Now that autumn is more or less over, things are starting to go a bit quiet, so it looked like we would not be going out this weekend. However after a discussion with Colin we decided to do something today rather than wait for Sunday, which according to Fridays forecast was going to be foggy for much of the day.
The morning started out very foggy, damp and cold. I thought it might be worth going up to Kelshall in the hope that the Black Redstart might still be around at the village hall. In view of the weather (including a nasty breeze) it is not surprising that it was not seen. Under the circumstances there seemed to be no point trying to search for the Hen Harrier that is in the area.
Our main destination was the reservoirs at Tring, which entailed a lovely drive through Luton and Dunstable, and we arrived at Startops End around 0930. It was still cold and with some mist but this gradually cleared over the next couple of hours. We were searching for the drake Ring Necked Duck that had been present for a few weeks. A long search over an hour produced a lot of Coot, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall and Mallard, along with five Red Crested Pochards. Several Little Egrets, Cormorants and Grey Herons were scattered around. From the hide we had a good view of the whole reservoir and the roosting gulls on the mud. My attention was caught by a Pied Wagtail chasing a Rock Pipit, which unfortunately did not linger, unlike the many Meadow Pipits.I was getting a bit frustrated in not being able to find the Ring Necked-I had seen a females it would be nice to see an adult drake. in Herts in the Lea Valley many years ago.
We carried on past Marsworth-not a lot apart from a few Shoveller and a Grey Wagtail, arriving at the road. This enabled us to have a scan of Tringford reservoir as I thought that maybe the duck might be here, but there was little to see as it is an active fishery, so we headed back to the west side of Startops. More scanning of the wildfowl in much better light seemed to be getting nowhere until I found a sleeping 'Tufty" with a long tail and dusky flanks which looked promising. I kept returning to the bird and eventually it woke up to reveal the distinctive head and bill of a Ring Necked Duck.
A youtube clip as well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-IGG25NZyc
Following this we spent an hour or so at Wilstone. It's recently had a few good birds-Pintail, Ruff and Black Tailed Godwit, but not today. The water levels are very low with a lot of mud exposed, and the causeway across the middle was well above the water level. As a result there were a huge number of roosting gulls and wildfowl. A flock of Lapwing was joined from time to time by about 100 Golden Plover-numbers seemed to vary with birds coming and going on a regular basis. I also spent a bit of time checking the birds in the wood, but nothing unusual was seen, though a Red Admiral flew by taking advantage of the unseasonal warmth.
Our final destination was Heartwood Forest near Sandridge. This is a fairly new place being developed by the Woodland Trust to the south of Nomansland Common and the attraction was Short Eared Owls. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen recently as well.
We wandered around for a while, since we thought that 1430 might be a bit early for the owls, gradually making our way to the high point south of the farm. It was not long before we came across a Red Kite being mobbed by two Short Eared Owls! They gradually drifted higher and higher moving west until I lost them in the bright sun. Shortly after we came across a birder who had been photographing the owls all afternoon, but it was clear that they had gone from the area he had been watching.
After a while we were staked out along a fence south of the farm and it was not long before we were seeing owls again though generally they were keeping low. It was clear that there were a minimum of three Short Eared Owls though there were never more than two on view at any one time. Unfortunately since it was a very busy weekend with a lot of people around they never really came as close as we would have liked, but I will be returning at some point as we missed the Stonechats, Redpolls and so on that had been seen by others today.