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.