Just a quick note to let you know a single BITTERN was showing well in the reeds 50 feet from the bank on Marsworth Reservoir tonight (see image above). Also at least 150 corn bunting present in the roost from 4.15 (Roy McDonald)
Yesterday's snow was still lying this morning, although more of it melted during the day as temperatures rose to just above freezing. It was a bright, clear day but extremely cold and by 1800 hours, temperatures in Little Chalfont had already fallen to minus 5 degrees C. Norfolk had been hardest hit by this latest slice of Arctic weather, with up to 6 inches of snow laying....
At CHENIES BOTTOM BRIDGE (BUCKS), the GREAT WHITE EGRET was performing extremely well, fishing in the Chess just 50 yards downstream.
I then met up with Graham Smith and spent a very cold 45 minutes studying and counting the GULLS at HEDGERLEY LANDFILL, BEACONSFIELD (SOUTH BUCKS). There were impressive numbers present, ducking and diving the various council vehicles attempting to flatten out the disposed refuse - a bare minimum of 5,300 birds...
Most impressive were the GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL numbers - a diminishing species - 102 being my highest count, the vast majority full adults. Next off, Herring Gulls were in abundance, with at least 2,200 present, including no less than 178 Northern Argentatus on one sweep. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noticeable by their absence - perhaps just 38 in all - with just 1 adult Common Gull (this species just does not like working tips) and the rest (2,900 or more) being Black-headed Gulls. There was one Caspian/Yellow-legged Gull present (an adult-type, seen only in flight) and an odd-looking Herring Gull hybrid that was very pale and had pale biscuit-brown/creamy upperwings which was strikingly white-winged gull-like as it flew around.
Otherwise, 42 Red Kites, 213 Common Starlings, 32 Pied Wagtails, a Meadow Pipit and 2 Song Thrushes.
As is normally the case just lately, as soon as the Council guy saw us 'scoping across, he unleashed his hybrid Saker on the flock and almost immediately, every gull in the vicinity headed off. It was time to move on.
At nearby BEACONSFIELD SERVICES, 29 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS were back in the adjacent trees, flying back and forth to drink on the roof of the Shell Service Station.
To the east of HILLMOTT'S END WOOD and south of HEDGERLEY LANE, the fields were full of Red-legged Partridges - 68 at least - presumably part of a local release by gamekeepers.
After a short meeting, I then spent the rest of the afternoon at MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS), in the great company of Richard Woodhead and Richard Ness. I had been spurned on to visit by Rob Andrews, after his fabulous CORN BUNTING counts of last night. I was also very surprised to see all of the reed cutting that had been performed since my last visit, one of two EURASIAN BITTERNS this evening immediately utilising the cut-channel closest to the causeway to feed briefly. WATER RAILS numbered at least 4, whilst the BARN OWL performed as usual but at the later time of 1643 hours; a Green Woodpecker was noted too.
However, it was the CORN BUNTINGS I had come to see, and following on from RDA's magnificent 204, that same tree on the far side of the reservoir eventually harboured an astonishing 229 birds this evening - presumably the result of this change in weather. This is by far my highest count in a long time.
After getting snowed off work at lunchtime, I headed to College Lake this afternoon to see if the bad weather had pushed anything in. It was pretty quiet unfortunately, although 21 Snipe were active on the marsh and a couple of Lesser Redpoll were feeding in the reed filled ditch on the east side. One of these birds had a metal ring on the right leg but I couldn’t get a good enough photo to be able to read it.
It turned into a pleasant evening and with the reserve closing at 4pm I drove to Marsworth to see if the Bittern was showing again. Two Water Rail were showing well in the first section of flattened reeds with plenty of others calling. About 80 CORN BUNTINGS were perched in their usual pre-roost tree at the back but then these flew up and joined together with another flock and all landed in one of the trees on the causeway. Incredibly I counted at least 170 in this tree and was really pleased to see this sort of number locally again. They weren’t finished yet though as others were still arriving. After another few minutes the flock flew up and circled a few times before landing in the trees behind the reedbed on the south side. Although they were moving around a bit I was able to count an unbelievable 204 before they all dropped into the reeds to roost at 4.30pm. I later blew up a photo I’d taken and counted 205 in the shot! Hopefully this is a sign that Corn Buntings are doing better than we thought locally.
