My UK Year List - 2014

  • 117-118) GREAT WHITE EGRET and LONG-TAILED DUCKS at Mary's Lake, Earls Barton GP, 9 January
  • 116) Barnacle Goose, Emberton Park, 9 January
  • 114-115) SMEW and Cetti's Warbler at Great Hardmead Lake, Amwell, 7 January
  • 113) Reed Bunting, Tyttenhanger, 7 January
  • 112) Tree Sparrow (32 birds), Tyttenhanger, 7 January
  • 111) Sparrowhawk, West Hyde, 7 January
  • 110) Mandarin Duck, Burnham Beeches NNR, 7 January
  • 100-109) Curlew, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Common Shelduck, Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull at Church Norton, 6 January
  • 99) RUDDY SHELDUCK, Sidlesham Ferry, 6 January
  • 96-98) Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Rock Pipit in Shoreham Harbour
  • 95) Red-breasted Merganser, Widewater, 6 January
  • 94) GREY PHALAROPE, Hove Lagoon, 6 January
  • 93) Grey Partridge, Broom, 5 January
  • 92) Goosander, Woburn Lakes, 5 January
  • 91) Skylark, Totternhoe, 5 January
  • 90) Yellowhammer, Totternhoe, 5 January
  • 89) Corn Bunting, Totternhoe, 5 January
  • 88) Water Pipit, Wilstone, 5 January
  • 87) SABINE'S GULL, Weston Turville, 5 January
  • 86) Common Scoter, Brogborough, 4 January
  • 85) GREAT NORTHERN DIVER, Stewartby Lake, 4 January
  • 84) Red-legged Partridge, Hatch, 4 January
  • 83) Common Kestrel, Langford, 4 January
  • 82) GLOSSY IBIS, Frensham, 4 January
  • 81) Goldcrest, Frensham, 4 January
  • 80) Green Sandpiper, Lynsters, 3 January
  • 79) Stock Dove, Lynster's, 3 January
  • 78) Egyptian Goose, Lynsters Farm, 3 January
  • 77) Common Chiffchaff, Stockers Lake
  • 76) SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF, Stockers Lake
  • 75) Siskin, Stockers Lake
  • 74) Dunnock, Stockers Lake
  • 73) Ring-necked Parakeet, Stockers Lake
  • 72) Lesser Redpoll, Stockers Lake
  • 71) Coal Tit, Chaffinch House
  • 40-70: Nuthatch, Greylag Goose, Pied Wagtail, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, LITTLE STINT, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Wagtail, Goldeneye, Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch, Marsh Tit, Dunnock, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Jay, Red-crested Pochard, Wren, Collared Dove (all at Tring Reservoirs), Brambling (Ivinghoe), Herring & Great Black-backed Gull, CATTLE EGRET (Briarhill Farm, Calvert) & Green Woodpecker
  • 1-39 all local, Chess River Valley & Shardeloes Estate: 1 January 2014: Chaffinch, Common Starling, Woodpigeon, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Magpie, Mute Swan, Mallard, Moorhen, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook, Common Buzzard, Canada Goose, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Tufted Duck, Pochard, House Sparrow, Common Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Pheasant, Gadwall, Kingfisher, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Little Grebe, Common Gull, Red Kite, Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Mistle Thrush, WOODCOCK, Treecreeper, Greenfinch and Water Rail

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Year Listing in the UK

Lee Evans has been Year-listing in the UK since 1977 and has achieved annual totals of over 300 species ever since. Although he has recorded in excess of 360 species on some nine occasions, his record stands at 386 species - achieved in 1996. Adrian Webb in Year 2000 recorded at least 378 species, making him by far the highest-listing individual to compare with Lee. In terms of Life Listing, Lee has recorded 577 species in Britain and Ireland and 853 species in the wider Western Palearctic region.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Drat - I was hoping for a Rustic Bunting


Whilst working this morning, a REED BUNTING visited the garden for a period of time, feeding with House Sparrows on the seed lying on the ground. It was the first garden record for some time.

Winter returns with a vengeance and a deluge of hirundines


The male YELLOW WAGTAIL and female RUDDY SHELDUCK at Willows Farm Pool (Ian Bennell)

WEDNESDAY 31 MARCH

Heavy snow and blizzards caused chaos in Scotland, NW England and in North Wales and heralded British Summertime ! We did not get snow in the south but we did get some hefty sleet showers. The temperature hovered between 3 and 5 degrees C all day, with the wind gusting up to gale force and from a Northwesterly direction. In such conditions, my hopes were high for a Kittiwake or Sandwich Tern, but in the end it was mainly hirundines which caused most excitement, with large numbers being grounded by the rain and cloud. Wagtails too seemed to be affected. I managed two more additions to my 2010 Hertfordshire List - BLACKCAP and HOUSE MARTIN.

WILSTONE RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)
(1230-1300 hours and again towards dusk)

Although I failed to locate the single EGYPTIAN GOOSE at lunchtime, it was showing well this evening in the grass field immediately east of the reservoir at dusk - my first for the site this year. It was roosting amongst the 48 Greylag Geese in the field.

Other wildfowl included 1 adult Mute Swan, 3 remaining Eurasian Wigeon, 14 Gadwall, 28 Shoveler, 157 Tufted Duck, 15 Northern Pochard and the immature male COMMON GOLDENEYE, whilst 8 Great Crested Grebes, 15+ Grey Herons and a single first-summer Black-headed Gull were also present.

Despite the bitter NW wind, diurnal migrants had arrived on the East Bank, with a fine near-adult male YELLOW WAGTAIL (Steve Rodwell and Chaz Jackson had two later), 4 Pied Wagtails (SR and CJ had two male WHITE WAGTAILS later) and a male Reed Bunting, whilst hirundine passage included a bumper arrival of 68 EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS, 127 SAND MARTINS and my first Tring and Herts HOUSE MARTIN of the year.

THE SMALLER RESERVOIRS (HERTS)

Great Crested Grebe (8 on Marsworth, with 3 on Startop's End and 1 on Tringford)
Mute Swan (2 adults on Tringford)
Tufted Duck (8 on Tringford)
Northern Pochard (5 on Tringford)
Red-crested Pochard (drake still on Startop's End)
Green Woodpecker (yaffling bird in Marsworth Reedbed Wood)
SAND MARTINS (28 on Tringford, with 4 on Marsworth)
EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW (19 on Tringford, with 15 on Marsworth)
Pied Wagtail (8 feeding along the main causeway)
Mistle Thrush (1 in flight appeared to be carrying food)
CETTI'S WARBLER (a ringed individual showing well in scrub near the overflow)
*BLACKCAP (my first Herts bird of the year despite a record number of wintering individuals, this male singing and showing well in low scrub in Marsworth Reedbed Wood)
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (a singing male by the road near the road junction by the wood carvery shop and at least two others in the Poplars of Marsworth Reedbed Wood)

COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS)
(1349 hours)

Fairly quiet apart from a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER on the east island in the marsh and 2 Barn Swallows.

On the East Island, 5 Lapwings were sat on nests, with another on the smaller island, with 2 Common Snipes on there, the two OYSTERCATCHERS on the island on the main lake, a single Black-headed Gull and 8 migrant Pied Wagtails.

WILLOWS FARM POOL, TYTTENHANGER (HERTS)
(1500 hours)

The female Ruddy Shelduck was still present, along with the pair of Gadwall, pair of OYSTERCATCHERS, pair of Common Redshanks and single LITTLE RINGED PLOVER

HILFIELD PARK RESERVOIR (HERTS)
(1540-1630 hours)

Great Crested Grebe (6)
Little Grebe (2)
*BLACK-NECKED GREBE (8 now present, virtually all in full breeding plumage now)
Shoveler (single drake)
Tufted Duck (33)

Migrants included 146 hirundines, including 91 EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS, 54 Sand Martins and a single HOUSE MARTIN, with a COMMON CHIFFCHAFF singing at the east end.

A large passage flock of birds on neighbouring ELSTREE AERODROME included 86 Meadow Pipits and 8 Pied Wagtails.

ALDENHAM RESERVOIR (HERTS)

Surprisingly no hirundines present and the only passage birds of note being 3 REDWINGS.

A pair of Mute Swans was nesting, whilst 16 Great Crested Grebes, 12 Gadwall, 22 Tufted Duck and 6 Northern Pochard were seen

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Despite the appalling weather, another productive day


Bird of the day - a splendid male YELLOW WAGTAIL (Mike Lawrence). The Year List has now grown to 235 species


TUESDAY 30 MARCH

Talk about a topsy-turvy day in terms of weather. When I first started birding mid morning, the wind was in the west and the temperature was 9.5 degrees C. It was raining intermittently and activity was rather scant. Around lunchtime/early afternoon however, the wind switched to the SSW, the sun came out and temperatures recovered to 13.5 degrees C. Then, darkening clouds brought heavier rain, and between 1500 and 1900 hours, the temperature plummeted to a freezing 5 degrees C and the wind veered to a strong NNW.

