This post should really start the day before when at 3.56pm I became a dad for the second time albeit nearly 13 years from the last time but this time to a girl and not a boy!
As Carey had to stay in over night I parked up in Vicarage Road cemetery and went back to the hospital to see both my girls! Just before noon I decided to go and get a spot of lunch and so popped into the football café where I bumped into a couple of my workmates. As they were working in the cemetery I popped in for a wander and a chat and as I was chatting to George a gull started making a commotion. I looked around for the expected Red Kite or possibly Peregrine but saw nothing. A few seconds later the gull called again and as I looked up an Osprey loomed into view! For the next couple of minutes the two birds slowly gained height and circled off north. 2 Osprey in under a week around Watford was certainly unexpected! Over the garden next?
The last day of March found me doing some work on the croquet lawns in the park and during my work I heard both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker calling nearby but at about 9.30am I suddenly heard a calling woodpecker that despite not hearing one since March 2011 I recognised immediately as a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It then started drumming and that only confirmed it for me. It was drumming from the top of a dead tree on the opposite side of the path by the old tennis court area before flying off to another tree opposite the croquet lawns calling again before heading off west into the park.
I was at the bowling green at Oxhey Grange behind Watford Heath trying to get it ready for the start of the season. I was spiking the green behind my work colleague who was cutting it so about half way through I stopped to let him get ahead of me again and as I looked up I spied a large pale bird high up in the distance. For once it was heading my way slowly circling. As it was almost overhead I finally saw enough to let me ID it as an Osprey but just as it was getting lovely and close one of the local Buzzard took offence to it being there and mobbed it forcing it off north! Bloody Buzzard!! That was my 3rd Osprey I'd found while at work!
With a bit of free time I again headed off to the patch and first stop was College Lake where despite the gate with the closed sign on it being across the entrance I popped in and asked if I could have 10 minutes looking over the lake. I was allowed and so a quick scan found me looking at the Dunlin found the day before along with the usual suspects. I was just about to pack my scope up when I picked up 2 Sand Martin as they flew through north. Spring had finally sprung despite the cold wind and rain!
Over at Wilstone the hoped for Mediterranean Gull again failed to put in an appearance but 3 Goldeneye were still around, a Redshank was on the east bank and over the water another 20+ SandMartin were joined by at least 4 Swallow.
Another flying visit to College Lake saw the 2 Black Swan in occupancy and presumably the Wilstone Oystercatchers but new for the year were 2 Redshank although there had been 6 reported.
A walk around the entire reservoir at Wilstone saw some good noteworthy birds but nothing new for the patch year list. 2 Little Egret were on Drayton Bank, 70+ Fieldfare lifted off from trees near the hide after a Sparrowhawk got too close, a Treecreeper was my second of the year, what was presumably the male Shelduck from College Lake was on the water in front of the hide, the first 2 singing Chiffchaff of the year were by the hide and a Yellowhammer was singing along the dry canal. It was only when I was near the car park I bumped into another birder who asked if I'd seen the Little Owl by rushy meadow. I hadn't and I just walked past there! With time to spare I headed off there and thankfully picked it up straight away even though I'd been checking the area it was in for a while in the hope of finding one! As I was about to leave I heard a Red-Legged Partridge calling and eventually pinned it down to the same field as I had them in last year again despite looking there all year!
On the way up to the patch a Little Egret was seen in fields in Boxmoor and once up at College Lake a quick scan over the water produced a male Shelduck, female Goldeneye and a pair of Black Swan!
Grey Partridge (honestly!)
With an hour or so to kill before concentrating on the gull roost I had a wander round to the jetty hoping that the Egyptian Geese were mingling in with the Canada and Greylags but no joy. Last year I'd narrowly missed 2 Grey Partridge in fields north of Startops Reservoir and after talking with a couple of the local birders they suggested they are probably in the surrounding fields its just a case of finding them. So after scanning the geese I had a scan of the fields behind the jetty and lo and behold 2 fields away was a Grey Partridge sitting upright showing off his dark belly! A second bird then popped up next to it but then both crouched down and vanished. Luckily they kept popping up and so I managed to get a couple of ropey photos for posterity! I walked back towards the car park and found 2 Oystercatchers feeding on the grass bank. I went to get a photo of them but found that I'd drained my phone battery trying to photograph the partridges! The gull roost failed to produce a Mediterranean Gull for the year list.
