Thursday, 31 January 2013

Great White report


Well the last day of January went out much in the same vein as all month with very strong winds coming from the West and quite a few heavy showers. Temperatures remained constant at the January average of 7 degrees C.

Not a great day for me, with little to show from a dawn until dusk bash.....

In the CHESS VALLEY (BUCKS), 3 Little Egrets present but no sign of the Great White Egret in any of its normal haunts.

Then negative results on Jack Snipes - none at Broughton Trout Ponds, Lemsford Springs nor East Hyde. As news broke on the pager of a Great White Egret at WHITWELL CRESSBEDS (HERTS), I met John Temple sitting in his car at the East Hyde bridge - he had seen nothing either.

Anyway, just over 10 minutes later, I was at WHITWELL CRESSBEDS and no Great White Egret to be seen (nor observer) - just 6 Little Egrets showing well from the road, and 4 Red Kites hunting over a neighbouring field. No sign of a breeding pair of Common Raven either - a huge branch on one side of the tree having broken off.

I then moved over into BEDFORDSHIRE and drove around Linslade and Leighton Buzzard searching for Waxwings but with no joy.

STOCKGROVE COUNTRY PARK (BEDS) was still devoid of Mandarin Ducks on the lake but a photographer feeding birds on the bridge did fortuitously provide me with an easy MARSH TIT, at least 3 Coal Tits, 6 Great Tits and 5 Blue Tits.

I then did a long walk into WOBURN PARK (BEDS), where at the Abbey Lake (SP 962 325), I saw 2 Grey Herons, 2 EGYPTIAN GEESE, 4 Mute Swans, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 66 Wigeon, 3 SHOVELER (2 drakes), 31 Tufted Duck, 22 Pochard, 4 GOOSANDER (3 adult drakes and a redhead), 25 Coot and Nuthatch.

Thanks to some advice from Peter Smith, I eventually located the resident pair of AUSTRALIAN BLACK SWANS - at the far NW end of Upper Drakelow Pond at SP 950 336 - grazing with Atlantic Canada Geese. This pair had successfully reared three young last summer and were part of a UK naturalised population of just under 100 individuals. In Holland, the population of this species is even greater - clearly eligible under Category C. The Upper Drakelow Pond also held 8 Northern Pochard.

I then returned to BUCKINGHAMSHIRE with a visit to GALLOWS BRIDGE. Very, very quiet and very, very windy - the highlight being a small flock of 21 EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVERS.

CALVERT SAILING LAKE (NORTH BUCKS) was my last destination of the day and finding a sheltered spot in the SW corner, set forth on counting and scrutinising the gull roost. The roost was very impressive - and massive - with no less than 13,500 gulls roosting by 1720 hours when Warren and I gave up looking at darkness. The vast majority were Lesser Black-backed Gulls - 98% or more adult - with an incredible 6,425 click-counted. Herring Gulls were second most numerous at 4,100 (with perhaps 10% northern Argentatus) and Black-headed Gull in third place at 2,637 birds.

GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS numbered an impressive 216 individuals (again, 98% adult), with just 122 Common Gulls and just 2 YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS, an adult and a 4th-winter. None of the hoped-for white-wingers came in - the only rarity being CASPIAN GULL - an adult and a first-winter.

Passerines encountered included Green Woodpecker, 3 BULLFINCH, 2 Fieldfare and 5 Redwing.

Driving about a mile east of QUAINTON (BUCKS), a TAWNY OWL flew across the road at BLACKGROVE FARM at SP 765 189 - my first of the year.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


Barry Reed discovered a 2nd-winter GLAUCOUS GULL in the Amwell gull roost this evening, with the first-winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL there again, as well as 2 BITTERNS and the GREATER SCAUP.

