MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER
Well, what can I say. It really has rained a lot in recent days and on Saturday, non-stop for the best part of 17 hours ! Parts of the West Midlands are now testament to that fact, and are under several feet of water where rivers have burst their banks.
It did rain a lot again last night but eventually gave way to clearer conditions from the north this morning. I had to get out.
Although my temperature gauge was recording just 8 degrees C, it felt considerably milder in the field. It was flat calm too - all in all pretty pleasant.
QUEEN MOTHER RESERVOIR (BERKSHIRE) is certainly having a good run at the moment and it was here that I started my birding day. A juvenile LONG-TAILED DUCK had arrived overnight and was showing very well, close inshore to the NE bank, about 200 yards along from the Yacht centre. It was diving frequently, staying underwater for at least 28 seconds a go. The first-winter RED-NECKED GREBE was still present too, but much further around than before, as well as 22 Tufted Ducks and 2 Meadow Pipits. Two excellent birds less than a mile from my home county.
I then headed north-eastwards into HERTFORDSHIRE, where I wanted to recce a few species for later in the New Year. I spent several hours in the vicinity of THERFIELD HEATH, walking the Icknield Way north from Mill Lane for a couple of miles. Some outstanding birding was to be had, although I failed to find the 2nd-winter male Hen Harrier present recently in the area.
The GREAT GREY SHRIKE, present for its second winter, was showing well, and was watched to pursue and kill a Dunnock. Like recent days, it was inhabiting very much the same area - the hedgerow that runs due east at about TL 348 395.
Lots of farmland birds on offer, particularly winter thrushes and buntings, the following of note.....
Red Kite (1)
Common Buzzard (8)
Common Kestrel (4)
*GREY PARTRIDGE (covey of 13 birds)
Red-legged Partridge (62 in numerous coveys)
Woodpigeon (around 300, including a partial albino individual)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (1)
Song Thrush (7)
Mistle Thrush (3)
Redwing (just 25)
Fieldfare (58 - single flock)
*Common Blackbird (at least 76 noted, feasting on berries in the hedgerows - many black-billed first-years)
Common Magpie (8)
Common Starling (106 on wires - one feeding flock)
Linnet (318, including one large flock east of the Icknield Way)
Yellowhammer (65 in stubble)
* CORN BUNTING (single flock of 25 birds in stubble)
Also 3 Brown Hares there, and 15 Rabbits.
I then checked the COOMBE ROAD at KELSHALL scanning the fields (TL 325 375) - no birds but 94 Fallow Deer (including 4 marker animals) and 23 Brown Hares. Close to BALDOCK, I had a singular feeding flock of 800 Woodpigeons in cereal crop.
It was then off to BEDFORDSHIRE for the afternoon but I fared really, really badly.
Despite what Steve Blain says, the overwintering male Merlin was just nowhere to be found - not anywhere at Broom. Although he connects perhaps once every four visits, I never connect - and today was just another repeat of such.
At the HATCH site (TL 155 484), nice covey of 7 GREY PARTRIDGES besides the road, but approached Priory Country Park from the east was an absolute no-go - the Great Ouse flooding the entire area making it impassable (and consequently no Slav Grebe).
I then chased after DJO's Waxwing flock (34 birds I believe) but I got there too late - they had all flown off to roost - the site by the way is just off of the new bypass at the Kempston turn-off. At the first roundabout, take Wolseley Road into the Woburn Road Industrial Estate and after 200 and 450 yards respectively, are the flock's favouring feeding berry-bushes by 'Paragon' and 'Kempston Radiators' (TL 028 463). Ran out of time to try for Barry Nightingale's additional 8 Waxwings, at their traditional location of Woburn.