Another visit to the patch proved to be quite a useful one! A Little Egret was in the fields behind the car park and up at cemetery corner I walked the full length of the track out to the cemetery scanning the fence line for a male Stonechat that had been reported earlier in the day. There was no sign but on the return walk I eventually found it as it popped up onto the fence posts. Only my second at Tring this was a much welcomed addition for the year. I continued round the back of the reservoir but it was uneventful until I reached the area near the hide. A strange song caught my attention but in over 30 minutes I never caught sight of what was making it but thankfully the song albeit a subdued one was a familiar one that I'd heard a few times over the years. It was a Firecrest! And even better it was a patch tick. 3 Yellowhammer and a group of 13 Golden Plover were seen while waiting. 3 Goldeneye rounded off the visit.
Due to many boring reasons I won't mention on here I've not been out birding for a couple of weeks so to get my fix I've had to look out to my garden. So far this month I've added Cormorant and MistleThrush to the garden list thanks to single fly overs but today around 9am I was stood by my patio doors looking out when every bird suddenly took off. Thinking a Sparrowhawk was about to come through I was amazed to see a small but chunky falcon appear from the SE heading at just below tree top height passing over the end of my garden before disappearing behind the houses opposite. It was obviously just passing through rather than hunting as it never broke from its direct and fast wingbeats and in the morning sun it's slaty grey/blue upperparts, thin black terminal band on the tail and orangey brown underparts were pretty obvious. It was only a male Merlin!! It became number 55 on the garden list and by far the best bird so far! Its only the 4th I've ever seen in Hertfordshire too. Just got to hope I see a Hobby in the summer now!
I had a couple of spare hours so I decided to have a walk around the park. It was its usual quiet self with a couple of Coal Tit on the feeders from the hide and a pair of Pheasant under the feeders picking up scraps. But just as I was walking back to the car I came across a couple of rather interesting birds. The most noticeable was a Blue and Gold Macaw and with it an Amazon Parrot! I'd seen the Macaw last year flying around but this was the best view I'd got of it. Apparently from what I've heard the owner comes in in the morning and lets them go and then comes back to collect them! Not sure I'd want to let a few thousand pounds worth of exotic birds loose with Peregrine and Sparrowhawk around!
Even without holding much hope that yesterdays Franklin's Gull would reappear myself and a few of Herts keenest listers ventured over to Amwell just in case! Standing at the viewpoint I quickly heard the familiar pinging of a Bearded Tit. After a couple of minutes the female bird that had been present for a while flew from one small clump of reeds to the next. Only my 3rd in Herts! Other birds to keep us interested were a flyby Kingfisher and fly over Peregrine. The next good bird was a 2nd winter Yellow-Legged Gull which again was only my 3rd in Herts. This was followed by a smart 1st Winter Caspian Gull but no sooner as I went to get a photo it flew off and landed too far away to be worth bothering with! This was only my 2nd for Herts! As dark fell and all hopes of the Franklin's being found had diminished I picked out a pair of Mandarin coming off the island just as the locals said they would. These were soon followed by a further 5 pairs! So 12 Mandarin together represented my biggest ever flock in Herts beating 11 seen a few years ago at Wilstone! On the walk back to the car I joined a few people looking out into the gloom and quite quickly a Woodcock flew past us. All in all a good couple of hours even if I did suffer my first Herts dip in a couple of years.
During the morning I popped over to my mums to have a shower as mine had packed up even before having a new one fitted and once showered I had a spot of lunch while looking out into her garden. Bingo up popped the male Blackcap that had been visiting for the last few days. In the afternoon Myself and Carey headed over to her parents for dinner at a nearby pub in Chesham. The day before a Franklin's Gull pitched up at Fen Drayton lagoons in Cambridgeshire and for some reason when leaving the pub I checked my pager only to find that it had appeared briefly to a lucky dozen or so birders at Amwell! The second 1st for Herts in 3 weeks! It was only when I started receiving phone signal again I had a barrage of missed calls and texts telling me such. Thankfully in a way it only staying for 20 minutes meant that I wouldn't have got there in time to see it before it flew anyway.
