Bird Notes

As from October 2013 The bird Notes are in the Ver Valley Society Newsletter

- May 2009

Back in March I was hopeful that little ringed plovers would breed and it was a great thrill to see them return to the flooded fields along the Ver in late March. This is the first time I had seen them in Redbourn them since 2001 when four pairs bred. This year two pairs were present for a long time and young were seen towards the end of May so at least one pair and possibly two pairs bred. In the same area at least 4 pairs of lapwing bred as young chicks were seen before the vegetation grew up giving them the essential cover.

Redshanks were also present in early April but did not breed along the Ver Valley. Maybe next year! A new bird for the Ver Valley in April was a ruddy shelduck which is a beautiful duck from Eastern Europe. It is more than likely that this bird is an escape from a wildfowl collection but it certainly was a colourful addition to the flood plain for a while as it commuted between the Upper Ver Valley and the fishing lakes at Tyttenhanger.

Yellow wagtails are another welcome visitor this spring with pairs probably nesting near Verlam End and Scout Farm. Like the little ringed plovers they are not regular breeders.

At the end of May, when we did at last have some warm evenings, I was able to see a pair of barn owls near Redbournbury. It was nearly dark before I saw one adult fly into the nest box and then just as it was almost impossible to see. a second adult flew in and perched on the platform in front of the nest box hole. It stayed there for about 5 minutes staring at me and there I was thinking I was hidden behind a bush. Eventually it flew off and I trudged off home with the happy knowledge that we may have young barn owls later this summer for the fourth successive year.

On the downside I have not heard or seen a cuckoo in Redbourn this year and I always reckon to see one before the end of May. They are now on the “Red List” so this is a national concern. House martins seem to very reduced in numbers this spring but my favourite late arrival, the swift is back in flying around the Avenue on the common and around the High Street.

One late May morning as I was walking my dog I amazed to see about 20 painted lady butterflies in a just a few minutes. I later found out that there had been one of the largest invasions ever recorded as thousands made it from their wintering area south of the Atlas Mountains. It always amazes me that a fragile creature like a butterfly is able to fly thousands of miles across Africa and Europe and arrive on our shores.

The next Open Meeting of the Ver Valley Society is at 7.30 p.m on Tuesday 28 July at Markyate Village Hall, Cavendish Road. The guest speaker is Dr John Catt who is chairman of the Hertfordshire Geological Society and he will be talking about the Geology of the Ver Valley. If you want to know more about the chalk below your feet - be there! Admission is free and non members are always very welcome.

There is a list of birds seen along the Ver Valley on our web site www.riverver.co.uk . If you have any comments on the status or notice any omissions please let me know. Also if you have any interesting bird sightings I would be pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com.

John Fisher May 2009

Bird Notes - March 2009

As I write these notes in late March we are at the time of the year when our winter visitors such as snipe, golden plover, fieldfares and redwings are leaving for their breeding territories in the north and our summer visitors are just beginning to arrive. So far I have seen wheatears, chiffchaffs and a little ringed plover (not strictly in the Ver Valley but close by) which along with sand martins and ring ouzels are traditionally the earliest arrivals. The annual influx is spread over quite a long period and it will probably be almost two months before late arrivals like spotted flycatchers turn up.

The little ringed plover is one of my favourite birds not just because they are one of the first indicators of spring but also because they have a strong local connection. The first pair to breed in the UK was at Tring Reservoirs in 1938 but it was not until after the war that they became an established breeding species in the UK. On mainland Europe they had bred mainly on the shingle banks of rivers. In the UK they were helped considerably by the gravel workings necessary for the post war building boom which provided just the right ground conditions for them to form their nest scrapes. It still seems strange that they used these basically industrial sites. The slightly larger ringed plover can be seen throughout the year whereas the little ringed plover is very much a migrant but can hardly be called a summer visitor as it turns up in mid March. The little ringed plover can be distinguished by its yellow eye ring. Also it has flesh coloured legs and a dark beak, not the orange legs and beaks of ringed plovers. They are very vocal, especially around their nest sites and they are usually heard before they are seen

In 2001 four pairs of little ringed plovers and eight pairs of lapwings successfully raised broods on the flood plain on the western side of the Ver near Luton Lane. That winter the Ver was at its maximum flow in over 30 years and this winter we have conditions approaching this with some huge flood ponds all along the Ver Valley, so it could be that little ringed plovers will breed again. 2001 was easily the best year in my memory for bird watching locally and hopefully 2009 will be as good. That spring ringed plovers, dunlin, common sandpiper, redshank, greenshank and even a marsh harrier were all seen.

