The first Pale-bellied Brent Goose for Northamptonshire

A great find by Jon Bowley at Boddington Reservoir this afternoon was the first confirmed Pale-bellied Brent Goose for Northamptonshire. Possibly associated with Storm Arwen, its arrival today coincided with that of a Common Scoter at the same locality. Interestingly, both birds remained close together while on the water this afternoon.

Adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose and first-winter female Common Scoter, Boddington Res, 27th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Pale-bellied Brent Goose is the race hrota, which breeds from the east Canadian Arctic to Svalbard and winters on both coasts of the north Atlantic. It would appear to be exceedingly rare inland and all previous occurrences of Brent Geese in Northants have related to the Dark-bellied race bernicla, which occurs in the county annually in very small numbers, normally as lone individuals joining flocks of Canada Geese for short periods of time during spring and autumn passage.

Adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Boddington Res, 27th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Identification is straightforward, Pale-bellied showing strong contrast between the sharply-demarcated black breast, pale belly and flanks, with the pale brown upperparts ‘sandwiched’ between black neck and the black feathers of the closed wing. Dark-bellied is much more uniformly coloured. The lack of whitish fringes to the upper wing coverts easily ages it as an adult.

Newsround – 13th to 19th November 2021 

There was little change in this week’s weather, with the westerly airstream still in place and temperatures remaining above average for mid-November. However, vestigial summer visitors were still to be found alongside some classic winter arrivals.

The third Dark-bellied Brent Goose to be found in the county this year was a juvenile/first-winter, which tagged along with the local Canada Goose flock at Clifford Hill GP on 17th.

Juvenile moulting to first-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 17th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Meanwhile, the Hollowell Res Pink-footed Goose remained there throughout the period and despite last week’s speculation that it may have also visited Stanford Res, photographs clearly indicate it is a different bird.

Pink-footed Goose, Hollowell Res, 15th November 2021 (Alan Coles)

The fifteen-strong raft of Red-crested Pochards also remained at Pitsford Res, as did the three at Stanford, both groups still being present at the week’s end, while 17th saw the reappearance of one of the Greater Scaups at Daventry CP – this one being the bird which had earlier been on site between 1st and 4th November.

And the pick of this week’s ducks deluxe was the first Smew of the winter – two to be precise – discovered on 19th on Brightwells Lake, a small body of water that receives scant attention compared to certain other areas of the Ringstead GP complex, of which it is a part. While the November date may seem a little early for this species in the county, a dig into historical records unearths a number of October birds, the earliest of which was at Stanford on 11th October 1993. The first in the UK this autumn was one at Hornsea, East Yorkshire on 13th October.

‘Redhead’ and moulting eclipse drake Smew, Ringstead GP, 19th November 2021 (Nick Parker)

With no reports for the best part of a month, a Bittern resurfaced briefly at Summer Leys LNR on 14th but other herons were, of course, available … and much easier to see, at that. After last week’s record-busting totals, numbers of both Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets nudged higher still, with the first of these two amassing sixteen in a cattle field north of Ringstead on 16th-17th. Many of these joined the egret roost at Kinewell Lake, while fourteen flying north-east at nearby Stanwick GP, at dawn on 14th, were clearly the same birds.

Cattle Egret, between Woodford and Ringstead GP, 17th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Great Egret numbers reached a minimum of sixteen at Pitsford on 15th – the highest ever single-site total for Northants – while nine were counted at Ringstead’s Kinewell Lake on 14th. Elsewhere, Hollowell produced five, Thrapston GP four, Stanwick three and Summer Leys two, resulting in a potential current wintering population of perhaps as many as forty birds. Who said they were rare … ?

Also looking set to winter – or at least in no hurry to move on anytime soon – the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper remained throughout, the long-staying Ruff at Summer Leys was joined by another there on 16th and the Common Sandpiper at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) was still present at the week’s end. The only Jack Snipes found during the period were two near Ravensthorpe on18th.

Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 14th November 2021 (Leslie Fox)

Gull numbers were once again very low and included a third-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 19th, and an adult Yellow-legged Gull was still at Pitsford on 14th.

