Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Yankee and Spaniard in the same country! (25th February)

Instead of going on the Hemel RSPB trip down to Arne, Dorset, I decided to go by train to the New Forest in Hampshire to twitch the Dark-eyed Junco and Spanish Sparrow in Calshot.  I arrived at Beaulieu Road Station about 9:40am and began cycling south through the various Inclosures towards where I thought Hawkhill Inclosure might be, this wasn't a good idea and soon I was entirely lost with no map to get me back on track, it took several conversations with walkers, drivers and cyclists to finally track down the right Inclosure, let alone the bird.


I eventually arrived at the Hawkhill Inclosure, possibly an hour after leaving the station and lined up with the waiting crowd of c.20 people.  I laid out some sunflower hearts I had brought with me on the fallen tree and stump and stood back waiting...Nothing
For a while and the only birds that arrived were the occasional Chaffinch, Robin, Dunnock, and 4 Reed Buntings but still no Junco.  During the wait I also noted 2+ Buzzrads (even a pair mating), regular flyover CROSSBILLS in the trees lining the path and Siskins, including some stunning males in full song.  I waited till about 12:30am and still no sign so I decided to dip out and go for the Sparrow and return later in the afternoon in better hope.  I also saw 2 Red Admirals flying around the area (my first of the year).


On arriving there were about half a dozen birders who had clearly been present for some time and soon became fed up and left as all the Sparrows were behaving very elusively.  Despite being only meters from where we were standing and in full song they were almost impossible to see.  As a result finding the Spanish Sparrow became very unlikely.  It was approaching 14:00pm (the worst time for trying to find the Sparrow) and my spirits were beginning to fall even further (was that expensive train ticket worth it? was going through my mind).  Then luck struck me, and just in time too.  A young couple birders pulled up to me in a car on the road "the Junco's showing" were his first words and within seconds I was in the car and speeding of back to Hawkhill Inclosure.  This probably counts as my second dip of the day.


Within minutes of arriving we were back in the usual place, this time standing at the top of the ridge looking down through the grass at the base of the fallen pine tree and finally I had my first views of the 1ST WIN. DARK-EYED JUNCO!  Finally bagged my first life tick of the day.  Despite the crappy views it soon flew up onto the stem of the fallen tree and for about a minute we all enjoyed spectacular views of it hopping along the branch.  After only about a minute of watching it, it flew west and landed on another fallen tree stem.


I was soon back in Calshot thanks to a kind lift from the birdering couple and within minutes the shout went up just north of the village in a small open park space down a public footpath.  We hadn't even got there when the reply came back, it was the hybrid.  We had just sulking back to our prior positions when another shot came from the same place, this time it was the right bird and after a little patience we had brilliant, yet brief views of my first ever ADULT ♂ SPANISH SPARROW accompanied by some House Sparrows in a Birch tree.  At last both were safely under the belt.  It soon flew back to the usual hedgerow directly over our heads and a few minutes of searching later it was refound in the hedgerows next to the concrete playing area of St Georges Chapel.  Here we obtained much longer views of it perched deep within the hedge and singing heartily.

 Spanish Sparrow, only the the eye visible through the hedge, but its still the bird!

 probably the best digi-scope shot I got of the bird (I'm not sure if these would even qualify as record shots but at least we had much better views of it previously)

 A little bit of the beak

After about 15 minutes of watching it, it disappeared once again, most left soon after but the couple who had given me the lift and I remained a little longer and soon refound it once again in the hedgerow on the opposite side of the road feeding briefly at the bottom of the hedge, followed by another surprise in the form of the hybrid Spanish×House Sparrow, also hopping around in the lower part of the hedge.

 only at the end of stressing  about both twitches did I realise what an amazing environment I was in!


 not a bad atmospheric shot for a small digi-camera

 took this shot of myself at the end of a brilliant day with the megas

 ponies everywhere


With my heart rate decreasing after a rather stressful day, a final burst of energy was required to get back to the station at Beaulieu Road.  The cycle ride was rather enjoyable and taking in the scenery of extensive Gorse, Pine forests and short cropped grass with the backdrop of a setting sun was a nice finish to the day.  I was surprised to hear the screech of a Ring-necked Parakeet overhead as I cycled through the Holbury (I had no idea they lived here too).  The final bird of the day was a glimpse of a lone Oystercatcher feeding at the muddy edge of Redbridge Channel, seen from the train as it sped past my final view of the river Test.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Staines Reservoir (19th February)

