Documenting surprising sightings, fascinating findings, & exciting encounters, with birds, wildlife, & other nature,
around Hemel Hempstead...

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Regular visitors will have noticed a decrease in posts to the HEMEL NATURE
blog - this is because I have been living & working out of the area, & due to the job my time out
& about with nature in Hemel is limited. I am working on a new blog to come soon & hope that the work that has gone into HEMEL NATURE will prove useful & interesting to those still visiting it.

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Many thanks for your support,


Thursday, 3 November 2011


Whilst working at my office in Corner Hall today...
21 REDWINGS flew over SW towards Boxmoor at 9.40am.
C.30 GOLDFINCHES landed in the Alders bordering B&Q briefly - I wonder if this is the small local flock growing as nearby flocks join, as has happened in previous winters.
A RED KITE floated low over the rooftops & off towards Bennetts End at 2.40pm.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

LITTLE EGRET Going to Roost Again

In the morning the usual LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was stood on the roof of the Scout Group HQ on Queensway.
At about 8.50am a GREY WAGTAIL was at the Water Gardens just downstream of the Market Square.
Near to Hemel, on the edge of St. Albans, a RED KITE was circling low over the road, near the junction of Hemel Hempstead Road (A4147) & Potters Crouch Lane, at about 1.40pm & 2.50pm when I passed on a two hour driving lesson.
At 4.05pm a LITTLE EGRET flew to roost S over my office in Corner Hall.

As I walked home through the town, a BROWN RAT ran across the path infront of me opposite TK Maxx. It ran from below the ATM on the wall where there is nowhere to hide, to the river bank.
At about 6.25pm, the same PIKE as yesterday was sitting motionless in the shallows, at the Water Gardens opposite Bank Court. This time about half way across the river.

Later that night I heard REDWINGS flying over Highfield near Queesway again.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Day of RAPTORS, Including Odd Colour-Ringed BUZZARD

Whilst walking to work this morning...
A GREY WAGTAIL was calling loudly at West Herts College where Queesway (B457) crosses the river Gade.
The Grey Wag's alarm call alerted me to a Male SPARROWHAWK sat in the autumn leaves on the grass river bank, only 10m from me - it would have been a perfect picture but once it knew I'd noticed it it flew into a tree.
A GREY WAGTAIL was about in the Water Gardens between the Police Station & the Market Square.
I counted 85 CANADA GEESE in total at the Water Gardens, but no Mute Swans.
The Female PEREGRINE was still at her roost on the BT building - even though the light was still bad I thought I'd take a snap.

The ringed female Peregrine at her roost on the BT building

Whilst working at my office in Corner Hall...
A SPARROWHAWK was circling as I arrived.
A Juvenile COMMON GULL flew S.
At 10.00am a SISKIN flew over calling.
A SKYLARK called as it flew over.
At 10.40 I heard a SISKIN call again.
C.10 GOLDFINCHES were back & forth - the charm seems to be growing.
A Female CHAFFINCH was accompanying the Goldfiches in the Alders bordering B&Q - surprisingly I se Chaffinches very rarely at the offices.
At 10.50 a JAY flew N towards town whilst calling - another bird seen rarely here.
At 11.35 a Female KESTREL circled for a few minutes - only the second I've ever had here.
At 1.05 another SISKIN flew over calling.

As I walked home at dark, at about 6.15pm, there was a 40-50cm long PIKE at the Water Gardens, sitting still in the shallows under the weir, up close to the bank, opposite Bank Court.
A bit later on I could hear one or two REDWINGS flying over Highfield near Queensway.

Most noteworthy today though was the following...
At 12.15, 2 BUZZARDS were soaring over Corner Hall together for a few minutes, slowly drifting E. I then noticed that one of the birds had a colour-ring on it's left leg, so I tried to get a photo to record it. Due to the height they were flying, & shooting at an angle through double glazing, the pictures aren't great, but do just about show that the ring is green.
This bird also had quite distinctive plumage, along with angled trailing edges to the wings & tail, giving it a slightly odd appearance, almost like a small Eagle.
The Buzzard accompanying it, whilst looking more 'normal' in it's structure, did seem to share similar markings on the wings & tail to the ringed bird, if just a bit paler. This leads me to think these birds could be related.
I couldn't make out any rings on this bird but couldn't help but notice its incredibly pale, almost white, tail, with only a hint of russet where the terminal band would be.
I'll see if I can get any info about the bird & will post it here as soon as I do, if I do.

