Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Freezing conditions forcing birds to flock; BITTERNS performing and CORN BUNTING roost up to 229


Yesterday's snow was still lying this morning, although more of it melted during the day as temperatures rose to just above freezing. It was a bright, clear day but extremely cold and by 1800 hours, temperatures in Little Chalfont had already fallen to minus 5 degrees C. Norfolk had been hardest hit by this latest slice of Arctic weather, with up to 6 inches of snow laying....

At CHENIES BOTTOM BRIDGE (BUCKS), the GREAT WHITE EGRET was performing extremely well, fishing in the Chess just 50 yards downstream.

I then met up with Graham Smith and spent a very cold 45 minutes studying and counting the GULLS at HEDGERLEY LANDFILL, BEACONSFIELD (SOUTH BUCKS). There were impressive numbers present, ducking and diving the various council vehicles attempting to flatten out the disposed refuse - a bare minimum of 5,300 birds...

Most impressive were the GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL numbers - a diminishing species - 102 being my highest count, the vast majority full adults. Next off, Herring Gulls were in abundance, with at least 2,200 present, including no less than 178 Northern Argentatus on one sweep. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noticeable by their absence - perhaps just 38 in all - with just 1 adult Common Gull (this species just does not like working tips) and the rest (2,900 or more) being Black-headed Gulls. There was one Caspian/Yellow-legged Gull present (an adult-type, seen only in flight) and an odd-looking Herring Gull hybrid that was very pale and had pale biscuit-brown/creamy upperwings which was strikingly white-winged gull-like as it flew around.

Otherwise, 42 Red Kites, 213 Common Starlings, 32 Pied Wagtails, a Meadow Pipit and 2 Song Thrushes.

As is normally the case just lately, as soon as the Council guy saw us 'scoping across, he unleashed his hybrid Saker on the flock and almost immediately, every gull in the vicinity headed off. It was time to move on.

At nearby BEACONSFIELD SERVICES, 29 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS were back in the adjacent trees, flying back and forth to drink on the roof of the Shell Service Station.

To the east of HILLMOTT'S END WOOD and south of HEDGERLEY LANE, the fields were full of Red-legged Partridges - 68 at least - presumably part of a local release by gamekeepers.

After a short meeting, I then spent the rest of the afternoon at MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS), in the great company of Richard Woodhead and Richard Ness. I had been spurned on to visit by Rob Andrews, after his fabulous CORN BUNTING counts of last night. I was also very surprised to see all of the reed cutting that had been performed since my last visit, one of two EURASIAN BITTERNS this evening immediately utilising the cut-channel closest to the causeway to feed briefly. WATER RAILS numbered at least 4, whilst the BARN OWL performed as usual but at the later time of 1643 hours; a Green Woodpecker was noted too.

However, it was the CORN BUNTINGS I had come to see, and following on from RDA's magnificent 204, that same tree on the far side of the reservoir eventually harboured an astonishing 229 birds this evening - presumably the result of this change in weather. This is by far my highest count in a long time.

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