The Week in Focus: 13th to 19th December 2014

With a dominating westerly airstream, ‘rollercoaster’ was the buzzword for the week’s weather, which started cold, became mild and ended with temperatures again depressed – some areas experiencing a 13°C shift in temperature within the space of 24 hours. A few more winter visitors arrived …

Last week’s three European White-fronted Geese, which were seen only briefly at Pitsford Res on 12th, managed to evade would-be observers at the weekend and made it out under the radar to Sywell CP, where they were relocated on 16th. These three, still present at the week’s end, constitute the only record of this species in the county so far this year.

Adult and first-winter White-fronted Geese, Sywell CP, 16th December 2014 (John Moon)

Adult and first-winter White-fronted Geese, Sywell CP, 16th December 2014 (John Moon)

Two adult and one first-winter White-fronted Geese, Sywell CP, 16th December 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Two adult and one first-winter White-fronted Geese, Sywell CP, 16th December 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Two adult and one first-winter White-fronted Geese, Sywell CP, 19th December 2014 (Clive Bowley)

Two adult and one first-winter White-fronted Geese, Sywell CP, 19th December 2014 (Clive Bowley)

Another Pink-footed Goose was found with Greylags in the north of the county – this time at Blatherwycke Lake on 17th, while the two Ruddy Shelducks were still at Pitsford Res on 14th. Last week’s drake Red-crested Pochard was again at Stortons GP on 13th, also visiting nearby Hardingstone GP on 15th-17th and the two females remained at Stanford Res until at least 14th, while the first-winter drake Scaup remained at Hollowell Res all week. The Stortons GP ‘redhead’ Smew was still present on 13th, with up to three ‘redheads’ at Pitsford Res all week and the first classic ‘white nun’ of the winter was found at Ravensthorpe Res on 19th.

Highly mobile and frequently distant, a Great Northern Diver discovered at Pitsford Res on 13th, and subsequently present until at least 16th, was not entirely unexpected and, if past form is anything to go by, it seems likely to remain throughout the winter. Up to three Great White Egrets continued to be seen intermittently at Pitsford Res, while the Summer Leys LNR individual was still present there on 18th.

Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 13th December 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 13th December 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 14th December 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 14th December 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Unseasonal for Northants, a Marsh Harrier flew over the A45 close to Clifford Hill GP on 16th but apart from this the only other raptors of note were a male Merlin at Harrington AF on 13th-14th and single Peregrines at Stanford Res and Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 13th, Blatherwycke Lake and Higham Ferrers on 17th and two near Hardingstone GP on the same date.

Numbers of Golden Plovers were low this week, with up to one hundred and fifty at Harrington AF between 14th and 16th, while counts of Common Snipe were also low, with one at Stanford Res on 13th and eleven at Pitsford Res and three at Sywell CP on 16th. Single Redshanks appeared at Pitsford Res on 13th and at Wicksteed Park Lake, Kettering the following day, while the week’s only Green Sandpipers were one at Ecton SF on 13th and two at Ravensthorpe Res on 19th. An adult Caspian Gull visited Stanford Res on 13th and the regular two adult Yellow-legged Gulls remained at Hollowell Res all week but, apart from these, there were no other noteworthy gulls. The first ‘white-winger’ of the winter is surely due any day now …

Central European Blackcaps rose to prominence – at least compared to last week – with a female in a Wellingborough garden on 13th, a male in a Northampton garden on 14th and a female there on 17th and a male and two females intermittently in a Sywell garden throughout the period.

Central European Blackcaps, Sywell, December 2014 (Jim Dunkley)

Central European Blackcaps, Sywell, December 2014 (Jim Dunkley)

Other wintering passerines of note were two Chiffchaffs at Ecton SF on 13th with two at Stanford Res the following day and up to six Stonechats at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell until at least 15th, two at Hollowell Res on the same date and one at Thrapston GP the following day.

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It’s out! The 2013 Northamptonshire Bird Report

NBR 2013 Flyer

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The Week in Focus: 6th to 12th December 2014

A mixed bag of weather, including overnight frosts and rain, culminated in a rush of strong north-westerlies which made little difference to this week’s birding mosaic. Renewed interest in C-listers at both ends of the systematic list appeared to be the order of the day.

They have been dropped from recent reports – they breed and their numbers are increasing – but it’s still worth mentioning that Egyptian Goose produced an all-time high count of seventeen at Ditchford GP on 12th, while four Pink-footed Geese at Fotheringhay on 9th, three White-fronted Geese at Pitsford Res on 12th and a Dark-bellied Brent Goose at Stanford Res on 6th were a bit more on the money. Again, Red-crested Pochard numbers remained low with a drake at Stortons GP on 7th and 12th – visiting nearby Hardingstone GP on 11th – and two at Stanford Res on 12th, while the first-winter drake Scaup from Hollowell Res moved to nearby Ravensthorpe Res on 6th-7th, returning to Hollowell on 8th, where it remained until the week’s end.  Following the first two of the winter last week, more Smew moved in, with this week’s arrivals – all ‘redheads’ – including singles at Stortons GP from 6th to 12th, at Stanford Res from 7th to 12th and two at Ravensthorpe Res from 8th to 12th.