I headed up to the patch for the evening gull roost and found most of the gull present were congregated on the remaining bits of dry land. But before paying attention to them I headed over to the jetty to see if I could find the 2 Egyptian Geese in amongst the Greylags. With no sign of those so I walked back towards the overflows but as I reached the NE corner I noticed a large gull heading my way and on getting it in the bins I identified it as a 2nd winter Herring Gull. Not amazing in bird terms but not overly common at the reservoirs and so was a nice patch year tick. It got even better as I reached the top of the steps as I picked out another large gull flying over the reedbed. I got it in the scope and was delighted to see it was an adult GBB Gull. This species is even more uncommon here and I think I was lucky last year seeing 3! I spent over an hour scanning the gulls but didn't pick out the hoped for Mediterranean Gull before I was too cold and headed home at 4.30. Dave Bilcock then tweeted that the Med had been seen at 5pm! Typical. One other bird of note was a white colour ringed BH Gull TJCY which was a returning bird from Poland!
A trip to the north Norfolk coast with the Watford RSPB group saw us head to Cley NWT. The day before there had been a good selection of birds with Grey Phalarope, Red-Necked Grebe and Smew all being seen. But typically as we arrived we found out that all 3 had gone! Myself and Bob Harris walked up to the new Babcock hide in the vain hope the phalarope had reappeared but it hadn't. During the muddy walk to the hide I added my first year tick of the trip with a nice male Stonechat sat on top of a clump of reeds. From the hide were 2 Water Pipit and 5 Knot. Walking back towards the reserve I scanned over the floods and picked out 7 Ruff for the year including one with a very white head and neck and around 40 Dunlin. Walking up the East bank I heard the pinging the call of some Bearded Tit but only caught very brief glimpses of them in flight. A scan of the sea didn't produce a great deal as the wind direction was all wrong blowing off the land. 5 Common Scoter,7 Red-Throated Diver and singles of Guillemot and Kittiwake were the only things written down. As I reached the beach car park I had a scan of the 200+ Brent Geese in the hope of seeing the Black Brant which had been present at the start of the year but again failed. I then spent the rest of the day sat in the hide looking over Pat's Pool hoping the adult Caspian Gull would put in an appearance. 25 Avocet brightened the day up as did a pair of Marsh Harrier but suddenly all the ducks grazing to the right of the hide took off and in swooped a female Hen Harrier. As it turned out the Caspian Gull failed to show!
Another few hours walking around the reservoir failed to produce anything of note other than the female Shelduck until I reached cemetery corner. I noticed a small flock of Chaffinch so was busy looking in hope for a Brambling when I noticed someone had seeded the path and they were dropping to the floor to feed. I lifted my bins to have a scan through but the first bird I laid eyes on was a Marsh Tit! I'd tried in vain last year to spot one without any luck so to jam in on this ringed bird was a spot of luck and was also my first for the reservoirs. After managing to get a decent photo I carried on round to the jetty. I had a scan for the Bonaparte's Gull but that seems to have disappeared but I did pick out a Little Egret and my first Red-Crested Pochard of the year albeit the female I saw in December.
I made the most of the nice weather and headed north again with my first stop being College Lake to see if anything had dropped in. It hadn't but a male Bullfinch flew past the view point and onto the list so I was soon off to Wilstone with the aim of clearing up a few missing patch year ticks. The wind was very cold at the top of the steps but this soon died down. Before reaching the new overflow a Skylark flew over quickly followed by a Sparrowhawk that dived into the bushes after something. As I entered the trees on the West side I picked out a movement and was delighted to see it was a Treecreeper. It took me until April to see one last year! From the hide I picked out a Chiffchaff feeding on the stones along Drayton Bank in the company of a Grey Wagtail! Up by the dry canal a Greenfinch flew over and as I reached the wooden gate for the Waddesden Estate I picked up a Peregrine as it flew over the reservoir as it poked through the trees. More Bullfinch were seen with a total of 9 around the reservoir (5 male).
