Rarity Round-up, 6th to 12th July 2019

A more temperate period followed the previous week’s hot air and humidity as the wind mix became light northerly and westerly. Long-staying Cattle Egrets remained in the Nene Valley, while wader passage continued to trickle along and included increasing numbers of more common species.

Seemingly in for the long haul, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res all week, and the first Garganey of the autumn appeared at Stanwick GP on 6th-7th. The two Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res remained until at least 10th, being joined there by another on 8th, while birders at Stanford Res enjoyed an afternoon stopover by four drake Common Scoters on the same date. These birds are part of the annual, post-breeding moult migration, which initially involves largely adult drakes and immatures moving to traditionally favoured coastal localities, such as the east coast of Scotland, Carmarthen Bay and west coastal France, where they are joined by females and juveniles from mid-August (BTO Migration Atlas, 2002).

Two Bitterns were found this week – one at Stortons GP on 6th and the other at Summer Leys two days later, on 9th. Both gave only the standard flight views typically associated with this species as birds quickly move for one patch of reeds to another. Further east along the valley, up to two Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick throughout the period, while a Great Egret took up temporary residence in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay between 8th and 10th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 7th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Another lean week for Ospreys produced singles flying east over the A43 near Deenethorpe, north of Corby on 7th, over Thrapston GP on 8th and over Deene Lake on 9th.

Set against a backcloth of more common waders, e.g. returning Green and Common Sandpipers (six of the latter were at Hollowell Res on 12th), Black-tailed Godwits continued to be seen – their numbers including up to twelve at Summer Leys on 7th, one at Stanwick on 9th and two at Ditchford GP on 10th. A Ruff visited Stanwick on 11th and a Greenshank was at the same locality on 10th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Ravensthorpe Res, 4th July 2019 (Paul Crotty)

Another autumn ‘first’ was an adult Mediterranean Gull at Hollowell Res on 9th and the adult Yellow-legged Gull present there last week moved to nearby Ravensthorpe Res, where it remained until at least 9th. Elsewhere, singles visited Stanwick on 6th, Daventry Res on 8th-9th and Pitsford on 10th, with two at the latter site the following day.

Following last week’s adult and a juvenile Common Redstarts near Badby, a juvenile appeared at Denton Wood in Yardley Chase on 11th. Its rather fresh, unmoulted juvenile plumage, coupled with the relatively early arrival date, gives rise to speculation that it had fledged locally. This species has occasionally bred in the county and, although there have been summer females with active brood patches there are no records of proven breeding this century.

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Rarity Round-up, 29th June to 5th July 2019

As Southern England basked in 34°C on the first day of the period, Northampton hit 30°C ahead of an overnight drop as cooler air moved in from the Atlantic, sweeping away the humidity and setting a dry and bright scene for the remainder of the week. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘first’ for Northamptonshire caught locals off guard, leaving them somewhat dazed, but is it really all over … ?

While the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res, two Red-crested Pochards were at Pitsford Res on 3rd-4th and the peripatetic, post-captive female Bufflehead was once again back in the county, visiting Sixfields Lake at Stortons GP on 29th. It then decided to ‘do’ neighbouring Buckinghamshire, appearing at  Floodplain Forest NR, Old Wolverton on 2nd – just across the county line.

Female Bufflehead, Floodplain Forest NR, Wolverton, Buckinghamshire, 2nd July 2019 (Angi Harrell)

The run of largely unavailable Common Quails continued with one barely audible individual reported from Harrington AF on 1st. It’s now looking like a tricky year for this species.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 4th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, Stanwick GP’s two Cattle Egrets stuck around to feed by the main lake until at least 4th but another long-legged, largely white, wetland bird in the shape of a Sacred Ibis made headlines at Clipston on 3rd, as it sat around on a house roof, eyeing up the local chickens. An escape most likely but a wanderer from the established French feral population cannot be ruled out.

