Another belt of heavy snow arrived overnight dumping up to eight inches over the Chilterns District and making the main artillery routes impassable for much of the morning. Dunstable and Luton were particularly badly hit, but also Milton Keynes, Oxford, Aylesbury, Tring and Amersham. Once the snow had turned to rain and then dissipated, it warmed up and at one stage reached 6 degrees C. The snow began to melt but from late afternoon, the temperatures plummeted once more and were hovering just above freezing at the Marsworth Roost.
I left home shortly after 0930 hours with an intention of checking the Gayhurst geese. The A404 was snowbound and after eventually reaching the M25, I ground to a halt when I finally reached the M1 at Junction 7. Due to Luton Airport being closed and snowbound, the airport queue had spilled back on to the sliproad at Junction 10 of the M1 causing gridlock. It took me three hours to get through.
GAYHURST & PORTFIELDS FARM FIELDS (NORTH BUCKINGHAMSHIRE)
I arrived at a very snowy Lakes Lane early afternoon and after trudging through the snow (in places nearly a foot deep) eventually got to a position where I could 'scope the huge mixed flock of Greylag and Canada Geese that were feeding north of the Motorway Pit at SP 852 448. The birds were attempting to 'dig out' the ground under the snow and were seemingly successful, particularly as the ground beneath was very wet. The flock comprised 283 Greylag and 144 Canada but also included 6 EURASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (four adults and two first-winters). After a while, two adults of the latter flew off and disappeared south. Fortunately, I had my suspicions where to......
After returning to my car, I drove round to Portfields Farm and pitched up just west of the M1 motorway bridge at SP 853 442. Another large flock of geese befell me and were feeding very close in the snow-covered field at SP 852 442 - about 75 yards away. Protected by Hawthorn scrub, I could see them but they could not see me. I enjoyed excellent views and in amongst the throng were 22 EURASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (including two first-winters), the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE (which incidentally, appears to be a first-winter), the BARNACLE GOOSE, 238 Greylag Geese and 75 Canada Geese. So, in total, 26 EURASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (same as Rob Hill's count of yesterday) including four first-winters.
I was also thrilled to see a MARSH TIT in the scrub by the bridge, which persistently kept harshly critising my presence.
Following a call from Steve Rodwell, I then headed south
IVINGHOE FIELDS (BUCKS)
Whilst driving down the B489 towards Ivinghoe, I suddenly came across large numbers of Woodpigeons feeding in snow-covered fields either side of the road (NE of Town Farm at SP 954 165 and SP 955 164). I stopped off to count them (a minimum of 4,000 birds) and was astounded to find a massive flock of EURASIAN SKYLARKS associating with them. An incredible 772 was click-counted - by far the largest number I have recorded locally in a very long time. I was absolutely delighted as numbers of this charming farmland bird have been declining nationally and this was a very substantial number. Whether or not they are local birds or immigrants from the continent is unknown but it sure is impressive.
DIRECTIONS: The B489 is a busy and dangerous road in this area and there is no parking other than the entrance/access road to Town Farm.
MARSWORTH RESERVOIR (HERTFORDSHIRE)
Steve Rodwell had discovered a fabulous adult drake GOOSANDER early afternoon on Marsworth Reservoir, which both Roy and Dave B saw shortly later (in fact, Dave obtained one of his excellent 'trademark' photographs of the bird, depicted above). Fortunately, much to my surprise, it was still there when I arrived at 1445 and showed extremely well until at least 1506. It was favouring the extreme north end of the reservoir (often in the Buckinghamshire part) and took to 'fishing' in the shallows, fairly close to the reedbed near the locks. It was an awesome bird - so handsome - and represented my first of the year in the Recording Area.
The reservoir also held 12 Northern Pochard, 47 Shoveler and 6 Great Crested Grebes whilst neighbouring STARTOP'S END RESERVOIR yielded a further 17 Pochard and 17 Shoveler. Just 1 adult Mute Swan was with Mallards on the Grand Union Canal, whilst FIELDFARES were passing over in small numbers and 35 House Sparrows were noisily arguing around STARTOP FARM.
WESTON TURVILLE RESERVOIR
From 1525-1620, WTR was birded. There was no sign of either Bittern but feeding in the one small area of open water were 6 Great Crested Grebes, 10 Pochard and a single drake Eurasian Wigeon.
A single LITTLE EGRET fed to the left of the hide, with 3 Grey Herons in active prominence, 2 squealing WATER RAILS, a flighty flock of 35 hungry Fieldfares, 2 Wrens and a single CETTI'S WARBLER.
I then decided to return to Tring Reservoirs, stopping off briefly at Wilstone where Steve Rodwell had seen 4 COMMON GOLDENEYE and 90 COMMON GULLS and 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the roost.
By 1700 hours, the last of just 88 CORN BUNTINGS flew in to roost, whilst the beautiful drake GOOSANDER flew off south at 1645 and the usual male Eurasian Sparrowhawk did his pass through the reedbed.
Scanning the far side of the reedbed I soon located the wintering EURASIAN BITTERN (at 1654), constructing its roosting platform of reedmace in its favoured area in line with the tallest isolated tree on the backdrop. Once again, I was mystified at just how the reeds could take its weight without bending over, and at one point, it climbed right to the top of the reeds and stretched its neck out to retrieve taller reeds. It remained on view for at least 20 minutes before dropping flat and blending in with the reeds.
Just as I was departing SR joined me and at dusk (1720 hours), the BARN OWL was hunting over the weedy field north of the Sewage Farm at SP 924 137. Another local Year Tick as well as in Hertfordshire.