SATURDAY 9 FEBRUARY
With not much happening, and still recovering from my epic trip to Shetland, I decided to devote Saturday to some Target Birding in Bedfordshire. Although the weather was pretty inclement, I did manage a respectable 9 additions, the best of which was a SHORT-EARED OWL..........
It was very cold, grey and overcast all day, with intermittent rain...
Having not seen Waxwing yet in Beds this year, my first stop was in AMPTHILL where both Paul and Neil Wright had seen several feeding on Mistletoe berries late morning. Keith Owen had given it an hour just before I arrived but in the next half, there was no further sign of them - just a few common woodland birds.
I then had a conversation with Steve Blain who quickly convinced me that time would be well spent studying the array of REDPOLLS on offer at the Gatehouse bird feeders at THE LODGE, SANDY. He was not wrong. Many others had the same idea (including Bob, Lol, Pip, the twins, Barry Squires and Jim Gurney) and it was very busy and bustling, with doors banging, boots slamming, children crying. But, despite all of this, lots and lots of REDPOLLS and SISKINS visiting........
Lesser Redpolls have an annoying knack to change plumage in spring and at the end of a long winter, bleach out in their feather-ware. Many become much paler and take on an uncanny Mealy-like appearance. Just over 40 Redpolls appeared to be visiting the feeders and they were a right mish-mash, from beautiful adult males to very drab first-winters. The majority could be safely assigned to the LESSER REDPOLL bench, being typically dark, small, heavily streaked, uniformly marked on the upperparts and rump, small-billed and short-legged, but there were a number of others that simply did not fit that bill, being noticeably larger, bulkier, longer-tailed, paler, longer-billed and heavily cloaked featherwise in the nape and trousers. In fact, one was a classic adult male MEALY in full spring plumage, whilst another was very grey (mealy) in appearance and a safe bet. A bulky orange-polled individual was also clearly a first-winter MEALY, with two further birds showing enough characteristics to make the class of flammea. The birds were commuting between the Nyger feeders and the ground and performed very well on occasions, albeit frustratingly brief.
SISKINS numbered 30 or more, with a female BRAMBLING with the Chaffinches (1 of 5 apparently), as well as Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tit.
Not that far away at BROOM, GYPSY LANE EAST GP provided me with my first COMMON SHELDUCK and RINGED PLOVER (pair), whilst all 3 SMEWS (two immature drakes and a female) were still showing at the North end of GYPSY LANE WEST PIT. No Merlin tho', as if there was any chance, and the nearby VILLAGE PIT failed to yield SB's 3 RCP of earlier in the week, just 44 Gadwall of note.
Anyway, just as I was about to drive away, SCB was on the phone - he had just found a SHORT-EARED OWL at the north end of Furzenhill Road on BIGGLESWADE COMMON. I was there within eight minutes and there it was - the Owl flying high across the road and into a ploughed strip. Fantastic! I quickly lost it though, as changing from binoculars to telescope saw it disappear from view. A male Sparrowhawk was standing in a neighbouring field, Steve and I then continuing to BIGGLESWADE COMMON SEWAGE WORKS, where we both saw 3 overwintering COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS (most likely abietinus-types from the sound they were all making), 3 Goldcrests and both Grey and Pied Wagtail.
By now, news had travelled, with Lol, Bob, Pip and Jim all on site. The SHORT-EARED OWL had flown back over the road and was hunting the large rough field with a BARN OWL, where also 13 Yellowhammers and 53 CORN BUNTINGS were seen. Two Little Egrets flew North over the Common too.
I then checked BLUNHAM LAKE at dusk but found little of note outside of 7 Shovelers. Good number of duck present though