Saturday, 24 December 2011

Local Patch Birding

Started out at c.8:00am today for a walk around my local patch to try and add some new species to the local patch list.  The weather helped as the cloud cover 2/3 was relatively thin and there was little prospect of rain, despite the ground being very saturated with the last few days of heavy rainfall.  The wind was also calmer than usual, 1/3 coming from the west.  Yesterdays strong northerly winds did raise my hopes for a hopefully late migrant of course such as a Rough-legged Buzzard or Med. Gull on the fisheries but unfortunately neither occurred.


The first bird after leaving the house was a Green Woodpecker, feeding on the western edge of the Kings Langley Common, before it noticed me and headed for the trees.  There was more activity than usual today with a significant increase in the occurrence of Redwing in Kings Langley Woods as well as a calling Goldcrest, 1 Jay, 1 calling Skylark and another Goldcrest in the Village high street.


I made my way to the lakes directly after leaving the Kings Langley Woods, on the way passing through the Primrose Hill Playing Field, that neighbour the canal and waited in expectation of Siskin to come and feed in the several alder trees that line the western edge of the park.  A single Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past as I waited, however after a little patients several small flocks of Siskin congregated in the alders and soon amounted to 22+ SISKIN.  The Lakes were mainly inhabited by 44+ Black-headed Gulls and 6 ad. win. and 1st win. Common Gulls.  Also of note were 2 Song Thrushes, 2 Pochard, 11 Tufted Ducks, 1 Cormorant, and two local patch ticks, a Little Grebe and 2 Gadwall (1ad., 1ad.).  From the viewing area (a small gap in the hedgerows overlooking the lake) I also saw 10+ more Siskin, however, I did not count this towards the total as they may have been the same birds which I had previously seen.


On my return through Kings Langley Woods 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Jay, 1 calling Nuthatch and a prob. calling Siskin were the only birds of note before I reached Barnes Lane.


The first horse field NE of the entrance to Barnes Lane, had attracted dozens of Redwing and even my first Fieldfare of the day, as well as several other species such as Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches.  As usual, the fields after the A41 bridge were most productive producing a flock of 7 Yellowhammer, the usual, yet diminishing flock of 40-50 Skylarks (amongst them the usual single Linnet), 1 Kestrel, and another small flock of 6+ Linnet at the western corner of the field near the paint-balling location.


My next plan was to catch up on the local resident Marsh Tits, which I have encountered on two previous occasions in Scattedells Wood.  Unfortunately, once I arrive at the usual spot, the far western extent of the wood, there was no sign of any.  Scattedells Wood seems an ideal location for the 100's of Woodpigeons, but were easily spooked by my presence, perhaps due to their growing fear of man caused by the regular Gunmen frequent the area, will they please find something better to do with their time.  Anyway, a single Buzzard was the closest I got to my anticipation for a Rough-legged but other birds of note were 2 SISKIN and 3 Bullfinches in the dead pine trees.  I was extremely pleased when I heard the distinctive call of a single MARSH TIT, fortunately I can now add this species to my local patch (a list comprising of all bird seen within a mile of my house).  I also obtained some bad sound recording of the Marsh Tit, giving the classic nazzle "PTseew"

a very bad sound recording of the Marsh Tit, calling (+ seen) in the coniferous area of Scatterdells Wood,

The final flurry of bird activity on my outing was a large swathe of Fieldfare that took flight near Chipperfield Road, following a single gunshot, a clear highlight to how many birds usually go unnoticed and how shooting causes widespread disturbance to important species that are trying to feed up for the winter.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Barnes Lane

The Large flock of Skylarks that I encountered yesterday drew me back again today in the hope of finding a rarity such as a Lapland Bunting amongst their ranks.  The bird variety was much the same as yesterday, with occasional Redwing and Fieldfare as well as a calling Green Woodpecker and a single Song Thrush in the playing field behind the KL School.  After the A41 bridge there were more birds to behold including yesterdays flock of Skylarks, they have now split into two roughly equal groups (one consisting of 80+ birds), the first in the right hand field close to the A41 and the second in the same field but closer to the paint-balling location.  Amongst them were 15+ Linnets and 7 Pied Wagtails.  Unfortunately, searching for the hoped Lapland Bunting was more difficult today as they were largely hidden amongst the stubble, unlike yesterday when they were feeding more in the open.  Also of note was 1 Yellowhammer, and a 2 Red Kites, circling together over Phasels Wood.  Other raptors included 2+ Buzzards (with more individuals, possibly the same birds seen on other separate occasions), 1Kestrel (putting up a good chase with the Skylarks and making a few close catches) and a Sparrowhawk.  The highlight undoubtedly was the unexpected sight of 8 probable WHITE-FRONTED GEESE flying in a NE direction, towards Berkhampstead in a triangular formation, hopefully they'll drop in at Tring Reservoirs today or tomorrow to confirm my record.

Despite being quite distant, making size comparison rather difficult, they appeared smaller than the usual Greylag Geese and more slender necked.  The White forehead was clearly visible as they flew towards me (although hidden at a side on view and from behind).  From underneath the distinct wide and thick dark brown/black baring on the belly was clearly visible covering the paler brown/grey belly and chest.  The brown colouration became darker towards the head and was darkest (nearly black) bordering the white forehead).  The underside of the wings were rather plain dark brown (although I paid little attention to them, they did not appear to have any distinct markings).  The vent, undertail coverts and underside of the tail were pure white.  The white vent extended slightly into the lower chest were it appeared to be "cut off" by two dark bars on the lower part of the chest, nearly separating it from the white vent.  The uppertail was only glimpsed and appeared dark brown/black.

Barnes Lane (16th December)

My first day of for the winter holidays (starting out at 10:00am), which I decided to spend by visiting Barnes Lane to catch up on the flocks of Skylarks and Linnets that I had seen on my previous visit.

