Wet and dry at Wilstone

A breeze-blown drizzle greeted my arrival at Wilstone Reservoir near Tring yesterday, giving a monochrome cast to the view across the water, the surrounding Chiltern hills rolled up in blankets of grey. I’d dropped in after lunch at The Valiant Trooper in Aldbury and determined to explore for an hour or two.
My first distraction was a singing Chiff-chaff in the hedgerow below the embankment. We spent a few minutes playing hide and seek before I moved on, turning the corner of the reservoir into the wooded path that led to the hide. Safely ensconced, I gazed out onto the peaceful water scape, floating silhouettes slipping in and out of view to a soundtrack of ambient wildfowl.
I was pulled from my meditation by a passing wren that picked through the straw coloured reeds and bramble below the hide. It’s methodical inspection of each stem, leaf and crevice in search of food fascinated until my eyes were drawn away by the pull of huge raptor wings hoving a red kite into view. It circled confidently around the small reed lined bay before descending on what appeared to be an abandoned nest site in a cut in the reeds.

The nest site certainly looked abandoned though I suspect the predatory strike, by kite or crow, had happened quite recently as down and one remaining egg were visible. A couple of crows soon sent the red kite packing, but it returned again some while later, this team as a pair of greylags (the original nest owners?) were visiting.

A happy hour spent watching this watery vista came to an end and with skies brightening I retraced my steps, grabbing even better views of another Chiff-chaff in the hedgerow as I passed. 
Before descending to the car-park I pressed on to the northern corner of the reservoir, a decision rewarded by views of both a Pied Wagtail that perched on the concrete quay and a magnificent Wheatear that probed the grass path for insects on the crest of the embankment. Using the bank as improvised cover, some guerrilla maneuverings positioned me for a worm’s eye view of this beautiful passerine, not long arrived after a winter spent in Central Africa.
Wilstone Reservoir is one of the four Tring Reservoirs, owned by British Waterways. Wilstone is managed by HMWT in conjunction with the Friends of Tring Reservoirs. Built in 1802, the reservoir supplies water to the Wendover arm of the Grand Union Canal. It is up to 18 feet deep and has a capacity of 240 million gallons.

The reservoir was made famous by the first nesting in this country of black-necked grebes in 1918 and of little ringed plovers in 1938.

Wilstone is one of the most famous birding spots in southern England. A walk round the reservoir’s edges gives good views, and there’s always a surprise in store, whether it’s the impressive summer duck moult, rare passage migrants or the superb wintering water birds.

Surrounded by one of Hertfordshire’s largest reedbeds and set in the lovely Chilterns countryside, Wilstone is a very special place. The other three Tring Reservoirs (Little Tring, Startops and Marsworth) are all nearby and also have footpaths and viewing areas.
Map of the Tring Reservoirs

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