Friday, 17 July 2009

Unusual midsummer BLACK TERN occurrence


Following a night of heavy downpours, the day continued in the same vein, with some torrential rain giving rise to localised flooding. With south/SE winds, temperatures held up well at around 19 degrees C.

WENDOVER FOREST (BUCKS) (1030-1140 hours)

Following a call from David Bilcock, I made my way straight over to the main car park at Wendover Woods (at SP 886 100) where, during a break in the wet weather, I eventually located the COMMON CROSSBILL flock. They initially appeared from the west, flew along the valley 'jipping' loudly and landed in tall coniferous trees SE of the tea rooms and 100 yards east of the 'Go Ape' activity complex. The flock comprised of a total of 23 birds, including 9 red males (DB managed a shot of one male, see above). The flock fed for a very short time but then flew off towards Aston Hill (and are very likely the same flock that RDA recorded a few days ago).

The car park area also held 15 COAL TITS (including numerous youngsters) and 4 COMMON TREECREEPERS

NOTE: parking costs £5 per day, £3 half day or £1 per hour


The heavy downpours have resulted in a major increase in the water level, with the central ridge almost submerged again. The best mud is to the right of the Drayton Bank Hide. Disappointingly, the only new wader to arrive was a juvenile Little Ringed Plover, although Dave and Roy had seen three Black-tailed Godwits fly east.

Great Crested Grebes (18 present including the juvenile again)
[LITTLE EGRET - 2 juveniles together by the hide briefly late morning - DB]
Gadwall (7)
Lapwing (82)
*LITTLE RINGED PLOVER ('new' juvenile on ridge in front of hide)
COMMON SANDPIPER (1 remaining on bunds)
[GREEN SANDPIPER - 1 by hide - DB]
[ICELANDIC BLACK-TAILED GODWITS - 3 adults flew east at 0650 hours - DB]
Black-headed Gull (42)
Common Tern (51 including 23 juveniles, mostly now fending for themselves)
SAND MARTINS (major increase in the rain with 104 feeding low over the reservoir)


Against the odds, my local COMMON SWIFT population seems to have fared well this summer, with a screaming party of 21 birds (including recently fledged juveniles) flying low over the garden.

VERULAMIUM PARK, ST ALBANS (1630-1800 hours)

After Tim Hill's initial message to RBA, Joan Thompson and I made our way to the park. Tim had discovered a moulting adult BLACK TERN - an exceptional record for the site and an unusual county record in mid July, and although the bird was still showing well when JT arrived, I failed to locate it in a complete circuit of the site 20 minutes later.

An adult RED KITE in heavy wing and tail moult circled the lake from 1615-1625, whilst 33 Common Swifts were wheeling over the city.

Thankfully, JT relocated the BLACK TERN and after I eventually came off the phone after discussing the merits and identification of a 'Lesser' Golden Plover in North Norfolk, I walked the 250 yards back from the car park and connected. It was an interesting bird and had already moulted its forehead feathers and was equally gleaming white on the chin, throat and upper breast. From mid-breast to vent, it still retained its sooty black of breeding plumage, but this was starting to break up. The undertail coverts were white, with both the rump and upperwings pale grey and contrasting with the darker grey mantle and back. The wings were in surprisingly good condition with little sign of wear; all of the primaries and primary coverts were intact. The outer four primaries were blacker grey.

This was a remarkable record for such a suburban park, with people, particularly children, literally everywhere. However, despite the apparent disturbance, evidence of breeding waterbirds was everywhere.

For example, of 115 Coots present, 22 were juveniles, whilst female Tufted Ducks were accompanying broods of 7, 7 and 2 respectively. A female MANDARIN DUCK was also present, whilst another surprising sighting was of a COMMON SANDPIPER on the island.

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