As the light faded, about 15mins later, a BITTERN flew out from the right hand patch of reeds, from near the cut channel, flew across the water to land in the reedbed on the far side. Unfortunately about a minute before Warren and Steve arrived.
In almost total darkness an EGYPTIAN GOOSE flew past in front of us, with the white wing patches being just about the only thing visible, and then flew up towards the north end.
The day started off bright, sunny and calm but later clouded over, whilst temperatures struggled to get higher than just 3 degrees C. There was no rain to speak of.
I had reserved today for my first real outing into HERTFORDSHIRE, with a number of target birds on the menu. Rather remarkably, the last three years in the county have resulted in me seeing exactly 171 species. I managed all of my targets bar Tree Sparrow.....
At LYNSTER'S FARM, WEST HYDE first thing, the usual field held 2 EGYPTIAN GEESE, 60 Woodpigeons, 18 Jackdaws, 8 Common Magpies, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker and 1 Redwing
I then went up to ASH GROVE in HAREFIELD where last year I saw 4 Tree Sparrows in gardens. All change this time I am afraid with no feeders, tall fences and no birds. Plenty of suitable stubble fields though with Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Ring-necked Parakeet, Common Starling and a beautiful pair of BULLFINCHES all seen.
Being such a calm and glorious morning, I then decided to visit BROADWATER SAILING CLUB, where just to the North is the RIVER COLNE on the Herts/Middlesex border. This is the only real wintering place in the county for wintering CHIFFCHAFFS and this morning the overhanging branches were alive with them. In a section of river no more than 100 yards long, there must have been at least 17 birds, the majority fairly standard-looking Collybita and a number of darker, greener, longer-winged abietinus candidates. Nothing present suggested tristis. However, one particularly bright Phyllosc did take my eye, having noticeably bright feet, straw-brown coloured legs, yellow breast, rich yellow supercilium, yellow about the face, pale bill and seemingly long primaries - it had to be a wintering WILLOW WARBLER. There was another pale legged bird present but this bird was clearly a Chiffchaff.
The same stretch of COLNE also held 2 Robins, Dunnock, GREY WAGTAIL, Pied Wagtail, 18 Redwings, 1 Great Crested Grebe and a cracking adult drake GOOSANDER.
TROY MILL GP adjacent was brimming with waterbirds and the most inhabited in winter I had ever seen it. COOT were the real story and no less than 527 of them were trawling the pit for weed. Also counted were 22 Mute Swans, 43 Gadwall, a pair of Wigeon, 3 Pochards, 56 Tufted Ducks, 2 Grey Herons and 4 Great Crested Grebes.
COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS) was my next destination where Tringford's redhead SMEW had relocated for the day, showing very well on the main marsh in front of the first hide. The 5 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS were still present in the far NW corner of the Deep Pit, whilst 16 Mute Swans, 138 Wigeon, 22 Gadwall, 58 Tufted Duck, 19 Pochard, 43 Coot, 2 Moorhen, 28 Lapwing and 1 COMMON SNIPE completed the counts.
Tree Sparrow was once again on the menu in the Tyttenhanger/Lemsford areas but despite traipsing round across massive hectares of fields at CROMER HYDE GAME STRIPS and other previous haunts, I totally drew a blank; just 2 birds seemingly reported in the county this year.
