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FRIDAY 04 APRIL
A rather grey and overcast day with a switch to SW winds and temperatures no higher than 12 degrees C.
First thing, I returned to WEST HYDE and PUBLIC BRIDLEWAY NUMBER 4 and this time was lucky. A single male CORN BUNTING was jangling from the fenceline no further than 200 yards along and was showing very well, occasionally darting off into the cereal crop to sing and cajole with Skylarks. This is the ONLY site for Corn Bunting within the area - last year the site yielding 3 males.
At least 8 Skylarks were seen, as well as 2 Meadow Pipits, Carrion Crow, 2 Wren, Chaffinch, Common Blackbird and Dunnock, while 44 Black-headed Gulls were following the plough again and a Herring Gull flew over.
In WELWYN GARDEN CITY, the male LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER was visiting the nest-site again - the immediate area also yielding 4 Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker, Common Starling, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon (10), Blue Tit (a lot of displaying), Dunnock, Coal Tit, Common Blackbird and a singing male Blackcap.
Along the NORTH ORBITAL ROAD east of the main ST ALBANS roundabout, 8 active Rook nests.
Late morning saw me at COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT where some 20 minutes previous, a party of 10 COMMON SCOTER had dropped in on the main lake. They were still showing well when I arrived and I was able to take a number of photographs from the Octagon Hide. The flock consisted of 7 drakes and 3 females and is the largest flock in the Tring area for a number of years.
As is often the case in SW winds, raptors were on the move and in the space of an hour, an immature female MARSH HARRIER, OSPREY Red Kite and male Sparrowhawk all drifted over the reserve, all heading high and tracking ENE. A pair of LITTLE RINGED PLOVER were also showing well in front of the hide, the marsh also producing Little Grebe, 3 Mute Swans, 4 Wigeon, 6 Gadwall, a pair of Teal, 6 Shoveler, 52 Tufted Duck, 8 Coot, a pair of Greylag Geese and 24 Atlantic Canada Geese. Waders were represented by Lapwing (6 pairs), Common Redshank (4+ pairs), Oystercatcher (1 pair) and 3 Common Snipe. The larger lake added Cormorant, the Common Shelduch pair, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 22 Black-headed Gulls, while 2 Common Magpie, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Great Tit were also seen. A male WILLOW WARBLER was singing from scrub on the west side and at least one male Common Chiffchaff was heard.
At MARSWORTH RESERVOIR (TRING), the first BLACKCAPS were back and belting their hearts out. Two male Common Chiffchaff were in the Black Poplars, with Robin, Wren, Blue Tit (2) and Goldfinch in the wood. The CETTI'S WARBLER was still bursting into song every 15 minutes not far from the sluice while waterbirds present included 2 Mute Swan, 4 Great Crested Grebe, a pair of Gadwall, 4 Greylag Geese and 4 Atlantic Canada Geese.
STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR seemingly attracted the most action with a flock of over 140 hirundines containing 120+ Sand Martin and up to 20 BARN SWALLOWS and a first-summer LITTLE GULL arriving in the evening and staying until dusk (see pix). Up to 11 mainly first-year Black-headed Gulls were present, along with 3 Mute Swans, 4 Great Crested Grebe (1 pair nesting on the artificial bunds), 2 Greylag Geese, 74 Tufted Duck and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, while College Lake's OYSTERCATCHER pair flew over heading towards Wilstone late on.
WILSTONE RESERVOIR itself was fairly quiet with 6 Great Crested Grebe, 3 Little Grebe, 4 Greylag Geese, 52 Coot, 11 Gadwall, 78 Tufted Duck, 1 Wigeon, 6 Teal and 3 Pochard noted, a Wren singing by the car park, Red Kite, a male Sparrowhawk in full display over the Poplars and 17 SAND MARTIN.
A quick census of DRAYTON BEAUCHAMP revealed the presence of Common Pheasant, Robin (5), Greenfinch (singing male), Chaffinch (3), Wren, Blue Tit, Woodpigeon, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Jackdaw (4) and Goldfinch.
