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.