In contrast to last week, just one Merlin was seen, this time at Harlestone Lake, on 15th and just when you thought it was all over for Swallows, one was seen flying south-west over Bradden on 13th. It surely is now …

The past couple of weeks has seen a number of late Ring Ouzels moving through the UK and we were not left out. One was found behind Byfield Pool at Boddington Res on 14th and another reported from below Hanging Houghton on 17th, while this week’s Stonechats included four at Thrapston GP on 14th, four at Hollowell between 15th and 19th, two at Earls Barton GP on 15th and one at Sywell CP on 14th and 15th.

Following one last week, three more Hawfinches were reported on 17th, in trees close to the gatehouse at Lilford Park. Unlike the next species, however, they remain in short supply and there would appear to be no sign of an impending invasion.

Newsround – 6th to 12th November 2021 

A predominantly westerly airstream remained in place throughout the period and temperatures were largely above average for early November, clearly suiting some lingering summer visitors.

Against this backcloth, numbers of winter wildfowl were undoubtedly on the increase, some of which, however, were clearly not so wild. Falling squarely into the latter category was the re-emergence of the Cackling Goose, still on the loose in the west of the county, on this occasion with Canada Geese at Stanford Res on 10th. Stanford also played host to a Pink-footed Goose – most likely the Hollowell Res bird – from 9th until the week’s end. Two more Pinkfeet flew east over Nether Heyford on 6th, while the roving female Ruddy Shelduck appeared at Hollowell on 11th.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanford Res, 9th November 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Making a splash this week were Red-crested Pochards, with arrivals at four localities – most notably at Pitsford Res, where seventeen appeared on 6th and fifteen were still in place at the week’s end. Smaller numbers arriving elsewhere included two at Boddington Res on 6th, three at Thrapston GP on 7th and three at Stanford, which were present from 7th until the end of the period.

Red-crested Pochards, Boddington Res, 6th November 2021 (Gary Pullan)
Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Pitsford also produced a female Greater Scaup – a one-day bird on 7th, while Daventry CP chalked up its third of the autumn this week, with another first-winter from 8th to 10th.

Female Greater Scaup, Pitsford Res, 7th November 2021 (Angus Molyneux)
First-winter Greater Scaup, Daventry CP, 8th November 2021 (Gary Pullan)

At the other end of the county, Cattle Egrets pushed through to deliver an all-time county high with at least fourteen coming into the roost at Ringstead GP on 12th but away from this site only two were seen, at nearby Stanwick GP, on 9th. In parallel, Great Egrets smashed the site record total this week with at least eleven at Pitsford on 7th and 9th, while totting up numbers from Ringstead, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston suggests the total wintering population in Northants currently is likely to be a minimum of twenty. Ignoring possible Nene Valley duplicates, of course, that excludes any which may be lurking at other local bodies of water which would appear not to have been visited by birders this week.

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 7th November 2021 (Alan Coles)

And now to the curious case of the ‘Desborough stork’. Seen only as an early morning silhouette on a house roof on 8th, before quickly disappearing, it later emerged that a bird appearing to match the description of a White Stork was seen on a house roof in Wellingborough, last week, on 4th …

Arguably less ephemeral, though never overly easy to catch up with locally, harriers were still in the spotlight, with two species putting in appearances for the second week running. On 8th, a Marsh Harrier flew south over Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP, while the 7th saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier in the Brampton Valley, north of Brixworth, the same bird again being seen within spitting distance, at Blueberry Farm, on 10th. But stealing the limelight was the male Hen Harrier that cruised over the Main Lake and scrape at Summer Leys on 12th, before proceeding to quarter the rough fields either side of Mary’s Lane, its twenty-minute stay enabling a number of on-site birders to catch up with it. However, this was no ordinary male and, sporting an aerial, it has been identified as a satellite-tagged bird known as ‘Apollo’, originating in Lancashire, previously wintering in Spain and more recently having spent time near (the aptly-chosen) Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire before appearing at Summer Leys. The area it was hunting in would seem like ideal wintering habitat but is it enough to hold its interest? Summer Leys or Spain – where would you rather be … ?

