MONDAY 04 APRIL
Although the day started off bright and sunny, strong and blustery winds soon set in from the west bringing in heavy cloud, pegging temperatures back and affecting searching of small passerines.
Being heavily curtailed in my birding activities all weekend (bar a twitch for my 4th Pied Fly at Blows Downs but my first for 22 years), I concentrated once again on the Three Counties, making every effort to catch up with the many migrants that arrived over the weekend.......
CHESHAM FISHING LAKES (BUCKS)
Once again, no sign of Chris Pontin's Willow Warbler in the tall Poplars beside the larger lake but three different singing male Common Chiffchaffs (one by the causeway between the two lakes, one in the Willows at the lake edge and another in the tall trees bordering the Pow Wow Lake).
The two baby Great Crested Grebes were still doing well on the small lake, riding on mum's back, with two pairs of Atlantic Canada Geese now nesting on the islands; also 11 Tufted Ducks still in residence with songbirds represented by 6 Wrens, 2 Great Tits and a Chaffinch.
Just as I was about to leave the site, David Bilcock contacted me to say that Paul Reed had just watched a White-fronted Goose arrive at College, so off I went.....
COLLEGE LAKE BBOWT (BUCKS)
On my arrival at around 0900 hours, Paul's EURASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (incidentally an adult) was showing very well feeding up along the bund, occasionally interacting with a single Greylag Goose that it had arrived with at 0810 hours. The bird was unringed and was very vocal, repeatedly calling during the half-hour or so of my visit.
Several pairs of Atlantic Canada Geese are now nesting on the islands at the reserve, as well as 8 pairs of Lapwing, whilst other species noted included a pair of Mute Swans, a single Great Crested Grebe (on the deep lake), a pair of Wigeon, 2 drake Shoveler, 36 Tufted Duck, the pair of OYSTERCATCHERS (not showing any signs of nesting yet) and 6 Common Redshanks; a Mistle Thrush was in full song.
PITSTONE QUARRY (HERTS/BUCKS BORDER)
A film set was once more being constructed in the pit so disturbance was a problem - all that was in there was 1 adult Mute Swan, a drake Shoveler and 12 Coot, with the surrounding trees harbouring 4 singing male Common Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.
PITSTONE HILL (BUCKS)
I walked from the car park along the Ridgeway to Aldbury Nowers. NORTHERN WHEATEARS were very much in evidence today, with as many as 10 in the area, mainly on the eastern slope.
There were 3 jangling male CORN BUNTINGS in the small pieces of vegetation adjoining the fenceline, a pair of Yellowhammer, 6 Linnets, at least 8 Meadow Pipits and a minimum of 15 singing male Eurasian Skylarks.
IVINGHOE HILLS NR (BUCKS)
The long-staying adult male RING OUZEL was still showing very well at midday, still pulling earthworms from the chalky soil just out from the wire fence in the sheepfield immediately SE of the Beacon and trig point. Thanks to Francis Buckle, I was also able to locate an additional female in the same area, the male frequently 'chacking' to her, whilst a male NORTHERN WHEATEAR was nearby in the rabbit warren area of the slope.
In the scrub between the car park and the S-bend were singing male Blackcap and Common Chiffchaff, along with my first WILLOW WARBLER of the year. The Top Scrub yielded a further male Blackcap and 5 more Common Chiffchaffs.
DUNSTABLE SEWAGE WORKS (BEDFORDSHIRE)
Hawking above the four pans were my first three EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOWS of the year in Beds - my 137th species of 2011.
I was driving along the old A421 towards Kempston at 1320 hours when I picked up a large bird flying just above tree height in a straight line from Marston Moretaine towards Brogborough. I screeched to a halt and got my 'bins on it and quickly confirmed my initial suspicions - it was a COMMON CRANE !
I scrambled back in the car and did a quick U-turn and raced back towards the old layby of Shanks & Ewans and waited for it. The bird was flying in a direct line and was slowly flying SSW - actually flying parallel with the new bypass perhaps believing it to be a river. It flew the entire length of Brogborough Lake and then gradually gained height as it approached the much higher ground of Brogborough Hill. It then glided around for a few minutes gradually gaining height before taking up a new line - flying parallel with the M1 and heading WNW. I lost it to view in the 'scope at 1328 whilst keeping RBA updated, as well as informing Simon Nichols, SCB, MJP and other interested parties of its progress. The bird was an adult with bright crimson-red on the crown and rich grey upperparts; it also had a few misplaced or missing feathers on its outer primaries of the right wing. The long trailing straight legs beyond the tail were diagnostic.
