Friday, 27 August 2004

Annotated garden bird list for Garston, Hertfordshire

This is a list of the species seen in, and flying over, a garden on Goodrich Close, Garston, Watford, Hertfordshire, England (map). The garden is in a sub-urban area of semi-detached and terraced housing. The nearest open farmland is 500m to the north-west, and receding, the nearest patches of "wood" are at the Harebreaks Nature Reserve 500m south and in the cemetery half a mile to the east and the nearest open water is the Grand Union Canal/River Gade 1 mile to the west.

The percentage of weeks that the regular visitors were recorded during 2001 is included in brackets following the species name as an indicative measure of each species abundance; species which were only seen overhead are marked with an asterisk * and those only heard overhead by a +.

  1. Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) * - now several sightings between New Year and early May with three in 2004
  2. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) (12%) * - occasionally seen passing overhead, with distinct peak in sightings at end of March/early April when regular and somtimes down in gardens nearby
  3. Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) * - very occasional; small flocks seen in August and September
  4. Greylag Goose (Anser anser) * - single record from end of March
  5. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) * - single record of three overhead, end of April
  6. Red Kite (Milvus milvus) * - first record on 12 August 2003 thermalling high over Leavesden airfield to north
  7. Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) * - first record on 13 September 2003 thermalling high over Leavesden airfield to north
  8. Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (14%) - occasional visitor at any time of the year, fewer in summer
  9. Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (6%) - occasionally observed over A405 to north, mainly in autumn
  10. Hobby (Falco subbuteo) - singles low through the garden August 2001 and September 2002
  11. Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) + - single overhead at night on 10 July 2003
  12. Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) * - flock of up to 200 observed most years in January over airfield to north-west
  13. Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) * - small group of birds heard moving S overhead at night on 19 September 2003
  14. Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) (65%) - common winter visitor with several hundred over north from the local roost (Hilfield Reservoir where 10's of thousands roost) every morning, and often a few scavengers quartering the area during the day; normally completely absent from end of March to early July
  15. Common Gull (Larus canus) (16%) - common winter visitor, normally found amongst Black-headed Gulls in a ratio of about 1 to 10
  16. Lesser Blackback (Larus fuscus) (39%) - regularly observed in winter, often in small groups; absent from April to August
  17. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) (24%) - regular winter visitor though less common than Lesser Blackback and absent for longer
  18. Feral Pigeon (Columba livia) (71%) - commonly observed overhead but rather infrequent in winter
  19. Stock Dove (Columba oenas) * - a single in mid-winter; probably more regular but never picked up with big Wood Pigeon passage so far
  20. Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) (96%) - common resident; numbers greatly enhanced during autumn passage period peaking end of October/early November
  21. Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) (98%) - common resident
  22. Little Owl (Athene noctua) - an individual calling regularly in late spring 2003 - perhaps attracted by nocturnal calls of neighbour's Cockatiel; present again in October to December, then in March 2004
  23. Common Swift (Apus apus) (22%) - common summer visitor, regularly observed between the start of May and end of August
  24. Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) - very rare visitor, but once feeding on ants on our lawn
  25. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (10%) - regular visitor during autumn, occasionally in winter
  26. Skylark (Alauda arvensis) (16%) * - regularly heard in song over airfield to north between January and June, though now less-so due to "development" there
  27. Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) - single migrant seen mid-September
  28. Swallow (Hirundo rustica) (10%) - irregular visitor during autumn migration, up to 10 together; also observed in spring; normally absent during summer months
  29. House Martin (Delichon urbica) (2%) - scare passage migrant, observed in spring and autumn
  30. Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) (8%) - common overhead passage migrant in autumn, scarce in spring
  31. Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrelli) (53%) - common winter visitor, rarely observed in summer
  32. Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - several late summer to late autumn records, most in 2002
  33. Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) (33%) - regular winter visitor, normally absent during summer but bred locally in 2003
  34. Hedge Sparrow (Prunella modularis) (80%) - resident in small numbers, present throughout the year
  35. Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) - single record of an autumn migrant
  36. Robin (Erithacus rubecula) (84%) - resident in small numbers; normally absent for a few weeks in mid-summer
  37. Blackbird (Turdus merula) (98%) - resident in surprisingly small numbers (never more than 10)
  38. Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) (8%) - irregular visitor in late autumn and winter
  39. Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) (10%) - occasionally heard in spring/summer though very rarely present in our garden; also occasionally with autumn thrush flocks
  40. Redwing (Turdus iliacus) (29%) - regular autumn and winter visitor, resident from early Oct into Jan
  41. Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) - only seen once with a small flock over in late July; however, regularly heard in song from distant cemetry trees, but extremely sedentary and rarely ventures out
  42. Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (4%) - scarce visitor during spring and autumn migration periods, with one holding territory for a few days each spring
  43. Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) (4%) - scarce visitor during spring and autumn migration periods
  44. Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - very rare visitor during post-breeding dispersal
  45. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) (18%) - regular visitor, peaking late-autumn and winter but breeding nearby in 2003
  46. Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) (10%) - irregular visitor throughout the year though not during breeding season, up to a dozen individuals per flock
  47. Coal Tit (Parus ater) (6%) - very scarce visitor, but a pair present daily autumn 2003
  48. Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) (96%) - resident in small numbers throughout the year
  49. Great Tit (Parus major) (27%) - irregular visitor, mainly in autumn/winter, though very regular when food is provided!
  50. Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - single record from first week of November
  51. Jay (Garrulus glandarius) (10%) - regular visitor during September and October, when observed harvesting acorns
  52. Magpie (Pica pica) (100%) - common resident, up to a dozen at times in a social gathering
  53. Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) (88%) - commonly observed overhead throughout the year, though a slight dip in numbers in late summer; roost flocks of around 20 individuals
  54. Rook (Corvus frugilegus) (63%) - commonly observed overhead throughout the year, but with few during the summer months though 3 pairs have bred nearby (see garden log); roost flocks may exceed 100 birds; regular over between a local walnut tree and a presumed cache area at S end of Leavesden airfield in autumn 2003
  55. Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) (98%) - resident in small numbers; regular individuals present daily throughout the year
  56. Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) (98%) - the commonest garden bird throughout the year with over a hundred often present in the area and peaks numbers of 400+
  57. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (100%) - very common throughout the year, with numbers in the garden rising to over 30 after the breeding season; stable
  58. Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (39%) - uncommon visitor throughout the year, though more regular in winter months
  59. Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) - two November records
  60. Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) (37%) - uncommon and irregular visitor throughout the year, scarcer in late winter
  61. Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) (12%) - irregular visitor throughout the year with a peak during the autumn passage
  62. Siskin (Carduelis spinus) (4%) - scarce migrant during autumn passage and occasionally in winter
  63. Serin (Serinus serinus) - a single late summer record (see below +)
  64. Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) (8%) - scarce visitor, normally overhead but has come down into garden on occasion
  65. Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) - small flock high over in 2002 irruption

