Saturday, 11 April 2015

Back in Herts (30th March-10th April)

30th March:

I had no plans set after handing in my dissertation so despite having an excess of spare time I had yet to find something to do.  As it happens, Dan and his girlfriend were heading to Kent on the 30th so I cheekily sidled in for a lift.  We bundled all my household stuff in the car and headed off to my home back in Herts.  A quick nip past Stithians to fill the feeders took longer than expected but we still enjoyed decent views of the Slavonian Grebe, Reed Buntings and most of the other usual stuff.  Highlights from the car journey included 4+ Ravens and 5 Roe Deer (the bird list for the full journey totalled over 30 species despite poor weather and darkness falling).

31st March:

Back in Kings Langley now and have been patching and mothing regularly again.  My first day back greeted me with my first Swallow of the spring flying around the KL fisheries before moving north.  8+ Red Kites were circling around the valley despite very strong winds.

1st April:

Drake Teal on the KL fisheries, I think it's my first on patch!

2nd April:

I borrowed my brothers bike for the day with the intention of cycling to Stocker's Lake in search of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that has been showing on a near daily basis.  Unfortunately, I had no success but other highlights included a Redshank perched on one of the tern rafts (a decent find for the area), 2 Oysetercatchers and 4 Goldeneye (1 drake, 3 females).  The Little Owls at Stockers Farms seem to have suddenly disappeared according to a local patcher as neither have been seen for about a month.  Exotics included the usual Black Swan and 2 Egyptian Geese lingering at the western edge of Stockers Lake and a drake Mandarin on the canal by Cassiobury.  Despite no sign of the Lesser Pecker all day, the definite highlight appeared whilst I was on the causeway overlooking it's favourite drumming tree, a Weasel cropped up in front of me in the short grass!  It checked the coast was clear before proceeding to bound ahead, stopping again, then leapt into the brambles on the other side of the grassy bank.  I gave up the search around mid-afternoon as I had to be back by 3pm but on returning to the bike realised to my dismay that the back tire was totally flat, damn!  There was nothing for it other than to do the gruelling 8 mile trek home pushing the bike beside me.  My first Brimstone of the year and a Fox hunting by the canal was some consolation.

4th April:

Record count of 107 Stock Dove on Kings Langley patch, 15 Yellowhammer, Little Owl, flyover Swallow and 1 Lapwing.

6th April:
Spent the day at Staines and had a good time scanning both basins for the full morning.

Staines Reservoir: 5 Avocet, Little Gull, 4+ Black-necked Grebe, 1 Great Northern Diver, 1 Red Kite, 3 Redshank, 2 Lapwing, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Swallow, 1 Brimstone, 4+ Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Peacock.

Avocets on the north basin

The drained north basin of Staines Reservoir

Staines Moor offered decent views of a sum plum Water Pipit that by chance happened to drop in at the River Colne whilst I was sat on the concrete bridge overlooking the moor in hope of some northward bound bird traffic.  Other bits and pieces included 2 Red Kites, 4+ Buzzard, 2 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 2 Lapwing, 1 Redshank, 1 Kingfisher, 18 Meadow Pipit, 2 Cetti's Warbler, 1 House Martin (my first of the year) and 5 Peacock.

That evening I was setting up the moth trap in the local woodland around 9pm when a Lapwing flew over giving its display flight calls, bizarre!

8th April:

Patching whilst walking Theo.  Had my first Yellow Wagtail of the year fly NE over Balls Pond Farm and the resident Little Owl was showing nicely.

9th April:

The target for the day was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the destination Withey Beds local nature reserve.  Ephraim and I woke up at 5am, set off half an hour later and arrived on site at 6:30am to be greeted with thick fog and a low temperature.  We weren't put-off though and began our search, wondering along the boardwalk and overlooking the neighbouring field.  The hours went past and when the fog finally lifted at c.9am, three other birders arrived and together we stood back and waited for the male to appear in its favourite drumming tree.  Finally, at around 10am we scored when the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker bounded in and began drumming on the upper dead branches!  Other highlights from the Withey Beds included 1 Snipe, 1 Water Rail, several Treecreepers running around, 2 Swallows and several Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  We also had a classy male Ring Ouzel fly north over Croxley Common Moor, 5 Mandarins (3 drakes, 2 females) on the canal at Cassiobury Park, and Green Woodpecker (completing a three woodpecker day!).  We also had our first Small Whites of the year at the moor.

