Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th December 2018

Under the influence of a predominantly south-easterly airstream, the past week remained dry with daytime temperatures gradually falling from the highest of 11 ºC on 8th to the lowest of 1ºC at the week’s end. Much of the previous week’s fare stayed put, providing plenty of opportunities for birders to play catch-up with any birds missed during the preceding period. Again, the spotlight was firmly on Pitsford as the place to be.

Seemingly now settled at Pitsford Res, the adult Bewick’s Swan remained throughout the week, as did the eleven Whooper Swans, now in their seventh week on site. Also staying put was the first-winter on Elinor Trout Lake at Thrapston GP, while another visited Stanford Res briefly on 14th.

First-winter Whooper Swan, Thrapston GP, 14th December 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Stanwick GP continued to play host to all of this week’s geese – the Pink-footed Goose on 9th, six White-fronted Geese on 14th and the Barnacle Goose until at least 11th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck remained north of the causeway at Pitsford Res until at least 11th. The drake wigeon resembling an American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid came under the spotlight this week and is now considered most likely to be a hybrid between Eurasian Wigeon and Gadwall.

Hybrid Wigeon showing some characteristics of American Wigeon but now considered most likely to be Eurasian Wigeon x Gadwall. Ravensthorpe Res, 10th December 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Whatever its genetic composition, it’s still an unusual and striking-looking bird. Red-crested Pochard numbers had fallen this week to a maximum of just four at Pitsford Res on 8th, when the lone drake was also seen at Hollowell Res. Over at Thrapston, the first-winter Scaup was still present on 13th and the genetic purity of the female – perhaps a first-winter – at Ditchford GP was the subject of some discussion on 8th. After initially proving elusive, Pitsford’s drake Ring-necked Duck finally gave itself up to photographers – even to the point of showing off its ring. Remaining principally in Scaldwell Bay, it still occasionally proved tricky to get to grips with.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Reservoir, 8th December 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Reservoir, 8th December 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Reservoir, 8th December 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

Also in Scaldwell Bay, a dapper drake Smew – the first of the winter – was discovered on 10th but it was nowhere to be seen beyond 11th.

At the opposite end of Pitsford, the juvenile Great Northern Diver remained throughout the week, often appearing close to the dam.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 10th December 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 12th December 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Bitterns have been scarce so far during the autumn and early winter period and in line with sporadic occurrences, Stanwick produced another drop-in at dusk on 11th. Rarer, though far easier to see, were the two Cattle Egrets at the same locality, while Pitsford also attracted one, albeit briefly, on 12th. Seen well with a small herd of cows below the dam, this constitutes a ‘first’ for the reservoir. Elegant, though somewhat less exciting, up to four Great White Egrets continued to be seen at the same site, while Stanford Res and Stanwick mustered three a piece, Thrapston hosted two and Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Summer Leys produced singles during the period.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th December 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

Harriers were the only raptors of note this week and these included last week’s male Hen Harrier, ranging over farmland at the north-eastern extremity of Stanwick GP on 10th, 11th and 13th and a Marsh Harrier over Summer Leys LNR on 13th.

Marsh Harrier, probably juvenile female, Summer Leys LNR, 13th December 2018 (Ian Hicks)

Pitsford continued to host last week’s Ruff until 8th, as well as an adult Yellow-legged Gull and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hollowell Res, also on 8th.

A ‘new’ Short-eared Owl was discovered at the north-eastern end of Stanwick GP on 11th and the two Bearded Tits were still present at a site with no public access on the same date, while a single Crossbill flew east at Ditchford GP on 14th.

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Rarity Round-up, 1st to 7th December 2018

The first week of winter and some may say, the end of anything new turning up, or was it? The Atlantic airstream brought predominantly south-westerly winds and rain and unseasonally high temperatures, peaking at 13ºC on both 3rd and 6th. Wildfowl were still the number one quarry for local birders in a week when persistent reservoir-watching paid dividends.

After last week’s Bewick’s Swans’ brief dalliance with Thrapston GP, another was found in Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res on 5th, remaining until the end of the week.