I got the good opportunity to get a lift from my mum, Agnes, and was kindly dropped of at Staines Reservoir in west London in hope of catching up on yesterdays sightings of 2 Slavonian Grebes.  The day started well with
  • cloud 1/3 shade 0/3
  • wind 2/3
  • temp. 0-1/3 rising to 1/3 later in the day
  • rain 0/3 however a brief shower of snow/hail did occur for about a minute at 13:15pm.

the causeway between the north and south basin of Staines Reservoir

 the desolate landscape of the N basin

 planes taking of every minute, making it anything but relaxing

 wind blasting into my face made scannig the N basin a difficult job...

 whilst glare from the sun made it difficult scanning the S basin.

All the same, not a bad day indeed, as several of the recent goodies as well as new birds were on show.  I arrived around 8:45am and soon joined several other birders on the causeway between the N and S basin.  Thanks to some local expertise and some earlier arrivals I was soon pointed towards a SCAUP resting in the SW corner of the N basin and another inland surprise in the form of an imm. SHAG (a year tick) that was resting/preening on the central tern island.  As I scanned from the causeway the Scaup suddenly woke and began showing very well close to the path and even began diving, bringing up a load of weed/mud on one occasion.  From the same spot I also found 4 BLACK-NECKED GREBES (3 win., 1 sum.) (a year tick) along the western side of the S basin amongst dozens of Pochard, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Ducks.  Other birds of note included 2 Shelduck perched on the concrete bank of the S basin and 2 Redshank feeding together on the causeway bank of the S basin.  Ducks were definitely the main attraction of the day and at least 11 Goldeneye were present on both basins, including at least 6 drakes.  Even better was the sight of 4 SMEW (2, 2) (a year tick) that flew in on the N basin but were soon trumped by a total of 6 SMEW (2, 4) that eventually congregated in the NE extent of the N basin.

drake Smew chasing the redheads around

I was also notified of an additional 2 drake Scaup that had been present in the bay in the SE corner of the N basin, but on arriving I could only locate 1 SCAUP amongst a small raft of Tufted Ducks 

Scuap, right hand bird

Scuap with Tufties

2 Teal (1, 1) were also in the same bay as were dozens of Wigeon that had come out of the water to feed on the grassy bank.  News passed quickly along the causeway of recent sightings on the reservoirs and within minutes I was alerted to the news of a pos. Water Pipit that had been traveling east along the causeway bank of the S basin.  The task to locate it seemed neigh impossible as it was not seen on the concrete bank and there was ample opportunity for it to hide in the tussock grass and bramble.  Despite a good search all I could find were 2 Meadow Pipits an unIDed flyover Pipit sp. that didn't call (probably another Meadow Pipit).  Yesterday's 2 Slavonian Grebes could not be found throughout the morning, despite extensive searching by over a dozen observers, and had perhaps moved on to a neighbouring reservoir, however, 2 Little Grebes, and 1 Kestrel were other birds of note.  On returning to the western side of the causeway I was glad to find all 3 SCAUP (2, 1) together resting/diving just to the west of the tern rafts on the N basin.  In all, quite a successful day with 3 year ticks but I was particularly pleased with encountering all the mornings’ good birds, particularly the stunning Smew and Scaup.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Barnes Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (18th February)

I was out today with my dad and Alfons to visit the famous Barnes Wildfowl and Wetland Trust site at Barnes, London.  The weather started out well with
  • cloud 3/3 shade 1-2/3 without any rain (until later in the afternoon when the level of rain approached 2-3/3)
  • wind 1/3
  • temp. 1/3

On arriving, around 10:45am we headed north through the reserve passing through the area holding captive bred birds from around the globe.  Amongst them were the occasional Moorhen and Mallard mingled with the more exotic wildfowl species.  Our first stop to indulge in some proper birding was at the Headley Hide were several water birds were present including Wigeon, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorants.  Nothing much was of exciting news but it was a rather novice experience trying to get my dad and Alfons involved and interested.  Better birds ensued when we returned and took the path east towards the Peacock Tower were I found 2 GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS (1juv. or 1st win, 1 3rd win.) on the shingle island north of the Dulverton Hide overlooking the main lake.