10th April:

Patching produced a single Marsh Tit in Scatterdells Wood, 7 Yellowhammers a couple Linnets and my first Common Tern of the year flying north through the valley in Kings Langley.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Barely Been Birding (25th February-29th March)

The 1st win. cairii male Black Redstart was still lingering outside my bedroom window until the 22nd March.  It stayed for a total of 99 days!

1st March:

Walked down to Pendennis in the rain this afternoon with the intention of scanning through the gulls on the docks.  Looking back into the Carrick Roads revealed 1 Great Northern Diver towards Mylor and 3 Oystercatchers at Middle Point (on the east side of Pendennis).  Seawatching ended up taking up most of my time (after all it only involved resting my arse on the bench).  I lost count of the number of hours I was sat there...  Even so I only managed to rake in 1 Guillemot sat in Falmouth Bay, a Great Northern Diver off the point before finally scoring with the highlight, a Bonxie chasing a Kittiwake in the distance!  The pursuit only lasted a short while before it dropped in height and landed on the sea where it disappeared behind the swell. c.30 auks flew west through the bay and given the number of hours I was sat there several hundred Gannets must have passed through, few large flocks but a steady passage none the less.  Every few second would be punctuated by singles or pairs of Shags flying back towards St Anthony's whilst Kittiwakes were also moving westwards along with a single Fulmar.  13 Turnstone were scurrying around on the rocks below the point and a final check of the docks before the main gull roost started didn't reveal much other than the usual Herrings Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  I headed home a little sooner than planned as my cold and rain soaked clothes were getting to me (maybe I'm turning soft).  6 Buzzards and a Kestrel were also gliding over the Roseland (all visible within a single scope view!).

3rd March:

A pre-roost of 45+ Pied Wagtails on campus, very likely more out of view as the figure only refers to those visible and perched on the edge of the roof.

6th March:

Headed out to the Lizard with Dan - bit early for spring migrant activity but some nice bits nonetheless.

Helston Loe Pool:

2 Goosander (male and female)
10 Pochard
335 LBBGull
40 Herring Gull
40 Great Black-backed Gulls
11 Great Crested Grebe
1 Firecrest
2+ Goldcrest

Helston Boating Lake:

Iceland Gull (1w) in flight overhead
Whooper Swan
6 Shoveler

10+ Chiffchaff, Firecrest and 1 Siberian Chiffchaff at the sewage works

Lizard Point:

Gannets and Guillemots past in good numbers in a brief seawatch.

Stithians Res - from Stuart Hutchings Hide:

8+ Little Grebe
1 Slavonian Grebe
7 Great Crested Grebe 
(where did they suddenly spring from?! Including displaying)
5 Goldeneye 
(1 male, 4 females)
1 Little Egret

Southern cut-off:

2 Little Grebe (1 with a newt)
1 Snipe
1 Little Egret
3 Reed Bunting
1 Water Rail
4 Long-tailed Tit


32 Teal
18+ Redshank
3 Greenshank
8+ Mute Swan
8 Turnstone
1 Curlew
1 Little Grebe


craziest nest of the day goes to this Mute Swan seemingly oblivious to the road right next to it!

19th March:

Out in the garden this afternoon testing my set-up for tomorrow's eclipse (a pair of old bins pointed at a piece of card), very excited!

I was rather surprised to hear the long staying 1st win. male Black Redstart start calling quite regularly!  Just been reading up on them in an old 2006 Birdwatch mag (Issue 171) and both of the authors references explicitly stated they had never heard them calling whilst on migration but sometimes in winter.  2 Ravens also flew over whilst procrastinating from dissertation writing.

20th March:


2 Black Redstarts outside my bedroom window today (adult male and 1st win. male)!  First time I've seen the adult although it didn't hang around long.  The eclipse was nicely viewable from Falmouth today too with little cloud cover, very happy!

full eclipse!

the one-day stayer adult male Black Redstart

the long-staying 1st win. cairii male Black Restart

21st March:

Took a short revision break and spent the time down at Swanpool.  Did one and a half loops of the pool which produced the long staying 1st winter female Long-tailed Duck (now wearing down the browner tones around the face to reveal a whiter background).  Also 1 Great Crested Grebe, usual other wildfowl, 1 Water Rail calling from the reeds and 1 Small Tortoiseshell.  A terrapin sp. was hauled out on the raft in the NW corner of Swanpool and viewing offshore from the Hooked Cafe revealed a Grey Seal munching on a fish very close to the shoreline and surprisingly relaxed about the number of swimmers and human activity just around the corner.

