Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Day Birding in NE Herts - an excellent selection

This morning in North Hertfordshire:

Therfield Heath - the adult GREAT GREY SHRIKE nr Greys farm, viewable from Icknield Way looking towards Duckpuddle bush (TL344388). Also 1 juvenile HEN HARRIER, 2 Red Kites

Deadmans Hill - 1 male MERLIN sitting in field at bottom of hill showing extremely well, 2 Red Kites

Mike Ilett

Saturday, 24 December 2011


The juvenile GREAT NORTHERN DIVER was showing well this morning on the Sailing Lake north of the Sailing Club at Nazeing Meads. It was best viewed from Dobbs Weir Lane. Park on the concrete off the road by the bridge between the gravel pits and walk south along the Lee Valley path behind the houses (Alan Reynolds)

Friday, 23 December 2011

Wintering LITTLE EGRET numbers now at 65

At least 15 Little Egrets came into the Radwell Lake roost yesterday evening in the north of the county, whilst two Goosander were at Turnford Marsh GP this morning in the Lee Valley (Graham White)

With these additional 15 and 25 at Stocker's, 15 at Welwyn and 10 at Amwell, the wintering poulation of Little Egrets currently in Hertfordshire numbers 65

SNOW BUNTING still present today

Chris Hinton obtained these fantastic new shots of the first-winter male SNOW BUNTING along the north shore of Startop's End Reservoir today, this beautiful bird seemingly intent on staying........

Juvenile GREAT NORTHERN DIVER just over border into Essex


Another unseasonal mild day with temperatures reaching 12 degrees C - in stark contrast to Christmas 2010 when the whole of Britain was virtually icebound and covered in snow. It was also very wet with constant drizzle.....


Instigated by Graeme Smith's email, I travelled over to the Lea Valley this morning to see the juvenile GREAT NORTHERN DIVER that has been present there since 15 December. As Graeme stated, this bird is only just 100 yards into Essex and is showing reasonably well. The bird is favouring the middle pit in the complex, easily accessed from Meadgate Road from the east. One can park without problems by Broxbourne Sailing Club and follow the trail south to Kett's Footbridge at TQ 383 069, from where the best views can be obtained. The two pits join each other at this bridge and when Graeme saw the bird yesterday it was on the southernmost pit. Please see the maps above for more direct detail.

This same complex of pits also produced 3 GOOSANDER (adult drake and two adult females), 2 Common Goldeneye, 33 Tufted Duck, 13 Northern Pochard, 25 Great Crested Grebes and 74 Coot.


I met up with Alan Reynolds at the diver and then went over to ASHLEY FISHERY PIT at Turnford to check for Goosander. Sadly none was present (Alan had seen a drake there about 10 days ago) but we did count 1 Mute Swan (first-winter), 20 Gadwall, 43 Tufted Duck and 40 Coot, whilst a male Siskin and Great Spotted Woodpecker were recorded. Also of note were 36 roosting House Sparrows in the thick hedgerow backing on to the gardens west of the railway line and 12 Chaffinches in Turnford Brooks car park.

More recent highlights

Barry Reed and others relocated the recent Kelshall GREAT GREY SHRIKE in the Greys Farm area, viewable from the Icknield Way - this area continuing to attract all 3 juvenile HEN HARRIERS and 3 SHORT-EARED OWLS. A ringtail HEN HARRIER and up to 2 MERLINS are also being reported from the Sandon area - looking east from the green gate

At Tring Reservoirs, the DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE, 4 BEWICK'S SWANS, SNOW BUNTING and WATER PIPIT all remain, whilst at Amwell NR, Barry Reed has seen both MEDITERRANEAN GULL and YELLOW-LEGGED GULL in the roost there. An adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL is also regular at Wilstone

This winter we have at least 50 roosting LITTLE EGRETS, with 25 at Stockers, 15 at Welwyn and 10 at Amwell

GREAT NORTHERN DIVER just out of county in Essex - NAZEING PITS

A few details of a GREAT NORTHERN DIVER present for its eighth day near Hoddesdon (in ESSEX) for anyone interested in seeing it over the festive period... parking and site map including round trip distance can be found here : ( look for target bird mostly around the footbridge where it feeds, if 'missing', check around E islands and tern/corm rafts );

This map shows bird in relation to the county border

And a few photos of the bird in question from the wknd:

Graeme Smith

Monday, 19 December 2011

No sign of reported Twite


Another sharp frost overnight but as the morning progressed, a front edged in from the west bringing heavier and heavier rain from early afternoon and recovering temperatures to 6 degrees C by nightfall.

