Saturday, 16 January 2010

Thaw slowly taking place but nothing displaced


A band of heavy rain, associated with a cold front moving up on strong southerly winds, moved across the region overnight clearing the majority of the snow that had been lying since early January. The rain continued all morning before clearing away to the north and east. This gave way to rather misty conditions, with the temperature stabilising at 7 degrees C. An early indication of bird movement came in the form of 2 Common Shelduck at Tyttenhanger. As soon as the rain ceased, I made my way into the field, and birded until dusk.


A female Roe Deer had attempted to jump the fence along the access track to Down Farm and had got caught - and had broken the lower part of its front leg on the wire and was hanging by its leg wound upside down over the fence. It had clearly been there some time (perhaps overnight) and was crying out in pain. I un-snagged it from the fence and eventually managed to get it on to its feet but it was either too traumatised to walk or was so badly injured that it could not walk. It eventually sat down next to the fence, where I left two concerned walkers with it, who were going to wait for an animal veterinary surgeon to arrive.

Despite the thaw, the farmland around Down Farm, where before Christmas had held good numbers of birds, was virtually devoid of all life forms - the only species being sighted being 1 Linnet and 1 male Common Blackbird.


The main marsh was still mostly completely frozen, with just 62 Mallard in the NE corner. The main lake was completely ice-free though and held a reasonable number of birds, including an impressive number of Coots - 1 Little Grebe, 3 Great Crested Grebes (most for some period of time), just 4 adult Mute Swans, a further 38 Mallard, 10 Eurasian Wigeon, 12 Gadwall, 12 Tufted Duck, 15 Northern Pochard and the escaped female Red-crested Pochard. Coots numbered a very impressive 239.

(1300-1437 hours)

My first real opportunity to survey the birds of the reservoirs since the heavy snow fell some 10 days or so ago and disappointingly few surprises or real evidence of hard weather movement. Ian Williams had heard a COMMON REDSHANK fly over but other than that, the most interesting birds were NORTHERN PINTAIL and COMMON GOLDENEYE.

TRINGFORD RESERVOIR: totally unfrozen, wildfowl present including 2 Mute Swans, 14 Mallard, 2 Gadwall, 5 Shoveler, 38 Tufted Duck, 39 Northern Pochard and just 26 Coots.

STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR: still much ice covering a great proportion of this shallower basin but many more wildfowl present including 1 Grey Heron, 9 Mute Swans, 94 Mallard, 3 Eurasian Wigeon, 55 Common Teal, 37 Tufted Duck, 25 Northern Pochard, 48 Coot and 7 Moorhens.

MARSWORTH RESERVOIR: completely frozen still and totally bird-less.

WILSTONE RESERVOIR (much ice covering still, with the SW quadrant completely clear and an area surrounding the central Drayton Bank)

Great Crested Grebe (just 5 present)
Little Grebe (1 survivor)
Mute Swan (just 1 adult)
Mallard (68, but no Gadwall or Shoveler)
Eurasian Wigeon (461)
Common Teal (324)
Tufted Duck (60)
Northern Pochard (18)
Coot (489)
Common Gull (19 on ice)
Black-headed Gull (115 on ice)
Pied Wagtail (1 male)

FIELDFARE (20 in field NW of B 489, 350 yards NW of the reservoir)
REDWING (10 with the above)
Common Starling (3 with the above)

(1500-1700 hours)

Still largely frozen with little open water, although 3 Mute Swans (pair and first-winter) and 4 Mallard were by the dam. A two-hour vigil, part in accompaniment of Ian Williams, for the two wintering Bitterns proved fruitless, although at least 4 LITTLE EGRETS roosted (3 arrived at 1614 and another at 1630) and just 4 REED BUNTINGS.

There was an impressive Woodpigeon roost of at least 247 birds, with 3 adult Grey Herons on the ice (each very territorial of their own feeding areas), both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, 1 Wren and Jay noted.

Highlight was the presence of at least 5 WATER RAILS, 3 of which were running about and feeding on the ice in front of the Susan Cowdy Hide. They became ever more active as dusk approached.