Bewick’s Swan, Pitsford Res, 5th December 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, 6th December 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, 6th December 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Mute, Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, 7th December 2018 (Richard How)

Overshadowing the eleven on-site Whooper Swans with its newly acquired celebrity status – Bewick’s have become really quite uncommon in Northants over the last decade or more – it attracted a steady stream of admirers, many of whom were willing to brave the rain for an optics-sodden glimpse in miserable conditions. Only one more Whooper was seen, the young bird now looking settled for the winter at Thrapston GP, where it remained all week. In the Nene Valley, the Pink-footed Goose was again seen at Stanwick GP on 5th and 6th and last week’s five White-fronted Geese, which had previously flown west over Ditchford GP on 25th, had clearly circled back and were also located at Stanwick on 5th, while another White-front was off the dam at Sywell CP on 7th.

White-fronted Goose, Sywell CP, 7th December 2018 (Alan Francis)

Back at Stanwick, the Barnacle Goose was still present until at least 6th. The mobile female Ruddy Shelduck ventured north of the causeway at Pitsford Res, where it was seen on 4th and 6th. Meanwhile, at Ravensthorpe, the drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid failed to elicit any interest until at least 1st and the female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid was again seen at Pitsford on 3rd, where the week’s highest site total of Red-crested Pochards was fourteen on 6th. Elsewhere, last week’s two were still at Stanford Res until 3rd and the drake remained at Hollowell Res until 4th, while the first-winter Scaup also remained at Thrapston GP until at least 3rd and a female was found at Ditchford GP, remaining there until the week’s end. Apparently missing for most of last week, the drake Ring-necked Duck in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay reappeared on 1st, after which it was seen intermittently until 6th, although it remained elusive for a great deal of the time.

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Mark Williams)

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Mark Williams)

Another first for the winter, a juvenile Great Northern Diver, was discovered off the dam at Pitsford on 1st before promptly being joined by another there on 2nd. Although both were seen together on the latter date, only one has been reported subsequently, right through to the end of the period.

Great Northern Divers, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Peter Grimbley)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Adrian Borley). This bird is a different individual to the one in the above two photographs.

There was little change on the egret front, with the two Cattle Egrets still at the north-east end of the Stanwick GP complex on 6th, while up to two Great White Egrets continued to be seen there, with the same number at Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP, with three at Pitsford and one at Ditchford GP. Some of these will no doubt be duplicates where records from nearby localities are concerned.

Great White Egret, Pitsford Res, 5th December 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

The only raptor of note this week was a fine male Hen Harrier which flew west at Stanwick GP on 4th.

Pitsford continued to host the first-winter Black-tailed Godwit until at least 1st, along with the Ruff all week. There were also two Yellow-legged Gulls there on 5th, while another was logged at Hollowell Res the day before.

The Borough Hill Short-eared Owl remained until at least 1st, another was seen again at Harrington AF on 3rd and the Firecrest discovered near the feeding station at Pitsford Res on 29th was heard calling there again on 3rd. On the latter date, two Bearded Tits were discovered on land with no public access and eleven Crossbills were at Fineshade Wood on 4th.

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Rarity Round-up, 24th to 30th November 2018

The last week of autumn saw a continuation of northerly and easterly winds accompanied by low temperatures until the middle part, when south-westerlies helped raise the temperatures to a high of 14ºC on 28th, as well as delivering prolonged heavy rain. Rare and scarce wildfowl topped the bill during the period.

Six Bewick’s Swans, two adults and four first-winters, paid a brief visit to Thrapston GP’s North Lake on 25th before departing east during the afternoon. These are the only ones to be recorded in the county so far this year. The only Whooper Swans this week were the eleven, seemingly still settled all week, north of the causeway, at Pitsford Res and the first-winter still at Thrapston GP on 30th. In the Nene Valley, five White-fronted Geese flew west over Ditchford GP on 25th and just to the east, a Pink-footed Goose was found at Stanwick GP on 28th, while the Barnacle Goose was still present there on the same date. The mobile female Ruddy Shelduck was still at Pitsford Res on 25th, while over to the west, the drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid, last seen at Daventry CP on 16th, resurfaced at Ravensthorpe Res on 27th. Back at Pitsford, the week’s highest site total of Red-crested Pochards fell from eighteen last week to thirteen on 24th. Elsewhere, two were at Stanford Res all week and one remained at Hollowell Res throughout, while the first-winter Scaup also remained all week at Thrapston GP.