1 of 2 Great Black-backed Gulls,  the juv. or 1st win. later took a bite out of the backside of a Lapwing in flight, ending up with a mouth full of feathers.

 the 3rd win. arrived next

We were also treated to good views of a Pintail feeding infront of the hide and soon after scanning to the right, towards the Peacock Tower I picked up on a very fast flying and active probable LITTLE GULL swooping backwards and forwards in the very NE corner of the reserve, unfortunately I could not refined it as, after less than half a minute of watching, it flew behind some trees and of the reserve grounds.  Other birds of note on the site included 2 Stock Dove, large numbers of Gadwall, Coot and a small number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls, mostly in 1st winter plumage.  One of the birding highlights of the day was the surprise find of a WATER RAIL skulking very close to the reserve pathway between the Dulverton and WWF Hide.  However despite approaching me to within less than 5 meters from where I was stood, in some low dead vegetation, I could not refined it!  Our final stop of the day was at the Peacock Tower near the eastern extent of the reserve were the largest number of Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Pintail were all visible.  Even better was the opportunity to see the birds from above, whilst in flight rather than the usual view of their underside as they fly overhead.  In all a very enjoyable and sociable day proving that birding has it all.

Friday, 17 February 2012

East Hyde and behind the RSSKL (17th February)

Set of from Kings Langley with Stuart Harrison for east Hyde in hope of finding the Jack Snipe that had been seen during the cold period, many thanks again Stuart for the lift.


We arrived at East Hyde around 14:00pm and soon had found 4 Snipe along the River Lee as well as a total of 5 Little Grebes.  After scanning the bank of the river for some time, a fellow woman birder pointed out a WATER RAIL (a year tick), a nice surprise as it fed on the western tributary.  We were also treated to the sight of 2 Red Kites souring into the air followed by 2 Buzzards, soon after a single Red Kite and Buzzard began circling together shortly before the Red Kite decided to land in a tree neighbouring Lower Harpenden Road.  Other good birds followed including, 1 Little Egret in the river, 1 juv. Grey Heron and 32 flyover Linnet.  Despite the good start and numerous observers, we still couldn't locate the Jack Snipe until the same lady pointed out an "unusual Snipe", with a little more patience we were soon treated to good views of a JACK SNIPE (a life tick) bobbing incessantly just infront of a Common Snipe, making it very easy to make a direct comparison in size.

the Jack Snipe (facing left) is in the center of this utterly rubbish record shot

All the time I spent at East Hyde was on or near the bridge but the day still got better with a brief appearance of a wintering GREEN SANDPIPER, not stopping of for long before pelting down the river towards Hyde Mill Farm.  For the rest of our visit we were also treated to excellent views of an ad. Kingfisher perched on the edge of the western tributary of the River Lee.  It made three dives into the river and was twice successful in catching small fish.


Little Egret

On the larger expanse of water, on the eastern tributary, Teal, Gadwall and Mallard were all present as were several Moorhen and 2 Canada Geese.  Other birds of note included a calling Yellowhammer and 1 Stock Dove.


Despite being in the driver’s seat, Stuart managed to point out 6 Red-legged Partridges at the side of the road whilst driving down Thrales End Lane, not bad multitasking.  As we passed Long Dean Park I kept an eye out for the roosting Jackdaws and sure enough a flock of 27+ Jackdaws headed NNE over the wood.


Once again I was behind the RSSKL walking Theo, almost as soon as I had come back from east Hyde.  By now darkness was setting in and birdlife had decreased significantly.  c.121 Jackdaws flew over in a ENE direction to go to roost and 1 Green Woodpecker was heard in the woodland edge just north of the first field behind the RSSKL and 3 Fieldfare were of additional note.

Thanks once again Stuart for the lift to East Hyde.

