Great White Egret
In recent years, individual Great White Egrets (Ardea alba) have been spotted during the winter months in the water meadows around Chenies and Latimer. This photograph shows the substantial difference in size between the Great White Egret (left) and the Little Egret (right). Great White Egrets have black feet, whereas Little Egrets have bright yellow feet. They hunt for fish, insects and frogs using a fishing technique like that of the Grey Heron.
Tringa ochropus is a distinctive wader and is an Amber Status bird whose populations are currently in moderate decline (find out about the conservation categories of UK birds on the RSPB web site). Despite its name, it has dark wing plumage and a white rump and can be seen on the Chess in winter as it is a migratory species.
Ardea cinerea is our largest heron and can be found along the length of the Chess. They are an ambush predator, most often seen standing motionless at the side of the river, waiting for their favourite prey of small fish to swim within striking distance. Their diet also includes frogs, toads, snakes, small birds and even water voles. They nest communally, building large, scruffy nests in the tops of tall trees. These breeding colonies are known as heronries.
Motacilla cinerea is another Amber status bird. Grey wagtails eat insects and can often be seen by fast-flowing rivers in the summer months and are found along the length of the Chess.
Because of their lemon-yellow undertail they can be confused with the Yellow wagtail, a summer visitor to the UK. Find out more about these species on the RSPB web site.
The Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) is a small, white heron with yellow feet (unlike the Great white egret which has black feet). This species of fish-eater has naturally spread into the UK from the continent, but only small numbers currently breed in this country. Little Egrets are now routinely seen on the Chess, and have even been spotted on stretches flowing through built-up Chesham.
One of the most commonly seen birds on the Chess, Cygnus olor, is large and white with a distinctive orange bill. Mute swans may be seen anywhere on the Chess throughout the year. The adults very often pair for life and maintain a territory along a section of the river, chasing off rivals. The female (pen) builds a large nest, usually from reeds and rushes that the male (cob) has supplied. Up to seven eggs are laid during April/May and cygnets can be seen with their parents for four or five months after hatching.
Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) have been observed visiting the Chess in small numbers and are another Amber status bird. These stunning birds of prey are classified as summer visitors to the UK, mainly seen in Scotland. Osprey are regularly observed in the Chess Valley during spring and autumn on their migration route to and from Africa. Osprey have a diet of fish, making the Chess a great stop-off point on their journey.
Stonechats (Saxicola torquata) are named for their call, which resembles stones being tapped against one another. The males are most recognisable due to their black heads and orange-red breasts. They are fairly easy to spot as they like to perch on the outermost branches of bushes and small trees using these as staging posts to spot their insect prey. The damp meadows by the River Chess provide an ideal habitat for a large range of insects, making these attractive areas for stonechats. They can frequently be seen in the Chess Valley both in the summer and winter.
Rallus aquaticus is a secretive bird that can be difficult to spot. It is has a grey chest and face, with brown and black wings. However, rails have been spotted several times on the Chess, including in Chesham near the Queens Head pub and at the Duke of Bedfor allotments. For images and more information, see the RSPB web site.
Many other interesting bird species have been spotted in the Chess Valley and on the Chess, including Little Grebe, Buzzards, Red Kites, Common Kingfisher and Ravens. For an extensive list of sightings in the Chess Valley, visit the Amersham Birding blogspot.