Rarity Round-up, 6th-12th January 2018

The start of the week was cold and largely dry and bright, with west to north-westerly winds preceding rather dank, dull, misty and sometimes wet conditions during the middle and at the tail-end. A few new discoveries added potential interest to this otherwise murky period of early January.

The juvenile Whooper Swan remained all week at Ravensthorpe Res, while Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose was similarly ensconced deep in the Nene Valley.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Doubling the winter goose line-up, meanwhile, was an adult Dark-bellied Brent, discovered on roadside pools alongside the A5 at DIRFT 3, just north-west of Crick, on 7th. Averaging little more than two records per year, this species, has failed to appear in only three out of the last twenty, while the pale-bellied race has never been recorded locally and, if it ever appears, the first example would no doubt prove itself popular. Lower down the pecking order, the long-staying female Scaup notched up nine weeks at Sywell CP and the roaming drake Smew appeared again at Ditchford GP on Wilson’s Pit on 7th-8th, before again vanishing into the murk of the Nene Valley. This species is proving to be very scarce in the county so far, this winter.

Adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, DIRFT 3, 7th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Records of Brent Geese in Northamptonshire, by month, last 20 years (1998-2017)

The Great Northern Diver – presumably the Hollowell individual – which turned up at Pitsford on 5th, stayed until early morning on 6th, before promptly vanishing, while one or two Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, Earls Barton, Ditchford, Stanwick and Thrapston Gravel Pits and Summer Leys LNR, with a maximum of three at Ditchford GP on 9th.

Raptors hit the headlines this week. A male Hen Harrier taking a Woodpigeon in ploughed field by the A5, just north of Grafton Regis on 11th, was said by locals to have been in the general area for several days previously. Prior to this, a Rough-legged Buzzard, reportedly seen well along the minor road between Greens Norton and Blakesley on 7th, could not be found during brief searches in inclement weather over the following two days. Also in the south of the county, a Merlin was seen in flight near Chacombe on 6th.

No new waders were found this week – the Black-tailed Godwit remaining at Stanwick GP throughout the period, while 6th saw the number of Jack Snipes up on last week, with two now at Hollowell and three at Welford Quarry.

Scarce gulls were at a low ebb, with just one Yellow-legged Gull at Ravensthorpe Res, on 7th, along with a first-winter Caspian Gulls there on the same date. The only other Caspians were recorded on 6th, when the wintering adult was still at Hollowell and an adult plus a first-winter joined the scavenging mass of large gulls at Rushton Landfill.

Waxwing, Corby, 10th January 2018 (Sophie Barrell)

Given the current paucity of Waxwings, one photographed from an office window in Corby provided much excitement for the observer on 10th. It would not be surprising if this remains the only one locally this winter. Another Mealy Redpoll was reported this week, this one accompanying Lesser Redpolls in a Scaldwell garden on 11th, while the run on Hawfinches continued.

Male Hawfinch, Cottesbrooke, 12th January 2018 (Ken Prouse)

Two were at Aynho and three over Edgcote on 6th, singles were roosting with Greenfinches in Northampton on 7th and at Badby on 9th and six were at Thenford Churchyard again on 12th. Meanwhile, the small flock at Cottesbrooke – numbering up to eight – continued to attract a steady trickle of admirers throughout the week.

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Rarity Round-up, 30th December 2017 to 5th January 2018

Caught on the southern periphery of ‘Storm Dylan’, the first day of the week was marked by hefty south-westerly winds, the strength of which quickly subsided, before ‘Storm Eleanor’ brought further rain and gales from the same direction three days later. Temperatures remained above freezing all week. Local water bodies became flooded, with access limited in several places. Aside from movement between locations for some long-stayers there was little new to add to the week’s proceedings …

Looking like it’s going nowhere fast, the young Whooper Swan entered its second calendar year at Ravensthorpe Res this week and the Stanwick GP Pink-footed Goose was still visiting the site until 5th. Similarly long-staying, the female Scaup remained faithful to Sywell CP throughout the period but a drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res appeared to be new in on 1st, with the same site also producing two drake Smew on the same date.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 4th January 2018 (Alan Francis)

Hollowell’s juvenile Great Northern Diver got itchy feet, disappearing after 2nd and presumably relocating to Pitsford Res, where one was discovered late on 5th. Great White Egrets were still lumbering around in ones and twos at Hollowell, Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, Ditchford and Stanwick Gravel Pits and Summer Leys LNR, while an unidentified small grebe sp., discovered in the gathering dusk at Pitsford on 5th, is likely to morph during daylight hours into either a Slavonian or Black-necked – if it remains on site.