Fields behind the RSSKL (16th February)

  • cloud 3/3 shade 1/3
  • wind 0-1/3
  • temp. 1/3
Little had changed since yesterday (weather wise) but by the time I left the house (16:25pm) the bird life had changed noticeably.  Fieldfare and Redwing numbers have declined sharply since the presence of ice and snow and now only occasional small flocks are of note.  From the first field behind the RSSKL (area E+F) 1 Yellowhammer flew over, followed by a group of 3 Greylag Geese and 1 Cormorant flying together in V-formation south (an unusual record for this location).  After crossing the A41 bridge the birdlife tends to improve, this time 1 Green Woodpecker bounded away over the grass field in area J, 1 Kestrel was hovering over the same field and 8 Fieldfare together with 2 Redwing were perched in the line of trees between area H and I (in the cow field).  Jackdaws were also heading overhead and the passage manly consisted of pairs heading in a ENE direction, perhaps going to roost at Long Dean.  In total I recorded 47 Jackdaws in groups as follows, 18(mainly flying as pairs)+2+2+2+2+3+2+2+1+2+2+7, the later feeding in a field with 52 Rooks.  In my opinion there is a clear tendency for Jackdaws to head to a roost sight in pairs, this may suggest that pairs remain together, even during the winter season and possibly even feed together and mate together for life, a rather large assumption I know but I still need to be enlightened on the subject.  Other birds of note included 14 Fieldfare, 22prob. Linnet, 1 calling Buzzard, a further 5 Fieldfare in area E+F and 1 calling Green Woodpecker.

Fields behind the RSSKL (14th February)

  • cloud 3/3 shade 1/3
  • wind 1-2/3 NW
  • temp. 1/3
Another walk behind the RSSKL, by which time nearly all the snow had melted leaving much of the soil fully saturated with water.  My sister had just returned from the fields explaining how she had just seen 100's of "small birds", I decided to investigate, in hope of the hundreds of Linnet that had arrived in previous years.  The reality was a little more disappointing as I only noted a total of 49 Linnet in the first field (area E+F) together with 12+ Skylarks. 1 Yellowhammer also flew over and 1-2 Green Woodpeckers were heard.  After crossing the A41 bridge into area J I was surprised to see a Grey Heron take off from the field and the small coppice neighbouring Berrybushes Farm had 2 flyover Siskin.  I decided to head down the small track leading to Middle Farm in hope of a bigger number of farmland birds and was very pleased to find the fields to the right of the path in area N fully occupied by 100+ Fieldfare, Chaffinches, 8+ Yellowhammer, 80+ Starling and lesser numbers of Goldfinches, and Linnet.  Also of note were up to 6 Stock Dove, and a flyover Sparrowhawk which unfortunately flushed almost all the birds before they dispersed into the surrounding fields.  The highlight were 15 Lapwing flying over the A41 (area N+G) a rather scarce bird in the region.  Even more surprising was the further find of 32 Lapwing in the ploughed field directly under the flight path of the previous flock, by far the largest group I have had in my local patch.  Other birds of note included dozens of Redwing in the small horse field neighbouring Middle Farm, 2 Buzzards, another calling Siskin, a single Grey Heron, possibly the same individual as was seen further NE of Middle Farm, and finally a single Sparrowhawk putting up 29 of the 32 Lapwing and making them head in a northerly direction.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Water End (13th February)

The occurrence of a Jack Snipe within biking distance of my house was a nice surprise so I decided to make the trip to Water End, nr Gaddesdon.


I started out at Nettledon Lane around 9:00am (with helpful direction from Dan Forder, thanks Dan) and headed over the field towards the wooden bridge.  A Yellowhammer and 3 Reed Buntings were present, followed by a single Buzzard.  I soon approached the stream when suddenly a small Snipe species (probably the JACK SNIPE erupted from the exact spot in which it was reported yesterday), it made a brief round circuit of the watercress beds before heading of in a strong easterly direction.  Unfortunately, with the key bird gone for the day my spirits were dampened.  However, a Grey Wagtail was a nice fined feeding along the river and a Grey Heron remained perched in a tree further south down the river.  The highlight following the probable Jack Snipe was the surprise find of a winter plumaged WATER PIPIT (a year tick) feeding just south of the wooden bridge amongst the cress.