Grey Seal

Back at Swanpool, a total of four other birders visited the site whist I was present, two of whom pointed me in the direction of the supposed RBGull but on thoroughly checking the place for the Nth time, all I could find at the spot they indicated was a RBGull look-alike which was in fact a 2nd win. Herring Gull.  Admittedly it did share a number of surprising features such as the very bright pink base to the bill and an obvious sharp black band around the tip.  Even the mantle wasn't uniform grey but patterned with an even distribution of older darker 1st gen feathers typical of 1st win. RBG. Dark streaking about the body and head was also very similar to the RBG that had been present earlier but in reality it was the same size and structure as the neighbouring HGs.  I must admit I'm now a little doubtful of some of the recent reports.

Also had a Small Tortoiseshell in the back garden.

22nd March

John St Ledger kindly offered me a lift in the morning down to Lizard and together we went around exploring the place in the hope of connecting with the local Dartford Warblers.  We struck with a nice singing male Dartford Warbler doing the occasional parachuting song flight and navigating the gorse bushes with a couple Stonechats.  I also managed to see my first 5 Wheatears of the year and had great close-up views of a Peregrine.  Also along the coastal footpath were 15+ Stonechat, 6 Skylark, 1 Sparrowhawk, 30+ Meadow Pipit and 2 Snipe. Seawatching off the point revealed 1 Red-throated Diver, 3+ Kittiwake, 10+ auk sp. (going west), 4 Fulmar and the cliffs below revealed 1 Black Redstart. 2+ Bottleneose Dolphins and 3 Grey Seals (1 at the point, 2 at Kynance) were also offshore.

Dartford Warbler


Cliffs at Kynance

26th March:

Finished my dissertation today so went directly to the coast after handing it in!

Swanpool: 1st win. female Long-tailed Duck, 1 Great Crested Grebe and the other usual stuff (still no sign of the RbGull)

Was most looking forward to sitting myself down at Pennance Point for a failed attempt at seawatching.  Scanning towards Maenporth revealed a distant eider sp. in the gloom (most likely the female Common) and a single Great Northern Diver.  Offshore 1,000's Herring Gulls roosting on the sea and about a dozen Fulmar skimming around distantly offshore.

27th March:

Went out in the horizontal rain today.  Not easy scanning offshore as a result but still scored with a stunning sum plum Slavonian Grebe off Gylly!  Usual Long-tailed Duck still present on Swanpool, female Eider in Swanpool Bay and a Great Northern Diver at the mouth of the Carrick Roads.  Did a short stint at seawatching from Pendennis Point but the fog beyond St Anthony's hampered attempts at picking out anything decent. In fact there was barely a single bird out there just half a dozen Gannets and 2 Shags...

29th March:

Rose earlish to attempt some patching despite forecast of inclement weather.  I was hoping that the strong W-SW winds had brought a decent gull into Castle Beach or something similar but I decided to aim for Swanpool first.  Just as I was walking around the corner of the hill at the northern end of Swanpool I could already make out a black a white duck dawdling around in the northern corner.  I was half expecting it to be the LtDuck but to my surprise I set eyes on a stunning drake Garganey!  The Long-tailed Duck was also still present.  It is simply remarkable how this little duck pond has cropped up a nice selection of wildfowl over the last few years.  Highlights have included 2 drk Garganey, 1 LtDuck, 2 Pintail, 2 drk Scaup etc. yet I have never set eyes on Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Shoveler or Gadwall at the site!

drake Garganey

Garganey with the Long-tailed Duck

Dan was fortunately back from France so we were both able to enjoy good views of the bird.  Next, we made our way to Pendennis Point (after a brief scan off Swanpool Beach were the female Eider was still lingering).  Seawatching from the point was nearly pointless so after half an hour of virtually nothing Dan left.  My persistence paid off when a close in Puffin flew west past the point!  I'm not sure how many individuals other observers have clocked over the years but it seems to be just about annual from land in Falmouth.  Nevertheless, it was my first ever from patch!  2 Guillemots and a Razorbill also passed the point as did 3 Sandwich Terns.

Other bits and pieces from the day include 5 Little Egrets, 2 Greenshank and a Redshank at Gorrangorras.  A brief stop at College and Argal Res's revealed 4 Goldeneye and my first 4 Sand Martins of the year at the former.