In fact the game strips were very poor producing lean returns, just 35 Cjhaffinches in total, no Yellowhammers, 6 Reed Buntings, 25 Common Pheasants, Magpies, Coal Tit, 14 Fieldfare, a male Linnet, Song Thrush and a Common Buzzard.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at AMWELL NR, partly in the company of Jay Ward. Leaving a flock of 55 Goldfinches in Alders by the entrance, I soon located the female NORTHERN PINTAIL which had been found earlier. It was at the south end of the Great Hardmead lake, consorting with Gadwalls by the wooded island. That pit also held 5 Mute Swans, 44 Gadwall, 9 Shoveler, 40 Wigeon, 45 Tufted Duck, 100+ Coot and a large number of roosting gulls, including 128 Lesser Black-backs, 12 Great Black-backs, 72 Herring and 54 Common.
Tumbling Bay Lake to the north of the lock gates held the continuing first-winter drake GREATER SCAUP, the redhead SMEW, a single female Common Goldeneye, 16 Pochard, 44 Tufted Duck, 3 Great Crested Grebes and 2 Little Grebes.
Towards dusk and watching from the Viewpoint, the EURASIAN BITTERN flew to its usual roosting spot at 1620 hours, whilst 2 Little Egrets came in and a Red Fox prowled about in the open
After a very damp start, it then turned out very pleasant with clear blue skies prevailing. Although it was mild to start with, by dusk it was almost freezing
As Paul Keene wanted to photograph the GWE, I wandered down to the CHESS VALLEY to try and locate it. As is often usual in the mornings, it was standing on the pillars of Neptune's Falls, down below Latimer Conference Centre, before quickly relocating to Chenies Bottom. It then wandered about the tall weedy field west of the bridge for the next two hours or more - Martin Parr also turning up in the hope of photographing it.
For me, the highlight was finally connecting with COMMON KINGFISHER - one showing well on the Chess by Mill Farm. A Grey Wagtail was also about, as well as the resident LITTLE OWLS.
A male Sparrowhawk flew across the Chesham Road at LITTLE HAY (HERTS) whilst yet another dead BADGER was besides the westbound A41 near WEST LEITH FARM at SP 912 107.
I was then off in hot pursuit of Jack Snipe but despite trying several reliable previous haunts for this species, I completely drew a blank...
At BROUGHTON TROUT POOLS (BUCKS), east of Aylesbury (at SP 845 143), little to be seen other than 35 Atlantic Canada Geese, 8 Mallard and 2 Moorhens - and a Yellowhammer thrown in for good luck. At the neighbouring BEAR BROOK FLOOD STORAGE LAKES (at SP 842 139), not much different, with 4 adult Mute Swans, 4 Mallard, 2 Coot, 6 Moorhen and a Grey Heron. Three Redwings and a pair of BULLFINCH added some variety.
WESTON TURVILLE RESERVOIR was deadly with just 1 Great Crested Grebe present, whilst RAF HALTON added 35 ground-feeding Redwing.
I thought my luck was in with Golden Plover when I found a large flock of plovers in the large ploughed field just east of ASTON CLINTON (BUCKS) at SP 895 123 but all I could see were 462 Lapwings - an impressive wintering flock though.
I then found myself once again at MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, in the company of Mic & Jan Wells, Mike Campbell, Samuel Perfect and several others. For the second night running, a complete no-show by Bitterns. Getting there much earlier tonight gave me a better opportunity to accurately assess the CORN BUNTING population and by 1630 hours, exactly 140 had dropped into the reedbed to roost. The first 22 arrived at 1550, with the cumulative totals adding up thus: 22-37-41-42-60-97-102-140. Just 1 Common Starling was seen, with 5 roosting Reed Buntings, Grey Wagtail, 2 Coot, 2 Mute Swans, 2 Shovelers and 5 Great Crested Grebes recorded. Some 4 WATER RAIL squealed from the reedbed, whilst a flock of 52 Lapwing flew overhead. The BARN OWL performed from 1625 hours onwards, quartering back and forth over the rough field east of the sewage works.