Despite the conditions, I had a great day locally, with some nice finds and new additions - particularly Yellow Wagtail and House Martin - both firsts for the year.

THE WATERCRESS COTTAGE LOOP TRAIL, CHESHAM (BUCKS)

I did a full inventory of the lower Chesham area, walking the trail from Watercress Cottage (SU 975 999), past the former Pow Wow Lake (SP 972 003), around the Chesham Fishing Lakes (SP 972 003), across to Hill Farm (SP 973 008) and back down to Milk Hall (SP 976 002).

GREAT CRESTED GREBES (both pairs present, the pair on the smaller lake now nesting)
CONTINENTAL CORMORANT (a near adult circled the fishing lakes)
Little Egret (none seen, looks as if the wintering population has now departed)
Mute Swan (single adult on Pow Wow Lake, the Waterside pair now deserted after heavy rain, a pair on Bois Mill Lake - not nesting - and three others east to Latimer Bridge)
Atlantic Canada Geese (pair on Pow Wow Lake, with 24 on Bois Mill Pond)
Mallard (5 drakes on the river, with 14 on the Fishing Lakes)
GADWALL (pair still present on Pow Wow Lake)
Tufted Duck (drake on Pow Wow Lake, with 16 - 9 drakes and 7 females - on the Fishing Lake)
Red Kite (3 in Hill Farm area)
Common Buzzard (nest found in Chessmount - SP 974 006)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (female circling overhead of the valley)
Common Pheasant (2 males near Hill Farm)
Moorhen (9 birds in total)
Coot (9 on the larger of the two Fishing Lakes, one with an injured left leg, with 6 on the smaller)
Woodpigeon (large feeding flocks in the Hill Farm area, one of 45 and the other of 322)
Eurasian Collared Dove (pair at Hill Farm)
*SAND MARTIN (1 high over the Fishing Lakes, the first in the Recording Area this year)
*EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW (pair hawking high above the Alders and Poplars by the Fishing Lake and a 'singing' male around the larger barn by Hill Farm - the first in the Recording Area this year)
Pied Wagtail (an adult male by the Pow Wow building)
Wren (2 singing males by Watercress Cottage, with another by the Fishing Lakes and 1 by Hill Farm)
Dunnock (pair displaying by Watercress Cottage, with two further singing males nearby, and further males in scrub by Cannon Mill Avenue and Hill Farm)
European Robin (just 1 singing male by the Fishing Lakes)
Song Thrush (1 in garden of cottage at corner of Holloway Lane)
Mistle Thrush (pair nesting in Chessmount Wood)
Common Blackbird (male by Watercress Cottage, with another in gardens on Cannon Mill Avenue)
*BLACKCAP (a singing male showing well by the smaller Fishing Lake, present in the area for over two weeks)
*COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (a marked arrival with two singing males within 40 yards of each other in scrub behind McMinn's Yard and a further male present along the Riverside Walk just beyond the Fishing Lakes)
GOLDCREST (a pair present in the tall evergreen in the garden of 85 Latimer Road, the male singing frequently)
Great Tit (singing males by Watercress Cottage, the Fishing Lakes and the Riverside Walk and 2 at the feeders by Milk Hall)
Blue Tit (singing males by McMinn's Yard and Fishing Lakes with 7 at the feeders by Milk Hall)
Long-tailed Tit (pair along the Riverside Walk)
Common Magpie (pair nesting in the tall Evergreen in garden of 85 Latimer Road)
Western Jackdaw (nesting colony in terrace chimneys opposite Fishing Lakes involving 13 pairs, with a further pair on the chimney stack of Watercress Cottage)
Rook (the Rookery above Ivy House Farm now has 21 active nests)
Carrion Crow (1 by Hill Farm)
Common Starling (1 on chimneys in Latimer Road)
House Sparrow (2 pairs in scrub behind Cannon Mill Avenue)
Chaffinch (5 singing males/pairs in the Fishing Lakes/Riverside Walk area, with another by Hill Farm)
LINNET (2 birds flew over the barns at Hill Farm)
Goldfinch (5 birds noted)
Greenfinch (displaying male in gardens along Latimer Road)
YELLOWHAMMER (2 singing males in hedgerows by Hill Farm)

BADGERS (the sett along the bridleway near Hill Farm was active)
MUNTJAC (a stag was feeding by Watercress Cottage)

TYTTENHANGER GP AREA INCORPORATING WILLOWS FARM (HERTS)
(1200-1338 hours)

By the time I had got to Tyttenhanger, the wind had freshened from the SSW and the sun had started to peep its way through the clouds. The temperature started nudging 13.5 degrees C and it became quite pleasant.

Steve Blake had earlier discovered a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (a Herts Year tick for me and only the second occurrence this year) on the main pit which I was keen to see. I 'scoped across to the mud and located 8 COMMON REDSHANKS and 7 COMMON SNIPE and then a 'ringed plover'. The latter was clearly a RINGED PLOVER so I phoned Steve to query his sighting. He was adamant, so we agreed to meet up at the opposite side. A single COMMON SHELDUCK was also present on the pit.

Making a rendezvous with SB by the conveyor belt, he pointed out the plover that he had found and it was a different bird to that at the opposite end of the sandy spit and a fine adult LITTLE RINGED PLOVER - my first of the year in Herts (120). A party of 8 EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS also passed through.

We then went back to WILLOWS FARM POOL (1240 hours), where the female Ruddy Shelduck, a pair of OYSTERCATCHER, a pair of Common Redshank and 2 adult male Pied Wagtails were present. Feeding along the left hand flank were a stonking male YELLOW WAGTAIL (234/121) and a first-summer male WHITE WAGTAIL (122). The latter was soon chased off by one of the male Pied Wagtails.

Returning to the site much later (at 1520), the OYSTERCATCHER pair were still present, along with a pair of Common Shelduck, pair of Gadwall and pair of Shoveler.

Following up on further information of Steve's, I was highly delighted to connect with my first NORTHERN WHEATEAR of the Herts year - a female - perching on the fragments of maize left over in the field behind Tyttenhanger Farm (123). The flattened maize field behind the feeding station hedgerow also yielded 15 Yellowhammers, 12 Reed Buntings and at least 3 TREE SPARROWS.

VERULAMIUM PARK LAKE, ST ALBANS (HERTS) (TL 141 069)
(Best accessed from Abbey Mill Lane car park)

'A LAST CHANCE TO SEE'

The main reason I visited this site today was to enjoy and study the drake NORTH AMERICAN RUDDY DUCK that had been present here for the past three weeks or more, perhaps one of the last opportunities to see this enigmatic and charming species in the county following the murderous government campaign to try and eradicate it. The bird was showing exceptionally well and I took the opportunity to show many of the general public the wonders of it. Ironically, it was showing best from just yards in front of the RSPB sponsored information caravan (sadly not being manned today).

I also took the opportunity to do a full inventory of the site with the following results -:

Grey Heron (10 active nests on the main island)
Mute Swan (17 in all, including 11 first-summers and an adult pair on the Model Boating Lake)
Mallard-types (96 in all)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (pair roosting on the smaller island)
Tufted Duck (8)
Coot (96 on the main pond and a further 8 on the neighbouring River Ver - two nests within 20 yards of each other on the Ver, another on the Model Boating lake, 2 on the smaller island and another on the main island)
Moorhen (11)
Black-headed Gull (adult and two first-summers)
Feral Pigeon (25)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (drumming male)
Nuthatch (calling male)
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (singing male in trees near church)
Mistle Thrush (singing male)
Coal Tit (singing male by lake)
Wren (singing male)

SE of WELWYN GARDEN CITY (HERTS)

Depressingly, three dead BADGERS within half a mile of each other on the eastbound carriageway of the A414, all SW of Cole Green and east of the roundabout - presumably all related to the Tewinbury population.

HERTINGFORDBURY LAKE NR (TL 300 124)

There was no sign of Saturday's non-naturalised Barnacle Goose with the Atlantic Canada Geese but a pair of Great Crested Grebes were busy nest-building on the island, 3 Shoveler were present, 13 Tufted Duck and 8 Coots.

KING'S MEADS NR, HERTFORD (HERTS) (TL 347 130)

My visit here frustratingly coincided with persistent rain and some blustery winds so no sign of Simon Knott's early singing Sedge Warbler - the only individual in the county so far. The only migrants present were 2 EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS, a SAND MARTIN and a singing male COMMON CHIFFCHAFF in scrub by the entrance gate.

Wildfowl included two lingering EURASIAN WIGEON (a pair), 22 Gadwall, 3 Shoveler and 5 Northern Pochard, with a pair of adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls on posts and the marshes NW of the flyover yielding 5+ Lapwings, two pairs of Common Redshank and 2 Common Snipes.

