Sunday, 29 April 2012

Staines in the rain (29th April)

I was lucky enough to get another lift from my Mum to Staines Reservoir, as she often heads in the same direction on Sundays.  Ironically, and as always, when the weather is bad the birding gets better.  However, today, the weather was so bad at times that birding was made neigh impossible.  I arrived at Staines at about 8:45am by which time the gusts of wind had already increased the wave height to the highest I have yet seen it at the Reservoirs.  Anyway, the weather:
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  • wind 2/3 later increased to 2-3/3
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  • rain 2/3
 one of the 1st summer Little Gulls

I arrived just before the regular Bob Andrews, and met up with Dave and Neil and together we were soon enjoying good views of an adult summer BLACK TERN (a year tick for me).  Thanks to Niel who also pointed out the 4 LITTLE GULLS (1 2nd summer, 3 1st summers) battling through the strong gusts.  Most of the birds were forced into the south westerly corner of the North Basin so we shelter behind a wind battered bramble bush near the westerly end of the causeway, were Bob, Niel and I remained for the remained of the day and early afternoon.  As well as the 100's of ever present Black-headed Gulls (including the regular 1st winter bird with the abnormally large swollen yellow feet and tarsus), dozens of Common Terns and influx of 100's of Swifts, dozens of House Martins and lesser numbers of Swallows hawking over the water there was little of note until around midday.


As the wind picked up and our body temperatures fell, the birding didn't get much better, except for a new arrival in the form of a single Oystercatcher on the west bank of the north basin.  Unfortunately, I missed both of Bob's Arctic Terns but checking the South bank of the causeway was good compensation as I quickly came across my first YELLOW WAGTAIL of the year (an adult male), 1 WHITE WAGTAIL (also male) and a single Little Ringed Plover, all within a few metres of one another.  Very soon a summer plumaged Dunlin also flew in and landed with the Wagtails.  I decided to walk further east along the bank in hope of getting some record shots.  Fortunately, as well as getting some terrible shots, I also came across 2 summer plumaged BLACK NECKED GREBES, swimming west very close to the causeway.

 2 Black-necked Grebes, camera had a lot of condensation on it by this time so very hazy shots, but still very beautiful birds

Friday, 27 April 2012

Birding with a limp at Croxley Common Moor (27th April)

Straight after lecture, which finished at 15:10pm this afternoon I ran/ hobbled of to Croxley Common Moor, as I had smashed my knee cap into the flight of stone steps at school.  Despite this lagging me down I arrived at the moor at c.15:40pm.


I headed straight across the moor from east to west, near the railway bridge (generally the most productive region).  However, I could not locate anything except a few singing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs Blackcaps.  Several Reed Buntings were also present as were 2-3 Green Woodpeckers and a Pheasant calling from nearby the Gade River.  I was limping back in the direction I had come when a Common Tern flew through followed by a text that Ian had located 5 Wheatear at Cassiobury Park (a potential first for me at the site).  I decided to turn the situation around and up my momentum and no sooner had I put the phone away I located my first 2 SWIFTS of the year hawking over the southern edge of the moor, followed by another year tick in the form of 2 WHITETHROATS.  I also nearly walking straight past my third year tick of the day, I just caught a glimpse of a brown bird perched in the open on a bramble bush and I quickly lifted my bins to reveal a stunning rufous CUCKOO! (maybe the day could be salvaged after all).  It remained for some time perched in the open, before flying low across the ground and landing in a small tree on the opposite side of the River Gade, still in good view, allowing me to take some rubbish shots on my phone.  Other birds of note, before a shower of rain set in were 2 Song Thrushes, 2 Jays, and several Swallows (up to 4).  Next I received further news that Wheatears had been reported at the site earlier today, I assumed they would have taken land fall near the eastern extent of the moor, were the grass is shortest.  Fortunately, luck was once again on my side and I bumped into 3 Wheatear (all stunning males, including a probable Greenlander).  I retraced my steps again back to the western corner, when a shower of rain set in.  Within minutes Wheatears were appearing all around me with a minimum total count of 8 Wheatear although I assume over 13+ were present in the nearby area.  Even better, the rain also brought in a stonking WHINCHAT, a very pleasing find.  It was mainly frequenting the central/northern edge of the moor, perching most of the time on long grasses or brambles (only once on the ground).  I lost it several times due to interruptions from dog walkers, and as I was getting the message out but I did get occasional good views (although it wasn't very approachable).  Other birds of note before I left at 17:50pm, included 4 Common Terns, many more Whitethroats (concentrated mainly near the river) and 2 Green Woodpeckers doing a stand-off, which involved swaying their necks from side to side in a threatening way to their opponent.


