Saturday, 20 December 2014

Week 48: Wintering Chiffchaff & Buntings in the Reed Bed

Buntings in the Reeds
Just five days until Christmas! I feel as though I should be in a state of Yuletide hysteria and sporting inadvertent smatterings of glitter accidentally acquired from cheap Christmas cards. Actually, I’m marvelling at how the year has flown by and that it won’t be long before the Oak and I part company. However, this isn’t the time for reflections. I shall save those for the new year, once the project has finished.

At the start of the week, when temperatures were only just above freezing, I walked both the Hemel moors and the Bovingdon Brickworks site. I was struck by the quiet, cold, stillness. The Brickworks in particular were largely devoid of bird song or movement, there was little breeze and no noticeable insect life. But, all around is potential and promise, with fresh new buds formed on otherwise bare, leafless trees.

On Monday, I wrapped up warm and went Bunting Hunting. Dan Forder had found a couple of Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) flitting about near Old Fishery Lane and I was keen to include them in this year’s project. I got lucky and discovered the pair loitering in the tiny reed bed beside Fishery Moor.  Unfortunately, they were up and off to the Gadespring cress beds before I could say "my toes are cold and I have a hankering for a hot mince pie". One of the birds is obviously the ringed male, photographed by Dan last week. The other is either an unusually dark-headed female or is in fact another male. I didn’t get a good look. Anyway, they were lovely to see, especially in their typical habitat, a reed bed (not something we have a great deal of in Hemel Hempstead!)

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), feeding on nettle seeds
The south-facing hedgerow, running along the south side of the Bulbourne (as it passes through Fishery Moor and Station Moor), is one place I can guarantee at least 12 species of common birds. It is something of a winter refuge and is particularly lively at the moment. There’s plenty of shelter from chilling winds and, when the sun is shining, birds push through to the outer-most branches and sit or preen in the available warmth.

One not so common species at this time of year, is the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). Many (sensible) UK breeding birds migrate south to the Mediterranean and West Africa. Some Scandinavian, mainland European and even Siberian birds migrate from their breeding grounds to winter in Britain. And so, during the coldest months in the UK, there is this sparse population of multinational Chiffchaffs, of varying sub-species, and from a variety of breeding grounds. It made my morning this week when, along the Bulbourne hedgerow, I came across one of these little birds, intently feeding on Common Nettle seeds. I’m no expert in determining sub-species/race but, from the little I know, I think this bird is a fairly standard nominate form P. c. collybita rather than anything Eastern and exotic. Even so, they do make me smile and it was a cheery sight on a frosty winter’s day.

Further up, where the river bends and cuts across Station Moor, a male Kestrel was perched in a sapling, eyeing up the small birds. None appealed and he returned to the air and to patrolling the grass. Over on Harding’s Moor and beyond, I came across 3 Little Egrets and, of course, the Kingfishers were active along the river.

From the footbridge over the Bulbourne. Left (west) is Harding's Moor; right (east) is Bulbourne Meadow

Both the young male and the young female bird were fishing in their favoured areas. I heard at least a third bird and saw what I think was a fourth bird. It’s quite difficult to keep track of them, especially if all you experience is a jet propelled fly past.

Finally, before I get to this week’s Oak photograph, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Christmas. Roll on the Turkey and the ill-advised but irresistibly large quantities of chocolate!

3 comments:

Dan at Hemel Nature said...

Hi Lucy, Merry Christmas. Beautiful photos. You Chiffchaff looks a bit Scandinavian to me, even though they are yet to prove them by DNA. As well as the details I posted in one of my posts I also think they look more Willow Warbler-like than our Chiffchaffs. Happy New Year if we don't speak before. Take care, Dan.

Martin Parr said...

Hi Lucy, hope you had a great Christmas and very best wishes for a great New Year!

Wonderful pics as ever - you are getting too good at the kingfishers, wonderful shots again!

Boxmoor, naturally... said...

Hi Martin, thank you! I noticed you had a productive time at Great Gaddesden earlier this month (Green Sandpiper, a couple of Kingfishers, Fieldfare etc). It’ll be interesting to see what turns up locally if/when the temperature drops and stays there.

Hi Dan, I replied offline but thought it would be useful to put this note here as well. You could well be right about the Chiffchaff being abietinus (Scandinavian) rather than the collybita race. A friend pointed out that the literature I was using was somewhat out of date. However, even with revised sources, it is still pretty tricky to separate the two accurately. I guess the important thing is we know it’s not Siberian (tristis), which would be the more exotic/exciting ;o).

Wishing you both a great new year and hoping that 2015 is filled with more of nature’s marvels.