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Monday, 13 February 2012

HEMEL MEGA: WATER PIPIT at Water End!


I have had some time to look through my record shots taken during an excellent afternoon yesterday (post > HERE <) birding at the Great Gaddesden side of Water End, just on the edge of Hemel Hempstead, & after analysing some distant record shots of an odd Pipit I saw I have a feeling that my suspicions may be correct, that it might in fact be a WATER PIPIT.

[NOTE 13/02/2012: I have had responses confirming my identification of WATER PIPIT from a number of people including David Darrell-Lambert who sent me a very useful ID guide he's written which can be read > HERE <.]

At 15.25, whilst stood talking to a lovely couple at TL 03338 10684, 35m SSW of the wooden bridge crossing the River Gade, a Pipit flew in from the S uttering a single sharp 'vueest' or 'fuisp' call. The bird alighted the hand rail of the wooden bridge & despite the poor misty light I could very obviously see two light wing-bars on each wing, a paler area around the secondaries, a light supercilium widening behind the eye, & very clean, pale underparts. The bird appeared generally cool greyish brown with darker flight feathers apart from the two white-looking wing bars & the mantle / back / scapulars which appeared to be a warmer, richer shade of brown, you could almost say 'slightly chestnut-tinged' in comparison to the rest of the bird & seemed to have no obvious streaking, coming across quite uniform. Apart from the whitish eye stripe, submoustachial stripe & throat the head was generally grey-brown but a hint darker on the crown & ear coverts. There seemed to be hardily any streaking or speckling to the breast or flanks, from the distance I was viewing from it just appeared like a light shading along the flanks, sides of the breast & where you'd expect a  malar stripe to be. The rump appeared to be a bit paler than the rest of the birds back, it's legs appeared to be red-brown, & when the bird flew after 20 seconds or so, I saw white outer tail feathers (which can just be seen as corner tips in the photos) & the two thin wing bars on each wing before it disappeared out of sight, bounding off N over the trees surrounding the private fishing pool.

As it was hard to see all of the details in the dim light at that distance I thought it would be useful to grab a few record shots. I couldn't really see the preview image on  my camera well enough at the time as I have a graze on my LCD & it was also misting up so I waited until I could view them on my computer. Despite them being very poor at that distance & high ISO they do show many of the features.

With the features noted & viewable in the photos I can't help but feel this bird is a WATER PIPIT. And interestingly, a few weeks ago I noted an odd looking Pipit at dusk that I failed to identify, which gave a similar single sharp call in a puddle beside the dried up stream less than 1 mile away NNW behind Wyevale Hemel Hempstead Garden Centre. I'm thinking this could have been the same bird & if so would mean it is wintering in the area.

Take a look at my record shots below to see what you think. Any comments or opinions are welcome & I apologise for the very poor quality of the pics in advance.

[NOTE 13/02/2012: After confirming the ID & the bird being subsequently refound today in the same area, by Samuel Perfect, I have had many messages asking for the precise location to look for the WATER PIPIT as well as the JACK SNIPE & WATER RAILS I'd seen there, plus the Drake PINTAIL that was still there at the time, originally found by Lucy Flower. To help in finding the birds I have created a map with precise locations & relevant info > HERE <.]

Possible Water Pipit at Water End.

My write up of the afternoon at Water End is > HERE <.

Directions for Water End WATER PIPIT, JACK SNIPE, PINTAIL & GREY PARTRIDGE.


Water Pipit on the wooden bridge at Water End - 12/02/2012.

As I have had quite a few requests for the exact location of the WATER PIPIT I found at Water End on 12/02/2012 (write up of visit > HERE < & post on realising the ID > HERE <.) so I have created this map of the area with markers of where to look for WATER PIPIT (in aqua), JACK SNIPE, PINTAIL, WATER RAIL & GREY PARTRIDGE, as well as other birds of interest in the area, & other species that are possible there at this time of year (in purple).

I have included parking places (in green), access points (in yellow), landmarks & my recommended route (in orange) for those of you who may only have a little time if visiting on a lunch break or before work.

Water bodies or wetland habitat in question are in blue & other relevant places are in pink.

The whole area is also good for MEADOW PIPIT, COMMON SNIPE, LAPWING, TEAL, GADWALL, LITTLE EGRET, GREY WAGTAIL, KINGFISHER, REED BUNTING, YELLOWHAMMER, BULLFINCH, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, BUZZARD & RED KITE.

If you click on any of the pin-point markers it will display the info relavent to that point & you can view the map in a larger format including the full key > HERE <. On the larger map I have tried to put the pin point markers in the key in the order you would come across them if you walk from a certain parking area, until they cross over with the main route.
The grid reference for the wooden bridge is TL 03252 10231.