Male Hen Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 12th November 2021 (Alan Coles)
Male Hen Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 12th November 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

Topping the bill for waders again this week was the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper, which remained throughout, while others seemingly in no hurry to move on were the long-staying Ruff at Summer Leys and the Common Sandpiper just up the road at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North). Which one will crack and go first … or are they all in it for the long haul? A Black-tailed Godwit at DIRFT 3 on 7th and a Jack Snipe at Pitsford on 7th-9th also added to this week’s mix.

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2021 (Martin Swannell)

By contrast, however, gulls were once again few and far between and included a third-winter Caspian Gull at Daventry on 12th, along with two Yellow-legged Gulls there on thesame date, while an adult Yellow-legged remained at Pitsford until at least 7th.

Continuing last week’s surge, Merlins were found at Sywell AF on 7th, at Harrington AF and in the Brampton Valley on 8th and at Barnwell the following day. We appear to be enjoying an autumn of plenty locally, so far.

In another parallel with last week, two more late Swallows were found, feeding over horse paddocks at Castle Ashby, on 7th, while this week’s Stonechats included one at Pitsford on 7th and twos at Earls Barton on 8th, Thrapston on 9th and Upton CP on 12th. Rounding off the week’s passerines were a Crossbill flying west over Brackley on 8th and a Hawfinch, briefly, at Hanging Houghton on 10th.

Newsround – 30th October to 5th November 2021 

Gale force south-westerly winds on the last day of the month caused widespread minor damage and brought down trees across the county. Much calmer conditions subsequently prevailed, with northerly winds and the first frost of the autumn occurring overnight on 1st of the new month. November – a ‘gap month’ between autumn proper and winter, when summer visitors have long gone, scarce migrants all but dry up and things slow down a bit. But then there were the hangers-on …

Still in place, last week’s Pink-footed Goose remained at Hollowell Res until at least 2nd and after a week without any, a Whooper Swan dropped in to join the local Mutes at Daventry CP on 3rd.

Whooper Swan, Daventry CP, 3rd November 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Again this week, the female Ruddy Shelduck continued to visit Foxholes Fisheries at Crick until 31st but it failed to show subsequently. Following two late Garganeys on 21st October, another, or the same was at Pitsford Res on 4th, while a first-winter Greater Scaup appeared at Daventry CP on 1st, remaining there until at least 4th. This bird was identified as a different individual to the one last seen there on 28th, the latter possibly accounting for the first-winter female which paid a brief visit to Hollowell Res on 3rd.

Seemingly settled was the Black-necked Grebe on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake, where it remained all week.

Close by, at Ringstead GP, there were still nine Cattle Egrets coming in to the evening roost on 4th, the same date seeing four of these at Hall Farm, Irthlingborough, just a short flap up the Nene Valley. Great Egrets, meanwhile, were found at Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Ringstead, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with a respectable eight at Pitsford on 4th-5th being the highest number, although this still falls well short of the staggering count of forty-one made not too far away at Rutland Water in late October!

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 1st November 2021 (Clive Bowley)

Last week’s long-staying Osprey made it into November by the narrowest of margins as the first day of the month was the last day upon which it was seen, when it cruised over Summer Leys, heading west … and with it went last week’s exclusivity.

Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 31st October 2021 (Alan Coles)

It was not the only raptor on the beat this week, as November ushered more in. The 1st saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Harrington AF, still present in the area on 4th, while the latter date gave rise to a Marsh Harrier, seen three times during its short stay at Stanford Res.

After none at all during the last review period, waders were back, with one record-breaking bird in particular hitting the headlines. When confronted with a dainty, neatly-speckled, yellow-legged Tringa during the first week of November, the smart money would be on Lesser Yellowlegs, wouldn’t it? But this is, after all, Northamptonshire, so however unlikely the occurrence of a Wood Sandpiper at this time of year would seem, one at Pitsford on 4th-5th cruised easily into the record books as the county’s latest ever, by a comfortable ten-day margin. The previous latest was one at Earls Barton GP on 26th October 1997.

