Monday, 31 May 2010


The first-summer RED-FOOTED FALCON is still patrolling over Wilstone Reservoir (per Ben Miller) whilst what is presumably last year's returning female HEN HARRIER was seen today near Wallington, flying across the road towards Sandon (Mike Ilett)

Saturday, 29 May 2010

....And more images taken of both birds in flight

Andrew Moon obtained these excellent shots of the adult male RED-FOOTED FALCON at Wilstone Reservoir and Simon West those of the first-summer male below.
Only the latter was seen today.

Friday, 28 May 2010

New images arrive of the adult male RED-FOOT - taken by Tring regular Ian Williams

Incredulously, a second RED-FOOT


It rained overnight and was still damp and dreary this morning. Wind remained in the NNW, with temperatures much cooler than of late, but as the day progressed, conditions became brighter and the sun came out and much of the cloud was blown away.

Incredulously, visiting Wiltshire birder Nigel Pleass located a SECOND Red-footed Falcon at Wilstone Reservoir this afternoon, the two birds performing well right up until dusk.......


Being away from the area all day, I returned to the reservoirs this evening (from 1900-2100 hours), where I joined Warren Claydon, Graham Smith, Mike & Rose Collard, JT, Brendan Glynne, Peter MacDonald, Steve & Vicky and others on the jetty. Both male RED-FOOTED FALCONS were present and showing reasonably well, flying back and forth over the reedbed as far west as the Drayton Bank, associating with 8 HOBBIES, one of which was a worn first-summer - a rarity in itself.

The 'new' Red-foot was a first-summer male and much harder to differentiate from the Hobbies than the adult male. In fact, it was very impressive of Nigel (a Scilly regular and a very good friend of mine) to have picked it out. Although all of the structural features of the adult were also apparent with this bird (less pointed wings, longer tail, etc), significantly it lacked the silvery-grey primaries of the adult. The grey upperparts were very much suffused with browner feathers, making it rather dingy and Hobby-like, whilst the underwings were strongly barred, as were the undertail feathers and outer uppertail feathers. Once again, the rufous thighs and undertail coverts were obvious, and much of the body feathering had advanced to bluish-grey. The bare part coloration was also very similar to that of the adult.

It is remarkable how long these Red-foots are spending feeding, as the majority of UK vagrants generally sit around for most of the day. Not once did either male rest this evening, constantly feeding on insects on the wing, frequently transferring captured items from the feet to the bill in active flight.

Also this evening, an adult summer schinzii DUNLIN flew around several times trying to land (presumably Dave and Roy's bird from this morning), whilst COMMON SWIFT numbers were estimated at an amazing 2,200 individuals.

The pair of Shoveler were still present, a pair of Great Crested Grebes with 3-4 small young, 13 Mute Swans, 2 first-summer Black-headed Gulls, the calling COMMON CUCKOO again, Green Woodpecker and 15 House Martins.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

MEGA - Adult male RED-FOOTED FALCON at Tring Reservoirs


Well, one major change in weather. After basking in temperatures of 84 degrees fahrenheit at the weekend, today was often like winter again. Temperatures had tumbled and the wind had veered from light easterly to fresh northerly.

Overnight I had decided to travel to Suffolk to see Golden Orioles at Lakenheath RSPB and so departed Little Chalfont very early to be in position shortly after dawn. Although I enjoyed crippling views of a male in Trial Wood not long after 0700 hours, whilst waiting for it to reappear, I heard the astounding news that Roy Hargreaves had glimpsed a male Red-footed Falcon by Rushy Meadow at the back of Tring Reservoirs around 0725 hours. I was well and truly gripped off and although I had managed to see the 70 Acres female Red-footed Falcon of 2008 just inside Hertfordshire, being so close to home was mighty annoying...................