A Black-tailed Godwit, appearing at Stanwick GP on 5th, was a good winter record but single Jack Snipes at Hollowell on 30th and 2nd, Stanford Res on 31st and Welford Quarry on 2nd were more in keeping with the season.

Now well into winter proper, we should be on the look-out for arctic gulls – so far in short supply – and scrutiny of reservoir gull roosts, landfills and daytime loafing flocks could well produce that sought after ‘white-winger’, as well as some of the more uncommon species, such as Yellow-legged Gull, of which there was one at Stanwick GP on 30th and two at Stanford Res roost on 2nd. Caspian Gulls are also seen most weeks, with the wintering adult still in residence at Hollowell Res throughout, a second-winter at Rushton Landfill on 30th and an adult there on 5th. The latter locality continued to host a juvenile Glaucous Gull, which temporarily vacated the site on 1st for a wash and brush up at nearby Thorpe Malsor Res, before returning to remain throughout the week.

There was a little more passerine action during the period, commencing on 30th with the discovery of a Water Pipit at Stanwick GP, where it remained until 5th. A Mealy Redpoll was found in alders on the northern perimeter of Sywell CP on 3rd, while Hawfinches continued to feature, with singles at Fawsley Park on 30th-31st, Blatherwycke Churchyard on 31st and Charwelton on 1st and up to two at Thenford Churchyard until 5th. Most popular, however, was the small flock at Cottesbrooke, which peaked at fourteen on 1st, followed by single-figure counts daily there until the week’s end. Bizarrely rarer – at least for the moment – were two Corn Buntings found with Yellowhammers near Thorpe Mandeville on 31st.

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Rarity Round-up, 23rd to 29th December 2017

Despite the week’s weather being influenced by a largely westerly airstream, resulting in a mild first half of the period, the winds turned northerly for a short spell during the second half, bringing low temperatures and snow, which was heaviest in northern parts of the county. The festive period slipped by quietly with no new birds being discovered.

Still in situ, Ravensthorpe Reservoir’s juvenile Whooper Swan was still on view to those walking off the Christmas excess on Boxing Day and the long-staying female Scaup was still present at Sywell CP on the same date.  The drake Smew, discovered at Ditchford GP’s Higham Lake on 18th, remained until 23rd before hopping across the A6 to Stanwick GP, where it was refound on the A45 Lay-by Pit (North) on 28th.

Hollowell’s juvenile Great Northern Diver remained throughout but Great White Egrets were reported from only three localities, with Pitsford Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Thrapston GP holding two a piece.

Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 24th December 2017 (Mike Alibone)

No unusual waders this week and winter gulls included two Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanford Res roost on 23rd, an adult at Hollowell Res on 24th and a first-winter at Pitsford Res on 25th plus a sub-adult in the roost there on 28th. The usual adult Caspian Gull was still at Hollowell Res on 23rd, being accompanied by a first-winter there, three days later, on 26th, while a second-winter was in the gull roost at Pitsford on 27th. Looking likely to be the only ‘white-winger’ of the first part of the winter, the juvenile Glaucous Gull found at Rushton Landfill on 22nd was seen there again on 24th and 28th, while the only Hawfinches reported this week were two at the regular site of Blatherwycke Churchyard on 26th and 28th.

With this being the last round-up of 2017, I would like to thank all who have contributed records and sightings via the various media channels and to extend a special thank you to all those who have sent in the photographs which bring the weekly reports to life. Happy New Year to all!

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Rarity Round-up, 16th to 22nd December 2017

The cold, northerly airstream in place at the beginning of the week ultimately gave way to warm air from the Atlantic, resulting in damp, foggy conditions and a local daytime temperature peak of 11ºC, 5ºC above average, at the week’s end. This appeared to have little effect on local birds, with most of the scarce winter visitors staying put and the arrival of the first ‘white-winged’ gull of the winter more likely down to seasonality than weather conditions.