This winter has been especially good for snipe with at least 30 resident for most of the winter and at least one green sandpiper feeding on the shrimps in the Ver. Apparently they need several thousand of these every day to survive. Although snipe used to breed in the Ver Valley up to the seventies they will all be gone by the time you read these notes.

The little egret is now a regular feeder along the River Red and is seen most days but they are a very nervy species and they soon fly off when you get near. They are a great addition to the delights of Redbourn Common along with the kites and buzzards. However so far I have not seen any kingfishers on the Ver this year which is a big miss.

There is a list of birds seen along the Ver Valley on our web site. If you have any comments on the status or notice any omissions please let me know. Also if you have any interesting bird sightings I would be pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com.

John Fisher March 2009

Bird Notes - February 2009

From mid December a flock of golden plovers, sometimes as many as 2000, have been seen in the fields near Punch Bowl Lane. In recent years these same fields have regularly played host to golden plovers and it is a bit of mystery why they favour these fields. It could be lack of disturbance, good sight lines to see predators or an abundance of grubs for feeding. They usually only stay a day or two before moving further south, probably to the south coast estuaries or mainland Europe, but I was amazed to see them in the same fields after I returned after a winter holiday at the end of January. Shortly after this we had “the big snow” and as I write these notes they seemed to have moved on at last. As usual there were a smaller number of lapwings with them, probably 250, but it is when both species take off and fly in formation that they become a true spectacle. These fields are also good for fieldfares and redwings and there is always a good chance of seeing kites and buzzards in this area.

The hard winter has meant that snipe have taken up residence along the frost free edges of the Ver in greater numbers than for many years. I saw a flock of 20 flying over the Redbournbury Water Meadows and they are being seen more regularly and in greater numbers since early 2009. A green sandpiper has also been seen along the Ver in Porridge Pot Meadow which is an indicator of the good health of our chalk stream as they feed mainly on fresh water shrimps which only thrive when we have sustained flows from the aquifer.

I still find it amazing that we can now see buzzards, red kites and little egrets practically everyday in and around Redbourn. Twenty years ago I had to travel to the West Country to see a buzzard, to mid Wales to see a red kite and across the channel to France to see a little egret. The red kite was a reintroduction from Spanish birds but buzzards and egrets have extended their range due to either climate change or a decrease in persecution. Several people have contacted me about their sightings of these birds – yes that is a little egret on Redbourn Common feeding on the River Red. Little egrets have black legs and yellow feet – let me know if see one with grey or yellow legs as it could be a cattle or great egret, rare birds in the UK.

Many people have remarked to me that they are not seeing tits and finches in anything like their normal numbers. The last two springs have been damp and cold which has meant that it has been very difficult for these birds to raise their broods. And now this hard winter is going to further reduce their numbers. We have been checking the 40 nest boxes along the Ver Valley just recently and results have been particularly disappointing with many nests built but not used or containing dead fledglings. It was a very wet and cold spring and maybe our boxes were put up a bit late but I think the conditions meant that many youngsters just did not get fed. We have just put up a further 20 and as these are all in position before winter they will hopefully be used for winter roosting and then for successful breeding in 2009. A warm and dry spring is needed now to allow the numbers to recover.

If you read this and have any interesting bird sightings in or around Redbourn I would be more than pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com

John Fisher February 2009 C22 commonroundbirds 02 2009

Bird Notes - December 2008

First of all I would like to thank all those who have contacted me over the last year about birds and I am glad that many of you seem to enjoy my ramblings!