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 4th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Perhaps aspiring to do the same – although they do occasionally occur in winter – a rather late Common Sandpiper was found at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 3rd, while a Ruff at Summer Leys on 1st was likely to be this autumn’s established long-stayer and another was a brief visitor to Pitsford on 4th.

Just one Caspian Gull – a second-winter at Daventry on 30th – and one Yellow-legged Gull – at Pitsford on 4th-5th – were the only scarce Larids during the period.

Following last week’s juvenile male Merlin at Hinton AF, a female was found there on 3rd – just one of five, which included singles at Harrington AF on 1st and in the Brampton Valley on 5th, plus two near Hartwell on 4th.

Female Merlin, Hinton AF, 3rd November 2021 (John Friendship-Taylor)

Another hanger-on from summer was a late Swallow, heading east over Clifford Hill GP on 3rd, while this week’s Stonechats included up to four at both Hollowell and Thrapston, two at Earls Barton and singles at Clifford Hill and Pitsford.

Newsround – 23rd to 29th October 2021

Another week with the country under the influence of low pressure saw further strong south-westerlies and heavy showers, although temperatures remained largely above average. This week’s star bird was a bold, brazen, late, lingering Osprey along the Nene.

But before that … A Pink-footed Goose appeared at Daventry CP on 23rd, with perhaps the same bird then moving to Hollowell Res from 25th to 28th. The county struggled to get all its ducks in a row this week, the female Ruddy Shelduck and the escaped drake Cape Shelduck having completely abandoned DIRFT 3 for the more secluded site of Foxholes Fisheries at Crick, where the Ruddy Shelduck was present on all but one day and the Cape Shelduck for only the first two. A first-winter female Greater Scaup was found at Daventry CP on 27th and was still present the following day while, at the other end of the county, two Red-crested Pochards visited Thrapston GP on 26th.

Once again, last week’s Black-necked Grebe remained at the latter site throughout the period.

Oddly, there were no reports of the Summer Leys Bittern this week but the number of Cattle Egrets at the Ringstead GP roost reached nine on 25th, from which they dispersed during the daylight hours to Stanwick GP, where there were five on 27th and to Thrapston/Islip Water Meadows, where there were two on 24th and one on 26th-27th. Two that dropped in briefly at Summer Leys LNR on 23rd may not have been local birds.

Cattle Egrets, Ringstead GP, 25th October 2021 (Adrian Borley)

Great Egrets, meanwhile, were found at Daventry, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Oundle, Pitsford Res, Ringstead, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with maxima of up to five at Pitsford on 28th and four at Hollowell on 25th and 28th.

Which brings us neatly to the long-staying Osprey, which has now been in the Nene Valley, between Billing GP and Summer Leys, since 11th October. Looking settled, it has recently been favouring the stretch of river between White Mills Marina and Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake – and it appears almost fearless, choosing to hunt by plunge-diving from trees along the river bank, rather than soaring and hovering over adjacent open bodies of water. In so doing, it has been quite approachable, offering superb views as well as great photographic opportunities.

Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 28th October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

A juvenile – easily aged by the striking white feather tips to the upperparts and wing coverts, as well as the dark streaking in the white crown and the buffy underwing coverts – it is thought perhaps to be of Scandinavian origin as it is not ringed, like the majority of UK birds appear to be. We can be sure that the same individual accounts for all the sightings as this bird has minor damage in the form of a small nick near the end of the outermost primary of its left wing. How long it will stay is anyone’s guess but the latest record for the county was one which lingered at Stanford Res between 13th October and 9th November 2013, so it has a way to go yet to beat that one.

Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 28th October 2021 (David Smith)
Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 29th October 2021 (Leslie Fox)
Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 29th October 2021 (Ant Hall)
Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 28th October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The weekly selection of Caspian Gulls comprised a second-winter at Boddington Res on 26th and single adults at Stanford Res on the same date and at both Hollowell and Pitsford on 28th. This week’s Yellow-legged Gulls were all seen on 26th, when there were two at Boddington, two or three at Pitsford and two at Thrapston.