SPADE OAK GRAVEL PIT, LITTLE MARLOW (SOUTH BUCKS)
(1730 until dusk)

I was to spend the rest of the day at Little Marlow, where I could not believe the change in temperature. Whilst driving from Herts to South Bucks, the wind had switched from SSW to NNW and the temperature had plummeted from 13.5 to a mere 5 degrees C - an astounding fluctuation in one day.

The overcast conditions and intermittent rain had grounded 33 hirundines, including 23 EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS, 7 SAND MARTINS and 3 HOUSE MARTINS - the latter my first of the year and the first in the county (235).

However, it was to the migrant gull flock that most concentration was asked for, and with Alan Stevens, we located FOUR different MEDITERRANEAN GULLS in the roost this evening, one of the largest single groups I have ever recorded in Bucks. The records involved two full breeding-plumaged adults and two near-identical second-summer birds, the latter with orange-red bills and a slight dark bar, dark pigmentation in the primary tips and full black hoods and contrasting white eye crescents. The first immature flew in at 1830 hours, followed seconds later by the first adult, then a second immature at 1835 and the final adult at 1856. All remained until dusk, after initially bathing and drinking on arrival, and disappeared out of view in the Common Gull throng.

Click-counting COMMON GULLS revealed the presence of at least 898 birds, with 6 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 15 Argenteus Herring Gulls, predominantly immatures.

Otherwise, species noted included the pair of COMMON SHELDUCK, 22 remaining Eurasian Wigeon, a pair of Common Teal, a drake Shoveler, 2 LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS, 5 Lapwing and 1-2 COMMON KINGFISHERS (constantly flying to and fro from the main island where they are nesting)

Monday, 29 March 2010

Rain moves in as Garganeys move out

MONDAY 29 MARCH

A band of rain moved steadily up from the south leaving a dark, dull and very gloomy day. Although not heavy rain, it was enough to stifle any sort of migration.

Being otherwise occupied by a certain Mediterranean Kestrel and Swifts over Sunday, I was unable to get to Marlow, where a pair of Garganey had spent the day. As suspected, they departed overnight.

CHAFFINCH HOUSE, LITTLE CHALFONT (BUCKS)

Reloaded the garden feeders, with two Goldfinch on the Nyger and 25 House Sparrows present all day. Two RED KITES overhead for some time.

SPADE OAK GP, LITTLE MARLOW (SOUTH BUCKS)

No sign of yesterday's pair of Garganey but 3 Mute Swans, pair of COMMON SHELDUCK, 8 Shoveler, 22 Eurasian Wigeon, 12 Gadwall, 16 Tufted Duck, 1 Northern Pochard, 5 Lapwing, 1 LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, 39 Common Gulls, 1 near-adult Argenteus Herring Gull, 8 Red Kites, 1 Common Buzzard and Common Kingfisher. Two singing COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS remained in the NW corner.

SHARDELOES LAKE AND MISBOURNE VALLEY (BUCKS)

No sign of the Great Crested Grebe pair but two Dabchick new in and together.
Grey Herons (two - an adult and first-year)
Dramatic fall in wildfowl numbers with just 4 Gadwall and 16 Tufted Duck remaining and cob Mute Swan 'pushing around' his three offspring from 2009.
Coot (just 46)
Common Kestrel - female and male seen in area
Stock Dove calling
GREY WAGTAIL (male by lake, briefly in song)
Song Thrush (2 singing males)
REDWING (8 by Misbourne)
Wren (6 different territories)
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (2 - singing males at the west end of the lake in Sallows and another by the Misbourne 250 yards further west)
Blue Tit (much activity, with perhaps 10 birds noted)
Goldfinch (5)
REED BUNTING (singing male in reed vegetation 250 yards west along the Misbourne from the lake)

Phew - What a Day ! TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL, 4 ALPINE SWIFTS, a PALLID SWIFT and an awesome adult male LESSER KESTREL











The stunning adult male LESSER KESTREL at Minsmere (Alan Shearman)

























And those taken by Dave Horton





























Jan Hein Steenis' images of the LK











A uique opportunity and image - both Kessingland ALPINE and PALLID SWIFTS together (Rebecca Nason)
















































































My first-ever Bedfordshire TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL (Mike Lawrence)












SUNDAY 28 MARCH

Having had to work all night (at a 50th birthday party in Chesham), I snatched two hours of sleep before rising at 0800 hours. Meanwhile, British Summertime had kicked in and I had already lost an hour. The day had dawned quite overcast, and a fresh wind had set in - temperatures were hovering around 13 degrees C.

Today was actually one of those days you dream about, being an avid birder. I had initially set forth for Bedfordshire, where I was to get a fine new county bird, and ended up in Suffolk, where all expectations were surpassed........

THE LODGE, SANDY RSPB (BEDFORDSHIRE)
(0900-1230 hours)

Whilst waiting for the Penduline Tits to appear at Dungeness ARC on Saturday afternoon, I received several calls and texts from Bedfordshire, where Alan Crofts and Mike Lawrence had seen and photographed a female TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL at the reserve main pond between 1215 and 1445 hours. This was an astounding record, particularly with the lack of any individuals of this species in Britain all winter, and knowing the variability and extent of wing-barred crossbills, I made further enquiries as to the bird's appearance. Meanwhile, local birders such as Steve Blain and Jim Gurney rushed down to the hide, and at 1545 hours, the bird flew in again to drink and others witnessed it too. There seemed absolutely no doubt about the identification and as I drove home, three of Mike's images were texted to my phone and I was well and truly gripped.

Bleary-eyed and knackered, I staggered out of bed and made my way over to The Lodge, turning up in the entrance car park just after 0900 hours. Darren Oakley-Martin, Mike Ilett and a hideful of others had already had excellent views of the bird from 0630 hours and had left. As I approached the hide, Bob Chalkley, Roy Nye, Peter Smith and Lol Carman were just leaving and exclaimed that the bird had not been seen for several hours and the flock were not coming in to drink because of all of the noise and movement around the hide. After a short while of waiting and a view of 30+ distant Crossbill flying around, I too realised it was very unlikely.

I spoke to both Paul Wright and Steve Blain who had both had success in viewing the flock on the main heath, east of the Fort, so I decided to explore. No sooner had we walked in the direction of the shop than the entire flock of Crossbills landed in a nearby stand of conifers and after quickly setting up the 'scope, Dave Holman and I quickly latched on to our quarry. The female TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL was in amongst a flock of 34 COMMON CROSSBILLS and was feeding fairly close to the top of the tree. Despite being so well-marked, it was difficult to keep on, as it kept dropping down and out of view, and was lost for long periods. Thankfully, the flock remained in the area for a good half-hour and after a lot of effort, I and others managed to get a large proportion of the 90-strong crowd on to it.

The flock then flew to some deciduous trees nearby, where the TBC sat out in full view at the very top of the tree for a few seconds. This was a great view but frustratingly brief. They also very briefly flew down to the ground (presumably where there was lying water) and for another brief period, I obtained some superb views of the TBC as it perched on the bracken. I was also pleased to be able to follow it in flight for some time, as the flock wheeled around for several minutes.

There was remarkable frenzy in cone-feeding, with the majority of the crossbills actively taking pine cones from the branches and extracting the seeds. Cones were dropping everywhere. Quite what the TBC was doing I do not know, as their much smaller and slimmer bill is better designed for Larches.

The flock then flew to a further stand of trees further back, much better viewed from the Perimeter Trail north from the shop. By this time, the crowd had swelled to at least 100, and over the next hour, many more views were obtained of the bird as it moved within the flock. My best count was of 34 COMMON CROSSBILLS, whilst others reported 43.

The TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL was a classic, being structurally different from the Common Crossbills in its noticeably smaller size and slimmer body and smaller bill with a marked cross-over at the tip. On both wings, it had a double white wing-bar and very obvious white tips to the tertials - importantly, the feathers were all PURE WHITE and not buff-toned or greyish-white as in wing-barred crossbills. The tips of the greater coverts were extensive, suggesting an adult, whilst other significant features included the grey cast to the hindcrown and nape and the very dark centres (almost blackish) to the upperpart feathers, particularly those on the mantle and scapulars.

This was a very unexpected addition to my Bedfordshire List and represented my 255th county species - it was also my first of the year - 231. Being such a rare bird, particularly in an inland county, it was hugely popular, with some 470 or so visitors during the day and another sizeable number the next day (Monday). I was pleased to see most of the county regulars at the site, including those aforementioned plus Keith Owen, Andy Plumb, MJP, Dave Ball and Tim Robson, along with many birders from neighbouring counties, including Jake & Ruth Ward, Barry Reed and Bill Last.