Two Buzzards soaring together over Corner Hall

The odd Buzzard with a green colour-ring

Close up of the Buzzard's green colour-ring

Monday, 31 October 2011

PEREGRINE & PIED WAGS Roost, as Four FOXES Fight at Night

I left work at about 11.30pm & walked home to the Mum-in-law's via Dominos Pizza. I thought it would be rude not to use the 'Any pizza. Any size. £7.99.' voucher that had been posted at work. Whilst ambling back to Highfield...
The Female PEREGRINE was sat at her roost on the BT building just after 11.30pm.
At the usual spot in the Town Centre, opposite The British Heart Foundation, there were over 100 PIED WAGTAILS silently roosting in the trees with their heads tucked away. In fact, I couldn't actually tell where their heads were! I think they were tucked cosily into their puffed up breast feathers. It felt very surreal to see these usually non-stop, hyperactive, wind-up toy birds sat peacfully motionless all together in such great numbers. It was as if they were in such a deep sleep I could easily just reach up into the tree, take one in my hand, & it would just be 'okay' about it. I attemped a photo but with the leaves still on the trees, & the fact it was pitch black, it was a tad difficult, & I didn't want to disturb them, so I left it. Maybe when the leaves have fallen I will go back & get a record shot of them all & attempt a more accurate count.
As I walked up Queesway a very large RED FOX ran out infront of me near the Jet garage, it crossed the road & disappeared into the bushes. Judging by its size I'd say it was probably a Male. I considered throwing it a slice of my 'Meateor' pizza but it had already slinked off into the shadows.
As I passed the 1st Hemel Hempstead Scout Group HQ I heard what I can only describe as the sound young Simba makes when he 'roars' in The Lion King, a kind of 'meowing' growl. I heard it again along with the skipping of paws on hard ground. I looked into the scout group carpark & garden to see 3 RED FOXES chasing each other around, & what looked like, rough play fighting. They were so carried away that they didn't seem to notice me stood there watching them, leant on the gate. Infact one ran straight towards me, stopped just a few metres away when it saw me, then turned back to continue squabbling. These three looked like young Foxes, I couldn't say I noticed a Vixen & I couldn't make out any white on their tail tips in the dark.
During the 50 minutes I was outside, I must have heard about 20 REDWINGS calling as they flew over in the darkness, most notably in the Town Centre.
I also heard a SONG THRUSH as it passed overhead.


Whilst working at my office in Corner Hall today...
8 COMMON GULLS of various ages flew over S just after 9.00am.
A SPARROWHAWK was cruised around the rooftops.
A party of LONG-TAILED TITS noisily passed by.
At 12.00pm 3 SISKINS flew over.
At 12.20pm 3 LESSER REDPOLLS flew over.
At 2.25pm a flock of 8 small Finches flew over.
At 4.15pm a Juvenile MUTE SWAN flew over S.

KINGFISHER was at Two Waters opposite Halfords.
A STOCK DOVE was also flying above the trees there.
A GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER flew from Boxmoor, across Two Waters Road, to Two Waters.
A Male SPARROWHAWK was patrolling Boxmoor.
2 MISTLE THRUSHES were flying around there.
A SONG THRUSH darted from one side of the moor to the other.
Whilst working late, c.5 REDWINGS called as they flew over every now & then in the darkness.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

1st Gadebridge Park LITTLE EGRET, & 1st FIELDFARES of Winter

Ablaze with autumn leaves...
The view towards St. Mary's Church, from the football pitches in Gadebridge Park, Hemel Hempstead - 30/10/11
I took a brief walk this afternoon, through Gadebridge Park, to Piccotts End Pools, & back. The dull, grey atmosphere of the day was no match for the vibrant, firey hues of the autumn leaves adorning every tree in sight. Whilst eating my lamb samosa & onion bhaji from the Jet garage I saw...

At Gadebridge Park...
A LITTLE EGRET flew S at treetop height at 1.20pm, following the River Gade towards town - this is the first I've seen here but very much expected at some point.
As the Egret passed 2 SISKINS called as they flew between the treetops.
A RED KITE meandered S through the park, doing it's best to look like a marsh Harrier.
A flock of STARLINGS & possibly some Winter Thrushes were whirling about at the football pitches before settling down near High Street / Piccotts End Road.
A SISKIN was heard once more.
Up to 10 CHAFFINCHES were moving about.
A SONG THRUSH darted along a hedgerow.

At Piccotts End Pools...
A KESTREL flew towards the pools from the village & one was heard calling later on.
A Male SPARROWHAWK did its best Merlin impression as it purposefully sped low across the grass.
2+ RED KITES were constantly patrolling the area.
2+ BUZZARDS were about all of the time, one making a high-speed vertical stoop, from great height, at one of the Kites.
2 LITTLE EGRETS were mobile.
A GREY HERON flew in.
2+ STOCK DOVES were often back & forth.
One or two LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS were about.
9 LINNETS were twittering about most of the time.
A GREENFINCH oddly repeated just a 'peuuw' call, which had me guessing for a few minutes until I could find it.
Quite a few CHAFFINCHES were around the gate to the green.
C.10 FIELDFARES were feeding in the hedge near the gate & moving about the area - a bit late but my first of the winter.
A GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER few across the pools.
Atleast 1 GREY WAGTAIL was about.
2+ PIED WAGTAILS were resting on the wires between feeding on the field behind the pools.
A single MEADOW PIPIT flew over S.
Most surprisingly, over the field on Piccotts End Road & Dodds Lane, a SKYLARK was in full song & performing its display flight at great height for all of the hour I was at the pools!
No sign of the Juvenile Peregrine of recent.