Sacred Ibis, Clipston, 3rd July 2019 (Steve Carpenter)

In a lean week for Ospreys, one flew over Deene Lake on 2nd and another was at Pitsford Res, early on 5th.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 30th June 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

Wader passage continued to trickle along with Summer Leys monopolising Black-tailed Godwits, the site producing one on 29th, four and a further eleven on 30th, 2 on 1st and thirty-five on 2nd.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 30th June 2019 (Adrian Borley)

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd July 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

Double-figure flock sizes are no longer unusual – a far cry from when this species was an ‘irregular passage migrant’ in the 1970s, when there were just two or three records per year. Were all those birds islandica or did we get any limosa, during an era when they were more abundant in Europe? There have been large and well-documented declines in the mainland European breeding population of the nominate subspecies of between 50-60% (BirdLife International 2015). For example, in the Netherlands the population decreased dramatically from 120,000-135,000 pairs in 1969 potentially to 33,000 pairs in 2015. The population of  islandica, in contrast, has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades, although this increase may be levelling out and this subpopulation represents a relatively small part of the global population. A recent analysis based on published literature, survey data and expert opinions from throughout the species range suggests that, overall, the global population may have declined at a mean rate of approximately 23% over 25 years leading up to 2015 (BirdLife International 2019). Also at Summer Leys, a male Ruff appeared on 5th.

Moving on to Larids, single Yellow-legged Gulls appeared at Hollowell Res on 2nd and at Stanwick GP on 3rd, ahead of the now established late summer build-up.

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 3rd July

On the passerine front, there were 2 Common Redstarts – an adult and a juvenile – at  Arbury Hill, west of Badby, on 2nd. But making the most noise this week, a little gem pulled from a ringer’s net in Pitsford’s Walgrave Bay on 4th was quickly logged as the county’s first Red-breasted Flycatcher – a moulting adult female. Well, we didn’t see that one coming! The anticipated mass turnout for this Northamptonshire ‘first’ simply didn’t materialise and the resulting, incomprehensible lack of observer coverage subsequent to the event surely played a significant part in its not being relocated. A quick scamper through the literature reveals that July records are not unprecedented and Sharrock (Scarce Migrant Birds in Britain and Ireland, 1974) identifies an occurrence window between late April and early July and classifies these as spring migrants, with all records from mid-August onwards categorised, quite rightly, as scarce autumn visitors. Adults moult on, or close to, their breeding grounds between July and September, suggesting this is a non-breeder. Is it still out there … somewhere …?

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Rarity Round-up, 22nd to 28th June 2019

After a dry start, the week went through a short dull and damp phase before becoming rather bright and breezy. Local winds remained mainly north/north-easterly while, nationally, a more southerly vector kicked in. Migration was expectedly slow for the masses, evidenced only by a handful of returning waders, while this week’s highlights, an audible European Bee-eater and a visible Spoonbill presented to just two lucky observers.

The first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res all week while, ducking and diving, three Red-crested Pochards appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 22nd during a period understandably quiet for wildfowl.

Following the Common Quail at Mears Ashby and Sywell on 15th, two were heard again at the first of these two localities on 23rd and one on 24th but their uncharacteristic reticence, shortly after discovery, made them immensely difficult to nail. One was also heard briefly near Kentle Wood, Daventry on 22nd before the locality fell silent. Local birders wanting to catch up with this species, this year, clearly need to be quick, quick, quick off the mark …

Stanwick GP’s two Cattle Egrets moved from its northern extremity to the main lake between 24th and 26th and at least one remained on 27th. Arguably better, though, was this week’s star bird, a Spoonbill which, unfortunately harassed by local Black-headed Gulls, failed in its attempt to alight on the scrape at Summer Leys LNR on 22nd and headed off high west instead. Of late, Spoonbill has been a much more difficult species to catch up with locally than Cattle Egret. Clearly rarer in terms of number of records, the latter has now provided many more available ‘bird-days’ than Spoonbill, which tends to be short-staying and highly transitory, with many fly-over records. One notable exception was a flock of eight, which remained in the shallows at Pitsford Res between 29th September and 14th October 1984, in the good old days, when the section north of the causeway featured mud, mud, glorious mud.

First-summer Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd June 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

With regular Hollowell observers apparently AWOL this week, there were no reports of Ospreys from this site during the period. Instead, examples of this adept aerial angler were seen at both Pitsford Res and Thrapston GP on 22nd and at Biggin Lake, Oundle on 27th.

