Tuesday, 28 February 2012

KINGFISHERS on River Lea at Batford Springs

This morning I watched two Kingfishers chasing each other round and around, at a height of c20 m and calling constantly, over the allotments bordering the River Lea in Batford. I'm not sure whether this was a territorial dispute, or a courtship activity (?), but they were really going for it! This is about 400-500 m upstream from where I usually see 'my' regular pair (near the ford at the Batford Mill), so again I'm not sure if these are likely to be a separate pair of the Batford Mill birds... how far do Kingfisher territories usually extend along a river.Whatever, after moving from an agricultural local-patch in S Beds with no water bodies, to here, it is a delight to have often multiple connections with Kingfishers on a near-daily basis.

Also this morning, a single Grey Wagtail, and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull flying NW along the river and presumably migrating, as I have not seen this species here before and it is not on a typical post-roost flying route (Jason Chapman)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A day of death and destruction


A touch milder today, with temperatures climbing to 8 degrees C. Dry throughout, although a little light drizzle in the WSW wind as nightfall approached

Another local day birding today, concentrating on repeat visits after the ice has melted. Sadly, death was the general theme of the day, with a number of dead creatures recorded. I finally added Lesser Redpoll too to my 2012 Hertfordshire List......

In LITTLE CHALFONT (BUCKS), a Sparrowhawk flew parallel with Stanley Hill first thing

Then, driving between Amersham and Beaconsfield on the A 355, firstly I saw a dead BADGER near Brentford Grange at SU 956 949 and then a dead COMMON BUZZARD by Birchen Spring Wood at SU 953 924 - both road casualties.


Around 2,000 gulls were present from 0900 hours involving mostly Black-headed Gulls. A single adult CASPIAN GULL alighted briefly but nothing else of interest was seen - the flock including 11 Common Gulls, still 300 or more Herring Gulls, just 15 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 7 Great Black-backed Gulls.

I did a Carrion Crow count (261) just before the regular guy in his red Toyota Hi Lux released his Gyrfalcon x Saker on proceedings. The bird incredibly quickly singled a first-year Argenteus Herring Gull out from the flock and continuously harassed it. The young bird flew lower and lower into the empty pan adjacent and was completely isolated from the rest of the flock (which scattered in all directions incidentally). It made a number of desperate cries and repeatedly tried to outwit the falcon but by twisting and turning, the Gyr cross gradually forced the gull deeper and deeper into the pit and into trouble. Next minute the falcon had made contact, smashing the head of the gull and seemingly blinding it. The Herring then lost all sense of balance and was struck again several times before falling quickly to the ground. The powerful falcon followed and tussled on the ground, the two birds rolling over and over in contact. There was repeated blows to the head and neck but the gull just kept on struggling and attempting to escape. The attempt to relinquish its prey of life went on for nearly 10 minutes, eventually the bird of prey's owner racing down to retrieve it. I watched him humanely destroy the gull before rewarding the bird for its work. The Gyr then stood tall on its kill and plucked it, tearing away at the lifeless body.

I am not sure of the legality of this, considering Herring Gull is a protected species in Britain, but I guess as European Legislation demands such safeguards of vermin control at landfill sites, this will come under the Operations remit.


Needing to charge my battery up on a rarely used Vauxhall Corsa, I decided to drive the 22 miles to St Albans, where once again I visited this delightful reserve, close to the town centre. I met up with one local volunteer and she informed me of the tremendous cost feeding the birds on the reserve entailed. No less than £1,000 per year - a staggering cost - and no wonder the Nyger feeders were in need of a refill.

Anyway, after a little time, I eventually sighted a LESSER REDPOLL loosely associating with the 8 or so visiting SISKINS.

A COMMON KINGFISHER was an excellent record, whilst 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Coots, Great Spotted Woodpecker, male Greenfinch. 6 Goldfinch, 8 Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robin, Woodpigeon, Grey Heron and Blue, Great, Coal and 6 Long-tailed Tits were seen.


The resident pair were settled in to nesting with the female busy sitting and the male occasionally making the odd foray to the hill slope.


All back to normal after the snow and ice with the main marsh in great demand. Large numbers of Lapwings were on site, with 91 on the bund and a further 43 all having a communal bathing session. A single Common Snipe was probing, with the COMMON SHELDUCK on one of the islands.

Gadwalls numbered an impressive 64, with 24 Wigeon, 6 Teal, 43 Tufted Duck, 16 Pochard, 14 Mute Swans and 78 Coot being click-counted. The usual RED-CRESTED POCHARD pair were on the deep lake, as well as a single Little Grebe. A Stock Dove was feeding on top of one of the islands.


