Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Monday, 6 April 2015

So, Stockers Power Depleted 2 ....

......You've got to work it out this time.

A thoroughly enjoyable Easter weekend on my local patch in South Herts. Saturday kicked off with my 5th attempt to nail the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Stockers. I set up camp opposite the island that hosts it's favoured drumming tree. My first Sand Martin of the year was a nice start and it was soon joined by a few others and eventually a good number. After a good chinwag with Gordon Cox I refocused my attention on the Pecker Tree. A Great Spot flew in, followed by a minor commotion. As I raised my bins a smaller bird rose vertically out of the tree in a Skylark like fashion before dropping back into the treetop. This bird looked promising so I tried to get my bins on it. The Great Spot flew out and away and moments later I got my reward as the Lesser Spot flew out and towards the Lock House. Either it had been there all along or more likely it had sneaked in unnoticed while I was chatting to Gordon. 'Must pay attention' as my school reports invariably said. Anyway, a brief encounter and no photo opportunity but at last I'd broken my duck.

Sharpy joined me a while later and we opted to do a circuit of the lake. We were both stopped dead in our tracks by the melancholy tones of Willow Warbler song. We soon got on the bird hopping happily around in a lakeside bush. This was an unexpected surprise as not only was it an early arriver but not a common bird round here at the best of times. As we continued on our way a swallow flew overhead. 4th year tick of the morning and within walking distance of home. Who needs twitching?

I got a phone call from Geoff Lapworth to let me know that he and Tony Hulls had just had fantastic views of a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at the Withey Beds about a mile and half from where we were. The Stockers bird or another one? The latter I hope but we can only speculate at this stage.

At the far end of the lake a pair of Red Crested Pochards seemed to be getting amorous, with the male repeatedly diving and coming up with offerings of decayed pond weed to sweep his partner off her feet. Continuing round, we ran into Geoff L and Tony H viewing from the 'pulpit'. I owe a debt of gratitude to these 2 fine gentlemen, as 5 years ago they found me wandering in a confused, bemused and borderline despondent state around Croxley Common Moor. I had a tiny pair of field glasses and not a clue how to sort a Reed Bunting from a Reed Warbler. They took pity on me and subsequently taught me the ropes. I now wander about only slightly confused, rarely bemused and never despondent. Thanks chaps. From the pulpit they were viewing an ever increasing assembly of Hirundines. What a great time of year as we say bugger off to the winter and welcome in the spring.


Sunday dawned fine and sunny. I had limited time again but the prospect of "fantastic views" of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at the Withey Beds was more than I could resist. Sharpy was already in situ and primed for action when I arrived. He pointed out a pair of Treecreepers that had kept him amused, taking nesting materials into a tree hole. I'd brought the luck with me as fairly soon after my arrival our quarry came bouncing through the sky and straight into the tree in front of us. It wasted no time and immediately set about some high speed headbanging.

We must have had about 10 minutes of unadulterated joy before it departed overhead. There was still time for a visit to Woodoaks Farm before I needed to be home so we headed for the gate. We were about to leave when we were distracted by the blood curdling squeals of a Water Rail coming from a pool near the road. Another scarce resident locally. As we had a quick and typically unsuccessful scan for it, Geoff L arrived on the scene and promptly berated us for our appalling parking. Sorry Geoff.

At Woodoaks we were hoping the resident Little Owl might be roosting out in the sunshine. Unfortunately all hopes of this went out the window when we arrived at the same time as a falconer with a Gyr x Saker called Alan. Apparently the thriving pigeon population on the farm are carrying a disease which is affecting the cows milk via the droppings on the grass, so Lee and the beautiful Alan have been drafted in to persuade said pigeons that this farm isn't the best place to live.

It was interesting to chat with Lee and and he kindly let us get up close and personal with the magnificent bird.

An enjoyable encounter but I hope this activity doesn't drive away the very welcome birds on the farm such as the little owl.


An early morning sortie to Croxley Common Moor before the hoards of dog walkers descended upon it. A most pleasant hour spent here. A crisp frost on the ground and the low morning sun giving an eerie ambiance to the mist rolling along the surface of the river. The only sounds being birdsong and the ripple of water. Perfect.  Other highlights here being my first Blackcaps of the year and a Lesser Spotted Lapworth showing well. But a voice in my head was urging me towards the Withey Beds half a mile up the road. I'd had a superb encounter with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker the previous day but I hadn't had my fill. I wanted to spend some more time with this little gem before the foliage envelops the trees and he stops revealing his presence with his percussion skills. I parked far more sensibly in the layby having learned my lesson yesterday and as I did so Tony Hulls pulled in and parked considerately himself. We flushed a Snipe as we made our way along the boardwalk towards the pecker tree. But yesterdays ability to lure the Lesser Spot from the shadows had deserted me. Tony left me after maybe an hour and still no sign. The Treecreepers were still busy nest building and a Kestrel came to investigate me.

I'd probably been there approaching 2 hours just enjoying the sunshine and the peace and tranquility of this little oasis when my hopes turned to fruition. In a repeat performance to yesterday's, the star of the show flew into the same tree and seemed to follow the same 'set list' drumming it's way round the various dead branches in the same order.

They say small things please small minds so this is 'Small Minded Frosty' signing off til next time.

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