Autumn has been wet and cold and there has been a lot of bird movement through the Ver Valley. Most notable was a huge flock of golden plover and smaller flocks of lapwing, fieldfares and redwings. Unfortunately these were just passing through and I have not heard of any large flocks settling in our fields just yet. Rothamsted have left the crop field to the west of the Green Lane to Porridge Pot unploughed and the stubble is providing a winter feast for finches and buntings. One morning recently I reckon there must have been about 40 yellow hammers flying back and forth from the hedges to the field. Amongst them were several chaffinches, greenfinches and reed buntings but it was the brilliant plumage of the yellow hammers which caught my eye on a rare sunny morning. By the time you read this I expect this field will have been ploughed ready for spring sowing but the field margins will be left for the birds and the voles.

We are very fortunate that locally the Rothamsted land and the Redbournbury Water Meadows are managed very sympathetically for nature. Nationally in recent years set-aside fields, field margin strips and new hedges have improved the habitat on farmland. As a result many threatened species like skylarks and yellow hammers have made some recovery from the devastation of the “prairie farming” of the previous decades. I am alarmed that with rising food prices and the push for bio fuels this trend will now be reversed. We need to protect our natural heritage for future generations. As Joni Mitchell wrote about 40 years ago “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” and those lines are still so relevant.

Ver Valley Society Open Meeting at the St Mary’s Transept Hall on Monday 26 January. I am sure Tim Hill will be speaking about the much improved Amwell Reserve which was originally set up in the 1980’s following an initiative of the late John Spreull who was then a director of St Albans Sand and Gravel and a Redbourn man. After the extraction of the sand and gravel from the area the original plan had been to return the land to agriculture use but John was able to argue the case for the area to become a nature reserve. I remember attending the original opening ceremony when the late Gordon Benningfield, another former Redbourn man, cut the ribbon. Now some 25 years later Amwell is the flag ship reserve of the County and is a much visited attraction. Try it some time this winter and you will have an excellent chance of seeing species like water rail, bittern and smew as well as 100’s of ducks and waders.

If you read this and have any interesting bird sightings or queries I would be more than pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com

Bird Notes - November 2008

Often people ask me somewhat accusingly if I am a “twitcher”. The easiest way to explain this is that for every “twitcher” there are probably a 1000 birdwatchers and I certainly fall into the latter category. “Twitchers” have mobile pagers and dash all over the UK to add rare species to their life list, which are often vagrants who have crossed the Atlantic or the entire European mainland in misguided migrations caused by strong winds.

Having said all this I must admit it was a real joy to find a rare bird in Redbourn last month when a merlin turned up near Redbournbury. A merlin is not a real U.K rarity but it is restricted to our northern heather moors in the summer, spending the winter mainly in coastal areas so in Hertfordshire it is very rare. For Ernie Leahy, my companion that day, and me it was our first for the County. A merlin is the smallest of the European falcons and is very much like a small peregrine. In flight they are often confused with sparrow hawks but this bird was perched on a fence post so we had a really good view and we were sure it was a female merlin. As with most birds of prey the female is larger but with a dull brown plumage compared to the slate grey of the smaller male. On the moors they capture their usual prey of meadow pipits in a fast low level flight without the spectacular stoops of the peregrine. I think this was one was probably preying on the starlings.

The little egrets have turned up even earlier than normal in the Ver Valley this year with up to four being present from mid October and it cannot be long before they breed locally. Kites and buzzards must have had a good breeding season as more and more are being seen, with family groups of four now not uncommon.

On the downside small birds seem to have had a poor year and many people have remarked to me that they are not seeing tits and finches in anything like their normal numbers. We have been checking the 40 nest boxes along the Ver Valley just recently and results have been particularly disappointing with many nests built but not used or containing dead fledglings. It was a very wet and cold spring and maybe our boxes were put up a bit late but I think the conditions meant that many youngsters just did not get fed. We have just put up a further 20 and as these are all in position before winter they will hopefully be used for winter roosting and then for successful breeding in 2009. A warm and dry spring is needed in 2009 to allow the numbers to recover.