No sign of any spring migrants as yet, although geese numbers have burgeoned in recent days

On MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, 22 Shoveler had returned following the ice, along with 3 Great Crested Grebes and 32 Pochards

The redhead SMEW was still present on STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR, with 7 Great Crested Grebes, 11 Mute Swans (a huge decrease), 82 Pochard and 174 Coot. The ever-present SNOW BUNTING was in the NW corner.

TRINGFORD RESERVOIR now had wildfowl after nearly two weeks without any, with 2 Mute Swans, 22 Coot, 26 Tufted Duck, 2 Pochard and 4 Gadwall.

As I approached WILSTONE RESERVOIR, the goose flock in the Cemetery Corner Fields had risen dramatically - the first-winter DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE was now associating with 111 Greylags and 124 Atlantic Canadas - some 226 geese in all.

Not much happening on the main reservoir with 13 Great Crested Grebes, 8 Mute Swans, 22 roosting Cormorants, 298 Wigeon, just 350 Teal (massive decrease), 2 Goldeneye (pair) and 44 Lapwing.

Breeding was now on the minds of some resident birds with 6 Grey Herons now active on the lower bushes of the Drayton Bank and still the 5 active Sinensis nests in the sole remaining tree.

The field next to the car park held 4 Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush, whilst a young male Sparrowhawk that zipped past JT, Anna and I was my first local bird of the year.


Thanks to a tip-off from Anna Marrett, I decided to walk the 400 yards downstream of Wharf Lane in Wendover. A cracking and very approachable (and therefore photogenic) drake MANDARIN DUCK was consorting with the 76 Mallard in the vicinity, with a single Little Grebe, surviving family party of 7 Mute Swans, 6 Coot, 8 Moorhen, male Greenfinch, 8 Redwing and a singing male Goldcrest also seen.

More carnage was then to follow, with a dead BADGER along the B485 at HYDE END (at SP 919 012) and then a dead BARN OWL near LOWER HUNDRIDGE FARM at SP 941 014. I have not seen a live Barn Owl in my Recording Area for three years so this finding was particularly gruelling.


No less than 22 LITTLE EGRETS flew to roost towards Stocker's Lake after 1700 hours, the same number Chris Pontin had witnessed in the valley on Sunday.

Monday, 20 February 2012

WATER PIPIT remains at Water End Meadows

Alan Reynolds connected with and photographed (see above) the Water End Meadows WATER PIPIT today, still performing in the weedy sections of the River Gade.

Spring is in the air as first RINGED PLOVERS return to the Home Counties


A frosty start followed by a cold day, with temperatures struggling to reach 6 degrees C. A westerly wind increased during the day bringing in heavy cloud but it remained dry until darkness fell at 1742 hours

Not much happening today locally, although the first migrant Ringed Plovers were welcome; many Fieldfares moving back north too


No less than 17 LITTLE EGRETS present for their second day, including one single party of 8 birds at Church Covert. Also pleased to see the return of the nesting pair of Mute Swans at Chenies Bottom, one of them marked with a white plastic ring inscribed in black ''T2L''


Met up with a long-standing friend and now Somerset birder and all-round naturalist Jeff Hazell, who had just come from Church Wood watching the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker do its thing in the same general area as yesterday and at the same time (0930-1000 hours).

The gulls were only being intermittently disturbed off of the tip at lunchtime allowing observation and study to take place. The 2nd-winter ICELAND GULL was present again, as well as 75 Herring and a handful of Lesser & Greater Black-backs. Two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were identified - a 4th-winter and a first-winter, whilst star of the show for me was a lovely adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL sporting a blood red bill and extensive black on the hood apart from the forehead. This bird stayed around for some time and rather than hang around with the Black-headed Gulls, it was keeping company with Herring Gulls. It was my first for the year in Bucks and as such, my 114th species.

Despite only relatively small numbers of large gulls present, a number of them were ringed, including an apparent Herring Gull with a white ring. A number of Herring Gulls were also bearing bright red plastic rings.

The Meadow Pipit was in the long grass again, and the 16 LESSER REDPOLLS in the trees, whilst a male BULLFINCH was nice and the Common Starling flock on the tip numbered 120.


Following a call from local guy Steve Blake, I drove over to Tyttenhanger where the first pair of (GREATER) RINGED PLOVER of the year were running about on the sandy spit of the main pit. The drake COMMON SHELDUCK was still there, along with 4 Great Crested Grebes, 15 Tufted Duck, 60 Common Gulls and 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Garden Wood held Green Woodpecker, 3 Jays and 5 Long-tailed Tits whilst the Fishing Lake at the far west end of the complex harboured two corking adult drake GOOSANDERS - hauled out on the bank preening. What an outstandingly handsome duck this species is.