(1015-2100 hours)

As soon as Dave Bilcock phoned to say that he had seen the Red-footed Falcon again at 0815 hours, Alan Stewart and I made the decision to head straight back to Hertfordshire. At the same time, I made sure I contacted the keenest of the Tring birding circuit (Steve Rodwell and others), as well as RBA and other birders elsewhere in Hertfordshire (JT, Frossy, Alan Reynolds, et al). DB had seen the bird briefly over the trees and reedbed in the far SW corner and as more and more people joined in the search, Steve Rodwell eventually relocated it flying towards the Dry Canal and Miswell Lane at 0940. In fact, it had flown and settled on a fencepost just 50 yards east of the canal bridge in Drayton Beauchamp village (in Buckinghamshire) and as DB, Ben Miller, Mick Frosdick, JT and RH arrived at the scene, it remained for about five minutes before taking flight once more. DB typically obtained shots of the bird as it sat there, utilising his mobile phone (see images above).

The bird then flew down towards Wilstone Reservoir where it was quickly picked up flying over the Drayton Bank and as the weather greatly improved, it started feeding over the reservoir flying back and forth. Many more birders then connected and with a return drive time of just over 80 minutes, Alan and I arrived in the car park at 1015.

We were very lucky indeed, as with clearing skies and warm sunshine, the bird was still present and hawking back and forth over the Drayton Bank. It was often flying very high and was associating with up to 6 Hobbies and followed a well rehearsed circuit. It was presumably feeding on flies and perhaps the odd Dragonfly and could easily be viewed from the bank at the top of the steps up from the car park. Being mad keen to add it to my Buckinghamshire List, I kept a constant vigil on its whereabouts, before eventually dropping off to sleep (after three hours of waiting). During this time, some 45 birders arrived and succeeded, including Brendan Glynne, Bob Chalkley, Lol Carman, Cliff Tack, Johnne Taylor, Warren Claydon, Mike & Rose Collard, Chaz Jackson, Martin Parr, Steve Blake, Mike Ilett, and many of the regulars.

At 1410 hours, Adam Bassett and others caught sight of it robbing a male Common Kestrel of its prey - a Field Vole - and after successfully snatching it, flew with it in its talons to one of the Ash trees just 50 yards west of the main car park. Seeing Adam beckoning, Alan and I and those others present hastily made our way over to him and the sight that beheld was hardly believable. The Red-footed Falcon was sat just 20 yards above on a branch and devouring its meal - absolutely awesome. It completely filled my entire 'scope view. I could see each and every fine detail of plumage, including that of the wings and tail, and could see its pale claws and dark brown iris. It was breathtaking.

Alan raced off to get his camera whilst AB, JT, Alan Reynolds, Mike Hirst, Geoff Young, Andy Grimsey, Peter Leigh and I obtained some exceptional views at remarkably close range. It took 20 minutes for the entire Field Vole to be eaten, and that included the tail and the feet - the period also allowing Alan to rattle off over 40 images.

With such crippling views being afforded, I was finally able to be confident about ageing the bird, with the lack of any barring on the underwing and the complete dark tail confirming an adult male.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: A small falcon, very similar in size to the accompanying Hobbies but more rounded at the primary tips and broader based in the wing, and slightly longer in the tail. In active flight, the Red-foot flew on faster wing-beats, with more pronounced upstrokes and deeper downstrokes than the tighter, more powerful and stiffer action of the Hobby flight actions. The bird was very uniform grey above, with a noticeably dark underwing, a paler grey body and a very contrasting black upper tail. It had striking pale silvery-grey outer primaries and deep rufous ventral region. When perched, it was very long-winged, and at such close range, I noticed that the iris was dark brown, the claws were very pale and the cere, orbital skin and feet were reddish-orange. Not only was the cere this colour but also the base of the bill.

In flight, the innermost primary of the right wing was either broken or missing but otherwise the bird was in immaculate condition, with just some abrasion on the tail and some light wear on the outer primaries. There was no evidence from what I could see of any retained barred juvenile remiges and the tail at close quarters appeared all-black. With such obvious silvery primaries, first-summer could quite easily be ruled out and with no obvious barring anywhere, the likelihood of an advanced 2nd-summer was also discounted. The vent, thighs and undertail-coverts were contrastingly rufous-red in colour, with the rest of the underparts, uniform dark bluish-grey. The upperparts were also bluish-grey, apart from the uppertail coverts and tail which were black. Whilst perched, I could see that the primaries were wearing somewhat browner towards the outers but in general were uniform dark grey, whilst in flight, these flight feathers and outer secondaries were silvery grey.

