdued and does not have the typical repertoire of a singing Marsh Warbler (certainly not during the period I listened to it). The only recognisable mimicry was of Blue Tit and Barn Swallow but most concerning was its ability to repeat numerous phrases and loud sounds most typical of Blyth's Reed Warbler (although others have heard it mimicking Common Blackbird and other common species).

I was also most taken aback by its appearance. In cold light, it did appear very pale brown on the upperparts with a slightly paler rump but completely lacked any olive tones. It did not have any obvious whitish tips to the primaries but did have paler tips, identical in colour to the fraying at the edges of the flight feathers. Its legs were distinctly pink or pinkish-grey and the undersoles of the feet (clearly seen in the 'scope) did not appear to be bright yellow and the claws were dark. There was certainly no direct contrast. The bird also had a noticeable whitish eye-ring, a supercilium that extended behind the eye, the head was not particularly rounded and the bill was quite pointed and long (not blunt-tipped).

Certainly the primary projection (with 7 visible primary tips) indicated Marsh Warbler and eliminated Blyth's Reed Warbler but the inconsistency in other features perhaps indicated it was a first-summer bird. This may explain the song delivery and limited variability.

Throughout the observation period, the bird was singing from the Willow bush or from the thick vegetation adjacent, and often spent periods foraging on the ground. At no point, did the song revert to a Western Reed Warbler type, which has happened with 'Mead Warblers' in the past.

DETAILED DIRECTIONS: Take the A414 east from the A10 and at the first roundabout, take the B181 towards Stanstead Abbots. Crossing the small roundabout in the town, turn left before the railway on Amwell Lane and continue NW for just under a mile and park carefully on the right-hand side of the road at TQ 375 126. Follow the track NE to the railway crossing and 50 yards further on, drop down on to the canal towpath (west side of the canal) and walk NW towards Hardmead Lock. Continue for a further 350 yards until you reach a small bench about 150 yards before the main lock. Just before the bench is a gap in the hedgerow from where the obvious Willow bush can be viewed (at cTQ 373 132).


The Marsh Warbler is a very rare vagrant to Hertfordshire, with very few confirmed records - just six in fact. The first few records related to a crop of sightings around Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, in summer 1941 and 1942, followed by a host of claims including breeding at Rye Meads in 1960 and 1961. These records all appear to relate to misidentified Western Reed Warblers.

1) The first acceptable record relates to a singing male at Stockers Lake from 25 May until 4 June 1978 (John Magee et al; published record in British Birds 73: 23). This followed an almost certain singing male at the same site on 28 June 1976 (per Richard Drew).

2) One was trapped and ringed at Water End, Wheathampstead, on 8 June 1980 (Tom Kittle).

3) A male was singing from a Raspberry thicket at Northchurch early on 5 June 1988. It was trapped and ringed and remained present the following day (Johnne Taylor, John Marchant, et al)

4) A singing male present at Rye Meads from 22 May to 19 June 1993 had been ringed as a juvenile (Ring Number: H154925) at New Hythe GP on 23 July 1991 (Alan Harris et al, fully documented in 1993 Hertfordshire Bird Report on pages 178-179).

5) A singing male was present at King's Mead, Hertford, on 28-29 May 1994 (Graham White, Mike Ilett).

6) A singing male was present at Broxbourne GP from 30 May until 3 June (Steve Connors David Booth, et al). The bird was trapped and found to be previously ringed as an adult (Ring Number 3858928) on 26 July 1991 at Veurne, West Vlaanderen, in BELGIUM (Adam Wilson).

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A further QUAIL feast


A fine day but quite blustery, with moderate cloud cover and slightly below average temperatures. Dry.


*YELLOW WAGTAIL (2 adult males carrying food - presumably to nearby nests - from manure heap just north of Kirby Manor Farm, with a further male - again carrying food - on the 'Midden' manure piles at TL 262 420)
LESSER WHITETHROAT (singing male at Mobb's Hole)
CORN BUNTING ( singing male just north of Kirby Manor Farm - TL 263 425 - with another at the 'Midden')
REED BUNTING (singing male in cereal crop opposite Kirby Manor Farm)
Rook (243 at The Midden) Jackdaw (68 at The Midden)


A further 3 adult male YELLOW WAGTAILS busily gathering food and flying off into cereal crope.

WALLINGTON (HERTS) (1300-1600 hours)

Joined Dave Holman, Christine Stean, Baz Harding and others at the popular COMMON QUAIL site. Throughout the afternoon, up to SIX different males were calling from the barley and at 1545 hours, spectacular full 'scope views of one particular male was obtained as he stood right out in the open and threw back and forth his head calling loudly. A second bird also visited the track briefly. The birds really do see the track as their territorial border and seem happy to explore its virtues, frequently visiting it during the day to pronounce their presence. This really is an opportunity of a lifetime and exceptionally unusual for this generally highly secretive species.