Another new site for me and what a well-managed and well-kept reserve it is, situated in the centre of St Albans. It backs on to the River Ver and has a main lake and smaller tributaries - a major haven for wildlife.

Well, the reason I had pitched up here was for its Lesser Redpolls - apparently up to 6 of them frequently visiting the feeder in front of the information centre. Well not this afternoon, as the sunhearts and its feeder were being hijacked by an army of 6 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets - and nobody else was allowed a look-in. I saw 3 Greenfinches, 7 Chaffinches and a continual procession of Blue and Great Tits but no redpoll. Highlights were a Grey Wagtail and a RED KITE drifting overhead.


A flock of 70 smart Fieldfares feeding in one of the horse paddocks, most likely heralding a major push northwards this week by this winter visitor.


A 2nd-winter ICELAND and regular first-winter CASPIAN GULL roosted at Amwell Great Hardmead Lake last night - 4 SMEW there also

Sunday, 19 February 2012

GREAT GREY SHRIKE still at Rye Meads

GREAT GREY SHRIKE again today but flighty. Also 2 Cetti's Warbler, 6 Shelduck, Green Sandpiper, Peregrine (Graham White)

WATER PIPIT at Great Gaddesden - LGRE Diary Notes


An overnight light frost was followed by a cold, dry day, with cloud moving in from time to time and some long sunny periods. Temperatures reached 4 degrees C

My main target bird today was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and with such a nice morning, I finally connected..........


(0800-1000 hours) After almost completing a full circuit of the reserve, a female LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER actually found me. I was alerted to her presence by the shrill piercing call, uttered from near the top of a Silver Birch tree. I quickly locked on to her and followed her movements for several minutes as she flicked from tree to tree. I then heard the male calling from a neighbouring tree and the two birds kept in close proximity for several more minutes. A couple walking their dog then approached and this sent both birds flying further into the wood and as I walked away, the male called loudly again.

The pair were in the Birches just left of the 4 tall Douglas Fir trees about 80 yards before the eastern end of the wood. The main track follows parallel with the outside perimeter track here.

Church Wood has consistently (for me at least) been the most reliable site in Buckinghamshire to see this species and a visit between February and April is likely to reap rewards. I have found the period 0800-0900 hours to be optimum. Last year though, I drew a complete blank here.

Doing a full circuit of the wood also yielded singles of both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers (no drumming as yet), an impressive 8 Common Treecreepers, 4 Nuthatches, 2 Coal Tits, numerous Blue and Great Tits, three separate flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Jay, 6 Goldcrests, 5 SISKINS, Wren and 120 Redwings at the east end (feeding on the understorey and leaf litter).


Despite little disturbance, the 2,000 or so gulls present did not appear to have anything interesting with them - just 73 Herring Gulls and 7 Great Black-backed Gulls. Charlie Jackson visited much later though and saw a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull.


My next 'target bird' of the day was CORN BUNTING. Following some excellent advice from local birder Warren Claydon, I checked the 7 stubble fields south of Saunderton. First off, I checked the long thin field next to the railway line at SU 823 972. In here, I found 8 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Skylark, 193 Linnets and 26 Yellowhammers, with a nice male BULLFINCH in the railway scrub. I then walked a whole host of what seemed like suitable fields but in the very last one I checked, the large stubble field at SU 824 977 east of the main A 4010, I located a flock of 200 Skylarks, 53 Linnets and 29 CORN BUNTINGS - the latter conveniently lining themselves up alongside each other on the overhead wires. This same field also held 5 Brown Hares and 8 Stock Doves.

These were my first Bucks Corn Buntings of the year........


Situated 3 miles NNW of Hemel Hempstead lies Water End Meadows, SE of Great Gaddesdon church and school at TL 033 110. One can park sensibly at SU 030 113 and walk SE alongside the Gade.

Dan Forder had photographed a WATER PIPIT here during the harsh icy conditions of last week and today the same bird was showing very well at the top of the stream, just yards from Hemel Hempstead Garden Centre. It was feeding with 2 Grey Wagtails and was surprisingly approachable, revealing its slate grey crown and hindneck and quite warm brown mantle and back. The white supercilium was bold and extensive and the white underparts evenly streaked.

Walking as far SE as the wooden bridge across the stream, I also added 9 Teal, 8 Gadwall, 2 Little Grebes, 8 Moorhen, 4 Coot, 1 Grey Heron and 1 Common Snipe.

