Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Perhaps on cue - RED-NECKED GREBE on the Sailing Lake


A glorious day weatherwise, dawning bright and clear and then predominantly blue skies and sunshine throughout. The wind though was a cool WNW with temperatures struggling to reach 8 degrees C. Surely not winter already! Despite the beautiful conditions though, birding was rather uneventful, until of course I took that call from Tim.......


Calvert supremo Tim Watts contacted me mid afternoon to say that he had located a RED-NECKED GREBE - a first for the year and an excellent county bird. Wasting no time, I battled my way through the Aylesbury school run and after successfully surviving the hazardous rat-run between Berryfields Junction and Edgcott, eventually arrived at Calvert at 1633 hours.

The juvenile/first-winter RED-NECKED GREBE was still present, preening its neck and breast feathers, in amongst a few Mallard along the southern shore (in fact towards the SE corner) of the Sailing Lake at SP 677 248. It smartened itself up before tucking its head under its wing to roost and was still sleeping when both Tim and I left it. It still had remnants of the dark striping on the rear crown and ear-coverts indicating that it was a first-winter and had a dark crown, some russet-brown on the fore-neck and an extensively bright yellow bill. It was also markedly smaller than a single Great Crested Grebe nearby. It was the 35th individual to be recorded in the county (see detail below).

I then moved round to the BBOWT Lake where I click-counted and surveyed the large numbers of gulls in the roost showing exceptionally well from the second hide. A total of 2,458 birds logged between 1650 and 1710 including 29 Great Black-backed Gulls, 1,988 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 83 Herring Gulls (including a larger proportion of Scandinavian Argentatus), 11 YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS (7 adults, 1 3rd-winter, 2 2nd-winters and a juvenile), a single well-marked first-winter and very white-headed CASPIAN GULL, 11 Common Gulls and 335 Black-headed Gulls. Additional to this were at least 3,500 birds already roosting on the Sailing Lake including 6 Great Black-backeds and 2,000 or more Lesser Black-backs.


The Red-necked Grebe is a rare visitor to the county with perhaps one record every five years on average, although at one stage it appeared almost annually. Prior to 1900 there was one record - a bird shot at Saunderton on 10 October 1848. There have been at least 35 recorded since 1974.

1) The first record in modern times was of a first-winter at Weston Turville Reservoir from 9-26 November 1974 providing me with one of my first ever opportunities to study this scarce grebe at close quarters.

2) In February 1979, there was a major influx of Red-necked Grebes throughout central Britain following severe weather in the Baltic and this resulted in four individuals reaching Buckinghamshire. There were two first-winters at Willen Lake on 14 February;

1979-1985: Data Incomplete (Reports missing)

6) 1987 was another extraordinary year with an unprecedented seven occurrences, including the first to ever oversummer in the county - singles at Willen Lake on 1 January, the Blue Lagoon, Bletchley, from 16-27 January, at Newton Longville Brickpits from 18-28 January, at Randall's Farm in the Little Marlow GP complex on 24 January, on the River Thames at Bourne End from 31 January to 2 February and an adult largely in breeding plumage at Willen Lake on 22-24 March. This latter bird then moved to Haversham on 26 March and New Bradwell from 31 March to 9 April and was most likely the full summer-plumaged adult that loafed with non-breeding Great Crested Grebes at Caldecotte Lake from 6 June until 19 August and again from 7-27 September. A further bird was at Newton Longville on 2 December;

13) An adult in full breeding plumage visited Willen Lake on 9 April 1989;

14) One remained at Calvert from 5-20 February 1990;

15) A first-winter was present at Little Marlow Spade Oak Pit on 24-25 December 1990;

16) Two arrived in late 1991 with a first-winter present on Caldecotte Lake from 26 November to 11 December, with a second bird present from 6-10 December;

18) A first-winter remained at Caldecotte Lake from 22 November 1994 until 19 April 1995 and was seen next day (20 April) on Willen Lake;

19) 1996 was another exceptional year with no less than five recorded including an unprecedented three together: the first of three different birds arrived at Caldecotte Lake on 7 February, followed by another on 22 February and a third on 26 February. Two remained until 28 February with one to 27 March. What was presumed to have been one of these three was present on Willen Lake from 14-21 February and another at Linford NR from 9 March until 2 April. A bird which was wintering on the River Thames on the Berks/Bucks border straddled across to the Taplow Court side on 17 and 24 March with a further arrival at Weston Turville Reservoir on 22 March;

24) One visited Marlow GP on 7 April 1997;

25) A first-winter remained at Calvert from 23 October 1997 until 24 April 1998, by which time it had acquired full summer attire;

26) One was seen at Taplow on 22 December 1998;

27) A long-staying bird remained at Thorney CP from 2 January until 10 April 1999;

28) A juvenile was at Calvert from 16-19 October 1999;

29) An adult remained at Willen Lake from 4 February until 26 April 2001 (see photo in 2001 BBR Report);

30) An adult in almost full breeding plumage visited Calvert Lake on 24 March 2001;

31) One appeared briefly in the gull roost at Willen South Basin on 10 November 2002;

32) One was present briefly at Calvert Lake on 19 March 2005;

33) A wide-ranging first-winter in North Bucks visited New Bradwell Lake on 26-27 February 2006 before moving to Haversham Lake on 3-4 March and Willen Lake from 14 March until at least 1 May (see photo in 2006 BBR Report);

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