WEDNESDAY 21 APRIL
Another light frost overnight and another day of cool NW winds, although these slackened off to almost nothing by dusk. Clear and blue throughout, with bright sunshine, temperatures climbing to 13 degrees C.
It was another bumper day locally, particularly for scarce waders, with the larger species battling their way into the wind. On the downside, I dipped another Marsh Harrier, but on the positive, bagged a nice PIED AVOCET......
MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)
Failed to meet the dawn commitments with Roy and Dave B so hence missed the Whimbrel that roosted overnight on Wilstone and flew off strongly east at 0618 hours (and most likely relocated further NE in Bedfordshire).
However, just as I drove over the canal bridge from Tring, Ben Miller texted to say that he had just found another LITTLE GULL, this time on Marsworth. Within minutes I was watching it and yet again, another individual in a very confusing state of plumage. It had a patchy black head and all dark bill, pale grey underwings with some dark mottling on the underwing coverts and all white upperwings, so presumably an adult in transitional plumage or a near adult. It also had the salmon-pink flush to the underparts and as it showed well, it flew between both the Bucks and Herts sections of the reservoir.
Acting on news provided by Warren Claydon and Steve Rodwell, I was extremely pleased to finally connect with a reeling GRASSHOPPER WARBLER - my first of the year. The bird was showing extremely well perched high on top of grasses in the rough field adjoining the sewage works and sang from 0720 until at least 0755 hours.
The number of SEDGE WARBLERS in the Marsworth Reedbeds had also greatly increased with a minimum of 11 singing males, whilst CETTI'S WARBLERS numbered 3, a 'new' singing male WILLOW WARBLER was located (by the sewage works) and two singing male COMMON WHITETHROATS had arrived, again both in the vicinity of the works.
The only other birds of note were a pair of Shoveler on the Sewage Farm lagoon and a Common Redshank that flew over west calling (whilst Ben saw the first-year Little Ringed Plover that had earlier been roosting on Wilstone jetty)..
IVINGHOE HILLS NR (BUCKS)
As Ben had checked College Lake, I gave it a miss and headed straight for the Chiltern escarpment. It was freezing up there and although the sun was shining, the fresh NW wind kept activity by migrants to a minimum. Just 1 female NORTHERN WHEATEAR remained present on the SE Beacon Hill slope and a single LESSER REDPOLL flew east. Five male COMMON WHITETHROATS were still between the S bend and the penultimate Beacon peak but best of all was a crippling male GRASSHOPPER WARBLER reeling from a small bush left (west) of the main track up to the trig point, on the upper reaches of the SW slope. The bird was singing right out in the open with its throat and head reverberating with the strange action of its reeling and its beak wide open. It was still singing at 0820 hours.
WILSTONE RESERVOIR (HERTS)
A party of 4 House Sparrows was in the hedgerow opposite the farm shop. I was joined by Jim Middleton at the top of the steps (he had been on site early enough to witness the Whimbrel) and over the next half hour recorded 1 LITTLE GULL (the relocating bird from Marsworth), an impressive 6 COMMON SANDPIPERS on the algae bunds, 15 Common Terns and the Common Redshank I had seen earlier now roosting on the East reservoir bank.
Other migrants included 1 COMMON SWIFT, 242+ SAND MARTINS, 22 HOUSE MARTINS, 58 Swallows and a singing male Blackcap in trees opposite the car park.
More familiar species noted included -:
Great Crested Grebes (12)
Grey Heron (25 active nests on the Drayton Bank)
Continental Cormorant (9 active nests in the two main trees on the Drayton Bank)
Mute Swan (just 2 present, both apparent cobs)
Tufted Duck (127)
Northern Pochard (3 drakes)
Coot (64 counted, with several pairs actively nest-building)
Mistle Thrush (pair gathering food on the bank by the car park)
A41 (BUCKS) - Sadly, yet another dead Badger, this one lying on the southbound carriageway near Tinker's Lodge at SP 956 095
LODGE LANE FIELDS, LITTLE CHALFONT (BUCKS)
I was just about to undertake survey work around my village when I took a call from Oxfordshire - Phil Barnett had just discovered a HOOPOE. I managed to locate a single YELLOWHAMMER, a singing male Dunnock and a single EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW east of Burton's Wood before moving on....