At around 1300 hours, Alan Gardiner and Steve Blake alerted me to the report of a Twite at Startop's End Reservoir by an unknown observer. I immediately spoke to Dave B but he was in Sandy, so despite the rain, made my way over to check the report out........


Jason Chapman was lunchtime twitching the SNOW BUNTING shortly after I arrived and together we obtained yet more outstanding views of this first-winter male, both in the Herts section and Bucks section of the north bank. See Dan Forder's brilliant shots above

I then did the full circumference of the reservoir - at the water's edge - but nothing more than the Snow Bunting and 3 Pied Wagtails. Like Roy, I believe the report almost certainly related to the bunting, as surprisingly enough, many features overlap if you are working from a field guide and are a relative novice.

In terms of waterbirds, little of change, with the reservoir holding 5 Great Crested Grebes, 6 Mute Swans, 65 Gadwall (highest count in a long while), 31 Wigeon, 22 Shoveler, 37 Tufted Duck, 8 Pochard, 287 Coot and 10 Moorhens.


No Twite but 2 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 6 Teal, 8 Shoveler, 26 Tufted Duck, 6 Pochard and 62 Coots. Marsworth Reservoir was still covered in a thin layer of ice. All of the reservoirs bar Wilstone had an ice covering of some sort.


Walked right round checking the edges and no Twite amongst the 31 wintering Linnets on the margins. No sign of the male Common Shelduck either, nor of the 5 Goldeneyes.....

The first-winter DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE was still frequenting the Cemetery Corner fields with the 7 Atlantic Canada Geese and the 67 Greylags, whilst all 4 BEWICK'S SWANS were on the Drayton Lagoon from the hide.

On the water were counted 11 Great Crested Grebes, just 9 Mute Swans (most are now on College), 311 Wigeon (an increase again), 18 Shoveler, 230 Common Teal, 42 Tufted Duck, 106 Pochard and 752 Coot.

In the hedgerows, large numbers of winter thrushes feeding on the hawthorn berries including 66 Fieldfare, 22 Redwing and 12 Common Blackbirds.


In the town centre, the adult female PEREGRINE was roosting and in the main shopping precinct, 38 Pied Wagtails were roosting in the small bush in front of the British Heart Foundation charity shop

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Today's Highlights

The star performer - our male SNOW BUNTING at Startop's End (magnificently photographed above by Lucy Flower) - continues to perform well for admirers whilst in the east of the county, 3 juvenile HEN HARRIERS and a male MERLIN continue in the Therfield Heath area.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

First twitchable SNOW BUNTING at Tring Reservoirs


The unsettled theme continued today with strong NW winds bringing a period of wet snow during the afternoon. It was very cold - the strong wind making it feel much much colder.

After missing out yesterday, and still reeling after the Ivinghoe dip, I finally caught up with our star performing SNOW BUNTING today........


Still 8 LITTLE EGRETS in the valley, most frequenting the ditches just east of Bois Mill


Joined Mike Collard, Mike Campbell and others at Startop's mid morning to find the SNOW BUNTING still showing fabulously on the foreshore at the north end of the reservoir. It was remarkably confiding and over the hour of observation, walked to within just 28 yards of the Buckinghamshire border. It thus became the second species this year (with DBBG) that I have seen from Buckinghamshire but not within it !


At very close range it was seen to have spiky (pointed) rather than rounded tail feathers and with its bright yellow bill and extensive white in the upper wings, presumably a FIRST-WINTER MALE.

A typical bunting in shape and structure with predominantly white underparts, extending to the undertail coverts. Crown tinged rufous, with a dark ear covert and a mixture of dark and pale fringed feathers on the mantle. Some warmth extending out on to the sides of the breast forming an incomplete breast-band, with paler buff streaking in the hindneck and eye-stripe. Dark-centred scapulars and extensive white in the wings, especially in flight. Primaries very dark with white tips and tertials edged with warm rufous. A dark beady eye, striking yellow bill and short black legs and feet. Typical, rippling ''prrrrii'' call when I approached it.


