Monday 17 December 2012


Photo by Dave Hutton

After finally connecting with this cryptic Nearctic species on the Isles of Scilly this year I could not get too excited by the MEGA ALERT that notified me of the presence of another last Thursday. Mind you, with the rare opportunity of seeing one on the mainland, under two hours from home and being offered a cheap day return by a mate, the temptation became all too much.

The crew of Snapper Richards, Jules Allen and Dave Hutton met up at Alvecote Pools early this morning for our trip down south. After scooping the odd early morning Red Kite around the Stokenchurch area of the M40 we soon arrived in the leafy west London suburb of Horton. After getting signed in by the friendly security guys we were then allowed access to Queen Mother Reservoir, a huge 1970's concrete bowl filled with water pumped directly from the River Thames.

After a short stroll in the winter sunshine we were all enjoying stunning close up views of the bird as it picked away through the organic flotsam along the eastern shoreline of the reservoir. Unlike the bird I had on St Mary's in October this particular individual was extremely confiding and completely unconcerned by its throng of admirers. The fact that it was not associating with any skittish Meadow Pipits probably helped too. Those birds can be a bad influence on any rare Anthus that makes landfall in Britain. 

It's that brown blob at the bottom, in the middle!

It is hard to believe that up until the year 2000 there had been just four records of AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT in Britain. The first individual was an immature male that was trapped on the remote outpost of St Kilda, Outer Hebrides on the 30th September 1910. Amazingly during the autumn of 2007 an influx of at least eleven birds were witnessed in Britain and Ireland and they have been annual visitors ever since. Evidence suggests that the species is increasing its range in Greenland but surely the fact that we are getting more familiar with the subtle identification features means that this species will be recorded on this side of the Atlantic on a more regular basis. 

Queen Mother Reservoir, Horton, Berkshire - 16 December 2012
Photo by Dave Hutton

After studying the pipit for a while we decided to check out the rest of the area to see what was around. Highlights included a distant Long-tailed Duck, 6 Goldeneye, 4 Red Kite, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and 2 Peregrine. There was also a report of an immature Red-necked Grebe but try as we might we failed to locate it. With the constant din of plane after plane taking off from nearby Heathrow Airport we decided to move on to a more relaxing location for a spot of peace and quiet.

The impressive backdrop of Windsor Castle.
Through the scope we could just make out HRH cleaning the windows!

After a short drive to the village of Wraysbury it was not too long before we were hearing the raucous calling of our next target species - Ring-necked Parakeet. After a short walk along the historic Magna Carta Lane we were soon watching the comings and goings of around twenty extremely vocal birds. Yes, I know this exotic looking Indian species has no right being part of our wonderful, natural British avifauna but I always enjoy paying them a sneaky visit when I am in the area. They are magnificent looking birds and full of character, on par with our native crows, jays and magpies. I challenge the most sour-faced British birder not to show at least a hint of a smile whilst watching them.

So a thoroughly satisfying day all round with another twenty or so Red Kite on our journey home and all for just ten English pounds each. Austerity twitching at its very best!

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