SUNDAY 31 JANUARY
Well, the last day of January continued very much in the same vein as the entire month being another very cold day, with a sharp overnight frost followed by a clear, crisp day. I added just two new birds on this last day - Common Sandpiper and Firecrest.
STAINES RESERVOIRS (SURREY)
Thanks to Dave Morris, returned again today and finally secured the wintering COMMON SANDPIPER - feeding halfway along the causeway on the North Basin - my 159th species of the year. Just where it was yesterday, I really don't know....
Otherwise, very much as on yesterday's visit, but with the addition of 2 redhead SMEW (in the SW corner of the South Basin) and 3 RUDDY DUCKS, and many more wildfowl in general, including 29 Common Goldeneyes.
TYTTENHANGER GP (HERTS)
(1340 hours) Just a brief check of the main birding pit revealed the presence of 18 Greylag Geese and the 3 continuing (and early returning) COMMON SHELDUCKS - a drake and two females.
PRYOR'S WOOD, STEVENAGE (HERTS)
(1430-1500 hours) Just inside the third gate along Gresley Way. the extensive Holly bordering the road just yards inside Pryor's Wood quickly yielded the superb male FIRECREST discovered yesterday. By gently 'pishing', I was quickly able to make contact with the bird and as it came forward to investigate, enjoyed some outstanding views of what is undoubtedly one of the most charming birds there is. It kept mainly very low in the holly foliage, as well as occasionally in the leaf litter, but also moved higher into the canopy, particularly when a mixed flock of Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits arrived. I phoned local birder Darrel Bryant who had struggled with the bird earlier in the afternoon and he rushed down to join me. Fortunately, I was able to keep with the bird and the two of us enjoyed outstanding views as it continued to flit from branch to branch, softly uttering its high-pitched 'zi-zi' notes. It was kept in view for half hour.
AMWELL NR (HERTS)
Thanks to a swift call from Jan Hein Steenis, and consequently Joan Thompson, I was able to react immediately to the juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL that Mike Ilett discovered as it flew in with pre-roosting gulls mid-afternoon.
Eighteen minutes later, I was at the Watchpoint - and at the site of the largest county gathering in a long time. There was a star-studded presence, with Mike and Jan alongside Barry Reed, Bill Last, Alan Stewart, Dan Forder, Alan Reynolds, Ian Bennell, Phil Ball, Graham Knight and many of the Amwell regulars - in fact, 28 persons in all.........
And the reason for this mass gathering - the juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL - showing very well, still standing on the ice when I first arrived. At 1540, it suddenly took flight and headed north pursued by a single Black-headed Gull. It gained height over the valley and then started to glide around before returning south and then decided to fly back down to the main lake. It landed again just north of the main island, this time on the water, but then returned to the ice, where it eventually sat down and remained until dusk. It was a fairly typical example of this northern species, being similar in size to the 7 Great Black-backed Gulls present, with coffee-brown spangled mantle, tertial and upperwing covert feathers, darker coffee head and breast feathering and contrasting pale creamier primary and outer flight feathers. The large, thick bill was distinctly pale pink-based, with a black 'blob-ended' tip, and the legs and feet comparatively long and dark pink.
As Barry Reed commented on site, the bird is most likely one of the four different individuals that have recently found Rainham Landfill to their liking. With the landfill closed on Sundays, this is the premier day for rare gulls to appear at Amwell, as individuals venture far and wide in search of food.
Amwell has repeatedly laid claim to being the best site for large white-headed gulls in the county, this being yet another example of Glaucous Gull I have for this site. There are few records elsewhere.
With so many eyes cast out over the reserve, it was unsurprising that the late afternoon period was so eventful. The list of sightings was as follows -:
Great Crested Grebe (8)
Continental Cormorant (32, many in full breeding attire)
*EURASIAN BITTERN (an outstanding showing, involving four different individuals - all at the reedbed fringe of the northern part of the main lake, some walking along the edge and out in the open and others climbing to the tops of the reeds before clumsily flying - and all eventually ending up in the reeds close to the boardwalk between hides.
LITTLE EGRET (4 in to roost)
Mute Swan (13 including four first-winters)
Eurasian Wigeon (59)
Common Teal (12)
Northern Pochard (28)
RED-CRESTED POCHARD (2 females)
Tufted Duck (84)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (17 including 5 adult drakes)
*SMEW (4 present including an adult drake - all on main lake)
WATER RAIL (2)
Common Snipe (1)
Black-headed Gull (200+)
Common Gull (94)
Argenteus and Argentatus Herring Gulls
Lesser Black-backed Gull (32)
Great Black-backed Gull (just 7)
CETTI'S WARBLER (1-2 by Watchpoint)
Reed Buntings (8)