Two-barred Crossbill is a species which has only been reported in the county on one previous occasion, during an apparent crossbill irruption year in 1890. Steele-Elliott in 1904 listed a flock that was found in one of the fir plantations at Ampthill on 3 January 1890 by three Bedford schoolboys. Five were apparently 'secured' by catapult but one of these escaped and H.W.Finlayson had considered that the flock had initially contained at least 20 birds. In support of this claim, it must be stressed that Autumn 1889 did see a huge influx of Common Crossbills and four Two-barred Crossbills had been recorded with them (proven specimens).

Alan Crofts and Mike Lawrence obtained an absolutely staggering selection of stunning images of the bird and several are reproduced here. An awesome record.

Other birds noted at the reserve included my first Beds LESSER REDPOLL and EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW of the year, and 50+ FIELDFARES, whilst a male Northern Goshawk was present for its 5th day and a singing male Firecrest was discovered (per MJP).

KESSINGLAND (SUFFOLK)

Whilst watching the TBC, I was repeatedly reminded that a PALLID SWIFT was on view in Suffolk. Matt Deans was there, watching it and providing me with frequent updates. As Alan Stewart had not seen this species, we agreed to rendezvous in Baldock town, and after driving the 124 miles in under two hours, arrived in Kessingland at 1445 hours.

The PALLID SWIFT and its companion ALPINE SWIFT were wheeling low over the caravan park and eastern part of the town and showing very well. The PALLID was obviously very smaller and much like a Common Swift in general view. On closer inspection with the 'scope, it could clearly be seen to be much paler, with an almost milky-tea complexion to the upperparts in bright sunlight, a prominent white throat, a striking 'beady eye' contrast with the head and a two-toned underwing. The tail fork was typically shallow and its undercarriage paler barred, with quite rounded wing-tips in profile. Occasionally, the paler greater covert area could be noted, contrasting with the much darker outer hand of the wing. Rebecca Nason managed to obtain an image depicting both birds together and that I have published above.

After half an hour of almost constant observation, we decided to move on. Whilst scanning skyward, a presumably passage sub-adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK drifted high overhead, slowly migrating south along the coast. With such a double-bill, birders were everywhere, including numerous faces seen earlier at Sandy, including DJH and Christine Stean, Stuart Elsom & Jill, Barry Reed, Bill Last and others, and a great number of local Suffolk and Norfolk birders.

Matt Deans very kindly escorted Alan and I to the Sewage Works where we were delighted to see 4 WHITE WAGTAILS (3 adult male and a first-summer male) in with the 30 or so Pied Wagtails feeding on the pans, 1-2 Grey Wagtails, several Common Chiffchaffs and a stunning male FIRECREST in song.

LOWESTOFT (SUFFOLK)

Being the greedy birder that I am, I could not resist the two ALPINE SWIFTS that had been present along the main promenade over recent days. They had been flying up and down the main promenade between the CEFAS Laboratories complex and the Claremont Pier and were both still present when we arrived at 1600 hours. As shoppers and walkers were going about their usual Saturday business, two Alpine Swifts were flying overhead at just literally a few yards range, perhaps catching insects disturbed by the activity. They were absolutely awesome and like all larger swifts, highly entertaining to watch and follow and unpredictable in their actions.

As we were about to try and photograph them, Andy Clifton and Matt Mulvey suddenly came dashing towards us shouting ''Have you looked at your pager?'' - ''LESSER KESTREL at Minsmere''. I could not believe our luck - just 12 miles from a mega-rarity. Wasting no time at all, we raced back to the CEFAS building where our car was parked and retrieving my mobile, realised I had three missed calls, two from Alan Davies. I phoned him back and he informed me that he was watching a male LESSER KESTREL at just 65-100 yards just 200 yards from the main Minsmere car park. Gripping or what!

We were in a dilemma as we were almost completely out of fuel but there was simply no time to waste. We risked it and at Blythburgh, turned SW towards Westleton.........

MINSMERE RSPB RESERVE (SUFFOLK)

Taking a short cut, to save both fuel and time, we approached Minsmere reserve from the north along the access track just after 1640. Passing the famous Great Bustard field on our right, I noticed a Kestrel out of the corner of my eye and seeing two cars and standing birders on the right, I shouted for Alan to stop. I jumped out of the car and the two guys exclaimed that the Lesser Kestrel had been inadvertently flushed and was flying our way. I latched on to the bird immediately and realised it was a stunning adult male. It was flying slowly and attempting to land on a fencepost so I dashed back to the car and grabbed my 'scope. It was simply crippling and as I followed it, a female Common Kestrel came in to view and started chasing it. The two birds started altercating and clearly the female won out, forcing the LK to continue flying and eventually, after several unsuccessful attempts at landing, forced it over the trees and out across Westleton Walks. It had been on view for just three minutes (1643-1646).

We raced over to where it had flown but there was nothing and real pandemonium ensued. The access road very quickly jammed up with the vast hordes of arriving twitchers and after the initial panic and realisation that it had been lost, birders started spreading out and searching.

Whilst scanning the horizons, yet another ALPINE SWIFT was located - by Craig Fulcher - our fourth individual of the afternoon - the bird flying very distantly over the reserve.

Some time went by before suddenly a shout went up that the bird had been relocated at Scott's Hall Covert, and as nobody other than reserve residents knew where that was, it was Wacky Races all over again. Eventually, I worked out where that was, and dumping the car at the side of the road, ran quickly down the footpath out on to Westleton Heath. In fact, as it turned out, it was a long run - 600 yards in total - and already some 170 birders were in position.

The adult male LESSER KESTREL was feeding at the edge of the Covert at approximately TM 463 685, and was flying short distances between gorse clumps and the remains of a dead Elder. It was very distant but at least perching - and was an incredibly beautiful bird to boot. Whilst it was still sunny, it was still feeding but as the light faded, it became more inactive and went through into the slight valley and started searching for food (by hovering!) behind a tall Oak tree. It then became much more difficult to see and showed only tantalizingly briefly. Many newcomers struggled to get on to it. It then dropped on to the ground and disappeared. At 1845 hours, it reappeared in flight, and flew directly into a dark, dense Holm Oak and roosted. By dusk, over 330 birders had connected, but 100 or more had to leave disappointed.

This had been the climax of an unprecedented March day's birding in Britain. My second ever authenticated LESSER KESTREL on home soil, following the 2002 Scilly immature male. It was an adult male, with elongated central tail feathers, plain chestnut mantle and inner wing-coverts, dark outer wings and a narrow blue panel of upperwing feathers on the inner secondaries and median coverts. The head was powder-keg blue, with no dark moustachial stripe, with a rich buff wash to the underparts and light spotting on the breast and flanks. In flight, the underwing flashed gleaming white - this truly was an elegant raptor.

When with the female Common Kestrel, it was seen to be more sleek, with shorter wings and tail, and flew with much quicker wingbeats. The wings were quite pointed in shape.

There have been just a handful of records of this predominantly Mediterranean species since 1950, although 10 were collected between 1867 and 1926. Of those considered authenticated, a first-summer male was at St Ives Island, Cornwall, on 30 May 1968, at Fairburn Ings, West Yorkshire, briefly on 4 June 1979, a male on Fair Isle on 23 June 1987, a male found dead in a farm outbuilding near Dover, Kent, on 20 April 1989 and a male over Hampstead Heath, London, on 31 May 1992. Most recently, a first-summer male was on St Mary's, Scilly, from 13-21 May 2002.

Thanks to a massive nestbox scheme in southern France and Spain, this once endangered small falcon has now dramatically increased in numbers and between late February and early April, wintering birds return from wintering grounds in Senegal and The Gambia. This Suffolk occurrence fits neatly into this pattern and is presumably an overshooting male caught up in the same weather conditions that have misplaced the Pallid and Alpine Swifts. Now wouldn't another twitchable Crag Martin cap it all !

PENDULINE TITS at last





PENDULINE TITS (photographed by Robin Fenner and David Walker/http://www.dungenessbirdobs.org.uk and the Startop's End COMMON TERN (David Bilcock)
SATURDAY 28 MARCH

Grey and overcast with cold NW winds, keeping afternoon temperatures down to 11 degrees C. Birded locally in the morning before setting off for East Kent where at very long last, finally connected with a highly sought-after bird - PENDULINE TIT.

STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)
(1034 hours)

An early COMMON TERN was a very nice bonus, roosting in the dismal weather on the newly positioned and refurbished algae bunds. My first of the year and excellently photographed by David Bilcock (see above). (228)

The drake RED-CRESTED POCHARD was also utilising the bunds and was asleep on them, whilst grounded migrants included a single EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW and 15 SAND MARTINS.

BLOWS DOWNS (BEDFORDSHIRE)

A quick scan of the Paddocks revealed the presence of a smart male NORTHERN WHEATEAR.

DUNGENESS RSPB RESERVE (EAST KENT)

After David Walker and other reserve staff had enjoyed excellent views of the PENDULINE TITS late morning, I decided to chance my arm and drove down for the afternoon.