Osprey, Thrapston GP, 22nd June 2019 (Ady Leybourne)

Among small numbers of returning Common and Green Sandpipers, this week, was a Grey Plover, found at Ravensthorpe Res on 26th and four Black-tailed Godwits in flight over Summer Leys on the same date, while another Black-tailed Godwit was on the scrape at the latter site on 28th.

Totally eclipsing the Spoonbill in terms of sheer rarity, a European Bee-eater was heard calling three times in flight over Byfield on 28th, remaining frustratingly invisible to the finder. This would represent only the 4th for Northamptonshire, following accepted records in 1995, when 2 were at Ditchford GP on 5th May, in 1997 when one was at Oundle Cemetery on 13th May and in 2003, when one was near Badby on 31st May.

Not quite as colourful were two male Common Redstarts – one at Moreton Pinkney on 22nd and the other at Lamport on 26th. More to come as we move into July – the gateway to autumn.

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Rarity Round-up, 8th to 21st June 2019

With below average temperatures, high winds and twice the month’s expected rainfall in two days, June is now odds on to be the wettest on record. The county was deluged by heavy rain during the first week of the review period, resulting in disaster for many ground-nesting birds around bodies of water and in other low-lying areas. Unsurprisingly, there were few new migrants reported.

Now seemingly ensconced at Hollowell Res, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained throughout the period, while the only other waterfowl conceivably vying for attention was a drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford  Res on 15th-17th.

The first Common Quail of the year was a singing male, just north of Mears Ashby, early on 15th. Unfortunately, it did not linger and it later emerged that what was very likely to have been the same individual was also reported singing from a field at Sywell, 2 km due west, on the same date. Although June is generally recognised as the month, this species is unpredictable in its occurrence in the county. The perception that it is becoming rarer locally is not necessarily true, as the analysis of records, below, illustrates. Occurrences peaked in Northants in the 1990s although, prior to that decade, with four blank years (1973-75 and 1985) Quails look to have been rarer than they appear to be today, which is surprising. But are they being overlooked? [see here]                                                                                                                          This species is declining as a result, in part, of uncontrolled netting of migrating birds, particularly in Egypt, where Quail trapping is now taking place on an unsustainable, commercial scale. In Europe agricultural intensification has led to the loss of rough grass and uncultivated land and an increase in the use of herbicides and insecticides, which has led to a reduction on the availability of weeds, seeds and insects. In Europe the population size is estimated to be fluctuating and Quail is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (BirdLife International 2018, 2019).

Up to two Cattle Egrets remained at the northern end of Stanwick GP throughout, with one venturing south, down to the main lake, before flying toward Ditchford GP on 10th. Moving up the size scale, with none reported since 29th May, Northants did not manage to stay Great Egret-free for long, as one appeared at Thrapston GP on 14th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 10th June 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, Hollowell maintained its reliability for Osprey sightings with one on 8th, 9th and 14th, while two were there on 12th. Elsewhere, singles visited Pitsford on 11th and Thrapston on 14th and 18th.

The adult Yellow-legged Gull remained at Hollowell between 8th and 14th, visiting nearby Ravensthorpe on 11th and another adult was at Stanwick on 17th, while the only passerine of the period was a Crossbill, which flew over Yardley Chase’s Denton Wood on 17th.

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Rarity Round-up, 31st May to 7th June 2019

As we entered the summer lull, a westerly to south-westerly airstream initially brought a heady mix of mid-twenties temperatures and dry sunny conditions, later followed by sunshine and showers. ‘Storm Miguel’, a swirling low pressure system moving north from Iberia, brought rain on gathering south-easterlies at the very end of a not too species-rich period.

Last week’s newly arrived Ruddy Shelduck moved from Ravensthorpe Res and remained settled at nearby Hollowell Res throughout the period. Might it remain into the summer to moult and become temporarily flightless, as others have done in previous years?

First-summer female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 5th June 2019 (Mike Alibone)

First-summer female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 6th June 2019 (Jon Cook). The grey centres to the outer three greater coverts, just visible in the image, age this bird as a first-summer and the white face mask barely contrasting with the remainder of the rather worn and faded head sex it as a female.