CaptureTwo or three Great White Egrets were still being seen intermittently at Pitsford Res, another remained at Summer Leys LNR all week and another was at Ditchford GP on 12th, while the Black-necked Grebe remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake until at least 7th. This week’s raptors were limited to single Merlins at Harrington AF on 10th and Stanford Res on 7th with a Peregrine at the latter site on the same date.

Counts of Golden Plovers remain in the hundreds, with three hundred and thirty-one at Ditchford on 7th and approximately four hundred and forty there on 12th. Up to three Green Sandpipers at Ravensthorpe Res between 6th and 12th were the only ones this week as were three Common Snipe at Ecton SF on 6th and four at Stanford Res on the same date.

Rare larids this week mirrored last week, with an adult Mediterranean Gull at Stanford Res on 12th, an adult Caspian Gull there on 7th plus a first-winter at Ditchford GP on 12th and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Hollowell Res between 8th and 12th, with one at Ditchford GP on the latter date.

A Short-eared Owl was still hunting the fields at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 8th, while Ring-necked Parakeets continued to be seen in Abington Park, Northampton,

Ring-necked Parakeets, Abington Park, Northampton, 8th December 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

Ring-necked Parakeets, Abington Park, Northampton, 8th December 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

with up to two present until at least 9th but the only Central European Blackcap – a male – was in a Northampton garden on 10th and 12th. Other wintering passerines of note were four Chiffchaffs at Ecton SF on 6th with two at Stanford Res on the same date, eight at Ditchford GP on 12th and two Stonechats present at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 8th and at Ditchford GP and Pitsford Res on 12th.

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The Week in Focus: 29th November to 5th December 2014

The balmy south-easterlies and relatively high temperatures of the last two days of November rapidly gave way to colder winds from the north and temperatures fell with the commencement of the final month of the year. As the curtain began to slowly fall on 2014, the arrival of more seasonal fare marked the advent of winter proper …

Five Whooper Swans at Hollowell Res on 3rd are the first – and probably the last – record of the year, while the two Ruddy Shelducks continued to tough it out at Pitsford Res until the week’s end; will they make it into the New Year?

Adult Whooper Swan, Hollowell Res, 3rd December 2014 (Cathy Ryden)

Adult Whooper Swan, Hollowell Res, 3rd December 2014 (Cathy Ryden)

Two adult and three juvenile Whooper Swans, Hollowell Res, 3rd December 2014 (Cathy Ryden)

Two adult and three juvenile Whooper Swans, Hollowell Res, 3rd December 2014 (Cathy Ryden)

Red-crested Pochard numbers remained low with up to five at Pitsford Res between 29th and 1st and the two Wicksteed Park Lake birds were still there on 2nd, while a female Scaup was found at Stanford Res on 29th and the first-winter drake was still at Hollowell Res on 2nd. Against a flush of Goldeneye, the first Smew of the winter – both of them ‘redheads’ – arrived this week, one at Pitsford Res on 30th-1st and the other at Earls Barton GP on 3rd.

Smew, Pitsford Res, 30th November 2014 (Clive Bowley)

Smew, Pitsford Res, 30th November 2014 (Clive Bowley)

All three Great White Egrets were still being seen intermittently at Pitsford Res, another was again at Summer Leys LNR on 29th and 5th and one – perhaps the same – was reported from Stanwick GP on 4th. The Black-necked Grebe was still on Town Lake at Thrapston GP on 30th and the only raptors this week were single fly-over Peregrines at Stanford Res on 29th and at The Lakes/Clifford Hill GP on 2nd plus a male Hen Harrier at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 4th.

Counts of Golden Plovers comprised approximately three hundred at both Summer Leys LNR on 29th and Stanwick GP on 4th and one hundred were at Harrington AF on 2nd, while a Dunlin and a first-winter Knot – scarce in the county, especially in winter – visited Hollowell Res on the same date. Thirty-seven Common Snipe was a good count at Pitsford Res on 1st and single Redshanks were found at Stanford Res on 29th, Wicksteed Park Lake and Pitsford Res on 3rd and at Stanwick GP the following day.

Rare larids this week were restricted to an adult Mediterranean Gull at Pitsford Res on 1st, two Caspian Gulls (an adult and a second-winter) at Stanwick GP on 4th and a Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford Res on 1st-2nd with two at Stanwick GP, again on 4th.