Following last week’s mystery report of a drake Ring-necked Duck on Town Lake at Thrapston on 18th, one appeared in Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res on the afternoon of 25th. At first posing awkwardly for photos, it quickly became camera-shy, subsequently appearing to do a bunk. Making it into the record books as Northamptonshire’s sixth, it was present just long enough for one or two locals to catch up with it but it wasn’t seen for the remaining part of the week.

Adult drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 25th November 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Just two Cattle Egrets continued to be seen daily at the north-east end of the Stanwick GP complex, while up to two Great White Egrets continued to be seen there, with the same number at Stanford Res. Elsewhere, Pitsford continued to host up to four and singles were seen at Ditchford GP, Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Summer Leys LNR.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 30th November 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Stanford Res continued its monopoly on harriers with the juvenile Hen Harrier still present until at least 29th and last week’s Marsh Harrier was again seen there on 24th.

The wader trade picked up with the first-winter Black-tailed Godwit still at Pitsford Res and a Ruff was discovered there on 24th, both birds remaining throughout, while a fly-through Spotted Redshank was seen there on 26th.

Single adult Mediterranean Gulls were at both Hollowell Res and Pitsford Res on 26th, although it is likely the same individual accounted for both observations, while an adult Caspian Gull was found near Middleton Cheney on 25th, being relocated later in the day at nearby Chacombe.

Adult Caspian Gull, Middleton Cheney, 25th November 2018 (John Friendship-Taylor)

A second-winter Caspian Gull visited Daventry CP on 30th. Yellow-legged Gulls continued to be logged in small numbers, with three near Middleton Cheney on 25th and the same number again at Hollowell Res the following day, while singles were at Chacombe on 25th and Pitsford Res throughout the week.

Short-eared Owl, Borough Hill, 25th November 2018 (John Friendship-Taylor)

The Borough Hill Short-eared Owl remained throughout the week, another was seen at Harrington AF on 28th and the first wintering Firecrest was discovered near the feeding station at Pitsford Res the following day. The only Bramblings reported were one at Pitsford Res on 26th, two at Hanging Houghton on 24th and up to eight in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton all week.

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Rarity Round-up, 17th to 23rd November 2018

The wind throughout the week took a prolonged easterly slant and temperatures fell accordingly, a high of 10°C on 17th had slipped down to a low of just 4°C on 20th.

Two new Whooper Swans appeared this week, a lone adult at Earls Barton GP on 21st, followed by another youngster joining the Pitsford eleven on 22nd, while the first-year remained at Thrapston GP throughout the period.

First-winter Whooper Swan, Thrapston GP, 23rd November 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Last week’s Barnacle Goose revisited Stanwick GP on 19th and the mobile female Ruddy Shelduck dropped into Pitsford Res on 21st, the latter site again accounting for the highest total of Red-crested Pochards, which topped eighteen on the same date.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 18th November 2018 (Alan Coles)

Elsewhere, four were at Stanford Res on 17th, with just one remaining until 21st, one remained at Hollowell Res all week and singles were at Clifford Hill GP on 17th and Thrapston GP on 23rd, where the first-winter Scaup also remained all week.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 21st November 2018 (Doug Goddard)

And so to this week’s puzzle: the adult drake Ring-necked Duck reported on Town Lake at Thrapston on the morning of 18th. Local observers were on site within an hour or two of the national news broadcast, diligently scanning the lake, along with all the other lakes in the complex. It was nowhere to be seen. The source is a mystery … but Thrapston has history. So, more ‘fake news’ then or, if you prefer a rather more British approach to the phraseology, ‘patent twaddle’. Nuff said. At least we know the one remaining Velvet Scoter, last seen there on 17th, was genuine and contributed to the county chalking up a ‘two-scoter week’ with two Common Scoters at Stanford Res on 19th.

