MONDAY 14 JANUARY
Well for days they have been predicting SNOW and this morning it finally arrived. With temperatures overnight below freezing, snow that began falling in the early hours had settled to a thin covering by the time I got up at 0600 hours and side roads were decidedly dodgy. At first, it was a mixture of sleet and snow, but by mid-morning, and with temperatures recovering a little, it fell quite heavily, so much so that by dusk, there was a widespread covering of up to two inches in the Chilterns Region.
I had got up early so that I could be in the hide at Foxcote before daylight but what a waste of time and effort that turned out to be. I did not know that Whooper Swans moved during the cover of darkness........
FOXCOTE RESERVOIR (NORTH BUCKS)
The access road between Maids Moreton and Leckhampstead was typically treacherous, with snow laying several millimetres thick. I was in the hide before daylight but there was no sight nor sound of last night's flock of 9 adult Whooper Swans, a party of the same size apparently at Drayton Bassett (Staffordshire) early on (per Graham Smith). In fact, there was not a great deal to shout home about, just a nice adult drake GOOSANDER....
Just 3 Great Crested Grebes, 21 Mallard, 22 Teal, 33 Wigeon, 8 Gadwall, 11 Pochard, 16 Tufted Duck, 8 COMMON GOLDENEYE (2 drakes) and 16 Coot counted, with a pair of BULLFINCH by the gate and 5 Common Blackbirds in the hedgerow NNE of the reservoir.
HYDE LANE GP (NORTH BUCKS) (SP 724 354)
The Whooper Swans were not at Hyde Lane either, although the 20 Mute Swans (including 4 first-winters) were still in the cereal field to the south of the access track. Thirteen more Mute Swans were on the fishing pit, along with 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Cormorant, 7 Mallard, 7 Gadwall, 29 Wigeon, 52 Tufted Duck and 32 Coot. Four COMMON GOLDENEYE (1 drake) were noteworthy.
The cereal crop (covered in snow) also yielded a flock of 36 Eurasian Skylarks, 4 Meadow Pipits and just 2 Pied Wagtails, as well as 5 Rabbits.
Being back in the North of the county, I decided to finish off two of the main counts I had missed out on during my previous visit....
At CALDECOTTE NORTH, the logcall included 3 Cormorants, 1 Grey Heron, 11 Mute Swans, 4 Greylag Geese, 8 Mallard, 4 Gadwall, 6 Tufted Duck, 8 Great Crested Grebes, 10 Coot and 6 Moorhens, whilst across the dual carriageway on CALDECOTTE SOUTH, a single Little Grebe, a further 11 Mute Swans (including the family party of 4 juveniles), 29 Atlantic Canada Geese, 9 Greylag Geese, 22 Cormorants, 16 Mallard, 4 Gadwall, 5 Shoveler, 37 Tufted Duck, 24 Northern Pochard, 28 Coot, 6 Moorhen but NO Goosander or Goldeneye.
WILLEN LAKE SOUTH BASIN came up with the goods and had an impressive number and variety of waterbirds to see and count - most noteworthy being the 37 COMMON GOLDENEYE. The largest county congregation of Mute Swans too - 113 in total - along with 60 Atlantic Canada Geese, 29 Greylag Geese, 28 Mallard, 24 Gadwall, 2 Shoveler, 121 Wigeon, 220 Tufted Duck, 295 Coot, 9 Moorhen, just 5 Great Crested Grebe, 9 Cormorants and 35 Lapwing.
On the NORTH BASIN, an additional 6 Great Crested Grebes, 4 Little Grebes, 7 Mute Swans, 7 Teal, 8 Gadwall, 2 Shoveler, 35 Wigeon, 36 Tufted Duck, 6 Pochard and 71 Coot, with 6 COMMON SNIPE and 51 Lapwings showing well just in front of the hide.
The last of my counts was at TONGWELL LAKE (NORTH BUCKS) (SP 868 423) where an impressive 59 Gadwall were in residence; also 3 young Mute Swans, 16 Atlantic Canada Geese, 2 Greylag Geese, 2 Teal, 2 Shoveler, 26 Tufted Duck, a female Pochard, 22 Coot and a single Great Crested Grebe.
It was now time to concentrate on BEDFORDSHIRE, the first time I had visited the county this year........
In BROGBOROUGH VILLAGE, I saw Collared Dove and Carrion Crow, before joining up with Paul Wright at the Watchpoint at BROGBOROUGH LAKE. Paul had just watched 15 DARK-BELLIED BRENT GEESE fly in and they were still present as I pulled up in the heavy snow, swimming in the centre of the lake. They were all adult birds and had presumably been displaced by the onset of this cold snap, all remaining until at least 1112 hours, when Paul, Tony P and I departed the site (Jim Gurney, Lol & Bob and Chris Dreary also connecting).
As Steve Blain had stated yesterday, most of the huge number of Aythya ducks I had counted in November 2012 had moved on, and there was not a great deal in the way of other birds present. Highlights included the SLAVONIAN GREBE (in the NE corner), 2 GREATER SCAUPS, an adult drake and a first-winter drake (with Tufted Ducks close to the southern shore) and 27 Common Goldeneyes, with Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Mute Swan, Mallard, Northern Pochard (just 2), Common Magpie and 2 Greenfinch padding out the list.
The fields and hedgerows around SHEEPTICK END supported 30 Fieldfare whilst LIDLINGTON VILLAGE added Common Starling, Jackdaw, Robin, Pied Wagtail, 6 Common Blackbirds and a Song Thrush.
I was hoping for Waxwing at MARSTON VALE COUNTRY PARK but there were none to be seen - just several more Fieldfares, 5 beautiful BULLFINCHES, Green Woodpecker, Jay, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Dunnock, Great Tit and Blue Tit. The PILLINGE PIT had very few wildfowl other than Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Teal, but did have Grey Heron, Moorhen and large numbers of day-roosting gulls, including well over 400 Common Gulls (and 18 Lesser Black-backeds and 500+ Black-headeds).
As I entered the QUEST PIT, the snow got heavier and heavier and increasingly settled, and despite doing a full suite of the site, none of the 3 redhead Smew was found. Plenty of Pochard (42), Wigeon, Teal and Mallard, and 18 Meadow Pipits in the long grass.
I then spent an absolute age searching CHIMNEY CORNER SOUTH and NORTH PITS (at TL 035 445 and TL 037 453 respectively) for the juvenile GREAT NORTHERN DIVER that Tony P had seen only a short while earlier and had been discovered during the Great Duck Hunt yesterday. In fact, I was just about to give up when Chris Dreary espied it briefly as it dived underwater. It was in the centre section of the South Pit and lingering in the channel between the southernmost island and the reed-fringed edge of the next island to the north. It was incredibly elusive and once in diving mode, soon disappeared from view. Mute Swans numbered 73 on the Pit, seemingly attracted to feed.
By now, the snow was falling so thick and fast that I decided to abort and headed back home