On dry land, a Short-eared Owl was seen at Harrington AF on 25th, while a juvenile male Merlin was ay Hinton AF on 24th and an adult male flew over DIRFT 3 on 29th.

Stonechat, Stanford Res, 29th October 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Stonechats were the only passerines of note this week, Hollowell being out in front with five, followed by four at Thrapston, two at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell and singles at Pitsford, Stanford and Upton CP, Northampton.

Newsround – 16th to 22nd October 2021 

The weather this week appeared to be a major influencer in terms of movement of wildfowl. Strong south-westerlies and heavy rain were quickly followed by cold north-westerlies in the latter part of the week, as a deep low pressure system swept east across the country.

So, with a favourable tail-wind, Whooper Swans were the order of the day on 21st-22nd, when they were found at four localities. In the vanguard were two at Pitsford Res, briefly, on 19th, subsequently followed by one at Stanford Res early in the morning of 21st, that number having risen to three there in the evening. On the same date, three flew south-west over Stanwick GP and two were found at Clifford Hill GP – shortly to be joined by two more before the morning was out. Pitsford was back in the game on 22nd, when one was discovered among the Mute Swans there early on and five passed east through Stanwick’s airspace later in the afternoon.

Whooper Swan, Clifford Hill GP, 21st October 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Whooper Swans, Clifford Hill GP, 21st October 2021 (Ant Hall)

DIRFT 3 held on to its Cackling Goose on 18th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck and the drake Cape Shelduck were also both on site on 16th but their recently developed liking for nearby Foxholes Fisheries at Crick saw them spending more time there – daily from 17th to 20th and again on 22nd.

Female Ruddy Shelduck and drake Cape Shelduck, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 17th October 2021 (Joan Chaplin)

The last vestiges of summer were evident at Ditchford GP on 21st, where a juvenile Garganey was dozing among surface weed in the sunlit shallows of Delta Pit on 21st. One was also present in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay on the same date. These two are clearly late but not the latest ever in the county – that accolade goes to a bird at Earls Barton GP on 13th November 2015.

Juvenile Garganey, Ditchford GP, 21st October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

A drake Common Scoter dropped in at Boddington Res late on 20th, while a further hint of winter materialised in the form of a female Greater Scaup at Sywell CP, the following day. ‘Duck of the week’, though, was, indisputably, the ‘redhead’ Red-breasted Merganser, which played hard to get, appearing to roost on Stanwick’s Main Lake and being seen only briefly at first light on 21st and 22nd before flying off west to whereabouts as yet unknown. The erratic appearances of this skinny sawbill in the county already render it difficult to catch up with. It’s by no means annual and the last records were of single birds in 2019 and 2016.

Female Greater Scaup, Sywell CP, 21st October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Looking settled, last week’s Black-necked Grebe remained throughout the period on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake, as was the Bittern at Summer Leys – at least until 19th.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 19th October 2021 (Paul Wyer)
Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 19th October 2021 (Ray Seagrove)

Cattle Egrets upped their number to seven at the Ringstead GP roost on the latter date and they continued to be seen at Stanwick, where there were four at the week’s end, while three visited cattle fields below the church at Irthlingborough on 21st. Stanwick also hosted the highest number of the period’s Great Egrets, three, while ones and twos were also seen at Daventry CP, Pitsford, Ringstead and Summer Leys.

Last week’s juvenile Osprey, continued to roam the Nene Valley between Billing GP and Summer Leys from 16th to 21st and a male Hen Harrier flying north-west over Daventry CP on 18th was the only other raptor worthy of note.

Juvenile Osprey, Summer Leys LNR, 20th October 2021 (Roger Hawkins)

The long-staying juvenile male Ruff also remained at Summer Leys until at least 19th, otherwise scarce waders were at a premium.

This week’s scarcer larids were limited to three Caspian Gulls – a third-winter at Daventry on 18th and single adults at Boddington on 18th and Pitsford on 19th, while Yellow-legged Gulls included a maximum of six at Boddington on 18th, up to three were at Thrapston between 18th and 22nd and two at Pitsford on 19th-20th.

