Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Winter storm batters the South East


Gale force winds and torrential rain associated with a very deep depression tracked quickly east across the country and swept through our region all morning. It typically wreaked havoc bringing down a large number of trees and chimney stacks, with winds gusting at 70 miles per hour at times. Then, at around 1300 hours, the rain stopped and the wind dropped substantially, leaving a clear and bright middle part of the afternoon, although hail and rain returned later.

I finally managed to brave the conditions after 1300 hours and made my way to Stevenage, where Tony Hukin had discovered a GREAT GREY SHRIKE yesterday afternoon and both Mike and darrel had confirmed its presence today in the rain and wind...........


I arrived at Norton Green at 1325 hours, only to be told by those three present that the bird had just captured a Field Vole and flown with it to the far side of the traveller camp. Like an idiot, I marched round there, only to be accosted by a marauding gang of 7 yapping guard dogs! There was no sign of the shrike and I had to make a quick and hasty retreat.

Returning back to the other observers about 20 minutes later, I was pleased to see that the bird had returned and was showing well. It was perched up just 35 yards away and was an adult and was favouring the scrub and isolated clumps of Hawthorn just 50 yards away from the camp at the extreme north end of the site. It remained on view for about 7 minutes before disappearing again. Alan Reynolds, Tony Hukin, Darrel Bryant and others turned up and after a while, the shrike reappeared and showed very, very well on top of the bushes. Alan obtained some excellent images (see above).

As Darrel stated, this is the first record of Great Grey Shrike for Norton Green and the fact that it seems to have a larder perhaps indicates that it has been around for some time. It is certainly a lot easier to see than the adult in the east of the county at Therfield Heath.

Other species noted included 48 Eurasian Skylarks (in the large stubble field adjacent), 1 Red-legged Partridge, 1 Common Kestrel, 5 Common Blackbirds, 2 Common Magpie and a male Greenfinch.


Two GREEN SANDPIPERS were present (both unringed) as well as 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron and 10 Moorhens (up to 5 Green Sandpipers have been present at the site this winter).


The pair of EGYPTIAN GEESE was present with 8 Canada Geese and 3 Mute Swans (1 first-winter) by the river Lea west of the B653, whilst 17 Gadwalls, 4 Common Teal (2 drakes) and 2 Little Grebes were seen from the bridge.


The adult female PEREGRINE FALCON was sat on her usual perch at 1540 hours


A covey of 8 Red-legged Partridges was west of Tring and south of the B 488 at SP 929 112


I pitched up at WTR at 1600 hours to find the hide virtually full (John Gearing, Richard Billyard, Nick Mariner already in situ). The wind was still strong and it was clear that conditions were not overly conducive. A Water Rail screamed, 1 Little Egret flew in to roost, a male Sparrowhawk did its last circuit and 4 Reed Buntings flew in to roost in the reedbed. What appeared to be a Cetti's Warbler scolded and a single lost Black-headed Gull attempted to roost.

And then, at 1628 hours, a solitary EURASIAN BITTERN flew from the reeds at the closest edge and flew to the far side. It was a regularly returning wintering bird and roosted in the usual area of reeds opposite the Susan Cowdy Hide. Despite the strong wind, it successfully made one platform of reeds but then fell off of it into the water. It gathered its composure, then climbed back up a few yards away and tried again. Eventually, after several attempts, it realised it was fighting a losing battle and as darkness approached, dropped further down into the reeds, presumably to roost close to the base.

Six new species for the Year List and particularly pleased with the shrike

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