Water Pipit, displaying the characteristic buff supercilium of a winter plumaged bird

 streaking on chest more smudged than on Rock Pipit

After some time of watching it I took my eyes of of it before it disappeared.  The small ponds just to the north of the little bridge were also rather productive and held a stunning Pintail, 2 Little Grebes and 4 Gadwall (2,2).  The cress beds to the north of the wooden bridge held 3 Yellowhammers (1,2), a flyover Meadow Pipit, a second Snipe species, that I accidentally flushed and 17 Teal.  Also along the same stretch of river was a single Little Egret, 2 Grey Wagtails, 1 Grey Heron and another Snipe that fed nicely in the open allowing me to take some more digiescope shots.


I was also glad to refined the WATER PIPIT again feeding amongst the cress once again, yet as I reached the Piper's Hill I heard the WATER PIPIT take of once again from behind me before heading back towards the south cress beds once again.  There was also an impressive passage of Redwing and Fieldfare, most of which were traveling in a northerly direction, the counts peaked around mid-morning and totaled to at least 479+ Fieldfare and 192+ Redwing.  At the northern end of the cress beds I met up with Stuart Harrison and together decided to revisit the Jack Snipe location to retry our luck.  Unfortunately nothing showed, however a Kestrel, 2 Mistle Thrushes (amongst the flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing) as well as a single Kingfisher along the river were all nice surprises.  After giving up looking from the bridge we noted a total of 13 Teal resting on the side of the bank and 2 Wigeon (1,1) and 2 Canada Geese flew in.  As we made our way back through the fields, 1 Song Thrush was of note as were 2 Skylarks chasing each other around the field within meters of were I was standing and finally, 1 Red Kite pointed out by Stuart flying west over Heizdin's Wood.


With Stuart's directions to the fish ponds just south of Water End I decided to pay them a short visit.  Very little was of note, partly due to the fact that the ponds were largely frozen solid and the only open areas of water were out of view.  However, 1 Grey Heron was perched around the ponds a total of 32 Fieldfare flew over in a NW direction, 1 Green Woodpecker was heard and 4 Teal took of from the water.


I finished my trip early so still had some time to spend at another sight.  I settled on visiting the Kings Langley Fisheries, by now rain was setting in and the weather didn't look to improve.  I rounded of the day with a wildfowl count of 23 Tufted Ducks, 14 Pochard, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Gadwall and 3 Canada Geese.  Trudging back along the canal, my spirits were raised by a Kingfisher perched on a low hanging willow near the footbridge at the end of Tooveys Mill Close along with 2 flyover Grey Wagtails, 1 Song Thrush and 4 Fieldfare, the finale to the impressive passage day.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Hilfield and Aldenham (11th February)

The half term has started so I only set out after 9:45am in order to catch up on some much needed sleep.  I decided to twitch the 6 Scaup that had turned up at Hilfied Park Reservoir on the 6th February.


On arriving I decided to go straight to the viewing platform, were I was shortly accompanied by two other birders.  The reservoir was largely frozen over and only two areas remained ice free including a pool, bordering the reedbed on the south side and a second one in the south west corner, although the center pool had shrunk to only a few square meters and was only accommodated by 5 Great Crested Grebes before even they abandoned it.  After some distant scanning from the platform and straining our eyes to the limit, we were rewarded with 4 SCAUP (a life tick) amongst the commoner Tufted Ducks, Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard, Moorhen, Coot and Great Crested Grebes.  Although distant, it was surprisingly easy to separate them from the smaller Tufted Ducks, by their paler back, and very different, more robust, when seen in profile.  For much of the time they remained resting and rarely lifted their heads, however after a long wait they became more active, swimming strongly and even diving frequently.   Later on the female appeared bringing the total to 5 SCAUP (4,1).