Grey Wagtails and WATER PIPIT at Wilstone (Mike Nott)
Spent the late afternoon at Wilstone with Dave Hutchinson. Relatively quiet, with nearly all birds on the southern half of Wilstone i.e as far away from the car park steps as you can get! WATER PIPT still on bank between Jetty and Car Park corner showing well, but being spooked regularly by dog walkers it eventually flew off towards Startops. It was frequently associating with a GREY WAGTAIL and several PIED WAGTAILS. Flock of 100+ Fieldfares in trees in Cemetery Corner. Dave H also spotted two female GOLDENEYE near the jetty (Michael Nott)
A LESSER REDPOLL over the dry canal and a calling OYSTERCATCHER following the dry canal flying from Bucks airspace towards Startops just after 9am were the highlights, with 5 RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGES in the back fields, 2 NUTHATCH and 2 MARSH TITS again feeding on the track near Cemetery corner (per Ian Williams)
Paul Reed found an additional 3 WAXWINGS at College Lake BBOWT this morning, although sadly they did not hang around - 5 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS still being visible at the NW corner of the Deep Pit (LGRE).
At dusk, Francis Buckle, Mike Campbell, Mic Wells and others stood patiently waiting for Bitterns but none showed - just the BARN OWL at the back of Marsworth and 50+ roosting CORN BUNTINGS
Thanks to a call from Mike Collard this morning I was able to see my first WAXWINGS of the year and my first for College Lake. A very gloomy day but the two birds were enjoyed by a number of people (record shot attached above). There were also 5 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS present (2 drakes).
A brief visit to Wilstone Reservoir produced the resident Marsh Tits and a Nuthatch as well as the long staying WATER PIPIT.
A number of Siskins were in the Alders at Tringford along with the redhead SMEW.
Then, at dusk, David Bilcock, Steve Rodwell and Roy Hargreaves had 2 EURASIAN BITTERNS in the Marsworth Reedbed
I have visited the Tring reservoirs over the past couple of days (3rd & 4th January) and thought you maybe interested in a few of my 'highlight' records
SMEW - female present on both days at Tringford
WATER PIPIT - single present at Wilstone on both days (today giving excellent close views in the grass field adjacent to the 'jetty' for at least an hour before moving back to res & still present at dusk). Also a different bird present yesterday at Startops (around the small 'beach' above the car park) for at least an hour - not present today
Nuthatch - at least 3 in woods at Wilstone (also single Treecreeper)
Marsh Tit - 2 in woods at Wilstone
Fieldfare - ca100 in field along Union Canal between Tringford & Wilstone
Redwing - 2 in field along Union Canal between Tringford & Wilstone
A predominantly typical grey winter's day with temperatures no more than 6 degrees C and light drizzle from time to time; not much wind either
Spent another day locally, mainly catching up on common birds....
Spent some time in the CHESS VALLEY first thing, but despite trying most of it's regular spots, failed to locate the Great White Egret. Also failed to find RN's Common Crossbills in BALDWIN'S WOOD (which, incidentally, is now all claimed by Hertfordshire), but did find both Song Thrush and MARSH TIT (2 birds), along with Common Treecreeper, 7 Goldcrests, Coal Tit, Great Tit, LESSER REDPOLL, Carrion Crow and Grey Squirrel.
MILL FARM's best offerings were 2 Stock Doves, 3 Carrion Crows and a Grey Wagtail, whilst 9 Herring Gulls flew high south over the valley.
I then moved off to Tring to carry out the first of this month's wildfowl counts.....
COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS)
That time again when I have to count the wildfowl and no shortage today on the main marsh -:
Little Grebe (3 on the deep lake)
Sinensis Cormorant (6)
Grey Heron (4)
Mute Swan (down to 29 from 41 - still 4 first-years)
Atlantic Canada Geese (34)
Eurasian Wigeon (164 but interestingly no Teal)
Tufted Duck (89)
Northern Pochard (16)
RED-CRESTED POCHARD (2 females)
Coot (46 with just 1 on the marsh)
Black-headed & Common Gulls (6 of the latter)
COMMON SNIPE (16 roosting)
THE TRING RESERVOIRS (HERTS)
Exceptionally high water levels all round with lots of birds scattered widely
MARSWORTH held just 4 Great Crested Grebes, 23 Mallard, just 7 Shoveler, 6 Moorhens and only 1 Coot, with 29 Black-headed Gulls roosting on the bunds.