I still had to limp back through Watford to catch a bus and bypassed Cassiobury Park in hope of Ian's Wheatears.  To my surprise all 5 Wheatear were still on the hill with the wooden benches, next to the cedar.

In all, a rather good days after-school birding.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Staines Reservoir (22nd April)

Thanks to my mum, I was given a lift down to Staines Reservoir, where I hoped to catch up with a few of the specialties from the past few days, including Little Gull, Whimbrel, Arctic Terns and White Wagtail and perhaps an early Swift.

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The turnout was rather different as to what I had imagined.  One of the first birds I encountered was a fledgling Pied Wagtail on the north western edge of the south basin (my first fledgling of the year). Although 1 Little Gull had been seen in the morning I unfortunately arrived to late to connect with the bird.  However, many of the commoner birds were present, including 2 Redshank, plenty of Common Terns, and a few scatterings of wildfowl, including Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Teal and Shoveler.  Later on 3 Mallard chicks also swam past (my second fledglings of the year, spring and summer seem to arrive earlier here than in west Hertfordshire).  The legendary Bob Warden (a daily visitor to the Res's and a privilege to meet and talk to) pointed out a near summer plumage MEDITERRANEAN GULL on the south basin.  The other birder whom I was with also pointed out what initially appeared to be 2 Ringed Plovers, however, through the heat haze it was very difficult to tell.  Wisely we decided to approached a little closer along the causeway only to discover they were infact 2 LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS (a year tick).  Other birds of note included a very small passage of 4+ Swallows.  Bob once again proved his skill by pointing out a very distant probable SANDWICH TERN flying south across King George VI Reservoir, unfortunately, like many birds at these reservoirs it was too distant to confirm but its jizz seemed to suite Sandwich.  I also tried my luck and was very pleased to point out some new arrivals from the south west in the form of 3 WHIMBREL, which flew straight to the west bank of the north basin where they remained for about 20 minutes feeding along the grass edge and on the concrete sides before leaving.

 a very distant record shot of the 3 Whimbrel

I also found 2 GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS (both 3rd summers) which also flew in from a similar direction as the Whimbrel but departed very soon.  Some other birds of note included 1 Sparrowhawk and 1 Kestrel followed by 2 Reed Buntings on the metal fence.  Another highlight for the day was a stunning WHITE WAGTAIL (a year tick) and indeed a very welcome sight as I haven't seen one for a very long time.  On my return, the last thing I saw was a Peacock Butterfly sunning in the middle of the causeway.

Peacock butterfly, fortunately no-body accidentally stood on it (so far)

Local Patch (21st April)


The day started with 1 Swallow and 1 Buzzard being mobbed by 3 very distant probable House Martins (a potential year tick for the local patch).


I was hoping to re-encounter the Little Owls but I have only been successful at this site on two occasions so it wasn't a surprise not to see any.  In compensation, I saw 1 Red Kite together with 3 Buzzards, 1 flyover Linnet and 2 Stock Doves.  Unfortunately the field east of Chipperfield now grows wheat instead of Pees so there was very little hope of last years repeat with the singing male Yellow Wagtails.


Next, I decided to head back on a round walk through Scatterdells Wood, bypassing the horse fields where all I found of note was 1 Green Woodpecker.  The only birds of note at Scatterdells were flyovers which were glimpsed through the canopy, these included 1 Buzzard and 1 Swallow2 Blackcaps were also in the wood.


Barnes Lane was equally unproductive with the highlights being another Buzzard, 4 Linnet, 1-2 Skylarks and a LITTLE OWL perched nearby to the usual spot in the poplar avenue.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Paxton Pits with the Hemel RSPB group (14th April)

A small group of us from the Hemel RSPB group including myself and my brother Ephraim set out for Paxton Pits in Cambridgeshire.


