Monday, 28 September 2009

LEACH'S PETREL at Wilstone Reservoir - the 20th county record

A LEACH'S PETREL flew in to Wilstone Reservoir just after 1435 hours this afternoon, where it was visible from the Drayton Bank Hide, flying over the northern section of the reservoir between the car park steps and the central bank. Unfortunately I was returning from Cornwall at the time (on the M5) and was on route for a special rendezvous in South Warwickshire, where an Aquatic Warbler was on the menu.

I immediately texted DB, SR and MW, phoned BAM to talk to him direct and of course spoke to Joan. JT had very kindly informed RBA so information had quickly gone ''national''.

The bird, most likely that seen and photographed at Stewartby Lake (Bedfordshire) on Saturday 26 (Peter Smith et al, 12th county record) just 15 miles away as the petrel flies, after being jostled by Black-headed Gulls, quickly relocated to the deeper water at the eastern end of Wilstone, where it was best viewed from the jetty on the east bank. A procession of local birding visitors were rewarded with excellent views throughout the afternoon and evening, Ben Miller obtaining the excellent photograph reproduced above. In the main, it just sat quietly on the water, avoiding attracting unwanted attentions, but occasionally took to the air and was immediately mobbed by all and sundry. It remained present right into darkness, and was still present as all light faded into gloom at 1945 (SR, DB).

Leach's Petrels inland in Britain are incredibly rarely ever seen at the same site on a second day so chances of it being present tomorrow morning (sadly, the first opportunity I will get to search for it) are very remote indeed.

Previous Leach's Petrels in Hertfordshire

Leach's Petrel is a rare vagrant to Hertfordshire with today's bird representing only the 20th occurrence. It is only the fifth record for Tring Reservoirs.

The very first county record was in December 1823 when one was 'obtained' (per Yarrell 1825) followed by a second shot dead in a field at Croxley Green on 26 September 1896 (published in Trans Herts Natural History Society XIV: 78). Another was then found dead in the county at Cassiobury Park, Watford, in late November 1905 following a severe winter storm and another arrived in similar circumstances at Poynders End, Hitchin, on 12 November 1931 (British Birds XXV: 229).

In more modern times, there was a large 'wreck' of Leach's Petrels in Britain in autumn 1952 (Boyd 1954 in Ibis XLVII: 137-63) and no fewer than three individuals were found in Hertfordshire: picked up by a cat in Hemel Hempstead on 30 October; found alive at Royston on 31 October and found dead in Bishop's Stortford on 1 November. It was then a further eleven years before another was found - flying low north over the lagoons at Rye Meads at 1515 hours on 21 September 1963.

The following year, Tring Reservoirs recorded its first sighting with a bird on Wilstone on 22 November 1964, whilst the tenth record involved a bird found dead in Stevenage on 19 October 1969.

11-12) Two birds were recorded in 1977 with an extremely unusual sighting at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 8 May 1977 (Barry Goater) and a more typical occurrence at Startop's End Reservoir on 15 November (BTO);

13) One was found alive at St Michaels School, Stevenage, at 0700 hours on 14 December 1978 (R.A.Smith) but subsequently died and is now mounted in Stevenage Museum;

14) The first twitchable individual in the county was that at Stanstead Abbots Gravel Pits on 3 October 1982 (D.Carr, Alan Harris, John Redwood, et al);

15) One was at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 3 September 1983 (Colin Bushell);

16) One was at Cheshunt GP on 25 November 1984 (the late Rupert Hastings, S.Middleton, T.Robson);

17) A corpse was found in a copse near Puckeridge on 9 September 1986 and is now in the collection of Letchworth Museum (per Pete Walton);

18) One was at Wilstone Reservoir on 7 September 1990 from 1700 hours until dusk (Andrew Moon);

19) A bird over the lake at Hertingfordbury end of Panshanger Park on 17 September 2005 (Scott Poynter);

20) A rare opportunity to connect with this ultra-rare seabird came on 6 December 2006 when Mike Campbell discovered an individual on Startop's End Reservoir. It remained all day and was eventually enjoyed by over 45 observers).

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