Friday, 7 August 2009

A SHAG in August...not bloody likely !!


Another very wet night slowly clearing from the south during the morning. By early afternoon, the sun had broken through, giving rise to hot sunshine during the afternoon and evening and clearer skies as the pressure increased.

For me, it was another red-letter day, full of surprises and some exceptional rares. Choosing bird of the day is a dilemma but I have to go for the SANDERLING - a bird I see less than annually in Hertfordshire. Other highlights included a bumper bag of BLACK TERNS along with a vagrant WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN, an adult LITTLE TERN, a juvenile MEDITERRANEAN GULL and an exceptional 3 EURASIAN SHAGS.


Whilst checking Luton Hoo Lake for yesterday's Ruddy Shelduck pair, I received a text from Graham Smith informing me of two probable Shags at Wilstone Reservoir. Drawing a complete blank on anything worthwhile in the park, I phoned Steve Rodwell and was astounded when he told me that he was currently watching the Shags and that there were in fact three birds. Early August Shags I thought - ridiculous claim - but like many odd records of this species before including the juvenile I saw only last year at Calvert BBOWT in early autumn - Steve convinced not only himself but me that he wasn't seeing things. I raced straight over.

By the time I arrived (1325), a crowd had already gathered - with SR, GS, Mike Campbell, Chris Deary, and Stuart Wilson already in situ. Roy Hargreaves beat me by just eight steps and as we scanned back between the car park and the jetty, there they were - an unbelievable 3 EUROPEAN SHAGS. Two were clearly this year's juveniles and the other was an older bird, probably a second-summer. They were incredibly mobile, moving quickly from the far east bank, to the jetty and then out to the middle. One particular juvenile came incredibly close, allowing Mike Campbell to hit the 'go' button on his camcorder and get some excellent video footage. The close bird allowed for a detailed description at 35 yards - dark chocolate-brown upperparts, with a tad paler upperwings, with some creamy-brown tips to the mantle feathers and on the wing-coverts. The underparts were uniform pale brown but contrasting with a glaring white throat patch. The bill was bright yellow at the base of both mandibles and then pale lime for the length of the bill - this pale lime colour being the same as on the orbital ring of the glazed eye.

The other juvenile was paler-tipped on the wing-coverts but otherwise identical whilst the older bird was very dark on the upperparts and bronzed green, with a darker throat and more typical adult-type features.

All three birds remained on view for the next 20 minutes allowing further arrivals like Johnne Taylor and Rob Norris an opportunity to see them, but then just two juveniles seemed to be showing, one of which hauled itself out on to the central rocks and dried its wings out. This allowed an excellent comparison with the much larger 6 Continental Cormorants alongside.

This was a totally unique and bizarre occurrence considering not one European Shag was recorded elsewhere inland in Britain today.

Also new in today were 4 COMMON GREENSHANKS, feeding with the two remaining GREEN SANDPIPERS on the mud to the right of the hide throughout the afternoon (Chris Deary et al). Chris also watched a MARSH HARRIER fly east over Wilstone late morning.

The moulting adult BLACK TERN from last night was still present, along with 32 Common Terns, the juvenile MEDITERRANEAN GULL was seen again (Robert Norris) and 2 adult COMMON GULLS were on the spit.

Two COMMON SANDPIPERS remained on the bunds, whilst 15 Shoveler, the drake Wigeon, 4 Common Teal and the LITTLE EGRET was still present.

Whilst Rob N, Graham and I looked skyward in the hope of another migrant raptor, 7 moulting adult RED KITES drifted slowly north over the reservoir as the temperature reached 22 degrees C, with a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, several Common Buzzards, 32 COMMON SWIFTS and 11 Barn Swallows being encountered.

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