Tuesday, 25 February 2014

First SHELDUCK of year and migrant STONECHAT

A band of heavy rain passed across the Chilterns Region throughout the morning, eventually clearing away to the east early afternoon. The temperature remained at about 6 degrees C after the rain had passed, with the skies clearing and the sun coming out.
During the rain, the highlight of my garden watch was a female BULLFINCH at the sunflower heart feeder, although 2 Collared Doves and a female Common Blackbird were both welcome.
Following a conversation with Dave Bilcock, I decided to head down to TRING RESERVOIRS, where up to 5 Common Stonechats had been recorded since Saturday.....
Confirming with the finder Ian Williams of directions, I was very pleased to locate a female COMMON STONECHAT in the hedgerow bordering the Rushy Meadow at WILSTONE, showing very well in the mid afternoon sunshine (see images below). I could not locate any of the others, DB having seen two females along the fenceline in Cemetery Corner. I was also very pleased to see 4 YELLOWHAMMERS in the hedgerow along the Dry Canal, as well as 8 Goldfinches, 5 Chaffinches, a LINNET, 14 MEADOW PIPITS and 3 SKYLARKS.

Song Thrushes were in full song, including one in The Old Rectory garden in Drayton Beauchamp, while the orchard Poplars held a flock of 210 Fieldfare and 55 Redwings. A total of 4 BULLFINCH was noted, as well as 6 Blue Tit, 3 Great Tit, 2 Long-tailed Tit and 4 Wrens.

Large numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings in the Poplars

The highlight on the reservoir was the first COMMON SHELDUCK of the year - swimming not far from the Drayton Hide. Other wildfowl included 4 Common Goldeneye (including a first-year drake) as well as 4 Mute Swan, 40 Greylag Geese, 255 Wigeon, 41 Gadwall, 72 Teal, 104 Shoveler, 86 Pochard, 127 Tufted Duck, 302 Coot and 7 Great Crested Grebe. The Drayton Bank was bustling with activity with 13 Sinensis Cormorant nests being occupied and 7 Grey Heron (40 & 16 birds being counted respectively).

The first COMMON SHELDUCK of the year..

The gull roost numbered about 970 birds by 1700 hours - with around 940 Black-headed and 31 Common.
MARSWORTH RESERVOIR reedbed held both singing Reed Bunting and CETTI'S WARBLER, while I caught the last 42 CORN BUNTINGS to fly in to roost. Three Song Thrush were in full song (as well as an additional bird by the road on Startop's), with Common Blackbird, 5 Chaffinch, 3 Robin and 3 Wren also noted. A pair of Little Grebe were on the water, along with 5 Great Crested Grebe, a pair of Mute Swan, 12 Tufted Duck, 2 Coot, 4 Moorhen, 28 Canada Geese and a Grey Wagtail; 14 Lapwing flew over whilst 4 WATER RAIL squealed from the reedbed. Despite watching until dark, there was no sign of either Bittern or Barn Owl.

The Dabchick pair

On STARTOP'S END, just 53 Mallard, 73 Tufted Duck, 1 Pochard, 46 Coot, 5 Great Crested Grebe and a KINGFISHER.

Sinensis flighting in at dusk over Wilstone

My earliest-ever UK migrant GARGANEYS

My earliest-ever 'spring migrant' GARGANEYS in the UK
A mild slipstream running up from the south brought temperatures of up to 12 degrees C but also long periods of rain. It also brought with it a number of spring migrants, including Oystercatchers and the first Sand Martins of the year......
At CHAFFINCH HOUSE (LITTLE CHALFONT), a female SISKIN on the Nyger was the first of the year in the garden - accompanying 3 Goldfinches

