Friday, 7 August 2009

A SHAG in August - not bloody likely

Two juvenile EUROPEAN SHAGS with Continental Cormorant, Drayton Bank, Wilstone Reservoir, 7 August 2009 (Dave Bilcock)
Common Greenshank - one of four individuals by hide today on Wilstone Reservoir (Dave Bilcock)

Another very wet night slowly clearing from the south during the morning. By early afternoon, the sun had broken through, giving rise to hot sunshine during the afternoon and evening and clearer skies as the pressure increased.

For me, it was another red-letter day, full of surprises and some exceptional rares. Choosing bird of the day is a dilemma but I have to go for the SANDERLING - a bird I see less than annually in Hertfordshire. Other highlights included a bumper bag of BLACK TERNS along with a vagrant WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN, an adult LITTLE TERN, a juvenile MEDITERRANEAN GULL and an exceptional 3 EURASIAN SHAGS.

(1145-1236 hours)

Whilst on the causeway at Staines, Joan Thompson 'phoned a couple of times to inform me of an odd wader Steve Blake had located on the sandy spit at 0945. Steve had identified it as a juvenile Sanderling and Joan had got to him within the hour and reidentified it as a Little Stint. Knowing that either species would be a good county bird, I made my way straight over, battling with the M25 roadworks between Junctions 16 and 19 for over half an hour.

I eventually pulled up at the Fisherman's Car Park at 1145 and after crossing the conveyor belt and walking the 45 yards to the bridge, joined JT, Steve and Alan Gardiner. The mystery wader was on the end of the sandy spit and showing well and was an adult SANDERLING that had largely moulted most of its summer plumage. It was gleaming white below apart from some feather remnants of a breast band, with some pale orange feathers on the lores and face. The upperparts were quite strongly patterned and variegated, with pale grey scapulars and an assortment of dark chocolate/black feathers on the coverts and mantle. There was a hint of an eye-stripe and pale forehead and distinct black legs and stout, short, black bill. It ran about like a clockwork toy and was constantly harassed by the Black-headed Gulls, frequently taking to flight and revealing a broad white wingbar and paler greater covert area.

The bird continued to show well for the next half hour and was still present when I left the site at 1236. It represented the first and only Sanderling in the county this year and my first since the adult I found at Tyttenhanger on 13 August 2005 (see below for a full summary of county Sanderlings 1974-2007)

The spit also held 3 GREEN SANDPIPERS and 2 COMMON SANDPIPERS and as I scanned through the large flock of (326) Black-headed Gulls I first found a moulting adult BLACK TERN and then an alighting very recently fledged juvenile MEDITERRANEAN GULL. Good views were afforded of both birds as they sat and preened. There were also 11 Common Terns on the spit.

A very nice escaped juvenile White-cheeked Pintail was with Mallards in front of the Willows on the spit and 2 juvenile Great Crested Grebes were being fed by their parents.


Whilst checking Luton Hoo Lake for yesterday's Ruddy Shelduck pair, I received a text from Graham Smith informing me of two probable Shags at Wilstone Reservoir. Drawing a complete blank on anything worthwhile in the park, I phoned Steve Rodwell and was astounded when he told me that he was currently watching the Shags and that there were in fact three birds. Early August Shags I thought - ridiculous claim - but like many odd records of this species before including the juvenile I saw only last year at Calvert BBOWT in early autumn - Steve convinced not only himself but me that he wasn't seeing things. I raced straight over.

By the time I arrived (1325), a crowd had already gathered - with SR, GS, Mike Campbell, Chris Deary, and Stuart Wilson already in situ. Roy Hargreaves beat me by just eight steps and as we scanned back between the car park and the jetty, there they were - an unbelievable 3 EUROPEAN SHAGS. Two were clearly this year's juveniles and the other was an older bird, probably a second-summer. They were incredibly mobile, moving quickly from the far east bank, to the jetty and then out to the middle. One particular juvenile came incredibly close, allowing Mike Campbell to hit the 'go' button on his camcorder and get some excellent video footage. The close bird allowed for a detailed description at 35 yards - dark chocolate-brown upperparts, with a tad paler upperwings, with some creamy-brown tips to the mantle feathers and on the wing-coverts. The underparts were uniform pale brown but contrasting with a glaring white throat patch. The bill was bright yellow at the base of both mandibles and then pale lime for the length of the bill - this pale lime colour being the same as on the orbital ring of the glazed eye.

The other juvenile was paler-tipped on the wing-coverts but otherwise identical whilst the older bird was very dark on the upperparts and bronzed green, with a darker throat and more typical adult-type features.

All three birds remained on view for the next 20 minutes allowing further arrivals like Johnne Taylor and Rob Norris an opportunity to see them, but then just two juveniles seemed to be showing, one of which hauled itself out on to the central rocks and dried its wings out. This allowed an excellent comparison with the much larger 6 Continental Cormorants alongside.

This was a totally unique and bizarre occurrence considering not one European Shag was recorded elsewhere inland in Britain today.

Also new in today were 4 COMMON GREENSHANKS, feeding with the two remaining GREEN SANDPIPERS on the mud to the right of the hide throughout the afternoon (Chris Deary et al). Chris also watched a MARSH HARRIER fly east over Wilstone late morning.