The three Cattle Egrets at the north-east end of the Stanwick GP complex were once again joined by a fourth on 21st-22nd, while one or two Great White Egrets continued to be seen at this and six other locations, Pitsford topping the bill with four on 21st-22nd.

Great White Egret, Stanwick GP, 17th November 2018 (Mike Alibone)

On the raptor front, Stanford Res continued to maintain its monopoly on harriers with the juvenile Hen Harrier still present until at least 18th and a Marsh Harrier there on 22nd-23rd.

Juvenile Hen Harrier, Stanford Res, 17th November 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

The only wader of note this week was the first-winter Black-tailed Godwit at Pitsford Res, remaining throughout, while the usual adult Yellow-legged Gull also remained there throughout the period, three were at Hollowell Res on 17th, followed by two on 21st.

First-winter Black-tailed Godwit, Pitsford Res, 21st November 2018 (Angi Harrell)

Short-eared Owls were more widespread this week, being reported from no less than five localities. Two were at Stanford Res on 17th and singles were seen at Weldon on 18th, Stanwick GP on 21st, Pitsford Res on 22nd and Borough Hill on 23rd. The only Brambling reported was one at Pitsford Res on 22nd.

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Rarity Round-up, 10th to 16th November

Maintaining temperatures some 5°C higher than they should have been, the wind this week again blew southerly and then south-westerly, before swinging south-easterly during the last two days of the period. Making the news this week were two birds which, in all likelihood, nobody ever saw, although we know at least one of them was there …

The eleven Whooper Swans remained at Pitsford Res all week and look settled for the winter. New arrivals during the period were three adults, arriving at Stanford Res on 13th before hurriedly departing to the north-east the same day and a lone first-winter, which was discovered at Thrapston GP on 16th.

Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, November 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Whooper Swans, Stanford Res, 13th November 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Whooper Swan, Stanford Res, 13th November 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Now for the first of those two intangible birds. Belated news concerns the curious case of the Greenland White-fronted Goose, which dropped into a field near Aynho, under the cover of darkness, for just two hours on 27th October. A radio-tagged female, originally bound for Wexford, went well off course to the Dutch coast, before successfully re-orientating west across the UK, which included a short stop-off in Northants. Read the full story here. The appropriate radio telemetry, had it been available live online to the masses, would no doubt have had a good number of us reaching for those infra-red bins – well, maybe. This is only the 5th county record of this potential species, the last being in 2009. Back down to earth, the two adult White-fronted Geese remained at Sywell CP all week and a Barnacle Goose visited Stanwick GP on 12th. The top count of Red-crested Pochards was ten at Pitsford Res on 14th, followed by seven at Stanford Res on the previous day.

Red-crested Pochards, Stanford Res, 13th November 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Elsewhere, up to three were seen at Hollowell Res and one was at Stanwick GP during the period. The six first-winter Velvet Scoters remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake until 11th, after which only one remained until the end of the week, as did the first-winter Scaup there and the drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid at Daventry CP.

Three Cattle Egrets, happily ensconced at Stanwick, continued to entertain and remained all week, having moved to a smaller, more constrained cow field adjacent to the North Lake at the Ringstead end of the complex.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 14th November 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Cattle Egret with Little Egret, Stanwick GP, 14th November 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Cattle Egrets, Stanwick GP, 14th November 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Great White Egrets continued to be seen regularly, with Pitsford and Stanwick recording three a piece, Ravensthorpe Res held two and singles were also seen at Clifford Hill GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Stanford Res, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP.

