THURSDAY 17 JANUARY
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]