Comparing with Dick Forsman's collection of images depicted in the 1999 edition of his Raptor Field Identification Handbook, the bird was virtually identical to those depicted as adult males in Plates 585 and 586 - pages 467-468.

The bird sat in the Ash tree by the car park for 20 minutes before flying back out towards the Drayton Bank, where it instantly resumed flycatching, despite having an obvious full crop. It then continued this pattern of behaviour for the next four hours before finally flying off high to the west mid-evening. At this time, it again flew towards the bridge in Drayton Beauchamp but doubled back and eventually perched in a tall tree in the meadow at the back of the hide. On a number of occasions, the bird entered Buckinghamshire airspace but refused to settle there and never perched. This proved frustrating.

Alan and I continued watching the bird well into the evening when the weather changed for the worse, bringing heavy cloud, some light rain and much cooler conditions. It continued to feed over the Drayton Bank until at least 2100 hours when we left, and over the 11 hours of observation, it only rested on four occasions, quite exceptional for this species.

During the course of the afternoon and evening, a further 55 observers visited, including Graham Smith, Darrel Bryant, Neil Bostock, Neil Fletcher, Andrew Moon, Nic Hallam, Paul Hackett, Jenny Wallington, Rob Andrews and Darin Stanley.

Other Species Noted Today

Great Crested Grebe (12 - SR had seen families of four and one young respectively)
Continental Cormorant (at least 11 active nests, all with young, some with 3 youngsters)
LITTLE EGRET (1 roosted on the Drayton Bank)
Grey Heron (some fledged young and many more being fed in the Drayton Bank nests)
Mute Swan (pair with 3 surviving cygnets - originally 5 strong)
Greylag & Atlantic Canada Geese
*COMMON SHELDUCK (pair present in evening which later flew off west into Bucks)
Gadwall (8)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (3 drakes still present and at least one female)
NORTHERN POCHARD (at least 10 still present)
Tufted Duck (33)
Red Kites (10+, including a party of 5)
Common Buzzard (6+)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (pair feeding young near hide)
Common Kestrel (male)
HOBBY (maximum of 6 feeding at any one given time but birds on view all day)
Red-legged Partridge (2 pairs in fields by the Dry Canal)
Coot (1 pair with 6 small young)
Black-headed Gull (1 first-summer)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (25 in evening, all flying NE towards Grovebury)
Common Tern (38 pairs breeding and 84 birds present in evening)
Stock Dove (4)
COMMON CUCKOO (one male seen well in meadow behind hide and calling on and off all day)
COMMON SWIFT (a gathering of at least 820 birds, keeping high over the west side of the reservoir)
COMMON KINGFISHER (for the first time in many months, 3 birds present - a pair feeding a single young)
Eurasian Skylark (pairs nesting; 5 individuals seen in fields near Dry Canal)
European Barn Swallow (25)
House Martin (4)
Pied Wagtail (2)
COMMON WHITETHROAT (3 singing males in Dry Canal area)
CETTI'S WARBLER (1 in song)
Great Tit (pair nesting by Dry Canal)
Jay (3-4 in gardens behind meadow)
Linnet (4 in fields near Rushy Meadow)
Yellowhammer (2 pairs in fields near Rushy Meadow)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

TURTLE DOVE at Bygrave

Myself and Dave Beer went to look for the Turtle Dove at Bygrave this afternoon .We located the bird just beyond the horse paddocks at Manor Farm, purring from the the top of some dead trees. The bird gave good scope views ,which we viewed from the fence by the churchyard (Darrel Bryant).

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sizzling heat

Temperatures reached a near record-breaking 82 degrees fahrenheit this afternoon but surprisingly, despite a light easterly airflow, yielded few birds of note.

A female MARSH HARRIER was over fields by Deadman Hill, Sandon (Mike Ilett) and an OSPREY drifted high east over Wilstone Reservoir at 1649-1702 hours (several observers). A juvenile COMMON SHELDUCK remains for a 5th day at Wilstone, a first-summer female MARSH HARRIER lingering there from Wednesday to Friday.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

HOOPOE near Hitchin

There are reports of a HOOPOE being present on private land near Ickleford Common over the weekend but other than that, birding on a local level has quietened down, with all of the regular summer migrants now arrived excepting Common Quail and Spotted Flycatcher.

