Friday, 29 July 2005

Local patches

Over the years I've visited a number of "local patches" on a regular basis and whilst never finding anything particularly rare have enjoyed some good birding. Below are a few notes about some of these patches with more photos to follow in due course.

Grove Mill, Watford, Hertfordshire, England Map Annotated species list

This site is the first area of countryside you get to on the west of Watford and lies adjacent to the Grand Union canal. It is part of the Grove Estate and the main interest is various large ponds which are part of the newly landscaped golf course. I started visiting regularly in 2002, logging migrants for BTO's "Migration Watch" and watching the new ponds. Disturbance due to work on the estate limited numbers of birds but visiting waders included Green and Common Sandpipers and Ringed Plover. A single Little Grebe was resident and range of waterfowl bred around the pools (Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen) along with Grey Wagtail and Sedge Warbler. Other ducks included Shovelers and Gadwall, whilst Hobby and Kingfisher were also seen.

In May 2003 an interesting interaction was observed with an intruding pair of Mute Swans driving the resident pair (female depicted below) from the area and possibly killing all their young - more details in species list.

Also in spring 2003 Little Grebe numbers increased to two pairs and, with territorial birds, breeding was suspected for Tufted Duck, Kingfisher, Sedge Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch and Reed Bunting. By the end of August was able to confirm breeding of Little Grebe and Reed Bunting and 3 Kingfishers were seen together suggesting that they too had bred successfully somewhere locally.

From late August into September both Green and Common Sandpipers were again recorded regularly on the large pool.

At the year end the 6 Little Grebes were still present on the canal loop adjacent to the large pool with Common Snipe back on the island.

In spring 2004 a Great Crested Grebe arrived and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen.

The best "non-bird" creature I've seen at this site was a grass snake swimming across the canal.

A few of my bird pictures from the area are shown below - please click on thumbnails for larger versions (Little Grebe; Grey Heron; Cormorant & "Victoria" the Mute Swan; Shovelers & Mallard; Green and Common Sand; Grey Wag & juv female Reed Buntings)...


PS - a more detailed site guide for this area is now available on the Herts Bird Club webpages.

Whippendell Wood, Watford, Hertfordshire, England Map

I undertook a personal survey of this site in spring 2002 by means of dawn visits. I found the expected woodland species: Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, and plenty of Blackcap and Goldcrest. Owls included several Tawnys, with Barn Owls also at another (undisclosed) locality in the neighbourhood. More details are on this linked page.

Hilfield Reservoir, near Watford, Hertfordshire, England Map

I started visiting this HMWT reservoir in 2003 to count the gull roost which can be viewed from the footbridge over the M1. The above image shows less than 25% of the roost. During winter, the roost is dominated by Black-headed Gulls, with over 10000 present, typically accompanied by about 500 Common Gulls, up to 200 Lesser Blackbacks, and up to 75 Herring Gulls and occasional Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Great Blackback. The record books show that several thousand Herring Gulls were present in former times (e.g. 7250 on 11/1/69) but it seems that changes in waste disposal practices have forced them to move elsewhere (cf Crow's Nest observations below).

Into the first week of April 2003, numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls had fallen to single figures, though about 120 large gulls were still present in the roost including at least 30 Herring Gull. It was fascinating to see how the latter species arrived much later in the roost, most coming in from the south, often well after dark!

On 17 January 2004 I took part in the full BTO roost census at the site and we counted nearly 17000 Black-headed Gulls, 2300 Common Gulls, 380 Lesser Blackbacks, and 90 Herring Gulls. I also observed a fine adult Mediterranean Gull on the water prior to the count. These totals suggest that all of my own counts last year had been significant underestimates, though I'd noticed higher numbers of Common Gulls this year.

I followed up these observations with a study of the roost flightpath of the Herring Gulls arriving at Hilfield from the south-east. This is described in full on the linked page here, and downloadable as a pdf here.

Aldenham reservoir


The reservoir lies immediately south of Hilfield within Aldenham Country Park. It is a popular location for family days out and rather less attractive for birds, but on my few trips there I've come across Mandarins lurking along the western shore of the lake. The following are pictures taken in October 2003:


Loch of Leys, Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland Map Annotated species list

Whilst in Banchory, my local patch was the Loch of Leys only a short cycle ride from our house in the north of the village. This is more a bog than an loch and it is now almost possible to walk to the old crannog in the middle. Open water is virtually eliminated by scrub.

The characteristic birds at this site are the Water Rails and Common Buzzards. The former can be heard throughout the summer but almost impossible to see whilst the latter are present year round and very visible. I once made a concerted efforts count the calling Water Rails (April 1990) and concluded that there were at least 15 individuals calling. Reed Buntings also breed in some numbers and I found 18 males together in a neighbouring field the same week. Willow Warblers are also common breeders along with Redpolls and Siskin. Long-tailed Tits and Jays are often seen along the south shore and Common Crossbills and Green Woodpecker occasionally in the wood to the north. Reedbed roosts of Swallow and Starling once numbered over 1000 birds each but I've not been able to count them recently. Gulls gather in nearby fields after visiting the local dump (next section) and can be seen moving to and from the Loch of Skene roost at the ends of the day. There was formerly a Black-headed Gull colony at the site. My best find here was a Fulmar on 5 June 1987 which was somewhat lost nearly 20 miles up the Dee valley from the sea at Aberdeen, and over 10 miles from the nearest coast at Stonehaven; what may well have been the same bird had been seen previously at Milltimber 10 miles east down the Dee valley on 30 May and was subsequently reported about 35 miles further west up the valley at the Linn of Dee, near the heart of the Cairngorms, on 20 June!

Crow's Nest amenity site, Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland Map Detailed information

I have watched the gulls at this site for the last 20 years or so since my first interest in birds as a teenager. When I first counted the Herring Gulls on 7/1/88 there were over 4000 present but these days around 1000 is more normal for mid-winter. Great Blackback numbers seem to have shown the opposite trend, with very few in the mid-80's but about 150 present in winter 98/99. Lesser Blackbacks are present in smaller numbers, rarely in mid-winter, and I observed a presumed hybrid LBBxHG on 26/12/98. Only once did I find a white-winged bird amongst them, this being a 2nd-win. Iceland in the nearby dayroost at Maryfield.

In December 2003 numbers had fallen to less than 1000 birds and the manager informed me that "bird scaring" (with falcons) is now used on a daily basis to satisfy demands of SEPA. These birds included only 7% 1st-winters, much lower than averages for the early 1990's of 26% and perhaps to do with the scaring? Also, less than 1% were argentatus-race birds, including the adult and 4th-win individuals shown below - quite a low number, cf the paper of study of Coulson et al. 135 Carrion Crows were accompanied by 5 Hooded-Carrion hybrids and 3 pure-bred Hoodies - high counts for NE Scotland.

A more detailed description of the trends in large gulls numbers in this area is now included in this linked document.

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