We arrived by car at about 9:25am and even before we had got our shoes on to head around the reserve we were enjoying the sight of 2 Sparrowhawks circling over the car park.  Soon after entering the reserve footpath we were greeted by the song of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and several singing Blackcaps.  From the Hayden Hide we enjoyed good views of Grey Herons and Cormorants making close and regular flights past the window allowing good photographic opportunities.  We saw our first Swallow of the day fly over the East Scrub followed by 1 Stock Dove.  The highlight undoubtedly came when we arrived at Wray House Gardens were all the group were able to listen to the rich song of a NIGHTINGALE singing from some deep cover.  The photographer whom we met there was particularly keen to lure it out with his sound recording and soon it flashed past us before landing only metres from where we were stood.  During our stay, it did several circuits of the Gardens and on several occasions showed very well for a brief period of time.  Unfortunately, the photographer did over exploit his use of playing sound recordings and despite getting some excellent views he persisted in playing them which seemed to agitate the bird considerably.  Moving on, we noted 2 Green Woodpeckers calling from the nearby woodland followed by 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  We all continued north towards the Washout Pit in the hope of finding our first waders of the day, however there was little mud and our chances of finding any were slim.  In compensation, we found 6 Goldeneye diving and resting near the centre of the Lake.  The surrounding hedgerows hosted 2 Bullfinches and later even a pair of mating Reed Buntings.  On our return back to the visitor centre, we bypassed some arable farmland just outside the extent of the reserve boundaries.  Here we saw 2 Red-legged Partridges, several Linnets and singing Skylarks displaying over their territory, whilst I picked up on 3 Buzzards circling in the distance.  Our final stop along the Heron trail was at Rory's Wood and the Sailing Lake were we all had excellent views of a Treecreeper collecting nest material on the lower trunk of a tree and we found our first wader species of the day at the sailing Lakes in the form of 2 Lapwings.  The islands were covered by at least 350+ nesting Black-headed Gulls amongst which we also found 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a nesting Greylag Goose and a hybrid Greylag×Canada Goose cross.  Another highlight was the sight of an Oystercatcher chasing a Lesser Black-backed Gull from its nesting site out of view on the opposite side of the island.  Just before we got back to the visitor centre we saw our first House Martin of the day (a year tick) whilst I got a short glimpse of a Muntjac Deer dive through a wooden fence before disappearing from view.


Whilst the rest of the group stopped of at the Visitor Centre for midday I continued south on the Meadow Trail to the Hayling Pit.  The first bird of note was a Sparrowhawk which flew directly over my head towards the Hayling Pit.  At the Pit itself, I heard my first singing Reed Warbler of the year.  As the wind freshened up a small party of hirundines came in including 2 House Martins, 1 Swallow and my first Sand Martin of the year.  It was rather quite before the rest of the Hemel group joined me at the Hayling Pit.  However, as we approached the south western corner of the pit a CETTI'S WARBLER burst into song.  Despite waiting for some time none of us were able to get a view of the bird and it only gave a burst of song every two or three minutes making it even more difficult to locate.  The final birds of the day included a total of 4 Swallows flying north across the meadows 1 sparrowhawk and 1 Oystercatcher flying north across the Hayling Pit.

Kings Langley Woods and a local MEGA probable BLACK KITE in the fields behind the RSSKL (13th April)

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A lot of clearance and woodland management work has been taking place in Kings Langley Woods, especially in the NW section.  Much of the holly has been removed and paths have been cleared hopefully giving other plant species a chance to become established.  In tern, I hope a wider number of bird species will soon visit the woodland as it will soon offer a wider range of habitats.  On my morning walk through the wood with Theo, I noted my first local singing Willow Warbler whilst Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have now upped their song.


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On my second walk with Theo of the day I went behind the RSSKL were I planned on revisiting my newly established raptor watch point near the A41 footbridge north of the M25 junction 20. The usual birds were about including at least 3 Red Kites, 1 Buzzard a single Kestrel and 2 Lapwing. Very soon I picked up on a bird of prey flying low over Broadfield Farm. Its shape and size was similar to that of a Red Kite and was about twice the size of a nearby Carrion Crow. I had about a 10 second view of the bird from about 500m and only saw it circle once before it moved south along the valley. The most striking feature was the darkness of its entire body (in comparison to the Red Kite). The head, nape, mantle, back, uppertail coverts, tail and underside were all dark brown/nearly black in colour the underwing was equally dark except for the characteristic light window (also darker than on the Red Kite). BLACK KITE soon came to mind when I saw the dark brown/black tail. In addition, there was no sign of orange or rufous colouration as on Red Kites The greater coverts were paler brown than the rest of the wing but also showed no trace of orange colouration and did not contrast strongly with the dark brown upperwing. Unfortunately I didn't get an adequate view of the tail to judge how forked it was. Unfortunately, the sighting did not convince me sufficiently enough to add it to my list and it wasn't refound so it seems it will just have to be another one that slipped through my fingers.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Fields behind the RSSKL (12th April)