Common Buzzard - Piccotts End Pools, Hemel Hempstead - 30/10/11
On my way back to Highfield...
At 3.50pm a Female SPARROWHAWK was on the hunt around the Old Town & Queensway, circling low over the rooftops whilst the crowds had already started to gather below for the Old Town 'Halloween Night'.
A LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, which I presume was the usual Queesway bird, was hanging around low over the takeaways opposite West Herts College, upsetting the Feral Pigeons.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Queensway LESSER BLACK-BACK Still in Residence

The usual adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was stood atop it's favourite rooftop again on Queesway this morning.
A COAL TIT was vocal most of the morning around my Mother-in-law-to-be's house near Queensway, in Highfield.
A REDWING also flew over.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

KINGFISHER Makes Up for No Kingfisher

Whilst working at my office in Corner Hall today it was very quiet. But nearby...
14 CANADA GEESE were on the canal at B&Q with the regular 2 MUTE SWANS.
One or two REDWINGS, 3 BLACKBIRDS & atleast 1 SONG THRUSH were feeding on the Yew tree beside the old Two Waters Road in Two Waters.
GOLDCRESTS were very vocal near the entrance to the Council Gardening Depot.
After only just walking past the K2 Balti House, & considering going in for a bottle of Kingfisher & takeaway, I heard that unmistakeable 'pee- peep' from the river, a real KINGFISHER darting out of sight between the Willows.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


A GREY WAGTAIL was at the Water Gardens, in the Town Centre today, opposite the Market Square.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

100 Strong PIED WAG Roost Still Exists in Town

Whilst walking back from Bovingdon Market this afternoon a SISKIN flew over Boxmoor Golf Club in Felden.

Atleast 1 KINGFISHER was fishing along the stretches of canal & stream either side of the Old Fishery Lane bridge in Chaulden / Boxmoor.
A GREY HERON was hunting in the stream at the pool opposite the house there.
A GREY WAGTAIL also visited the pool.
A single COOT was in the stream with MOORHENS.
An increase to 18 CANADA GEESE were on the canal at Boxmoor above the lock W of B&Q.

In the Town Centre, as it was getting dark at about 4.50pm, it was fantastic to see the spectacle of atleast 100 PIED WAGTAILS noisily going to roost in the trees in the middle of the shopping area as the market workers were packing up. The favoured trees are outside The British Heart Foundation, near Bank Court, & opposite the N entrance to the Marlowes Shopping Centre. I have seen the Wagtails going to roost here in past years but I'm generally not around the town centre at this time in the evening & haven't seen them in the past couple of winters. It's certainly good to know the roost exists.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

BUZZARDS & KITE at Treetop Height

At 1.45pm, for 5 minutes, a RED KITE & 2 BUZZARDS circled together low over Corner Hall.
Just before dark 2 MUTE SWANS flew S over B&Q, possibly the two regular Adults from opposite the Honda dealership.

Monday, 17 October 2011


Whilst working at my office in Corner Hall today...

4 BLUE TITS passed through between the offices heading W.
A COAL TIT was calling.
A Female SPARROWHAWK circled towards Two Waters Road.
Some HOUSE SPARROWS were about near the NE corner of the offices near Corner Hall road - even though these birds seem resident at the cottages here I very rarely see them from the office complex. Nearby, 9+ CARRION CROWS were on top of, & flying around the old Kodak Tower, now Image apartments.
A PIED WAGTAIL was occasionallu about.
At 2.10pm a RED KITE circled low over the rooftops then gradally moved N low over the town centre.
A BROWN RAT was out in the open nearby, along the canal near B&Q.
At 3.10pm a COMMON GULL flew over.
At 4.00pm 2 LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS drifted over & one called loudly in typical 'seaside style'.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

1st COMMON GULLS of Winter, & Crazy CARRION CROW Count

At my Mother-in-law-to-be's house in Highfield, near Queensway, I was awoken by LONG-TAILED TITS, a GOLDCREST & a DUNNOCK.

At The Queens Square (Adeyfield Shops) this afternoon...

I counted 17 CARRION CROWS at once, including the 9 usual more tame individuals.
2 Adult COMMON GULLS were wheeling about low over the road - the first of the winter.

At Keen's Field (King's Field) in Adeyfield, a BUZZARD was circling high up.

Near the Link Road a BUZZARD was gliding from Grovehill towards Piccotts End Village.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


At the back of the Industrial Estate near the Wickes depot, on Punch Bowl Lane, this afternoon...

A SKYLARK flew over.
2+ BUZZARDS were about.
2 BULLFINCHES were in the hedge bordering the depot, one was calling.
A Female SPARROWHAWK sat in a tree in the middle of a field, upsetting the increasing number of WOOD PIGEONS.
2 MALLARDS flew N.
One or two LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS were about.

At the reservoir on Cherry Tree Lane, close to Woodhall Farm...

A Male PHEASANT kept making me jump as it exploded from cover.
A SPARROWHAWK stealthily slipped between the trees along the lane.
An unsettled REDWING was moving about.
2 MALLARDS appeared to fly to the reservoir as it got dark.

Friday, 14 October 2011

HEMEL MEGA: WOODLARK Calling over Corner Hall!

Whilst working at my office in Corner hall today I recorded the following...

A DUNNOCK calling.
A ROBIN singing.
A MEADOW PIPIT flew over.
At 10.15am a REDWING flew over low S.
At 10.20am 2 SKYLARKS flew over SW.
A GREENFINCH was about.
At 12.40pm atleast 1 SISKIN called as it flew over.
At 1.30pm another SISKIN flew over calling.
At 2.00pm a SKYLARK flew over.
At 3.40pm another SKYLARK flew over.
At 4.50pm a CORMORANT flew over S.

The best bird today came at 2.10pm, when I heard the flutey 'tuud-luee' call of a WOODLARK flying over, & as I jumped up to put my head out of the window I heard it twice more. I had my ear 'tuned-in' as I'd been listening to recordings of larks over the weekend as, one; I'd just come back from Portugal & was double checking the larks I had seen there. And two; I'd been revising the calls of good birds that may fly over on migration anyway. This is my first record for Hemel, & I don't expect to get one again any time soon. As I logged in to my email to report it I saw that others had also been seen & heard today at Ivinghoe Beacon in Bucks, & The Lodge heath & The Pinnacle, in Sandy, Beds. Must just be a good day for them.

