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

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