♂ Scuap, second bird to the left of the moorhen in the reeds

some Scuap somewhere amongst the Tufties

 view over the distant reedbed

Hilfield Park Reservoir

 thank you scope once again

 two, possibly three of the male Scuap together infront of the gap in the reeds

Unfortunately I couldn't find the juvenile as the viewing platform was simply to distant and the sun had begun to silhouette the birds against the water.  However, a surprise flypast BITTERN (a life tick) made a good turn out to the start of the day.  Next to the viewing platform, 6 Siskin were feeding on the alder trees before moving south and 2 Song Thrushes fed together at the edge of the woodland.  A Sparrowhawk also made two passes infront of the platform, the second time returning north across the reservoir with prey.  Around midday little had changed except for a brief flyover flock of 13 Lapwing and a Green Woodpecker infront of the platform.  At least 8 Little Grebes were amongst the rest of the wildfowl, which also included 5 Mute Swans and several Cormorants.  Other birds of note included a Goldcrest, 1 Jay, 1 Treecreeper, 1 flyover Meadow Pipit, 1 Grey Heron, and only 9 Redwing and 1 Fieldfare, although a lot more were heard and I wasn't paying the later two much attention.


I still had much time to spare as I had already seen both target species of the day so I decided to get a little closer to some wildfowl by visiting Aldenham Country Park Reservoir.  As predicted the birds were closer and were separated into two large congregations on the lake.  Each group was keeping a small area in the east and west from freezing over, although sadly this was made all the more difficult by a lot of human disturbance.  The usual species including Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon, Gadwall were all present in good numbers and 3 Mandarins (2, 1) (a year tick) were hid amongst the low branches of trees as they sat on the snow covered ground.  After a few minutes of scanning the ducks 300+ Black-headed Gulls flew in together with dozens of Common Gulls and 1ad. sum. Herring Gull, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Dozens of Great Crested Grebes were also on the lake but I was rather upset at the sight of 1 Great Crested Grebe with a red elastic band stuck around its throat/chest, it was consistently trying to break itself free in vein, yet unfortunately all I could do was stand helplessly and look.  On the brighter side 2 Little Grebes were amongst the wildfowl on the western pool and a total of 51 Fieldfare flew over.  I decided to make a round walk of the reservoir, which I have never done before.  This excursion (mostly through the surrounding woodland) clocked in 3 Ring-necked Parakeets, 2 Song Thrushes, 2 Redwing, 2 Jays, sevearl caling Siskin with 1 seen, 2 Mistle Thrushes and 1-2 Red Crested Pochard, one amongst a group of Mallard in the north east corner and a second (possibly the same bird) in the eastern pool.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Barnes Lane (8th February)

After a stressful chemistry coursework day I decided to spend an hour going down Barnes Lane to try and refined the breeding pair of Little Owls which I had not seen on several of my past visits.  Very little was of note behind the school except for several Fieldfare and Redwing gorging themselves on the holly tree berries with 2 Song Thrushes amongst them.  However, I was glad to find 1ad. LITTLE OWL (a year tick) perched on the usual protruding perch from the avenue of poplar trees after the small hamlet at Barnes Farm.

Kings Langley and Cassiobury Park (7th February)

  • cloud 0/3 shade 1/3
  • wind 0/3
  • temp. 0-1/3
  • fog 0-1/3
  • snow fall 1/3
  • 2 inch of ground-snow, nearly all compressed into ice (three days old)


From the bus stop in Kings Langley, a total of 56+ Redwing flew over.


1 Grey Heron was noted from the bus near the Cassiobury estate.  In the park, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard, one had begun drumming whilst the other was heard "peeping" near the center of the park, followed by a yaffling Green Woodpecker.  In addition, 1 Common Gull flew over, it seems to me that recently, the underwings of Common and Black-headed Gulls appear much darker against the pale background of the snow and sky in comparison to earlier in the winter, an unusual optical illusion.  Within the half hour 149+ Fieldfare flew east (mostly over the gardens in the Cassiobury estate) followed by a small flurry of light snow that only lasted for about 10 minutes.  Also of note were 19+ Redwing and 1 calling Nuthatch.

