MONDAY 17 DECEMBER
A dry, bright day but fairly chilly, with temperatures peaking at 6 degrees C. It was an eventful day in more ways than one, with both ups and downs........
First thing, checked out the CHESS VALLEY (BUCKS) where there had been a report of a Cattle Egret - a species not yet recorded in the Amersham Recording Area but a potential addition to the impressive list of rare herons already achieved. No luck however, just 5 Little Egrets located......
HILFIELD PARK RESERVOIR (HERTS)
Following a call from Allan Stewart, I made my way over to HPR where Allan had seen the GREAT NORTHERN DIVER that Ian Bennell had photographed yesterday (see above). Somehow, in the half-hour it took me to get over, Allan had lost it and despite JT, Ian Williams, Derek Turner and I searching, there was no further sign of it; no sign either of 2 redhead Smew that had been seen yesterday
In fact, HPR offered very little in way of compensation - 11 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 15 Gadwall, 13 Pochard, Common Pheasant and 8 SISKINS.
So, with the midway point reached in December, it was time to do more duck counting and off I went to TRING RESERVOIRS (HERTS)......
WILSTONE RESERVOIR harboured the most numbers but overall, counts were almost 100 down on early December's counts - from 2,143 birds to 1,947....
Undoubted highlight though was a redhead SMEW - found by Steve Rodwell early on and still present when Mike Campbell and I visited subsequently; difficult tho' as it was frequenting the sheltered side of the bund and only visible from the far right of the hide. First record this winter but in line with a widespread arrival of the species from the Continent in the past week.
Also counted were 9 Great Crested Grebes (up from 5), just 6 Mute Swans, 137 Teal (well down), 12 Gadwall, just 122 Wigeon (also down), 58 Shoveler, 158 Tufted Duck, 120 Pochard (increase), the 6 COMMON GOLDENEYE (single adult drake) and 202 Coot.
There were also 46 Lapwing roosting on the tern rafts, 85 Fieldfare and 71 Common Starlings feeding together in a field, 2 Long-tailed Tits by the car park and a Mistle Thrush feeding on Yew in the churchyard.
MARSWORTH RESERVOIR held 2 Little Grebes (first here in a long time), 5 Great Crested Grebes, 46 Greylag Geese, 6 Mallard, 11 Shoveler and 8 Moorhens, whilst STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR produced 5 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 71 Mallard, 22 Wigeon, 18 Tufted Duck, 1 Pochard and an increase to 417 Coot.
TRINGFORD RESERVOIR was the last call, with 1 Great Crested Grebe, 11 Sinensis, 2 Mutes ('682' still), 11 Gadwall, 55 Teal, 15 Tufted Duck, 5 Pochard, 87 Coot and 6 Moorhen; also 6 Goldfinches and the Song Thrush still wintering in the wood near Tringford Farm.
COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS)
Met up with JT and tested out her wildfowl counting skills and techniques. I must say I was impressed and most of our independent counts tallied - although it did take an awful long time to square up Mute Swans !
So, here goes - 3 Little Grebes (wintering on the east fringe of the deep lake), 41 Mute Swans (including orange 4ABM), 34 Atlantic Canada Geese, 15 Mallard, 27 Gadwall, 3 Common Teal, 11 Tufted Duck, 10 Northern Pochard, 82 Wigeon, the 3 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS (drake and two females on marsh), 60 Coot (59 on the deep pit) and 5 Moorhen - also Sparrowhawk, 38 Lapwing and a number of Blue and Great Tits at the feeders.
PITSTONE QUARRY (BUCKS/HERTS)
Dire, complete waste of time and a disgraceful number of discarded floating plastic bottles and drinks cans - just 8 Mallard on the water and a pair of BULLFINCHES in the wood.
ALDBURY AREA (HERTS)
Had a drive round Aldbury and Tring Station looking for Waxwings but to no avail - still huge numbers of wintering Woodpigeons though with at least 136 and 2 Stock Doves opposite Westlands Farm and 2,300 or more feeding on cereal to the west of the village near Newground Road. Common Buzzard in this area too. All of the berries have been eaten!
THE CHESS VALLEY (SOUTH BUCKS)
Following a message relayed by RBA from Ben Miller, I returned to the Chess Valley with JT and Jeff Bailey. Following a fruitless walk between Chenies Bottom bridge and Latimer Bridge, I phoned Joan so that we could check out a site where the bird had often visited three winters ago. On her way to me, she noticed it in a roadside ditch and on returning, it was still showing well, wading in shallow water of the brook. Latimer Road is a very dangerous place to be at the best of times, being very narrow, dark and steep-sided with hedgerows on either side, so we watched from the relative safety of the houses at TQ 013 986. 'Scope views weren't bad, and Graham Smith and a lady who had been walking the Chess for hours stopped by briefly to have a look. This was presumably the same bird that had wintered in exactly the same spot and in the close vicinity from 20 November 2009 until 21 January 2010 but had chosen Berkshire in 2010/2011. Weirdly, as I approached closer to get some photographs, it walked out of the brook and into the field towards me - and kept on approaching me until a guy sounded his car horn really loudly and frightened it. I contacted Stuart & Lesley Wilson who had initially located the bird on its previous visit in November 2009 and as dusk approached, took them down to see the bird from a private bridge over the stream. At 1610 hours, it flew downstream to roost, joining a total of 9 Little Egrets - flying high over Frogmore Meadow (Herts) towards Stockers Lake.
Also encountered were 4 Mute Swans (single pairs at Church Covert and on Bois Mill Pond), 2 COMMON KINGFISHERS, 13 Common Magpies at roost, 2 Greenfinches and a large Bat species