SATURDAY 9 MARCH
Following last weeks brief burst of spring weather, Winter returned with a vengeance this weekend, with very cold Easterly winds blasting in from the Continent pegging temperatures back to just above freezing. Skies were largely grey and overcast
Due to Highways Agency commitments, my birding day was limited to post 1530 hours, by which time virtually all of the day's goodies had passed through - eg, Pintails in Bedfordshire and Little Gull, Pintails and Dunlin in the Tring Area. Also unbeknown to me at the time was a Pied Avocet at Marlow, frustratingly twitchable for just under two hours.
Anyway, just as I was available, Lol Carman notified me of an adult KITTIWAKE in Bedfordshire at GROVEBURY PIT, LEIGHTON BUZZARD - so that was where I headed. Within half an hour, I joined Rob Dazley and Johnny Lynch at the mud-infested site, where the KITTIWAKE in full breeding plumage was affording some reasonable views. Two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS, an adult and first-winter, were also in the roost, whilst a drake GOOSANDER and 3 COMMON SHELDUCK were also present. At 1650 hours, the distinctive whistle of a EURASIAN CURLEW was heard, and flying around we quickly picked up three birds in flight, seemingly trying to find somewhere to land. The calls continued for the next five minutes as the three birds wheeled around when suddenly a fourth bird joined them from the ground, this increasing to an exceptional EIGHT when I latched onto them again, some time later. All eight eventually landed on the east side of the pit (much to Bob & Lol's delight), the pit also attracting a flock of 5 Oystercatchers. Also noted were a flock of 32 Linnets.
I returned to the Tring Area (Herts) and joined David Bilcock and Jenny Wallington on the concrete pad at WILSTONE RESERVOIR. The ten Pintails from earlier had gone but most impressive was the gull roost - the best and varied I had seen it this year. Although Black-headed Gulls probably numbered no more than 1,200 birds, three different MEDITERRANEAN GULLS were with them - two adults in breeding plumage and a 2nd-winter - as well as 46 Common Gulls. Large white-headed gulls were well represented, with an exceptional 43 Lesser Black-backed and two Argenteus Herring Gulls (a first-year and a fourth-year). DB was just commenting upon KITTIWAKE occurrences when I came face-to-face with an adult in my 'scope - another pristine adult in full breeding plumage. Dave quickly got on to it and over the next half hour or more prior to dusk, it showed well, frequently being chased by Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls. It seemed to frighten the Black-headed Gulls too as it hastened to land, and was heard calling on at least two occasions.
Whilst we were stood on the bank, two Common Starling flocks totalling some 330 birds flew east towards dusk.
SUNDAY 10 MARCH
A further deterioation in the weather with a swing in the wind to an incredibly biting north-easterly - it was raw and felt absolutely mind-numbing freezing in the field. There were a few light snow flurries in the wind and it remained grey and overcast, with temperatures failing to rise above 2 degrees C.
I spent the first couple of hours (1030-1230) of my birding day at HEDGERLEY LANDFILL SITE (BUCKS), trying to locate the recent adult Iceland Gull but again it was nowhere to be seen. Gull numbers had dwindled to around 3,000, with perhaps 750 large white-headed gulls still present. Just 2 Great Black-backed Gulls were identified (an adult and a first-year) and 250 Lesser Black-backed, whilst predominantly Argenteus Herring Gull numbered 462 (the majority juveniles). Amongst the Black-headed Gull throng was a nice breeding-plumaged adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL but most interesting of all was an apparent adult breeding-plumaged BALTIC GULL (form fuscus), standing out like a sore thumb from the other Lesser Black-backed Gulls present. It was like a miniature Great Black-backed Gull in appearance, with very black upperwings leading to little contrast with the wing-tips. It was also strikingly smaller, shorter-legged and longer-winged, with a smaller rounded contrasting clean-white head. It was quite small-billed by comparison and had a more 'gential' feel about it. Sadly, it was bearing no rings, so ruling it out from the blackest intermedius was not possible, but I did get a few distant record shots of it as it fed amongst the rubbish clearly illustrating its blackness and easy detection. In flight, the upperwings appeared all black with no contrast, with the thin white trailing edge to the secondaries and inner primaries and hardly any evidence of white tipping to the outer primaries. It just had to be a fuscus it was so distinctive.
Frozen to the core, I warmed up in the car and drove the 27 miles west to PORT MEADOW in OXFORD (OXFORDSHIRE), which was in absolutely superb condition. Undoubted highlight was the presence of 6 PIED AVOCETS, noisily moving back and forth over the flood. Other waders present included 200+ European Golden Plovers, a single Oystercatcher and 4 Ringed Plovers, whilst the huge numbers of wildfowl present included 604 Common Teal, 698 Wigeon, a few Shoveler and 18 PINTAIL. A flock of 6 GOOSANDER (3 adult drakes) was also present.
Following the presence of a small flock of Sand Martins at midday, I stopped off at SPADE OAK PIT (LITTLE MARLOW) (BUCKS) on my way back but the only evidence of migration in the bitter wind was the flock of 14 Pied Wagtails on the far spit. The massive gull roost held no less than 3 different breeding-plumage MEDITERRANEAN GULLS and 780 Common Gulls, whilst wildfowl highlighted with 2 Common Shelduck and 2 drake PINTAIL.
Last off, I visited CHESHAM FISHING LAKES (BUCKS), where Chris Pontin had seen a pair of GREYLAG GEESE only an hour earlier. They had departed but compensation came in the form of 2 COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS flycatching in the ditch of the smaller lake - my first of the year in the Recording Area