Sunday, 27 May 2012

Thursley and Hankley Common with the Watford RSPB group (26th May)

My brother and I joined the Watford RSPB group down to Thursley Common in Surrey on an afternoon trip to catch up with some much sought after heathland birds.


We arrived at 15:00pm at Thursley Common with the rest of the group, most of whom were already indulging themselves in the dragonflies hawking around The Moat pond.  Rob Harris soon pointed out the local specialty, Downy Emerald to me (I'm rubbish at dragonflies).  Bird wise we saw much more.  Soon after stepping out onto the heath, we were enjoying the sight of at least 3 Hobbies hawking over the common making regular low flypasts, an amazing spectacle (sorry no pics, to fast for digi-scope shots).

Thrusley Common, what a landscape!

 my brother Ephraim with his camera




Not much else was about until we reached the wooded area near the centre of the Common were we all enjoyed close views of Stonechats in their summer plumage providing some good photographic opportunities.

digi-scope footage of a male Stonechat

 one of the many stunning male Stonechats

female Stonechat

 2 Curlew were also on the marsh (most likely a breeding pair).  The highlight came soon after when a WOODLARK shot out of the undergrowth giving its "tudlu" call before landing close-by and posed for the cameras for at least 10-15mins, even after we had left.

my best digi-scope attempt at the Woodlark


an excessively large number of Woodlark pics (sorry)

 digi-scope video of the silhouetted Woodlark

 Much of the remainder of our time was spent catching fleeting and tantalizing glimpses of REDSTARTS flitting between the conifers before plummeting into the undergrowth.  It was difficult to estimate a figure for how many we saw but at least 3-4 females could have been present in the small area that we visited.  On our return there were now 3 WOODLARKS but all quickly disappeared into the heather.  The final bird at Thursley Common was a white-rump type Stonechat (an unusual variety that I haven't seen before).


Hankley Common


sunset over Hankley Common

Whilst the rest of the group went for a pub lunch in Elstead I decided to head straight for the next site and was soon rewarded with a single Hobby and a singing TREE PIPIT just west of the car park.  The pipit even tolerated me standing only a few metres away, although perhaps it couldn't see me because it's left eye was almost permanently shut and struggle to open it, to reveal a red eye!

 Tree Pipit, you can just see the shut eye

 and the shorter claw (comaprison feature with Mipit)

 As I sat watching it a REDSTART came into land in to the same tree and perched in the open (unlike the ones at Thursley) a really stunning bird.  On my return to the car park I flushed another WOODLARK from the path (by accident) before meeting up with the Watford RSPB group at the car park.  As dusk gradually fell we heard our first short "chrrrrrrrrr" and minutes latter a NIGHTJAR rose out of the vegetation only metres from were we were stood!  The male was soon accompanied by a NIGHTJAR and for the rest of the evening until 22:30pm we enjoyed the spectacular sight of them as they made regular passes and even posed on the electricity pylon pole for at least 5mins.  Bizarrely we also heard a Cuckoo call once at 21:30pm (no mistaking)!  Finally, Bob Harris picked out a Soprano Pipistrelle using the bat detector and we glimpsed it occasionally as it flew low around our heads.

best shot I could get of the Nightjar on the electricity pylon girders

digi-scope footage of the churring Nightjar

Apologies for the large number of landscape shots.

Many thanks must go to John Fisher for giving my brother and I a lift to Thursley Common and Jenny Hill for organising the very enjoyable trip,
Thank you once again.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Local Patch (23rd May)

Once again I was walking Theo during the afternoon around the local patch.  I decided to take a slightly different route leading to Berrybushes Wood were the farmland is less intensively farmed and wildlife is generally more abundant.  This was soon apparent when I heard the screams of Swifts overhead, looking up, there was no sign of the Swifts instead I had my first 2 HOBBIES of the year which circled high overhead, gradually moving closer into the line of the Sun were I lost them.  Also of note were 2 Whitethroats, several Yellowhammers and Butterflies including Peacock's, Small Whites and Orangetips.  In the north western corner of Berrybushes Wood I was glad to find a single MARSH TIT calling loudly in the small line of pine trees, a bird I rarely see on my local patch so always welcome.  Trying to find anything in the fields bordering the northern edge of the woods was neigh impossible due to a massive stream of flying insects continuously flying into my face so not much else of note.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Savi's at Wilstone Emergency Visit (21st May)

The news came in yesterday evening of a Savi's Warbler at Wilstone and since I had finished school for ever three days ago I decided to treat myself to a twitch.