At Therfield Heath, confirmation comes that two GREAT GREY SHRIKES are present at the site (I had suspected this on 19 January, after seeing a bird at vast distances apart within a few minutes), whilst the HEN HARRIER, SHORT-EARED OWL and 2 LONG-EARED OWLS are still present.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Round Britain

On Saturday (19 January), on the first day of my Round Britain 10-day tour, I visited THERFIELD HEATH and found an adult female HEN HARRIER hunting over the snowswept fields; also MERLIN and great close views of the GREAT GREY SHRIKE; also an incredible 67+ GREY PARTRIDGE in the snow

Alan Reynolds obtained some outstanding shots of Amwell's first-winter CASPIAN GULL (still present as of Tuesday), whilst the GREATER SCAUP is still around

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Everywhere is frozen; CASPIAN GULL roosts for its 4th consecutive evening


The cold snap continues with temperatures overnight and for most of the morning at minus 4 degrees C. Although there was no precipitation during the day, most of the places I visited were covered in ice, even on the vegetation and trees. It did warm up slightly during the afternoon, with the odd location at 2.5 degrees C.

Just Target Birding today, mostly successful.........

At a very iced-over FULMER LAKE (SOUTH BUCKS), all of the waterbirds were crammed into one little area, including 3 first-year Mute Swans, 33 Atlantic Canada Geese, 16 Mallard, 27 Wigeon, 18 Teal and 24 Coot. In the surrounding woodland, Common Kestrel (male), Redwing, Great Spotted Woodpecker and BULLFINCH (pair) were noted.

STOKE COMMON (SOUTH BUCKS) was equally frozen and despite a thorough search, I could not locate the pair of Common Stonechats seen on 12 January. Two COMMON SNIPES were unexpected, whilst male Common Kestrel, 8 Carrion Crows, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 6 Fieldfares, 5 Chaffinches, 3 Goldcrest, Coal Tit and 2 Meadow Pipits were recorded.

Success came at BLACK PARK COUNTRY PARK (SOUTH BUCKS), when a flock of 13 'chipping' COMMON CROSSBILLS flew over as I approached the Five Point Crossroads - also Jay, 3 Nuthatches, Coal Tit, 8 Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, 2 Goldcrests and 9 Grey Squirrels.

Had a quick look at the AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPITS at KINGSMEAD QUARRY, HORTON (BERKSHIRE), the two birds commuting between the waste ground here at TQ 005 758 and Queen Mother Reservoir immediately north. View only from the gate at TQ 004 758, where you can park alongside. This is on the B376 just before the traffic lights and at the entrance to the RMC Aggregates land. A few SISKIN were in the tall Alders opposite the gate.

It was then time to head eastwards towards HERTFORDSHIRE, where I wanted to see a certain roosting gull. On route, just over 120 European Golden Plovers were west of the A10 east of THEOBALDS PARK in the large field at TL 350 006 (the field immediately to the south of Lieutenant Ellis Way).

I arrived at AMWELL NATURE RESERVE WATCHPOINT (HERTS) at 1530, where local birder Bill Last and St Albans birder Wendy Hatton were already in position. Bill had already picked out the first-winter CASPIAN GULL standing on the ice amongst the throng - a bird superbly picked out and identified (photographed) by Barry Reed on Monday, just as he came back from Brazil. It had been present from at least 1500 hours and was a very eye-catching bird. In fact, it was a classic first-winter. Its most striking features were its clean white head, long sloping (snout-like) forehead and long legs, these allowing it to be picked out with relative ease. On closer inspection, it had a thick, straight, all-dark bill, dark eyes and pale pink leg colour, the tibia length being the critical feature (markedly longer than the surrounding larids). Diagnostically, the lower scapulars had already advanced to a nice pale grey colour, with the upper scapulars being very dark chocolate-brown and very contrasting with the rest of the uopperwing coverts. The tertials too were a dark brown, with a broad white fringe at the tip. The uppertail was largely black, whilst the underparts were essentially white but heavily blotched brown in patches. It was a large bird, very long-winged with characteristic gleaming white underwings.

Brendan Glynne and Phil Ball joined us shortly later, along with finder Barry Reed, the bird remaining present when I left at about 1620 hours.

There was a fair-sized roost of large gulls on Great Hardmead Lake this evening, including a single first-winter YELLOW-LEGGED GULL (also striking, very white-headed and a noticeable bird), 27 Great Black-backed Gulls, 81+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls (including an adult bearing a red ring inscribed in black 'OR31'), 239 Herring Gulls (including good numbers of Argentatus still) and at least 96 Common Gulls.