The Ver Valley Society Open Meeting at the St Mary’s Transept Hall on Monday 26 January will feature an illustrated talk by Tim Hill who is the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Reserve Manager. He is a keen birder himself and he will be covering wetland habitats and in particular the recently improved reserve at Amwell. The next Common Round will have more information about this event and you can find more about the Ver Valley Society Meetings, Newsletters and wildlife at our web site www.riverver.co.uk . You can also download a membership application form. If you do not have internet access and want to join give me a ring and I will put a form through your door. Membership is only £5 per year and membership covers a household. You get a quarterly newsletter and you will be contributing to preserving our precious river.

If you read this and have any interesting bird sightings in or around the Redbourn I would be more than pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com

BIRD NOTES - October 2008

This was the Eleventh Barn Owl

Ringed in three Years

- all from the same box
Barn_Owl_Ringed.gif

In early June the barn owl box at Redbournbury Farm had one live youngster, just a few days old, a still warm dead one and an unhatched egg. When we returned on Saturday 19 July Peter Wilkinson, our barn owl man, was able to ring two healthy youngsters. There was no sign of the dead chick and if you watched Bill Oddie on Springwatch you will know of the gruesome contribution this bird made to the success of its siblings. This makes a total of 11 reared in this box in the last three years. It is estimated that these two were 57 and 45 days old respectively; however as they were in a healthy condition and had obviously been well fed they would have flown after 60 days. In some ways 2 is disappointing after 3 and 5 in the previous two years but this has not been a good year nationally for barn owl breeding so this is a real success in a wet and cold summer. The Hudgell family who run a beef herd from the farm have been very keen on the project from day one and take a great interest in its success. I think this pair has been particularly successful because they have a readily available supply of mice and rats from the farmyard. On behalf of the Ver Valley Society and the barn owls I would like to thank the Hudgells for their enthusiastic support.

In the Shafford box two adults were roosting in June and we were hopeful that they would be late season breeders. However when we looked in July the box was empty although there were feathers and pellets to indicate that the box was still being used as a roost. I did see a barn owl flying at dusk in the area one mid summer evening just as it was getting dark so although this pair did not breed this year I remain hopeful they will breed in 2009. I suspect that they were just not feeding well enough to get into breeding condition.

Red kites are being reported every day now and there are probably at least two pairs breeding close by; several people have told me they have seen them over Redbourn. Nationally they are doing extremely well and I expect they that will increase their population rapidly in the area now they are established. On a recent afternoon I saw three red kites, six buzzards, two sparrow hawks and a kestrel along a two mile stretch of the River Ver.

Probably the best sighting this summer was a honey buzzard seen on passage with four common buzzards over Ben Austins. They are regularly seen in late summer in the UK if the wind is from the east as they migrate from their breeding territories in the European mainland to Africa but as far as I know this is the first one seen from Redbourn

It has not been a good breeding year for small birds and in particular the house martin colonies have been badly affected by the poor summer weather. We did put up 40 nest boxes this spring for tits, robins, nuthatches and finches. 4 are in Cumberland Gardens, 3 in the grounds of St Lukes School where they are part of a Bird Project for the students and others are in the Green Lane to Porridge Pot and around Redbournbury.

The wonderful display of harebells on the common this summer must be the best for years and the almost translucent delicate blue blossoms nodding in the breeze is a great sight. Because the Parish Council is leaving areas of the common uncut the harebells are flourishing and these areas are also attracting a great deal of insect life, including the rare small copper butterfly. I know not everyone agrees with Parish Council on this but for me it was great decision

If you read this and have any interesting bird sightings in or around the Redbourn I would be more than pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com

John Fisher 30 September 2008 20 vvsbirds 10 2008

BIRD NOTES June 2008

Kite_over_estate_001.jpg

There is more good news this year regarding barn owls, as a pair has bred again for the third successive year near Redbournbury and it looks as if a second pair will breed late near Shafford. It will be interesting see which strategy pays off. You have to be licensed to even check a barn owl box so in early June I watched while our barn owl man, Peter Wilkinson, looked into all 6 of the boxes we now have along the Ver Valley. One box had one live youngster, just a few days old, a still warm dead one and an unhatched egg. Barn owls are very dependent on voles and mice which may be in short supply this year and of course the very wet May would have made it a difficult hunting time for the adults. Hopefully there will be two healthy young barn owls when we return to ring them in early July. In the other box two adults were roosting and as there is still time for them to produce a brood before the autumn we are hopeful. This pair had bred late in 2007 as there was one dead fledgling still in the box from last year’s brood. It is likely that two or three youngsters flew from this box in September or even October. Our barn owls are very elusive and to see them you need to be around at dusk as they seldom hunt in daylight. Two breeding pairs of barn owls in Redbourn must a first for decades.

