Monday, 30 April 2012

The exhilaration of spring birding


Can you believe it - not a single drop of rain today. It was pleasantly warm, the sun shone brightly and the skies were clear intermittently. The wind, initially blowing from the south, veered SE and then due east..........


New arrivals in TOP SCRUB were two singing male GARDEN WARBLERS - my first of the year. Also, at least 6 singing male WILLOW WARBLERS in that area, and a further 3 on Steps Hill.

Another new arrival was a singing male COMMON WHITETHROAT in scrub below the Beacon knollwhilst most impressive, was the sheer array of WHEATEARS, 5 of which were GREENLANDERS. There were 23 individuals in total, matching Mike Wallen's total of early morning, with a party of 12 birds along the fenceline beyond the gate at the bottom of the slope, 5 on the SE slopes, 3 on Gallows Hill and 3 more in the fenced-off sheepfield enclosure. Two singing male CORN BUNTINGS were also observed in the latter, whilst 3 migrant Barn Swallows went through.

(1145 hours visit)

Highlight for me was a single HOBBY chasing Common Swifts in the sky above the Black Poplars in the SE corner, another first for the year.

Otherwise, disaster had struck, with 9 Grey Herons just standing around forlorn, after presumably falling foul of the weekend weather, most likely killing the young.

18 Great Crested Grebes still, 14 Mute Swans (reedbed nest washed out), female Mallard with 3 surviving ducklings, 8 Gadwall, 1 drake Common Teal, 38 Tufted Duck, just 3 Northern Pochard, 83 Common Terns and 40 Common Swifts.

At MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, the male COMMON CUCKOO was still calling, with 8 Common Terns and 5 Blackcaps noted. A tree had been blown down and had fallen across the causeway footpath.

Thankfully, the raft-nesting Mute Swans had survived the floods and wind on STARTOP'S and a pair of Greylag Geese was accompanying 4 yellow goslings.


Next off, I had to undertake two comprehensive wildlife surveys to areas affected by HS2 - both areas completely new to me. The sites were just west of Aylesbury and part of the Thame floodplain, south of the A41. The starting point of the survey was at Putlowes Farm at SP 783 150 before fully surveying the Thame flood meadows in grid square 78 14. The plain was completely flooded due to the recent rains, with many grass fields completely sodden or underwater. This is the area where the HS2 viaduct will be built.

A total of 30 species was recorded in Part 1 of the survey -:

Grey Heron - 4 individuals noted, 3 adults and a first-year

Greylag Goose - 1 pair

Atlantic Canada Geese - 18

Mallard - two pairs on the floods with an additional female with 12 small ducklings

Red Kite - 1 flying overhead

Common Buzzard - single very vocal adult

Common Kestrel - 1 male

Common Pheasant - 15

Argenteus Herring Gull - 3 first-years on the floods

Lesser Black-backed Gull - 8 adults on the floods

Stock Dove - 2 pairs around the farm buildings

Woodpigeon - 15

Collared Dove - pair around the houses by the access road

Eurasian Skylark - just 2 singing males in the cereal crops

Barn Swallow - 2 pairs around the farm buildings

*YELLOW WAGTAIL - single male in the cereal fields and water meadows. According to 83 year-old farmer Geoffrey Jarvis, this species has bred in this area for at least 35 years.

Dunnock - 1 pair in hedgerow

Robin - just 1 pair

Common Blackbird - single pair

*COMMON WHITETHROAT - 2 singing males in hedgerows bordering cereal crops

Blue Tit - 1 pair

Long-tailed Tit - single nesting pair

Common Magpie - single pair

Jackdaw - 90+ of floodplain

Carrion Crow - 5 nesting pairs

House Sparrow - 6 pairs in the vicinity of the barns at the farm

Chaffinch - two separate singing males

LINNET - 3 nesting pairs in hedgerows

Goldfinch - 2 pairs in vicinity of farm buildings

YELLOWHAMMER - pair in hedgerow


The second part of the survey was of the golf course primed as a target for the HS2 route. This and Lower Hartwell Farm were particularly rich in bird diversity. Most unexpected was a migrant male WOOD WARBLER - moving through and singing along the Thame Valley Walk, about 200 yards north of the Newt Pond at the extreme NW end of the golf course.

Mute Swan - pair on Hartwell House Lake

Atlantic Canada Goose - 8 in the grounds of Hartwell House

Common Buzzard - single flew high over Lower Hartwell Farm

Common Pheasant - 12

Coot - pair on Hartwell House Lake

Woodpigeon - 35

Stock Dove - pair nesting in tree hole on golf course

Green Woodpecker - 1 yaffling

Great Spotted Woodpecker - pair feeding young

Wren - 6 territories

Dunnock - pair breeding in vicinity of Hartwell Farm

Robin - two nesting pairs, with singles at Hartwell Farm and on the golf course

SONG THRUSH - 4 birds on the golf course with nesting suspected

Common Blackbird - 5 nesting pairs

Blackcap - 4 singing males

COMMON WHITETHROAT - singing male by Newt Pond

*LESSER WHITETHROAT - rattling male by Newt Pond

Common Chiffchaff - 2 singing males on Golf Course

Great Tit - 4 birds

Blue Tit - 2 nesting pairs

Long-tailed Tit - 3 nesting pairs

Common Magpie - 4

Jay - single pair

Jackdaw - 50+

*ROOK - colony in trees on west flank of golf course with 72 active nests in main cluster and an additional 9 in a neighbouring colony

Carrion Crow - 3 nests

House Sparrow - breeding pair in barns at Whaddon Hill Farm

LINNET - pair

Goldfinch - 2 pairs

Greenfinch - singing male on golf course

YELLOWHAMMER - pair in cereal fields and hedgerow

A single Grey Squirrel was noted, whilst butterflies included 2 Peacocks, a Large White, 4 Brimstones and a Speckled Wood. The ponds hold Great Crested Newts


Both the adult drake COMMON SCOTER and the still-transitional-plumaged SLAVONIAN GREBE were still present, with a singing male GARDEN WARBLER and several Willow Warblers present close to the Scrapyard Corner of the lake. With MJP, watched 4 ARCTIC TERNS fly straight through to the east at 1635 hours but failed to locate the Common Nightingale noted earlier.

At PRIORY COUNTRY PARK (BEDS) at 1709, the single BLACK TERN was present, whilst at PEACOCKS LAKE, BROOM (BEDS), all 3 BLACK TERNS could be seen at 1739. A pair of GREY PARTRIDGES was showing in a cereal crop opposite. Nothing else of significance though, although Richard Bashford and SCB saw Bar-tailed Godwits later in the evening in the area.


Returning back to Wilstone at 1930 hours, I was very pleased to see the adult drake GARGANEY found by Stuart Wilson just prior to my arrival. It was showing very well swimming back and forth along the Drayton Bank and at times was only 75 yards from the hide. Barry Reed had found a different drake at Amwell early morning and that bird was also still present this evening.

Whilst watching the Garganey, an adult summer LITTLE GULL dropped in whilst COMMON SWIFT numbers reached 90. The pair of LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS were still present as well as 4 Teal.


The first local WESTERN REED WARBLER of the year arrived today in the larger lake reedbed on the west shore, with both Great Crested Grebes and 28 Tufted Ducks also present

The end of another exhausting day

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