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Birding London trip report, 28 February

Virginia Water, Berkshire; Staines Reservoirs, Surrey; Stocker’s Farm and Lake, Hertfordshire; Fishers Green and the Lea Valley Farms, Essex; and Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, with Matthew Cvetas – led by Jack Fearnside, assisted by Matthew Rossor


Jack and Mathew R picked up Matthew C from his hotel in Hemel Hempstead at 6.30am and we soon joined the M1 south and then the M25 heading east and south to our first venue, Virginia Water in Windsor Great Park. We entered the park at Blacknest Gate and were soon watching some typical woodland birds including Goldcrest, Coal Tits, Common Treecreeper, European Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Ring-necked Parakeets lent an exotic flavour and special birds were Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Grey Wagtails and a large flock of Eurasian Siskins.

After a light breakfast we moved a short distance to Staines Reservoirs, close to Heathrow Airport, where we took a brief look over the north and south basins from the central footpath. Good species here were distant views of a group of nine Black-necked Grebes and three Greater Scaups.

We travelled back round the M25 as far as Rickmansworth, taking a brief look at some Skylarks in fields at Maple Cross before visiting Stocker’s Farm and Lake. As we started our walk down the farm track we had good views of a roosting Little Owl, and on the flooded horse paddock were good numbers of Eurasian Wigeons and our first Northern Lapwings. At the Grand Union Canal we saw more Grey Wagtails and the walk around Stocker’s Lake provided many species including Goosanders, breeding Grey Herons and Great Cormorants, a large flock of Greylag Geese and a beautiful drake Smew picked out by Matthew C.

We left the Colne Valley and travelled west into the Lea Valley, stopping breifly to view ‘the puddle’ at Willows Farm and the fields at Coursers Road, London Colney where there were Red-legged Partridges and some Stock Doves.

We called in at the Bittern watchpoint at Fishers Green; no Bitterns were on show but Common Shelduck, Little Grebe, Water Rail and Reed Bunting were new for the trip. Nearby, at the Lea Valley Farms, we walked down to view the goose fields where large numbers of Greylag and Canada Geese and Western Jackdaws were accompanied by smaller numbers of Egyptian Geese. There was also a female Eurasian Stonechat on one of the fences.

Our last site was Amwell Nature Reserve, a reserve of the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Across the railway we reached the watchpoint where new species were still available such as Common Redshank, Ringed Plover and Common Snipe. A walk along the old railway track added Little Egret and Marsh Tit and we had good views of Common Buzzards coming in to roost in Easney Wood. Back at the watchpoint we picked out a Yellow-legged Gull with Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls close by for comparison, and the final new species of the day was a fly-by Eurasian Sparrowhawk picked out by Matthew R.

We drove back via Hertford to the Ramada Jarvis Hotel at Hemel Hempstead, arriving about 6.30pm when the trip ended.

The weather was grey and overcast to start with but visibility improved and there was even some sun at the end of the day. There was little wind but it was cold when we were not on the move.

83 species were seen or heard during the day.

Species list

Mute Swan Cygnus olor – Common at all wetland sites, particularly Bury Lake (next to Stocker’s Lake) where there was a large non-breeding flock.

Greylag Goose Anser anser – Our first were a pair flying into Stocker’s Lake, to be followed by a large noise flock of around 40 birds. A large number of birds were also spread across the goose fields between Hays Hill and Holycross Farms in the Lea Valley.

Canada Goose Branta canadensis – Common at most sites.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus – Ten birds were scattered in pairs over fields at the Lea Valley Farms.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna – There were pairs at Fishers Green and Amwell NR.

Mandarin Aix galericulata – A few birds were seen in flight, including a pair that gave quite good views as they passed over the bridge at Virginia Water.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope – The first was a very distant pair on the south basin at Staines Reservoirs but we had excellent views later of good-sized flocks on the flooded horse paddock at Stocker’s Farm.

Gadwall Anas strepera – Small numbers were at Stocker’s Lake with further birds noted at Amwell NR.

Common Teal Anas crecca – Four were at Staines Reservoirs, a pair on the horse paddock of Stocker’s Farm and further birds at Amwell NR.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos – Common, noted at all sites.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata – Good numbers were at Staines Reservoirs, Stocker’s Lake, Fishers Green and Amwell Nature Reserve.

