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.