In the first Great Egret-free week of 2019, remaining throughout were the three Cattle Egrets at the northern end of Stanwick GP, mirroring the small flocks currently residing in north Norfolk.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 1st June 2019 (Alan Coles)

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 1st June 2019 (Alan Coles)

Coming to the fore, Ospreys were reported from five localities, with Hollowell – highest in the reliability stakes – producing birds on 31st, 1st, 2nd and 5th, followed by singles at Biggin Lake (Oundle) on 1st, Thrapston GP on 2nd, flying north over Irthlingborough on 3rd and at Pitsford Res on 5th.

The only migrant wader this week was a Grey Plover, found at Hollowell on 7th.

Little Tern, Wicksteed Park Lake, 31st May 2019 (Alan Francis)

Little Tern, Wicksteed Park Lake, 31st May 2019 (Alan Francis)

Further scarce migrants appeared in the shape of two Little Terns, surprisingly suburban, at Wicksteed Park Lake (Kettering) on 31st. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they did not linger and neither did the first-summer Arctic Tern, which appeared at Summer Leys on 1st.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st June 2019 (Matt Hazleton)

First-summer Arctic Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st June 2019 (Matt Hazleton)

An adult Yellow-legged Gull kept the larids afloat this week, with an adult mobile between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe on 5th.

Short-eared Owl, Grendon, 6th June 2019 (Ken Prouse)

Somewhat unseasonal for Northamptonshire, a Short-eared Owl was observed between Grendon and Easton Maudit on 6th, moving on after a brief interaction with a hunting Barn Owl.

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Rarity round-up, 25th to 30th May 2019

The period’s weather fell under the influence of a westerly airflow, which brought intermittent sunshine and showers and, as it happens, very little change to the local birdscape. Topping the charts this week were three Cattle Egrets at Stanwick, all resplendent in summer plumage … and one up on last week’s total.

A late spring Ruddy Shelduck at Ravensthorpe Res on 29th, moving to nearby Hollowell Res the next day, was a tad earlier than would be expected for an overshoot from the European feral breeding population, many of which move north in the summer to moult in The Netherlands. This particular individual was unringed but that counts for little where this species is concerned.

The tally of Cattle Egrets in the county increased by 50% on last week’s total, with three at the northern end of Stanwick GP from 26th to 30th. They can often be difficult to see in the long grass and lightly undulating terrain chosen by the cattle. By contrast, the only Great Egrets reported were two at Summer Leys LNR on 29th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP 27th May 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 29th May 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Cattle Egrets, Stanwick GP, 29th May 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Cattle Egrets and Little Egret, Stanwick GP, 29th May 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Continuing to put in erratic appearances throughout the week, Ospreys were again seen at Hollowell Res on 25th, Pitsford Res on 29th and Thrapston GP on 30th and they are likely to maintain their status as sole raptor representative within these reports … until something a little more exotic turns up, of course.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 25th May 2019 (Alan Coles)

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 25th May 2019 (Alan Coles)

Wader passage has all but dried up. A Whimbrel dropped into Summer Leys scrape briefly on 25th and a Greenshank was on Round Island there on 30th and, of course, gulls are thin on the ground this time of the year, too. Maybe not too surprising was the appearance of an adult Mediterranean Gull at Summer Leys on 25th and another – or the same – at Stanwick GP on 28th. If they are breeding again somewhere, this year, then they are maintaining an ultra-low profile. Making a somewhat unseasonal appearance, a first-summer Caspian Gull appeared at Daventry CP on 30th.

Belated news of a Firecrest in a Braunston garden on 23rd May means that a passerine creeps into this week’s round-up. After a short video performance, it promptly disappeared.

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Rarity Round-up, 18th to 24th May 2019

Another fine, largely dry week commenced with the convergence of two pressure systems over the central part of the country, producing only a few short-lived, local showers on northerly winds. Though fairly quiet, undoubtedly bird of the week was a Hoopoe, which stayed long enough to pose briefly for photos for just one lucky, right place, right time photographer …

Two Garganeys at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows (Ditchford GP) on 18th were this week’s sole representatives of their kind and it looks like we will have to wait until the autumn before the appearance of any further rare or scarce wildfowl – escapes and ferals notwithstanding.