SNOW BUNTING is a rare visitor to Hertfordshire with just 34 previous records involving over 50 birds, at least 10 of these being at Tring Reservoirs (the most recent in January 1981)

1) The first county record related to one shot near Hitchin in January 1881, with two captured near Royston at about the same time;

2) One was shot on Harpenden Common on 24 January 1883;

3) One was shot at Royston on 16 September 1893;

4) One was shot on Royston Heath on 6 December 1893 (Foster 1914);

5) One was shot near Sandon in January 1894 (Hartert & Jourdain 1920);

6) A male was captured near Tring on 22 February 1894 (Hartert & Jourdain 1920);

7) A flock is said to have been seen at Tring Reservoirs in 1895; there are two males in the Hitchin Museum from this period, one of which was obtained at Offley about 1890 and the other at Hitchin about 1900, whilst two were said to have been obtained at Aldenham Reservoir in January 1895;;

8) One was watched at close range in a ploughed field at Letchworth in January 1913 (Foster 1914);

9) A single was between Harfield and Welwyn on 30 January 1926 (The Field 147: 283);

10) A male remained at Wilstone Reservoir from 13-20 October 1935 (Dr J.S. Carter);

11) Two birds were present at Wilstone Reservoir on 6-7 November 1944;

12) Two were again at Wilstone Reservoir on 10 November 1945 (W. E. Glegg);

13) An immature visited Wilstone on 25 October 1952;

14) One visited Wilstone Reservoir on 9 October 1953;

15) A male was at Hilfield Park Reservoir on 3 February 1957 (London Bird Report 1957: 34);

16) A flock of at least 6 birds was noted at North Mymms on 13 December 1959;

17) A female was at Rye Meads Sewage Farm on 23 January 1960;

18) A male was at Highley Hill, Ashwell, on 1 October 1960;

19) One remained at Wilstone Reservoir from 1-5 November 1961;

20) Another was seen at Rye Meads on 5 November 1961;

21) Three flew south over Welwyn Garden City on 6 March 1972;

22) Two pairs were reported from Maple Cross on 26 November 1972;

23) A male was seen at Wilstone Reservoir on 28 October 1974;

24) One remained at Hilfield Park Reservoir from 15-18 November 1978;

25) A female was apparently seen with Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers NE of Weston Hills, Baldock, on 1 January 1979 (Brian Sawford);

26) One was seen near Wilstone Reservoir on 8 January 1981 (N. Woods);

27) One was seen in flight with Meadow Pipits at Tyttenhanger on 20 November 1988 (Steve Pearce);

28) A first-winter male remained at Tyttenhanger GP from 29 November to 1 December 1996 (Lee Marshall et al) giving many local observers their first opportunity to see this species in the county;

29) A pair was located at Kelshall on 9 November 1997 (Martin Craig), one of which was last seen on 14 December;

30) One was found in Hemel Hempstead on 5 December 1997 (M. Pearson);

31) One was found at Amwell GP on 21 November 1999 (Graham White);

32) A first-winter male was seen and photographed at Barley on 3 March 2000 (Charles Doggett & Doug Radford) (photograph in Hertfordshire Bird Report 2000, page 273);

33) A bird was watched for about 15 minutes foraging in a field at Temple End on 23 March 2007 (John Camp);

34) Most recently, an immature was just 40 yards over the county boundary in Essex at Wickam Hall near Bishop's Stortford in 5-7 November 2011. Alan Reynolds briefly saw it flight into Hertfordshire on 6 November.

Additional Birds

The pair of Red-crested Pochards and 42 Gadwall were on Startop's End whilst on neighbouring Marsworth Reservoir, Don Stone located an adult female GOOSANDER which showed well close to the causeway all afternoon.

Wilstone Reservoir continued to produce the family party of 4 BEWICK'S SWANS and the juvenile DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE with the 67 Greylags in Cemetery Corner Fields, as well as 11 Mute Swans, 250 Eurasian Wigeon and an increase to 883 Coots. There was also a report of a GREAT GREY SHRIKE from the meadow behind the hide


In addition to a pair of Mute Swans on the Grand Union Canal at Bulbourne, a further 21 (including 3 first-years) were present on the main marsh at College. Other wildfowl counted included 28 Mallard, 74 Wigeon, 18 Gadwall, 1 female Shoveler, 40 Tufted Duck and 12 Northern Pochard, as well as 1 Little Grebe, 44 Coot, 8 Moorhen and a Green Woodpecker