Here is a recording of a Woodlark call, like the one i heard...
In case you are wondering, the reason I get to see & hear so many birds flying over from my office is this... I'm high-up(ish) in the third storey, there are windows along the length of the office for a wide view, the windows are always open & it's a quiet area so I can hear outside well, the river & canal are both nearby which birds seem to follow, it faces N so if I hear a bird during Autumn migration it is usually still flying towards me as I look out, & the view from my chair is pretty much completely, unobscured sky. Think, a 3 storey Tower 42.

The view from my office seat at work in Corner Hall, Hemel Hempstead - proving to be a great VizMigging spot

Thursday, 13 October 2011

FROG Trap!

Female Common Frog trapped in water filled planter in garden, Gadebridge, Hemel Hempstead, 13/10/11
(taken with mobile phone)

At my parents house in Betjeman Way, Gadebridge this evening, my Mum said she'd seen 2 COMMON FROGS along the path around the side of the house, one under the bins, & one in an unused planter full of rain water, so I went to have a look in the dark using the light on my mobile. There was no sign of any frogs near the bins, but sure enough there was a very pretty female frog in the water-filled plant pot, looking a little tired. She had a lovely red to orange iridescence on the upper parts, lime green on her lower sides & thighs, & a distinctive pattern of a few dark spots on her back, so I should be able to reconise her if she turns up again.

Female Common Frog trapped in water filled planter in garden, Gadebridge, Hemel Hempstead, 13/10/11
(taken with mobile phone)
Now there is a problem for the frogs that get into this planter... it fills up with natural rainwater, attracts insects, is inhabited with MOSQUITO Larvae, Snails collect on the sides, & it stays cool in the shade. Perfect for frogs you may say... well yes it is, & frogs seem to end up in there all the time, seemingly finding it irresistible, sensing it & being drawn to it from afar, then jumping in, despite not being able to see inside as the sides are 50cm high. This is part of the problem, you see, once a frog is in there it loves it, but when it wants to get out... it can't. The rim of the planter curves inwards & down meaning that when a frog tries to climb out of the sides it is stopped by the edge of the pot curving back over its head. A frog can obviously jump out of the planter, but only from the middle of the water, which only gives them a small area to jump from. This & the fact they seem to prefer to climb out means that I suspect they stay in the pot for much longer than they choose to & it takes them alot of attempts & energy to eventually get out. For this reason I decided I would take this frog out of the planter & release it back into the top of the garden, on the grass near the bushes, & not far from next-door's pond. It seemed happy to be picked up from the water in my hands, then sat in the grass very calmly, before hopping off into the foliage.
Female Common Frog released into garden, Gadebridge, Hemel Hempstead, 13/10/11
(taken with mobile phone)
Now I need to find something suitable to put in the planter for the frogs to climb out on in the future, off to rummage in the garage...

1st SONG THRUSH & HERRING GULLS at Corner Hall Offices

So far today whilst working at my office in Corner Hall...

2 DUNNOCKS were vocal in the morning, 1 calling loudly & another singing quietly - I haven't had them here in a while.
At 9.15 a SKYLARK flew over.
I heard a GREENFINCH throughout the day.
I heard 3 ROBINS, 1 singing & 1 'ticking' which I presume are the regular birds, then another singing further away.
A COAL TIT was singing it's whole repetoir of calls.
Some GOLDFINCHES were about.
At 9.50am a party of 13 LONG-TAILED TITS flew NE over my office towards Lawn Lane.
A SKYLARK flew over as the L-T Tits were passing.
I heard a GOLDCREST briefly.
At 10.10am 2 HERRING GULLS, an Adult & a Juvenile, circled high over & drifted S - these really aren't seen very often in Hemel.
At 10.35am a REDWING flew over.
At 11.00am a SONG THRUSH flew over highish, heading S whilst calling - my first one seen here at the offices & on my work list.
At 11.05am a SISKIN flew over calling.
At 11.10am I heard a SISKIN again.
At 11.30am a MEADOW PIPIT flew over.
The 8 CANADA GEESE were on the canal at B&Q again - I noticed that one of the fully adult birds is smaller with a shorter, stockier neck & slightly paler flanks, baring a slight resemblance to a LESSER CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis parvipes). I'll try to refind it to get a photo at some point.
2 MUTE SWANS flew from Boxmoor to Two Waters.
The regular 2 MUTE SWANS were at the river Gade opposite the Honda garage.
A PIED WAGTAIL was around all day, at one point singing.
At 2.21pm a CORMORANT flew over N towards town.
I heard some CHAFFINCHES pass nearby.
At 3.05pm 2 PIED WAGTAILS flew N towards town.
At 3.15pm what appeared to be c.21 REDWINGS flew NE towards Lawn Lane.
At 3.45pm a SKYLARK flew over.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mini VisMig + REDPOLL at Corner Hall Offices

I had to make a delivery to the Industrial Estate this morning where I heard a couple of PIED WAGTAILS around Mark Road & a JAY was near Maylands Avenue.

On my way back to work I decided to cycle via the disused sports ground on the N side of Breakspear Way (A414) (click on the 'Location' section below this post to view on a map). It was immediately apparent that it was to be a good day for migrating passerines so I decided to do a half hour-ish mini VisMig...