I saw my first cuckoo this year on the very last day of May, having heard my first on 26 April. As with most years I found that the best local area for cuckoos are the water meadows just north of Shafford where a lot of reed warblers nest which are probably the hosts for our cuckoos. I heard cuckoos calling several times in early May, including the strange bubbling call of the female, but could never manage to get a sight of one until on this late May evening I saw the very distinctive profile of a cuckoo on the top of a fence post. Cuckoos have very long wings which when they are perched extend beyond the tail and it is this feature which I think makes them unmistakeable.

Buzzards and red kites are both now firmly established around Redbourn and although red kites live mainly on carrion I saw one take live prey while on an early morning walk through Gorhambury. Several pairs of lapwing are breeding this year along the Ver and it’s great to see the swooping flight and hear the plaintive calls of these wonderful birds. It was these calls which first drew my attention to a pair mobbing a red kite. This is normal behaviour especially when they have young to defend from predators but in this case the defence did not work as the kite dropped down to the ground and grabbed a lapwing chick and then was pursued into the distance by the furious lapwing pair. Hopefully they had another two or three chicks hidden in the grass which will survive. I am afraid this is nature at this time of the year when the success of one species depends on preying on others. Even your garden blue tits depend on caterpillars which are really just like the young lapwing.

Two really interesting birds seen around Redbourn, but sadly not by me yet, are a turtle dove which favours the Dunstable Road end of Blackhorse Lane and a spotted flycatcher which is nesting along Hogg End lane – that is maybe just outside Redbourn Parish but it probably flies over the border from time to time!

If you read this and have any interesting bird sightings in or around the Redbourn I would be more than pleased to hear from you on 01582 792843 or email john.fisher@btclick.com.

John Fisher

5 June 2008

BIRD NOTES

It is not often we get a rare bird in Redbourn so it was a real surprise when a ring ouzel turned up in the Redbournbury Water Meadow one Monday morning in late April 2007. Ring ouzels are the mountain version of the blackbird with a distinctive white collar and pale wing panels. They pass through the southern counties each spring on their way to their breeding areas in the uplands of Northern England and Scotland. Most springs I get to see them for a few days either at Stepps Hill near Ivinghoe Beacon or Blows Down in Dunstable. These are traditional stopping off points where they recharge before continuing their migration northwards. Ring_Ouzel1.gif

Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Barn_Owl_Ringed.gifgif Barn_Owl_Ringed.gif manage 77.9 K 06 Oct 2008 - 17:56 Bob Boutland  
Kite_over_estate_001.jpgjpg Kite_over_estate_001.jpg manage 18.8 K 06 Jun 2008 - 14:51 Bob Boutland  
Ring_Ouzel1.gifgif Ring_Ouzel1.gif manage 60.9 K 10 Jul 2007 - 15:58 Bob Boutland April 2007
Ver_Valley_List_Birds_-_Mammals.xlsxls Ver_Valley_List_Birds_-_Mammals.xls manage 45.0 K 22 Feb 2007 - 17:13 Bob Boutland Birds and Mamals along the Ver Valley
birdowl.gifgif birdowl.gif manage 11.7 K 03 Oct 2006 - 17:09 Bob Boutland  
birdowl2.gifgif birdowl2.gif manage 188.3 K 03 Oct 2006 - 17:10 Bob Boutland From John Fisher
stonechat.gifgif stonechat.gif manage 54.2 K 03 Feb 2007 - 15:33 Bob Boutland Picture by Ernie Leahy
Topic revision: r31 - 25 Oct 2013 - 17:08:16 - Bob Boutland
 
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