Failed in my quest to see/hear Ian Bennell's Firecrest in CHIPPERFIELD VILLAGE - a male Greenfinch being the highlight there - while at nearby BOVINGDON BRICKPITS, species of note included BLACKCAP (singing male), BULLFINCH (pair), Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Linnet, Song Thrush and 2 Common Chiffchaff.
The VENUS HILL (HOGPITS BOTTOM) ROOKERY near FLAUNDEN held 30 active nests and a Red Kite overhead, FLAUNDEN VILLEGE itself harbouring at least 28 House Sparrows, 2 Collared Dove, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Dunnock.
IVINGHOE BEACON was pretty much devoid of migrants and activity other than a male RING OUZEL on the north side of GALLOWS HILL (favouring the 'new' meadow), a Common Buzzard and Red Kite roosting in bushes on the slope above the sheepfield, a few Skylark, Common Kestrel, just 1 singing Common Chiffchaff and a male Song Thrush.
SATURDAY 5 APRIL
Another grey day with temperatures pegged back by the dreary conditions.
A male BLACKCAP by CHAFFINCH HOUSE was the first in the village this year, whilst a pair of MANDARIN DUCK flew across the A40 in the vicinity of BAKER'S WOOD not far from Denham.
A pair of BARN SWALLOWS was by LITTLE TRING FARM as I drove towards WILSTONE RESERVOIR, where with Steve Rodwell I recorded my first 2 COMMON TERNS of the year - conveniently sat on the bunds in front of the car park steps. A large hirundine flock was high in the sky consisting mainly of SAND MARTIN (100+) but also at least 20 BARN SWALLOWS. A Common Chiffchaff was singing from trees just right of the car park and the 2 Common Magpies were loitering about the car park again.
PITSTONE INDUSTRIAL ESTATE SCRAPES provided me with a site first - the 2 COMMON SHELDUCK from College Lake; also a single LITTLE RINGED PLOVER was present but no sign of the Northern Wheatear that Dave Bilcock had seen earlier in the day. A Linnet and 2 male Pied Wagtails were also noted.
Driving west out of Aylesbury on the A418 towards Oxford, the following Rookeries were counted: 21 active nests at HARTWELL (just east of the Bugle Horn pub), 38 east of THAME at SCOTSGROVE HOUSE and 53 in TIDDINGTON VILLAGE. A further 42 nests was counted from the A40 EYNSHAM ROUNDABOUT ROOKERY.
Arriving at FARMOOR 1 RESERVOIR in OXFORDSHIRE at 1920 hours, I was relieved to find the adult summer RED-NECKED GREBE still showing well along the SW shore. And what a bird it was - absolutely gorgeous. As dusk rapidly approached, it swam very close to shore and was pecking phalarope-like on insect prey on the water's surface.
A further 15 active Rook nests were counted from OAKENHOLT HOUSE, near FARMOOR.
SUNDAY 6 APRIL
Although constantly drizzling, I entered PENN WOODLAND TRUST RESERVE at 1730 hours. A typical spread of woodland species was encountered including Wren, Song Thrush (5 singing males), Goldcrest (3 singing males), Common Blackbird, Coal Tit (2), Common Chiffchaff (2 singing), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, 2 male BLACKCAP, Red Kite, Nuthatch, Bullfinch (pair) and Chaffinch but there was no sight nor sound of the recent Firecrests along the avenue of firs.
At 1825 hours, the first flock of BRAMBLING arrived to pre-roost (30 birds), and following their wheezing, nasal sounds, I was able to track their position in some tall Beech trees just over 100 yards east of the new gate close to the Penna. Over the next half hour, further birds started to stream in, with the trees being full of a cacophony of sound. Although difficult to be accurate, a bare minimum 312 individuals flew into the trees pre-roost, many immediately starting to feed on the Beech seeds. By 1900 hours, the vast majority had dropped into the Rhododendron scrub to roost - a fantastic experience