Third-winter Caspian Gull, Daventry CP, 18th October 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Passerines were again in short supply with four Stonechats at Thrapston on 18th being the highest count, plus two at Earls Barton GP on the same date and singles at Pitsford on 20th-22nd and at Oundle and Summer Leys on 18th. And finally … about to enter super-rare status, a Rock Pipit was at Stanwick on 17th – only the second in the county this year after one at the same site on 21st March. Times are getting hard …

Newsround – 9th to 15th October 2021 

It was a largely dry week with a bias toward an Atlantic-borne mixture of northerly and westerly airstreams. Nevertheless, the county enjoyed some class arrivals and more than a hint that winter is only just around the corner.

And that hint materialised in the form of migrating geese – all seemingly genuine and kicking off with a small skein of thirteen Pink-footed Geese flying south-east over Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 11th.

Pink-footed Geese, Corby, 11th October 2021 (James Underwood)

These were followed the next day by an adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, found at DIRFT 3, where it remained until at least 14th. Amazingly, this is the second record for this industrial development site, following one there in January 2018.

Adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, DIRFT 3, 12th October 2021 (Gary Pullan)

In line with recent arrivals in Gloucestershire, Norfolk, South Yorkshire and Worcestershire, a White-fronted Goose was also found, at Clifford Hill GP, on 13th and, furthering the winter theme, six Whooper Swans were seen heading east over Summer Leys LNR on 15th.

Entering the murky underworld of the dark and the dubious, this week’s roll-call at DIRFT 3 exposed the ongoing presence of the Cackling Goose, the female Ruddy Shelduck and the drake Cape Shelduck throughout the period, although the latter two enjoyed some time away at nearby Foxholes Fisheries, Crick at the beginning of the week.

On 15th, a new Black-necked Grebe was found to still be present on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake after news emerged of its earlier discovery there on 12th. Coming a full four weeks after the last, this is the 6th record of the autumn and the only bird which has stayed for more than one day.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 11th October 2021 (Alan Coles)

A Bittern was seen briefly at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 13th and, other than the one which continued to feature throughout the period, Summer Leys has had a lean autumn to date, so the appearance of a Spoonbill there on 9th helped put the site back on the map this week. Despite being an almost annual visitor to the county, this was only the second record for 2021, the previous one being of two that briefly toured the Nene Valley between Summer Leys and Stanwick GP on 8th-9th April.

Adult Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2021 (Stuart Mundy)

Cattle Egrets continued to be seen at Stanwick, where there were two on 12th but further down the valley at Ringstead GP at least four appeared to be roosting on the same date and this number had increased to six on 14th. This week’s Great Egrets were found at Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston the highest site total being three at Pitsford on 14th.

Two days after the Spoonbill, Summer Leys produced an Osprey, which was presumably the same bird – a juvenile – seen nearby at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 14th.

Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 14th October 2021 (Leslie Fox)

The long-staying juvenile male Ruff also remained at Summer Leys all week, while a westbound Curlew flew over the site on 9th.

Juvenile male Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 11th October 2021 (Paul Wyer)

Gull roosts continued to deliver the goods, with Boddington and Stanford vying for pole position, the latter holding a first-winter Mediterranean Gull on 11th and 13th, joined there by a second-winter on the first of these two dates, while an adult was at Boddington on 13th.

Mediterranean Gulls, Stanford Res. Left: second-winter, 11th October 2021, right: first-winter 13th October 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

The 11th also produced an adult Caspian Gull at Stanford, while the Boddington roost held two Caspians – a second-winter and a fourth-winter – on 13th. Elsewhere, an adult and first-winter Caspians were at DIRFT 3 on 12th and an adult visited Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 14th.

Adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 12th October 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Other gulls were available, of course, and a sprinkling of Yellow-legged Gulls included one at Stanwick on 12th, four at DIRFT 3 on the same date, four at Boddington on 13th, five at Thrapston GP on the latter date and one or two at Pitsford on 14th.