A quick stop at Tringford returned a roosting Little Egret and my 11th Bullfinch of the day!
A walk around Startops saw me finally add House Sparrow around the farm buildings and then from the hide looking over Marsworth I saw a Kingfisher, 2 Bittern, Green Woodpecker and 2 CornBunting dropping into the reeds before the cold got the better of me and I headed home.
After the excitement of the day before I woke up fairly late to the news that a Slavonian Grebe had been found at Wilstone Reservoir! Ok its not as rare as the gull but it was only my second in the county with my first being the last record in Herts also at Wilstone back in 2012. In fact I can only remember 1 other in Herts since I took up county listing. This bird showed well if infrequently off the new overflow but I had to get back to painting doors!
With the news that the Bonaparte's Gull had been seen at the end of the previous day I decided to get to Wilstone for first light. Expecting the car park to be full I pulled in to find numerous spaces! I walked around to the jetty where I joined Ian Williams, Mike Illet and Lawrence Drummond. As the light improved the gulls piled in from their roost but no sign of our target. Just then Ian got a call from Dave Bilcock that he had it by the new overflow but it was flying our way. Nervous scanning of the flock of gulls saw nothing until all of a sudden I found it and shouted I've got it! I got everyone else on it and then for an hour or so the bird showed to the growing crowd. The who's who of Herts birding were on site enjoying this mega but just after 10 it took off towards the fields north of Miswell Farm. It did come back much to the relief of the new comers. This was only my 2nd in the UK after an adult at Pagham Lagoon in 2002.
After filling my boots with the gull I walked back to car with the intention of walking all the way round but a looming rain shower made me change my mind and so I headed to Startops. From the hide I spied my first Snipe of the year but then walked in my mate Bob Harris who had been watching the Scaup which was a county tick for him. His face was a picture when I mentioned the Bonaparte's Gull as what I hadn't realised was that he'd sent his pager off to be refurbished! We walked around Tringford but I left him to wander over to Wilstone as I took my time at Tringford. Once I'd finished there I walked back around Startops and bumped back into Bob who said he'd caught up with the gull which was good. I decided to head home for a cuppa. A great day.
News first thing was of positive yet frustrating news that the Bonaparte's Gull had been re-found at Wilstone but I had a whole day to get through first. This time it stuck around for a couple of hours but again flew off.
At the end of the day I was sent to the rec to put up a fence surrounding the new hurling pitch. When walking back to the van a Kingfisher perched up over the river and a Chiffchaff fluttered down into the weeds searching for insects. A Grey Wagtail was seen on top of a large pile of sand too.
I arrived at home to read the news that the gull had been picked up in the pre roost for 15 minutes before flying off towards College Lake!
After 9 days off for Christmas it was back to work but as is typical in birding after just an hour I got news of a first for Hertfordshire on Wilstone Reservoir! Roy Hargreaves had picked out an adult Bonaparte's Gull. Unfortunately it had vanished within the hour with only Dave Bilcock managing to connect. During the day I picked up a Red Kite for the year list near KGVPF. After work I headed up to Wilstone in the hope the gull would come back but it didn't so a county mega had eluded us all. Goldeneye, Canada Goose and Yellowhammer were seen for the year list though.
The sea air from the day before must've got to me more than I'd thought as I didn't wake up until noon! But after a spot of lunch I decided to brave the rain and head up to Tring and get the years Patchwork Challenge up and running. I decided to go to the hide at Startops as I could keep out the rain there. Shame it was raining sideways and I got soaked! From the hide I added a few species that I hadn't added from the day before. I turned round to add a few birds to the notebook when I caught a Bittern flying over the reeds on Marsworth! It circled and dropped down and promptly disappeared. Another scan over Startops for the Scaup failed but as I turned around again my 100th species for the year a drake Goosander flew in over the hide and dropped down on the res! After getting some pics I had another scan for the Scaup and at the 5th scan I found it.