Cloud 2/3
Wind 1-2/3 (westerly blowing snow into my face for the first half hour of my visit)

It was the first time this winter that it had snowed in our region and much of the ground was covered in a thin layer of snow, not to mention the frozen ground, although much of it had melted by my return at 12:00pm.  This change in the weather must clearly result in a change in the bird life which I hoped I might encounter.  Unsurprisingly, More Redwings were of note and were also more approachable as they seemed more concentrated on feeding.  Past the A41 bridge along Barnes Lane the bird life realy kicked of with 100+ Skylarks taking to the sky and whirling around in flight for long periods at a time before choosing to land closer to Badgerdell (the paint-balling location) with a single Linnet amongst their ranks.  3 Lapwing were also resting on a bare patch on the stubble field to the right of Barnes Lane (a rarity in this part of the county).  Also of note were 2 Yellowhammers, 1 Kestrel and a total of 25+ Fieldfare (with several more individuals seen on the return).  Most unusual, being only my second record for this area was a probable flock of 17 GOLDEN PLOVER, in flight, near Badgerdell, they seemed to be heading in my direction (flying NE) but unfortunately I lost them as the large flock of Skylarks, Woodpigeons, and corvids flew infront and obstructed my view.  In addition, 1 Red Kite was also over the farmland as were several Black-headed Gulls accompanied by occasional Common Gulls.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Snow Bunting at Startop's End Reservoir (14th December)

Great news from Tring Res on the Hertfordshire birding website when news came in of a Snow Bunting at Marsworth Reservoir.  It was relocated the following day at Startop's End Reservoir at the NW corner so I decided to make the trip this afternoon.  Transport was a particular issue, especially carrying the bike on the train at peak hour but the effort was definitely worth it when I arrived at Startop's end Res. at about 14:20pm.  Having no idea on which Reservoir it would choose to feed I scanned the perimeter of Marsworth first, were a Goosander was my first at the reservoirs this winter and Wildfowl numbers, including Pochard, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Mallard have increased significantly since my last visit and most astonishingly, the water level has plummeted to reveal a muddy bar through the center of Startop's End Res. running parallel to the causeway, which I have never seen before.  Next, I moved on to Startop's walking around in a clockwise direction, were at the northern end a group of three observers had clearly picked up on the bird.  For the rest of my stay the first-winter SNOW BUNTING gave crippling views, behaving particularly tamely, coming to within 3 meters (thankfully my scope has close focus!) and allowing a detailed description to be made.

1st-win. Snow Bunting, Startop's End Reservoir


Head- all white except for pale orange/brown cap extending down to the lower nape and towards the forecrown, were it became darker brown.  A small patch in the ear coverts, behind the beed-like black eye, was also orange/brown as was an unconnected chest band (rather linear) extending from the side of the upper mantle to near the centre of the chest.  The beak was fully yellow, with no black tip, indicating a first winter bird.

Body- a dark brown widely streaked mantle extending down to the back, behind a faint pale dirty grey brown washed back.  Pale white/buff brown bordering the nape and the vent at both ends (not streaked).  The vent and uppertail coverts were a rusty red/orange/brown and forked at the lower end bordering the tail.  The scapulars were dark brown/black centered and had ginger, rust red/brown edges (like the rump).  The lower body was largely white with only a few areas being an orange brown wash, mainly on the flanks.  The tarsus were entirely black and white trousers hid all the tibia.

Wing- Rather complex with several tones and variation.  The median and lesser coverts were black as were the first few greater coverts, only just visible behind the overlaping scapulars, the rest being white.  All the primary coverts were white and contrasted with the obvious black alula feathers.  The secondaries were all largely white, except for a few inner most secondaries that had dark grey black centers at the base, also indicating a 1st winter bird.  The tertials were similar to the scapulars, having dark brown/black centers with a rusty red/brown edge, although the inner most tertial (the longest ones) had a thinner white edge.  The primary feathers were all black with pale dirty white edges which widened towards the inner wing.

Tail- Also similar pattern to tertials and scapulars with dark brown/black centers but thinner white edges instead of a rufous brown.  The triangular pointed rectrices were also distinct of an immature plumage, concluding an immature or 1st winter plumage Snow Bunting.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cassiobury Park


Under a lot of pressure today as I had my grade 7 cello exam at the WGSB.  As a result I wasn't focusing on the birds until after the exam.  Still not much of note though except for the usual flock of 20+ Black-headed Gulls on the WGSB playing field.  Thankfully, I finished at lunch which gave me time to walk down to the car park in Cassiobury park, the highlight being 3 Lesser Redpoll that came to feed in the alder trees in the car park around 13:30pm.  Also of note in the area was 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Great Spotted woodpecker calling in the estate and the usual Ring-necked Parakeets calling near the Cha Cha cafe.


Decided to walk the dog (Theo) behind the RSSKL after coming back from school were a moderate passage totaling 83+ Fieldfare (all but 1 flying in a ESE direction).  Also of note were the growing numbers of 40+ Chaffinches in the first field behind the RSSKL, 2 Kestrels (1 being mobbed by a Carrion Crow), 1 Yellowhammer, 1 Pheasant and 58+ Black-headed Gulls going to roost in a SE direction (possibly at the Kings Langley Fisheries).

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hilfield Park Reservoir (10th December)


cloud 0/3
wind 1/3
The first proper cold day this winter with ground frost making the day particularly difficult both for cycling to the site and standing still to scan the distant wildfowl.  The main aim of the day was to find the 1st win. Little Gull that has been present for several consecutive days.  The small number of 5+ Black-headed Gulls, 1 Herring Gull and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull initially made my hopes fall however within only a few minutes and only seconds after putting my eye to the scope the 1st. win Little Gull appeared and did its characteristical Tern-like flight pattern with repeated dives over the surface of the water.  The black W pattern on the upperwing was particularly clear and its size was only 2/3 that of the accompanying Black-headed Gulls.  It remained over the water for the rest of the morning at least until 11:40am when I left.  The viewing platform on the western side was my lookout post for much of the morning were I also noted a moderate passage of Redwing and Fieldfare in the sloe hedges in the horse field to the west of the reservoir whilst Ring-necked Parakeets were heard on many occasions although none were seen.  In addition, 1 Song Thrush, 1♀ Bullfinch and 1 calling Green Woodpecker were also of note.  The reservoir was otherwise relatively quiet with only 2♂ Wigeon, small numbers of Pochard, Gadwall and Little Grebe as well as dozens of Great Crested Grebes.

