6th April 2011 – Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Greater London
With so many spring migrants coming in, I opted to take my client on a trip around the Home Counties in search of some of the more common and, hopefully, scarcer passage sand summer birds of the SE region.
We arrived at Wilstone Reservoir, nr. Tring on the Buckinghamshire/Hertfordshire border at around 7am. We scanned the lake and saw a good selection of waterfowl in including Great Crested Grebe, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Greylag Goose and Grey Heron. There were also several hirundines hawking insects over the water, mainly Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) and a few Barn Swallow. We met one of the local birders and found that we have just missed a flock of Bohemian Waxwing. Undaunted, we continued around to the woodland at the south end of the Reservoir where we were rewarded with excellent views of Stock Dove, Song and Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch. There was also a Willow Warbler singing, but it evaded being seen, and a Red Kite hunting over the adjacent fields.
Reports of Yellow Wagtails over the previous couple of days saw us head over to two of the other reservoirs in the Tring group; Startops and Marsworth. Here we found a pair of early Common Tern fishing over one the reservoirs and had views of Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit, but no Yellow Wagtails – they had presumably continued their migration. On the way back to the car, I happened to glance up and couldn’t believe my eyes - there was an Osprey circling over the reservoir. After about a minute if decided there weren’t any fish that interested it (or it wasn’t hungry) and headed off north. Presumably the same bird was seen about an hour later in Bedfordshire. There was also a Common Buzzard soaring around.
We continued on up to the high ground that is Ivinghoe Beacon and the adjacent Pegsdon Hills. On the way up to the top, from where we got stunning panoramic views of three counties, we found a small group of Yellowhammer. The area directly adjacent to the beacon held Skylark and Meadow Pipit, but the sheep field was most productive with at least four Northern Wheatear, several Linnet and a selection of corvids including Rook, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow. However, we couldn’t find the obliging male Ring Ouzel that had frequented the field over the past few days. There had been one reported that morning, but it was considered to be another bird, which was obviously more typical in its behaviour and was hiding. The walk over to Incombe Hole produced several more singing Willow Warbler (one which eventually sat up for long enough to get a good view) and Chiffchaff, as well as Blackcap and a selection of the three common Tits; Blue, Great and Long-tailed. There was also a very obliging Common Kestrel, but the reported Common Redstart in Incombe hole remained elusive and a Bullfinch was heard calling but not seen.
With not much bird news coming out from further east in the Home Counties, we decided to head west to Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire. This was a good move as despite the breezy conditions, we managed to find two Little Gull and adult and a 2nd calendar year bird (albeit rather distantly), Common Gull, Common Goldeneye and Gadwall. The stars of the show were the wagtails though which were all along the causeway which separates the two reservoirs. The majority were Pied Wagtails, but mixed in with these were at least six White Wagtail (the continental sub-species of Pied Wagtail, either continental overshoots or birds on their way up to Iceland) and up to six Yellow Wagtail, all of which were day-glo yellow males. All gave exceptional views, sometimes down to just a few feet.
Our final stop of the day was, surprisingly, Kensington Gardens in Central London. Despite the throngs of people lazing around in the sunshine, we still added a few more birds to the list. These included Eurasian Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Lesser black-backed and British race of Herring Gull (L. argentatus agenteus) and the ubiquitous Ring-necked (Rose-ringed) Parakeet. One of the species that we had gone there to see was the family of Tawny Owl. Despite a good 45 minutes searching, though, we couldn’t locate them and I found out the next day that they had temporarily moved from their favoured trees.
A splendid day in excellent weather with some lovely birds ended with a respectable total of 69 species being recorded, despite missing a few hoped for (and some common) birds. The best bird for me was definitely Osprey and my client’s.... well it would have to be either the Wagtails or the Wheatear. I’ll let him decide.