I arrived first on sight this morning at 4:30am (thanks to a lift from my mum) and headed for the hide in hope of hearing it singing from the reedbed.  5 o'clock came and went and still no sighting, even more surprising were the lack of twitchers (probably all twitching the Cream-coloured Courser in Herefordshire).  However, during my wait, I did hear my first CUCKOO of the year, see my first REED WARBLER of the year and listen to a ♂ Tawny Owl hooting in the twilight.  The number of hirundines also increased dramatically until at least 1000+ were present circling over the reservoir.  After some time three observers came and dipped.  Next I decided to go into the meadows behind the reedbed just in case I could hear it from there.  I was very fortunate to bump into Francis Buckle, Chris and Roy Hargreaves who soon directed me to an ideal spot.  As soon as we arrived, the song of a trilling SAVI'S WARBLER reached our ears (bliss) and definitely not short of a crippling experience despite not seeing the bird.  We continued around the southern border of the reservoir were the only other bird of note was a singing Whitethroat.  On our return to the south east corner of the reservoir, the House Martin numbers were still in their hundreds accompanied by lesser numbers of Swallows and Swifts also hawking over the water and amongst them a single Sand Martin.  From the jetty Chris kindly pointed out an adult summer BLACK TERN on the barely bails amongst several Common Terns.

Black Tern

Mute Swans in flight


Amongst the Commons was a tern sp. of similar build and features except for the beak, which was fully black except for a slight reddish tinge at the base.  1st-summer Common Tern came to mind, however, I believe these are far less common as they don't generally return this far north on their return migration, any opinions welcome.

 probably the best shot I got of the pos. 1st-sum. Common Tern


Not much on Startop's End Reservoir when I visited, however, I didn't thoroughly check the borders for the nesting Little Ringed Plovers as I was in a rush to get back home by midday.  Only birds of note was a family of Canada Geese and fledgling Pied Wagtails on the far bank and the large number of hirundines.  Marsworth produced a calling CUCKOO which I quickly located in the exact same tree in which I had seen it last year and kept calling for most of the remainder of my visit.

 a rather distant digi-scoping attempt of the calling male Cuckoo

Also of note were 2+ Reed Warblers, 2 Reed Buntings and a Grey Wagtail on the neighbouring canal.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Local Patch, Fields behind the RSSKL (20th May)

My mood has improved since yesterday, despite no radical change in my fortune (I have no idea why it is so low as I have finished schooling for ever, only the exams to come now!).  However, I did take a morning walk behind the RSSKL with Theo which brightened my spirits a little.  Noted several Red Kites, 1-2 Buzzards and 1 Kestrel.  Middle Farm also had the usual array of farmland birds including several Linnets, and at least 4 Stock Dove.  The hedgerow near Langleybury Farm produced a singing Lesser Whitethroat.  However, despite waiting for some time for it to appear I never even caught a glimpse of the bird (unsurprising as it was singing deep within a dense hedge).  The same area also hosted a ♂ Yellowhammer, dozens of Swallows, 1 House Martin and a few Swifts.

Dipping the Hoopoe, St Albans (19th May)

I only came across the news that a Hoopoe had been sighted on the 17th May late the following day.  On Saturday, I decided to go for it.  The weather wasn't bad (for birding) with previous light rain and some cloud.  However, I didn't get very far on my first attempt as I got a puncture half way there.  It didn't improve as I got very frustrated and ended up having to walk all the way back home with a bleeding toe (caused by me kicking the bike out of anger).  Thankfully, my dad offered me a lift when I got home and I finally arrived mid-morning at Batchwood Golf Course.  It was clear, as soon as I arrived that the chances of me refinding the bird were very slim.  Firstly, I was the only birder there and secondly, there were masses of golfers whacking their golf balls in every possible direction so I had to spend most of the time making sure I wasn't hit by a rogue ball.  Unsurprisingly, I didn't find the bird, all I saw was a ♂ Kestrel carrying prey, a few Mistle Thrushes and some flyover Swifts.  The neighbouring Gorhambury Estate was equally quiet, although I only visited the eastern section.  I noted a few Red Kites and Lapwings in the sheep fields but unfortunately no exciting migrants.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Shendish Manor (11th May)

I set out on Friday Evening on a short walk down Barnes Lane and Shendish Manor Golf Course at about 9pm in search of Tawny Owls and hopefully a Woodcock.  It wasn't a particularly eventful walk, saw 3 Red Foxes (all singles) and 2 calling Tawny Owls (a pair near Apsley Manor Farm).  Also heard what sounded like 2 Foxes chasing each other around yelping and attacking each other aggressively but never saw them.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cassiobury Park (8th May)