 a record shot of the 1st win. Little Gull mostly frequenting the east side of the reservoir and rarely coming closer than the center

The original photograph, as you can see it's severely cropped

Tyttenhanger (3rd December)


The long-staying Tundra Bean Goose at Tyttenhanger that had been present for over a week was enough to draw me to the main Gravel Pit on the 3rd December.  Temperatures had plummeted since the previous week and I resumed to counting species rather than numbers as bearing the cold was already enough.  I visited the main fishing lake first, which is evidently popular amongst the large count of 26 Great Crested Grebes.  In addition 2 Grey Herons were also on the river periphery as were 4 Lapwing.  Surprisingly the main gravel pit was largely empty of waders and the only birds of note were a flock of c.15 Goldfinches and Lesser Redpoll in the south eastern corner of the pit.  From the hide I resorted to scanning the gulls that comprised of 300+ Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls and 3+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  In addition 2 Green Woodpeckers were around the hide, as was 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Unfortunately there was no sign of the Tundra Bean Goose or the two White-fronted Geese that had been reported only two days ago for the past week.  In fact very few Geese were present, only 39 Canada Geese and 3 Greylag Geese


Instead of waiting at the pit I made a quick tour of the Willows Farm area noting 1 Kestrel (3 seperate sightings of one, possibly the same bird) and 2 Buzzards circling over the quarry.  On my return to the Main Gravel Pit at 12:50pm there seemed to be no new arrivals.  All of note was a better count of the previous 8 Lesser Redpoll now without the Goldfinches and 19 flyover Lapwing


Since little had changed I decided to move on to Beech Farm area, hoping to see Short-eared Owls.  This was a new site to me and it took a while for me to find the correct location were they had last been seen.  Unfortunately, again, there was no sign of any and with the sight already being well watched once arriving there seemed little chance of improvement.  Birds of note however, was 1 Red Kite and the largest congregation of Redwing and Fieldfare in the sloe berry bushes I have seen this winter so far.


A third visit to the Main Gravel Pit site at Tyttenhanger for a thrid time that day at c.13:45pm still yeilded no sign of either Goose species.

A little disappointing day with no sign of either of the key species, however, Tyttenhanger still seems a good place for future Gull roosts so may check out the sight more regularly early mornings and evenings for gulls.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Probable Waxwing (1st December)


I was extremely excited to see a flock of 7+ probable Waxwing in the tall (leafless) trees in the far south eastern corner of the WGSB grounds.  They were present and feeding between 14:20 and 15:10pm in the same area.  Unfortunately, I had no bins with me so certain ID is difficult.  They were seen during another of my Chemistry lessons and were also too distant to note colour.  However, a faint wash of buff/brown was noted on the flanks on one individual and the characteristic method of feeding was very reminiscent of usual Waxwing behaviour, as they fluttered their wings occasionally for balance (more so than Starlings and other similarly shaped birds), a possible glimpse of a crest on another individual was also a promising feature and size comparison was easy as a Chaffinch landed temporarily nearby.  The probable Waxwing appeared far more bulky and well built with less of a neck and slightly larger than the neighbouring Chaffinch.  However, uncomplimentary features were possibly too long tail feathers and it was difficult to tell what they were feeding on (definitely not large berries) although they were clearly foraging.  In addition there flight pattern was unlike Starlings as they did not glide prior to landing but continued to beat their wings until perched precariously near the ends of the twigs.


I am very surprised to have a hibernating Peacock that has taken up temporary residence on my bedroom windowsill.  Now it's a task of not accidentally hitting it.

Peacock butterfly, feeding on the squashed banana that I laid out

Strike Day (30th November)


The strike day was very well spent, however not on revision.  I decided to get up early to check the post-gull-roost that I pass almost each day in the bus, which has risen in number since the beginning of autumn.  I was down at the field by c.7:20am and soon after arriving 25 Common Gulls flew in with only 8 Black-headed Gulls.  However within 10-15 minutes numbers were reaching 100 as Common Gull numbers past 45 at 7:45 and soon reached 66+ Common Gulls at 7:50am.  Surprisingly though Black-headed Gulls were in much more minimal numbers and totaled only around 20+ Black-headed Gulls.  Other Gulls of note included 3 ad. Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a late arriving ad. win. Herring Gull.  As well as the gulls other species were rather less common, with only 1 Skylark heard, 1 Song Thrush, 7 Long-tailed Tits, 1 Fieldfare and a large flock of 200-300 Woodpigeons over the M25 junction 20, numbers of gulls started to decrease around 8:15 and by 8:30am all had left, mostly in a northerly direction.


Whilst walking Theo (our dog) through the KL Woods between 10:30-11:00am 3 Skylarks were heard, as well as several calling Redwing in the holly bushes at the center of the wood.  A very small murmuration of Starlings had also congregated with the calling Redwing in the holly bushes although I saw none.  2 Song Thrushes were noted in our back-garden.


In the early afternoon I went collecting holly to make an advent wreath with my sister down Barnes Lane, also had secretly in mind to check out the resident Little Owls.  Unfortunately we only had a short glimpse of a Little Owl fly down the avenue of poplar trees.  However, the definite highlight was the sight of dozens of Yellowhammers and Skylarks in the manure strewn fields after passing under the A41.  The weedy patches and stubble in the field was also attracting 50+ Linnet to feed in the field, in turn attracting a Kestrel, on occasions making several attacks at the flock although none were seen to have been caught.  1 Buzzard was also seen and a group of 40+ Gulls were noted in the half plowed field north east of Scatterdells Wood, presumably the same that I had scanned this morning over the A4251 fields.