Monday, 10 May 2010

BLACK REDSTART at Tyttenhanger

My son Mark was enjoying the Tractor Ride with son George at Willows Farm at 11.55am when he discovered a male BLACK REDSTART on the fence by the River Colne (Alan Reynolds). The bird performed well all afternoon.
Luke Massey obtained the excellent images above, the bird a first-summer male.

More migrants battling in to the wind

An OSPREY flew east over Marsworth Reservoir early this morning (Rob Andrews) whilst a male BLACK REDSTART was located at Willows Farm, Tyttenhanger (Steve Blake).

An early visit to Norton Green proved productive today with the following seen; 1 WHINCHAT {MALE}, 5 WHEATEAR {2 MALES AND 3 FEMALES}, 1 LESSER WHITETHROAT, 10+ WHITETHROATS, 2 SWIFT, 1 HOUSE MARTIN, 5 SWALLOWS (Darrel Bryant)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Weekend Highlights

Not much news for today but a WHINCHAT at King's Meads (Simon Knott) and the EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE still at Ayot St Lawrence, whilst an OSPREY flew north over St Albans at 1135.

Saturday morning proved excellent for migrating waders in the cloudy, damp conditions and continuing NE winds, with 27 WHIMBRELS through Wilstone Reservoir, along with 5 COMMON GREENSHANKS and 3 TURNSTONES

Friday, 7 May 2010

A Tyttenhanger Purple Patch - SANDERLING flock and passage MARSH HARRIER


Those cold NE winds just keep on blowing and today was no different. It did remain dry though and fairly bright.

Once again, Steve Blake discovered the first SANDERLINGS in the county this year and after he phoned, I made my way straight there......

(1100-1330 hours)

I arrived at Tyttenhanger just after 1100 hours and joined Steve Blake observing from by the conveyor belt in the NE corner of the main pit. All 3 SANDERLINGS were still present and showing well on the extensive sandy spit on the east shore. All three individuals were in transitional plumage - in fact the very white plumage of early spring - with just the first hints of the summer dress coming through on the breast and a few rufous and chestnut feathers coming through on the scapulars and mantle. They kept close together and ran like 'clockwork' across the sand. Just as JT joined us, I watched a particular aggressive and territorial male Ringed Plover chase them off but fortunately they re-landed and could be viewed from the south side of the islands. They represented my 151st species of the year in the county and remained present all day.

No sooner had I left Joan and Steve to find that another rare wader had arrived - this time the first EURASIAN CURLEW of the year. Another grounded migrant, this tired female pitched down at the end of the spit and went to sleep almost immediately and afforded excellent views through the 'scope. Joan had initially found it in flight and I could easily see why she had assumed it was a migrant Whimbrel - it had a particularly short bill. However, on good views, it could be seen to have an obvious white eye-ring, a blank face, no black eye-stripe and no black stripes on the crown and was heavily streaked on the underparts and admixed grey in the dark brown upper wing coverts. It slept for some time but was forced to fly on a couple of occasions, circling the pit. On both occasions, I followed it in the 'scope, and was very surprised to see that its underwing and axillaries were gleaming white and very unlike the grey washed underwing of arquata Eurasian Curlew. It also had an extensive gleaming white rump and upper tail coverts. The white underwing is often associated with orientalis (Eastern Eurasian Curlew), although studying large flocks of passage Curlews at coastal sites in Britain, I have found that this feature is highly variable. Eastern birds generally have very long bills. At 1327 hours, the Curlew took flight and finally flew off west for the last time.

Joined by Steve, JT, Alan Reynolds, Ricky Flesher and a distant Mick Frosdick, I spent a very pleasant hour reaping the delights of a Tyttenhanger 'purple patch' and as Ricky exclaimed that he had a raptor, was delighted to see an adult female MARSH HARRIER appear from the east flying low over the main pit. It was in forceful flight and disturbed all of the birds on the pit and as it cleared the spit area, was harried away by two corvids. It remained on view for a total of four minutes and drifted up high to the NE, eventually disappearing away at 1256 hours. Although its flight feathers were in perfect order, it was missing a couple of tail feathers.

