Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Today's JACK SNIPE images

A biting Easterly wind


Really, really cold with a strong, biting, Easterly wind. Snow still lying and another overnight frost with some light snow flurries during the day. Top temperature - FREEZING....

Anyhow, devoted all my time today to HERTFORDSHIRE - picking up at least 3 County Year-ticks...

WOODOAKS FARM at MAPLE CROSS was my first destination of the day and with Geoff Lapworth and four other local birders enjoyed a beautiful adult male MARSH HARRIER as it interacted with one of 3 Red Kites as it flew east across the fields. It is most likely the male that Geoff saw at Stockers Lake yesterday and that seen previously in the Misbourne Valley at Shardeloes - presumably waiting for a change in the weather.

Other migrants included 74 EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER (several of which were in breeding attire), 2 male NORTHERN WHEATEARS and a male COMMON STONECHAT. Not a bad start to the day.

I then headed north to TRING RESERVOIRS where MARSWORTH RESERVOIR held two adult drake GOOSANDERS (see images above), 6 Coot, 4 Moorhen, 6 Tufted Duck, 9 Great Crested Grebe and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull; two WATER RAILS were walking about the reeds too, with a male Reed Bunting in song.

The WATER PIPIT was showing well with two Pied Wagtails in the Buckinghamshire SE corner of STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR, where also 28 Coot, 3 RED-CRESTED POCHARD, 3 Northern Pochard, 12 Mallard, 15 Eurasian Wigeon, 67 Tufted Duck and 2 Great Crested Grebe were present. A singing male Chaffinch and 7 House Sparrows were by STARTOPS FARM, as well as a pair of Greylag Geese, with a cracking male NORTHERN WHEATEAR on the North Bank and 34 migrant REDWING in a tree there. Additional fare included 4 Moorhen, 4 Pied Wagtails and a single male Grey Wagtail.

TRINGFORD RESERVOIR was relatively quiet with little more than 2 Mute Swans, 22 Coot, 4 Gadwall, 2 Shoveler, 24 Tufted Duck, 10 Teal, 1 Pochard and 15 Mallard noted, with 2 Long-tailed Tits and a Goldcrest in the hedgerow.

WILSTONE was bleak and windswept with little of interest - 3 Great Crested Grebes, 4 Mute Swans, 36 Shoveler, 78 Pochard and 303 Tufted Duck being the pick of the bunch.

Nesting species on the Drayton Bank included 11 active Sinensis Cormorant nests (including four on the lower stretch of Willows) and 4 active Grey Herons.

Lastly, I visited TEWINBURY NATURE RESERVE near WELWYN, where from the reserve's Judy Adams hide I obtained excellent, prolonged views of a JACK SNIPE feeding at the edge of the mud - one of two birds present at the site for over a month. Also a single Common Snipe feeding, 2 Little Grebes and a reed-dwelling Wren.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Freezing Conditions predominate

Wilstone Reservoir has seen at least 3 different KITTIWAKES roosting on 13-15 March, with a male and female MARSH HARRIER over on 24th (SR; WC) - the odd Northern Wheatear also, 2 different LITTLE GULLS and a flyover BLACK-TAILED GODWIT today (26th) (RH). Startop's End has attracted a WATER and SCANDINAVIAN ROCK PIPIT during 19-23 March (Lucy Flower et al).

A BLACK-NECKED GREBE was at Tyttenhanger Fishing Lake on at least 24 March (Steve Blake), whilst at least 5 had now arrived at Hilfield Park Reservoir.

Up to 3 JACK SNIPES remained in the county until at least 15 March, with 2 at Tewinbury NR and another at Lemsford Springs NR (per Drew Lyness), with the ringtail HEN HARRIER still at Therfield Heath on 18th (Matt Mellor).

Barry Reed had yet another immature CASPIAN GULL at Amwell NR this morning (26th)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

GREAT WHITE EGRET at Amwell this evening

There was a GREAT WHITE EGRET at Amwell this evening - roosting on the island directly opposite the watchpoint; it had been seen earlier in the day in the Ash Valley (Barry Reed). Jay Ward and others nipped down and saw it in the dark.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A brief sortie into HILFIELD


It was seriously cold out today, with that force 7 Northeasterly wind slicing right through you. Although temperatures hovered around freezing, the wind chill factor was minus 8 or less, making it extremely uncomfortable and inclement. In addition, the odd snow flurry blew through quickly - how all of these early Sand Martins are surviving is beyond me.

