Saturday, 30 May 2009

College Lake this evening

The POLECAT kitterns are certainly growing quickly - one showed on three occasions between between 20:00 and 21:10 this evening, which was a pleasure to share with Mike, back from the US at last!

Birdwise, a COMMON SHELDUCK flew over the marsh and landed on the lake - the first I've seen on the reserve for ages. A Hobby was hawking insects over the marsh, whilst the resident waders on show included 2 Oystercaters and 4+ Redshanks.

Cheers & Good Birding,

Ben Miller


Whilst College Lake enjoys its youngsters I visited Dancers End reserve earlier today (8.20am) to be greeted by an adult POLECAT walking bold as brass undre the entrance gate not 20 yards away from me. It crossed the path then doubled back in to the reserve. About a minute later there was a loud scream and an adult rabbit shot across the path in front with blood on its neck - I assume as a result of the Polecat attacking it. there was no further sighting (Ian Williams)

FIRECRESTS lap up the hot weather

Singing male FIRECRESTS included 2 at The Hale, Wendover Forest, today (Peter Garner) and the long-staying male at Ringshall, Ashridge Forest.

Hot weather OSPREY

An OSPREY flew Northeast over Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, this evening (observer unknown)

Early morning LITTLE EGRET

A single LITTLE EGRET was on the main marsh at College Lake BBOWT early morning but up until 0930 hours, there had been no sign of any of the four 'kitten' POLECATS there (per Dave Bilcock)

Friday, 29 May 2009

POLECATS still on show

All four 'kitten' EUROPEAN POLECATS were still present today, drinking at intervals at the 'Window in the Woods' hide adjacent to the Information Centre. With all of the media and radio coverage, visitor numbers have gone through the roof and a queueing rotation had to be put in operation today. The hide cannot cater for any more than four persons satisfactorily so please be prepared to queue patiently for some time (preferably some distance away from the hide as disturbance from noise will affect how well they will show).

The reserve will be open all weekend, 0900-1700 hours. Please follow all on-site instructions

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

...........And another

Chris Hinton has very kindly emailed me another photograph of one of the POLECAT kittens visiting the pond to drink.

.And more POLECAT pictures - these two from Francis Buckle

At least one 'baby' POLECAT still showing at College Lake BBOWT

Jill Pakenham obtained these exceptional images of one of the 'baby' POLECATS as it visited the pond to drink in front of the 'Window in the Woods' hide. They have to be seen to be believed - absolutely awesome views. Unbeatable !!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

College Lake POLECAT images from today

One of today's POLECATS photographed by Derek Girvan (top) and Jill Pakenham - superb!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Record of dead POLECAT at College Lake in August 2000

I picked up a dead Polecat from the road near the entrance to College Lake back on 14th August 2000 - images above (David Bilcock)


Ben Miller saw and heard an OYSTERCATCHER fly over his Berkhamsted house this afternoon and what may have been the same bird roosted on rocks on the Drayton Bank causeway this evening (Dave Bilcock)


Dancersend Reserve yielded both FLY and GREATER BUTTERFLY ORCHID and College Lake WHITE HELLEBORINES today (David Bilcock)


I visited Dancersend mid day as part of my BBS and although nothing unusual to report birdwise, at least 5 DUKE OF BURGUNDY were on the wing. Only 3 Greater Butterfly Orchids were in flower, but numerous were in the latter stages of bud so hopefully in the next 2 weeks there should be a good showing. The Fly Orchids in the wood and the paddocks were past their best and Common Spotted Orchids not yet out.

Also at College Lake the White Helleborines are probably at their best currently (David Bilcock)


Since Saturday, a family of four 'juvenile' EUROPEAN POLECATS Putorius putorius (there were initially five youngsters but one was found dead) have been showing incredibly well in front of the 'Windon in the Woods' hide adjacent to the Information Centre at COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT Reserve, just east of Tring.

