As of 10 November 2015, a total of 430 species have been recorded this year

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Saturday, 23 October 2010



Light NW winds, cold, occasional rain or hail showers and largely cloudy

Well done that man ! Not only did DARIN STANLEY find me and others an excellent BEDFORDSHIRE COUNTY TICK this afternoon but also inadvertently got me a second.

Whilst out on a hike not far from his home, Darin Stanley located a SHORE LARK in a large tilled field bordering Galley Hill, just NE of Luton. It was consorting with a flock of Eurasian Skylarks and was difficult to locate, particularly with just binoculars. Darin immediately contacted me and the information was broadcast via Rare Bird Alert. DS was unsure of his location and certainly so was I, so full apologies for those who got caught out by the initial directions purporting the bird to be at the north end of Galley Hill.

Anyhow, I jumped straight in the car after informing Bedsbirds and Andy Plumb and arrived in Warden Hill Road not long after 1400 hours. Darin had last seen the Shore Lark at 1320 and had lost it. I rendezvoued with him in Luton and hashed out exactly where the bird was situated and made my muddy way out to the site. Steve Blain, Martin Stevens and one other local birder had already managed to locate the SHORE LARK on my arrival and were standing just down from the junction of the Icknield Way and the John Bunnion Trail. SB had even managed to obtain two record images of the bird. The bird had flown briefly just prior to me walking up but within minutes, MS relocated it and I had a brief 'scope view of my first ever Shore Lark in the county. I quickly got my own 'scope on to it and then over the next hour, obtained several more views of it, the closest of which were down to 75 yards. It typically remained very mobile, often flying short distances when the Skylark flock were spooked. All in all, some 15 or so local observers connected in that first hour. We then lost it and did not relocate it again after 1500 hours.


It was a well-marked individual and very easy to separate from the Eurasian Skylarks and was most likely an adult. It had much pale yellow on the face, throat and shoulders which contrasted with the jet-black lores, the black breast-band and the black 'eye drop' (black line of feathers curving down from the eye). The hindneck, mantle and fore-shoulders were a lovely soft 'pinkish' brown, with an even warmer, almost chestnut feel to the flanks. Otherwise, the underparts were a gleaming white. The upperpart feathers had narrow dark shaft-streaks and in flight, had a rufous wash to the rump. The underwing was very pale and whitish but at no point did I hear it call. There was an obvious pale tipping to the wing-coverts, with the scapulars noticeably dark-centred. The bill was quite dark and the legs and feet blackish. It was noticeably smaller and slimmer than the Skylarks and when flying away, had black in the tail but no white..

Shore Lark is a very rare vagrant to Bedfordshire with just 4 previous records - one caught and taken into captivity from Dunstable Downs in the last week of October 1913; one in Houghton Regis Chalk Pit on 10 October 1971; one at Clophill Quarry on 17 October 1992 and one more recently - photographed in a ploughed field with Skylarks near Woburn at Potsgrove on 9 November 2004.

As soon as I saw the size of the field, its layout and the number of birds feeding in it, I just knew that there would be LAPLAND BUNTINGS in it and as MJP arrived on site, I exclaimed to him that if I could not relocate the lark, chances are we would find a Lap Bunt in the search. As it was, not that long in to our scanning of the strips, Steve Blain exclaimed quite casually that he had one - and a fine male it was too. Fortuitously, SB was able to move aside from his 'scope, allowing the first 4 or 5 of us to connect but then the entire flock was spooked by screaming children and a barking dog and the bird flew and was lost.

Trying to relocate both the Shore Lark and the bunting later, I discovered a second LAPLAND BUNTING in the field - a first-winter or female-type this time. This individual was typified by an obvious white greater covert line and striking pale 'tramlines' and was shuffling about the ground like a mouse. I managed to get most of those present on this individual this time, despite the distance it was being observed at. It remained on view on and off for about 15 minutes but then flew.

Two LAPLAND BUNTINGS were then picked up in flight with the Skylark flock shortly later with both landing close to the ridge and being re-sighted and 'scoped on the ground. A well-marked male was seen again then on several occasions but from differences in plumage, it was clear there were at least two female/immature types present - both quite dull and lacking the extensive black gorget of streaks so apparent on the male. At one stage in flight, I believe there were probably at least four birds present - but certainly on the ground, definitely THREE. My first ever in Bedfordshire.

There was also a single female Yellowhammer with the flock, as well as several Meadow Pipits and 25 Linnets, whilst 7 BRAMBLING flew up at one stage and a flock of 200 FIELDFARE flew in. The extensive tilled field also harboured a flock of 38 EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVERS and a covey of 4 GREY PARTRIDGES.

The Lapland Bunting is also a mega-rare bird in the county of Bedfordshire with just one previous record - an immature/female at Brickhill, Bedford, on 15 & 22 October 1966 (Beds Naturalist 20: 33).

DIRECTIONS: The closest place to park is in Warden Hill Road in Luton where from here, one can follow the main footpath bordering the golf course. Keep on the footpath until it reaches the northern end of Warden Hill and then bear right on to the bordering footpath between Warden Hill and Galley Hill. The large tilled field is immediately east of Galley Hill and can be 'scoped from the south side and footpath that leads east. The location is situated at TL 092 266.

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