I got down shortly after 1400 hours, to be informed that the trio had all flown off early afternoon. Knowing full well that PENDULINE TIT twitching is a mug's game, I set in for the long haul and marched out the 75 yards west of the Hanson Hide to the rich area of bulrush at the far end of the Willow Trail. I then waited, and waited, and waited, intermittently being joined by just two other birders.

I had a brief reprieve when I went into the hide, the ARC Pit yielding a fine drake GARGANEY, some 88 Shoveler (perhaps migrants), 12 Gadwall, 5 Common Teal, numerous Common Shelducks and 10 Common Goldeneyes.

Returning to the Bulrush clump for another stint, and listening to the 3-4 CETTI'S WARBLERS noisily chipping and bursting into song, I suddenly spotted three tiny birds flying in from the east. Yippee, it was the 3 PENDULINE TITS which had spent all winter in the area ! They quickly latched on to the heads and from 1605-1635 hours at least, afforded excellent views at just 60 yards range. At least one bird was ringed and two at least were males. I was just so pleased at finally connecting with these skulking reed-dwellers, over 20 hours this year being spent in their pursuit.....and 950 miles !

I was mystified by the lack of interest in them, just six observers appearing during the period. They were still on view when I departed, busy pulling the fluff out from the bulrush heads and eeking out the small seeds and grubs. I had reached 229 and just one species to go to reach my end of March target.

Across the road at the RSPB reserve, I walked out from the Visitor Centre to the New Excavations and Denge Marsh Flood. Although I failed to locate the Great White Egret, I did see the winter-plumaged SLAVONIAN GREBE and the breeding-plumaged BLACK-NECKED GREBE. Even more delightful was the sight of at least 6 RUDDY DUCKS, whilst both Little and Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Wigeon, Lapwing and Curlew were also seen.

Hookers Pit held a female Marsh Harrier and numerous calling Cetti's Warblers, but there was no sight or sound of the Sedge Warbler singing earlier in the day.

A further male Marsh harrier was seen quartering over the ARC Pit.

DUNGENESS POINT (EAST KENT)

A brief seawatch at 1740 hours provided me with my first SANDWICH TERNS of the year - 8 flying west - 230 - along with several Gannets, large numbers of Common Gulls and 13 Great Crested Grebes on the sea.

EING OUZEL tops the bill in a day of incoming migrants

FRIDAY 26 MARCH

During the morning, the wind was mainly SW with temperatures reaching 11 degrees C, but as the day progressed, it swung round to the NW pegging temperatures back down to 8 degrees. It also brought with it some hefty rain showers.

Today was my first real opportunity to catch up with some local birding and with this in mind I targeted the many migrants now flooding in to the country and immediate Three Counties area. Most peculiar was the complete lack of hirundines today. The highlight was a superb adult male RING OUZEL and a very dapper WATER PIPIT.

CHURCH WOOD RSPB, HEDGERLEY (SOUTH BUCKS)
(0730-0900 hours)

There was no sign this morning of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but I did see 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a single Green Woodpecker. There was much drumming activity going on.

Common Treecreepers and Nuthatches were both vocalising again, whilst 2 male Coal Tits were in song, a male Song Thrush and 5 different male Chaffinches.

Once again, I failed to locate the Northern Goshawks nearby.

SPADE OAK GRAVEL PIT, LITTLE MARLOW (SOUTH BUCKS)
(0918-1015 hours)

I carried out a full inventory of the site and walked the entire circuit of the lake. Three species were new to my Bucks Year List - LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, Common Chiffchaff and WILLOW WARBLER. A total of 44 species was noted.

Great Crested Grebe (10 present, mostly all paired up)
Continental Cormorant (25 active nests on the island, many in one tree)
Grey Heron (14 nests on the main island and another 5 on the small island just 45 yards out from the west bank)
Mute Swan (3)
Greylag Goose (15)
Atlantic Canada Goose (22)
COMMON SHELDUCK (2 pairs roosting on the spit)
EGYPTIAN GOOSE (12 present and much display and territorial behaviour being acted out)
Mallard (17)
Gadwall (12)
Northern Shoveler (17)
Eurasian Wigeon (32 lingering)
Common Teal (8)
Tufted Duck (14)
Red Kite (3 overhead)
Moorhen (12)
Coot (27)
Lapwing (14 on the spit)
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (my first of the year showing well on the nearside of the spit - 224)
Black-headed Gull (48)
Common Gull (78 including two second-winters showing characteristics similar to those shown by a popular bird in Leicestershire)
Argenteus Herring Gull (24 including 1 summer adult, 3 second-years and 20 juveniles)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (3 adults)

Woodpigeon (16, already nesting)
Ring-necked Parakeet (2 in Poplars)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 in garden)
Pied Wagtail (pair on spit)
Wren (8 territories)
Dunnock (3)
European Robin (several already pair-bonded with 12 noted in total)
REDWING (single migrant in bushes at east end)
Common Blackbird (5)
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (2 singing males in NW corner and two migrants in Railway Hedgerow)
WILLOW WARBLER (my first of the year - a singing male in the SE corner - 225)
Great Tit (3)
Blue Tit (7)
Long-tailed Tit (5)
Common Treecreeper (singing male in wood on north bank)
Common Magpie (pair building nest)
Jackdaw, Carrion Crow and Rook (all noted flying overhead)
Chaffinch (6 singing males)
Goldfinch (5)

BLOWS DOWNS (BEDFORDSHIRE)

(early afternoon) A cracking adult male RING OUZEL, found shortly after dawn by Lol Carman, was still present, commuting between the grassy slope and scrub just west of the main pit and 45 yards from the gate. This is a fairly early date for a local bird and much earlier than average. My 226th species of the year. Frustratingly, I departed the site not knowing about the trio of Northern Wheatears present on the Paddock Slope - a species I have still to see in Beds this year.

OCTAGON FARM, WILLINGTON GP (BEDFORDSHIRE)

Following in Tony P, Lol and Bob's footsteps, I arrived at Octagon Farm at around 1330 hours. Recent rains had flooded much of the gravel car parking area and had created two fantastic scrapes 75 yards east of the main raised bank, attracting an excellent selection of birds. The star bird, and at my 5th attempt this year, was the long-staying and overwintering WATER PIPIT, now in its full summer finery, with grey head and nape, contrasting white supercilium and pinkish-buff upper breast. It was showing very well consorting with the alba wagtail flock and on one occasion, flew to the pool and bathed.

The Alba Wagtail flock numbered 31 birds, amongst them being a dapper male WHITE WAGTAIL - my first of the year (227) - as well as 4 Meadow Pipits and 2 adult male Reed Buntings. Despite the heavy rain shower, a charm of 6 Goldfinches flew in also to drink and bathe !

Waders present included 4 LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS and 6 RINGED PLOVERS (my first Beds birds of the year) and two Common Redshanks.

An adult male PEREGRINE was nearby

BROGBOROUGH LAKE (BEDFORDSHIRE)

Just after 1520 hours, a heavy rain shower pushed away to the east, allowing me to 'scope from the Watchpoint. Both long-staying juvenile GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS were still present and showing well (pushed up to the west end by windsurfers) as well as 8 lingering Common Goldeneye (including a first-year drake and an adult drake). My first Beds COMMON CHIFFCHAFF of the year was singing from the scrub.

LINFORD NATURE RESERVE (NORTH BUCKS)

Thanks to Simon Nichols and Paul Moon, I was able to add this year's first Buckinghamshire DUNLIN to my Year List - a winter-plumaged bird feeding with two Common Snipe on the first sections of the bund now starting to emerge as the water level drops significantly. Other migrants included a flock of 136 FIELDFARES.

On the breeding front, 13 active Grey Heron nests were now being utilised.................

WILSTONE RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)

Surprisingly devoid of any hirundines or migrants. Most impressive were the TUFTED DUCK numbers - 257 in all - the highest number this year. There were also 9 remaining Eurasian Wigeon, 18 Gadwall, 8 Common Teal, 16 Northern Shoveler and 29 Northern Pochard. Just 6 Great Crested Grebes were apparent, whilst 61 Greylag Geese were on the field east of the reservoir.

In the far distance over Northfield Road and Bulbourne were a flock of 107 EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVERS.

STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)

The adult drake RED-CRESTED POCHARD was busily dredging up weed from the bottom of the reservoir whilst other wildfowl present included a pair of Mute Swans (with 3 more on the adjacent canal), 2 Great Crested Grebes, 20 Tufted Duck and a drake Pochard.

No migrants were present but 2 Grey Wagtails and 43 Pied Wagtails roosted on the rafts.