Great White Egret, Stanford Res, November 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Great White Egret, Pitsford Res, November 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 11th November 2018 (Paul Crotty)

Great White Egret, Earls Barton GP, 15th November 2018 (Leslie Fox)

On the raptor front, a Marsh Harrier flew south at Stanwick GP on 11th and the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier – aged as a juvenile – was seen on and off all week at Stanford Res. Though last week’s Rough-legged Buzzard near Apethorpe ultimately proved to be a Common Buzzard incognito, another was reported near Aldwincle on 11th. Said to be watched for fifteen minutes in the Brancey Bridge area, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility for the sighting and the origin of the report is vague, to say the least. Ah well, fake news it is, then. “Another glass of Tempranillo, Donald?” “Don’t mind if I do, Buddy!”

So, moving swiftly on to waders … a Black-tailed Godwit appeared at Pitsford Res on 12th and was still present on 14th and another appeared at Summer Leys, also on 12th. The late autumn lingering Common Sandpiper remained at Stanwick until at least 11th but it was joined by another one just prior to dusk on 10th, although this second individual had vanished by the following morning. Surprisingly, another Common Sandpiper was found at Hollowell Res on 16th. All three are very late occurrences and anyone coming across an Actitis sandpiper here in November is surely in with a 50:50 chance of it being a Spotted Sandpiper. While surrounding counties have enjoyed multiple records, Northamptonshire awaits its first …

First-winter Mediterranean Gull, Daventry CP, 16th November 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Two Mediterranean Gulls – both of them first-winters – were found this week, one in the Pitsford gull roost on 14th and the other two days later at Daventry CP. The usual adult Yellow-legged Gulls were to be found at Pitsford and Hollowell, with three at the latter site on 16th, although a first-winter was in the Pitsford gull roost on 14th and a fourth-winter visited Daventry CP on 16th.

Two Short-eared Owls were found on 11th, hunting the grassy summit of Borough Hill, where they remained all week, while last week’s two Bearded Reedlings at Stanwick performed a short encore on 10th before apparently disappearing for good. Single Bramblings were seen at Hollowell on 10th and Stanwick on 12th, a female Crossbill was found at Fineshade Wood on 13th and eight more visited Ditchford GP briefly on 16th before flying toward nearby Irchester CP. Also on 13th, a single Hawfinch was heard calling at Brixworth CP.

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Rarity Round-up, 3rd to 9th November 2018

A largely southerly airstream throughout the week kept temperatures above average, peaking at 15ºC on 5th-6th. Wildfowl numbers continued to build and most of last week’s rare fare remained settled and on show. Additionally, for the second week running, a handful of new arrivals included another species which was the first this century in Northamptonshire …

The flow of Whooper Swans over the past weeks appears now to have halted but it has left us with eleven (nine adults and two first-winters) at Pitsford Res, present north of the causeway for nigh on two weeks. Hopefully they will remain for the foreseeable future. Similarly ensconced, the two adult White-fronted Geese remained at Sywell CP and the female Ruddy Shelduck was still at Ravensthorpe Res on 4th.

Red-crested Pochard, Wicksteed Park Lake, 6th November 2018 (Alan Francis). One of three drakes present.

Red-crested Pochards, Stanford Res, 9th November 2018 (Chris Hubbard). Four of six present.

Red-crested Pochards were widespread with this week’s highest count of six at Stanford Res on 9th. Elsewhere, between one and three were seen at Daventry CP, Hollowell Res, Stanwick GP, Thrapston GP and Wicksteed Park Lake and the first-winter Scaup remained at Thrapston GP all week.

Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 5th November 2018 (Alan Coles). Three of the six present.

Held over by popular demand, the six first-winter Velvet Scoters remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake for a second week, still showing well there on 9th. Conversely, of interest but of limited appeal, a very distinctive drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid visited Daventry CP on 7th.

Drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid, Daventry CP, 7th November 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Last week’s Bittern was again seen on the A45 Lay-by Pit at Stanwick on 3rd but the site’s main attraction continued to be Cattle Egrets – last week’s two having doubled to four by the end of the week. Great White Egrets were reported from eight localities including Clifford Hill GP, Ditchford GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res, Stanwick GP, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP with Pitsford again boasting the highest count of five on 6th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Steve Fisher). One of up to four present.