Common Pochard Aythya ferina – We had good views of birds at Stocker’s Lake. Also seen at Fishers Green and Amwell.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula – The first were eight at Virginia Water with many more birds seen at all other sites.

Greater Scaup Aythya marila – Three birds were distant on the south basin at Staines Reservoirs.

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula – A few were scattered around Staines Reservoirs with better views of more birds at Stocker’s Lake.

Goosander (Common Merganser) Mergus merganser – Perhaps five birds were at Stocker’s Lake, with drakes showing well but the females hiding under the overhanging vegetation.

Smew Mergellus albellus – Matthew C picked out a good white drake at Stocker’s Lake which gave close views before flying off.

Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis – A single female was on the south basin at Staines Reservoirs.

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa – At least three birds were seen in a ploughed field south of Coursers Road at London Colney, en route to the Lea Valley.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus – A distant ‘Old English’ male was seen from the farm fields at the Lea Valley Farms.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis – Two gave good views in the small channels through the reeds in front of the Bittern Hide at Fishers Green.

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus – Seen at all sites, with most birds now in summer plumage. Birds were watched performing their head-shaking display at Virginia Water.

Black-necked (Eared) Grebe Podiceps nigricollis – Nine were distant on the south basin at Staines Reservoir.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – Common at all sites with breeding birds attending nests at Stocker’s Lake and Amwell.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta – One was found on Hollycross Lake at Amwell, late in the day.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – Seen all sites, including breeding birds in heronries at Stocker’s Lake and Amwell NR.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus – A single female that flew over as we left Amwell was the last tick of the day.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo – Our first was seen over Virginia Water, with a distant bird soaring over Stocker’s Lake and three coming into roost in pines at Easney Wood at Amwell.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus – The only bird seen was a male sitting on a small tree on a roundabout at Hoddesden.

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus – One showed briefly for Matthew C in the reedbed at Fishers Green and one was heard giving its ‘sharming’ call at Amwell.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus – Seen at most wetland sites.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra – Present at all sites.

Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula – One was on the small islands in front of the watchpoint at Amwell NR.

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus – Four were on the flooded horse paddock at Stocker’s Farm and large numbers were resting and calling in flight in front of the watchpoint at Amwell NR.

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago – Good numbers were well hidden in the vegetation at Amwell NR.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus – One was seen from the watchpoint at Amwell NR.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus – The commonest gull, seen at all sites.

Common (Mew) Gull Larus canus – Seen at most sites with large numbers at Stocker’s Lake and Amwell.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus – Small numbers were coming in to roost at Amwell. All were of the British subspecies L. f. graellsii.

Herring Gull Larus argentatus – We looked at some first-winter birds in flight at Staines Reservoirs and discussed the presence of pale inner primaries. Several birds, adults and immatures, were on the main lake at Amwell.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis – A bird joined the roost at Amwell which, in direct comparison to Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, showed an intermediate toned grey back and the more rounded head shape typical of this species.

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus – Small numbers were roosting at Amwell.

Feral Pigeon Columba livia – Noted on our journeys and a large flock was seen around the Lea Valley Farms.

Stock Dove Columba oenas – Good scope views of a bird at Virginia Water, with more seen at Coursers Road and Amwell NR.

Woodpigeon Columba palumbus – Very common, seen at all sites.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto – Heard singing near Blacknest Gate at Virginia Water with birds seen in flight at Hayes Hill Farm and Amwell in the Lea Valley.

Ring-necked (Rose-ringed) Parakeet Psittacula krameri – Commonly seen and heard at Virginia Water with a further pair seen in the Alder carr at Stocker’s Lake.

Little Owl Athene noctua – A roosting bird gave good views as it sat in a willow near its nest box at Stocker’s Farm.

Eurasian Kingfisher Alcedo atthis – Two distant birds were chasing around the far side of the lake at Virginia Water.

Green Woodpecker Picus viridis – Two were seen at Stocker’s Farm and one at Amwell NR.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major – Good numbers of drumming birds were seen at Virginia Water. Singles were also noted at Stocker’s Lake and Amwell.