MARSH BALDON AREA (OXFORDSHIRE)
Whilst on route for Henry Mayer Gross's old stomping grounds, a further dead Badger was seen - on the westbound M40 at SU 855 911.
I met up with finder Phil Barnett late morning and together we explored and searched the Toot Baldon and Marsh Baldon in the hope of relocating the Hoopoe but never did - in fact, it was not seen again all day.
Far and away the highlight was a migrant flock of chats in a pea field just west of Gotham Farm, including 15 NORTHERN WHEATEARS and a gorgeous male WHINCHAT - my first of the year. We also recorded 4 male YELLOW WAGTAILS, a singing Common Chiffchaff and several European Barn Swallows whilst resident birds included Common Kestrel, Linnet and Song Thrush. Butterflies included Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock.
THE STEWARTBY BRICK-PITS (BEDFORDSHIRE)
After speaking to Lol Carman, I decided to spend the afternoon in Bedfordshire, where several county year-ticks lay in wait. At one site near Stewartby, a mid-afternoon visit yielded a migrant WHIMBREL, a COMMON SANDPIPER and a breeding-plumaged adult BLACK-TAILED GODWIT. The Whimbrel flew off north at 1510 hours and no doubt relocated to the neighbouring Kempston Hardwick complex, after initially landing in Rookery, whilst the godwit was an interesting individual, with an extensively orange bill and black tip similar to European but with other features suggestive of islandica.
Also noted were 2 pairs of Little Grebe, nesting pairs of Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Common Redshank and migrant YELLOW WAGTAIL (2 males) and WHITE WAGTAIL.
WILLINGTON COMPLEX (BEDFORDSHIRE)
With Lol now on a roll, I was playing catch up, and with a visit to Willington Cycle Track later in the afternoon, I was to add yet another new bird for the year - a singing male COMMON NIGHTINGALE. Although there had already been two singing birds in the Sandy area, this was the first Beds songster I had heard of and being freshly arrived, with scanter vegetation, it was there for the taking. Despite it being in the heat of the afternoon, and with walkers and cyclists ambling by, the bird was in full song. It was commuting between the flowering bramble and several more isolated bushes and was performing extremely well, favouring the scrubby patch just south of the cycleway almost in line with the pool to the left of the track and 300 yards west of the main entrance.
The scrub was alive with singing warblers, including 15 Blackcaps, several Common Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, a COMMON WHITETHROAT and 2 LESSER WHITETHROATS, whilst nearby, the planned scrape area yielded a remarkable feeding flock of 27 YELLOW WAGTAILS and WESTERN REED WARBLERS in the neighbouring patch of Phragmites.
MARSTON VALE MILLENIUM PARK (BEDFORDSHIRE)
Tried to see all 3 Grasshopper Warblers but failed to even hear any and had similar success with Common Cuckoo. A CETTI'S WARBLER by Lagoon 9 was notable, along with 3 singing male WILLOW WARBLERS.
COOPER'S HILL, AMPTHILL (BEDFORDSHIRE)
Again, drew a complete blank on Common Cuckoo, and no sign of the singing male Firecrest either. WILLOW WARBLERS were again very evident, with 6 singing males.
........Just as I was skirting Stewartby, Steve Rodwell 'phoned to say that a female MARSH HARRIER was lingering at Wilstone. Frustratingly, I was stuck in the traffic of the A 421 roadworks, but after taking the back route through Lidlington, Flitwick and Toddington, made good headway. Dave Bilcock phoned to say that the bird was showing again at 1840 hours, quartering the reedbed, and I had high hopes. However, just as I entered Wilstone village, the harrier chose that minute to continue its migration, and charged off high to the north. I had missed it by literally minutes.........
Then, just as I was about to drive into the Wilstone car park, Simon Nichols texted to say that Kevin Duncan had just found a PIED AVOCET at Dorney and I was on the move again.....
DORNEY ROWING LAKES (SOUTH BUCKS)
It was 29 miles driving from Tring to Dorney and I arrived on site at 1956 hours. The PIED AVOCET - a fine adult - was still present on the Seasonal Pool and standing in shallow water, occasionally dipping its upturned bill into the water. The first this year in the Three Counties, I was very pleased to connect. It remained until at least 2015 hours, despite the constant fighting of a pair of Common Shelduck
Another nail-biting end to a challenging and quite exhausting day