After Nancy and Paul's note and phone conversations with both Dave Bilcock and Steve Rodwell, I visited in the 22 degrees heat of this afternoon (along with Steve's partner Vicky), and from 1500-1600 hours, all four playful furry animals were on show almost constantly, regularly visiting the pond to drink, despite a background of 70's progressive rock bellowing out of the speakers from a nearby drinking house! The views were remarkable and by far the best I have ever had. I would be most grateful if somebody could kindly email me some images for the blog. This is perhaps the best opportunity you will ever have to study these primarily nocturnal animals at such close range. The hide can just about sustain four people, but be extremely quiet or they just won't show.

A SPOTTED FLYCATCHER was also visiting the pond (Dave Bilcock), with a female Great Spotted Woodpecker at the feeders.

Whilst at the hide, I learnt of a ringtail harrier species flying high over Ivinghoe Hills NR (Steps Hill) (per Jonathon Nasir) but despite racing out there, I failed to intercept it.

PITSTONE HILL yielded two 'jangling' male CORN BUNTINGS, 3 separate singing male YELLOWHAMMERS and 6 individual pairs of LINNET.

Eight Goldfinches (including a family party of 5 birds) was noted along Chesham Vale, with 3 COMMON SWIFTS and a RED KITE over Chesham itself.

Common Starlings have successfully bred in Little Chalfont, with at least two juveniles fledged (since 23rd May).

Photospot: BLACK and LITTLE TERNS at Wilstone Reservoir on 13 May 2009 - David Bilcock

BARNACLE GEESE on Saturday evening

6 BARNACLE GEESE were present at Wilstone this evening (24 May) sat on the rocks along Drayton Bank. Despite looking for red darvics on these birds they were all unringed. At 8:30pm they all flew off together heading north over Wilstone village, back to Bedfordshire?
Phonescoped picture above (Dave Bilcock).

The singing male FIRECREST was still present in Ashridge Forest this morning (in Duncombe Terrace Wood at 972 147 - park opposite Dockey Bluebell Wood and walk to the main track, turn right and bird is singing in deciduous trees after 140 yards)

Ian Williams also heard a EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE 'purring' by the Wendover arm of the Canal early morning.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


David Bilcock was fortunate in locating 2 SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS at Steps Hill this morning, in bushes between the car park and the S bend

Another MARSH HARRIER through - Friday 22nd

A female MARSH HARRIER was present at Wilstone late this afternoon, for ca. 20 mins from 16:40. Myself, Roy and Mike C watched it quartering the reed bed near the old boat house before it eventually flew off high towards the Beacon (Dave Bilcock)

Thursday, 21 May 2009



A pleasantly warm day, with warm southerly winds, predominantly clear blue skies and some fluffy cloud.


My first visit in a long time instigating a full census of common species, particularly wildfowl. Most impressive was the phenomenal evening gathering of Common Swifts, by far my largest concentration so far this spring. Two pairs of Northern Shoveler showing signs of breeding was also noteworthy.


Great Crested Grebe (12 including a female flycatching and snapping at the abundant emergence of insects)
Mute Swans (5 present; two first-summers)
Atlantic Canada Goose (12)
Greylag Goose (27)
Mallard (23 drakes)
EURASIAN WIGEON (2 drakes present, sadly one with a damaged wing)
GADWALL (high summer count of 18 birds, although many females in view)
**NORTHERN SHOVELER (drake in full head-throwing display to female with an additional drake present nearby)
NORTHERN POCHARD (7 adult drakes and 3 females present)
Tufted Duck (56)
RUDDY DUCK (present)
Coot (166+; several nests occupied but only 1 single small young noted)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (male flew across reservoir)
**HOBBIES (following just one bird hunting from 1945, eventually 7 birds emerged from the Drayton Bank trees at 2035, and continued flycatching over the south reedbed towards dusk)

Common Terns (43 present, including 12 on the rafts)
Pied Wagtail (2)

**COMMON SWIFTS (the main talking point was the staggering number of birds hunting over the fields and fairly high above the reservoir; I click-counted them at 1945 and achieved an outstanding total of at least 2,322 individuals, including 2 'piebald' individuals with variegated white in their plumage)


Great Crested Grebe (10 adults, with no sign of nesting)
Mallard (14 drakes; female 'Khaki-type' with 6 growing young)
Gadwall (1 drake)
Tufted Duck (6)
*NORTHERN SHOVELER (pair present)