PITSTONE QUARRY (HERTS)

Very deep with no muddy islands - 1 Great Crested Grebe, 6 Little Grebes and 5 Tufted Ducks present. Nothing nearby on the Pitstone Industrial Estate pools.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

On the trail of the ALPINE SWIFT

























































































Images from today, all taken by Mark Stirland and all at Hunstanton - Turnstones, Common Chiffchaff and of course the stunning ALPINE SWIFT

On The Trail of the Alpine Swift - WEDNESDAY 24 MARCH

The mid theme continued with the southerly winds inducing temperatures of 14 degrees C. After a rather grey start, the skies eventually cleared to give way to a really typical spring day and at Hunstanton in the afternoon, the temperature actually climbed to 17.5 degrees C.

Tuesday 23 March had seen two Alpine Swifts give themselves up in North Norfolk and both had performed until late in the day indicating that they had almost certainly roosted. After still recovering after my London and Berkshire near-misses this year, today I felt was an ideal opportunity to maybe rectify the situation.

After writing until 2am Tuesday, I seriously struggled to raise myself early on Wednesday and as it was, I did not actually get away until 5am. This was to prove fatal, as right on cue, the Cromer overnighter disappeared at 0730 hours, well before the time I could have arrived. At the opposite end of the county, the Hunstanton bird flew from its roost at 0830.........

FOXHOLE HEATH (SUFFOLK)

A noisy STONE CURLEW was loudly wailing from a crop field opposite the heath and affording excellent views. It was my first of the year (222).

A pair of Eurasian Curlew was also on territory, and 2 Mistle Thrushes were feeding.

HUNSTANTON CLIFFS (NORTH NORFOLK)
(0900-1027 hours)

After missing out on the Cromer Alpine Swift, I decided to try my luck with the Hunstanton bird, but after spending 90 minutes in the area, I decided that the warm SW winds had moved it on its way. After all, there was much evidence of diurnal migration at the cliffs. Meadow Pipits were constantly passing overhead, and passage migrants included 3 SAND MARTINS through to the west and 2 Linnets.

COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS were very conspicuous on the clifftop with at least 4 in the spartan top scrub, whilst on the cliffs below, 15 occupied Northern Fulmar nest were located.

There was a major arrival of Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the shoreline, with 270 counted, with 3 Great Crested Grebes on the sea, and a further congregation of 37 Fulmars. Turnstones in small groups were showing very well on the grass by the lighthouse.

REDWELL MARSH, HOLME (NORTH NORFOLK)

A Ring Ouzel had been seen here earlier but on my brief visit, just a single Black-tailed Godwit was on the marsh.

TITCHWELL RSPB (NORTH NORFOLK)

Most surprising was a TREE SPARROW frequently visiting the feeders by the Information Centre - my first in the county this year and a scarce bird these days. A few House Sparrows were also visiting, along with many Chaffinches and the odd Great and Blue Tit.

A female RUDDY DUCK was on the new marsh to the left of the main track less than 100 yards along, whilst wildfowl on the Freshwater Lagoon included 3 Pintail and small numbers of Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Common Shelduck.

At least 1 Marsh harrier was back on territory, with 2 RUFF on the lagoon, as well as 28 Pied Avocets.

The reedbed supported several BEARDED TITS (2 seen) and 1-2 calling CETTI'S WARBLERS. At least 2 Common Chiffchaffs were singing from the Willows.

BURNHAM NORTON (NORTH NORFOLK)

Both Neil Alford and his close friend Neil Stocks were on site and they had spied both Spoonbill and Merlin. I scored neither but did see 2 Marsh Harriers altercating with a PEREGRINE over the reeds, Little Egret, 15 Pied Avocets, 2 Mistle Thrushes and another Common Chiffchaff.

HUNSTANTON CLIFFS (NORTH NORFOLK)

Admitting defeat on Alpine Swifts for the day, I decided to drive south towards my home county where the 5th-ever North American Green-winged Teal had been discovered at Linford Reserve by Paul Moon. I got down to about Lakenheath when Neil Alford 'phoned to say that he had just been watching an Alpine Swift at Hunstanton over the pine belt by Old Hunstanton at 1338 hours. I could hardly believe my ears but I had to go back.

I turned around at Barton Mills roundabout and made the 44 miles back to the site. Neil had seen the bird just once more before leaving for King's Lynn to drop NS at the railway station. There was a small crowd gathered at the clifftop car park upon my return (very different to the morning when there were just 5 of us searching) including both Mark and John Stirland from Nottingham who had photographed it.

At 1445 hours, the ALPINE SWIFT loomed high in the sky (223), distantly flying over the golf course - relief !

Over the next 30 minutes, it was to drift in much closer, eventually wheeling back and forth over our heads and making a circuit of the cliffs, lighthouse and conifer belt. It was an excellent bird, with quite labouring flight and deep wingbeats, Mark eventually acquiring an excellent selection of images (see above). Soon, Neil Alford reappeared on site, as well as Les Holiwell and others.

I was terribly excited at finally catching up with this aerial vagrant, so much so that I made a terrible mistake when leaving........

Charging south for the Linford Teal, I finally realised that I had left my 'scope and tripod on site as I reached Downham Market and after frantically trying to contact Mark and his dad, Les and others that I had seen there, eventually spoke with Will Soar who confirmed that Trevor Davies and Mike Sidwell had intercepted it. Thank God the Alpine Swift lingered in the car park.........

As it was, I ran out of time for the Teal - traffic on the new Bedford-M1 bypass project put paid to that

Friday, 26 March 2010

A damp, dreary and all-round dismal day



TUESDAY 23 MARCH

A dismal day with light rain or drizzle all day. The LITTLE EGRET on the River Misbourne just west of Higher Denham was the only bird of note I saw all day. Jim Middleton obtained this excellent image.

BARN SWALLOWS arrive early and in force

MONDAY 22 MARCH

Migrants have come flooding in over the last few days as the wind continues to blow from the south, including some rarer birds in between, namely a Purple Heron and Pallid Swift in South Wales, several Hoopoes, a female Rustic Bunting in Hampshire, a male Little Bittern in Sussex and an influx of early Alpine Swifts.

Now back in the area, I spent the day scouring the local wetland sites in search of incoming migrants, whilst diverting for an Alpine Swift in London late morning........

The main bird of the day was EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW, with a surprising number of birds so early in March......

Sadly, a BADGER I enjoyed seeing only just over a week ago was killed last night on the A404, just east of Stoney Lane in Little Chalfont at TQ 005 978. I also found another one dead on Northfield Road, NE of Tring Station, at SP 950 127.

A RED KITE was gliding across Northfield Road.

COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT RESERVE (BUCKS)

My first EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS of the year - four birds - were feeding over the main marsh with 8 SAND MARTINS at 1000 hours.

At least 8 COMMON REDSHANKS were present on the reserve, noisily displaying on the islands, with other waders represented by OYSTERCATCHER (the pair), 3 COMMON SNIPE and at least 12 Lapwings (three birds already sat on nests on the two marsh islands).

Two pairs of Mute Swan were present, along with 8 Common Teal and 10 Northern Shoveler.

MARSWORTH RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)

A male COMMON CHIFFCHAFF was singing from the remaining Poplars in the windswept plantation, my first at the reservoirs this spring. A ringed GOLDCREST was in the wood, with a pair of Long-tailed Tits nest-building and three pairs of Common Blackbird indulging in the same.

Although the reservoir was disturbed by two guys working in a boat, 8 Great Crested Grebes, 1 adult Mute Swan, 3 Shoveler and 5 Northern Pochards. The pair of RED-CRESTED POCHARDS was showing exceptionally well, 20 yards out from the bank, the drake in active bobbing display. A Coot was finishing off its nest at the edge of the reedbed.

STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)

A pair of adult Mute Swans, 3 Great Crested Grebe, 14 displaced Shovelers and 43 Tufted Ducks present (later Charlie Jackson had 6 BARN SWALLOWS there).

WILSTONE RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)

In strong SW winds at 1130 hours and at 12 degrees C, my first Herts EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW of the year was recorded. At least 5 SAND MARTINS were being pushed around by the wind over the Drayton Bank.

Significantly, I could see none of the 25 Eurasian Wigeon present at the weekend. Other wildfowl remaining included 3 COMMON GOLDENEYES, an impressive 217 Tufted Ducks (spring influx), 15 Gadwall, 38 Shoveler, 22 Common Teal and 18 Northern Pochard. Some 56 Black-headed Gulls were resting on the reservoir.

TUNNEL WAY SCRAPES, PITSTONE INDUSTRIAL ESTATE (HERTS)

The pair of RINGED PLOVERS were displaying over the pools.

IVINGHOE HILLS NR (BUCKS)

Jack O'Neill and I failed in our quest to locate any of the 4 Northern Wheatears that had been present the day before. They were not where I had seen them yesterday. Several Meadow Pipits were in full aerial display.