A female MARSH HARRIER was also present in the area for her second day, along with a HOBBY, 5 Common Buzzards, 9+ CORN BUNTINGS, 15 Eurasian Skylarks, pair of Red-legged Partridge, 6 Barn Swallows, 3 Brown Hares and 2 playful Red Fox cubs.


A EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE was displaying along (and across) the Stort about half a mile west of the Harlow–Sawbridgeworth road this evening (Jan Hein Steenis)

Monday, 15 June 2009

More calling COMMON QUAILS

in addition to the birds along the track this evening there was 1 calling approx 200m along the road on the left as you head towards Wallington / 1 calling about halfway between A505 & Wallington on the left / 1 calling along the Icknield way from Wallington village.

So at least 6 calling birds in the area (including the 3 birds around the track) (Mike Ilett)

The Wonderful World of COMMON QUAILS

Wow, what an opportunity these birds are giving. Phil Bishop obtained these superb images at the weekend, up to three birds still regularly visiting the track to mark their territory boundaries.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

QUAILS photographed

Local birder Anthony Dorman did exceptionally well today in getting these two shots of 1 of the 3 COMMON QUAIL which were 'showing' at Baldock/Wallington today. The birds have been walking out on to the main track and showing well, despite the presence of birders. This really is a unique chance to see these incredibly secretive and skulking birds.


This evening with Steve Murray, Jason Chapman and others, the male COMMON NIGHTINGALE started singing at 2020 hours in Symondshyde Wood, in the roadside thicket at TL 199 103.

In the gravel workings opposite, an adult Little Grebe was feeding a single young bird, and two pairs of Coots were feeding two young apiece

Friday, 12 June 2009

Bishop's Stortford LITTLE OWL - magnificent images

Pictures of the Little Owl at Stortford Park Farm, Bishops Stortford this evening, showing well (for once) on the edges of both lawns on the South side of the house at 1900 Hrs

Easily my best of this species to date

Graeme J. Smith


A singing male COMMON NIGHTINGALE has been present in Coopers Green Lane for the past 30 days.

It is situated by Symondshyde Lane 50 yards from Coopers Green Lane, frequenting a dense thicket in Furze Field 100m from junction of Coopers Green Lane/Symondshyde Lane (Darin Stanley)

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Some torrential rain fell during the night leaving localised flooding. Once cleared, the day was clear and bright, with clear blue skies and average temperatures.

NEAR WALLINGTON (TL 269 342) (Hertfordshire)

Mark Hows and I and another local Beds birder enjoyed excellent views of a male COMMON QUAIL in flight this evening as it flew from the main track and out 85 yards into the barley crop. It started calling from just by the main track at about 1915 hours and continued again after it landed.

There are two calling males present at the site situated just south of the A505 Baldock bypass on the Wallington road. Park sensibly in the small laybys 200 yards along the road and follow the obvious footpath on the right for a further 150 yards. They were first heard on 6 June.

At least 9 CORN BUNTINGS were noted, as well as 15 Eurasian Skylarks, but there was no sign of the adult male MONTAGU'S HARRIER present for just ten minutes on Sunday 7 June (seen by both Darrell Bryant and Mike Ilett).


My first visit in a while. A quick inventory revealed the presence of the following -:

Great Crested Grebe (14 adults including a pair with two small stripy young up against the central bank)
Mute Swan (9)
Canada Geese (11 adults)
Greylag Goose (22 adults and 17 well-grown goslings)
Mallard (62 mainly eclipse drakes)
EURASIAN WIGEON (two drakes remain, one now in eclipse plumage)
Gadwall (2 pairs)
*SHOVELER (pair near hide; scarce in summer)
*NORTHERN POCHARD (successful breeding - female with two small young; additional 17 adults including 5 females)
Tufted Duck (36)
RED-CRESTED POCHARD (adult drake still present in NW corner, bleached by wear on crown - found by Steve Rodwell on Sunday 7 June)
Coots (311 including 163 huddled together in a very tight mass on the Drayton Bank)

Black-headed Gull (1 adult)
COMMON TERNS (large gathering towards dusk of 88 birds, with a further 11 sat on the rafts)

HOBBY (4 hunting over Drayton Bank)


Highlight here was a calling male COMMON CUCKOO from fenceposts on the south side.

Also present were adult Great Crested Grebe, first-summer Mute Swan, 10 Tufted Ducks and 5 Common Swifts