Ring-necked Parakeet

April 2011

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. 

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28th April 2011 – Westleton Heath & Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk

I picked up my client, a gentleman from Osaka in Japan, from his hotel in SE London just before 6am and we headed off NE across the river towards the Suffolk coast. The journey provided the standard journey birds of Carrion Crow, Magpie, Woodpigeon, Starling and Blackbird, but with the added bonus of flyover Little Egret, Ring-necked (Rose-ringed) Parakeet and Rook.

We arrived at Westleton Heath (which is adjacent to the Minsmere RSPB Reserve) soon after 08:30. This is an area of lowland heath and under favourable conditions can produce heathland specialities such as Dartford Warbler, Stonechat and Woodlark. However, we were not blessed with the weather – despite it being dry there was a very strong NE wind which made it feel more like the end of February rather than the end of April. Sadly we didn’t connect with any of the abovementioned species, but we did find Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Linnet and a very obliging male Yellowhammer. We also heard Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and a Nightingale sang briefly from the middle of dense roadside vegetation.

After about an hour the wind had got to us so we went to the RSPB Reserve at Minsmere. I opted to do the open scrapes circular walk first in the vain hope that the wind might drop later and give us a chance of some woodland species. This walk produced many of the hoped-for species with excellent views of Pied Avocet, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, (the latter of which had birds in summer plumage), Ruff (also with summer plumaged males amongst them), Northern Lapwing, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Ruddy Turnstone, Sandwich, Common and Little Terns, and the Black-headed Gull colony contained a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Wildfowl were represented by most of the expected species including Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon, but we failed to locate the Garganey that had been reported. The wind continued to blow and the passerines continued to hide, but they could be heard all around us with Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers continually singing, and occasionally offering all-too brief views. There was a surprise when we reached the sluice gates in the form of a crowd of other birders watching a female Yellow Wagtail consorting with a stunning, male Grey-headed Wagtail. The Grey-headed Wagtail (Motocilla flava thunbergi) is a sub-species of the Yellow Wagtail group which breeds from northern Scandinavia to northwest Siberia and as such is a rare but annual visitor to the UK (less than 20 were recorded in 2010).Other species seen on this section of the reserve included both Great Crested and Little Grebes, Barn Swallow and Sand Martin and we heard a Great Bittern giving its resonant “booming” call and had distant views of Marsh Harrier.

On the way back to the Visitor Centre for lunch we heard another Nightingale and Common Whitethroat.

After a much-needed coffee and toasted sandwich we headed out along the marshland and woodland section of the reserve. The woodland was fairly quiet but we added Marsh Tit to the tally here. From the reedbed hides we got much better views of at least 3 Marsh Harriers and a distant Hobby, but the stars of the show here were the Great Bitterns – two of them showing in the fresh low cut reeds and open patches of water. One of these was right out in the open for several minutes at a range of less than 30 metres! We also heard a Water Rail, but it remained hidden. The open ground held several Eurasian Jackdaw, a Common Whitethroat showed well, albeit briefly and there were singing Cetti’s and Reed Warblers and Blackcap.

 A Common Kestrel and a pair of Collared Dove were added to the day list on the journey back to London.

The trip total, despite the strong winds, ended up being 83 species with my client’s favourite being the Pied Avocet. For me it would be a hard call between the rare Grey-headed Wagtail and the stunning views of Great Bittern.

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White Wagtail