HOLLOW POND, LEYTON (LONDON)

Whilst at Ivinghoe, took a call informing me that the ALPINE SWIFT first seen for ten minutes at 0930 hours had reappeared two hours later at 1130. This suggested it was lingering so although I knew that it had already disappeared after just 90 seconds of viewing, I took the decision to go for it. As I was approaching the location, took another call to say Jonathon Lethbridge and others had seen it again at 1225, so I was more than a little optimistic. However, upon arrival at 1240, I was informed that it had reappeared again for just 45 seconds and had promptly disappeared. Why are Alpine Swifts so erratic in their appearances? After three birdless hours, I decided to give up and drove back to Hertfordshire.

HILFIELD PARK RESERVOIR (HERTS)

Another 6 EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS to add to today's tally, swooping low over the water in the drizzle with 12 SAND MARTINS.

(Paragraph Removed)

A COMMON CHIFFCHAFF was in full song from trees bordering the airfield.

SHARDELOES LAKE (SOUTH BUCKS)
(1730 hours until dusk)

GREAT CRESTED GREBE (pair still present but no sign of any Dabchicks)
Grey Heron (three adults on island)
Mute Swan (adult pair now nesting with three of last year's offspring still present and feeding together)
Atlantic Canada Geese (6)
Mallard (6)
GADWALL (high spring count of 42 birds)
Tufted Duck (34 present)
NORTHERN POCHARD (2 drakes)
Coot (62)

Song Thrush (3 singing males)
Common Blackbird (2)
FIELDFARE (migrant flock of 84 birds)
REDWING (7 in with the above flock)
COMMON TREECREEPER (pair together on Pollarded Willow tree)
Long-tailed Tits (9)
GOLDCREST (2 at the far west end of the Willows but no sign of the Firecrest seen last week)
Wren (3 singing males)
Dunnock (singing male)
REED BUNTING (singing male)
JACKDAWS (massive noisy roost again, numbering at least 894 birds)

Record flock of Penduline Tits but I still dip out


JACK SNIPE, Minsmere Island Mere (Sean Nixon) - consolation prize

SUNDAY 21 MARCH

The first day of spring and heralded by an absolutely gorgeous morning. Warm and sunny with clear, blue skies. Shortly after 7am, I received an awakening call informing me of the presence of a record-breaking flock of 7 Penduline Tits outside the Island Mere Hide at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk. What a bummer - I had only discussed the possibility of getting in the hide early with Matt Deans the evening before. So, as it was, I rushed up and set out to drive the 153 miles from my house to the reserve. Before doing so however, I diverted to Ivinghoe to notch up Northern Wheatear.......

IVINGHOE HILLS NR (BUCKS)

Following up an early morning message from Dave Bilcock, I quickly located 3 NORTHERN WHEATEARS (1 male) on the slope above the sheep pens, just SE of the beacon. These were the first in the area this year and consequently my first - species 220.

MINSMERE RSPB (SUFFOLK)
(midday through 1600 hours)

Just my bleeding luck. After receiving a text from Matt Deans that 1 Penduline Tit was on view from the Island Mere hide, I sprinted down the Rhododendron Tunnel and track as fast as I could. What I didn't realise is, being a weekend, the hide was absolutely crammed full of people and there was no way whatsoever of battling a way through. When cascades of them started to flop out on to the boardwalk behind, I realised that something was awry, and instantly feared that it was bad news. No time at all was wasted in informing me that the bird had flown and jubilant observers all round were celebrating the fact that their 3-5 hour vigil had been worth it. It transpired that the 7 Penduline Tits had not been seen since their 20 minute showing to 0720 and this single individual hade appeared at midday for just four minutes only.

With so many observers departing, it was easy for me to get a front seat in the upper deck of the hide. I joined Matt Deans, Pete Milford, and others and sat down for the long haul. After all, I had already put in 15 or so hours for Penduline Tit this year so what would a few more change.

Two JACK SNIPES were both showing very well in the cut reed areas carefully designed with this in mind, along with 1-2 Common Snipe. MARSH HARRIERS were very active, with up to 8 individuals constantly on view and in full display. CETTI'S WARBLERS too were very vocal, with the odd Water Rail 'screaming' from the reeds.

The main mere held Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Northern Pochard, with two adult MEDITERRANEAN GULLS flycatching high overhead with Black-headed Gulls, and a darting COMMON KINGFISHER shooting over the reeds.

EURASIAN BITTERNS were fairly active, with different singles seen in flight at 1314, 1502 and 1550 hours, whilst pride of place went to BEARDED TITS, with a gorgeous pair performing for ten minutes at the edge of the reedbed just to the right of the hide.

As the afternoon progressed, I quickly started to lose faith, as the cloud moved in and the wind freshened up. It came as no surprise to me to see no further activity by the phragmites dwellers and after four hours of intensive watching, I decided to call it a day. Others sat for a further two hours but still no joy. In fact, they weren't seen again. Penduline Tits are just so unpredictable.

GLOSSY IBISES at long, long last, and a bonus HOOPOE

Simon Knight obtained this excellent image of the Rodden Hive HOOPOE - my 218th species of the year.

SATURDAY 20 MARCH

Back down south now the change in temperature was remarkable. It reached 12.5 degrees C today, but with SW winds, constant drizzle fell for much of the day. It was time to catch up with some of the spring migrants that had been appearing whilst I was in Scotland. It was also an opportunity to have yet another go at the Ibises after Andrew Holden's success.......

WILSTONE RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTFORDSHIRE)

With SAND MARTINS being at Wilstone all week, I was very pleased to see 17 flying overhead of the Drayton Bank early morning - my first of the year (217).

A total of 25 Eurasian Wigeon remained, as well as 5 Common Goldeneye, whilst 2 RED KITES drifted south over Startop's End Reservoir.

BLOWS DOWNS (BEDFORDSHIRE)

I failed in my quest to track down the 3 Northern Wheatears that Lol Carman had earlier seen on the Paddock Slope. A Common Chiffchaff was singing - my first this year in Beds -a charm of 28 Goldfinches was feeding and up to 8 Meadow Pipits were in active parachuting display.

LANGTON HERRING (DORSET)

At around midday, I decided to drive down to the South Coast, and visited Langton Herring on The Fleet. I arrived at 1445 hours, just as Joe Dobinson and his partner Sharon and Darren Ward were departing, and following their excellent directions quickly latched on to the migrant EURASIAN HOOPOE that had been present since Wednesday. The bird was frequenting a Kale field 250 yards west of the Coastguard Cottages and could be easily seen from the coastal footpath. It was favouring the tracks in the kale and after flying along on three occasions, settled down and fed on grubs at just 40 yards range. It was a brilliant bird and very entertaining to watch and was fabulously photographed by Simon Wright (see above). Hoopoe is always a tricky bird to connect with each year so I was more than pleased with my decision to twitch it - species 218 this year.

HAM WALL RSPB, SHAPWICK HEATH NNR (SOMERSET)

Unlike on previous visits when I ventured out west along the South Drain towards Noah's Lake, this time I followed my good friend Andy Holden's advice and walked east - 600 metres in fact to the Ham Walls Observation platform. I was later joined by the reserve warden and partner and whilst waiting from 1702 hours, GREEN SANDPIPER, 6 SAND MARTINS and 2 Common Chiffchaffs were noted. There was also two booming EURASIAN BITTERNS and a cacophony of loud CETTI'S WARBLERS and squealing Water Rails.

At 1735 hours, all 3 first-winter GLOSSY IBISES appeared from the east, flying high perhaps 300 yards north of the drain. As they progressed west, they flew closer towards the Watchpoint, and about 90 seconds later flew directly overhead affording all three of us excellent views of these almost prehistoric, weird-shaped birds. The flight was typically fast and in close formation and at 1738 hours (three minutes after I first located them), they disappeared high to the NNW. After three visits, I had finally connected - relief and exultation ! (species 219).

CHEW VALLEY LAKE (AVON)

Fighting across the Mendips in intermittent thick fog, I finally reached Chew (Herriott's Bridge) with 15 minutes of light to spare. Sadly, this was not enough time to locate the drake Ferruginous Duck and as the light faded away to nothing, the throng of Tufted Duck and Northern Pochard only yielded a single female Ruddy Duck. Herriott's Pool also held good numbers of Common Shelduck and a few Shovelers, whilst CETTI'S WARBLERS became very vocal at dusk.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Last day in the Scottish Highlands











FRIDAY 19 MARCH

Our last day in the Highlands and my last real chance of connecting with a few target species. It was also the worst day for weather, with near gale force winds blowing. It was also very wet.

Despite the weather, Alan and I were out and about at dawn and from 0600-0630 hours, we revisited several sites in the Abernethy Forest. At the Boat of Garten site, there were still many Chaffinches singing, 3 Goldcrests were noted and RED SQUIRREL.

ABERNETHY FOREST (HIGHLAND SPEYSIDE)

At the well-stocked peanut feeders in the Loch Garten car park, RED SQUIRREL, a male Great Spotted Woodpecker and several SISKINS were feeding.