Gulls (29th November)

A large increase in the number of Gulls on the field to the east of the A4251 were they have now reached 100+ and are evidently worth scanning for a possible Med. Gull or anything even rarer.  As usual the day was spent mostly indoors, however, a flock of 11+ Redpoll sp. was a welcome surprise, they fed in a large alder tree species, that I viewed from the Chemistry department in the south eastern corner of the school (ID was difficult as I didn't have any bins and the light was poor, so they only go down as probable Redpoll).

RSSKL fields (27th November)

Not a bad dog walk behind the RSSKL, the highlight being the increase in number and variety of several farmland bird species including an assembly of 10+ Chaffinches and totals of 4 Yellowhammers and 5 Skylarks.  Moderate winds also aided the movement of several other species over the area including 1 Common Gull, 8 Fieldfare followed by a flock 30+ Fieldfare, 1 Song Thrush and a single Red Kite.  Other species of note included 1 Grey Heron, a murder of 43 Crows, including Rooks and Jackdaws feeding in the usual cow field after the A41 and a very tame Wood Mouse was sat on the metal post in the kissing gate, near the A41, and remained stationary even after two dog walkers and a joggers passed through the gate as well as me standing very close sketching it.  The metal was evidently a beneficial find as it was radiating more heat than the ground providing the mouse with beneficial energy to begin foraging.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hemel RSPB trip to Dungeness (26th November)

As usual an RSPB trip to an excellent reserve meant good birds were involved and despite only arriving shortly before 10:00am (due to a stop at the local Tesco for breakfast) we saw a large array of species, with a total of 60 species seen on the day by the group members, of which I saw 59.  The journey to the reserve was eventful with 5 Kestrels, 3 Buzzards, 300+ Woodpigeon, 2 Deer (probable Fallow or Roe) a flock of 31+ large thrush sp.(probably Fieldfare), 1 Common Gull, 12+ Herring Gull, 2 Jays and closer to the reserve (on the left hand side of the B2075, near New Romney) my brother and I both picked up on a large grey bird standing still with an upright posture, long neck and tarsus/tibia.  Its front was pale grey whilst its back was darker grey, and no markings on the neck.  Bill length and head pattern unfortunately couldn't be noted as we were in a moving car and it was facing towards us, the size (4/3 the size of a Grey Heron and upright stance indicated to me that it was a possible CRANE!)  This is a plausible record as the species was also seen a few days earlier to our uncertain record flying over the nearby Dungeness RSPB reserve.


This has only been my second ever visit to Dungeness and the experience and landscape were equally fascinating.  The Cuspate Foreland (a triangular accretion of shingle that projects seawards) hosted a wide variety and number of wildfowl and even some rarer species.  Our first stop was the ARC pit that is situated near the center of the accumulation of shingle.  On our way to the Screen, we had our first view of a juv. Marsh Harrier and from the Screen a gull roost of 30+ Great Black-backed Gulls, and the addition of several Herring Gulls and Common Gulls was certainly an impressive sight.  The highlight undoubtedly was the long staying adult winter GREAT WHITE EGRET (a life tick) that was present on the central island before flying towards the Hanson ARC hide.

Size: (c. 1/3 larger than a Little Egrets).
Bill: predominantly bright yellow bill with only small black tip.  The base was pale horn coloured and towards the eye it was pale green.
The tarsus and tibia were both black (unlike the yellow feet of the Little Egret), its profile was more hunch backed.

 cropped view of the digiscoped Great White Egret

Digiscoped shot taken by my brother on his iPod.

The ARC pit also hosted 2-3 Redhead Smew amongst the 100+ Wigeon that frequented the southern side of the reservoir but unfortunately blocked for most of the time by the reeds.  Several other wildfowl were also on the pit including Teal, 6 Shelduck, 2 Pintail, several Goldeneye (with 2+♂) 5 Little Egrets and a single Little Grebe.  On our way back to the car park 2 Meadow Pipits were noted and 2 ad. Peregrines flew over together (a possible pair) following a flock of 70+ Lapwing

Our next stop was at the visitor center itself were we did a round walk of the various pits, on the way visiting all the hides.  The main area of water, directly infront of the visitor center had several duck species, including 9+ Pintail, large numbers of Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard and several Grey Heron skirting the border along with 1 Little Egret.  The hides were unfortunately overcrowded for much of the time, (as well as noisy) so I decided to scan outside the hide over the extensive marsh, this definitely paid of as the rest of the group only saw ducks as I had a probable sighting of a distant Bittern in flight towards Denge Marsh and was definitely one of the highlights of  the day.  On our way round the we also encountered Marsh Harriers on several occasions, with at least 1 pair seen together and at least half a dozen separate sightings of individuals, with one on occasion being harried by a passing Peregrine in front on the Denge Marsh Hide.  I was extremely thrilled to refined the elusive GLOSSY IBIS (a life tick) that had been lost earlier in the day as I saw it in flight over the far side of the pit and land on an arable field, just out of sight.  It was mostly seen in flight for the rest of the afternoon as we stayed in the hide and on one occasion I was feeding in the open shallows to the right of the hide.

Size: a medium size wader approximately the size of a Little Egret, the bill and dangling tarsus did make up much of its length and its slender profile was unlike a bulkier Cormorant of Heron.
Profile: slender bodied and a thin U-shaped curved neck in flight, neck was also curved downward (as in flight) when feeding in the water.  A smooth gait when wading through the water and probed smoothly in the shallows.  The bill was similar length to the neck (1/3 of the length from the head the tail, projected legs not counted).  It was curved downward in a continuous curve and remained wide until the base, colour was difficult to tell as it was silhouetted against the sky and or water, but clearly paler.   The wings were similar in shape to a Cormorant with only a few of the outermost primaries fingered (only very slightly).  The legs were held dangling in flight (as it only moved short distances) and when on the ground had a visible hunched back profile as well as a steep rounded forehead.
Colour: difficult to age as it was silhouetted for much of the time, no gloss on the neck was visible but the bird was obviously dark black/purple.

Unfortunately views of it were only brief, with the longest view only being about 2-3 minutes as it fed in the open shallow water, otherwise it was only seen in flight or gliding down in a spiral with downward held legs as it landed.

Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were also resting/swimming infront of the hide and mingled amongst them was a single Pink-footed Goose (notably smaller than the Greylags) and a single flypast Brent Goose.  The small area of mud (a rare resource on the reserve) hosted 5 Dunlin and an earlier sighting of the 2nd present Great White Egret that we unfortunately didn't see.


Me at "The Patch"

My brother Ephraim at "The Patch"

Our final trip of the journey was to "The Patch", situated at the tip of the Foreland (near the nuclear power station) were a flypast Merlin was a good encounter and also a good spot for a bit of sea watching.  I only had about 40mins as the rest of the group wondered down the beach, I stayed to see 1 ad. Gannet, 2+ ad. Kittiwake, 1 unIDed Diver species, 1 unIDed Auk species, 1 win. Mediterranean Gull and a 1 Great Crested Grebe all braving the extremely windy (near storm conditions of the sea)
(26th November 2011) Day list:
  • Mute Swan
  • Greylag Goose
  • Pink-footed Goose
  • Brent Goose
  • Canada Goose
  • Shelduck
  • Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • Pintail
  • Teal
  • Tufted Duck
  • Gadwall
  • Shoveler
  • Grey Heron
  • Woodpigeon
  • Golden Plover
  • Jackdaw
  • Magpie
  • Carrion Crow
  • Robin
  • Collard Dove
  • (Feral Pigeon)
  • Little Egret
  • GREAT WHITE EGRET (life tick)
  • Smew (year tick)
  • Pochard
  • Goldeneye
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Blue Tit
  • Great Tit
  • Long-tailed Tit
  • Meadow Pipit
  • Dunlin
  • GLOSSY IBIS (life tick)
  • Lapwing
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Common Gull
  • Blackbird
  • Chiffchaff
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Kittiwake
  • Marsh Harrier
  • Peregrine
  • Buzzard
  • Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Chaffinch
  • Moorhen
  • Coot
  • Jay
  • Little Grebe
  • Great Crested Grebe
  • Goldfinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Gannet
  • Cormorant
  • Starling
  • Mediterranean Gull
possible birds:
  • Auk sp.
  • Diver sp.
  • Linnet
  • Fieldfare
  • Pied Wagtail (heard)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

WGSB Gulls (22nd November)

A remarkable difference throughout the day at my school at (Watford Grammar School for Boys), in terms of Gulls.  My first gulls of the morning were the usual flock of 30+ Black-headed Gulls in the field just west of the A4251 when heading into Kings Langley from the M25 roundabout.  The same field has also produced 50+ in the past month as well as occasional Common Gulls, all only noted from the bus as I travel to Watford, so I must make the effort to check them properly.  The day started at 8:30am (as usual) with no more than 15 Black-headed Gulls in the concrete playing area, this soon decreased to 0 at midday.  After lunch I was surprised to see that the Gull numbers had increases again very rapidly with now 20-30+ Black-headed Gulls, 6+ Common Gulls, 3+ Herring Gulls (a much less common bird than the Common Gull at WGSB, consisting of 2-3ad., 1juv.) and finally an ad. Lesser Black-backed Gull!  For such a variety of Gulls to turn up so quickly were probably present in close range, possibly Cassio Park.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fields behind the RSSKL

Not a bad day behind the RSSKL with several good birds in my back garden including 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Goldfinches, 2 Bullfinches and a calling Skylark indicating that the fields behind the RSSKL might be the place to go this morning.  Only a small flock of 8 Linnets has built up so far, I hope for the 100's we had 2 years ago.  In total 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker were heard calling followed by 4+ Skylarks on the route around from behind the RSSKL to Chipperfield Road.  In total there were 3 Pied Wagtails and 4 Meadow Pipits of note and the hedgerows along the cow fields hosted a mixed flock of 30+ Redwing, Fieldfare and Starling.  In the Chipperfield direction 2 more Fieldfare were seen and 65+ Woodpigeons, 14+ Goldfinches, a Red Kite (attended by a murder of Rooks and Jackdaws as it preened itself) were also of note and finally a flyover Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Wilstone Reservoir (19th November)

Only got out past 13:00pm so decided to make the trip to Wilstone Reservoir by train rather than cycle, to see the long staying Bewick's Swan family.


Fortunately on arriving I was glad to see that all 4 Bewick's Swans were still present in the western cut of pool.  They were feeding continuously and behaved very much like a family group by congregating closely together.  Other birds of note before the light dwindled were dozens of Mute Swans, the resident feral pair of Whooper Swans as well as the usual wide array of Wildfowl including 70 Greylag Geese, Shoveler, Teal, Gadwall, 1Goldeneye, Mallard and Wigeon.  In addition only 1 Grey Heron was seen as were 6 Dunlin on the southern cut off pool accompanying only c.40 Golden Plover (a dramatic decrease since the 400+ early last week).  The Lapwing numbers have also experienced a decrease in numbers and now only 70+ Lapwing remain.  Unfortunately no bird of prey was seen, except for an earlier record of a Peregrine at early afternoon.  More Pheasants are now beginning to frequent the mud infront of the hide with 19+ Pheasants now present and feeding including (9, 10).  As the light faded towards 16:00pm Steve Rodwell, Graham and David Bilcock scanned the pre-roost Gull flocks that were passing through the reservoir, in the direction of College Lake form a westerly direction.  Unfortunately I missed the Mediterranean Gull that passed through that rested on the mud for 5 mins but I remained unaware as I was in the hide scanning the waders whilst Steve Rodwell and David Bilcock scanned from the car park area.  However I did note 4 Common Gulls amongst the 300+ Black-headed Gulls that passed through throughout the early evening.  The sight of 100+ Coot walking over the rocky bund at the center of the reservoir was an amusing sight, almost like a Coot invasion, with jostling and a little bit of pecking occurring as they flooded over into the southern pool.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Barnes Lane

Only got outside past 16:10pm today but still had a good time enjoying the sight of 2 adult Little Owls along Barnes Lane, present in the usual location past Barnes Farm and before passing under the A41.  It is likely this pair were the parents of a juvenile I saw earlier this year in the same location and a little social interaction, as they preened one another, suggests this is most probably the breading pair.