As my birding will no doubt be limited this year due to impending fatherhood in March I wanted to get the year list off to a good start so I joined Chris Sharp, Paul Frost and Ephraim Perfect on a trip to the north coast of Norfolk. We met at Chris's house at 6am and headed north. As it became lighter the species were slowly ticked off and as we approached Lynford Arboretum a decision was made to spend an hour or so here. The usual suspects were being added one by one but quite quickly the first good bird of the year was seen as a Hawfinch took flight and called not far from the car park. A second bird was seen in the paddocks. As we neared the bridge next to the small lake a Marsh Tit called and soon we had a couple of them by the feeders. It was strange birding on New Years Day with Daffodils and Snow drops in flower but it has been a mild winter. We left the arboretum on 37 species and by the time we hit Abbey Farm,Flitcham another 9 species had been seen from the car.
At this site we joined a fair few other birders for a couple of hours hoping to see the juvenile Pallid Harrier but alas our run of dipping this species continued on from Shetland! But whilst waiting for the non existent harrier to show we did have a few good birds to look at in the shape Tree Sparrow, 4 Brambling and Pink-Footed Goose.
Our next stop was the barns at Choseley. Here we hoped to see at least 1 of the 3 Rough-LeggedBuzzard that had been present for a couple of months. In fact 2 had been reported while we were at Flitcham. But the dipping theme of the day had followed us and only 2 Buzzard were seen. The best birds here were 3 Whooper Swan that flew west and a Grey Partridge.
Not wanting to waste too much time here we headed to Titchwell RSPB. On arrival it took numerous circuits of the car park to find a spot as it was so busy. Mostly with families not interested in birding or dog owners wanting to get to the beach! Chris and Ephraim headed into the reserve while Paul and I queued for what seemed like an eternity for some hot food and drink. Eventually we got onto some birding and straight away saw 2 Water Pipit and a Kingfisher. Numerous year ticks fell as we neared the beach with Marsh Harrier and Spotted Redshank seen. The sea was quieter than normal and didn't add anything other than Common Scoter. Back at the car we had a team meeting and decided to head to Thornham. Here we had a nice flock of 30 Twite near the car park which were a lifer for Ephraim. After a long walk we arrived on the beach as other birders were leaving but were told the 3 Shorelarks were still present. After walking around the beach we hadn't seen them but as we were about to go a couple walking their dogs told us they were just where I'd walked! Sure enough there they were and in the gloom we had good views. On the way back to the car I picked up a distant BarnOwl. An excellent day finished on 95 species and the rain held out till we were on the road home.
With just a couple of days left of the year I decided to head over the patch in the hope of a last minute addition. I started off at Wilstone where I met up with my old birding mate Jonathan Nasir (@Randombirder) (see his blog link below) who I hadn't seen for many many years since he moved to East London. Together we walked round and reminisced about the old days and what we had seen over the years. In between chatting we noted a female Red-Crested Pochard on the Drayton bank and a pair of Goldeneye from the jetty. Also seen were Red Kite, Skylark, 3 Yellowhammer and a ReedBunting.
Next stop was Startops where fairly quickly we found the 1st winter male Scaup. We then had a couple of hours looking over the reeds on Marsworth in the hope I could finally add Bittern to the year list. Water Rails called along with a Cetti's Warbler. A Kingfisher sat in view for a while but the usual time that the Bitterns had shown in the previous few days came and went and unfortunately Jonathan had to head off. Another hour passed before Dave Bilcock managed to pick out a Bittern in the furthest reed bed in near darkness. My final addition to the patchwork challenge. I finished the year on 123 species and 146 points which saw me finish 6th in the Inland South section which isn't too shabby!
Born and bred in Watford,Herts, I started birding when I was just 8 years old because the old next door neighbours garden was very overgrown and attracted birds to his and our gardens! I first went to the Watford RSPB group at 15 and then I joined the Herts Bird Club in the same year. I was on the Herts Bird Club committee for 3 years. I started twitching in September 2001 after i'd bought my RBA pager and within a week of owning it i'd added Red-Necked Stint and American Green Heron! I keep 2 main lists which can be seen above.