Walking back from the Drayton Bank Hide at 1440 hours on Saturday 16 August 2008, Dave Bilcock looked up to see two large, long-necked and long-legged birds drifting slowly low over Wilstone Reservoir. Dave quickly alerted Warren Claydon and together both observers watched in bewilderment as 2 WHITE STORKS circled low over the centre of the reservoir. As they were gliding in the sky and drifting very slowly eastwards, Dave immediately contacted a number of Tring regulars and the twitch to see them then began.
I had returned home to grab a few hours sleep when Dave rang, so I was up with a bang and back in the car within a minute. DB very kindly provided me with a running commentary of the bird's whereabouts as I drove as fast as I was able to the A41.
By 1503, the two birds were drifting east over Wilstone village and had disappeared from view for both Warren and Dave. Fortunately, Roy Hargreaves and Mike Campbell then took over, as they had intercepted both birds from positions on Startopsend Reservoir bank, close to the Angler's Retreat. The two birds circled over their heads and then continued east over Marsworth village before veering more to the south and over the horse paddocks. They then continued on a straight line, presumably following the Grand Union Canal, and continued south over Bulbourne at 1520. Two minutes later, Ben Miller intercepted them from Northfield Road, and watched them drop low down into fields north of Tring Station. Fortunately, I was on the phone to Ben whilst he was watching them, and within five minutes I was with him and Rob Andrews.
At 1524 hours, I saw them rise from the field and they flapped a short way further south and disappeared behind a ridge. I discovered a footpath leading down to the area opposite Aldbury Nowers and beckoned over RDA and BAM to join me. Mike Campbell arrived minutes later. The two birds had landed in a large cornfield being harvested and were showing extremely well (at SP 946 125). We sat quietly just below the ridge and 'scoped them. I contacted RBA Pagers and kept them regularly informed of events. ALL local birders were contacted.
Both birds remained wary of the combine as it continued its harvesting around them. One bird briefly searched for rodents (unsuccessfully) whilst the other rested. They were both unringed and in immaculate condition. Dave Bilcock obtained an excellent selection of images (see above).
Both birds were virtually identical, with very light pink leg colouration and a slightly deeper pink bill colour. One bird had quite an extensive blackish tip to the bill, with the other less so, whilst the greater and median coverts were white and fresh. The upperpart feathers all had a slight brown cast to the white, with just a slight white edge to the black flight feathers. In flight, the primaries were entirely complete, unbroken and fresh. These features all confirmed ageing as two JUVENILES, presumably both from the same continental nest.
At 1618 hours, the two birds were disturbed by the combine and took flight. However, the 54 minutes they were on the ground allowed the following 16 observers to connect - LGRE, BAM, RDA, MCa, JT, Cliff Tack, IW & son, DB and two daughters, Francis Buckle, Ian Bennell, Michael Frosdick, Bob Chalkley and Mike Wallen. They gained height rapidly, and after circling high above Tring Station very slowly thermalled SSE towards Northchurch Common. They remained in view for at least 25 minutes, allowing both Ben and Mike Ilett to observe them from the old A41 at Cow Roast. I last saw them at 1643 hours, as they disappeared into the clouds and moved as if heading towards the M25.
Previous Records in Hertfordshire
For many, this was their first White Stork in Hertfordshire, but for all bar me, this was their first in the Tring area.
Prior to 1978, all records of White Stork in Hertfordshire were considered to be escapes (this is most likely an incorrect assumption on the behalf of previous authors).
Gladwin & Sage 1986 stated ''One shot in Hatfield, about the end of July 1883, was undoubtedly an escaped bird. Later, three were shot near Hertford in July 1891. More recently, in 1960, an adult was in the Broxbourne, Cheshunt and Wormley areas between 6-26 December, and again on 15 January 1961 (British Birds 54: 180). Again, this was treateda s an escape, because of its December arrival date''
One flew SSW over Marden Hill in the Mimram River Valley on 9 July 1978 (Trans. Herts. Nat. Hist. Soc. 28: 38, 1980). It had earlier been seen over Ware on 22 June.
One was seen by P. Tate gliding over Loudwater Rickmansworth in the direction of Croxley Green at 0855 hours on 5 June 1986.
A first-summer present at Dundridge Manor, near Buckland Common, near Cholesbury (Bucks) from 28th-30th May 1996 drifted high over Wigginton and Tring towards Ivinghoe Beacon mid-morning on 30 May (LGRE)
An adult was in a marshy area just outside Kimpton on 12 May 2002 (Claire Gooden).
An adult which flew low over Bengeo, Hertford, on 27 July 2003 (Clive Fleming) was also seen over Hoddesdon earlier the same day.
An adult that roosted overnight on a telegraph pole in Jack's Lane, Harefield (Meddlesex) (Simon Buckingham, LGRE, AVM et al) flew low into Hertfordshire towards Troy Mill at 0618 hours on 18 September 2003 (AVMoon).
In 2004, an adult of suspect origin was watched distantly beyond Ware from Amwell GP on 9 April (Toby Austin) before being seen at King's Mead for about 20 minutes the following day (Alan Reynolds). There were a number of reports of the same bird in the same area for the next month, with the last report over Hertford on 15 May (Nicky Parish).
In 2005, one was seen in Hertford on 21-22 April (P.Ligett).