At CHESHAM FISHING LAKES, also new-in were a pair of GREAT CRESTED GREBES - local birder Chris Pontin finding them earlier. Also there were 14 Atlantic Canada Geese (already paired up and claiming territory on the islands), 8 Mallard, 13 Tufted Duck, 4 Moorhen, 8 Coot and 73 Black-headed Gulls, whilst along the riverside walk, COMMON KINGFISHER, 2 Long-tailed Tits, 2 singing male Robins, 6 singing male Wrens, 6 Dunnock, 4 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Stock Dove, 1 Woodpigeon, Carrion Crow, 2 singing male Goldcrest, 1 Chaffinch and Red Kite were all encountered.
In CHESHAM LOWNDES PARK, the February inventory included 1 Mute Swan, 22 Atlantic Canada Geese, 18 Mallard, the 8 resident Muscovy Ducks and 2 Moorhen, whilst the 44 Black-headed Gulls included 4 ringed individuals amongst them, including last year's ST220111 from Finland (ringed as anestling in Vaasa on 25th June 2003) and 3727833 from The Netherlands (ringed as a nestling in Friesland on 3rd June 2011). A Goldcrest was singing from a Yew tree.
BURY LAKE in CHESHAM was the deepest I have seen it in a very long time and consequently held waterbirds, including 6 Coot, 2 Moorhen, 12 Mallard, 9 Atlantic Canada Geese and 4 Tufted Ducks (3 drakes and a female) - the latter my first-ever at the site. Across the road, the cereal crop already held a pair of displaying LAPWING, as well as 85+ Woodpigeon, 6 Rook, 45 Jackdaw and 28 Rabbits. A pair of Long-tailed Tits were in the hedgerow, while a female Common Kestrel was hovering above the road.
Continuing along the PEDNOR ROAD, the HORSE PADDOCKS held 2 Red Kite, a further 160 Woodpigeons, numerous Jackdaws, 8 Common Magpies, 18 Rook and a pair of Mistle Thrushes, with both Robin and Great Tit by the farm buildings.
At the far end of PEDNOR BOTTOM, where the road bends sharply to the left, a lot of Red Kite activity, with sticks being picked up as well as grass tufts, presumably indicating nest building. A couple of Common Buzzards were loudly displaying, whilst a Dunnock was in full song and a male Linnet flew over - my first in the Recording Area this year.
In the grounds of DRYDELL HOUSE, 2 Mallard, Dunnock, Robin and a tight-knit flock of 8 Great Tits were all noted, whilst around LITTLE PEDNOR FARM, 2 Common Kestrels and a Carrion Crow were sighted. At PEDNOR CHASE, 8 Woodpigeon, 8 Goldfinch and another Robin in full song and at PEDNOR RIDGE, another Common Kestrel, more Red Kites, Common Blackbird and another Robin. The horse paddocks opposite CHERRY TREE FARM held 2 Common Magpies and 2 Pied Wagtails, with a further singing Robin at the entrance gates.
In the grass fields opposite ANNIE BAILEY'S RESTAURANT near HYDE END, a cock Common Pheasant, 40 Black-headed Gulls and 25 Common Gulls, while DEEP MILL LANE POND held 2 Little Grebes, 5 Moorhen, 4 Coot, 3 Woodpigeon and a Song Thrush. The MISBOURNE by LITTLE MISSENDEN held 6 Mallard, 6 Moorhen and 4 Coot, with the hamlet itself adding 15 Jackdaw, 6 Robin, several Woodpigeon, Common Blackbird and Chaffinch.
SHARDELOES LAKE was fairly quiet, although another birdwatcher had seen the Shoveler pair I had found on my last visit. The rollcall included 8 Little Grebe, just 44 Coot, 4 Moorhen, 34 Atlantic Canada Geese, the 3 resident Mute Swans, 6 Gadwall and 15 Tufted Duck, as well as cock Common Pheasant, 3 Blue Tit, Great Tit (in full song), 2 Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Green Woodpecker, 4 Red Kite, 2 Common Buzzard, just 2 Black-headed Gulls, Grey Wagtail, Common Blackbird and 4 Fieldfares.
A Song Thrush crossed the road in WINCHMORE HILL, whilst PENN VILLAGE POND yielded counts of 38 Mallard, 2 Moorhen and 4 Black-headed Gulls.
Arriving in PENN WOOD at around 1500 hours, I was immediately greeted by a stag Reeve's Muntjac and a singing male Great Tit. Walking up towards the Holly Roost Site added Green Woodpecker, Wren and Coal Tit, with the Greenfinch gathering in better fettle than of late and totalling 56 birds. At least 12 BRAMBLING were with them also. Up at the Penna monument, 2 Bullfinches and a singing male Mistle Thrush were noted, while the eventual peak of BRAMBLINGS in the Larch pre-roost trees was 72 birds, along with around 55 Chaffinch.