I had a best count of 6 REDWINGS around Hawthorns on the N edge, starting with 4 birds appearing in the air, settling down, then joined by others.
c.5 BLACKBIRDS were feeding with the Redwings, including a very orange Juvenile.
A GREY WAGTAIL flew over to the W side, then conitued towards Maylands Avenue later.
c.15 SKYLARKS tricked over SW, the biggest flock being 4, some birds going E I presumed were the same birds returning. One bird joined the Redwing flock when they circled for a while.
9 MEADOW PIPITS passed over, a single SW accompanying a Skylark, a flock of 4 SW, then another 4 E which weren't the same birds.
I heard PIED WAGTAILS flying over.
There was a high number of JAYS about.
Some LONG-TAILED TITS were about.
5+ CHAFFINCHES flew in from the E high, 3 arrived together.
A single GREENFINCH flew over.
A WREN was bouncing on a Leylandii.

Across the road at Marchmont Pond (the balancing tank on the S side of Breakspear Way, W of Holiday Inn) I saw the following during a 5 minute look...

A Female SPARROWHAWK was hunting.
A flock of 4 or 5 SKYLARKS flew over SW.
A Female GREY WAGTAIL was sat peacefully on the curved wall on the N side, despite the Sparrowhawk on the hunt.
A SONG THRUSH was sneaking about.
Loads of GREAT TITS were noisily moving about.
LONG-TAILED TITS accompanied the Great Tits.
I heard a GOLDCREST.

As I continued on to work, at 10.50 37 REDWINGS flew around over St. Albans Road (A414) between Leverstock Green & Adeyfield.

Whilst working at my office in Corner Hall for the rest of the day I saw the following...

At 12.05pm 10 SKYARKS flew over S.
At 12.15pm a very red LESSER REDPOLL flew between the offices noisily 'chet chet chetting'.
I could hear a GOLDFINCH.
3 PIED WAGTAILS flew over S & others called throught the day.
I heard a GREY WAGTAIL throughout the day then saw it at 4.45pm flying to B&Q.
At 4.50pm a Juvenile HERRING GULL flew S to roost towards Two Waters with BLACK HEADED GULLS.
At 5.15 2 GREY WAGTAILS flew over the offices & one was heard just as it was getting dark.

All-in-all a pretty good day bird-wise considering I was working...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Andy Graham saw a RED KITE over Hemel in the afternoon.

PEREGRINE at Roost but Otherwise Quiet

The skies were quite quiet at work at my office in Corner Hall today, just a couple of PIED WAGTAILS & LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS about.
At B&Q a JAY was moving about the area & 2 MUTE SWANS swam by two anglers pole fishing. I saw them catch 3 fish & miss 3 in as many minutes from about a foot below the surface using maggots & worms, from across the canal these looked like small BREAM.
Nearby the PEREGRINE was at its roost near 'The Magic Roundabout' when I walked home at 9.50pm, visible in the glow of the full moon.

Monday, 10 October 2011

My 1st REDWING of Winter at Corner Hall Offices

[17°C, strong W wind & overcast]

In the morning an Adult Light-backed Larus gull was circling high & blown S by the wind - Common or Herring but couldn't tell from distance & in gales.
A SWAN Sp. flew over quite low being thrown about by the wind - probably just a Mute Swan but it did look very slim & pale-faced much like a Whooper Swan, the possibility of it being a feral Whooper from Tring way could not be discounted.
At 12.25pm my first REDWING of the winter flew low S over my office in Corner Hall.
At about 3.45pm 5 larger THRUSH Sp. appeared from the sky & flew (blew) S with an undulating flight towards Boxmoor / Two Waters - most probably Mistle Thrushes but couldn't rule out Fieldfares.
At 5.00pm an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was hanging on the wind.
Just after 6.00pm, when I passed on my way home, the PEREGRINE was on its roost near the 'magic roundabout'.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ian Brading had a late WILLOW WARBLER in his garden today, just a few feet from his house.
Pam Litton saw 2 REDWINGS fly over her garden in Kings Langley this afternoon - the first of the winter. She also heard 2 TAWNY OWLS calling  near her garden at night, then saw one fly over her house & towards the Shendish Estate in the moonlight.

Herts Bird Club: Ernest Leahy saw c.150 LINNETS in a ploughed field at Holtsmere End near Woodhall Farm today.

New PEREGRINE, Late HOUSE MARTINS & Double 1st REDPOLLS, at Piccotts End Pools

[17°C, strong W wind & overcast]

Large Juv. Peregrine, Piccotts End Pools, Hemel Hempstead, 09/10/11

I arrived back from a trip to Portugal last night so I thought I would go for an afternoon/evening cycle to Piccotts End Pools, to see if I'd been missing anything while I'd been away. Despite only being abroad for a week the change in the 'seasonal-feel' was huge. When I left only 7 days ago, it was hot, clear skies, a light warm breeze, most summer-like. Now it was cool, dark & grey, & there was a very strong wind. Everywhere littered with debris from trees & autumn leaves.

The highlights of my ride were...

In the already low light, at 4.35pm, a huge, dark Juvenile PEREGRINE came screaming low across the pools from Piccotts End Road direction, scattering every bird in sight, rendering them silent, & startling me. I was surprised at how big this bird was, having long, broad wings, long-looking tail, this bird appeared almost Buzzard-sized, whilst at the same time it looked slim bodied & athletic. It seemed to be hunting in 'taking-by-surprise' fashion, coming in low over the tree tops at speed towards me, banking left, gliding quickly over the pools, going into a shallow stoop towards a large tree, shooting up near vertical & round it, following the top of the hedge line, banking right, skimming along the brow of the field behind the pools, only a metre or so above the ground, then out of sight behind a hedge. The very poor light, ridiculous speed & close quarters made getting a decent photo impossible, though I did manage the few record shots here when the bird was a bit more distant. At it's size it must have been a young female & the fact that this was a particularly dark bird made it look all the more menacing.