+ Notes on Serin (Serinus serinus) record

This nationally rare bird, with only three previous confirmed records for Hertfordshire, flew over our garden on 26 August 2001; the high-pitched buzzing call betrayed its presence, and the distinctive erratic bouncing flight confirmed its ID for me, but lack of a plumage description means that it probably won't get into any official records.

Presumably the same bird was seen in Watford town centre the following Wednesday, and there were further reports of a single at Flamborough Head, East Yorks on the Thursday and a single on Fetlar, Shetland on the following weekend (1-2 September).

The Serin's distribution extends from North Africa through the whole of Iberia and southern Europe as far north as Estonia, with a marked extension of range in the north in recent years. There may be up to one million pairs in France (BWP, 2000). However, given it's scarcity in Britain, the species is clearly averse to crossing open water. It is also very scarce in southern Sweden and Denmark.

Given the easterly bias of the records reported above, it may nevertheless be the case that these birds arrived in Britain from the east, rather than the south. They perhaps crossed the North Sea with other migrants moving east from their breeding grounds.

All previous accepted records of Serin for Hertfordshire (from Gladwin & Sage, 1985), are as follows:

1973 - Single at Aldenham/Hilfield Park reservoirs, 21 March
1976 - Male at Ashwell, 19 December
1982 - Male near Harlow, 26 May The species is on the county list for neighbouring Buckinghamshire by virtue of a single record:

1971 - A pair at Bourne End, 12-14th Mar, with only the male seen on the latter date

and the first record of a live bird for Bedfordshire was a male at Everton during July 2003.

There are several records for the species in the London area, including some of the above.

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