The moulting adult BLACK TERN from last night was still present, along with 32 Common Terns, the juvenile MEDITERRANEAN GULL was seen again (Robert Norris) and 2 adult COMMON GULLS were on the spit.

Two COMMON SANDPIPERS remained on the bunds, whilst 15 Shoveler, the drake Wigeon, 4 Common Teal and the LITTLE EGRET was still present.

Whilst Rob N, Graham and I looked skyward in the hope of another migrant raptor, 7 moulting adult RED KITES drifted slowly north over the reservoir as the temperature reached 22 degrees C, with a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, several Common Buzzards, 32 COMMON SWIFTS and 11 Barn Swallows being encountered.


It was then time again to revisit Tyttenhanger, where Simon West had discovered a LITTLE TERN roosting on the end of the spit on the main pit at 1544. I returned to find Steve Blake, Ricky Flesher and Simon on site and the LITTLE TERN - an adult largely in breeding plumage - still sat there, in amongst 18 Common Terns. It afforded excellent views before it was disturbed at 1629 and flew high west. This was my first ever Little Tern at Tyttenhanger and my first ever county bird in August.

A COMMON REDSHANK had also newly arrived since my last visit in the early afternoon, whilst the adult SANDERLING was still present and feeding voraciously on the end of the spit and the moulting adult BLACK TERN was still in the roost.

And that was it - an exceptional August day. Well done Steve Blake, Steve Rodwell and Simon West.

Sanderling is a rare passage visitor to the county with just 105 individuals recorded since 1970 (a 40-year span) including 32 during 1970-79, 27 from 1980-89, 30 between 1990 and 1999 and just 16 since 2000.

1970: 1 - a bird at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 30 December.

1971: none recorded

1972: none recorded

1973: an exceptional year with 13 recorded (3 in spring with 1 at Tring Reservoirs on 7 May followed by 2 at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 16 May and 10 in autumn, with birds at Tring Reservoirs on 10 August, 4 on 23 September and singles on 7, 13 and 20 October and 2 at Hilfield on 24 November)

1974: 2 - 2 at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 8 May

1975: none recorded

1976: another exceptional year with 13 recorded (12 in spring at Tring Reservoirs with singles on 6 and 11-12 May, 7 on 13 May, 1 on 16 May and 1-2 from 21-26 May and a juvenile in autumn on 27 August)

1977: 1 - a single at Rye Meads on the unusual date of 17 April.

1978: 2 - singles at Tring Reservoirs on 3 May and at Hilfield on 9 May.

1979: none recorded

1980: none recorded

1981: none recorded

1982: 1 - a single at Tring Reservoirs on 10 May

1983: 1 - a single at Hilfield on 21 April.

1984: 9 recorded (1 over Wilstone on 21 May, 5 in Pitstone Quarry on 22 May, 2 at Tring Sewage Farm on 22 May and a late bird at Amwell GP on 14 November.

1985: 6 birds, with breeding-plumaged adults at Hilfield on 19 May (2) and 1 June (2) and at Tring Reservoirs on 21 May (2).

1986: 2 - one was at Tyttenhanger GP on 6 May and another at Tring Reservoirs on 19 October.

1987: 6 recorded with one at Tyttenhanger GP on 23 May, 4 there on 24 May and another at Amwell GP on 25 May

1988: 2 - singles were seen at Tyttenhanger GP on 8 May and Aldenham Reservoir on 9 May.

1989: none recorded

1990: 1 - an adult in full breeding plumage was at Beech Farm GP on 16 July

1991: yet another influx of 13 birds (singles were at Tring Reservoirs on 18 and 29 May and Amwell GP on 24 May, 2 at Tyttenhanger GP on 24 and 30 May and a flock of 6 at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 26 May.

1992: none recorded

1993: 1 - at Tyttenhanger GP on 24 May.

1994: 4 - 4 at Hollingson Meads on 23 May.

1995: none recorded

1996: 8 recorded with 1 at Tyttenhanger GP on 4 February, 2 there on 10 May and singles at Hilfield Park on 12 May, Westmill Quarry on 13 May, Tring Reservoirs on 14 May and Tyttenhanger on 19 May. At the end of the year, a short-staying bird was at Amwell GP on 8 December.

1997: none recorded

1998: 2 - singles in spring at Amwell GP on 16-17 May and Hollingson Meads GP on 24 May.

1999: 1 - at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 31 May.

2000: 1 - a mobile individual at Tring Reservoirs on 5 May.

2001: 1 - at Hilfield on 14 May.

2002: 3 - 3 over Hilfield on 25 March - a very unusual date.

2003: none recorded

2004: 3 - Hilfield on 12 May, Wilstone Reservoir on 23 May and a juvenile at Tyttenhanger GP on 30 October.

2005: 1 - an adult at Tyttenhanger GP on 13 August

2006: 5 - a flock of 4 at Tyttenhanger GP on 15 May and a twitchable adult on the Hilfield dam from 19-21 May.

2007: NO DATA

2008: 1 - 1 flew through Wilstone Reservoir with 7 Dunlin on 17 April.

2009: 1

No comments:

Post a Comment