Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Another gorgeous day and the warmest of the year so far - LGRE Diary Notes 23 March 2011

Today's Avocets and Ruff at College (Dave Bilcock)


Another glorious day with wall-to-wall sunshine, light winds and temperatures reaching 16 degrees C - the warmest day of the year thus far.

As a consequence, migrants are starting to arrive in good numbers, with several Hoopoes, numerous Garganey, many more Wheatears, Black Redstarts and White Wagtails and the first Tree Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Ospreys.

Frustrated at dipping last night's Ruff at College after being called away on emergency when an 88-year old driver collided with a parked Mini close to Tring Station and blocked the entire road for over two hours during the rush-hour, I returned there first after being updated early morning by DB.........


The WATER PIPIT was still present today, feeding along the east shoreline (Mike Nott) - 3 Common Buzzards thermalling just west of the reservoir as I drove past


Acting upon Dave Bilcock's early morning update, I arrived at College Lake shortly after 0940 hours. Within minutes of setting up my 'scope overlooking the main marsh, my attention was directed to two waders approaching from the west (from the Grand Union Canal direction) and I was astonished to find that they were two PIED AVOCETS ! The two black-and-white birds continued towards me and landed on the main marsh in front of the information centre and showed superbly for about ten minutes before they were rudely interrupted by territorial Lapwings and were spooked up. They had been interacting closely during the brief spell of time they were on the ground and were obviously a pair, perhaps on route to breeding grounds in East Anglia or further north in the UK or in the Netherlands. I immediately contacted DB, SN and Ben Miller to inform them of my find, and RBA.

Both birds circled up above the marsh and called to each other and then flew north towards the deep lake. They found the 'Oystercatcher Island' to their liking and dropped down in height, eventually landing on the shore (and where, incidentally, they remained until dusk - DB, SR & WC). They fed in the shallow water and appeared relatively content (although flew a few times in the hour or so I was present). As Wednesday is volunteer day at College, I spent some time pointing out and showing the two birds to many of the staff and helpers, as well as to an impressive number of visitors (this reserve really is now the flagship of BBOWT). All were delighted in seeing such a rare local bird. Mike Campbell was the only local birder that arrived before I departed, but I was pleased to see that both Dave B and Mike Nott managed a few record shots of the birds (see above).

After all of the excitement relating to the Avocets, I concentrated my efforts on finding the RUFF - the main purpose of my visit. It was consorting with a Common Redshank and was showing well - walking back and forth along the bund - my first of the year in the county and a very rare bird at College. I initially believed the bird to be a female on size and plumage but the fact that it's bill was distinctly orange at the base perhaps indicates that it is actually a male just beginning to acquire breeding plumage.

Other waders present included 7 Common Redshanks and 4 pairs of nesting Lapwing, along with 7 COMMON SNIPE, whilst wildfowl included 3 Mute Swans, 8 lingering Eurasian Wigeon, 4 Shoveler, 20 Tufted Duck and a drake Northern Pochard; 6 Pied Wagtails on the marsh islands were presumably migrants.


Lynster's Farm Field held 12 Gadwall, 8 Greylag Geese and a pair of Egyptian Geese but no sign of Steve Carter's pair of Oystercatchers of a few days back.

Nearby, at Woodoaks Farm, the orchard failed to produce the hoped-for Little Owl just a single flyover Ring-necked Parakeet.


Bury Lake held 48 Mute Swans and two pairs of Red-crested Pochards whilst the Stocker's Farm Water Meadows yielded 28 Wigeon, 8 Common Teal and 7 migrant Pied Wagtails. Highlight was at long last a LITTLE OWL - roosting in one of the stunted trees at the back of the pools. Four House Sparrows were in the hedgerow by the farm, with a male Goldcrest singing from a tall fir by the canal bridge and a pair of Egyptian Geese in the horse paddocks. Five noisy Ring-necked Parakeets flew over.


At the causeway separating the two fishing pits, a very confiding escaped White-cheeked Pintail was performing and the summering pair of OYSTERCATCHERS - my first in Herts this year.

Great Crested Grebes were very much in evidence, with 10 on the main fishing pit, a pair on the smaller pit at the east end of the complex and 9 on the main birding pit. There were also 2 Little Grebes on the westernmost fishing pit, 38 Tufted Ducks, 4 Gadwall, a drake Shoveler and a pair of Pochard on the main pit, 6 Common Redshanks on the sand spit and 4 SAND MARTINS over the pit towards dusk. A total of 85 Common Starlings roosted in the solitary evergreen tree in the horse paddock at Tyttenhanger Farm.

A very productive day

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