Raptors were limited to the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier, remaining elusive at Stanford Res between 3rd and 5th and a Rough-legged Buzzard reported on roadkill along the relatively short stretch of road between Apethorpe and Woodnewton on 9th. Should the latter be proven to remain, it is likely to become a more popular attraction than the six smart scoters down the road. Despite occasional reports, the last accepted record, only the third this century, was in October 2014 and as always, it was a fly-over. There has never been a twitchable Rough-leg in Northants …

Save the odd Jack Snipe – of which there was one at Stanwick on 6th – it’s normally all over for waders until spring but both the Black-tailed Godwit at Daventry CP and the Common Sandpiper at Stanwick remained until 7th and 9th respectively, while a late and fleeting Spotted Redshank at the latter site was a surprise on 6th.

On the gull front it was more of the usual fare, with single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Hollowell, Pitsford and Daventry and a third-winter at the latter locality on 5th, while a first-winter Caspian Gull was at Hollowell on 3rd and 5th and a third-winter visited Stanwick on the last of these two dates.

Another Short-eared Owl was found at Harrington AF on 3rd but bird of the week – at least for one observer – was the Hooded Crow which flew south-west over Pury Hill, Alderton on 7th. The species was formerly a more regular, though scarce, winter visitor to Northants but its appearance in the south, east and central parts of the UK is now much less frequent than it was during the last century. In fact, this is the first in the county since 1999. Others were seen inland during the period in Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and East, South and West Yorkshire. More readily accessible and guaranteed to delight, however, were two Bearded Reedlings, which were discovered at Stanwick on 4th and did the decent thing of posing well for photos until at least 6th.

Female Bearded Reedling, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Male Bearded Reedling, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Female Bearded Reedling, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Martin Dove)

Male Bearded Reedling, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Martin Dove)

Female Bearded Reedling, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Alan Coles)

Male Bearded Reedling, Stanwick GP, 5th November 2018 (Alan Coles)

The only Brambling this week was one at Harrington AF on 3rd.

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Velvet Scoters in focus

Found on 27th October, a small flock of Velvet Scoters on Thrapston’s Town Lake is the first in the county since 1995 and rightly continues to attract a steady stream of admirers. Widely touted as ‘juveniles’, additional high-quality photos to emerge allow a more analytical approach to ageing, sexing and individual recognition.

The original eight, found on 27th October, had become six by the following day when two distinct individuals, which frequently kept apart from the rest of the flock, had departed. As well as being the largest flock to be recorded in Northamptonshire, the remaining six may also be in line to break the long stay record for more than one bird, having been present now for at least eleven days. The record is currently held by two which were mobile between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, from 7th to 27th November 1983.

First-winter Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 29th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Close examination of the excellent images obtained by Alan Boddington and Bob Bullock enables individuals to be readily identified by their head patterns, which are quite variable. Because of the broad, pale feather fringing on the wing coverts, the ‘long staying six’ (A to F) can be aged as first-winters and at least two of these (B, D) are young males, the dull yellow areas being visible on their bills. None of the other four shows the slightest hint of yellow but C, E and F are showing pale horn-coloured areas on, or around the sides of the nail. This is interesting because, according to Reeber (Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America, 1995), this is a characteristic associated with adult females and not present in first-winters.

Adult female Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 29th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The ‘short staying two’ (G, H) are adult females with uniform dark plumage, which includes, most importantly, the belly – visible in the only flight shot (below) obtained so far. First-winters have a pale belly until adult plumage is acquired later in the winter or during their second calendar year. Hopefully, the remaining birds will continue their stay at Thrapston for some time to come.

Adult female Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 29th October 2018 (Bob Bullock), birds ‘G’ (left) and ‘H’.

First-winter Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 31st October 2018 (Alan Boddington). Birds ‘C’ (left) and ‘D’.

First-winter Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 31st October 2018 (Alan Boddington). From left: birds ‘A’, ‘D’ and ‘B’.

First-winter male Velvet Scoter, Thrapston GP, 31st October 2018 (Alan Boddington), bird ‘D’.

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