A little short snippet of the footage I obtained on my brothers camcorder:

Little Owl, taken using my brothers camcorder

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Ringing at Drayton Beauchamp followed by Tring Reservoirs (12th November)

An early start at 6:30am this morning, starting with a ♀ Tawny Owl calling in the Kings Langley Woods, was well worth the effort for the results that Stuart, Kathrine, Ellie and I achieved at the ringing session at the Drayton Beauchamp site today.


The nets were up at 7:40am, a little late due to my late arrival at Stuarts but several birds were still noted as well as caught before we were fully prepared including 4 Bullfinches, 2 of which we caught (1 juv.,1juv.).  A Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 calling Buzzard and 4 Skylarks were also seen, with 3 of the later only heard.  The early start also gave us an opportunity to experience the dispersal from the Crow roost, as 40+ Jackdaws flew SSW over the site.  Once the nets were up we managed to trap 18 birds in total, of which 10 were retraps and 8 were newly ringed and spanning 10 different species.

male Kingfisher, in the hand

Long-tailed Tit, in the hand

Our results for ringing were as follows:

Wren-3. wing: 48.0mm, weight: 10.6g (retrap)
Bullfinch-3F. wing: 79.0mm, weight: 22.5g
Bullfinch-3M. wing: 80.0mm, weight: 21.9g
Great Tit-. (unfortunately escaped)
Great Tit-3M. wing: 74.0mm, weight: 18.3g. (retrap, ringed as juv. on site)
Long-tailed Tit-2. wing: 61.0mm, weight:7.5g
Great Tit-4M. wing: 77.0mm, weight: 20.4g
Dunnock- wing: 68.0mm weight: 21.0g
Goldcrest-3M. wing: 53.0mm, weight: 5.2g (retrap)
Kingfisher-3(M). wing: 78.0mm, weight:39.2g (retrap)
Robin-4. wing: 75.0, weight: 15.5g
Robin-3. wing: 75.0mm, weight: 19.1 (6 rose thorns indicating first years bird)
Robin (escaped from my hand)
Blue Tit-4M. wing: 65.0mm, weight: 10.1g (retrap)
Blue Tit-3(unsexed). wing: 63.0mm, weight: 9.9g
Song Thrush-3. wing: 112.0mm, weight: 66.5g (4 old greater coverts)
Great Tit-3F. wing: 72.0mm, weight: 18.4g
Dunnock wing: 68.0mm, weight: 21.0g
Blackbird-4F. wing: 128.0mm, weight: 98.0g
Blackbird (escaped whilst removing from the bag)

During our ringing session I also heard 1 Siskin flyover and a Sparrowhawk was also over the Kingfisher net.


After the ringing I decided to spend the rest of the day at nearby Tring Reservoirs which involved a 15 minute walk between the ringing site and Wilstone Reservoir.  Birds of note on the walk included a circling Red Kite over Drayton Beauchamp, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 calling Buzzard, 1 Stock Dove and a Kingfisher calling in the drainage ditch from between two fields, (the furthest I have ever noted this species from water).  An even greater surprise was the sight of an extremely late Red Admiral, heading south through the field looking rather bedraggled.


Soon after arriving at the hide at Wilstone I was given the tip of that a Brent Goose had been present in the fields behind the hide towards the dry canal and before I could scan through the hundreds of Golden Plover, 1 single Dunlin and 100's of Lapwing I took the opportunity to try and find it.  I found the juv. Dark-bellied Brent Goose grazing in the short grass in a ditch near the centre of the field at the concrete post, when heading towards the dry canal from the hide at Wilstone Reservoir and watched it for a short while before it retreated behind the ditch and soon only the top of its head was showing.  On returning to the reservoir 1Red Crested Pochard, 1 Goldeneye, 2Pintail and 1 Snipe were also found.  The dramatic decrease in water level also encouraged 12 Pheasants (6♂, 6♀) to feed out on the vegetated mud to the right of the hide.  Amongst the 100+ Black-headed Gulls, 4 Common Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull were noted.  The wildfowl numbers were also plentiful including Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall as well as lesser numbers of Tufted Ducks, Greylag Geese, Pochard, Mallard and Great Crested Grebes.  The 2 feral Whopper Swans were also resting on the spit.  As I made my way round to the jetty scanning the edge of the reservoir I soon picked up on the wintering Water Pipit, showing its head and chest from behind the cracked concrete before being flushed by passing walkers.  possibly the same bird then took a long flight around the reservoir before alightin on one of the wooden structures on the spit.  Unfortunately it didn't return amongst the group of 15+ Meadow Pipits that were later feeding on the mud SE of the jetty.


After Wilstone the usual other reservoirs also followed incluing Tringford, were 2 Little Egrets, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, several Teal, Shoveler and Tufted ducks were of note.


Only had a short time at the later two reservoirs before I had to walk back along the canal to the train station but did note 3 Red Crested Pochard (1♂, 2♀), dozens of Canada Geese and 2 Grey Herons on Marsworth, unfortunately I was unaware of the 4 Water Pipits that were present this morning and left only after a short time.


The light was fading fast as I left the Reservoirs but a single Little Grebe and flyover Little Egret were a surprise followed by a calling Tawny Owl.

In all the 11 and a half hours full birding were certainly productive with the definite highlights for me being the retrapped Kingfisher at Drayton Beauchamp, providing closer views than can possibly be imagined and the arrival of the Dark-bellied Brent Goose, a new Hertfordshire tick for me.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Cassiobury Park

Only a brief walk in Cassio. Park today between 14:05-15:05, but was mainly taking notes and several sketches of the birds.  Birds present included 34+ Black-headed Gulls, 2 Common Gulls (one on the football pitches in the park and one at WGSB), 2 Herring Gulls (both at WGSB), 1-2 Green Woodpeckers, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 5 Mistle Thrushes, 3 Pied Wagtails and 100+ Starlings feeding amongst the gulls.