A lot more on STARTOP'S END, including 5 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Mute Swans, 22 Mallard, 8 Wigeon, a drake Shoveler, 63 Tufted Duck and 324 Coot (far and away the largest concentration in the area).
At TRINGFORD RESERVOIR, the adult female SMEW was showing well close to the hide, with 1 Great Crested Grebe, 3 Grey Herons, 24 roosting Cormorants, 2 Mute Swans, 4 Mallard, 12 Gadwall, 78 Common Teal, 63 Tufted Duck, 52 Pochard, 3 COMMON GOLDENEYE (2 drakes) and 96 Coot. Common Blackbirds had increased in the wooded areas to at least 8 individuals but there was no sign of the recent Song Thrush; 8 Woodpigeons and a nice male BULLFINCH too.
I met up with young Ephraim Perfect and showed him the Smew and then took him on a tour of the woodland. Species such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Jackdaw (48), Great Tit, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit (16) and Green Woodpecker were quickly racked up, along with several SISKINS (15 in all including a flock of 10).
Best bird however was a male BOHEMIAN WAXWING that I heard calling (trilling). It landed in an isolated hawthorn by the canal and moved between there and a flowering Rose Hip bush for a short time before flying off towards Tring town centre at 1208 hours. Ephraim got it in his 'scope and we enjoyed some nice views of it before it flew.
The horse paddocks also held 4 Mistle Thrushes, Common Kestrel and 2 Pied Wagtails, whilst a flock of large gulls flew west and overhead, containing 2 GREAT BLACK-HEADED GULLS (an adult and 2nd-winter, rare birds at Tring), 13 Lesser Black-backed and 6 Herring.
TRING SEWAGE FARM held 8 Gadwall and 12 Wigeon.
There was no sign of yesterday's 3 Bewick's Swans on WILSTONE, nor the 2 Pintails, but the WATER PIPIT was performing well, commuting between the car park steps and the jetty.
A large number of waterbirds was present although Coot numbers were disappointingly low - 1 Little Grebe, just 5 Great Crested Grebes (that makes just 15 wintering birds in all), just 4 Mute Swans, 321 Teal, 101 Shoveler, 10 Gadwall, 348 Wigeon, 153 Tufted Duck, 132 Northern Pochard and just 174 Coot. A single Grey Heron was already repairing its nest, one of 13 from last year on the Drayton Bank.
At the Angler's Retreat, 10 House Sparrows were in residence, with several Common Starlings at Wilstone Great Farm.
Once finished, I drove over to HAZLEMERE (BUCKS) to join Graham Smith. All 6 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS were showing very well feeding on Rosehips directly opposite the Youth Centre in Rose Avenue. A flock of 23 Common Starlings in the area too.
It was then off on a tour of the Northwest of the County....
DEEP MILL POND held 4 Coot, 2 Moorhen and unusually 4 Gadwall (2 pairs), with 4 Long-tailed Tits in the hedgerow, whilst at the Council building in AYLESBURY, both adult PEREGRINES were in residence beneath the platform.
South of the A41 and in fields NNE of CRANWELL FARM, FLEET MARSTON (BUCKS) (SP 765 164), 2 CHINESE WATER DEER were feeding out in the open, along with 2 male Common Pheasants. Nearby, at the WADDESDON DAIRY POND, I showed Graham the resident drake Common Eider, now joined by a pair of Hooded Mergansers, pair of Common Shelduck and two pairs of Eurasian Wigeon - all pinioned I am thankful to say.
Five Redwings flew over the A41 by the WESTCOTT VENTURE PARK (BUCKS) - my first of the year.