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On yet another walk behind the RSSKL with Theo the highlights included 22+ Linnet, 2 Kestrels, 21 Stock Dove, 2 Red Kites, 1 Buzzard and several Yellowhammer and singing Skylarks.

Fields behind the RSSKL (11th April)

The highlights on my short walk with Theo in the fields behind the RSSKL were 2 Buzzards, 1 Red Kite and 1 Grey Heron.

Early start at Ashridge and Ivinghoe Beacon still hosting Ring Ouzels (10th April)

I got up at 3:30am in order for an early start at Ashridge Estate.  I still had to cycle there in darkness before reaching my favoured spot where I hoped to encounter Woodcock and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.


As I was getting my bike out of the shed to leave at 4:15am a male Tawny Owl was calling only metres form outside my back garden.  Unfortunately, there was barely any light which made it impossible to see despite only being metres from were I was stood.


I arrived at about 5:40am and the sun had not yet risen.  I walked around the clearing for the whole period of time before the sun rose hoping to encounter at least one obliging Woodcock but to no avail.  The only bird of note before sunrise was a hooting male Tawny Owl.  Later on after sunrise, I resorted to trudging through the wood hoping to either flush one whilst listening out for the drumming of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, my second target species.  However, this barely reaped rewards as I only got a brief view of a probable WOODCOCK burst up from the forest floor grunting and zigzagging away into a clearing where I assumed it landed out of sight but could not relocate it.  As the morning wore on, the commoner woodland species made an appearance.  I was particularly surprised at the large number of Treecreepers and Nuthatches present.  This probably helped to explain the 3 Sparrowhawks and 2 Kestrels hunting through the wood.  Also of note were 3 Buzzards and a single Fieldfare.  I also saw and heard my first Willow Warbler of the year (at least 3 were present in the small area I visited).


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  • wind 2/3 (at top of hill)
  • temp. 1/3
I arrived at Ivinghoe Beacon during late morning, hoping to connect with some more Ring Ouzels.  Fortunately, after a short period of scanning and not much effort later, I was soon enjoying stunning views of 3♂ RING OUZELS feeding on the south facing slopes of Beacon Hill accompanied by at least 5 Wheatear (including at least 3 males).  The Hills were also alive with the song of Chiffchaffs and even the occasional Willow Warbler, whilst 4 Buzzards circled overhead closely followed by a single Red Kite.

2 of the 3 male Ring Ouzels on the SE Beacon slope

male Wheatear


I was given the tip of that another Ring Ouzel had been found in Incombe Hole prior to my visit so I made a brief visit hoping for a female as I had only seen males so far at Ivinghoe.  Luck was on my side and soon I had a distant view of yet another RING OUZEL feeding on the open ground amongst the bramble bushes.  Also of note were several more singing Willow Warblers, 1 Red Kite, 2 Bullfinches, 2 Kestrels and 1 Green Woodpecker.

Kings Langley Fisheries (9th April)

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  • rain 2/3
As the rain set in the birding didn't look to improve.  However, I was pleased to see my first 2 Swallows on my local patch for the year hawking over the lake.  Only 1 Green Woodpecker of additional note.

Fields behind the RSSKL (8th April)

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In summary I had 1 Buzzard, 20+ Meadow Pipits (a large number for my local patch) and 1 Lapwing.  After crossing the A41, I encountered a further 3 Skylarks, 1 Sparrowhawk, and a single Buzzard.  In the cow fields bordering Middle Farm there were at least 15 Linnet, 3 Pheasant and 4+ Yellowhammer.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Red Kites and Buzzards the Ridgeway from Dunstable to Ivinghoe (6th April)

My dad and I set out from the car park near Ivinghoe Beacon to complete a section of the ridgeway walk.  Unfortunately birding wasn't the top priority but I did note a few along the way.