Cassiobury Park (6th February)

Went for the usual afternoon walk through the park in my free period.  A much smaller total of 31+ Fieldfare were noted (in comparison to the last few days), whilst the nature reserve was a little more productive with 28 Redwing, 1 Bullfinch, 2 Little Egrets, and 25 Mallard (14, 11) on the Gade River.  Also of note were 2 Ring-necked Parakeets, 3 Nuthatches, a total of up to 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and finally 5+ Siskin in the alders behind the hide.

The Usual Day (3rd February)

cloud 3/3
shade 0-1/3
wind 0/3
temp. 2°C  


I now take an earlier bus to get into Watford in the morning as traffic along the A41 has increased significantly.  As a result I now have about half an hour to an early morning walk around the eastern extent of the park.  On the day this produced 7 Redwing, up to 6 Stock Dove, 1 Ring-necked Parakeet, 2 calling Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 1 calling Goldcrest and the highlight of 2 Lesser Redpoll (a year tick) perched in a low bush in a garden bordering the Park.


50+ Redwing flew over the school at about 8:25am whilst dozens more remained around entrance along Shepherds Road.


I returned through the park around 16:00pm, by which time only 1 Stock Dove remained and 9 Redwing flew over south.


From the bus the usual single Grey Heron was once again perched in the dead tree just outside Hunton Bridge, near the canal.


To round the day of 50-60 Fieldfare flew over the M25 roundabout at junction 20, 20+ Redwing were around the bushes outside the fire station in Kings Langley Village and 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the top of our the garden.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Kings Langley Common (5th February)

Unfortunately I wasn't able to go to see the Bitterns at Marsworth Reservoir so instead I went outside with my brother and indulged in a snow ball fight and counted the flyover thrushes.  I remained on the Kings Langley Common for much of the morning, between c.9 and 11am.  In total I had 3 flocks of totalling 40+ Redwing including three flocks of 17, 7 and 16 as well as several individuals, mostly going in a south and east direction.  A total of 149+ Fieldfare including 8 flocks mainly going south and west also flew over as well as several uncounted individuals.  Also of note was a flock of 8 Long-tailed Tits and 2 Skylarks going east.

Theo Walk behind the RSSKL and Old Hall Marshes Again (4th February)

For my brothers birthday present he wished to go to Old Hall Marshes eager to catch up on the brilliant birds that I had seen last weekend.  With the help of searching websites thoroughly the night before on the location of the wintering Great Grey Shrike I managed to pinpoint the exact hedgerow in which it had last been sighted.

Wind 0-1/3
Cloud 0/3
Temp. -6°C in the early morning but rising gradually above freezing throughout the day


I decided to walk our dog, Theo, behind the RSSKL before we left to go to Old Hall Marshes as we wouldn't be back till late afternoon.  Very little was in the first field, as only 1 Fieldfare and 5 Redwing flew over.  However, once I reached the hedges bordering the A41, dozens more Fieldfare popped out of the hedges and by the time I had crossed the bridge a large flock of 200+ Fieldfare erupted from the hedgerow west of the A41, followed by a measly 3 Redwing heading south.  In the back garden of Langley Lodge Farm, I heard dozens of Siskin calling loudly behind a high brick wall although only 2 Siskins were visible above the line of the wall.  On the way back through the fields, 1 imm. Lesser Black-backed Gull and 1 imm. Common Gull flew over followed by 4 Skylarks, one flushed by Theo in the field.  The final surprise was the sight of 1 Bullfinch diving into the front garden hedge in front of our house and the surprising sight of a CHIFFCHAFF (a year tick) perched only momentarily in the same hedge.


We stopped at the concrete platform next to Barnhall Road, directly next to the hedgerow in which the Shrike had last been sited and set ourselves up next to a giant heap of horse dung waiting for the bird to appear.  Time past and still no sighting, occasional birds such as a Dunnock raised a few false alarms as it did some looping flights out of the bush before diving into cover.  Fortunately after checking the opposite side of the hedge I was thrilled to see the GREAT GREY SHRIKE (a life tick) perched right in the open, displaying amazingly and remained in view even for my parents to see.  It performed amazingly and remained in the open for much of the time making occasional plunges into the brambles bellow, perhaps to catch some prey, although I never saw it with any.