The Ivingoe Hills (6th November)

My family and I took the opportunity yesterday to go for an afternoon walk along the Icknield way to Ivinghoe Beacon from the car park at Brook's Statnalls Wood from were we headed north to the beacon.  From the car my brother pointed out a Red Kite, the first I have seen in a long time, following their temporary absence from behind the RSSKL after this years the breeding season.  As usual we checked the S-bend in the road for Ring Ouzels but only had a few fleeting glimpses of what appeared to be Blackbirds diving into hedges raising our hopes on several occasions.  Otherwise a Red Fox showed briefly just south of the S-bend and several Redwing, 3+ Fieldfare and 7 Skylarks wee also seen, with the later seen in flight around Incombe Hole.  However, little else was of note until we arrived at the Beacon.  We were given the tip of by a few gathering birders that a Snow Bunting had been recently found in the stubble grassland SE of the beacon trig point, however despite an ongoing search as we tramped through the long grass and scanned the neighbouring sheep fields the bird could not be seen, let alone flushed.  Sadly my second dip for the weekend, not a very good record.  During our search 2 Buzzards and a Kestrel flew overhead, possibly surveying the damage we were inflicting on the carefully managed grassland that we were trudging all over.  My brother and I were the last to give up the search so headed back to the car, on the way encountering 3 Fallow Deer (2, 1♂) all of whom had dark brown/black coats, the male appeared from behind a hedge very close to were I was standing and possessing a large set of fully grown antlers.

Eastern-crowned Warbler at Hilfield, unfortunately dipped (5th November)

After having dipped out on the Eastern-crowned Warbler on the previous Sunday (30th November) I was determined to have another decent go again over the following weekend.  My previous visit on Sunday had been unsuccessful after I arrived at 16:40pm.  The light was quickly fading and it hadn't been sighted since it was ringed and released before the news was out on rare bird alert at 8:41am.


Anyway, the 5th November started well with 2 sightings of a Kingfisher darting across the road next to the dam were the ECW was originally released and my first large flock of 100+ Fieldfare of the winter were heading W over Elstree Aerodrome.  The trees neighbouring the reservoir on the northern edge hosted 1 Ring-necked Parakeet and a Buzzard was also calling further north from the Aerodrome, although not seen.  Bird activity increased progressively through the day starting with large swathes of Woodpigeons, mainly spooked from the wood after occasional gun shots.  2 Common Gulls flew over the Aerodrome as did several Skylarks, although the later were only heard.  I made my way clockwise around the perimeter of the forest and found an ideal viewing platform situated on the NE side of the reservoir providing adequate views, compensating for my lack of a key that I would otherwise have had to acquire from the HMWT to enter the Reservoir.  On my way to the viewing point I unfortunately flushed a flock of 58 Canada Geese which flew onto the reservoir but later returned to feed.  The woodland was still productive with 2-3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 4 Goldcrests and 3 Green Woodpeckers and large flocks of Great, Coal, Long-tailed and Blue Tits also feeding close to the viewing platform, followed by a flyover flock of 7 Siskin.  The reservoir itself was mainly empty except for 7 Little Grebes, 10 Shovelers (3 ad., 3 eclipse ad.and 4), several dozen Tufted Ducks, 6 Cormorants and a good count of 18 Great Crested Grebes.  Gull numbers were also relatively small with 3 Common Gulls, only 1 Herring Gull, 11 Black-headed Gulls and 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  Behind the viewing point at least 34+ Fieldfares flew past all in a general WNW direction, accompanied by only 4 Redwings.  I had a short, yet typical glimpse of a Sparrowhawk fly over the field behind the viewing platform followed by 2 Ring-necked Parakeets and before I left I scanned the electricity pylons, one of which had Kestrel perched on top.


I decide to make the short trip between Hilfiled Park and Aldenham Reservoir to check what I might otherwise have missed.  Infact Aldenham Reservoir was packed with both a greater number and variety of wildfowl and would have been far more worth the time, however I could only spend a few hours at the place as the light was fading quickly and I still had to make the bike trip back.  All the same I counted 130 Gadwall by which time I gave up and scanned for any possible rarity.  Amongst at least 100+ Wigeon, smaller numbers of Tufted Ducks, only a few Pochard and 2 Shovelers the best I could find were 4 Mandarins.  Also on and around the water were 2 Grey Herons, several dozen Canada Geese, a Little Grebe, and a similar number of gulls as on Hilfield Park Reservoir, including 1 Herring Gull, 2 Common Gulls and dozens of Black-headed Gulls.  A Grey Wagtail made several passes infront of me as I scanned the ducks a single Siskin was heard over the SW part of the wood around Aldenham Reservoir and a single Fieldfare flew overhead.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

White Wagtail, photographed in Herne Bay, Kent (17 April 2010)

Just found this photo of what I believe could be a White Wagtail, judging by its pale mantle and flanks as well as the sharp contrast between the nape (black) and the mantle (blue grey) it could be one.  I took the photograph on the 17 April 2010 on the coast near Hern Bay, any opinions on confirming the ID?

confirmed White Wagtail, seen 17th April 2010 at Herne Bay

Weekend trip to Frampton Marsh with the Hemel RSPB (22nd-23rd October)

23rd October


Due yesterdays exhausting trip we had a late start at Frampton Marsh and only arrived at 10:00am.  Other members arrived even later as they had chosen to watch the rugby so I resorted to scanning the scrape infront of the visitor center as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive.  The usual duck species were present in their hundreds including Teal, Wigeon and fewer numbers Shoveler, Mallard and 5 Little Grebes.  Very soon a Sparrowhawk swooped in but caught nothing.  Pipits were also present in good numbers including regular flyover Meadow Pipits and Skylarks as well as a Reed Bunting and the resident group of Tree Sparrows.