SONG THRUSH (2 singing males in far hedgerow and adult carrying food)
SEDGE WARBLER (just 1 singing male)
WESTERN REED WARBLER (8 singing males, including 4 in the main reedbed, 2 in the Bucks section and single males in isolated this strips of reeds on the east bank)
Common Chiffchaff (1 singing male)
Reed Bunting (1 singing male)

Mute Swans (8 on Tringford and pair on Startop's End)
Gadwall (pair on Tringford)

Further Sightings 14-16 May

14 MAY: A Common Sandpiper and DUNLIN in Pitstone Quarry, and a further Common Sandpiper in College Lake

15 MAY: 97 Common Terns present on Wilstone

16 MAY: 90 Common Terns still present on Wilstone, with 17 HOBBIES hunting over the reedbeds


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

EURASIAN SPOONBILL at College Lake on 16 May

At ca.09:45 Paul discovered a first-summer SPOONBILL circling above the marsh at College Lake, which gradually gained height and headed off towards the Beacon only to come back again shortly after. I managed to get to the car park in time to watch it circling fairly low over the marsh but unfortunately it didn't want to settle and eventually gained height again and was watched by Paul heading off northeast. The bird was probably present for only 15 mins and another excellent and well deserved bird discoved by Paul at College.

This was presumably the bird seen at Port Meadow, Oxford, briefly on 15 May

Migrant DUNLINS on 14-15 May

Another DUNLIN was present along the north bank of Startops this afternoon, which was quite happy feeding right below where I was standing.

That makes 4 Dunlins I've seen locally in the last 2 day, surely we must be due a Sanderling next!

This morning myself and Roy watched a Ringed plover fly through Wilstone (Dave Bilcock)

Three migrant MARSH HARRIERS in a day

10 MAY

College: 2 Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpiper as well as usual Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Redshank.

Wilstone: Male MARSH HARRIER briefly quartering reed bed next to hide at 8am but very quickly moved through, 2 Common Sands near jetty also (David Bilcock)

A second bird, a female, flew through early afternoon (DB), with a third individual later in the afternoon.

HOBBY increase

There were at least 12 HOBBIES at Wilstone early afternoon today (10 May), including 8 together at one point hunting over the reed bed between cemetery corner and the old boat house (David Bilcock)


This morning a EURASIAN CURLEW was in the fields at the north end of College lake, initially near the hide before moving to the chalk bank behind the tern island (see above picture). Also at College an LRP and Ringed Plover on the marsh, as well as the usual waders.

A cracking male WHINCHAT was hunting from the fence behind Pitstone Hill, before moving further along the towards Albury Nowers.
David Bilcock

Sunday, 3 May 2009




A pleasant day with some very warm sunshine, fairly light winds and long, clear periods. I utilised the fine weather by eeking out some of our scarce butterflies and rarer breeding species.


The singing EURASIAN HOOPOE, present since at least Monday, failed to show up in any of its favoured locations - not in David or Rita's gardens in Oldhill Wood, not in Dedmansey Wood nor in the open area adjacent to the scout hut in the Activity Centre at Byslips. It last showed at 1100 hours yesterday afternoon in Rita's garden. David managed some photographs on his patio (see my Tringbirding blog)


Very quiet birdwise with a rattling LESSER WHITETHROAT, 8 male COMMON WHITETHROATS and a 'new' singing male Yellowhammer. Butterflies took pride of place with 4 very fresh DUKE OF BURGUNDY FRITILLARIES showing very well in their favoured chalk cutting, along with 2 GREEN HAIRSTREAKS, 2 Brimstones and a Speckled Wood.

CHURCH END (SP 941 150)

The best news here was the locating of a 'new' colony of breeding HOUSE SPARROWS - 6 pairs in all - at Grace Cottage and at 16 Church Road. There were also 2 singing male Common Starlings in the road, 2 male Collared Doves, several nesting pairs of Dunnock, Common Blackbird and Robin and a singing male Willow Warbler.

