Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Unprecedented numbers of COMMON STONECHAT on the Chiltern Hills...

September 2014 has been the driest September on record in Britain and today saw a continuation of the warm, fine weather we have been experiencing locally since about June. In fact, temperatures still reached over 70 degrees fahrenheit today.....
Following a phone call from Mike Wallen, Francis Buckle and I rendezvoued at IVINGHOE HILLS where MSW had witnessed an unprecedented fall of COMMON STONECHAT along the fenceline just SSE of the Beacon Trig Point on the edge of the Beacon Slope. We quickly relocated them and were astounded to find a flock of 19 birds, as well as a single WHINCHAT. The birds were ranging as far east almost to Gallows Hill and included a good number of males. I have never seen as many Stonechats locally as this autumn - they appear to have had a bumper breeding season.

Little else in the way of migrant activity however - just 7 Skylark, 2 Yellowhammer and 5 Common Chiffchaff noted.
I then decided to walk some of the Chiltern escarpment on the other side of Wendover but surprisingly, most likely because of the fabulous weather, virtually nothing of note was found (just a few more COMMON STONECHAT in locations such as WELLWICK FARM).

Later in the afternoon, I returned to BLOWS DOWNS (DUNSTABLE), where the BARRED WARBLER was present for its fourth consecutive day. It was still frequenting the isolated clumps of Hawthorn and Elder on the Half Moon Slope but had become much more difficult to locate, skulking for hours in the cover. There were still at least 8 COMMON STONECHATS lingering there, as well as 1+ Common Chiffchaff, 15 Meadow Pipit, Bullfinch and 9 Goldfinch. The Sparrowhawk also made its regular visit to the slope

Friday, 26 September 2014

Fourth-ever GANNET for Tring Reservoirs......

David Bilcock 'phoned me at 1150 hours to say that he had just found an adult-type NORTHERN GANNET on Wilstone Reservoir. The bird was circling around and around over the reservoir and was visible from the car park steps. I told Dave to stay on it and rushed back to the car. Getting through Dunstable was an absolute 'mare, particularly as the A505 in its entirety was being resurfaced west to Leighton Buzzard! The good news was that the bird had finally landed (1205) and the chase was on...

Around 17 minutes later, I arrived - DB and Mike Campbell immediately guiding me in the direction of the mega. It was sat on the water between the new overflow and the end of the Drayton Bank. It was preening continuously and was very restless - taking flight at regular intervals and appearing to hunt for fish in the shallower water at the hide end of the reservoir. The views were excellent and over the next three hours, I took over 500 shots (a large selection of which appear below).

I phoned news of its presence to Rare Bird Alert and Steve Blake and informed Barry Reed, Mike Ilett, Darin Stanley, Francis Buckle, Joan Thompson and many others of the breaking news. Virtually all of the local watchers arrived within the hour, including Mike Wallen, Bill Pegram, Ian Williams, Roy Hargreaves, Jack O'Neill and Richard Woodhead, whilst Simon West, Rob Andrews, Lol Carman, Bob Chalkley, JT and a number of others made it much later - 29 in total by the time it decided to depart at 1500 hours (Francis Buckle unfortunately never making it, having written off his car in Ivinghoe on route).

With several dark chocolate-brown secondaries retained, as well as a single dark brown central tail feather, the bird was clearly a sub-adult - extensive studies by Nelson (1964) suggesting such individuals are 4th winter or older. The bird was also clearly in some distress, preening non-stop throughout the entire period it was present. I am convinced it had some form of oiling pollution - a detergent or ship cleansing fluid perhaps.

The bird represents only the fourth-ever Northern Gannet for Tring Reservoirs following an adult in the gull roost at Wilstone on 28 October 1990 (Roy Hargreaves), a juvenile found dead on Startop's End Reservoir on 23 September 2012 (LGRE) and a juvenile through west over Wilstone on 13 October 2013 (David Bilcock). Not only was it my first for the reservoirs but also my first live one for Hertfordshire.