[Bill Last had earlier seen both BITTERNS and the first-winter drake GREATER SCAUP]

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Cold weather attracting CORN BUNTINGS from a wide radius, and 2 BITTERNS at Marsworth


Yesterday's snow was still lying this morning, although more of it melted during the day as temperatures rose to just above freezing. It was a bright, clear day but extremely cold and by 1800 hours, temperatures in Little Chalfont had already fallen to minus 5 degrees C. Norfolk had been hardest hit by this latest slice of Arctic weather, with up to 6 inches of snow laying....

At CHENIES BOTTOM BRIDGE (BUCKS), the GREAT WHITE EGRET was performing extremely well, fishing in the Chess just 50 yards downstream.

I then met up with Graham Smith and spent a very cold 45 minutes studying and counting the GULLS at HEDGERLEY LANDFILL, BEACONSFIELD (SOUTH BUCKS). There were impressive numbers present, ducking and diving the various council vehicles attempting to flatten out the disposed refuse - a bare minimum of 5,300 birds...

Most impressive were the GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL numbers - a diminishing species - 102 being my highest count, the vast majority full adults. Next off, Herring Gulls were in abundance, with at least 2,200 present, including no less than 178 Northern Argentatus on one sweep. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noticeable by their absence - perhaps just 38 in all - with just 1 adult Common Gull (this species just does not like working tips) and the rest (2,900 or more) being Black-headed Gulls. There was one Caspian/Yellow-legged Gull present (an adult-type, seen only in flight) and an odd-looking Herring Gull hybrid that was very pale and had pale biscuit-brown/creamy upperwings which was strikingly white-winged gull-like as it flew around.

Otherwise, 42 Red Kites, 213 Common Starlings, 32 Pied Wagtails, a Meadow Pipit and 2 Song Thrushes.

As is normally the case just lately, as soon as the Council guy saw us 'scoping across, he unleashed his hybrid Saker on the flock and almost immediately, every gull in the vicinity headed off. It was time to move on.

At nearby BEACONSFIELD SERVICES, 29 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS were back in the adjacent trees, flying back and forth to drink on the roof of the Shell Service Station.

To the east of HILLMOTT'S END WOOD and south of HEDGERLEY LANE, the fields were full of Red-legged Partridges - 68 at least - presumably part of a local release by gamekeepers.

After a short meeting, I then spent the rest of the afternoon at MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS), in the great company of Richard Woodhead and Richard Ness. I had been spurned on to visit by Rob Andrews, after his fabulous CORN BUNTING counts of last night. I was also very surprised to see all of the reed cutting that had been performed since my last visit, one of two EURASIAN BITTERNS this evening immediately utilising the cut-channel closest to the causeway to feed briefly. WATER RAILS numbered at least 4, whilst the BARN OWL performed as usual but at the later time of 1643 hours; a Green Woodpecker was noted too.

However, it was the CORN BUNTINGS I had come to see, and following on from RDA's magnificent 204, that same tree on the far side of the reservoir eventually harboured an astonishing 229 birds this evening - presumably the result of this change in weather. This is by far my highest count in a long time.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

An apparent wintering WILLOW WARBLER and roosting BITTERN


The day started off bright, sunny and calm but later clouded over, whilst temperatures struggled to get higher than just 3 degrees C. There was no rain to speak of.

I had reserved today for my first real outing into HERTFORDSHIRE, with a number of target birds on the menu. Rather remarkably, the last three years in the county have resulted in me seeing exactly 171 species. I managed all of my targets bar Tree Sparrow.....

At LYNSTER'S FARM, WEST HYDE first thing, the usual field held 2 EGYPTIAN GEESE, 60 Woodpigeons, 18 Jackdaws, 8 Common Magpies, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker and 1 Redwing

I then went up to ASH GROVE in HAREFIELD where last year I saw 4 Tree Sparrows in gardens. All change this time I am afraid with no feeders, tall fences and no birds. Plenty of suitable stubble fields though with Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Ring-necked Parakeet, Common Starling and a beautiful pair of BULLFINCHES all seen.