A sense of déjà vu ensued as Ravensthorpe Reservoir’s juvenile Whooper Swan remained throughout the week and, again, Stanwick GP’s juvenile Pink-footed Goose was reported only on one date, 17th, with the four first-winter/female Scaup also still there on the same day.

Juvenile Whooper Swan, Ravensthorpe Res, 20th December 2017 (John Moon)

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 19th December 2017 (Alan Francis)

Sywell CP’s long-staying female Scaup was still present on 19th and a drake was discovered halfway between the causeway and the dam at Pitsford Res on 21st. Pitsford was also one of only two localities to produce Smew, with a ‘redhead’ from 18th to 20th being joined by a drake there on 19th. Another drake was at Ditchford GP’s Higham Lake from 18th to 20th.

The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Hollowell Res all week and, again, seven localities produced Great White Egrets, with no more than two at Pitsford, Ravensthorpe and Stanwick and singles at Summer Leys LNR, Billing GP, Thrapston GP and Ditchford GP.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 15th December 2017 (Andrew Cook)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 15th December 2017 (Andrew Cook)

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 22nd December 2017 (Mike Alibone)

A Black-tailed Godwit at the latter site on 20th was the only wader of note this week. Winter gulls were on the radar for some of us, although Yellow-legged Gulls again remained scarce, with just single first-winters at Rushton Landfill on 17th and 22nd and this week’s Caspian Gulls including the wintering adult at Hollowell Res on 16th and 21st, a third-winter in the gull roost at Pitsford Res on 16th, an adult and a first-winter at Rushton Landfill on 17th and two adults there on 22nd. Rushton also produced the first ‘white-winger’ of the winter – a juvenile Glaucous Gull on 22nd and with around four thousand large gulls now visiting the landfill when active, this locality is now clearly on the map as the county’s premier winter gull-watching site.

Female Hawfinch, Fawsley Churchyard, 18th December 2017 (Ian Dobson)

The world beyond wetland birds was relatively quiet, with just a Short-eared Owl at Harrington AF on 17th and a trickle of Hawfinch sightings comprising one in flight over Kelmarsh on 16th, two at Fawsley Park on 16th and 18th and one or more at Cottesbrooke on 19th.

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Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th December 2017

The low temperatures experienced at the end of last week continued well into the period with dramatic effect. Warm, moist, Atlantic air from the south-west met high Arctic air sweeping south over the Midlands, resulting in persistent snow across Northamptonshire on 10th, when deposits of 15 cm or more produced a ‘whiteout’ and made for hazardous driving conditions. Few birders ventured out on this date, or indeed over the following two days, when early morning temperatures down to -5ºC ensured the continued presence of icy road conditions and the freezing over of local bodies of water. The effect on bird movements was clearly apparent, with easterly movements of Redwings and Fieldfares noted at numerous localities and local waterbodies becoming frozen over – albeit for a very short period before temperatures rose and rainfall ate deeply into the laying snow.

Ravensthorpe Reservoir’s juvenile Whooper Swan remained all week, while Stanwick GP’s juvenile Pink-footed Goose was reported only on one date, 11th. Last week’s four first-winter/female Scaup were still present there until at least 12th and the long-staying female at Sywell CP remained off the dam all week. Back at Ravensthorpe, a ‘redhead’ Smew was found on 9th but promptly disappeared thereafter.

The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained in place off the dam at Hollowell Res until at least 12th and eight localities produced Great White Egrets, with site maxima comprising three at Ravensthorpe Res, two at Pitsford Res and singles at Ditchford GP, Stanford Res, Stanwick GP, Summer Leys LNR, Thrapston GP and between Wootton and Quinton.

Adult Medterranean Gull, Daventry CP, 14th December 2017 (Gary Pullan)

A Jack Snipe at Hollowell Res on 9th was the only wader of note, while this week saw the occurrence of two Mediterranean Gulls – a first-winter at Pitsford Res on 11th and an adult in the pre-roost at Daventry CP on 14th. Yellow-legged Gulls again remained scarce, with one at Pitsford Res on 11th and two in the roost at Boddington Res on 15th, while this week’s Caspian Gulls comprised the wintering adult at Hollowell Res, an adult at Sulby Res and a third-winter at Pitsford Res – all on 9th – and two adults at Rushton Landfill, plus an adult and a third-winter at Boddington Res roost on 15th.