Although Water Pipits were once an annual winter visitor to Hertfordshire, with up to 10 recorded, it is now a very rare bird in the county and to have two birds (this and the wintering bird at Tring Reservoirs) is quite exceptional.


A brief incursion was then made in to Bedfordshire where, upon driving north on the A5 NW of Hockliffe, I sadly came upon a dead BARN OWL (a species I have yet to see alive in the county this year). The bird was quite badly damaged but was ringed - BTO metal GR 32025 being the number. The bird had been hit directly opposite Fourne Hill Manor at SP 956 283 (record for Peter Wilkinson).


Had a quick look at Battlesden Lake but little of note - 2 Mute Swans, 4 Gadwall, 8 Wigeon, 5 Tufted Duck, 360 Black-headed Gulls, 40 Common Gulls and 15 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.


Walked down to the bridge at the north end of the lake and as SCB advised, placed some peanuts on the posts. Within no time at all, up to 4 different MARSH TITS arrived with the numerous Blue and Great Tits - my first of the year in the county.


Parked up at SP 936 342 NW of Woburn and took the bridleway leading across Aspley Heath on the east side of the main road. Peter Smith had earlier seen a pair of Common Stonechats here (a species ridiculously rare this winter) but despite criss-crossing the area as far north as the new plantation, only found 56 Linnets, a Chinese Water Deer and a male Muntjac.


Returning to North Bucks, visited LINFORD NATURE RESERVE in the hope of finding the Black-tailed Godwit that had been present the last three days. Despite scouring the bund high and low, there was no sign of it. Masses of waterbird present though, with 8 Grey Herons, 1 Little Egret, 35 Mute Swans, many Canada & Greylag Geese, 112 Teal, 312 Wigeon, 19 Shoveler, 20 Gadwall, 298 Tufted Duck, 184 Pochard and a drake Goldeneye.


Joined Keith Owen for the roost but it was poor; no more than 2,000 gulls roosting consisting of mostly Black-headed (including the adult leucistic bird), 500 Common, the usual adult MEDITERRANEAN now sporting resplendent black on the head and blood-red on the bill, about 50 Lesser Black-backed, just 15 Herring and not one Great Black-backed.

Two female-type GREATER SCAUPS were identified amongst the many Aythyas.

I then spent the last half-hour of daylight searching for Barn Owls but failed as usual; I also drove up to Cranfield Aerodrome where Dave Odell enjoyed excellent views of 4 SHORT-EARED OWLS 20 minutes before I arrived - at 1710 hours. They had been searching for Voles over the rough area at the western end.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Another day of Target Birding - WOODCOCK, BRAMBLING and SEO


The first half of the day continued very mild and drizzly, with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees C. The wind remained in the SW but as the day wore on, gradually veered around to the NW, bringing with it an hour or so of heavy rain early to mid afternoon. The skies then cleared, giving rise to plummeting temperatures. An overnight frost was expected.

Today was reserved for more local target birding with species such as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Firecrest on the menu.......


Got in early before the bird scarers arrived and spent two hours or so carefully scrutinizing the gulls present. With a procession of refuse lorries coming in and out and offloading, there was no shortage of available food and over 2,500 gulls were scavenging through it. Most surprising, nothing of interest was found. Black-headed Gulls predominated with about 2,100 present, followed by 11 Common Gulls, just under 300 Herring Gulls (90% Argenteus), just 85 Lesser Black-backed and 17 Great Black-backed.

Walking down just beyond the footbridge, I came face-to-face with a Red Fox, whilst the scrub there yielded 25 LESSER REDPOLLS, 2 Song Thrush, 15 Redwings and several Chaffinches and Goldfinches. Two different singing male Dunnocks were noted, with a Skylark over and the MEADOW PIPIT still in the rough grass besides the track. Some 25 Pied Wagtails were in the area.

Red Kites numbered just 26 today.


No sign of any Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at either site. In fact, very quiet, Church Wood producing 2 Nuthatches and a singing male Mistle Thrush.


After spending half an hour wandering about the woodland with no results, I came across 3 FIRECRESTS together as I approached the Woodside Road entrance. They were inhabiting the thick section of ivy, Holly and Laurel overhanging the footpath immediately behind Tinglewood Cottage and were showing very well, feeding low down in the habitat and a male in full song.


Steve Blake kindly provided me with a site for Lesser Redpoll but despite bashing about for half an hour or more, could not find any in their favoured Silver Birches. What I was most pleased with however was stumbling upon a WOODCOCK roost - no less than 5 birds in one small area of vegetation, all within 15 feet of each other. It was in an area of newly planted trees, scattered with thick Laurel scrub.