Being such a calm and glorious morning, I then decided to visit BROADWATER SAILING CLUB, where just to the North is the RIVER COLNE on the Herts/Middlesex border. This is the only real wintering place in the county for wintering CHIFFCHAFFS and this morning the overhanging branches were alive with them. In a section of river no more than 100 yards long, there must have been at least 17 birds, the majority fairly standard-looking Collybita and a number of darker, greener, longer-winged abietinus candidates. Nothing present suggested tristis. However, one particularly bright Phyllosc did take my eye, having noticeably bright feet, straw-brown coloured legs, yellow breast, rich yellow supercilium, yellow about the face, pale bill and seemingly long primaries - it had to be a wintering WILLOW WARBLER. There was another pale legged bird present but this bird was clearly a Chiffchaff.

The same stretch of COLNE also held 2 Robins, Dunnock, GREY WAGTAIL, Pied Wagtail, 18 Redwings, 1 Great Crested Grebe and a cracking adult drake GOOSANDER.

TROY MILL GP adjacent was brimming with waterbirds and the most inhabited in winter I had ever seen it. COOT were the real story and no less than 527 of them were trawling the pit for weed. Also counted were 22 Mute Swans, 43 Gadwall, a pair of Wigeon, 3 Pochards, 56 Tufted Ducks, 2 Grey Herons and 4 Great Crested Grebes.

COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS) was my next destination where Tringford's redhead SMEW had relocated for the day, showing very well on the main marsh in front of the first hide. The 5 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS were still present in the far NW corner of the Deep Pit, whilst 16 Mute Swans, 138 Wigeon, 22 Gadwall, 58 Tufted Duck, 19 Pochard, 43 Coot, 2 Moorhen, 28 Lapwing and 1 COMMON SNIPE completed the counts.

Tree Sparrow was once again on the menu in the Tyttenhanger/Lemsford areas but despite traipsing round across massive hectares of fields at CROMER HYDE GAME STRIPS and other previous haunts, I totally drew a blank; just 2 birds seemingly reported in the county this year.

In fact the game strips were very poor producing lean returns, just 35 Cjhaffinches in total, no Yellowhammers, 6 Reed Buntings, 25 Common Pheasants, Magpies, Coal Tit, 14 Fieldfare, a male Linnet, Song Thrush and a Common Buzzard.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at AMWELL NR, partly in the company of Jay Ward. Leaving a flock of 55 Goldfinches in Alders by the entrance, I soon located the female NORTHERN PINTAIL which had been found earlier. It was at the south end of the Great Hardmead lake, consorting with Gadwalls by the wooded island. That pit also held 5 Mute Swans, 44 Gadwall, 9 Shoveler, 40 Wigeon, 45 Tufted Duck, 100+ Coot and a large number of roosting gulls, including 128 Lesser Black-backs, 12 Great Black-backs, 72 Herring and 54 Common.

Tumbling Bay Lake to the north of the lock gates held the continuing first-winter drake GREATER SCAUP, the redhead SMEW, a single female Common Goldeneye, 16 Pochard, 44 Tufted Duck, 3 Great Crested Grebes and 2 Little Grebes.

Towards dusk and watching from the Viewpoint, the EURASIAN BITTERN flew to its usual roosting spot at 1620 hours, whilst 2 Little Egrets came in and a Red Fox prowled about in the open

Monday, 7 January 2013

THERFIELD HEATH is the business


Another dreary grey day with little brightness but still fairly mild for the time of year.

A bit of Targeted Birding today with Stonechat, Firecrest, Hawfinch, Great Grey Shrike and various Owls on the menu. Partly successful, particularly in East Herts

Better news was the return of 15 House Sparrows in the garden (LITTLE CHALFONT), all feeding together on one birdtable shortly after dawn

Also making a reappearance were the 4 Red-legged Partridges on GORE HILL, AMERSHAM (BUCKS) - after disappearing since the New Year

At BEACONSFIELD SERVICES (BUCKS) early morning, the BOHEMIAN WAXWING flock had increased by 4 to 32 birds - all showing well perched high in the trees overlooking the service area