Skylark Alauda arvensis – Four birds were chasing around a winter-sown field at Maple Cross near the M25 spur road.

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis – A sizeable flock of around 20 birds sat on wires as we arrived at Stocker’s Farm but, before we could get any proper views, disappeared into thin air!

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea – Four birds gave good views as they flew around the bridge over the lake at Virginia Water. Also a pair at the lock on the Grand Union Canal at Stocker’s Farm.

Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba – A good black-backed male was watched on ‘the puddle’ at Willows Farm, London Colney. Also noted at Fishers Green. The British subspecies M. a. yarellii is a possible split from the nominate M. a. alba.

Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes – Heard as we arrived at Virginia Water, we eventually had good views of one singing near the Kingfisher hide at Stocker’s Lake.

Dunnock Prunella modularis – Seen at Virginia Water, Stocker’s Farm and at least four fed in front of the watchpoint at Amwell NR.

European Robin Erithacus rubecula – ‘Proper’ Robins were noted at all sites except Staines Reservoirs.

Eurasian Stonechat Saxicola torquata – A female was around a fence line across fields at the Lee Valley Farms.

Common Blackbird Turdus merula – Common, seen at all sites except Staines Reservoirs.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos – Seen well at Virginia Water and Stocker’s Lake. Often heard singing at other sites.

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus – Two were seen around Mistletoe in the English Lime trees at Blacknest Gate, Virginia Water.

Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti – Bouts of explosive song were noted at Fishers Green and Amwell.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus – One of the first species seen: a bird showed well in a tree above the car on our arrival at Virginia Water. Four were also watched at Stocker’s Lake and another heard singing at Amwell.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus – Our first were a couple of pairs at Virginia Water, with others at Stocker’s Lake. The best views were of birds visiting the feeders outside the James Hide at Amwell.

Marsh Tit Poecile palustris – Matthew R picked out a call and a glimpse of a bird down the disused railway track at Amwell led to better views after a short chase.

Coal Tit Periparus ater – Two were seen in woodland near the bridge at Virginia Water with another on the feeders at Amwell.

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus – Common at most sites.

Great Tit Parus major – Common at most sites.

European Nuthatch Sitta europaea – Four birds were seen and heard at Virginia Water with another two noted at Stocker’s Lake.

Common Treecreeper Certhia familiaris – One was seen in the woodland at Virginia Water with a pair also showing well at Stocker’s Lake.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius – At least four were seen at Virginia Water. One also at Amwell.

Common Magpie Pica pica – Common, seen at all sites.

Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula – Seen well at Virginia Water. Noted at most other sites where notably large numbers were in the fields by Holycross Farm at the Lea Valley Farms.

Rook Corvus frugilegus – Noted on our journey round the M25 and one was seen near the Lea Valley Farms.

Carrion Crow Corvus corone – Very common, seen at all sites except Staines Reservoirs.

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris – Two were noted at Virginia Water with more at Stocker’s Farm, the Lea Valley Farms and Amwell NR.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus – Birds were seen around the hedgerows and farm buildings at Stockers Farm, with more noted at Hayes Hill Farm and Amwell.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs – Common at all sites except Staines Reservoirs.

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris – At least six were seen at Virginia Water with further birds at Stocker’s Lake and the Fishers Green/Lee Valley Farms.

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis – A small flock was in flight at Stocker’s Farm with perched birds seen in the tall trees near Hayes Hill Farm. Heard calling at Amwell.

Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus – A large flock of around 50 birds were feeding on Alder seeds near the bridge at Virginia Water, with another flock seen at Stocker’s Lake. Also heard at Amwell.

Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus – The first two were seen by Matthew C at the Bittern Watchpoint, Fishers Green. We had close views of more birds on the feeders outside the James Hide at Amwell.
Other species

Mammals seen during the day were Grey Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis at Virginia Water and Stocker’s Lake, many Common Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus at the Lea Valley Farms, a Reeve’s Muntjac Muntiacus reevesi at Amwell Nature Reserve and of course the Cat up a tree Felix arborius at Stocker’s Lake.