MONDAY 31 OCTOBER
The unseasonal mild weather continued today with warm southerly winds and intermittent light drizzle. I spent a very enjoyable day in East Herts, adding two new species to my 2011 Herts Year List.....
KELSHALL, SANDON AND WALLINGTON AREAS (HERTS)
I started off on the Coombe Road, just NW of Kelshall, joining Simon West in the tiny layby at TL 322 372. After scanning to the east of the road, we soon located the GREAT GREY SHRIKE present for its third day, frequenting the fenceline and isolated bushes about 250 yards away to the east at about TL 325 374. It perched aloft the top of the bushes on numerous occasions, as well as the fenceposts, and appeared to be an adult, with a slight salmon-pink flush to the breast at times. It remained on view for several hours but generally kept distantly from the road.
Despite a lot of scanning from here and other sites in the area, I did not locate the Hen Harrier seen on both days of the weekend. Three Red Kites were seen from here, 4 Common Buzzards, 5 Common Kestrels, no less than 850 Woodpigeons, 4 GREY PARTRIDGES, 35 Red-legged Partridges, 8 Yellowhammers and a single COMMON RAVEN.
The Fallow Deer herd numbered 29 (including 2 Stags), with Brown Hares an impressive 54.
Moving around to the fields at Deadman's Hill (TL 296 367), one particular field to the south of the road was highly productive. An exceptional flock of 3,600 Common Starlings was feeding, along with a further 363 Woodpigeons, 127 Lapwing, 15 Linnet and several Stock Doves. An additional 7 Brown Hares were also present, whilst over the main ridge, soaring birds included 8 Common Buzzards and 6 Red Kites. A pair of COMMON RAVENS spent some time hanging in the air and later taunted a fine adult male PEREGRINE, this bird missing a couple of inner secondaries on the left wing.
Just in from the A505 at TL 294 375, a covey of 13 GREY PARTRIDGE was present and showing well.
I then drove around to the Wallington Road where in fields opposite Lodge Farm, a flock of 96 Linnets was encountered. I then came across three guys slowly walking across a crop field north of Wheat Hill Farm. Each observer was holding a bird of prey on their arm - an adult Harris's Hawk, a juvenile Harris's Hawk and an adult female Northern Goshawk. They seemed to be training the birds to hunt and as they came across a cowering Rabbit or Brown Hare, they released the birds to chase the prey. I watched them do this on 15 separate occasions - twice successfully - and on seeing two Brown Hares killed, I contacted the Hertfordshire Wildlife Liaison Officer to see if any offence had been committed. I had always been of the opinion that Brown Hares were a protected species but I was wrong. Provided the three guys had the landowner's permission (which we subsequently found had been granted), then what they were doing with the birds was legal. Keeping an eye on them for the best part of two hours did reap benefits however - the three flushing up an excellent SHORT-EARED OWL for me, which flew towards me and spent several minutes flying up and down the roadside hedgerow.
I eventually ended up on the Wallington road off of the A505 roundabout where Alan Reynolds and his son had seen a Merlin on two occasions. I quickly found the hay bales but frustratingly first a Common Buzzard and then a juvenile female Sparrowhawk were the only raptor species using them this afternoon. A flock of 42 European Golden Plover was in the fields and yet another covey of 14 GREY PARTRIDGES