The roads around CASTLEMAN'S FARM, WOOBURN COMMON (BUCKS) were still under deep water and impassable, but around the farm were 33 House Sparrows and a single Moorhen; just 9 Egyptian Geese were in the 'chicken fields'

Chris Holt and I met up with Graham Smith in SPRINGFIELD FARM QUARRY (BUCKS) where we searched without success for the male Common Stonechat Pete Stevens had seen recently. A GREEN SANDPIPER was put up from some damp ground, with 36 Mallard, 24 Lapwing, male Red-legged Partridge, 22 Red Kite, singing Skylark, 7 Meadow Pipit, female Reed Bunting, 2 Goldfinch and 70 Fieldfare all noted.

HOGBACK WOOD at BEACONSFIELD (BUCKS) was our next location where we hoped to connect with the wintering Firecrest. This was not to be and the extensive Holly scrub produced no less than 8 Goldcrests, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, 7 Long-tailed Tits and my first Common Treecreepers of the Bucks Year.

Following up a call from Paul Reed, we diverted to COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS), where Paul had located three different WAXWINGS from the two present at the site yesterday. Sadly, these 3 stayed just two hours. The 5 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS were on show though, favouring the far NW corner of the Deep Pit. Two were adult drakes.

After that, we gave up with South Bucks and headed east into HERTFORDSHIRE...

At BRAMFIELD OLD RECTORY GARDEN, a male HAWFINCH was showing well on our arrival perched high in one of the trees (one of only two seen on site this morning).

The rest of the day was then spent at THERFIELD HEATH, where we did exceptionally well.

Three species of owl was recorded, with a single SHORT-EARED hunting late afternoon in setaside NNE of Greys Farm, along with 2 BARN in the same vicinity. A male Sparrowhawk afforded excellent views as it perched in one of the hedgerows and the wintering GREAT GREY SHRIKE was adorning the hedgerow east of Duckpuddle Bush at around TL 344 385.

A flock of 130 EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVERS flew west, with 100 Chaffinches in one field at the south end of the Icknield Way nearer Park Farm and some 25 roosting Yellowhammers at the north end. A large flock of 200 Linnet were in the vicinity, whilst 9 CORN BUNTINGS staged for a while in trackside trees.

The most gratifying experience was that of the GREY PARTRIDGES, of which at least 35 were encountered. As we wandered the mile or so back to the car at dusk, males were calling from virtually every field either side of the Icknield Way - it was fantastic, especially when one considers how scarce this farmland species is now in our countryside. This is certainly one of the best sites around for this species. It made me harp back to the early 1970's when Stone Curlew was still relatively numerous in these fields.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

SHRIKE and all

At Therfield Heath today, the GREAT GREY SHRIKE was still present, along with 90 Corn Buntings, 3 Long-eared Owls, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Barn Owls and 340 Linnets (Graham White and others); also 8 HAWFINCHES still at Bramfield Churchyard (Simon West) and BITTERN showing well, along with MED GULL, SCAUP and SMEW at Amwell (Mike Ilett). Two BITTERNS also in Marsworth Reedbed at dusk, and both SMEW and WATER PIPIT still at Tring.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Latest Images

Last night's first-winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL at Amwell (Mike Ilett)

The wintering WATER PIPIT at Wilstone (Martin Johnson)

The male LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER at Amwell (Alan Reynolds)

And the long-staying first-winter GREATER SCAUP at Amwell (Alan Reynolds) (note the change in plumage)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

AMWELL leading the way

Amwell NR did well today, producing a first-winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL in the roost, 6 Egyptian Geese, BITTERN, the LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (male seen for its third successive day near Hardmead Lock), the long-staying drake GREATER SCAUP and a single redhead SMEW (Mike Ilett et al), with 6 HAWFINCHES still at Bramfield and SHORT-EARED OWLS at Therfield Heath and Heartswood Forest.

The GREAT GREY SHRIKE was still at Therfield whilst WAXWING flocks included 50 on the A505 just west of Royston (Andy Graham) and 16 in South Oxhey (Joan Thompson).

A redhead SMEW remains at Tringford Reservoir (Steve Blake)