Great Grey Shrike

The head was the diagnostic feature with a black mask extending from the loral area through the eyestripe and hind ear coverts, this was bordered by a thin white supercilium over the black mask (widest over the eye and loral area).  The cap was pale grey and unmarked.  The upper mandible was dark grey whilst the lower mandible was pale grey/horn-coloured but darker towards the tip.  The throat was cleaner white than the chest and was unmarked unlike the very pale grey streaks on the flanks.  The nape, back, mantle, and uppertail coverts were all uniform pale grey, the same colour as the cap and the scapulars formed a white edge, which widened towards the inside and covered some of the very inner tertials, secondaries great/median and lesser coverts.  The wings were more complex, despite only featuring two colours.  The tertails were black at the base and only the tips were edged white, as with the secondaries and primaries, although these had a much thinner white edge.  The primaries also had the characteristic white base and formed a triangular point below the black primary coverts.  The remaining median coverts and alula were black whilst the lesser coverts were shaded pale grey, like the back.
The tail was rather worn and was in constant use for balancing as it was almost continuously cocked and waving in all directions.  Recording their features was more difficult, however, its black central retrices and white corners were visible at times.  In addition, the undertail was grey, yet the outer retrices were also still white underneath.
I belive by summing up the information  available it is either a 1st or 2nd winter female.  I'm not very good at aging and sexing this bird so any help would be much appreciated)

Behaviour: It spent much of the time in the open, perched in clear view either on a prominent bramble branch or occasionally more hidden on the end of the outermost twigs of a nearby tree.  Its flight pattern was similar to that of a magpie as it swooped downwards either onto our low over the ground before rising steeply onto a prominent perch.

Other birds of note during our search included a very approachable 1st win. Robin, 1 Kestrel and a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker.


We arrived down Salcott Street at the end of the dead end road were we came just in time to witness 500+ Brent Geese take to the skies before landing in the field again, just south of Marsh Farm, my brother and I made our way successfully to the sea wall, without scarring the Geese, form were we scanned the flock for the Red-breasted Goose.  Within seconds we found the 1st winter RED-BREASTED GOOSE amongst their masses and much to the joy of my brother we obtained very close views and I was able to pick out the more detailed features such as the worn edge to the bright orange ear coverts that indicated towards a 1st winter bird.

1st-win. Red-breasted Goose, poking its head out conveniently for all to see

 amongst the masses of Brent Geese

After our second successful twitch of the day we decided to make the long awaited trip around the reserve, in a clockwise direction.  From the Salcott Channel, we saw 11 AVOCETS as well as the usual flocks of dozens of Black-tailed Godwit and TealWigeon and Dunlin were in their hundreds and Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were flushed from the sea wall around the whole of our route.  Several Bar-tailed Godwits were also of note and a total of 11 Goldeneye (8, 3), 3+ Marsh Harriers and dozens of the commoner waders such as Redshank, Grey Plover and Lapwing were also seen along much of the channels length.  From the point we searched for the long-staying Slavonian Grebe but all we could get was a distant view of a probable win. SLAVONIAN GREBE and another distant probable BLACK-THROATED DIVER.  We were more successful down the North Channel were I picked up on 5 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS (2,3) and an adult summer plumaged Eider.  Other birds that made it onto my year list included 3 Rock Pipits and 4 Pintail (1, 3).  The usual flocks of Reed Buntings were also on the north side of the reserve and a total of 93 AVOCETS were counted in the Tollesbury Fleet.  As dusk fell we approached the reedbed at Irongate were we waited in anticipation for the resident Bearded Tits to come out.  Again we were lucky and after a wait of about 30 minutes and short glimpses of 2 in flight we were treated to brilliant views of 5 BEARDED TITS feeding at the northern edge of the reedbed.  We were in a rush to get back to the Salcott Street, the final birds of the day was a single Snipe that we flushed accidentally from the field next to the car park and a Green Woodpecker calling.  The final spectacle of the day was the impressive sight of the large flock of 500+ Brent Geese taking flight from the field next to Marsh Farm and heading south east towards the estuary.

hundreds of Brent Geese, probably including the R-b Goose, going to roost on the Estuary, a spectacular sight