You may also find this printable map & guide to walks in the area useful > HERE <.

Good luck to any of you who venture out to find the little beauty.





Sunday, 12 February 2012

HEMEL MEGAS: Search for PINTAIL at Water End turns up WATER PIPIT, JACK SNIPE, GREY PARTRIDGE, WATER RAIL, WIGEON & more!


Drake PINTAIL at the flood meadow at Water End.

After hearing that Lucy Flower had amazingly found a Drake PINTAIL on one of the small private fishing pools at Water End two days ago, I decided to cycle in the snow to see if it was still about, & to add it to my Hemel Life List. From looking at her photo & my previous experience finding other 'good' ducks there I could tell that it was on the small pool surrounded by trees NW of the 'S-bend' bridge, on the Great Gaddesden side of the hamlet.

Unusually for me on my way there I headed straight past my usual haunt at Piccotts End Pools without stopping, knowing that the pools were frozen solid. In doing so I saw a single LAPWING in the horse field between the pools & Leighton Buzzard Road & as I passed I saw 2 BUZZARDS flying low around Thrift Wood just beside the road, including one particularly large bird.

As I passed the Red Lion & entered Water End I glanced across onto the River Gade in case the PINTAIL had moved to this actually more likely spot, but there was no sign of it there so I continued & arrived at the metal gates on Nettleden Road & made my way across the snow covered rough grass...

Once at the private fishing pool at 14.50 I refound the Drake PINTAIL sitting on the ice under the bushes on the far bank with a few TEAL. After a while it swam around the corner out of view & I didn't see it again until 16.20 when Lee Evans & myself attempted to refind it. It had moved further upstream & was often commuting with a group of TEAL between the very shallow stream, basically in Great Gaddesden, & the most Northern part of the weir-dammed private fishing pool, both in the main flood meadow area S of Piper's Hill. There weren't really any opportunities for a proper photo but I did take a few record shots.

The Drake Pintail with Teal in its favoured area
on the secluded private fishing pool, Water End.

Drake Pintail with Teal & Mallards, Water End.

Now on setting out today my goal was to find the Pintail, but as I like to find my own birds I set myself a target bird to find, which was Jack Snipe. Well to my disbelief, before I'd even arrived at the Pintail pool, I rounded the corner of the lightly fenced off bog area to see a JACK SNIPE sat beside the steam! As I took it by surprise (though I don't think it was as surprised as I was) it took off vertically in typical Snipe fashion although not as hurriedly, less panicked & in a straight line in comparison to the urgent, explosive & zig-zagging take-off of a Common Snipe. As well as looking tiny it also appeared more floaty in flight with shorter, more rounded wings & the short bill held more downward pointing than a Common. I remember thinking this when I found two Jacks at Boxmoor the previous winter & in fact on seeing a Jack Snipe fly they remind me more of a miniature Woodcock. After a few seconds it landed only meters away in the long wetland grasses growing across the stream & as soon as it alighted between the tussocks it became invisible. I then didn't see the bird for a while until looking hard for it again once Lee Evans arrived, where he found it at the edge of the stream once again. A BROWN HARE was also hiding in the long grass for the whole time I was there & I didn't notice it until it darted out from between the tussocks, across the stream, & towards the field to the W where Hares usually congregate.

1 of 2 Jack Snipe at Boxmoor during Winter 2010/11.

Almost instantaneously after seeing the Jack Snipe a WATER RAIL ran through the vegetation just beside me in the small area of bog. I managed to grab a quick shot but with the bird being so well camouflaged, climbing between branches, & moving quickly in the dim light it isn't fantastic. Shortly after I saw the bird again, then again running around the fence on the snow, then again after a while, flying a short distance down stream. A bit later I saw a 2nd WATER RAIL walking on the ice at the Pintail pool with Lee, no Lee wasn't walking on the ice with the Rail, though a rail would be handy when doing so, Lee pointed the Rail out to me.

Water Rail at Water End.

Whilst talking to a lovely couple that I met, & admiring a GREY WAGTAIL with them, I was alerted by the call of a Pipit that sounded too sharp to be a Meadow Pipit. I looked up & saw a pale looking Pipit fly in from the S & land on the wooden bridge over the stream about 30m NE of where we were stood. I couldn't get a good look at it in the short time it was perched on the hand rail due to how far away it was, the misty air & dull light, but I did notice that it had some odd features. The details I could make out were rousing my suspicions towards a certain rare Pipit that strangely migrates North for the winter from its mountainous nesting grounds in the Alps, to vegetated water-bodies in the Northern Continent. I snapped a couple of record shots to look at later just incase, & it was just as well because after that the bird flew out of sight & I didn't see it for the rest of the day.