Thinking of passage Ospreys, I then started staring skywards and soon identified Common Kestrel, male Eurasian Sparrowhawk, numerous Common Buzzards, two Red Kites (one of which was a ragged first-summer) and at least 3 HOBBIES. A passage of at least 100 COMMON SWIFTS migrated over to the NE, whilst 54 SAND MARTINS were hunting over the surface of the water.

One of the local OYSTERCATCHERS dropped in briefly for a drink on the spit, with several Lesser Black-backed Gulls through.

There were at least two singing male COMMON WHITETHROATS in the conveyor area

An excellent spot of birdwatching...

Amwell today

1 Arctic Tern at Amwell this evening from 8.30-9.00 when it towered off high, also 40 Common Terns - which stayed.

Only other highlights this week a fly-through Turtle Dove on Wednesday morning and 8 Hobby last night (Barry Reed).

Monday, 3 May 2010


Male RING OUZELS were seen today on the golf course at Therfield Heath and near the retail park at London Colney

Searching for Dotterels

Deadmans Hill - 1 Peregrine (immature - in field at base of hill)

Newnham to Ashwell road - 2 Yellow Wagtail, 6 Corn Bunting,

Wallington to Baldock - 7 Corn Bunting, Pr Grey Partridge

Mike Ilett


As Tring Reservoirs is one of the premier sites in the county, I have a special website solely devoted to the birds and animals recorded at that site. Please bookmark It is generally updated at least once a day.

Another MEGA - pale morph adult ARCTIC SKUA north over Amwell

The pale morph adult ARCTIC SKUA that spent 15 minutes or more at King George V Reservoir (London) late morning on Sunday 2 May (Roy Woodward et al) flew north up the Lea Valley and over Amwell GP later in the afternoon (Toby et al). This species is very rare indeed in Hertfordshire, particularly so in spring and in adult plumage

Sunday, 2 May 2010

MEGA - RED-RUMPED SWALLOW at Wilstone Reservoir

Phew - what an amazing day at the reservoirs.

David Bilcock deservedly discovered a RED-RUMPED SWALLOW on his second early morning walk round of Wilstone, the bird showing well amongst the hordes of newly-arrived House Martins and European Barn Swallows just off the jetty and along the hedgerow of the East Bank. It afforded good views for about a 20 minute period but was generally very difficult to pick out in the large flock of hirundines flighting low over the water in the heavy rain and freezing NE winds. About 25 birders connected during the initial showings and then a further 15 during the next 45 minutes, just before it flew off strongly east at 0932 hours. It was not seen again. It represents only the second Red-rumped Swallow ever recorded at the reservoirs following one on Wilstone on 17 May 1981 and only the NINTH in Hertfordshire (following singles at Aldbury on 11 June 1949, at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 1 October 1966, at Hilfield again on 18 May 1982, at Amwell GP on 5 April 1987, at Hilfield again on 28-29 May 2000, at Hollingson Meads, north of Harlow, on 28-29 May 2002 and at Stocker's Farm on 11 April 2007.

Next off came an OSPREY, initially picked up distantly from Wilstone (Ian Williams et al) at 1557 hours, this bird circled over Tringford Reservoir for some time at low level before drifting off east at 1612 hours - and then flew east over College Lake BBOWT at 1612 - and then yet another MARSH HARRIER - a near adult female - which was either in or above Wilstone reedbed for nearly two hours late afternoon.

And then we had the terns - 116+ Common Terns still in residence, with two passage ARCTICS (present from at least 1000-1900 hours), two BLACK (flew along the line of the Grand Union Canal before flying east) and two LITTLE TERNS (present at around 1600 hours only) - and passage waders (a total of 11 DUNLIN through, including two which lingered during the heaviest spell of rain; a WHIMBREL through, a SANDERLING through and a Ringed Plover - with 2 COMMON SANDPIPERS all day).

Other migrants included two female GREENLAND WHEATEARS and 3 YELLOW WAGTAILS on the East Bank at Wilstone mid-afternoon, with up to 9 HOBBIES still present over the reedbed.