Being so cold, I restricted my birding to very local sites, with a few interesting results.......

SHARDELOES LAKE (BUCKS) proved to be its most productive all year, with my highest site count of Tufted Duck - 51 birds.

The 3 Great Crested Grebes were still present (first seen by RDA yesterday), along with 8 Little Grebes, Grey Heron, the two resident Mute Swans, 3 Mallard, a pair of COMMON TEAL, 4 Gadwall, 6 SHOVELERS (3 independent pairs), 9 NORTHERN POCHARD, 102 Atlantic Canada Geese, a Greylag x Canada hybrid, 68 Coot, 6 Moorhen, 34 Herring Gulls (mostly juveniles), 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Song Thrush, 35 FIELDFARES, 5 REDWING and 2 Long-tailed Tits.

Just west of the Shardeloes roundabout on the A413 at SU 940 985

The RIVER MISBOURNE has now fully recovered and is looking particularly healthy and stopping just west of LITTLE MISBOURNE at SU 916 992, this section held 22 Mallard, 6 Gadwall, 2 Coot and 4 Moorhen, whilst the DEEP MILL LANE POND at SU 907 995 held 4 more Gadwall, 6 Coot (pair nesting), 2 Little Grebes and my first pair of Mute Swan at the sites (see pics above).

WARREN WATER behind MISSENDEN ABBEY (SP 898 008) was also back to full health housing 6 Coot and a pair of Mallard, with the Misbourne south of here adding 4 more Coot, another pair of Mallard and 18 Black-headed Gulls.

Checking out BURY LAKE in CHESHAM produced 10 Mallard, 3 Tufted Duck, 6 Coot and 2 Moorhens, with 95 Woodpigeons and 4 Red Kites in the 'Lapwing Fields' opposite. CHESHAM LOWNDES PARK held 10 Atlantic Canada Geese, 39 Mallard and 4 Moorhen.

At the CHESHAM FISHING LAKES, wildfowl present included 8 Atlantic Canada Geese, 12 Mallard, 8 Tufted Duck, 3 Pochard, 10 Coot, 2 Moorhen and a noisy Great Crested Grebe, whilst Green Woodpecker and the two COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS were also noted; POW WOW LAKE held an additional 8 Gadwall.

At CHESHAM SEWAGE WORKS, Grey Heron, 8 Mallard, 12 Gadwall and 2 Tufted Ducks were counted, with just a single Coot on BOIS MILL LAKE.

The RIVER CHESS between NEPTUNE'S FALLS and LATIMER BRIDGE held 12 Atlantic Canadas, 3 Tufted Duck, a Pochard, 4 Coot and 2 Moorhens, with neighbouring LATIMER GREAT WATER yielding just 6 Mute Swans, 10 Mallard, 7 Tufted Duck, 24 Coot, 10 Moorhens and a single juvenile Argenteus Herring Gull.

I finished my day with a quick sortie into HERTFORDSHIRE, where HILFIELD PARK RESERVOIR provided me with two county year ticks, 3 Shoveler, 4 Great Crested Grebe and 18 Tufted Duck. The gull roost was massive, holding at least 7,400 Black-headed Gulls and 193 Common Gulls - amongst them two adult MEDITERRANEAN GULLS in full breeding plumage. I failed to find Steve Murray's first-year Little Gull.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

First SAND MARTIN of year: WATER PIPIT at Amwell

A SAND MARTIN was seen at Hilfield Park Reservoir today (and Dunlin) (Tony Blake) and a WATER PIPIT was seen briefly in front of the White Hide at Amwell (Barry Reed). An adult breeding-plumaged KITTIWAKE and up to 3 MEDITERRANEAN GULLS roosted at Wilstone on both Saturday and Sunday evenings (LGRE, Dave Bilcock), with the WATER PIPIT still there, all 8 Red-crested Pochards (Tringford) and 10 PINTAILS briefly on 9th. A 2nd-winter LITTLE GULL was seen briefly on Marsworth on 9th (SR, DB) (see images above of Tring gulls taken by Dave Bilcock).