Who would have thought it but this week saw more Cattle Egrets in the county than Great Egrets, when a second individual joined the herd at the northern end of Stanwick GP from 21st to 24th and the only Great Egret reported was one at Stanford Res on 19th and 22nd. Continuing the kaleidoscope run of Black-necked Grebes this spring, another was found at Clifford Hill GP on 18th but like the previous birds at Daventry CP, a couple of weeks back, it moved swiftly on.

Black-necked Grebe, Clifford Hill GP, 18th May 2019 (Andrew Cook)

Black-necked Grebe, Clifford Hill GP, 18th May 2019 (Mike Alibone)

A Marsh Harrier – unusually scarce this spring – appeared over Summer Leys LNR on 24th. For anyone yet to catch up with a local Osprey this year, the reservoirs in north-west Northamptonshire are often a good bet for picking up wandering individuals from the slowly expanding Midlands population. Singles this week visited Hollowell Res on 18th and 21st and Naseby Res on 23rd.

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 24th May 2019 (Ady Leybourne)

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 21st May 2019 (Jon Cook)

And with expanding populations in mind, some may wonder why we don’t seem to stumble across the odd migrant Corncrake, or two, given the proximity of the RSPB reintroduction project running since 2003 at the Nene Washes reserve near Peterborough. This is, of course, in response to their re-establishment in England being identified as a priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. But it remains a true rarity and an unconfirmed report of a calling male between Dalscote and Gayton on 20th-21st remained exactly that, as numerous birders put in the hours throughout 22nd along the quiet, single-track road bordering the monoculture crop-field in which it was reported. Veterans will no doubt be casting their minds back to the famous singing male, which spent three weeks, sometimes showing well, in an overgrown and richly plant-diverse meadow adjacent to Billing GP in May 1972. Ah yes, those were the days …

First-summer Bar-tailed Godwit, Clifford Hill GP, 18th May 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 18th May 2019 (Mike Alibone)

And so to waders and two of the three Bar-tailed Godwits at Clifford Hill GP on 15th remained until 18th, with at least one still present the following day, while the Hollowell Sanderling stayed overnight on 17th, still being present the following morning. Refusing to be left out, Stanford Res cashed in on its bid for this species, producing one on the dam there on 22nd, while two more were found on the dam at Pitsford on 23rd.

Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 23rd May 2019 (David Smith)

Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 23rd May 2019 (David Smith)

Sanderlings, Pitsford Res, 23rd May 2019 (David Smith)

Meanwhile, a Greenshank spent four days at Summer Leys, from 18th to 21st. Passage of gulls and terns dwindled considerably.

The 18th produced single Black Terns at Clifford Hill GP, Stanwick GP and Pitsford Res, followed by a first-summer Little Gull at the latter locality the next day.

Saving the best until last – or maybe it’s just the way the systematic cookie crumbles – but when it comes to sheer style and flamboyance, Upupa epops everybody’s cork. In this instance, however, it was not to be and the masses missed out this week on the first Northamptonshire Hoopoe since 2015.

Hoopoe, Ditchford GP, 19th May 2019 (Trev Earl)

Hoopoe, Ditchford GP, 19th May 2019 (Trev Earl)

Hoopoe, Ditchford GP, 19th May 2019 (Trev Earl)

Hoopoe: Monthly distribution of records, 50 years, 1969-2018. (Background image Bob Bullock).

Glebe Meadow, ‘Home of Kasa Lake Alpacas’ and part of the Ditchford GP complex, was the venue chosen by this particular individual, which rapidly did a bunk after being harassed by Jackdaws but not before it was quickly caught on camera. There have been forty records in the last fifty years, during which there were twenty-nine blank years, a massive seven-year gap (1996 to 2003) with no records and a maximum of four records in any one year (1973). They are impossible to predict but May accounts for 35% of all records followed closely by April with 30%. How long will we have to wait until the next … ?

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