Jay, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest were the only other species noted, whilst the main pit was very quiet (not even the Shelduck), 107 Lapwings and 17 Common Gulls being of note.


This is a great little reserve and with heavy rain for a few hours, I utilised the hides for shelter. The cress beds produced 4 LITTLE EGRETS, Grey Heron, 8 Moorhens, 3 GADWALLS (2 drakes - a scarce species here), 3 Teal (2 drakes) and 4 GREEN SANDPIPERS (one of which was colour-ringed in August 2008).

A pair of Stock Doves, Jay, 6 Chaffinch, Goldcrest and 5 SISKINS were also encountered, along with 2 female Reed Buntings on Barry's feeders.


It was whilst chatting to warden Barry Trevis about one of his ringed Mute Swans I recently recorded at Tring that he tipped me off about a large flock of finches and buntings he had been trapping at Cromer Hyde (in game strips south of the village at TL 205 116). Although the weather was not particularly conducive for study, I was delighted to find 5 BRAMBLINGS in amongst the 200 Chaffinches present (my first of the year in Herts), as well as an impressive number of 140 LINNETS. There were also 70 Yellowhammers and 56 Reed Buntings in the crop and 16 Stock Doves nearby.


Two SHORT-EARED OWLS started to perform shortly after the heavy rain passed away to the SE, one of which captured a Field Vole and then flew with it very high in the sky with a male Common Kestrel in tow. It then proceeded to transfer the dead animal from its talons to its bill, gradually consuming the entire creature after five minutes or so. During this period, it frequently hovered in one place in the sky. Once eaten, it then flew back towards the ground and made an unusual beeline for me, 'growling' as it flew just overhead of me and staring directly at me with its bright yellow eyes. It then flew off over the scrub to join the other hunting bird. The habitat of Ellenbrooks does not appear to be that suitable for SEO now, the scattered saplings now growing quite high.

The only other bird I noted was a male Sparrowhawk.


I spent the last half hour of sunset at Heartwood 'Forest' where I was treated to another glorious display by a further 3 SHORT-EARED OWLS - hunting the long grass just south of the 'Archaelogical Field'. One bird was taking advantage of a wooden platform and perching, regurgitating pellets every now and again. A magical evening.

Another Red Fox was seen as it got dark


A GREAT GREY SHRIKE at Rye Meads RSPB this afternoon (Graham White)

Friday, 17 February 2012

Last week's juvenile WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE - the pix

Well didn't Paul Mowbray do well. Not content with co-finding the juvenile WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE at Rye Meads RSPB last Saturday, Paul also obtained these smashing photographs of the bird as it flew over his and Gary Gardiner's head. What a bird to have on your Hertfordshire List - talk about gripping !

Thursday, 16 February 2012

CASPIAN GULL for third night in Amwell roost

This first-winter CASPIAN GULL found and photographed by Barry Reed several weeks back came in for its third consecutive night tonight allowing JT, Ian Bennell, Gary Gardiner, Derek Turner and I to connect. It remained until dusk and first arrived at about 1640 hours.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

First-winter CASPIAN GULL in again in Amwell roost

Amwell this evening;

1st winter Caspian Gull 16.55-dusk (same individual as seen on 1st Feb)
1st winter Yellow-legged Gull
5 Little Egrets

Barry Reed

Monday, 13 February 2012

WATER PIPIT at Water End (Sunday)

Dan Forder photographed this WATER PIPIT at Water End, near Great Gaddesden, as it perched on the wooden footbridge over the stream. This is an outstanding record for the area.

The thaw is on


The northerly wind increased today with afternoon temperatures reaching 7 degrees. The wind also bought some rain, much of the lying snow being washed away.


No sign of any Water Rails but a single Little Egret, 3 Moorhens, 60 Redwings and a superb perched COMMON KINGFISHER by the stream


Still massively covered by a layer of ice but melting at the edges and affording wildfowl with some good welcome feeding opportunities. The big story was the Common Teal numbers - no less than 657 dabbling around the edges, one of my largest counts of this species at Wilstone ever. Also 273 Eurasian Wigeon.

The BLACK-TAILED GODWIT was showing very well once again - this time in the NW corner, Dave Hutchinson obtaining some exceptional images of it (see above). Closeby, the single DUNLIN was feeding along the vegetated edge.

The ice-free patch held a single female Common Goldeneye, whilst other species noted included 3 argenteus HERRING GULLS (a 3rd-winter and two juveniles), 25 Fieldfares and 24 Linnets.

