WEDNESDAY 3 FEBRUARY (LEE EVANS DIARY NOTES)
Grey skies predominated, with temperatures peaking at 7 degrees C late afternoon. The forecast rain, sleet or snow never materialised. MERLIN and WATER RAIL were my two target birds of the day, with both excelling in their appearance............
Returned once more to the stubble and purposefully seeded fields immediately west of Stotfold, mainly with the goal of connecting with Merlin. Took Steve Blain's advice and got there early and waited, waited and waited.
Although the Skylark flock was still in the 270 bracket, the number of CORN BUNTINGS on site is diminishing daily. My highest click-counter tally this morning was of just 452 birds, a marked decline in numbers. Yellowhammers had disappeared also.
The only raptor noted was the regular Common Kestrel but alas after three cold hours of searching, the Merlin did not put in an appearance........
Taking the kind advice of Arlesey patch workers, I then decided to try my luck in the large stubble fields straddling the village and the Blue Lagoon. Quite a few Yellowhammers and Redwings were found but still no Merlin. Frustrating or what !
Whilst in Arlesey, I took full advantage of a visit to the River Hiz, a relatively shallow river forking off the River Ivel. I walked a 600-yard stretch of river, starting just short of the Amenity Tree Nursery and continuing north on the marked footpath. This truly is a wonderful place to observe, study and photograph WATER RAILS. They were easy here, and I saw four different individuals relatively easily, one parallel to the disabled parking area and then three on the section between the north end of the nursery perimeter fence and the wooden bridge over the river.
The riverside walk also produced 3 Moorhens, 2 Wrens, 5 Song Thrushes, 8 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare.
DIRECTIONS: See map below. In Arlesey village, take Mill Lane across the traffic light-controlled railway bridge and turn immediately right. Park sensibly by the houses and follow the public footpath up the east side of the River Hiz alongside the tree nursery from TL 189 359 to TL 189 368.
WALLINGTON (HERTFORDSHIRE): 50 Fieldfare in roadside field
SANDON AREA (HERTFORDSHIRE)
Driving along the Rushden road, I stopped off at suitable vantage points and was delighted to finally track down a MERLIN - my first of the year (species 161). Remarkably, it was sitting on top of a partridge-feeding silo, adjacent to a hedgerow, and adjacent to a game strip. It was a beautiful male and sat there from at least 1227 to when it finally flew at 1258 hours. The game strip lies between the Bury Barns and the Rushden road at cTL 300 356. A single male Eurasian Sparrowhawk was also patrolling the game strip, whilst a party of 8 Long-tailed Tits actually mobbed the Merlin for a short while.
A pair of GREY PARTRIDGE performed well, with a flock of 33 Eurasian Skylark and a single Linnet seen, whilst Brown Hares were abundant in the area, with at least 40 encountered on various scans.
At Heath Farm on the Kelshall road, 98 Rooks had gathered, with 28 Feral Pigeons on the silo roofs, 16 Fieldfares and 12 House Sparrows (8 males) in the garden there. A Common Buzzard was nearby, and a further small group of 8 Eurasian Skylarks. A Red Fox was also seen well.
Conversely, the Reed area, either side of the A10, was largely devoid of birds, with just three Common Buzzards noted. What a difference a year makes.
BROXBOURNE WOODS (HERTFORDSHIRE)
Thanks to Alan Reynolds, I was able to spend an enjoyable 90 minutes in Broxbourne Woods connecting with birds. Parking up at the Broxbourne Woods (West) car park at TL 324 071 (this is the usual Purple Emperor/White Admiral car park), I followed the very muddy track (wellingtons essential) NE, passing all of the areas currently being regenerated and forested. The track drops down into a dip and then up again and after 700 yards from the car park reaches a bench and a deep ditch. Traversing the ditch brings one into a mixed area of Pine, Spruce, Larch and Cypress known as Cowheath Wood and it was here that I quickly located COMMON CROSSBILL (3 birds, very vocal, in the tall introduced Pines at TL 334 077), SISKIN (8 birds), Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Goldcrest and 5 Coal Tits. Most delightful was a fabulous WOODCOCK, trying to conceal itself with camouflage at the edge of a track through the Silver Birches.
My only disappointment was failing to locate Marsh Tits, even at their stronghold at Brambles Wood. Oh well, something for another day.....
WARNING: Be very careful in Broxbourne Woods West car park. There are several stumps in the car park that have been cut low and are very misleading. I managed to get my car completely stuck on top of one and could not move. It took me the best part of an hour to get off of it and only by constantly jacking up the car and pushing it back a short distance.