I only had a few minutes at the Beacon so it wasn't a surprise I couldn't locate any Ring Ouzels (apparently despite at least a dozen observers covering the area, none were reported at Ivinghoe Beacon so I didn't miss any thankfully).  However, 5 Wheatear plenty of Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers and singing Skylarks were OK compensation.  I was also surprised to still see 15 Fieldfare head south past the Beacon.  Also of note was 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 1 Red Kite.


From the ridgeway, 1 Red Kite flew over and I glimpsed 2 probable Ravens fly over south, near Whipsnade Zoo.  As well as the variety of captive animals, Whipsnade Zoo also had 2 Red Kites and 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing each other loudly through the wood.


The downs had even more raptors, in the form of 1 kestrel, 3 Buzzards and 1 Red Kite.  Unfortunately, there was to much human activity for any passerines to make fall at the downs.


On our return a Red Fox crossed the path carrying its prey whilst 1 Buzzard flew over.  Also of note were 6 Stock Dove, 1 Green Woodpecker and 3 escapee Guineafowl (including 1 white morph type) feeding at the edge of a small coppice west of Dagnall.


As we passed Ringshall Coppice I was alerted to the call of a CROSSBILL, I eventually picked up on it as it flew over from the Coombe direction into the coppice.  However, I got my biggest surprise when, near the end of our walk, we passed a field literally swarming with 200+ Fieldfare and 10+ Redwing feeding amongst a flock of sheep, before they were spooked by another flyover Red Kite.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Wendover Firecrests, Wilstone long-stayers and Ivinghoe Ring Ouzel (3rd April)


As I approached Francis Wood, I noticed a number of Rooks congregating in the trees.  I also remembered LGRE is doing a Rook survey in Buckinghamshire, so I checked for nesting signs and after a short scan located 33+ nest (although I'm not sure how many are infact occupied).  During my scan a single Red Kite also flew over, 2 Chiffchaffs were singing in the wood and I heard what sounded like the faint call of a Little Owl, not a big surprise as the surrounding habitat is ideal for them.


As I reached the southern border of the wood, a Muntjac stepped out onto the road followed by the sad sight of a dead Badger lying at the side of Hale Lane.  I started at the southern edge of the wood near the Hale entrance, in hope of finding the resident Firecrests and after almost two hours of searching the only birds of interest I found included 3 BRAMBLING (including a summer plumaged male), 11+ flyover Redpoll (most likely all Lessers) and a single Redwing.  In my continuing effort I still could not find any, the only other birds of note included a single Buzzard, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Tawny Owl hooting quietly further north in the wood.  I was also surprised at the sight of Treecreeper clambering over the footpath (quite an unusual sight) whilst there was an almost continuous chorus of "chink" notes from the resident Crossbills, although I never saw any.  However, near the end of my patience and shortly before I was about to leave, a kind birding couple pointed me in the right direction and soon, I was treated to excellent views of 2 FIRECRESTS feeding in the lower canopy, stunning birds and well worth the effort taken to see them.


Not much change but still the long-staying specialities, including the juvenile Brent Goose, 1 CURLEW and 2 OYSTERCATCHERS all on the spit infront of the hide.  The other usual birds at the reservoir included 1 Little Egret, c.10 Lapwing and 1 Kestrel.   

 some record shots of the Curlew (a Hertfordshire lifer)

The only new arrival I found was a single Common Tern amongst the Black-headed Gulls.  Other birds of note included 3 Buzzards, 30+ flyover Meadow Pipits and 3 Mandarin (including two males).


I first checked Steps Hill in hope of some early migrants.  However, the only birds showing were a mass of raptors approaching me very closely and putting on a good show, including 4 Red Kites, 3 Buzzards and a single Kestrel.  In my visit to Steps Hill a brief shower of rain arrived, hopefully this would bring some migrants in.  Ivinghoe Beacon seemed equally birdless, however just before I was about to leave I found a stunning RING OUZEL feeding in the sheep field on the south-facing slope just east of the beacon! 

male Ring Ouzel

 my first record shot taken on the opposite side of the sheep field, it's just underneath the central bush


just a very quick snap of the female Wheatear (my first for the year)

Later, I also located 1 Wheatear.  However, I didn’t check the beacon itself so it is likely there may have been more.

In all not a bad days birding by bike.