Large Juv. Peregrine, Piccotts End Pools, Hemel Hempstead, 09/10/11

Juv. Peregrine going into shallow stoop, Piccotts End Pools, Hemel Hempstead, 09/10/11

Over an hour & a half later, at 6.15pm, I was stood daydreaming where the bridalway meets the N end of Piccotts End Road, when I saw a large, dark form, moving at speed, just above the hedgeline, heading towards me from Dodds Lane. It was her again, hunting in the near darkness. She tracked the hedge-top away from the village, twisted & looped over Piccotts End Road, back over the hedge, low across the field, briefly circled over the bridalway, then powered off back towards the pools. Breathtaking. It was nice to see a different Peregrine in town, maybe this one will winter locally too? Perhaps this is one of our regular BT wintering Peregrine's offspring? I'll definitely make an effort to see if this bird sticks around for the winter too...

At 4.30pm 3 HOUSE MARTINS flew over the pools battling the strong winds, they seemed to be heading W against the Westerly wind. These are quite late in the year & my latest date recorded in Hemel.

At 4.50pm 3 LESSER REDPOLLS flew over from the S & appeared to land in trees near Gaddesden Hall - these are my first Redpolls of the winter AND the first definites I have seen at the pools.

One of 3 late House Martins, Piccotts End Pools, Hemel Hempstead, 09/10/11

Also of interest at the pools this evening...

3 GREY HERONS - 1 Juv, 1 2nd Winter & 1 Adult.
Only 2 MOORHENS - probably my lowest count here.
A few LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS circled nearby.
A STOCK DOVE was feeding on the field with a few FERAL PIGEONS.
4 PIED WAGTAILS feeding on the field.
c100+ mixed corvids including JACKDAWS, ROOKS, CARRION CROWS, & a few MAGPIES - Jackdaws in particular perching on sheep to feed on insects, & no Jays is unusual.
CHAFFINCHES starting to start small flocks.
Quite a few GOLDFINCHES were jangling about.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Friday, 30 September 2011

My 1st GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER at Corner Hall Offices

[29°C & clear blue sky]

A boisterous Pied Wagtail on office roofs at Corner Hall, Hemel Hempstead.

One PIED WAGTAIL of yesterday was about again, being very noisy at times, often singing. It's a very boisterous bird, at one point aggressively chasing one of 3 GOLDFINCHES away from 'its' rooftop.
In the morning a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER flew over the roof opposite my window & between the office buildings - my first, & most unexpected, at this location.
A BLUE TIT & a GREAT TIT were both about.
A SMALL TORTOISESHELL Butterfly flew past my window.
At 10.25 a SISKIN flew over - only my second bird this winter & a repeat of yesterday.
I could hear some odd calls now & then that I presume could possibly be a RING-NECKED PARAKEET.
Yesterday's group of CANADA GEESE on the canal at B&Q had increased to 8 birds.
At 11.40 a MEADOW PIPIT flew over.
A BUZZARD was gliding over from town towards Two Waters.
Some GREENFINCHES flew over.
In the afternoon a LINNET (the first I've actually seen here) was twittering atop a tree bordering B&Q where a flock of 9 GOLDFINCHES & a BLUE TIT were feeding, before flying off E.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

1st SISKIN of Winter at Corner Hall Offices

[28°C & clear blue sky]

Today whilst working at my office in Corner Hall...

Some GREENFINCHES were about in the morning.
2 ROBINS were having a sing-off.
A BLUE TIT flew past my window.
At 9.55am a SKYLARK flew over E.
At 10.00am a CHIFFCHAFF flew past my window.
Another 8+ SKYLARKS flew over E at 10.00am on migration.
2+ PIED WAGTAILS were being noisy on the office roof tops.
At 10.30 a SISKIN flew over calling - my first of the winter.
Some GOLDFINCHES were jangling about
6 CANADA GEESE were on the canal at B&Q.
One of the inch-long WASPS, that I've noticed over the last week or so, was again inspecting the eaves - I guess these are mated Females already looking for suitable places to hibernate for the winter.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Herts Bird Club: Lee Evans saw a RING-NECKED PARAKEET fly over Hemel town today.

I noticed that Lee Evans had seen a RING-NECKED PARAKEET fly over Hemel town today. This would back up my thoughts that the call I heard at Corner Hall offices recently (see > HERE <) could be one of these noisy green arrows. I've been anticipating their return this autumn for some while.

Corner Hall Offices

Today whilst working at my office in Corner Hall...

Nearby the PEREGRINE was on its BT building roost just before 9.00am.
GREAT TIT flew past my office window, this is the first one I have actually seen at the offices as usually I just hear them in the surrounding trees.
A COAL TIT was calling.
A BLUE TIT was about.
LONG-TAILED TITS were calling.
A BUZZARD was 'mewing'.

Later the usual Adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was circling low over Queensway.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


At dusk 3 CANADA GEESE flew low W over The Old Leather Bottle pub in Leverstock Green.

