Three whole days of local birding over the early May Bank Holiday weekend gave Herts birders the chance to focus intently on their patches and see what they could find.  Falling in the peak period of Spring migration the weekend proved largely dry with easterlies dominating Saturday and then a stronger southerly breeze on Sunday. 

Monday was altogether greyer with a more westerly wind direction.  Temperatures peaked around 19°C and in many ways the conditions were ideal for Spring passage. 

However, what exactly would turn up was anyone’s guess so come Saturday morning, eighteen teams headed out (some very early in the morning) to find out what was about.

 

Of those teams, eight – The Ayres End Amblers, The Munden Nest Mentor, The Ver Dipper, The Park Street Table Prop, Amwell Two, Amwell One Two, the Welwyn GC 2-Miler & the Hitchin Wanderer – set out on foot (or perhaps bike) earning them immediately a valuable 20-point bonus for carbon-free birding!  Saturday dawned bright and sightings quickly stacked up throughout the day with early highlights being a Firecrest found by ‘Fairlands 101’ (earning them the 3 “Crest Double” bonus points) and 3 Whimbrel by the Tyttenhanger Birders.  The initial challenge was to tick off all the ‘usual’ birds leaving Sunday and Monday for more targeted birding to locate missing species.  The sunny conditions also meant that all teams were able to record at least 3 species of butterfly and many also an early dragonfly – all worth extra bonus points.

Collectively over the whole weekend 115 species were recorded, just one shy of last year’s total but impressive nonetheless.  Highlights included 11 species of wader (including Dunlin, Whimbrel & Black-tailed Godwit), 10 species of warbler (including a Grasshopper Warbler) and a Marsh Harrier seen by The Wilstone Wanderers.  Seasonal migrants such as Redstart, Whinchat and Wheatear were noted and some more unseasonal species such as Siskin and Goldeneye were also recorded.  Three teams managed to tick all 3 species of owl while four teams recorded site firsts for their patches.

The biggest surprise of the weekend came on the Sunday in the form of what was initially thought to be one of up to 4 Hobbies at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits until a photo indicated that the bird was actually an adult male Red-footed Falcon!  Not only a Herts Rarity (just the 6th record for the county) but a first for the site and earning the Tyttenhanger Birders an extra 15 points!

The extra points however were not enough to clinch victory for the Tyttenhanger Birders and congratulations go to Phil Ball of “Amwell One Two” who single-handedly trudged his patch to record 91 different species earning him a wapping 157 points.  Runners-Up this year are the Tyttenhanger Birders with 151 points recording 94 different species – the highest of any team.  Despite missing out on the top prize they do however win the Best Bird prize for their all-too-brief sighting of a Red-footed Falcon – congratulations to them!

Phil Ball wins the coveted Herts Bird Club mug and also a Nest Box Camera Kit for his sterling efforts on his Amwell patch.  The Tyttenhanger Birders receive the smart “Top Birder” Herts Bird Club notebooks and also a painting of the “Best Bird” by wildlife artist Matt Moreton.  Of course, the real enjoyment of the weekend was taking part and a big thank you and congratulations must go to all participating teams who all notched up impressive patch totals.

Once again, the challenge of local birding over what proved to be a relatively quiet weekend for migration, made finding those patch specialities all the more rewarding.  Four teams recorded over 90 species with two thirds of all the teams recording over 70 species.  Undoubtedly there were many other ‘patch triumphs’, aside from those already mentioned, including the “Fairlands 101” team recording 50 species in one day for the first time ever at Fairlands Valley Park!  A fantastic effort by all and thanks go to the organisers too – Tom Speller & Rupert Evershed.