Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Exceptionally early WHINCHAT and nest-building LESSER SPOTS


Well, following a number of April days breaking all previous records to 1892, cooler NW winds set in overnight bringing a much fresher feel to the weather. In fact, temperatures returned to near normal at this time of year, ranging between 8 and 11 degrees C. It did remain fine and dry however.

After an abortive attempt at the Arundel WWT Little Crake all day yesterday, I decided to concentrate closer to home today and birded the Three Counties. It was a very productive day.......


Following a very early morning call from JT, I woke up and made my way over to Croxley. Following recent days basking in warm sunlight, today was the complete opposite and I was freezing. Luckily I intercepted Geoff Lapworth who was just about to leave who very kindly directed me to his find - an absolutely gorgeous male WHINCHAT showing well on wispy weedy fronds at the far west end of the model aircraft flying area just off of the main central path. I enjoyed excellent views of this first of the year and one of my earliest spring Whinchats in Britain ever. In fact, that has been very much the story of the last six days overall - some incredulous records involving early migrants, many breaking all previous records...

After getting my fill of the Whinchat, I explored the remaining area of the moor, with 5 COMMON WHITETHROATS noted, 2 WILLOW WARBLERS, a Common Chiffchaff, several Blackcaps and along the riverside, a single SEDGE WARBLER and an early singing male WESTERN REED WARBLER (about 220 yards west of the main bridge); 1-2 Common Terns were fishing back and forth along the canal. I departed at 0915....


I love visiting this tiny reserve and today I was most pleased to find the resident pair of LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKERS again. Last June, I located the nest just as the single youngster (or last) was leaving but today I watched the pair finishing off the last bit of excavating their new hole - situated just 75 yards from last year's nest. The two birds partook in much display, the male 'dancing' around the female and holding his wings in an umbrella shape and quivering. They also frequently commuted back and forth to two tall dead trees just inside of the fence and adjacent to the open common - a superb display which went on for the best part of 40 minutes. I let RBA know of their showing and during the next half hour, Chris Sharpe arrived and managed to see the female before both birds flew off into the wood and along the river.

A male COMMON WHITETHROAT was on territory by the first bridge and other species encountered included Stock Dove (4 nesting pairs), Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren (4 songsters), Dunnock (2 singing males), Robin (2), Common Blackbird, Reed Bunting (singing male), Greenfinch (singing male), Blackcap (6), Common Chiffchaff (2), Common Kestrel (pair nesting), Common Buzzard, Barn Swallow (1 through), Common Treecreeper (pair), Nuthatch (singing male), Great Tit, Blue Tit (4) and Woodpigeon.

I departed the site shortly after 1000 hours.....

(1030-1045 hours)

A bare minimum 14 (7 pairs) BLACK-NECKED GREBES were encountered, the majority in full breeding plumage and 8 of which were showing exceptionally from the public viewpoint accessed from the lane.

Also seen were Little Grebe (5 pairs), Great Crested Grebe (4 pairs), Gadwall (pair), Lesser Black-backed Gull (pair on raft), 8 Common Terns, 8 Barn Swallows, 7 House Martins (including 5 over Elstree Aerodrome), 25 Sand Martins and singing male Common Chiffchaff and Blackcap.


Joined Steve Rodwell on the North Bank this evening. Highlight was a COMMON SANDPIPER on the algae bunds, apparently present for its second day (my first), with 58 Common Terns, at least 600 Sand Martins and 1 House Martin as back up. The ploughed field immediately south of the Dry Canal yielded 2 Stock Doves, 2 male Pied Wagtails and 2 NORTHERN WHEATEARS.


Three Coot nests are now being utilised with 4 pairs of Great Crested Grebes present (1 pair nest-building). A Common Kingfisher was seen, with a male COMMON TREECREEPER in full song in the Reedbed Wood and singing SEDGE WARBLER (four males), WESTERN REED WARBLER (single) and CETTI'S WARBLER (single).

Lee G R Evans

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