I could only find the single adult drake GOOSANDER at WOTTON UNDERWOOD, along with 1 Great Crested Grebe, 19 Mute Swans, 22 Mallard, 6 Wigeon, 9 Shoveler, 41 Tufted Duck, 23 Pochard, a pair of Common Goldeneye and 59 Coot.
Also managed to overlook the single Ruff at GALLOWS BRIDGE BBOWT (BUCKS) (seen earlier by Tim Watts) but did count 300 Lapwing in the adjoining ploughed field to the car park and 15 Linnets.
At CALVERT, could not see any Caspian Gulls in either of the pre-roosts, the BBOWT LAKE housing just 1 Great Crested Grebe, 8 Mallard and 54 Coot and the SAILING LAKE just an additional Great Crested Grebe, 3 Mute Swans (including a first-year), 12 Tufted Duck, 2 Northern Pochard and 18 Coot.
Eventually, at 1530 hours, we ended up at FOXCOTE RESERVOIR, NE of Buckingham (NORTH BUCKS). Just two observers were sat in the hide - Matt Slaymaker and another Bucks birder whose name escapes me. Although 139 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 22 Argenteus Herring Gulls and 300 or so Black-headed Gulls were already in, there was no sign of the adult white-winger.
I moved on to waterbirds and counted: 1 Great Crested Grebe, 3 Mute Swans, just 8 Coot, 126 Wigeon, 74 Teal and 7 COMMON GOLDENEYE (including 3 adult drakes).
Then, at 1555 hours, I picked up the Arctic vagrant flying in. It landed almost immediately and struck me as mighty odd. The other three observers quickly got on to it and we kept it under observation until almost dark. I had NEVER seen an adult GLAUCOUS GULL looking like this - it was just so small. Not only that, it barely had any head streaking (just reddish-brown dappling streaks on the hindneck and greyer streaks on the crown) and had a remarkably small bill (even-keeled in shape, broader than that of Herring but greenish in colour with a richly-coloured gonys spot). Everything about it suggested adult Kumlien's Gull but the tertial-stepping, shortened primary projection and flattish crown did not fit in with that prognosis - these were all features more related to hyperboreus. In flight, the wings did not appear that broad, and had a broad white secondary bar contrasting with the grey. There was no evidence of any dark in the primary tips. As it got darker, the bird became more active and flew towards us, eventually settling on the tern raft. Although the light conditions were pretty ropey, views were quite good through the 'scope, but I really struggled to see anything other than a dark eye. The head shape was noticeably flattened at close range, and the bulk in the breast became more apparent, but the bill still failed to impress. A seriously bewildering and perplexing individual.
But yes, full marks to the finders - a brilliant find.
Two different YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were also identified in the gloom.
Wilstone: This morning the WATER PIPIT remains and 2 PINTAILS were amongst the teal from the hide. Late pm 3 BEWICK'S SWANS (2 adults and a juvenile) were briefly present before flying off North at 15:35. The adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL was also present in the roost again as well as 2 Herring gulls.
Tringford: The redhead SMEW still present
Marsworth: No sign of any Bitterns but CETTI'S WARBLER calling.
I have been birding since 1969 but became obsessed with 'twitching' in 1974 and haven't looked back since. Have driven over 1.3 million miles in pursuit of rare birds in the UK, where to date I have recorded 588 species in Britain and Ireland. I also have a fascination for the Birds of the Western Palearctic, where I have currently recorded 880 of the 1,064 species ever recorded. I am widely travelled in North America, as well as in Africa and Asia, and have written at least 29 books on my chosen subject, including best-sellers ''Ultimate Site Guide to Scarcer British Birds' and 'Rare Birds in Britain 1800-1990'. Established the UK400 Club in 1981 to cater for the most obsessive of the British birding fraternity and now concentrate on online publishing, via the www.uk400clubonline.co.uk website. Record Birding achievements include recording 386 species in Britain & Ireland in 1996 and 627+ in the Western Palearctic in 2008