Just as I was counting the Bramblings, I got a delayed text message from David Bilcock informing me of 2 GARGANEY at COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT. It related to a message some two hours ago and after confirming with Dave, I immediately rushed over to the reserve arriving just prior to 5pm! Luckily, quite a few BBOWT staff were still on site, thus I rushed down to the west end and located the GARGANEY PAIR roosting in the tall sedge at the far left hand end of the left island. These were the earliest migrant Garganey I have seen in Britain by a long shot - the previous earliest Bucks Garganey being on 9th March - a mega record and proof of how mild this winter has been. The main marsh held quite a few wildfowl as well as a party of 23 COMMON SNIPE. A brilliant end to the day.

Record shot in poor light of the Garganey Pair

Monday, 3 February 2014

CORN BUNTINGS holding up on Marsworth

The second reasonable day in a row with NO RAIN during daylight hours, just overcast, cold and windy conditions.
In the CHESS VALLEY first thing, the very wet walk underfoot between Latimer Bridge and Church Covert produced 10 COMMON SNIPE (a scarce bird locally), 2 Little Egrets (one feeding with the Sheep!) and 6 COMMON TEAL, along with 4 Red Kites, 2 Common Buzzards (aerial displaying), Grey Heron, 9 Mallard, 7 Mute Swans (including a new intruding cob), Green Woodpecker, 2 Long-tailed Tit, a Coal Tit (in Church Covert), 3 Wren, a Greenfinch, a SongThrush and 7 Common Magpies.
No sign of the weekend's Great Crested Grebe at nearby CHESHAM FISHING LAKES but the single GREYLAG GOOSE was back again with 19 Atlantic Canada Geese and the Aythya flock yielded 25 Tufted Ducks and 3 drake Northern Pochards. Also noted were 6 Coot, 2 Red Kite, Common Kingfisher and Long-tailed Tit.
In the fields at WENDOVER DEAN (SSE of The Firecrest pub on the east side of the A413), a flock of 240 Fieldfares, quickly followed by a spate of dead Badgers - 2 within 50 yards of each other just south of WENDOVER at SP 875 062 & 873 065 and another on the A41 east of KINGSWOOD at SP 698 184.
I then spent a long time searching the UPPER RAY MEADOWS for Warren's Grey Plovers and Ruff but with, as usual, little success. Lapwing numbers were dramatically down (from 5,000 on my last visit to today's 190) and wildfowl were significant by their absence; the only highlight were the formidable number of wintering thrushes: 740 Fieldfare and 290 Redwing - both specie seem to love the wet fields.
I then returned to TRING RESERVOIRS to do my first February counts of the month but the cold westerly wind was challenging on WILSTONE - just 6 Mute Swans, 34 Greylag Geese, 19 Atlantic Canada Geese, 80 Mallard, 370 Wigeon, 200+ Teal, 20 Gadwall, 41 Shoveler, 97 Pochard, 117 Tufted Duck and 402 Coot (I could not locate the Pintail but many duck were sheltering out of view on the Drayton Bank). Both Grey Heron and Sinensis Cormorant were busy nest-building/repairing on the Bank vegetation, with 2 Little Egrets roosting by the Poplars, while an impressive winter gull roost harboured at least 3,000 Black-headed and 159 Common.
TRINGFORD still held 6 Red-crested Pochards whilst the roost at MARSWORTH produced a healthy 148 CORN BUNTINGS - all in and accounted for by 5pm. A single Little Grebe was with 3 Great Crested Grebe there (11 of the latter had been counted on Wilstone), just 1 drake Shoveler, with Song Thrush and Goldcrest in full song in the wood. A measly 3 Reed Buntings came in to roost, as well as 8 Long-tailed Tits.

Over at WESTON TURVILLE RESERVOIR from 1705-1740 hours, I caught the last 4 Little Egrets flighting in to the Grand Union Canal roost-site at The Wides, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 6 Coot, a Sparrowhawk almost in darkness putting the frighteners on small passerines roosting in the reeds and a flyby WOODCOCK at dusk