Monday, 15 April 2013

Birds dropping out of the skies - HOOPOE, REDSTARTS - whatever next


An early morning call from Lol Carman sent me scurrying in the direction of BLOWS DOWNS, DUNSTABLE (BEDFORDSHIRE), where it soon became apparent that a fall had occurred......

The wind was fairly strong SW, with occasional spots of rain and a lot of cloud - but very warm - 15 degrees C on several occasions.

Anyhow, within 37 minutes I was at BLOWS - too late however to see the 2 male Whinchats that Lol had seen earlier. Lol had estimated too the presence of 25 NORTHERN WHEATEARS in the Paddocks, but the best I could muster was 17. The main attraction though was the fall of COMMON REDSTARTS - no less than 5 individuals brightening up the Paddocks and showing well (see my pix above). Four were males, with a single female in the eastern paddock. A single WILLOW WARBLER was in the main hedgerow, with up to 9 Common Chiffchaffs in the area, 2 singing male BLACKCAPS and the odd SWALLOW flying through. Two LESSER REDPOLL and a pair of BULLFINCH were also in the vicinity and 4 Yellowhammers.

Three RING OUZELS (two males and a female) were on the Kingsbury Slope above Tesco's, whilst an additional 5 (four males and a female) were on the Caddington Slope before being flushed east within a short while (the latter seen with MJP). Three trilling BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS spent a short time in a taller tree halfway between the Paddocks and the Quarry, coming hard on the heels of the 40 Barry Squires and I saw in Shefford High Street on Saturday.

Whilst watching the Common Redstarts, Darrel Bryant phoned with news of the first fall at NORTON GREEN this spring, and with Black Red still missing from my 2013 Herts List, I started to head that way. Incredibly, as I was driving along the A414, a very excited Steve Blake 'phoned with news of a HOOPOE and being less than a few miles away, I immediately diverted.......

Picking up a lost notebook as I ran from Lawson's Woodyard (it transpired it belonged to Alan Gardiner), I met up with Steve just a few minutes later and there before us was the quarry - a fabulous HOOPOE - a pretty rare visitor to Hertfordshire. The bird was happily feeding in the sheep field immediately east of the main 'birding pit' and was keeping to the fence edge. I crept to within 100 yards of the bird and fired off over a 100 images (a selection to be found above). It continued probing the damp soil for the next 20 minutes, Ricky Flesher arriving from a work break in the meantime, and was seen to take a few grubs. It was very, very alert and repeatedly froze on several occasions. Then, just as it raised its head and glanced all around, it flew and headed off north across the fields to the far hedge. It landed in a tall Oak tree briefly but as Steve Murray approached from the Pumping Station footpath, it flew back towards us and landed in the sheep field adjacent. The grass here was longer, making the bird much more difficult to see, and after 8 minutes it flew again and returned to its original spot down by the edge of the main pit. It then resumed a better showing and continued to do so for the next 20 minutes but then flew strongly at 1315, alighting briefly in a Willow at the far south end of the pit. It quickly flew again and continued west towards Willows Farm and was lost.

Although I failed to find the male Common Redstart that Ricky chanced upon as he walked back towards his car, an impressive 22 NORTHERN WHEATEARS was encountered and a single male YELLOW WAGTAIL. Hirundines included 8 Sand Martins.

With confirmation from Tony Hukin that Darrel's Black Redstart was still present at NORTON GREEN, I headed that way, but despite searching in the increasingly strong wind for over an hour, I failed to relocate it - 4 NORTHERN WHEATEARS, a male YELLOW WAGTAIL and 2 Barn Swallows being my highlight.

MACKERYE END (HERTS) was my next destination and after a bit of searching, I finally relocated Darin Stanley's male COMMON REDSTART by the spoil heap at the road junction at TL 155 155, about 150 yards further to the north of where DS initially found it. It was calling frequently and zipping in and out of the hedgerow and I was pleased at getting a fairly decent shot of it (see above).

I then decided to check the IVINGHOE HILLS (BUCKS) but other than 27 NORTHERN WHEATEARS, it was hard work (others had seen the likes of Short-eared Owl, Marsh Harrier, 4 Ring Ouzels and 2 Common Redstarts, whilst further to the west, Ring Ouzels numbered 5 at both Ellesborough and Great Kimble).

Returning to the CHESS VALLEY in CHESHAM (BUCKS), BOIS MILL POND held 2 Grey Herons and a single immature Sinensis Cormorant. Walking the WATERCRESS COTTAGE LOOP TRAIL yielded Little Egret, Wren and 4 different singing male Common Chiffchaffs, with 10 GADWALLS, GREY WAGTAIL and 2 Pied Wagtails on POW WOW LAKE and an excellent selection of birds on CHESHAM FISHING LAKES including no less than 7 WILLOW WARBLERS (the largest congregation of this species in the Chess Valley for several years), a male BLACKCAP, a pair of COMMON KINGFISHERS, 14 BARN SWALLOWS, 3 HOUSE MARTINS and 2 SAND MARTINS. Another pair of GADWALL and 12 Tufted Ducks were also noted, as well as Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tit and 2 Song Thrushes.

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