Simon informed the Bucks Birders and although the bird was not picked up by those in Milton Keynes or the surrounding area, Laurie Bryant managed to relocate it 32 miles to the west at Gallows Bridge later in the afternoon (more to follow).
STEWARTBY LAKE AND QUEST PIT (BEDS)
At 1342 hours, Pete Smith's corking male YELLOW WAGTAIL was showing well with 3 Pied Wagtails on the grass in front of the sailing club - my first of the year in Beds (139). Virtually nothing else of note there though, particularly now with the wind blowing strong.
At neighbouring Quest Pit, just 9 Gadwalls was mustered up
The pair of GREY PARTRIDGE were still present in the field to the east of the village, feeding very close to the north side of the A603.
THE LODGE SANDY RSPB (BEDS)
Despite Mark Ward and Nigel Willitts walking away informing me of their success, I was to spend the next two hours searching in vain for the male Common Redstart that had been present all morning and early afternoon in the Birch scrub 200 yards along the footpath from the entrance gate adjacent to the New Heath. It did call a few times but not persistently enough to allow Pip and I to locate it.
DEREK WHITE'S EGGS A1 PIT, BIGGLESWADE (BEDS)
A nice selection of waders present including Lapwing, a pair of OYSTERCATCHERS, a pair of Ringed Plovers, 3 LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS (including a pair displaying), 6 Common Redshank and a single DUNLIN. A single COMMON TERN was new for the year (140), with 8 Sand Martins overflying the water.
BROOM GRAVEL PITS (BEDS)
Very quiet in the blustery conditions - 30+ Sand Martins being the only species of note
At about TL156 397 less than a mile east of Shefford, a flock of 84 European Golden Plovers was resting in a crop field south of the B658; several birds were acquiring partial breeding plumage.
PEGSDON HILLS (BEDS)
Late afternoon saw me yomping up Deacon Hill which was well worth it as 'scoping from the sheltered fenceline at the top of the sheep field towards the trig point, I located a stonking adult male RING OUZEL feeding on the western slopes - a different bird to Steve Blain's female-type of Sunday. The bird was feeding unperturbed on the chalk slope but was alone - with no sign of the usual lingering flocks of post-migrating Fieldfares. I checked the remaining valleys and the slopes either side of the summit but there were no more ouzels to be found or surprisingly any Northern Wheatears.
As I was making my descent, news came through that my Common Crane had been relocated - some 32 miles to the west in central Bucks - so I was off in hot pursuit !
A418 BIERTON AREA (BUCKS)
Just south of Rowsham and in Bierton, several roadside ROOKERIES totalling an impressive 85 active nests
AYLESBURY TOWN CENTRE (BUCKS)
Whilst waiting at red traffic lights, I had ample time to check out the resident pair of PEREGRINES and was absolutely stunned to find the male mounting the female actually on the nest platform - the first time I had ever seen either bird on the platform and raising high hopes of a nesting attempt this year.
UPPER RAY RIVER MEADOWS, GALLOWS BRIDGE FARM (BUCKS)
Arrived on site late evening to find Simon Nichols and new partner, Matt Slaymaker, Tim Watts, Warren Claydon, Mike & Rose Collard and BBOWT warden Mick McQuaid all watching the COMMON CRANE at Gallows Bridge. The bird was standing (and feeding) on the remaining floodwater at the far western end of the main field and could be observed distantly from the two hides. The bird was a full adult as I had initially suspected, with very pale grey upperparts, the odd brown summer feather on its mantle and upperwings, a bright crimson-red patch on its crown, black forehead, face and foreneck and shaggy, voluminous black-tipped grey tertials at its rear end. Most of the underparts were grey, with its long legs also grey.
There was no evidence of rings at the distance the bird was observed, but knowing many of Norfolk's Common Cranes from previous acquaintances, I feel fairly confident that this is an adult from that population and perhaps one of the initial four birds that did its annual spring flyaround along the North and east Norfolk coast early this morning. Every spring we see a similar movement take place as the Broadland population eeks out new areas and displaces far and wide.
Whilst putting the World to rights with Mike, Rose and Mick in the hide, we were serenaded by the eerie but beautiful sounds of a male EURASIAN CURLEW out on the field behind. Two Brown Hares were also busy boxing. The COMMON CRANE remained until dusk on the pool, 'dancing' in display or posturing for a fight with several Atlantic Canada Geese that marched up too closely as the light faded
A truly eventful day