My Weekend Highlights - KITTIWAKE at Wilstone


Following last weeks brief burst of spring weather, Winter returned with a vengeance this weekend, with very cold Easterly winds blasting in from the Continent pegging temperatures back to just above freezing. Skies were largely grey and overcast

Due to Highways Agency commitments, my birding day was limited to post 1530 hours, by which time virtually all of the day's goodies had passed through - eg, Pintails in Bedfordshire and Little Gull, Pintails and Dunlin in the Tring Area. Also unbeknown to me at the time was a Pied Avocet at Marlow, frustratingly twitchable for just under two hours.

Anyway, just as I was available, Lol Carman notified me of an adult KITTIWAKE in Bedfordshire at GROVEBURY PIT, LEIGHTON BUZZARD - so that was where I headed. Within half an hour, I joined Rob Dazley and Johnny Lynch at the mud-infested site, where the KITTIWAKE in full breeding plumage was affording some reasonable views. Two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS, an adult and first-winter, were also in the roost, whilst a drake GOOSANDER and 3 COMMON SHELDUCK were also present. At 1650 hours, the distinctive whistle of a EURASIAN CURLEW was heard, and flying around we quickly picked up three birds in flight, seemingly trying to find somewhere to land. The calls continued for the next five minutes as the three birds wheeled around when suddenly a fourth bird joined them from the ground, this increasing to an exceptional EIGHT when I latched onto them again, some time later. All eight eventually landed on the east side of the pit (much to Bob & Lol's delight), the pit also attracting a flock of 5 Oystercatchers. Also noted were a flock of 32 Linnets.

I returned to the Tring Area (Herts) and joined David Bilcock and Jenny Wallington on the concrete pad at WILSTONE RESERVOIR. The ten Pintails from earlier had gone but most impressive was the gull roost - the best and varied I had seen it this year. Although Black-headed Gulls probably numbered no more than 1,200 birds, three different MEDITERRANEAN GULLS were with them - two adults in breeding plumage and a 2nd-winter - as well as 46 Common Gulls. Large white-headed gulls were well represented, with an exceptional 43 Lesser Black-backed and two Argenteus Herring Gulls (a first-year and a fourth-year). DB was just commenting upon KITTIWAKE occurrences when I came face-to-face with an adult in my 'scope - another pristine adult in full breeding plumage. Dave quickly got on to it and over the next half hour or more prior to dusk, it showed well, frequently being chased by Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls. It seemed to frighten the Black-headed Gulls too as it hastened to land, and was heard calling on at least two occasions.

Whilst we were stood on the bank, two Common Starling flocks totalling some 330 birds flew east towards dusk.


A further deterioation in the weather with a swing in the wind to an incredibly biting north-easterly - it was raw and felt absolutely mind-numbing freezing in the field. There were a few light snow flurries in the wind and it remained grey and overcast, with temperatures failing to rise above 2 degrees C.

I spent the first couple of hours (1030-1230) of my birding day at HEDGERLEY LANDFILL SITE (BUCKS), trying to locate the recent adult Iceland Gull but again it was nowhere to be seen. Gull numbers had dwindled to around 3,000, with perhaps 750 large white-headed gulls still present. Just 2 Great Black-backed Gulls were identified (an adult and a first-year) and 250 Lesser Black-backed, whilst predominantly Argenteus Herring Gull numbered 462 (the majority juveniles). Amongst the Black-headed Gull throng was a nice breeding-plumaged adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL but most interesting of all was an apparent adult breeding-plumaged BALTIC GULL (form fuscus), standing out like a sore thumb from the other Lesser Black-backed Gulls present. It was like a miniature Great Black-backed Gull in appearance, with very black upperwings leading to little contrast with the wing-tips. It was also strikingly smaller, shorter-legged and longer-winged, with a smaller rounded contrasting clean-white head. It was quite small-billed by comparison and had a more 'gential' feel about it. Sadly, it was bearing no rings, so ruling it out from the blackest intermedius was not possible, but I did get a few distant record shots of it as it fed amongst the rubbish clearly illustrating its blackness and easy detection. In flight, the upperwings appeared all black with no contrast, with the thin white trailing edge to the secondaries and inner primaries and hardly any evidence of white tipping to the outer primaries. It just had to be a fuscus it was so distinctive.

Frozen to the core, I warmed up in the car and drove the 27 miles west to PORT MEADOW in OXFORD (OXFORDSHIRE), which was in absolutely superb condition. Undoubted highlight was the presence of 6 PIED AVOCETS, noisily moving back and forth over the flood. Other waders present included 200+ European Golden Plovers, a single Oystercatcher and 4 Ringed Plovers, whilst the huge numbers of wildfowl present included 604 Common Teal, 698 Wigeon, a few Shoveler and 18 PINTAIL. A flock of 6 GOOSANDER (3 adult drakes) was also present.