The chalk downland here is excellent for butterflies with at least 16 DINGY SKIPPERS showing well, a GREEN HAIRSTREAK and a very early SMALL BLUE.


One very recently emerged DUKE OF BURGUNDY was showing well on the Milkweed, along with several GRIZZLED SKIPPERS, numerous Peacocks and a Green-veined White.


At this site just north of Mursley and in 20 degrees centigrade of sunshine, the cutting slopes yielded 4 freshly-emerged WOOD WHITE butterflies. There were also a good selection of Large and Small White, 6 Orange-Tip and several Peacocks.

The cutting also yielded a singing male LESSER WHITETHROAT, 2 singing GARDEN WARBLERS, 2 Common Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, 2 Common Buzzards and a Song Thrush.


An impressive 25 pairs of HOUSE SPARROW present in the village


A total of 6 singing male COMMON WHITETHROATS


A further 17 pairs of HOUSE SPARROWS located, along with a pair of STOCK DOVE nearby.


More HOUSE SPARROWS in Woodham itself, with the cutting yielding 8 singing COMMON WHITETHROAT, a rattling male LESSER WHITETHROAT, 2 Common Chiffchaff and a singing male Yellowhammer. A pair of STOCK DOVES was collecting grit at the roadside


One of our very few breeding pairs of EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE was showing well, the male 'purring' incessantly from the wires. These represented my first of the year and as usual, I could hardly bear to leave them - they are such delightful birds - and a real harbinger of English summer.

A pair of Common Kestrels was feeding three small young in a nestbox.


Thanks to Johnny Lynch, I was finally able to add two scarce passage waders to my 2009 Beds Year List - BAR-TAILED GODWIT and EURASIAN CURLEW. Up until 1500 hours when I departed, the BAR-WIT (in full winter attire and possibly a first-summer) was feeding along the eastern flank just south of the rusting barge and the CURLEW was roosting with Lapwings on the spit on the west side - both perfectly visible from the track by the A418 bridge at the north end (SP 924 234). There were also 2 Ringed Plover and 2 Common Terns present.

A change in the wind to Northwest - dire for migrants

Dire !!

Admitedly quite a quick look around the Ivinghoe Hills this morning produced very little, best bird being a Lesser Redpoll.

No Wheatears or Rouzels again.Startops had c50 Sand Martin and 8 Swift.

Wilstone in a 5 min stop held c60 Swift and a drake Wigeon (Mike Wallen)


A bit of a later bash around the hills this morning, i didn't get there until after 7.30.

All the usual warblers on Steps including 2 Garden Warblers, and a pair of Grey Partridge, only migrant over was a Lesser Redpoll.

The Beacon was quite quiet except for 2 migrant Tree Pipit which arrived from the South together, calling, they landed not too far from the Trig on the South-West side of the Beacon. One took off again and flew strongly North out into the wilderness after only 2-3 minutes but the other remained, I left it in peace.

Just before the Tree Pipits a Cuckoo went through.

No Rouzels and no Wheatears !

Nothing of note at startops/ marsworth in a quick look.

A relatively brief stop at Wilstone produced 4 Hobbies over the middle of the reservoir, feeding (Mike Wallen)

Upsurge in COMMON SWIFT numbers

30 APRIL sightings

50+ Swifts over Startops Reservoir at 3pm for 10 minutes then moved on.

Also seen, Grey Wagtail by lock 44, GU Canal & a Hobby near New Mills, Wendover Arm of GU Canal (Geoff Young)

HOOPOE near Studham

Although just outside the Recording Area and across the border into Bedfordshire, this EURASIAN HOOPOE has been on territory near Studham village since 27 April.
The bird is frequenting gardens in the exclusive and very expensive Oldhill Wood Estate at TL 032 167, where for several days it was favouring the front and back garden of 'Tanglewood'. More recently, it has been singing constantly from Silver Birches in the small wood by the Activity Centre (TL 031 164) early mornings and was still present on Friday 1 May.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the occurrence, the residents of Oldhill Wood were very reluctant to release news of the bird and have requested that birders respect their privacy. Once the bird moves into an area of more open habitat, I shall release viewing details.