FRIDAY 15 FEBRUARY
The first good day in a long time, with beautiful blue sky all morning. Although the wind picked up and cloud gathered later in the day, it still remained dry, whilst temperatures recovered to about 8 degrees C.
I devoted today to BEDFORDSHIRE, birding there from mid morning until dark. It was an excellent day, with six new birds for the County Year - WAXWING, TUNDRA BEAN, RED-CRESTED POCHARD, Common Snipe, Ring-necked Parakeet and Little Owl.....
After countless attempts this year, WAXWING came easy today, thanks to young Stephen Northwood. All 10 wintering birds in AMPTHILL had now relocated from 'Mountain Ash' and the Mistletoe opposite the library to GLEBE ROAD - in fact, the large tree in the back garden of 'Copse Corner', almost on the junction with the main Bedford Road. Although there were no berries nor apples to be seen in the vicinity, the birds seemed content to stay put and afforded excellent views as they displayed to each other and occasionally went on flycatching sorties. I was very pleased to finally catch up with them, especially as they will be shortly migrating back to the Continent. Paul Wright was also instrumental into trying hard for me to connect - much appreciated Paul.
From Ampthill, I drove north through Bedford to RADWELL GP, stopping first by the A6 Pumping Station, from where Jim Gurney, Pip, Lol and Bob connected last night. No sign whatsoever - Chalfont St Peter birder John Edwards also joining me on the verge. I then drove round to where Peter had first found them - in fields to the west of the railway bridge. Again, no sign - just 71 grazing Mute Swans. It was time to do some hiking, so I parked up by the gated entrance to the fishing pits (at TL 008 582) and walked SSE along the footpath to around TL 014 575, from where I was close to a large flock of Greylag and Atlantic Canada Geese. The two adult TUNDRA BEAN GEESE were feeding tight to the trees on the west shore of the gravel pit and were showing well - the smaller size, long, thin necks, dark breast and neck feathers and relatively stunted bills being diagnostic of rossicus. They showed little orange in the bill, and one bird had that white rim around the bill-base that many Beans get. The legs and feet were bright orange, ruling out Pink-footed Goose.
The two fishing pits to the east of the footpath held large numbers of feeding wildfowl, including 91 Gadwall, 78 Wigeon, 42 Mallard and 83 Tufted Duck, whilst a visit to the Viaduct Pit added 22 Teal, 2 more Wigeon and an impressive 186 Northern Pochard. The 4 adult Bar-headed Geese were still present, as well as 2 Barnacle but there was no sign of the hoped-for Pintail.
Had a scout round for Common Kingfisher but no joy but good numbers of Lapwings on the flooded meadows.
Four miles to the west, I visited HARROLD-ODELL COUNTRY PARK (SP 957 568), where I quickly added RED-CRESTED POCHARD - 2 drakes and a female showing well from the disabled parking bays by the centre. Nine Common Goldeneye were also present, including 3 adult drakes.
Being on my route, I stopped off at PRIORY COUNTRY PARK again, where both the drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK and first-winter BLACK-NECKED GREBE were still to be seen from the hide (at TL 074 487) - also 46 Northern Pochard, 12 Great Crested Grebes and a Little Grebe.
Driving the CARDINGTON-OLD WARDEN road produced a PEREGRINE pair and 3 Common Kestrels, whilst fields by SHUTTLEWORTH PARK held 8 Stock Dove.
Joined Stuart Warren at SWISS GARDENS, OLD WARDEN (TL 147 448) but we were both unable to locate Jim's female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Plenty of Great Spotted Woodpecker activity though (drumming, display), a nice Common Treecreeper and a site record (for me at least) of 22 Coot on the lake. No evidence of Mandarin Duck though, another species I just cannot find in Beds this year).
Moving on to BROOM and COMMON SNIPE secured - 6 individuals being flushed from the flooded field just west of the A1 and east of the Gypsy Lane East Pits at TL 193 442 - a pair of Red-legged Partridges too. The Pits proper held quite a few duck, including 5 COMMON SHELDUCK, 22 Common Teal, 24 Gadwall and 6 Shoveler, with the West Pit (at TL 178 438) still holding the 3 'redhead' SMEWS.
Talking of Little Owls, I tried the regular Oak at SPEEDSDAIRY FARM, BEADLOW but nothing, just a Green Woodpecker for my efforts. To the south of the A507 at BECKERINGS PARK (SP 988 370), 220 Fieldfares and 20 or so Chinese Water Deers.
STOCKGROVE COUNTRY PARK LAKE still held NO Mandarin Ducks and the lake was still bursting at the seams with water and very muddy. Common woodland birds such as Jay, Great Tit and Blue Tit were seen as well as 15 Grey Squirrels.
SOUTHCOTT VILLAGE (LINSLADE) produced the long-lived female RING-NECKED PARAKEET of unknown origin, still roosting in the same hole on the last tree running west along the hedgerow (at SP 903 244). A flock of over 100 Fieldfares was also in the vicinity, as well as a single Goldcrest.
As dusk approached, I visited the lime kilns at TOTTERNHOE QUARRY, where I immediately located the LITTLE OWL pair - one of 3 reliable pairs in this part of the county.