I was outside Hemel today as I was attending a funeral in High Garrett, Braintree, Essex. The weather was  warm & the day was beautiful which lifted peoples spirits, & a few birds throughout the day helped mine too...

At about 10.00am, whilst on the M25, J23 at South Mimms, & crossing over the A1, a RAVEN flew up from below, above the A1, up to the M25, just beside the car. It made me jump out of my skin, then flew along beside the motorway, flapping almost in slow-mo.
A bit further away, past Potters Bar, a BUZZARD sat on a post near the roadside with its wings hanging down. It appeared to be sunbathing, though as there wasn't a great deal of sun at that time, possibly shielding it's prey.

Once in High Garrett, at the highly manicured crematorium grounds, there were MEADOW PIPITS, LINNETS & a PIED WAGTAIL about.
In the afternoon, down the road at the Hare & Hounds pub, I listened to a CHIFFCHAFF singing in the warming amber sunlight as I ate Walnuts from the tree there.

On the way back along the M11 & M25 there were 2 KESTRELS hunting the verges.
Also a BUZZARD was being mobbed by a Male SPARROWHAWK right above the motorway.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Corner Hall Offices

Seen from my office during work today...

In the morning a COAL TIT (possibly the 'new' local one) was very vocal.
A MEADOW PIPIT flew over late morning.
At 3.15pm a BUZZARD was circling over the River Gade to the W of Corner Hall.
A few GOLDFINCHES & GREENFINCHES were about most of the day.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

HOUSE MARTINS in Leverstock Green

At around 3.00pm, c.5 HOUSE MARTINS were feeding around rooftops in Leverstock Green, just NW of The Green Man pub.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Herts Bird Club: Peter Griffin saw a GREY WAGTAIL at the Water Gardens, opposite the Market Square, in the Town Centre today.

Peter Griffin saw a GREY WAGTAIL at the Water Gardens, opposite the Market Square, in the Town Centre today - this the one of the best places I know to get close views of these birds, they appear to be resident at the Water Gardens & nearby at Corner Hall, & numbers seem to be increasing in Hemel in general.


In the afternoon the usual Adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was on it's favoured rooftop on Queensway, atop one of the houses that's side on to the road at the peak of the hill between the Jet garage & the 'Nicky Line' rail bridge.
A younger LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was also floating about, it's appearance at distance suggesting it was a 2nd Winter.

Just outside Hemel a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER was near South Way in Abbots Langley.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

FOXES at Piccotts End

Tonight at Piccotts End / Gadebridge, in the field N of Gadebridge Park, on the W side of Leighton Buzzard Road, there were 3 RED FOXES, 2 Adults & one younger one, as well as what were most likely 2+ PIPESTRELLE BATS hunting in the area.

Corner Hall Offices

Whilst at work at Corner Hall offices today I noted the following...

Just before 9.00am the PEREGRINE was nearby at it's BT roost.
At 9.20am a SKYLARK flew over E.
2 CHIFFCHAFFS were in bushes across the canal from B&Q, of which one Juv. seemed to be practising singing.
A ROBIN was also "singing" a scratchy song - maybe one of this year's birds.
A GREY WAGTAIL was beside the canal.
2 JAYS were commuting between Two Waters, Corner Hall & Boxmoor.
c.22 HOUSE MARTINS flew over W. (Alot of movement W it seems as I noticed Phil Tizzard reported 160 going W between 7.00am & 8.00am in Stowe, Bucks, & Mike Russell reported yesterday well into the hundreds heading W between 6.45am & 7.45am in Stopsley, Beds.)
A Juv. MUTE SWAN flew S high over.
There was no sign of the Peregrine nearby at its roost at 11.00am when I passed.
At 12.00pm a MEADOW PIPIT flew over.
At 1.30pm a GREY HERON flew over high S.
At 4.15pm, nearby, up to 100 STARLINGS were in a group of smaller flocks wheeling about near the BT building & landing on aerials.
At 16.50pm a Juv. MUTE SWAN was circling - possibly the same individual as earlier.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


This morning I noticed a trickle of groups of HOUSE MARTINS passing my Corner Hall office S, some feeding around the rooftops before heading on their way, Lee Evans was just N of me at 'The Magic Roundabout' & counted c.240 passing through in this direction (via Herts Bird Club).

The Female PEREGRINE was at its BT roost when I passed just after 6.00pm & Lee had also seen it there in the morning (via Herts Bird Club).

Lee also saw 7 YELLOW WAGTAILS go S over Hemel today & 2 GREY WAGTAILS (via Herts Bird Club).

Piccotts End CORMORANT 'ZZI' Tracked 380km Back to Isle of Man

'Carbo' Cormorant ringed 'White ZZI' (center) with 5 of the total 7 Cormorants at Piccotts End Pools

I have just received a message from Kevin Scott of the Manx Ringing Group, Isle of Man, confirming that the Cormorant at Piccotts End Pools on the 15th of Sept. 2011, (see > HERE <) wearing the ring  ZZI , is of the coastal subspecies Phalacrocorax carbo carbo. It was ringed as a Juvenile 67 days before, on the 10th of July 2011, at Stack Mooar, Maughold, Isle of Man, 236miles (380km) away NW from Piccotts End Pools, as the Cormorant flys.

This is the first ever sighting of a Manx colour-ringed Cormorant in England so we should be proud that it chose Hemel Hempstead as a place to rest & feed. The distance & direction travelled, to an inland site, seems to support my previously mentioned idea that this bird may have been forced this way by the remnants of Hurricane Katia hitting hard between Ireland & Scotland (the Isle of Man being bang in the middle), & the subsequent strong Westerly winds across England.