An adult female PEREGRINE was showing very well from the Drayton Hide, flying occasional sorties from the tall Poplar trees. I did not see her catching anything but it was the Teal she had her eyes on.

In the Cemetery Corner Fields, the DARK-BELLIED BRENT was with the 70 Greylags but the Atlantic Canada Geese flock had multiplied to 166 birds. A single white goose was also with them.


Both the redhead SMEW and SNOW BUNTING were still present, with Northern Pochard numbering 196.

A BITTERN was still apparently alive on MARSWORTH but I missed it as it flew the length of the reedbed.


A quick jaunt through the forest searching for Woodcock yielded 2 Nuthatch, 4 Coal Tit, 4 Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Jay.


Thanks to Kathy Sharman and Darrel Bryant, I took a trip over to Benington to see the BARN OWLS. They were late appearing this evening (1650 hours) but once out put on a fantastic display, hunting for Field Voles in the grass. The site is adjacent to Watton Place Clinic and is situated to the north of the village - at TL 306 238. The birds remained in view for half an hour.

I also saw Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel and Great Spotted Woodpecker on the common


The pipit that Dan Forder had photographed just prior to me meeting him at the WATER END tributary bridge on Sunday afternoon was incredibly a WATER PIPIT - a very rare bird in the area these days.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Another red letter day in the ice


After yesterday's record breaking overnight temperature of -18 degrees in Chesham, last night was far milder at just -10 degrees. Lots of lying snow still and most waterbodies completely covered in ice. With the wind in the north, temperatures did surprisingly recover to 2 degrees, and the snow started to melt.

After recovering from yet more depressing news (Whitney Houston being found dead in her Hollywood flat at just 48 years old - Carmel and I first met dancing to one of her greatest hits in 1987), I eventually ventured out at 1100 hours. It proved to be another exciting day locally.........


Highlights this morning in the garden included 2 Common Buzzards, 1 Red Kite, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk and 3 Goldfinches......


Marsworth and Tringford Reservoirs still completely iced over with restricted ice-free areas on Wilstone and Startop's End

WILSTONE RESERVOIR was my first port of call, the grassy fields in Cemetery Corner harbouring 70 Greylags and the continuing DARK-BELLIED BRENT as well as 91 Atlantic Canadas

Checking the open water yielded 17 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Mute Swans, 42 Mallard, 258 Eurasian Wigeon, 14 Gadwall, 337 Common Teal, a single drake Shoveler, 5 SMEWS (1 drake and 4 redheads) and 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

But it was the waders that stole the show with a RED KNOT on the ice until 1314 hours (it eventually flew and circled round several times calling loudly before being watched as a speck over Drayton Beauchamp and into Bucks airspace), a single DUNLIN slipping and sliding about on the ice close to the Drayton Bank and hide and an incredibly confiding BLACK-TAILED GODWIT feeding with grazing ducks in the Cemetery Corner.

The WATER PIPIT was also showing well in Cemetery Corner, along with 2 Pied Wagtails and a Grey Wagtail, and a Common Buzzard flew over.

A Chinese Water Deer was feeding by the reedbed whilst a Red Fox ran right across the ice to the centre bund.

At STARTOP'S END, the male SNOW BUNTING was showing very well in the far NE corner of the reservoir and well into Bucks, and the single redhead SMEW I found earlier this week was still present (see Dave Hutchinson's excellent shots above).

I did a thorough check of the 47 Mute Swans present (11 first-years) for rings. Sadly orange 032 was on his own and without his progeny, whilst metal ringed adults included W29266 and M12946 (another I could only read part of the ring).. Otherwise, 5 Great Crested Grebes, 10 Wigeon, 31 Tufted Duck, 103 Pochard and an adult drake COMMON GOLDENEYE.

(Mike Wallen had earlier had a flock of Goosander and Smew fly over)

(WeBS count)

Never before had I seen most of the deep pit frozen and no wonder wildfowl are really starting to suffer. I did a full inventory of birds present with the following results -:

No Great Crested Grebes but 1 Little Grebe present
6 Mute Swans including 3 youngsters
87 Mallard
78 Wigeon
3 Common Teal
48 Gadwall
92 Tufted Duck
86 Pochard
The 3 female Common Goldeneyes
92 Coot
303 Black-headed Gulls
18 Common Gulls
3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
(an adult LITTLE GULL had been present earlier)


Met up with Dan Forder and eventually enjoyed views of 2 WATER RAILS, a fabulous JACK SNIPE and a drake NORTHERN PINTAIL with 6 Common Teal, the latter first found by Lucy Flower yesterday.

