TUESDAY 26 APRIL - LGRE DIARY NOTES
A major change in weather conditions. After record-breaking temperatures in the past two weeks and an extensive ridge of high pressure centred over the UK, a NNE wind changed all that today pegging the temperatures back by at least 15 degrees C and bringing grey skies and considerably colder weather.
Such weather is always productive for hirundines (and normally Arctic Terns) and today was no exception, with the first arrival of COMMON SWIFTS to our area and an upsurge in HOUSE MARTINS......
WILSTONE RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)
New for me were both HOBBY and COMMON SWIFT, with three of the former chasing the few flying insects back and forth over the Drayton Hide, Drayton Bank and main reedbed and at least 18 of the latter high over the reservoir with the martins and swallows.
The reservoir itself typically held few birds for late April: 14 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 3 remaining Eurasian Wigeon (2 drakes), 42 Tufted Duck and 8 Northern Pochards. Meanwhile, Common Terns numbered at least 130 with 25 or more eeking out space on the main raft.
A single YELLOW WAGTAIL was on the North Bank, with hirundines represented by 250+ Sand Martin, 44 Barn Swallows and 26 House Martin, with a singing male Common Chiffchaff in the hedgerow by the new outfall and 3 male Common Whitethroats between the car park and the Drayton corner.
Several Red Kite were overflying the area
TRINGFORD, STARTOP'S AND MARSWORTH RESERVOIRS, TRING (HERTS)
The big change here was the number of hirundines flying about - and more exceptionally the 40 COMMON SWIFTS. There was a major influx of HOUSE MARTINS (50+) whilst Sand Martins numbered at least 250 and Barn Swallows 35 or more.
The cold wind deterred the Gropper from reeling in the reedbed but 8= Western Reed Warblers were singing, as well as a male Reed Bunting.
COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS)
This reserve goes from strength to strength and really has benefited from BBOWT's investment and plans to hallmark it as their premier location. Despite the cold wind, there was plenty to see, especially on the main marsh.
A pair of Great Crested Grebe is now present on the deep pit, with a pair of Mute Swans on the marsh, a pair of Gadwall, 4 Shoveler (3 drakes), 19 Tufted Duck and the continuing pair of COMMON SHELDUCK.
Three families of Lapwing were apparent (adults with 3, 2 & 2 young), the babies being sheltered from the blasting wind, with 6 Common Redshank and a pair of LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS. Two COMMON SANDPIPERS were migrants.
Two Common Terns were investigating the raft, whilst a COMMON CUCKOO was calling from the adjacent Fen, a Common Chiffchaff singing and hirundines again well represented, with 46+ House Martins, 70+ Sand Martins and 15 Barn Swallows.
Pitstone Quarry harboured just 1 lonely Mute Swan.
ROOKERY PIT SOUTH (BEDFORDSHIRE)
Moving on to Bedfordshire from 1530-1617 hours, county additions included a single COMMON SWIFT and a flock of at least 6 HOBBIES hawking over the railway Poplars.
The drake GARGANEY was still present, as well as the adult ICELANDIC BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, plus a pair of Common Teal, just 1 Common Redshank, 12 Common Terns and a COMMON CUCKOO. Again, bumper numbers of hirundines, with 35 House Martins along the west bank, 100+ Sand Martins and several Barn Swallows. A single male Lesser Whitethroat was rattling.
With the pit still draining, three Great Crested Grebe nests and equal numbers of Coots are being left stranded.
HEATH AND REACH (BEDFORDSHIRE)
From 1700-1730 hours, I savoured the delights of Geoff Dawes' WAXWING flock. There were 84 birds in all - the great majority young birds - all roosting in a single flowering Sycamore adjacent to Sandhouse Lane literally just yards off of the main A5 trunk road at SP 936 300. The flock were extremely vocal - with several adults in full breeding plumage - and were commuting to a Wild Cherry tree to feed.
This same piece of roadside scrub also yielded a male Lesser Whitethroat, male Blackcap and male Willow Warbler
Whilst on site, I received an emergency call-out as a 33-ton Tesco HGV had managed to hit the southbound A5 Thorn Turn roundabout and completely overturn. As a result, the route to Dunstable was completely closed. Within seven minutes, I was on site - the driver being very shaken but fortunately only with minor lacerations to his face and arms. As a major arterial route, traffic soon built up in every direction and I had to temporarily divert traffic away from the scene whilst several Fire Engines and other emergency vehicles raced to the scene.
The first I heard of the PURPLE HERON was when Darren Thomas pulled up alongside me as I was directing and shouted ''Have You Heard''. I couldn't believe it - I had only just left the site some 45 minutes earlier..........
ROOKERY NORTH PIT, STEWARTBY (BEDFORDSHIRE)
I eventually managed to get away from Thorn Turn at 1900 hours and arrived at Stewartby Lake shortly after 20 or so Beds birders had seen the bird in flight. Martin Palmer had discovered the bird in Rookery Pit South at 1750 hours (whilst he was with Keith Owen) and after a short while it had flown and then come down in the adjacent North Pit (or the small reed-fringed pool between the two). Thankfully, MJP and Steve Blain had kept onto it as it had completed a full circuit of Stewartby Lake proper and had returned back to North Pit.
At 1920 hours, I noticed it rise from the reeds on North Pit and take flight. It flew left and low over the remaining reeds and then veered back. In the frenzy that ensued, Andy Graham demanded my bins (he had left his at home) and I switched to the 'scope, through which I was to obtain excellent views as it spent the next 3-4 minutes in flight, eventually disappearing low over the railway and Rookery Pit into Lagoon 9 of the Millenium Park. The bird was clearly a first-summer with retained brown flight feathers (coverts, scapulars, secondaries), brownish crown and brown mantle feathers. The distinctive flight silhouette was apparent (marked kink in neck, long slender bill and long legs and toes), with its pale somewhat yellowish legs, heavily striped neck, contrasting pale creamy throat and lack of upperpart contrast being diagnostic. Furthermore, that strange body movement as the wings flap was noticeably apparent, these fidgety movements characterising this species from Grey Heron. I was well and truly chuffed - as so were Bob & Lol, Richard Bashford, Andy, Darren, Tony Donnelly, Dave Odell, Tim Robson, Andy Plumb, Jim Gurney, Pip Housden, Allan Cutts, Dave Ball, Martin Stevens, John Bowler and the many others that had gathered at the entrance gates.
Purple Heron is a local mega in Bedfordshire with just five previous records -:
1) A juvenile at Felmersham GP from 10-16 September 1955 (Beds Naturalist 10: 29-30)
2) A probable adult at Dunstable Sewage Farm on 16 and 18 May 1958 (Beds Naturalist 13: 37)
3) A juvenile at Wyboston GP from 10 August to 10 September 1966 (British Birds 60: 312)
4) An adult was shot at Caddington in August 1973 (British Birds 67: 314)
5) One was seen in Luton Hoo Estate on 4 September 1977 (British Birds 71: 490)
I departed shortly later after it flew to the Millenium Park but Neil Wright and Steve Blain intercepted it there and enjoyed a minute's worth of view of it on the deck before it once more flew and returned back to Rookery South.
On my way home, a HOBBY flew over the Steppingly crossroads at 1948
Another eventful day