Monday, 12 December 2011


Alan Reynolds obtained this excellent image of this gorgeous drake GOOSANDER at Ashley Fisheries Cheshunt today.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sunday Round-up

In the east of the county, up to 3 juvenile HEN HARRIERS remain in setaside adjacent to the Icknield Way at Therfield Heath, whilst elsewhere, the first-year LITTLE GULL continues at Hilfield Park, a female SMEW and 3 GOOSANDER are at Stocker's Lake and the juvenile DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE and 4 BEWICK'S SWANS at Wilstone Reservoir

Monday, 5 December 2011


The first-winter LITTLE GULL was still present at Hilfield Park Reservoir today (Derek Turner). Tony Blake obtained this distant image from the Dagger Lane Viewpoint. An excellent December record for the county

A real HEN HARRIER treat


In line with the last two years, winter arrived in our region yesterday, with extremely cold winds blowing down from Greenland. Further north in Scotland, up to 20 centimetres of snow has fallen in Caithness, Sutherland, Highland Region and Speyside - the first significant falls of winter. It was another cold night here with an overnight ground frost and temperatures during the day hovered between 4 and 6 degrees C.

With a record number of HEN HARRIERS being seen in the Therfield area, I decided to devote the afternoon birding the area - that decision enforced after a Brent Goose - the first in Be3dfordshire this year - had flown off east from Stewartby Lake after just a short time of staying. Thanks to Mike Ilett, I was eventually able to make contact............


It was freezing cold watching from the layby at the top of Coombe Road and after half an hour and no raptors at all, I contacted Mike Ilett for advice. Mike knew the Therfield area well, having conducted much valued Atlas work in this area, and suggested I took the footpath leading east out of Therfield village, at the end of Mill Lane (at TL 339 376). This was excellent advice and after finding myself a sheltered spot out of the wind, about 200 yards east of the Icknield Way, scanning with the 'scope soon revealed the presence of no less than 3 ringtail HEN HARRIERS. In fact, all three individuals were favouring a strip of setaside just west of the Icknield Way at approximately TL 345 389 and were on view throughout my observation period over an hour mid afternoon. All three birds appeared to be juveniles, with varying amounts of heavy streaking on the underparts, ranging from light ginger to quite warm rufous. I concentrated on the outer primaries with all three individuals exhibiting FIVE fingered primaries - and therefore eliminating the possibility of being Pallid Harriers (of which 35 or more have appeared in Britain this autumn and over 300 in Scandinavia). All three birds had a broad wing structure, were quite heavy in terms of flight (not agile and light) and were long-tailed. They were invariably marked on both the upperparts and upper tail, with one bird having a reasonably noticeable greater covert/forewing patch and the other two much less so. The feathers of the mantle were noticeably pale fringed, with all three having well marked facial patterns and warm basal colour to the underparts. One bird that I saw better when walking down the Icknield Way did appear to have some paleness in the iride and was therefore likely to be a juvenile male. This bird like the others had a lot of warmth in the upper tail and a narrow buffish border to the tail tip.

I have never before seen three Hen Harriers in the county at one given time and knowing the scarcity of this raptor in Britain nowadays, this was a real treat indeed. Of course, they represented my first in the year in the county.

Walking this area produced a lot of birds: just over 100 Eurasian Skylarks in stubble east of Park Farm and a large covey of 23 GREY PARTRIDGES there; 240 lapwings, 38 European Golden Plovers and 4 Red Kites; also a nice Red Fox.

North of Hill Farm in Therfield, the FALLOW DEER herd numbered 122, including 5 stags and a number of fawn coloured individuals and one white marker animal.

A flock of 22 Chaffinches and 5 Yellowhammers were near North End but searching Deadman Hill and then the Wallington Road, failed as usual to yield any Merlin sightings (nor any Short-eared Owls surprisingly). Five more Red Kites were seen.

I also recorded 6 more GREY PARTRIDGES near Lannock Hill south of Baldock at TL 310 243

Sunday, 4 December 2011

SHORT-EARED OWL at Tyttenhanger

This morning RBA reported a SHORT-EARED OWL at Tyttenhanger at 9:30. I wasn't able to go down straight away, so I decided to go down at dusk. This proved a good move, as the owl appeared over the sheep field just after 4pm, and showed well for about 10 minutes. It flew mainly over the area between the main pit and the hedge across the field (David Booth)