At another site - Tore Hill - one which I had visited in previous years but not recently - I was delighted that with a lot of management work in the wood, SCOTTISH PARROT CROSSBILLS had returned. We were afforded with excellent views of an adult female and another pair were also seen (213).

TOMINTOUL-BRAEMAR (SPEYSIDE)

From Aviemore and Abernethy, we took the mountainous route through Tomintoul to Braemar, on the highest A road in Britain and that which is most often closed by snow - the A939. This is an excellent road for grouse.

On the Glenlivet Estate at Bridge of Brown, a pair of Red-legged Partridges was seen, whilst over the high passes, large numbers of Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Eurasian Curlew were massed in fields.

Not far out of Tomintoul, cracking views were obtained of two feeding male BLACK GROUSE at the side of the road, at a regular lekking site opposite the 'Ground Dog Days' Dog Creche at Delachute (at NJ 187 170) and then along the Old Military Road at Lecht, marvellous views were obtained of RED GROUSE - my first of the year (214). A pair flew up the valley side east of the Lecht Road, whilst a displaying male was seen exceptionally well at the side of the B976. This latter road also produced COMMON RAVEN and a pair of Stock Doves by the Knock Gallery.

GLENSHEE (DEESIDE)
(Late morning visit)

The wind was gale force SW at the top of the Glenshee Pass and with much lying snow on the peaks, it was freezing. I set up the 'scope inside the car and utilising the shelter afforded, carefully scanned the south flank of Cairnwell (NO 138 773) from the car park east of the A93. There was no shortage of ARCTIC HARES in full ermine to be found - with 25+ seen - and eventually I located two superb male PTARMIGANS feeding at the edge of the snow - my last target bird of the Scottish Highlands (215). Despite the blustery conditions, I was very pleased with the views that were afforded - the birds were also in very near pure white plumage, with just a little black chequering.

LOWER LARGO (FIFE)

Largo Bay was really a waste of valuable time, due to the gale force winds. 'Scoping from the raised bank behind the coastal town of Lower Largo, I failed in my quest (as I predicted we would) on locating the drake Surf Scoter. At least 9 VELVET SCOTERS were seen, some just beyond the breaking waves close in, along with 1 LONG-TAILED DUCK and several Common Eiders. A few Northern Gannets were further out in the Firth of Forth.

HOGGANFIELD LOCH, GLASGOW (CLYDE)

The adult drake LESSER SCAUP afforded outstanding views from the main car park, explaining how Mike Thrower obtained such impressive shots as those published above. There was also a wealth of other wildfowl taking advantage of the artificial feeding conditions including 83 Mute Swans, 3 adult WHOOPER SWANS, 55 Tufted Ducks, 12 Common Goldeneyes and 18 GOOSANDER - all literally within yards of the park railings.

AYR TOWN CENTRE (AYRSHIRE)

As Alan and I were on a very tight timeframe, I instigated the help of one of my best birding friends - Birdline Scotland operative Angus Murray. Angus very kindly went out and located the regular adult ICELAND GULL in his home town before we reached him. This bird has been repeatedly returning to Ayr since 1992 and as it was a juvenile in that first year, it is now a remarkable 20 years old.

Parking up by the river at the end of John Street adjacent to the high rise block of flats at 1550, Angus immediately pointed out the bird as it was roosting on a bridge gantry. It was almost immediately pushed off by a resident Herring Gull and then flew across the River Ayr and landed on the roof of a neighbouring building. Excellent views were obtained in the 'scope and with this species being so incredibly scarce this winter, I was over the moon at finally connecting with this Arctic gull. It represented my 216th species of the year and all in all, my first Scottish tour of the year had been a resounding success, with 14 of the 15 targets connected with.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

SCOTLAND DAY 3 - The weather turned out much better than anticipated but alas no White-tailed Sea Eagle

THURSDAY 18 MARCH

At 0600 hours in Aviemore, the thermometer was reading 6 degrees C. It was also very windy with a dark, angry sky. Today was to be another attempt in the Northwest. Fortunately, as we cleared Inverness, the weather improved and gave way to bright, sunny conditions. In fact, excellent eagle weather.

STRATHCONON (HIGHLAND)

(0700-0800) A regular Golden Eagle site and one where I have rarely failed, particularly in such good weather conditions. The 15 mile drive down this magnificently picturesque valley always puts me off visiting but with my failure yesterday to find any birds, this was a last resort. We gave it our best shot but despite exhaustive scanning of suitable ledges, not one bird was located. The eyrie appeared to be abandoned.

Two DIPPERS showed very well on the Conon river (at the former watchpoint site) and the only other birds of note were 2 SISKINS and 2 Song Thrushes. A few Red Deer were in the hills.

GARVE LOCH (HIGHLAND)

Returning north along the A835 towards Braemore Junction, a single Hooded Crow was seen.

GRUINARD ISLAND AND BAY (HIGHLAND)

The weather was miles better today and the sea had calmed down from yesterday. Conditions were superb for soaring eagles. I scanned and scanned and scanned......

A migrant flock of 97 BARNACLE GEESE was in the rolling green fields just north of the usual layby, along with at least 8 Icelandic Greylag Geese.

On Gruinard Island, the star performer was a fabulous adult male HEN HARRIER which, after hunting, sat on top of the bracken in full view. A pair of Common Buzzards also visited the island but once again, despite the calm conditions, not a single White-tailed Sea Eagle was present. Drat! Two COMMON RAVENS and a Hooded Crow also paid the island a brief visit before departing for the mainland.

The bay itself to the east of the island held at least 25 GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS and 1-2 BLACK-THROATED DIVERS, as well as several BLACK GUILLEMOTS and 6 Common Eider.

Eventually, after an awful lot of scanning the snow-covered peaks, I located a sky-dancing pair of GOLDEN EAGLES. The birds were in full display, with high-speed swooping from a great height. Incredible to see birds of such size adjust to such speed. Numerous Common Buzzards were also displaying. Golden Eagle was my 210th species of the year.

LAIDE AND ACHGARVE VILLAGES, GRUINARD BAY (HIGHLAND)

After 4 ROCK DOVES and a female Reed Bunting were seen in Laide (in An Teallach garden), I located a further 20 ROCK DOVES on the rocky beach below Achgarve (211). The beach also held 10 Ringed Plovers, numerous Oystercatchers and a Common Redshank, with 15 ATLANTIC GREY SEALS resting nearby on rocks.

We made a concerted effort with White-tailed Sea Eagle but after several hours, we had to admit defeat. We spoke to locals who all said that they had been shot for attacking lambs !

ULLAPOOL HARBOUR (HIGHLAND)

A concerted search for the juvenile Iceland Gull that had wintered in Ullapool drew a blank - the bird had departed. About 45 Argenteus Herring Gulls were present in the harbour and at the river mouth, along with 3 Great Black-backed Gulls. There were also 20 Eurasian Wigeon, numerous Turnstones and some very splendid and very confiding BLACK GUILLEMOTS - 9 in total. Alan managed some excellent images of a breeding-plumaged adult that was feeding just 30 yards offshore.

KNOCKAN CRAGS NNR (SUTHERLAND)

Driving across the backbone of the Highlands east towards the opposite coast, we were stunned by the number of road bridges being repaired after this winter's devastating floods and weather. At the roadside in the Crags Reserve, two COMMON RAVEN showed well, along with two Common Buzzard.

LOCH EVELIX (SUTHERLAND)

A drake Ring-necked Duck had been present here during the freeze but had presumably long since departed. The only wildfowl on the loch were 2 Mute Swans, a few Mallard and 5 Common Goldeneye. On the opposite side of the A9, at least 500 Pink-footed Geese were feeding.

NIGG BAY RSPB (HIGHLAND)

Although some 2,000 or more Pink-footed Geese were present on the mudflats and adjoining fields, there was no sign of the three Snow Geese with them. There were two BARNACLE GEESE and an impressive 70 NORTHERN PINTAILS, along with large numbers of Common Shelduck, Lapwing, Curlew and Common Redshank. A single RED KITE was overhead.

ROSEISLE CAR PARK, BURGHEAD BAY (MORAY)

Whilst in the hide, I was informed that the Burghead Bay KING EIDER was on show, so after dipping yesterday, we were determined to score this time. We covered the 60 miles in just little over an hour, despite the Inverness, Forres and Nairn rush hours, and after a long scan, I eventually located the drake with 4 Common Eiders at 1730 hours. Unfortunately, it had swam out on the tide and was rather distant, but did allow all of the salient features to be noted and after half an hour of viewing and just before dusk, all five birds flew up and went strongly east towards Burghead. It was my 212th species of the year.

On this visit, VELVET SCOTERS numbered 36, with just 18 LONG-TAILED DUCKS on the sea and the 6 WHOOPER SWANS still nearby on the flooded field.