Now into the future... Well, on analysing & sharing my rubbish pics the next day I realised my suspicions were very valid, because the Pipit was in fact, a WATER PIPIT! a bird I definitely didn't have on my 'expect-the-unexpected-list', unexpected it certaily was, especially in the Hemel area. Now I hope to see the couple again as it would be nice to let them know they'd too seen a Wipit. Details of realising the identification are > HERE <.

Water Pipit at Water End.

Water Pipit at Water End.

Grey Wagtail at Water End.

Shortly after I arrived I noticed two large birds in flight looming out of the mist coming up stream, it was 2 CORMORANTS in Adult breeding plumage who seemed to be looking for somewhere unfrozen to land. Despite the low light & mist I went for a photo at high ISO. Now it isn't great, but does show in fact that the trailing bird is a 'CONTINENTAL' CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensisas you'd expect for an inland bird in this area of the South of England, & you can clearly see the wide angle at the back edge of the gular pouch. On the other hand, the leading bird is an 'ATLANTIC' CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo carbo) which you'd usually only expect to see at coastal locations around the British Isles, given away by the narrow angle at the back edge of the gular pouch. Both birds had noticeably different head & bill structures & I wonder if this is attributed to different habits of each of these subspecies. 

The 'carbo' bird also looked much more robust & thick set compared to the 'sinensis', as is often the case, & I wonder if this is down to the 'carbo' living in a much harsher environment where you need to be tough. It lives on wave-beaten, gale-blown rock edges of the coast, where they may have to fight over a tiny ledge to bring up their young. Compare this to the relative peace & tranquillity of the abundant lake-side trees where the 'sinensis' resides, where all of the fish it eats are contained within the water body it lives at, there's really not such a need for the 'sinensis' to be beefed up, it has it easy in comparison.

This has me thinking... so do these subspecies' digestive systems & bodily functions work differently, as seabirds such as the 'carbo' need to be able to maintain salt balance using their salt glands whereas freshwater birds such as 'sinensis' do not need to use these mechanisms? One for another day I think.

Any way... both birds went out of view, circled again about 5 minutes later looking to land, but ultimately I didn't see them again all day.

'carbo' Cormorant (left) & 'sinensis' Cormorant (right) both in breeding plumage, Water End.
[Ignoring the typically mentioned, though actually unreliable, ID feature of the amount of white feathering on their heads, note the acute rear angle of the yellow gular pouch on the 'carbo' & the right-angled to obtuse rear angle of the 'sinensis's' yellow gular pouch. - For a diagram pointing out the differences in gular pouch shape see down the page > HERE <.]

As I was leaving the area at nightfall a GREY PARTRIDGE was calling from the field to the W where a few BROWN HARES were just visible in the dark. This is a bird I have never been able to find locally until now, not helped by the fact they are becoming increasingly rare, & just hearing one in the Hemel area made me extremely happy & topped off a great few hours in the field.

The full list of birds of note seen throughout the day just within this area include...

LITTLE GREBE 1 on Pintail pool.
(sinensis) 'CONTINENTAL' CORMORANT 1 over.
(carbo) 'ATLANTIC' CORMORANT 1 over.
GREY HERON - at least 1 about.
4 MUTE SWAN 1 pair on Pintail pool & 1 pair nr. Red Lion.
GADWALL c.5
PINTAIL Drake on private fishing pool surrounded by trees.
2 WIGEON a pair on Pintail pool.
TEAL c.8 in the area.
c.2 BUZZARD
SPARROWHAWK
GREY PARTRIDGE calling from field to W at TL 03169 10264 nr. Nettleden Rd. at night-fall.
2 WATER RAIL 1 in small fenced bog area & 1 on Pintail pool.
COOT a single bird on Pintail pool.
LAPWING a single bird in Jack Snipe grass at dusk.
c.4 SNIPE about 4 in the area..
JACK SNIPE at least 1 just S of wooden bridge.
c.5 COMMON GULL c.5 inc. 1 1st Wint. low NE early pm.
KINGFISHER 1 on Pintail pool.
2 GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER a pair courting in trees S of wooden bridge.
WATER PIPIT 1 on wooden bridge.
2 PIED WAGTAIL a pair frequently visiting stream S of wooden bridge.
GREY WAGTAIL at least 1 frequently visiting stream S of wooden bridge.
SONG THRUSH at least. 1 in the area.
REDWING a few birds noticed in the area.
MISTLE THRUSH at least. 1 in the area.
FIELDFARE a few birds noticed in the area.
LONG-TAILED TIT 1 in bushes near small bog area.
c.7 GOLDFINCH c.7 in treetops neat small bog area.
GREENFINCH a few birds in bushes across river near gardens.
2+ REED BUNTING at least 2 in the area.
YELLOWHAMMER atleast 1 near pond on W side of flood meadow.