I paid a short visit to Cassiobury Park in the morning with the intention of locating some more Wheatears on the slope.  However, despite the good conditions and initial little disturbance from dogs and people non were present.  As I wondered around, 4 Greylag Geese circled overhead before coming in to land on the slope, they didn't last long as a very excited dog soon bolted towards them and they left.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A repeat from last night (6th May)

I was just walking out of the drive to give Theo his evening walk around the common at 12:30 in the evening when a Red Fox bolted through the wooden fence on the northern side of Love Lane.  Otherwise, everything was a near exact repeat from last night.  The usual pair of Tawny Owls began calling, this was soon followed by the alarm calls of 2 Magpies (exactly the same occurrence as last night).  I tried o locate the owls, like last night but soon after entering the wood they stopped calling and trying to find them would have taken some time not to mention the fact that I could barely see a few metres infront of me so I headed back home.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Commotion in Kings Langley Woods (5th May)

On a late night walk with Theo at about 11:30pm, I was heading back along the western edge of the Common when a Magpie began screeching (a rather unusual time to start giving alarm calls) I hypothesized that it might have have been disturbed by a Tawny Owl at its roost, and sure enough 2 Tawny Owls (1,1) also began hooting and "kewweeking" from nearby.  Despite making a short detour into the wood, I couldn't see either Tawny Owl.  This was getting rather frustrating as I haven't seen one so far this year, despite having heard them on dozens of occasions in the past few months.

Gorhambury Estate and Redbournbury (5th May)

I had a lay in on Saturday, after another long week and decided to pay a late morning visit to the Gorhambury Estate, just west of St Albans, in hope of finding Grey Partridges and perhaps some raptors over Prea Wood.


However, as always, the birds I often expect to see rarely show and instead are replaced by others.  Today was no exception and as I was cycling up Bunker's Lane, I immediatly stopped when I heard the end of a rattling song from a bird in the hedge, a Whitethroat soon popped out into the open but this wasn't what I was expecting so I dismounted scrambled through the hedge and on the other side I was rewarded with a short view of my first LESSER WHITETHROAT of the year singing from a high exposed perch (very uncharacteristical).  Also in the vicinity were 2 Kestrels and 3 Swift.


100's of Swifts had gathered over the Estate and were present throughout interspersed with dozens of Swallows.  House Martins were scarcer, however, near the end of my visit, a flock of 30+ House Martins descended over the willow banks of the River Ver.  Also of note were several Buzzards, several individual Red Kites and as expected dozens of Red-legged Partridges, not to mention the Pheasants.  More interesting birds included 1 Green Woodpecker, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 3 Whitethroats, 3 Lapwing and 3 Blackcaps all in the same hedge and within a 2m radius of one another and apparently tolerating one anothers presence, bazaar?


I picked up on the River Ver trail just east of the Gorhambury Estate were another Red Kite flew over, followed by a single Buzzard and a lone Lapwing.  The highlight however, was the stunning CUCKOO, which showed well for some time in the flooded meadows.  More surprising was the fact that it never called once during my visit, in fact I haven't heard a single Cuckoo call so far this year despite seeing two and being in the correct place at the right time.  Another Lesser Whitethroat was also rattling away in dense cover as I approached Redbournebury but it remained elusive despite my efforts to try and see it.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Cassiobury Park (4th May)

Got another text from Ian saying a female Wheatear was down at the usual spot at the wooden benches.  My luck was in again and I was pleased to relocate the Wheatear still running about in the same spot.  Despite a few dogs making some disturbance it was rather tolerant and only flew up onto one of the metal bins when a dog ran straight for it.  It was still present when I left at 16:00pm.  Also of note was a fly-through Swift heading in a NNW direction.  So far it has been an amazing year for Wheatears and am very pleased to have seen 8 of the 10 birds which have turned up so far this year (although much of the credit should go to Ian, thanks Ian)!

Cassiobury Park (1st May)

Went down to the wooden benches and cedar tree for a short visit after school in hope of finding more Wheatears, but to no avail.  Instead all I could find were 2 Buzzards circling high overhead.

Cassiobury Park (30th April)

A summary of the Monday lunch time break birds included a showy male Blackcap, 1♂ Mandarin on the newly flooded meadows in the nature reserve, 2 Stock Dove, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Jays, 1 Common Tern heading directly north without stopping and up to 4 Bullfinches.  Other than the birds I also saw my first 2 Orangetips of the year and a Grass Snake swam across the canal towards the nature reserve.  The highlight, came when I stumble across 2 Wheatear (1,1) at the eastern end of the football pitches, a rather unusual location as they are more often found near the wooden benches.