Also 2 Little Grebes, 4 Mute Swans, a pair of Wigeon, 10 Gadwall and 2 Grey Wagtails

Saturday, 11 February 2012


The juvenile SEA EAGLE flew low and SW over Rye Meads RSPB reserve this afternoon, being seen by at least 5 observers. At Amwell, a RUFF was the first of the year, with 3 SMEW also still there - and 2 BITTERNS.


Steve Murray and I had a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT over Hilfield Reservoir at 5pm this evening. It circled the res and then headed south east. I even managed a photo - see above (Tony Blake)

Male MERLIN still in area

In the field on the right with the gate on the road from Wallington to A505 (at approx TL295361) there was a male MERLIN about 15:00 this afternoon giving great views as it tried unsucessfully to grab one of the huge flock of Fieldfare in that field. Also about 150 linnets and a couple of Common Buzzards hanging around (Rob Davies)

SCAUPS still at Hilfield

The 6 GREATER SCAUPS were still present at Hilfield Park Reservoir today

JACK SNIPE still at Lemsford

Saw the following at Lemsford Springs this morning;

1 JACK SNIPE ( showing from second hide )
11 Common Snipe
3 Green Sandpiper
1 Little Egret
2 Grey Wagtail
30+ Teal
5 Siskin

Darrel Bryant

Thursday, 9 February 2012


In response to my previous post.........


It's a female Blackbird, not so different from this bird wintering in Pori, SW-Finland with more traditional looking Blackbirds;


Cheers, Petteri Mäkelä

Odd thrush

This very oddly plumaged female Common Blackbird visited a Maple Cross garden this morning totally freaking its observers out ! A Naumann's Thrush if ever there was one


I spent a couple of hours at East Hyde this afternoon. When I arrived, there were 7 Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper in the channel but no sign of any Jack Snipe. Eventually the Jack did appear (see attached image) and showed well for about 15 minutes before disappearing into the vegetation again. This is the first Jack Snipe I've ever seen that didn't bob. The two drake GOOSANDERS discovered by Darin Stanley this morning flew upriver (Alan Reynolds).

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Unusual garden visitor

A WOODCOCK was an unusual garden visitor in Ware Road, Hoddesdon, today - further proof of how the continuing cold weather is affecting birds detrimentally.

JACK SNIPES frozen out

Been there for a few days and showing nicely opposite the second hide today at Lemsford Springs NR I photographed it (Graeme Leckie).

Meanwhile, two remain at East Hyde in the stream south of the bridge.

SCAUPS at Hilfield

Alan Reynolds did well yesterday in obtaining these two shots of the 6 GREATER SCAUPS present at Hilfield since Steve Murray and I discovered them on Monday. There are four drakes, an adult female and another 'brown' bird which seems to be a young drake

Monday, 6 February 2012

A Red Letter Day in the Amersham Recording Area and 6 GREATER SCAUPS and 4 PINTAIL at Hilfield


Following Saturday night's heavy snow, a rapid thaw is now in process and throughout the day, the four to six inches of lying snow has been turning to slush. In fact, it felt quite mild, with temperatures at one point climbing to 4 degrees. It was very misty and for a while, it rained a little. Towards nightfall, the skies cleared and it does now look as though a frost will form.

With so much snow about, I took the opportunity to have a good look around my immediate Recording Area, the first time I have put such effort in this year. It turned out to be very rewarding, amongst the many highlights being a Common Crossbill, flock of Lesser Redpolls, big flock of Mandarins, 3 Green Sandpipers, 3 Common Snipe and so on. A red letter day in other words.........


Shardeloes lake was virtually completely frozen over with just one tiny patch of ice-free water. Despite that, a mass of birds were packed in on it, including 82 Coots, 5 first-year Mute Swans, a drake Northern Pochard, 5 Gadwall, 2 Mallard, 3 Little Grebes and best of all, 11 MANDARIN DUCKS. The latter comprised of 6 drakes and 5 females. Several gulls were roosting on the ice including an adult Lesser Black-backed and 5 adult, 2 first-winter Common Gulls.

Also noted were Green Woodpecker, a hooting Tawny Owl, Coal Tit, Red Kite, Song Thrush and 2 Common Treecreepers.

In OLD AMERSHAM nearby, over 100 Fieldfares were in hedgerows along School Lane


Had a concerted effort in the snow to locate Woodcock but failed in my quest. A big bonus however was a nice adult male COMMON CROSSBILL - a rare species locally - whilst a party of 20 LESSER REDPOLLS showed very well in a stand of Silver Birches. One of them was a very brightly plumaged pink male.

