TUESDAY 21 FEBRUARY (LGRE DIARY NOTES)
A touch milder today, with temperatures climbing to 8 degrees C. Dry throughout, although a little light drizzle in the WSW wind as nightfall approached
Another local day birding today, concentrating on repeat visits after the ice has melted. Sadly, death was the general theme of the day, with a number of dead creatures recorded. I finally added Lesser Redpoll too to my 2012 Hertfordshire List......
In LITTLE CHALFONT (BUCKS), a Sparrowhawk flew parallel with Stanley Hill first thing
Then, driving between Amersham and Beaconsfield on the A 355, firstly I saw a dead BADGER near Brentford Grange at SU 956 949 and then a dead COMMON BUZZARD by Birchen Spring Wood at SU 953 924 - both road casualties.
HEDGERLEY LANDFILL (BUCKS)
Around 2,000 gulls were present from 0900 hours involving mostly Black-headed Gulls. A single adult CASPIAN GULL alighted briefly but nothing else of interest was seen - the flock including 11 Common Gulls, still 300 or more Herring Gulls, just 15 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 7 Great Black-backed Gulls.
I did a Carrion Crow count (261) just before the regular guy in his red Toyota Hi Lux released his Gyrfalcon x Saker on proceedings. The bird incredibly quickly singled a first-year Argenteus Herring Gull out from the flock and continuously harassed it. The young bird flew lower and lower into the empty pan adjacent and was completely isolated from the rest of the flock (which scattered in all directions incidentally). It made a number of desperate cries and repeatedly tried to outwit the falcon but by twisting and turning, the Gyr cross gradually forced the gull deeper and deeper into the pit and into trouble. Next minute the falcon had made contact, smashing the head of the gull and seemingly blinding it. The Herring then lost all sense of balance and was struck again several times before falling quickly to the ground. The powerful falcon followed and tussled on the ground, the two birds rolling over and over in contact. There was repeated blows to the head and neck but the gull just kept on struggling and attempting to escape. The attempt to relinquish its prey of life went on for nearly 10 minutes, eventually the bird of prey's owner racing down to retrieve it. I watched him humanely destroy the gull before rewarding the bird for its work. The Gyr then stood tall on its kill and plucked it, tearing away at the lifeless body.
I am not sure of the legality of this, considering Herring Gull is a protected species in Britain, but I guess as European Legislation demands such safeguards of vermin control at landfill sites, this will come under the Operations remit.
WATERCRESS WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION LNR, ST ALBANS (HERTS)
Needing to charge my battery up on a rarely used Vauxhall Corsa, I decided to drive the 22 miles to St Albans, where once again I visited this delightful reserve, close to the town centre. I met up with one local volunteer and she informed me of the tremendous cost feeding the birds on the reserve entailed. No less than £1,000 per year - a staggering cost - and no wonder the Nyger feeders were in need of a refill.
Anyway, after a little time, I eventually sighted a LESSER REDPOLL loosely associating with the 8 or so visiting SISKINS.
A COMMON KINGFISHER was an excellent record, whilst 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Coots, Great Spotted Woodpecker, male Greenfinch. 6 Goldfinch, 8 Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robin, Woodpigeon, Grey Heron and Blue, Great, Coal and 6 Long-tailed Tits were seen.
The resident pair were settled in to nesting with the female busy sitting and the male occasionally making the odd foray to the hill slope.
COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS)
All back to normal after the snow and ice with the main marsh in great demand. Large numbers of Lapwings were on site, with 91 on the bund and a further 43 all having a communal bathing session. A single Common Snipe was probing, with the COMMON SHELDUCK on one of the islands.
Gadwalls numbered an impressive 64, with 24 Wigeon, 6 Teal, 43 Tufted Duck, 16 Pochard, 14 Mute Swans and 78 Coot being click-counted. The usual RED-CRESTED POCHARD pair were on the deep lake, as well as a single Little Grebe. A Stock Dove was feeding on top of one of the islands.
THE TRING RESERVOIRS (HERTS)
No sign of any spring migrants as yet, although geese numbers have burgeoned in recent days
On MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, 22 Shoveler had returned following the ice, along with 3 Great Crested Grebes and 32 Pochards
The redhead SMEW was still present on STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR, with 7 Great Crested Grebes, 11 Mute Swans (a huge decrease), 82 Pochard and 174 Coot. The ever-present SNOW BUNTING was in the NW corner.
TRINGFORD RESERVOIR now had wildfowl after nearly two weeks without any, with 2 Mute Swans, 22 Coot, 26 Tufted Duck, 2 Pochard and 4 Gadwall.
As I approached WILSTONE RESERVOIR, the goose flock in the Cemetery Corner Fields had risen dramatically - the first-winter DARK-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE was now associating with 111 Greylags and 124 Atlantic Canadas - some 226 geese in all.
Not much happening on the main reservoir with 13 Great Crested Grebes, 8 Mute Swans, 22 roosting Cormorants, 298 Wigeon, just 350 Teal (massive decrease), 2 Goldeneye (pair) and 44 Lapwing.
Breeding was now on the minds of some resident birds with 6 Grey Herons now active on the lower bushes of the Drayton Bank and still the 5 active Sinensis nests in the sole remaining tree.
The field next to the car park held 4 Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush, whilst a young male Sparrowhawk that zipped past JT, Anna and I was my first local bird of the year.
WENDOVER ARM OF THE GRAND UNION CANAL, WENDOVER (BUCKS)
Thanks to a tip-off from Anna Marrett, I decided to walk the 400 yards downstream of Wharf Lane in Wendover. A cracking and very approachable (and therefore photogenic) drake MANDARIN DUCK was consorting with the 76 Mallard in the vicinity, with a single Little Grebe, surviving family party of 7 Mute Swans, 6 Coot, 8 Moorhen, male Greenfinch, 8 Redwing and a singing male Goldcrest also seen.
More carnage was then to follow, with a dead BADGER along the B485 at HYDE END (at SP 919 012) and then a dead BARN OWL near LOWER HUNDRIDGE FARM at SP 941 014. I have not seen a live Barn Owl in my Recording Area for three years so this finding was particularly gruelling.
CHESS VALLEY (BUCKS)
No less than 22 LITTLE EGRETS flew to roost towards Stocker's Lake after 1700 hours, the same number Chris Pontin had witnessed in the valley on Sunday.