Sunday, 23 November 2008

Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) - Reed, Herts & Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) - The Lodge, Sandy, Beds. 19th November 2008.


Having never seen Rough-legged Buzzard before I was excited to hear of one being found in Hertfordshire. I Read the reports about it on Lee Evans's UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert blog( and contacted Roy Rose. We soon planned a trip up to see it and I informed Roy that a small Waxwing flock was present at "The Lodge" RSPB reserve in Bedfordshire and we agreed to go and see them as well. We would also try and hopefully stop off at Port Meadow and Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire on the way home.

We arrived north of Reed Village, Herts. and soon found ourselves at Hatchpen Farm, after spotting 2 Red Kites drifting over the fields we parked in the lay-by at the entrance to the farm. We walked up the road to a small gathering of people who were viewing the fields towards the A10 who informed us the Rough-legged Buzzard had drifted over the fields to the west side of the A10 and then had dropped down out of sight, we were directed to a church spire in the distance and told that it was last seen in that area. Everybody scanned the fields and suddenly somebody cried "it's up", a brief view was given before the bird dropped down out of sight but within seconds it appeared drifting slowly over the fields again. It flew across the fields gaining height as it went which gave good views of both the under and upperwings, the white tail and broad tail band clear to see as well as the dark belly, a very clean and fresh looking juvenile/sub adult bird. We all watched it as it continued to drift over the fields before briefly hovering and then dropping out of sight, it remained out of sight for 20 or so minutes before showing briefly again as it drifted along a brow of a hill on the west side of the A10 and again it dropped down out of sight. We waited for another 30 minutes without any further sightings and decided to head off to Sandy to find the Waxwings. By the time we left we had seen 5 birds of prey which included of Red Kite, Rough-legged buzzard, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk which was circling over the lay-by.

We made our way from Reed to The RSPB headquarters at Sandy, Bedfordshire in search of the Waxwings, arriving at the Lodge Roy and I checked the trees at the gatehouse with no luck and headed off down the gateway trail path listening out for the "trilling" calls of the Waxwing, seeing and hearing nothing we returned along the path to the gatehouse where we once again scanned the trees. It was at this point when a gentlemen from the offices at the Lodge who was on his lunch hour took us to another location nearby where the Waxwings had been visiting, sadly there was no sign of them and we wandered back to the gatehouse for one last check around the reserve entrance. The fields around the Lodge hosted a few Stock Doves, good numbers of Goldfinch and a lone Siskin in the Lodge garden. There was still no sign of any Waxwings and after having a look in the RSPB shop we wandered back to the car where we met somebody getting out of his car with a camera, he asked us if we had seen the Waxwings and we told him we had been looking for them for but hadn't seen them. Roy and I decided to get in the car and drive along Potton Road to see if we could locate them, we had already seen a number of berry bushes that had been striped of a few berries along the road and felt that perhaps we might be able to have a quick look. As we headed to the car a very friendly couple approached us and asked if we were looking for the Waxwings, they then told us that they were sat in a large Oak tree about 500yrds along Potton Road, we thanked them and headed off to the car. Driving along Potton Road we soon saw them perched in the Oak tree next to the road, finding a place to park we viewed from distance and counted 10 perched in the tree. Walking along Potton road we came to the Oak tree with the waxwings perched above, their "trilling" calls could now be heard clearly above the constant drone of passing vehicles. They preened methodically and continually for sometime before flying down to the berry bushes on the roadside opposite us, the traffic didn't help and although 2 or 3 would stay feeding when cars passed but the large lorries soon flushed them and back to the Oak tree they returned. This continued for the next 30 minutes with the birds coming down to feed in groups of 4 or 5 staying until another vehicle flushed them back to the tree, finally the whole group came down to feed and after 5 minutes of devouring berries they took to the air and headed off back towards the Lodge reserve.

Waxwing Video

Leaving Sandy we headed south towards Oxford with the hope of visiting both Port Meadow and Farmoor Reservoir, time really wasn't on our side and due to traffic congestion approaching Oxford we soon realised that it would be a very tight squeeze to get to both locations before the sun went down. We finally arrived at Port Meadow with the sun starting to fade and a walk along from the public car park found us viewing the floods, neither of us had been to Port Meadow before and it was impressive to see both good numbers of birds and a good variety of species in close proximity to the City itself. Waders included a flock of 100 or so Golden Plover, 2 Redshank feeding along the waters edge with Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin. As dusk approached the Gull roost started to swell with both Black-headed and Herring Gulls making an appearance, we headed off in the hope of getting to Farmoor but were soon stuck in traffic as the sun set, there was no way we would get there and decided instead to head for home.(The Port Meadow blog run by Adam Hartley can be found here )

As we neared my home I mentioned to Roy that many of the local herds of Deer could be crossing the country lanes and to be careful, they have a tendency to walk straight out in front of you just when you least expect it, as we turned the next corner we came face to face with a herd of Fallow Deer crossing the lane in front of us. Great views as they passed a metre in front of the car and we couldn't have timed it better.

Added To My Year List.

217. Rough-legged Buzzard
218. Waxwing
219. Ruff

Added To My Life List.

307. Rough-legged Buzzard

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - Day's Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxon & Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) Farmoor Reservoir, Oxon. 9th Novembr 2008.