Firecrest, Shires Meadows, Towcester, 12th December 2017 (Nick Holder)

On the passerine front, a suburban Firecrest at Towcester’s Shires Meadows was a nice find on 12th but Hawfinch sightings continued to dominate, with twos at both Cottesbrooke and East Carlton CP on 9th, three just west of Blatherwycke Churchyard on 11th, two or three at Thenford Churchyard on 14th and singles at Bucknell Wood and in flight over Shires Meadows, Towcester the following day.

Hawfinches, Thenford Churchyard, 14th December 2017 (John Friendship-Taylor)

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Blackcap Central

With nearly two weeks of winter behind us and a blast of cold, Arctic air dramatically influencing our weather conditions, increasing numbers of Blackcaps have been reported in local gardens over the past days. Previously dubbed ‘Central European Blackcaps’, their origins are now under scrutiny.

That Blackcaps from a breeding area in central Europe have been migrating to winter in Britain over the last sixty years has been demonstrated by ringing recoveries and is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that this population, in this short period of time, has undergone a rapid microevolution, producing genetically distinct birds with a different set of physical characteristics (see Breakaway Blackcaps).

Male Blackcap, Byfield, 10th December 2017 (Gary Pullan)

However, in recent years a small number of recoveries indicates that some may originate much closer to home and, to complicate matters, there have been recent UK winter (November to February) recoveries of Blackcaps ringed in summer in Britain. This suggests that at least a few may have lost the migratory urge, having decided to become resident in the UK. The proportion of the summer population involved is unknown and more work needs to be done to determine if this is occurring with any regularity.

In a collaboration between Oxford University, the BTO, Exeter University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Germany to improve knowledge of migration and breeding origin, a number of wintering Blackcaps have been fitted with Geolocators. These will reveal where they have spent the summer when retrapped back at their wintering sites. To learn more about wintering behaviour, movements and use of British wintering sites, colour-ringing is also being undertaken in parallel with this study, allowing individuals to be identified by unique colour combinations. Colour-ringed Blackcaps should be reported to the BTO, via here.

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Rarity Round-up, 2nd 8th December 2017

A largely dry week, dominated in the first six days by north-westerly to south-westerly winds, culminated in a strong northerly airflow and plummeting temperatures on the last day. Highlights included a lingering Great Northern Diver, the first Smew of the winter and Snow Bunting.

Remaining all week, the juvenile Whooper Swan was ensconced at Ravensthorpe Res, as was Stanwick GP’s juvenile Pink-footed Goose and the female Scaup at Sywell CP. The Ravensthorpe Scaup put in one of its sporadic appearances on 2nd and four more, all females or first-winters, were found at Stanwick GP on 8th, while the first Smew of the winter – inevitably a ‘readhead’ – was north of the causeway at Pitsford, between 4th and 6th.

The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Hollowell Res all week, continuing to favour the area around the dam.

Six localities produced Great White Egrets, with site maxima comprising threes at Pitsford, Ravensthorpe and Stanwick, and singles at Ditchford GP, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP. An unconfirmed report of two Common Cranes south of Potterspury on 7th remained exactly that, with negative reports from the area the following day.

Great White Egret, Stanwick GP, 8th December 2017 (Steve Fisher)

This week’s one and only star wader was … a Jack Snipe at Stanford Res on 7th. Yellow-legged Gulls remained thin on the ground, with single adults at Boddington Res on 2nd and Ravensthorpe on 8th, again being outnumbered by Caspian Gulls, which included single adults at Rushton Landfill on 2nd, Pitsford on 7th and Hollowell all week, plus an adult and a third-winter at Sulby Res on 2nd and a third-winter – along with a first-winter Mediterranean Gull – in the roost at Boddington on the same date.

No longer in vogue, a ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw was present with the large corvid flock in fields on the approach to Fineshade Wood on 2nd, while Hawfinches were much diminished in numbers in comparison to previous weeks. On 3rd, one was at East Carlton CP and two were still at the traditional site of Blatherwycke Churchyard, followed the next day by one at Pitsford Res and another was photographed at Cottesbrooke on 8th. Single Snow Buntings – or perhaps the same one – were seen in flight, west-southwest over Pitsford Res on 4th and in the Brampton Valley two days later, on 6th.

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