Winter wouldn’t be the same without at least one Ring-necked Parakeet appearing in Abington Park, Northampton – and so it was, on 30th while, across town, a male Central European Blackcap visited a Kingsthorpe garden on 29th followed by a female there on 4th and another female was in a Kettering garden on 2nd. Wintering Chiffchaffs numbered two each at Stanford Res on 29th and Stanwick GP on 4th, the latter site continuing to host spectacular nightly Starling murmurations, with one flock size estimated to be in the region of fifteen thousand to twenty thousand birds and frequently attracting the attention of local Sparrowhawks.

Starling Murmuration with Sparrowhawk (top right) Thrapston GP 29th November 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

Starling Murmuration with Sparrowhawk (top right) Thrapston GP 29th November 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

Starling Murmuration, Thrapston GP 29th November 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

Starling Murmuration, Thrapston GP 29th November 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

By contrast the only Stonechats this week were one at Thrapston GP on 29th and the usual two at Hollowell Res on 2nd.

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Hollowell Snow Bunting

Hollowell Res. Last week, 27th November. Just when you think they’ve gone rare, three turn up in one year. This one a stunner by all accounts and a shame it didn’t stay more than a day. Largely white primary coverts (with black tips) suggest male. As for race … they are difficult without good views of a suite of characters. Nominate nivalis from Greenland, Scandinavia and north-west Russia or insulae from Iceland … I don’t know. Thanks very much to Bob Bullock for the excellent series of images below.

37 Snow Bunting 27.11.14 Hollowell Res

092 Snow Bunting 27.11.14 Hollowell Res

061 Snow Bunting 27.11.14 Hollowell Res

098 Snow Bunting 27.11.14 Hollowell Res

052 Snow Bunting 27.11.14 Hollowell Res

 

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The Week in Focus: 22nd to 28th November 2014

The country remained largely under the influence of a south-easterly airstream for much of the week, with overnight temperatures low enough to produce frost on two consecutive days in the early part. Otherwise, intermittent mist, fog and drizzle produced murky conditions which hampered birding to some extent.

The two Ruddy Shelducks remained mobile around Pitsford Res, being seen only on 27th this week, at the same time that Red-crested Pochard numbers appeared to have fallen to just three there, although Wicksteed Park Lake, Kettering still mustered two on the same date, remaining until 28th. Meanwhile, the Daventry CP female Scaup appears to have vacated the site while, up and over to the north-east a bit, a first-winter drake was discovered at Hollowell Res on 24th, remaining there throughout the week.

All three Great White Egrets were on show simultaneously at Pitsford Res on 23rd and another – presumably last week’s Nene Valley wanderer – but in a brief appearance at Summer Leys LNR on 26th. The Black-necked Grebe was still on Town Lake at Thrapston GP on 28th and raptors were again thin on the ground – and in the air – with just two Peregrines over Badby on 22nd and singles at both Stanwick GP and Summer Leys LNR on 24th.

Small numbers of Golden Plovers were reported intermittently from Clifford Hill GP while approximately two hundred were counted at Summer Leys LNR on 24th and a belated report of some four hundred last week on the recently reprofiled scrape at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows reserve is encouraging for the site. On 22nd, three Sanderlings circling Clifford Hill GP’s main barrage lake before heading off west represented a most unseasonal record for this species in the county as most occur as spring passage migrants in May. The same site also held two or three Dunlins on the same date while two were at Hollowell Res on 24th. This week’s Green Sandpipers were two at Ravensthorpe Res on 24th and singles there on 28th, at Stanford Res on 27th and Ecton SF the following day, while twos of Common Snipe were at the latter site at the same time, at Pitsford Res on 26th and at Clifford Hill GP on 27th.

Adult Mediterranean Gulls were found at Wicksteed Park Lake on 22nd and at Hollowell Res on 27th with the latter site producing an adult Caspian Gull on 24th, two on 27th and one on 28th, while a third-winter Caspian visited Daventry CP on the last of these two dates. Yellow-legged Gulls were equally scarce with just singles at Hollowell Res on 24th and 27th with two there on 28th and one at Ravensthorpe Res on the same date.

Scarce passerines are always at a premium by the time we get to November but noteworthy this week were Central European Blackcaps – all males – with two in a Duston,

Male Blackcap, Northampton 22nd November 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

Male Blackcap, Northampton 22nd November 2014 (Stuart Mundy)

Northampton Garden on 22nd-23rd, two in a Kingsthorpe, Northampton garden on 25th and one in a Wellingborough garden on 27th-28th. The only other wintering warbler reported was a Chiffchaff at Clifford Hill GP on 22nd, although there must surely be more … A single Stonechat was at Summer Leys LNR on 23rd while the usual two were at Hollowell Res all week, the latter site producing a Snow Bunting on 27th.