More ordinary fare noted included 2 Jays, Coal Tit, 5 Great Tits, 4 Blue Tits, 4 Nuthatches, Wren, 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (a lot of drumming activity going on), 12 Redwing and 3 Chaffinches.


Walked a major portion of the valley, west as far as Bois Mill and east to Crestyl Cressbeds. The heavy snow had certainly forced a lot of birds into the valley.

On the Chess just east of Chenies Bottom bridge, no less than 8 LITTLE EGRETS were feeding together with a Grey Heron, whilst a female Grey Wagtail flew overhead.

LATIMER GREAT WATER was largely frozen but within the ice-free area was 9 Mute Swans (2 first-years), 165 Atlantic Canada Geese, 10 Tufted Duck, 5 Pochard, 47 Coot and 11 Moorhen. To the south of the lake, 4 LAPWINGS were walking bewildered about a snow white field. A single sub-adult Sinensis Cormorant was perched at the top of a tree to the west.

In trees by the hall were 4 Mistle Thrushes, 8 Fieldfares, 4 Redwings and a Song Thrush.

A further 8 LAPWINGS were in a field with horses to the north of Mill Farm Water Meadow, taking advantage of the soil exposed by the feeding animals. A Green Woodpecker took advantage too.

At FROGMORE MEADOW, I was very surprised to locate 2 GREEN SANDPIPERS on the Chess, both flying around noisily as I inadvertently flushed them. A further 2 LITTLE EGRETS were seen from the Water Vole Watchpoint, as well as 19 Mallard, 9 COMMON TEAL, 2 Little Grebes and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

CRESTYL WATERCRESS BEDS were unfrozen and full of birds with the aforementioned TEAL coming and going, 2 Mute Swans, 14 Moorhens, a single LAPWING, yet another GREEN SANDPIPER, 3 COMMON SNIPES, a Grey Wagtail, 2 MEADOW PIPITS and a male Yellowhammer.

A deep guttural cronking call overhead immediately alerted me to a COMMON RAVEN, the bird flying across from Chenies village direction and heading off toward Limeshill Wood. Although JT had seen this bird twice since November 2011, this was the first time I had connected - the possibility being that it was one of the surviving pair that bred in the valley in 2009.

A Grey Heron landed in a tree east of VALLEY FARM and immediately sparked off panic amongst the LITTLE OWL colony. Once the resident pair in the heron's chosen roost tree started complaining loudly, it set off the rest, with eventually 5 different individuals alarming.

Limeshill Wood also produced 2 Nuthatches and 2 Jays.

Just as I was walking back on the boardwalk, I was alerted to a local pager message........


Just under 20 minutes later, I had joined Hilfield patch worker Steve Murray. Steve had discovered two GREATER SCAUP - a species I had failed to see in the county in 2011. Once by the jetty, I located them immediately - a fine adult pair, the drake with his resplendent green head, golden-orange eye, gleaming white flanks, lightly vermiculated grey mantle and black-nailed sky-blue bill and the female with her extensive white forehead blaze, fat rounded head, dark brown head and breast, pale cheek patch, subtly grey vermiculated back and grey sides. There was also a hint of a pale ring around the neck base and a fat spatulate bill, greyer in colour.

They were a spotless pair and a delight to watch, both Steve and I being treated to good views as they gradually swam closer inshore. Once fully 'scauped', I started to pan round and incredibly soon realised that there were actually SIX GREATER SCAUPS on the reservoir and not just two - four adult drakes, a first-winter drake and the adult female. A real treat and tantamount proof of what the weather is doing with the movements of waterbirds.

At around the same time, I watched 4 NORTHERN PINTAILS arrive (three drakes and a female), with the duck logcall also including 107 Pochard, 81 Tufted Duck, 5 Rufous Daniels, 6 Gadwall and 11 Wigeon.

The dusk gull roost was very impressive with well over 4,500 Black-headed Gulls present, as well as 150+ Herring Gulls, 350 Common Gulls, 33 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single adult Great Black-backed Gull. Other birds taking advantage of the ice-free water included 35 Great Crested Grebe and 6 Little Grebe

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Graham White and myself had a first winter CASPIAN GULL in the roost at Amwell this evening - it was apparently a late arriver - we did not see it until about 16.55 despite continual scanning through the Gulls from about 16.20 onwards, It stayed until it was dark. It seemed to be a different individual to the 2 seen on Monday. Also present were 3 SMEWS (2 drakes and 1 redhead) (Barry Reed)