All of this & I didn't even get to properly watch the area of proper river just N of the Red Lion, look at the wide area of vegetated river next to Wyevale Hemel Hempstead Garden Centre, or visit the flood meadow N of the garden centre. In fact ALL of the species I saw apart from YELLOWHAMMER were on the 200m stretch SSE from the Pintail pool!

Details of my WATER PIPIT ID here > HERE <.
Details & map of WATER PIPIT location > HERE <.
Details related to CORMORANT subspecies ID > HERE < & > HERE <.




Tuesday, 7 February 2012

3 Pairs of LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS nesting at Buncefield!



Today I was made aware by aiki & Toadflax on the RSPB Community forum, of an extremely interesting, if short, article on The Gazette Hemel Today website. Some of you may have heard about this before but it was news to me & I can't believe I missed this at the time...

Apparently in Spring 2010, developers at the Buncefield depot site, who were renovating the area of the oil terminal explosion in December 2005, had to change plans to accommodate the nesting of 3 pairs of LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS!

The protection order meant that work on the construction related site clearance & earthworks activity could only take place outside of the breeding season & the development is expected to be finished with gravel or stone to create a suitable habitat for the Plovers to nest.

Having recently seen from afar, the open, stoney & rocky nature of the landscape, short spaced-out vegetation, & the quietness & distance from the majority of human & automotive activity at the site, it had me thinking that the site could attract Plovers at least on migration, coupled with the fact that they occasionally breed not that far away near Redbournbury, so this doesn't come as a complete surprise, but very much welcomed.

To hear that not just one, but three pairs of Little Ringed Plovers may have even attempted to breed there is fantastic, though there is no published news on whether they were successful, understandably. Luckily the site is highly guarded by a 24 hour security team, high barbed wire fences, razor wire, cannot be viewed well, if at all,  from the roads & paths, & is highly dangerous to enter anyway, so any birds there are pretty well protected.

I'd love to know if they have returned since, or whether they will return again, & hope that they were or will be successful in rearing young there. It's very good to hear that the developers have been so accommodating to the Plovers, & it sounds as if they really realise the significance of such a bird choosing to breed on their land, possible proud of it. Unfortunately this isn't heard of often in recent times, most developers doing all they can to get around the 'problem' of a breeding bird or looking for loopholes in their protection to go ahead with development as they had planned even with birds listed as Schedule 1 such as these. I feel the developers at Buncefield are setting a good example of how we can build, develop & renovate whilst living with, & taking into consideration, the nature around us. You can't really ask more from them since they're going that extra mile in not only preserving but actually creating habitat to actively attract the birds to the site. Lets just hope they return this spring.

[EDIT: Through some research of my own since composing this post I have subsequently found the official mitigation plan written by RPS Group consultants in partnership with Arcadis consultants, Graham Goodall of the Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre & Ecologist Martin Hicks. It is the proposed alternative plan for development on the site which was submitted to Dacorum Borough Council on behalf of Total UK with involvement from Kodak Ltd. UK.

The document mentions the developers actually creating more suitable nesting habitat for Little Ringed Plovers, the plan includes creating lagoons &/or two ponds maintained at 10-20cm deep to create an ideal landscape for the Plovers. It also mentions plans to encourage plant life beneficial to Little Ringed Plovers whilst providing habitat suitable for the particular insects that are important food sources for the birds. It goes as far as making sure a suitable depth of gravel & stone is used to prevent the usual overtaking by undesired plants so that an optimum breeding habitat can be naturally maintained.

The plan mentions lengthening the development process to ensure minimum disturbance to the Plovers & even takes into consideration the possibility of the birds having second broods. It also includes ways to maintain a suitable nesting landscape for the Plovers at each stage of site development, including utilising a large roof on one of the buildings to create a suitable nesting area incase their favoured area is disturbed.

It is certainly refreshing to read what measures are being taken for the good of our birds & other wildlife in this particular instance of building development, especially since the plan includes actively improving the habitat in the area to encourage the birds to breed in the future.]
The link to the article is > HERE <.
The link to the Total / Dacorum Borough Council mitigation plan is > HERE <.

The shot above is one I took of a Little Ringed Plover in habitat not that dissimilar to that of some areas around the Buncefield oil terminal, although this was in Andalucia, Spain.