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Further Habitat Improvement for Wildfowl and Waders in the Nene Valley

It’s very satisfying to again see people working hard to improve habitat in our river valley wetlands! Following last year’s reprofiling of the peninsula on Clifford Hill Gravel Pits’ main lake, Northampton Washlands, and before that, the scrape at Summer Leys LNR, a new project has recently been completed to create habitat for wildfowl and waders further along the Nene Valley at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows.

The far eastern end of the old Ditchford Gravel Pits complex has just gone under the knife but the resultant effect is far more than simply cosmetic. The area has SSSI and SPA designations for overwintering wetland birds and, as there is floodplain meadow grassland adjoining some of the lakes, Natural England asked the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire (Wildlife BCN) to prioritise work on the lakes and grasslands either side of the King’s Meadow Lane cycle path.

Ian Wilson, Reserves Officer, Wildlife BCN said “The management aims were pretty simple: to improve the site for overwintering ducks and waders by visually reconnecting the grassland to the lakes, starting summer grazing of the grassland to create a shorter sward, helping water to move through the site and off the grassland rather than being dammed by the cycle path and sitting on the grassland for months at a time and creating additional high quality habitat by providing scrapes and an island.”

Throughout September 2013 and 2014 contractors, staff and volunteers all removed huge amounts of ten-year-old self-set willow from the grasslands, lake margins and ditch banks. The willow was burnt on site and the stumps treated to minimise re-growth.

New scrape area, 27th November 2014 (Ian Wilson)

New scrape area, 27th November 2014 (Ian Wilson)

Scraping (Steve Brayshaw)

Scraping (Steve Brayshaw)

Over a two year period fencing and grazing infrastructure has been installed ready for grazing the site in spring 2015. This fencing also creates a disturbance-free area as it excludes dogs and people from the vicinity of the most wildlife-sensitive lakes.

Completing the scrape and shallows (Steve Brayshaw)

Completing the scrape and shallows (Steve Brayshaw)

In July 2014 a bridge was installed and a channel cut across the cycle path to allow water to move on and off the site more quickly as well as clearing the back channel to help water flow through site.

In early August, Western Power removed three of the four lines of power cables crossing the grassland and lakes. These have been routed underground after a year of digging and mess and the fourth line will be removed next year. The removal of a large number of predator perches increases the potential for ground-nesting birds to use the grassland area to breed as well as eliminating bird-strikes on the wires and improving the look of the site no end.

The RSPB rotary ditcher was used to create a series of level foot-drains to allow water to flow on and off the grassland as well as creating good wader habitat.

Ditcher (Ian Wilson)

Ditcher (Ian Wilson)

'Ditch 1' (Ian Wilson)

‘Ditch 1′ (Ian Wilson)

Under Steve Brayshaw‘s direction, contractors removed a large ridge of soil which was trapping floodwater on the grassland and visually separating the lake from the grassland. Steve also designed the scrape and island work from the planning phase some years ago to completion this September, managed the contractors on site and ensured the job came in on budget. Steve also gave much invaluable advice and consultative assistance with the back channel clearing, the bridge and channel on the cycle path and numerous other facets of the project.

The resulting bare ground now drops very gradually from the meadow to the lake and includes a couple of scrape areas as well as a very gently varying topography to create numerous small wet areas. At the same time a tree-covered spit was cleared, lowered and cut off from the mainland to create a new island in the middle of the lake.

Island in the making (Ian Wilson)

Island in the making (Ian Wilson)

Island completed (Ian Wilson)

Island completed (Ian Wilson)

Finally Ian’s team have cut some viewing ‘windows’ in the hedge along the old railway track to let people see across the area they have been working on as well as improving the state of the path along the old railway. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sita.

Good numbers of Common Snipe and around four hundred each of Lapwing and Golden Plover last week serve to demonstrate that the scrape works are achieving their aims already! Hopefully once the weather gets colder we will see an increase in the number of ducks too.

Don’t forget the lakeside and meadow habitat is just one of many as there are some good mature hedges, mixed scrub, reed fringes, wet woodland and plenty of willow left to attract a broad spectrum of avian and other wildlife.

Access                                                                                                                                          The site map below provides a general overview of the area and the few yellow dots indicate where best to view the main area of improvement.

Site map (Ian Wilson)

Site map (Ian Wilson)

Today’s photo – the first of the series above – was taken from the dot midway between the 11 and 12 labels. Note that the path around wader flats is prone to flooding and is often wet and slippery. The old railway and the new greenway are much better all-weather surfaces from which to explore the area. The site can be accessed most easily from Station Road at the Stanwick GP Lakes end or from St Peter’s way near to the town centre car park.

Many thanks to Ian Wilson for providing commentary, photographs and the map and to Steve Brayshaw for additional detail and photographs.

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