Following the presence of a small flock of Sand Martins at midday, I stopped off at SPADE OAK PIT (LITTLE MARLOW) (BUCKS) on my way back but the only evidence of migration in the bitter wind was the flock of 14 Pied Wagtails on the far spit. The massive gull roost held no less than 3 different breeding-plumage MEDITERRANEAN GULLS and 780 Common Gulls, whilst wildfowl highlighted with 2 Common Shelduck and 2 drake PINTAIL.

Last off, I visited CHESHAM FISHING LAKES (BUCKS), where Chris Pontin had seen a pair of GREYLAG GEESE only an hour earlier. They had departed but compensation came in the form of 2 COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS flycatching in the ditch of the smaller lake - my first of the year in the Recording Area

BAR-WIT over Amwell

A BAR-TAILED GODWIT flew north over Amwell early morning.

Friday, 8 March 2013


A JACK SNIPE was reported from Lemsford Springs NR this morning, whilst 2 LONG-EARED OWLS, a SHORT-EARED OWL and at least 1 GREAT GREY SHRIKE remain at Therfield Heath. Up to 5 HAWFINCHES continue to be seen in Bramfield Churchyard (more great shots from Alan Reynolds below)

Friday, 1 March 2013

First day of March

Another tremedous effort by top local photographer ALAN REYNOLDS


The cold theme to the weather, associated with this vast high pressure system that has been centred over the UK for the past two weeks, continued in earnest today with easterly winds pegging back temperatures to 5 degrees C. It did remain dry though but was very overcast.

Not much happening today so I just did some local birding......

After David Cleal had some success yesterday, both Graham Smith and I returned to STOKE COMMON (BUCKS) yet again but as usual, after a lengthy and extensive search, no sign of any Common Stonechats again. The only new birds were 3 Eurasian Skylarks close to the central track, with just 2 Wren, Green Woodpecker and 22 Carrion Crows being noted otherwise.

For a second day, the MISBOURNE FLOOD MEADOWS west of the A413 in CHALFONT COMMON (BUCKS) held large numbers of loafing gulls including 35 Argenteus Herring (mainly juveniles), 46 Common and over 100 Black-headeds.

Checking out LYNSTER'S FARM in WEST HYDE (HERTS), the adult white morph GREATER SNOW GOOSE of unknown origin was showing well, consorting with 92 Atlantic Canadas and 9 Greylag Geese. The field also held 7 Gadwall and 16 Moorhens.

Joining up briefly with JT, the STOCKERS FARM WATER MEADOW (HERTS) still held the single OYSTERCATCHER (3rd day), 1 adult Mute Swan, 4 Common Teal, 12 Shoveler, 70 Wigeon and 5 Common Gulls, along with the resident pair of LITTLE OWLS, Ring-necked Parakeets and a pair of Mistle Thrush.

Having not visited in over a month, I next stopped off at BRAMFIELD CHURCH (HERTS) where the HAWFINCHES were still showing very well, commuting between the dense Yew trees in the churchyard and the tall trees. At least three birds were on view, Alan Reynolds obtaining some further excellent images of the birds (see above).

The fields to the south of the village were very productive with two pairs of GREY PARTRIDGE, 250+ Lapwing and 334 EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER - the latter in the field at TL 292 142.

Over at AMWELL NATURE RESERVE (HERTS), Great Hardmead Lake held 4 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Little Egret, 8 Grey Heron (including an active nest on the island), 33 Sinensis Cormorant (including 14 active nests on the island), 6 Mute Swans, 12 Teal, 48 Gadwall, 8 Shoveler, 12 Pochard, 5 Common Goldeneye (3 adult drakes), 230 Coot and 200 Lapwing, as well as a pair of NORTHERN PINTAILS for their fifth day. A single CETTI'S WARBLER 'chipped' from the reedbed, whilst 2 Mistle Thrushes and a Redwing were seen by the railway crossing. To the North, all 4 SMEWS were visible on the Tumbling Bay Lake, including the dapper adult drake.

For the last 90 minutes of daylight, I visited PENN WOOD (BUCKS) but it was a waste of time - virtually birdless - and no roosting finches. Bizarre! Two male Song Thrushes were singing and a Nuthatch.