A high-flying Short-eared Owl, west over Daventry CP on 13th, is hopefully in the vanguard of more to come.

While passerines were thin on the ground, what the week lacked in quantity was made up for in quality when the Stanford Ringing Group trapped and ringed a Yellow-browed Warbler on 12th. It showed well, on and off, for 20 minutes after being released. As well as being only the sixteenth county record, this bird is the seventh for the site, the sixth to be ringed there and the fourth in consecutive years. There is now an annual air of expectation – if not predictability – of this species finding its way into a net in late autumn at this site.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Stanford Res, 12th October 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

A single Whinchat, along with approximately ten Stonechats, was at Borough Hill on 9th, two more Stonechats were found at Thrapston GP on 15th and singles were at Stanford on 9th, Harlestone Heath on 12th, Hollowell on 14th and Pitsford on 15th.

Let’s hope the autumn magic continues …

Newsround – 2nd to 8th October 2021

A wet start to the period and locally forecast gales that failed to materialise preceded a tantalising ridge of high pressure that crept in from the east near the week’s end. But never mind the weather, as autumn proper got underway October started with a bang!

But before all that, lining up for a gander were the exotica of DIRFT 3, with the Cackling Goose, female Ruddy Shelduck and drake Cape Shelduck continuing their presence throughout the week. And as the pendulum swings from the fence-hoppers to the genuinely wild, passing on the 5th, Hollowell’s Pink-footed Goose mid-swing, two Garganeys were found on Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake on 6th.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, DIRFT 3, 8th October 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Drake Cape Shelduck, DIRFT 3, 5th October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Indisputably, however, bird of the autumn – and for some, of the year – was apparently the UK’s only inland Leach’s Petrel of the period, at Pitsford Res, on 2nd. The first in the county since 2008 and 24 hours earlier than predicted, it did the decent thing and remained on view, north of the causeway, until the early evening. Full details here.

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The Summer Leys Bittern was back on show, almost daily, during the week – again providing principally flight views, while a Cattle Egret appeared at Ringstead GP on 5th and two were still at Stanwick GP on 5th-6th. Remaining rather low-key, Great Egrets were reported only from Ditchford GP, Earls Barton/Summer Leys, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res and Stanwick, the highest site total being three at Summer Leys on 5th.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd October 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

Reigniting the seabird theme, a juvenile Northern Gannet was a nice surprise for two startled observers as it cruised at little more than tree-top height, west over Weedon Bec, late in the afternoon of 7th. This one fits in nicely with the autumn prevalence of occurrences in the county and was one of a number of individuals seen inland over Cambridgeshire, East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, London and Nottinghamshire during 6th-7th. A much more frequent visitor than Leach’s Petrel, it would appear to be about the 43rd record for Northants.

With autumn wader passage beginning to feel like a distant memory, only the long-staying juvenile male Ruff at Summer Leys is really newsworthy. It remained all week.

Gulls bounced back a bit this week, with an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Boddington Res on 4th, the same roost also including adult Caspian Gulls on 4th, 5th and 7th, with a first-winter and a fourth-winter also present there on the latter date. Further adult Caspian Gulls were found at DIRFT 3 on 5th and 8th, the individual on 8th sporting a yellow ring inscribed with the characters XLVH. This enabled it to be traced back to eastern Germany, where it was ringed as a 4th calendar year male on 29th April 2021 at Gräbendorfer See, approximately 40 km from the border with Poland and approximately 1,019 km from DIRFT 3. An adult also visited Stanford Res on 8th.

Adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 5th October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Between one and three Yellow-legged Gulls were seen in the Boddington roost, at Pitsford, Ringstead and Stanwick, while Thrapston GP produced the week’s maximum of five on 7th. More intriguing, though, was a super, smart-looking, diminutive black-backed gull, which ticked all the boxes for Baltic Gull, in the Boddington roost on 4th and coincided with the appearance of an identical bird at Cley, Norfolk on the same evening.