Despite seeing Cattle Egret at East Lavant, West Sussex earlier in the year I couldn't resist heading over to Days Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames today to see the recently arrived individual, it meant that I could then head to Farmoor Reservoir to see the Great Northern Diver that has been present for a few days and hopefully head to Calvert in Buckinghamshire to see Jack Snipe, I need to catch up on a few species that I should have seen by now and today was a good opportunity to do so.

Having been to Days Lock before I knew where to go and after parking the car I headed off over the River Thames and towards the scrape. By now it had started to rain and as I arrived at a small gap in the bushes my hopes of digiscoping the Egret diminished, I viewed out across the fields and zooming in on the cattle that were grazing in the field I soon spotted the Cattle Egret feeding beneath them, it soon was lost to sight behind some of the cattle that were now sitting down in the field. I viewed the rest of the scrape whilst waiting for the Egret to reappear, 100+ Greylag and 10 Canada Geese were present in the field, a single Egyptian Goose, 9 Cormorant, Wigeon & Teal present on the pools and good numbers of Lapwing dotted around the fields and pools.

I then headed along the footpath that runs alongside the scrape to get a closer view of the Cattle Egret and as I did so the rain stopped and the sun finally came out, as I made my way along the path I noticed the cattle herd and Egret heading across the field towards where I was walking to. Three people were watching the Cattle Egret from the footpath and within a few minutes of my arrival the bird was in full view just in front of us. I quickly got my camera out and took a few photos, the sun was shining and the bird was showing incredibly well, much better than my views of the bird at East Lavant that disappeared behind a hedge just as I got my camera out!

Cattle Egret

The Cattle Egret is a rare annual vagrant to the UK usually being seen in spring and summer, most sightings are along the south and east coasts. Over the last few years the Cattle Egret has increased it's range dramatically on a global scale, both it's population and range has increased noticeably in Europe. It had often been predicted that they would turn up on our shores at some point and join their close relative the Little Egret which also now breeds in the UK. Last winter they invaded, when dozens of Cattle Egrets touched down in south-west England, mainly in Devon and Cornwall. This year at least 2 pairs bred in Somerset and it is believed to be the first recorded breeding in the United Kingdom for this species. With the Little Egret now a common sight in many parts of the UK and an established breeder surely the Cattle Egret will follow in their footsteps.

I left Days Lock with the sun still shining and headed off to Farmoor Reservoir. I arrived at Farmoor just as it started raining again and made my way from the car park to view the F2 reservoir, the wind and rain picked up and viewing the basin became almost impossible, searching for the Great Northern Diver was going to be difficult in these conditions and with a number of windsurfers making the best of the weather on F2 I thought the Diver would have moved to the F1 reservoir and headed off towards the causeway. As I crossed the causeway the wind was so strong it buffeted me sideways and getting to the wooden huts in the centre of the causeway I climbed down off the causeway to escape the wind and rain, I huddled up against the side of the hut and scanned the F1 reservoir with very little being visible, a few Tufted Ducks, Coots, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant. I was now in the centre of the reservoir and deciding to brave the weather I headed across the causeway towards the Pinkhill Reserve, the wind and rain didn't let up and I was now soaked to the skin and I think it was at this point that I realised that there was no point in heading back to the car as I couldn't get any wetter than I already was, anyway there was a Diver to find and I was going to find it whatever the weather. As I approached the western end of the causeway I met a birder who told me the Diver was on the southern end of the F2 reservoir, he was looking for the Water Pipit and I told him where I had seen it a few weekends ago. We said our goodbyes and I headed off south along the west side of the F2 reservoir. God was I soaked and each step I took expelled large puddles of water from my very unsuitable footwear, I love my "Vans" trainers and have the knowledge that I'm not following trends as I owned a number of pairs back in the 80's when I was a BMX dude, however they really aren't suitable for birding and after today's soaking they might not be suitable for wearing any longer either.

Reaching the south-east corner I finally found the Great Northern Diver some 50ft away from the edge of the basin, I watched it as it fed in the vicinity of the southern most point of the reservoir often diving for long periods. There was no way I could even attempt a photo of this bird with the weather so bad so I decided to film it each time it surfaced after diving for food, I tried to estimate it's surface point as I walked north along the east side of the F2 reservoir, unsuccessfully I have to add as it always surfaced just in front of me. It certainly made the walk back to the car more bearable in soaking wet clothes and I left it still fishing near the water tower on the F2 reservoir. It was great to see despite the weather and it means that I have managed to see all the common Divers in one year for the first time.

Great Northern Diver

I left Farmoor and made my way home as there was no way I could make it to Cavert, with the heater going full blast I slowly dried out and by the time I got back to Watlington I was starting to warm up. As I drove up Watlington Hill towards Christmas Common I noticed in the distance a pair of eyes shining in my car headlights, I slowed down and watched as an adult Muntjac stood in the middle of the road. The Muntjac remained in the road and seemed obvious to all around, I dipped my lights so not to blind it and it moved to the opposite side of the road where it stood looking back across the road. I suddenly got a shock as a tiny baby Muntjac appeared on the verge and walked in to the road, it remained in the middle of the road for at least a minute with it's parent stood on the drivers side verge, it really looked like a small piglet as it stood in the car headlights with the exception of being brown with white spots, slowly it crossed the road and joined it's parent. There are lots of Muntjac in the Chilterns but I have never seen a young Muntjac and was surprised to learn that they breed throughout the year. Good day despite the weather.

Added To My Year List.

215. Great Northern Diver

Both videos can be watched in high quality on my YouTube channel here, simply select the video clip and then click on "watch in high quality" under the video player screen.