Cormorants of the subspecies Phalacrocorax carbo carbo (coastal habitat & rock-ledge nesting) are not as regular at inland sites as their 'Continental' Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis (inland lake habitat & tree nesting) cousins, & particularly so here in Hertfordshire.

Kevin confirmed that the text on the ring is infact dark red rather than black but does appear black when viewed from a distance, in bad light, or when dirty. The inscription reads  ZZI  (zulu, zulu, india) from the foot up rather than  ZZ1  (zulu, zulu, one).

The 'Carbo' Cormorant's 'White ZZI' colour-ring & metal BTO ring
Stack Mooar is the largest Cormorant colony on the Isle of Man & was featured on BBC's Springwatch earlier this year. To can find out more about this bird & the great work conducted by the Manx Ringing Group click > HERE < to visit the Manx Bird Ringing blog.

Below is a map showing (A) where  ZZI  was ringed on 10/07/11 as a Juvenile at Maughold, & (B) where it was located on 15/09/11 at Piccotts End. To see the movements of all Manx ringed Cormorants that have been re-recorded since the project began click > HERE <.

(A) Stack Mooar, Maughold, Isle of Man
(B) Piccotts End Pools, Piccotts End, Hemel Hempstead

Below is the interactive map showing the movements of all Cormorants ringed on the Isle of Man, live from the Manx Bird Ringing blog. You can view a larger map with key by clicking > HERE <.

View Manx Ringing Group Cormorant movements on a larger map with key

Below is an illustration that may help with identifying the two subspecies of Atlantic Great Cormorant that we get here in the UK. It is only one of the identifying features but probably considered the most reliable - the angle at the rear of the yellow gular pouch. Be warned though that it is a generalisation, both subspecies can deviate either side of these rules, athough if you see a Cormorant with a Gular pouch with rear edges at an angle obviously greater than 90° you can be certain that it isn't a carbo. Obviously these details may not be visible enough to make a confident ID in bad light or at distance, the angle can appear different when the viewing angle isnit side-on, the pouch can be distorted by the positioning of the bird's head, & sub-adult birds may not display these features fully anyway.

Comparison between 'carbo' & 'sinensis' Cormorants
Reference: Newson et al. (Image edited for clarification)
To see a great paper about the differences between the two subspecies,
click > HERE <.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

PEREGRINE Returns to Winter Roost

I had a text from Jim Middleton at 6.45pm saying that the PEREGRINE Falcon that has wintered on the BT building next to 'The Magic Roundabout' for the last 2 winters was back. Luckily I was in a car pulling onto the the roundabout (officially called The Plough Roundabout) at that moment, so I looked up at the 4 uprights on the N face of the building to see her sat at her usual roost, clearly visible even from the furthest mini roundabout closest the Kodak Tower. It was great to see that the ringed female had returned for a 3rd winter & this is the earliest recorded date that she has arrived at her winter residence.

Nice one Jim & thank you for the text.
I  will keep this blog updated with her activities over the coming months.

The winter Peregrine roost is on the BT building next to 'The Magic Roundabout' or Plough Roundabout, on the E side. Not to be confused with the Kodak Tower (now 'Image' apartments) which is on the opposite side of the roundabout.
Below is an interactive map of where the Peregrine roost is, where to view it from, where to park, & which way to walk between the spots.
The 6 Figure OS Grid Ref. for the general area is TL 055 063, the 10 Figure OS Grid Ref. for the precise location of the roost is TL 05582 06377. You can use the interactive map > HERE < to find the location by Grid Ref, simply add the grid reference to the search to the left.
If you plan on using a SatNav to visit the site the postcode is HP2 4XD.
I'd say the best place to park without annoying residents or shop owners is at B&Q (HP3 9XX)  just down the road at Corner Hall, off of Lawn Lane from the E, or Two Waters Road from the W.
The roost area is on the N side of the building, facing on to the A414 dual carriageway, also called St. Albans Road. There is a section of the building that protrudes towards the main road which appears to be an internal staircase / lift shaft. On the front of this 'tower' are 4 beige uprights & there is a ledge linking the left-hand two, & another linking the right-hand two, just down from the top of the uprights. This is the Peregrine's pad.
The Pergrine is most often seen either in the morning until about 9.00am, or in the afternoon / evening usually after 4.00pm, sometimes returning to roost with a kill.
The Peregrine's favoured perches seem to be the top of the uprights 3rd & 4th from the left when alert, sat near the front looking down over the town, or the 1st & 2nd uprights from the left, when sat puffed up & resting, hidden at the back.

An interactive map of the Peregrine roost site.
View The BT Peregrine location guide on a larger map > HERE <.

In previous years I have seen the Peregrine leave the roost & travel NE away from the town & have heard records of one flying over the industrial estate & another frequently hunting Golden Plovers in the Redbournbury area, so it is possible that this is where it may spend the day on the hunt. I have also seen it flying from the Boxmoor direction though & even flying between the offices in Corner Hall, where I work.

I hope any Hemel birders that haven't yet seen her yet get a chance to this winter, don't miss the opportunity to see this rare & beautiful addition to our town.

For more information about this bird from winters '09/'10 & '10/'11, & to see photos I took at the time, visit the Hertfordshire Birding blog by Lee G R Evans.
Go straight to the posts about this bird by clicking > HERE < & > HERE <.

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