Adult Baltic Gull candidate, Boddington Res, 4th October 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Completing the back-end miscellany of the systematic list, a female Merlin spent an hour and a half around the Main Barrage Lake at Clifford Hill GP on 3rd, a single Whinchat, along with three Stonechats, was near Moulton on 2nd and two more Stonechats were at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 4th, while three were at DIRFT 3 on 8th.

Stonechat, Corby, 4th October 2021 (James Underwood)
Northern Wheatear, Stanford Res, 6th October 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

The only Northern Wheatear this week was one at Stanford Res on 6th and a lone Crossbill was seen in flight close to Harlestone Firs on 5th.

Newsround – 25th September to 1st October 2021 

A somewhat unsettled week, dominated by Atlantic low pressure systems and gales as we nudge into October and once again, little in the shape of new birds.

And it’s as you were on the waterfowl front, with the Cackling Goose still at DIRFT 3 on 26th. It closely resembles the race minima, but it appears a little on the large size and this subspecies is widely kept in captivity in both Britain and Europe …

Cackling Goose, DIRFT 3, 29th September 2021 (Mike Alibone)

New in or just the local wanderer, a Pink-footed Goose was found at Hollowell Res on 29th, a single Garganey remained at Daventry CP on 26th-27th and three Red-crested Pochards appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 28th.

The Summer Leys Bittern failed to show during the week but the rarely sought Stortons bird was seen in flight there on 26th, while the rather less cryptically-coloured Cattle Egrets remained visible at Stanwick GP, where there were at least four on 25th-26th. Compared with last week, Great Egrets were more widespread, with records coming from the ten localities of Blatherwycke Lake, Daventry CP, Deene Lake, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Naseby Res, Stanwick GP, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP, although no more than two were present at any of these.

Quality, not quantity, was the theme when it came to this week’s raptors – specifically a Goshawk, which was seen circling over Byfield before drifting east, on 25th. The status of this species in the county remains a mystery. Once thought to be a secret breeder, it was never proven and records are few and far between.

Wader movements remained at a low ebb, with just a single Black-tailed Godwit at Thrapston GP on 1st, the long-staying juvenile male Ruff still at Summer Leys on 28th and a Greenshank remaining at Daventry CP until at least 27th.

Black-tailed Godwit, Thrapston GP, 1st October 2021 (Nick Parker, videograb)

Gulls, too, were in shorter supply than of late, with just a juvenile/first-winter Caspian Gull at Summer Leys on 27th. Yellow-legged Gulls maxed out with three at Thrapston GP on 28th after two there on 26th, up to two at Pitsford between 26th and 30th and singles at Stanwick on 25th and Summer Leys on 27th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Earls Barton GP, 1st October 2021 (Leslie Fox)

A Common Redstart – perhaps this year’s last – was at Harrington AF on 25th, while last week’s three Stonechats remained at Hollowell on 30th and one visited Pitsford on 28th.

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 28th September 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The Pitsford Leach’s Petrel

It’s been a long, thirteen year wait since 2008, which was when the last Leach’s Petrel occurred in Northamptonshire. However, thanks to Adrian Borley, the wait was over yesterday, when he found one during the morning, just north of the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir.

With the news out, a crowd amassed pretty quickly to see the bird which spent most of its time sitting on the water, approximately halfway between the causeway and the opposite shoreline. Occasionally making short flights, it remained into the evening, by which time it had moved into Scaldwell Bay.

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Being overcast, wet and windy, weather conditions were not overly favourable for photography but some images captured managed to illustrate the diffuse darkish line down the otherwise white rump, as well as white tertial tips and the obvious forked tail, characteristic of the species.

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

This was the 27th county record and a new bird, locally and in some cases, nationally, for a number of birders turning up to see it.

Most records have fallen between 1978 and 2008 but outside of these dates there were single records in 1889, 1891 and 1895, five in 1952 and one in 1953. Interestingly, Pitsford has laid claim to almost half of the 1978-2008 records, with records from other, non-wetland, localities relating to birds found dead or simply storm-driven. September appears to be the key month for records but there have also been winter occurrences after bouts of severe weather.