Wednesday, 21 April 2010

GROPPER at last, more LITTLE GULLS but a near-miss MARSH HARRIER - LGRE Diary Notes

Reeling Grasshopper Warblers (Steve Arlow)


Another light frost overnight and another day of cool NW winds, although these slackened off to almost nothing by dusk. Clear and blue throughout, with bright sunshine, temperatures climbing to 13 degrees C.

It was another bumper day locally, particularly for scarce waders, with the larger species battling their way into the wind. On the downside, I dipped another Marsh Harrier, but on the positive, bagged a nice PIED AVOCET......

(0700-0800 hours)

Failed to meet the dawn commitments with Roy and Dave B so hence missed the Whimbrel that roosted overnight on Wilstone and flew off strongly east at 0618 hours (and most likely relocated further NE in Bedfordshire).

However, just as I drove over the canal bridge from Tring, Ben Miller texted to say that he had just found another LITTLE GULL, this time on Marsworth. Within minutes I was watching it and yet again, another individual in a very confusing state of plumage. It had a patchy black head and all dark bill, pale grey underwings with some dark mottling on the underwing coverts and all white upperwings, so presumably an adult in transitional plumage or a near adult. It also had the salmon-pink flush to the underparts and as it showed well, it flew between both the Bucks and Herts sections of the reservoir.

Acting on news provided by Warren Claydon and Steve Rodwell, I was extremely pleased to finally connect with a reeling GRASSHOPPER WARBLER - my first of the year. The bird was showing extremely well perched high on top of grasses in the rough field adjoining the sewage works and sang from 0720 until at least 0755 hours.

The number of SEDGE WARBLERS in the Marsworth Reedbeds had also greatly increased with a minimum of 11 singing males, whilst CETTI'S WARBLERS numbered 3, a 'new' singing male WILLOW WARBLER was located (by the sewage works) and two singing male COMMON WHITETHROATS had arrived, again both in the vicinity of the works.

The only other birds of note were a pair of Shoveler on the Sewage Farm lagoon and a Common Redshank that flew over west calling (whilst Ben saw the first-year Little Ringed Plover that had earlier been roosting on Wilstone jetty)..


As Ben had checked College Lake, I gave it a miss and headed straight for the Chiltern escarpment. It was freezing up there and although the sun was shining, the fresh NW wind kept activity by migrants to a minimum. Just 1 female NORTHERN WHEATEAR remained present on the SE Beacon Hill slope and a single LESSER REDPOLL flew east. Five male COMMON WHITETHROATS were still between the S bend and the penultimate Beacon peak but best of all was a crippling male GRASSHOPPER WARBLER reeling from a small bush left (west) of the main track up to the trig point, on the upper reaches of the SW slope. The bird was singing right out in the open with its throat and head reverberating with the strange action of its reeling and its beak wide open. It was still singing at 0820 hours.


A party of 4 House Sparrows was in the hedgerow opposite the farm shop. I was joined by Jim Middleton at the top of the steps (he had been on site early enough to witness the Whimbrel) and over the next half hour recorded 1 LITTLE GULL (the relocating bird from Marsworth), an impressive 6 COMMON SANDPIPERS on the algae bunds, 15 Common Terns and the Common Redshank I had seen earlier now roosting on the East reservoir bank.

Other migrants included 1 COMMON SWIFT, 242+ SAND MARTINS, 22 HOUSE MARTINS, 58 Swallows and a singing male Blackcap in trees opposite the car park.

More familiar species noted included -:

Great Crested Grebes (12)
Grey Heron (25 active nests on the Drayton Bank)
Continental Cormorant (9 active nests in the two main trees on the Drayton Bank)
Mute Swan (just 2 present, both apparent cobs)
Gadwall (19)
Shoveler (5)
Tufted Duck (127)
Northern Pochard (3 drakes)
Coot (64 counted, with several pairs actively nest-building)

Mistle Thrush (pair gathering food on the bank by the car park)

A41 (BUCKS) - Sadly, yet another dead Badger, this one lying on the southbound carriageway near Tinker's Lodge at SP 956 095

........Just as I was skirting Stewartby, Steve Rodwell 'phoned to say that a female MARSH HARRIER was lingering at Wilstone. Frustratingly, I was stuck in the traffic of the A 421 roadworks, but after taking the back route through Lidlington, Flitwick and Toddington, made good headway. Dave Bilcock phoned to say that the bird was showing again at 1840 hours, quartering the reedbed, and I had high hopes. However, just as I entered Wilstone village, the harrier chose that minute to continue its migration, and charged off high to the north. I had missed it by literally minutes.........

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