Monday, 22 August 2011

A Red Letter Day in the Local Area


With a steady SSE breeze blowing and part-cloudy skies, I knew today was going to be special - it had that feel to it. Being bereft of any avian enjoyment since Friday, I was ready for action and committed a day to slogging the local patches - and furthermore Steve Rodwell was back and work and out of play.........

(0940-1320 hours)

Despite feeling very warm, there was enough dark clouds in the sky to thwart migrating birds over the Chilterns and as usual in such conditions, today the reservoirs acted as a magnet.....

Looking to the skies throughout the morning, it soon became apparent that many raptors were migrating, mostly in a west or SSW direction. Pride of place went to an adult OSPREY that came through late morning, being slowly harassed by corvids as it flew at great height slowly west and then SSW across the reservoir. I picked it up initially over Wilstone village (from the Drayton Bank Hide) and managed to get all other 8 occupants in the hide on to it before it drifted away towards Drayton Beauchamp. Two different juvenile MARSH HARRIERS also came through, neither even pausing to check out the mud or reedbeds, and simply flying from NE to SW and making a beeline for the Wendover escarpment. A steady stream of Red Kite and Common Buzzard was apparent (at least 16 of the former and 11 of the latter, the Common Buzzards of which all were juvenile) with 2 Sparrowhawks (probably of local origin) also seen.

Steve Rodwell's BLACK TERN was also still present and was a pristine juvenile (second day). It frequently settled and joined the ever-growing daytime gull roost on the mud left of the hide, which this morning hosted two different very fresh juvenile MEDITERRANEAN GULLS, 216 Black-headed Gulls and 16 Lesser Black-backed Gulls; 25 Common Terns remained too.

Waders were also exciting with the arrival of 4 RUFFS at 0945 (all juvenile, with three males and one female) - joining a throng of 13 COMMON GREENSHANKS (mostly juvenile), two juvenile BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, a single juvenile DUNLIN, 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Common Sandpipers and 330 Lapwing.

Since my visit last week, there was also a marked increase in wildfowl numbers with Common Teal up to 43, Shoveler to 17, Gadwall to 18, Wigeon to 8 and Northern Pochard to an impressive 30, whilst 14 LITTLE EGRETS were tricking the last few remaining fish in the shallow SE quarter into submission by their continual foot-paddling.

There was a constant procession of hirundines migrating, with over 190 Barn Swallows south during the morning and 85 House Martins, whilst a Common Chiffchaff was in song in the NW corner and a juvenile COAL TIT was in the Poplars just west of the car park.

A Grey Wagtail and 27 Mute Swans were also noted, as were both Chinese Water Deer......


Having great expectations, I walked from the south end of Aldbury Nowers north and east along the Icknield Way to the east end of Gallows Hill - a distance of over 10 miles in total. Was it worth it - yes - as the highlight was a very vocal and stonking fresh male COMMON REDSTART showing very well in the isolated five Hawthorn bushes on the slope above Brook Statnall's Wood at Pitstone Hill, about 350 yards SW along the Icknield Way from the main car park. It was a gorgeous bird - and so showy.

The only other migrants noted, apart from one flock of 24 Barn Swallows, were 2 juvenile NORTHERN WHEATEARS - one on the fenceline just SE of the trig point at the Beacon and another on the fence by the Sheep Pen.

Two Brown Hares were sighted at Gallows Hill, whilst butterflies included a good number of Meadow Brown and Small Heath, 20 Chalkhill Blues and single Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell.


As the evening progressed, a thick band of darker cloud cover encroached from the south - a precursor of some seriously wet weather expected overnight. Despite an extensive search, there was no sign of the female Common Redstart - the only migrants apparent being 2 juvenile WILLOW WARBLERS, 5 SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS, a juvenile Blackcap and a Common Chiffchaff.

Of the residents, the female MANDARIN DUCK was still present - this evening venturing out on the grass to graze.....

Also 7 Little Grebes (4 juveniles) (but again no sign of any GCG's), the Mute Swan family (6 surviving cygnets), now 4 NORTHERN POCHARDS (female and 3 drakes), 3 Tufted Duck, Common Kestrel, pair of Stock Dove, 2 Common Magpies, Nuthatch, 3 Great Tits, 12 Long-tailed Tits, 15 Blue Tits, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Goldcrest, 13 Goldfinch and COMMON KINGFISHER

If all goes to plan, tomorrow should be very exciting.........WATCH THIS SPACE

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