 One of several Tree Sparrows frequenting the bush to the right of the Frapton Marsh visitor center

 and making visits to the peanut feeder


Wading birds on the scrape were much the same as yesterday including Lapwing, 1 Snipe and a Ruff.  The highlights however were the new arrival of 7+ Pink-footed Geese in the centre of the scrape, one of which had a injured wing and has apparently remained on the reserve for the past two years!  The Brent Geese were also punctual as they came as several gaggles over the sea wall from the east onto the reserve to feed.  From the same direction Curlew could also be heard.  As usual the eastern scrape was the most attractive to the waders, and the masses of people that visited the reserve.  Another Snipe was feeding amongst the vegetation amongst a group of resting/preening Black-tailed Godwits and a surprise came in the form of a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and a Water Pipit bathing separately from the small group of Meadow Pipits also infront of the hide.  A large total of 7 Ruff were also present, mostly juveniles and large flocks of Golden Plover wheeling around over the reserve for much of the day.  A flock of 5+ finches flew in and were identified by the large group of observers in the hide as Twite.  However, after properly identifying them and taking notes it became clear to me that they were infact Linnets, which naturally didn't go down well with the large group of observers in the hide (most of whom were carrying field guides, not notebooks!)  Anyway, instead of moving from hide to hide along with  the masses I decided to return to the 360 hide after a brief visit to the other hide were a Grey Plover was added to the days list, unfortunately the flock of Linnets had moved on so I wasn't able to check them thoroughly again, however a Kestrel was noted on the far sea wall.  Our final plan at the reserve was to make a brief visit to the sea wall were I hoped to fined Snow or Lapland Bunting, unfortunately neither was present and the only birds of note were Redshanks, Little Egrets, Shelduck and a Marsh Harrier over the huge expance of saltmarsh.


Not a good ending to the day as we decided to make a brief drop in visit to the gravel pit to check out for any visiting gulls.  Unfortunately, we timed our visit badly as it coincided with a shoot that was just about to begin.  We only saw the group of Lapwing on the spit before we decide to leave, words fail me to the sad people who shoot birds for their own amusement, they are much better observed alive.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Weekend trip to the Wash with the RSPB Hemel Group (22nd-23rd October)

22nd October

My fourth time to the coast in four weeks.  A lot of traveling but the journey and experiences were all worth it.  Last weekend I left at 6:15am for the Wash, on the Lincolnshire coast with a kind member of the RSPB Hemel group who offered to bring me there and back.


As we left so early there was enough time to have a short drop in at the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh that offers amazing views over thousands of wetland birds that frequent the muddy scrapes infront of the small visitor centre.  The reserve lies directly behind a sea wall that was originally planned to reclaim the hinterland, but is now far more productive thanks to the simple addition of water.  From the car park I already got my first year tick, the hedge directly next to the visitor centre hosted several Tree Sparrows and the feeders were also well used by several Goldfinches.  The large number of birds on the scrapes was difficult to estimate and counting species seemed the best idea as we only had time between 9:00 and 10:45am to scan the masses of Wigeon, Teal, Greylag Geese and Lapwing for anything more unusual.  As we made our way to the first 360 hide a gaggle of several hundred Brent Geese came flying over the sea wall and directly over my head to land in the neighbouring scrape, an awesome spectacle and a great way to start the day.  Several other highlights were also condensed into the short space of time that we had as I picked up on a fast flying falcon heading inland, its profile seemed to suggest Merlin, however I was only able to pick up on its silhouette.  The morning also passed with regular sightings of Redshanks, Skylarks and Kestrels.  The East Scrape seemed to be much more attractive to wading birds including 16+ Black-tailed Godwits on the single scrape as well as several more spread around the reserve.  Other waders included several Dunlin and 2 Ringed Plovers, a Snipe and Curlew.

Frampton Marsh, view over the scrape infront of the visitor centre


We met up with the rest of the Hemel RSPB group at the Boston Marina were we took the Boston Belle boat out into the Wash.  As we waited for the water level to rise sufficiently for the boat to leave a Grey Wagtail past overhead as did a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  After a long wait for the boat to finally leave a Peregrine was pointed out perching on the Boston Stump.  Most of the wading birds that we saw along the river were extremely numerous including Redshanks, Curlew, Dunlin, Golden Plover and even from the start Bar-tailed Godwits were frequently seen.  Fewer Black-tailed Godwits were present but surprises came in the form of a Ruff feeding on the bank of the River Haven on our way down to the estuary.  As we came closer to the mouth of the estuary numbers of Brent Geese rose considerably and by the time we reached the Wash itself wader numbers and duck species such as Wigeon, Shelduck and even a 1st summer Eider were present.  The highlight of the trip though was a close up view of a Merlin perched on the man-made channel wall.  Dozens of Little Egrets were also on the estuary as were 18 Common Seals, Great Black-backed Gulls, a passing flock of probable Sanderling and occasional views of a confident Peregrine making short swoops at several species of birds in the water as we made our way up the Welland.  A Sandwich Tern was also lingering and was seen plunging for fish into the water.  At least 4 Marsh Harriers were seen at one time including 1 ad., and 3 darker birds most likely 's.  Less common waders that we encountered on the way included 2 Greenshanks, 1 Grey Plover and several Ringed Plovers which brought our total number of bird species seen on the trip to over 50 species.  However, most spectacular of all was the classic view of thousands of Knot taking to the air in their impressive aerial maneuvering flight.

The Boston Stump, on which one of the Peregrines was perched on our way out to the wash, possibly the same bird seen hunting over the wash as we didn't see it later on our return.

thousands of wading birds, mostly Oystercatchers in this photo

 It doesn't look like much but there were thousands of birds lining the coastal stretch of the Wash, also hosted the huge flocks of Knot

roosting Oystercatchers

 hundreds of Oystercatchers resting and waiting for low tide


waders everywhere

 Brent Geese over the Wellan, RSPB Frampton Marsh to the south (left)

 Wigeon, not in strict formation

Brent Geese

 My best shot of the regular flypast flocks of Brent Geese as we returned op the Wellan


 Curlews bill caked in mud to the very base

 trying desperately to try and get a decent shot of a Redshank in flight

the only Grey Plover on the cruise

 the only Grey Plover seen on the trip showing its black auxiliaries

Common Sandpiper