Rarity Round-up, 16th to 22nd March 2019

The storm before the calm saw a continuation of last week’s gale force westerlies for the first two days of the period, before high pressure built over the country to deliver conditions more conducive to migration. On that theme, the first Osprey was seen cruising north and Northern Wheatears made landfall at three localities.

Maintaining the status quo, the first-winter Whooper Swan – now developing some yellow bill pigmentation – and the three Pink-footed Geese remained at Thrapston GP all week, as did the two Pink-footed Geese at Stanford Res.

First-winter Whooper Swan, Thrapston GP, 17th March 2019 (Adrian Borley)

A drake Red-crested Pochard was present at Pitsford Res between 18th and 21st and a drake Ring-necked Duck paid a fleeting visit to Thrapston GP on the latter date. Tempting, though it is, to believe this was a reappearance of the Earls Barton/Summer Leys/Stanwick bird, with more than twenty individuals scattered across a dozen sites this winter, the fact that remains that it could simply be another of its kind on the move.

Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 19th March 2019 (Alan Coles)

Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 20th March 2019 (Ken Prouse)

Pitsford’s two juvenile Great Northern Divers, now having moulted a good proportion of their pale-fringed juvenile feathers, stayed all week, ranging widely between the causeway and the dam, while dwindling top counts of Great Egrets were restricted to three at Stanford Res, two at each of Summer Leys and Thrapston, and singles at Ditchford GP and Welton.

Back at Pitsford, an Osprey flew north over Brixworth CP on 18th and a fly-by Merlin was seen south of the causeway the following day. At the time of compiling this report, five Ospreys have now returned to their Rutland Water breeding site.

Aside from the first spring migrant Little Ringed Plovers at Stanwick on 18th and at both Clifford Hill GP and DIRFT3 on 21st, other waders on the move this week were single Black-tailed Godwits at Stanwick on 18th and Summer Leys the following day, while Hollowell’s wintering Jack Snipe was still present on 17th and further singles were discovered at Pitsford Res on 18th-20th and at Stortons GP on 21st.

Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 20th March 2019 (John Moon)

More Mediterranean Gulls came through this week, including single adults at both Clifford Hill GP and Stanford Res on 17th and at Daventry CP the following day. Two days later, on 20th, Daventry also hosted a juvenile Glaucous X Scandinavian Herring Gull hybrid, commonly dubbed ‘Viking Gull’ but it did not linger. Elsewhere, the first-winter Caspian Gull was again at Hollowell on 17th, while a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited Pitsford on 16th and a second-winter dropped in at Hardingstone GP on 18th.

Second-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Hardingstone GP, 18th March 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Remaining site-faithful, two Short-eared Owls were still at the regular location of Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) on 21st and one was still at Lilbourne Meadows on 20th, while the Great Grey Shrike remained in the Blueberry Farm area, becoming even more mobile and elusive towards the week’s end. The spring’s first Northern Wheatear was discovered on 17th at Clifford Hill GP, where it remained the following day, while the second appeared at Blueberry Farm on 20th, followed by a third at Borough Hill on 21st.

Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 17th March 2019 (Mike Alibone)

After last week’s White Wagtails at Hollowell, further singles appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 17th and at nearby Hardingstone GP the next day and Crossbills were back on the menu at Wakerley Great Wood, where seven or eight were present on 18th, including one noticeably large-billed individual. Two Corn Buntings remained in the Blueberry Farm area all week, fuelling speculation that they might breed locally. Let’s hope so …

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A ‘large-billed’ Crossbill at Wakerley

The last few weeks have seen various numbers of Crossbills found at six localities, one of which is the stand of larches immediately adjacent to the car park at Wakerley Great Wood. For many veteran county birders, this area will no doubt bring back fond memories of seeing Northamptonshire’s first Parrot Crossbill, a female, there in November 1990, along with a male Two-barred Crossbill with up to fifty-five Crossbills present at the same time.

At least three Crossbills were there on 1st March and up to twelve were present on 3rd-4th March but they have been mobile and not always on show, with no further sightings until 18th March, when seven or eight were seen by James Underwood.

Among these was a rather large-billed male with a deep, hefty bill, of which James managed to capture a couple of images. At no time was it suggested it was a Parrot Crossbill but the photos portray a Crossbill with a super-large bill, the first image of which certainly sets the pulse racing.

Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 18th March 2019 (James Underwood)

The second image, however, perhaps depicts the true proportions of this individual, which enables a more balanced assessment to be made. The bill appears shallower (but still very large) and the head appears to be in ‘correct’ proportion with the body, i.e. it does not seem to have an overly large head like that of a Parrot Crossbill. Additionally, the visible depth of the lower mandible at its base does not appear to be deep enough for Parrot Crossbill.  But these are simply two images and how accurately do they convey the true dimensions of the bird and its bill?

Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 18th March 2019 (James Underwood)

According to Shirihai and Svensson’s Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds (2018), the bill of Crossbill overlaps in size with that of the larger-billed Scottish Crossbill which, in the past, has been mooted as a race of Parrot Crossbill. Crossbill taxonomy is, however, far from straightforward. The IOC checklist (now adopted by the BOU) recognises nineteen races of Crossbill (Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra) with the nominate race curvirostra occupying northern, western and central Europe, including the British Isles and Scottish Crossbill is retained in the list as a full species, Loxia scotica. Shirihai and Svensson, however, regard the latter as simply a race of Crossbill but recognise the British breeding population as an additional race ‘anglica’. So, during periodic Crossbill irruptions, are we seeing local movements of British birds ‘anglica’ or are they continental curvirostra – or both? Furthermore, does the supposedly sedentary scotica ever move south? And if so, how far? Only time (and DNA) will tell …

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Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th March 2019

A succession of low-pressure systems, scudding rapidly across the North Atlantic, brought intermittent gales and rain on predominantly north-westerly winds. A fallout from this was the year’s first Kittiwake – one of a series of inland records during the period.

At Thrapston GP, the first-winter Whooper Swan was still present as the week came to a close and the three Pink-footed Geese were still on site on 11th, although only one could be found there on 15th. At Stanford Res, the two Pink-feet remained until at least 14th, while a Barnacle Goose, along with a drake Red-crested Pochard, at Clifford Hill GP on 9th, unsurprisingly elicited little interest.

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford Res, 15th March 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Pitsford’s two juvenile Great Northern Divers were hunkered down well north of the dam all week and Great Egret numbers rallied a little against last week’s low, with maxima of four at Summer Leys, three at both Stanford Res and Thrapston GP and singles at Ditchford GP, Foxholes Fisheries (Crick) and Stanwick GP. An unconfirmed report of a Bittern from Summer Leys’ Pioneer Hide on 14th remained just that, with no sightings the following day.

In the raptor zone, a male Merlin was again in the Blueberry Farm area on 10th-11th and the Hollowell Res Jack Snipe was the only wader of note this week.

Kittiwake, Stanford Reservoir, 10th March 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

From a gulling perspective, it’s hard to see Stanford Res as anything more than playing second fiddle to Draycote, just over the border in Warwickshire but it came to the rescue to provide the best selection of this week’s larids in the form of an adult Kittiwake, for just a few minutes on the morning of 10th and the second-winter Iceland Gull from nearby Shawell Landfill (Leicestershire) again on 14th. A second-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited Pitsford on 12th but that was about it …

Just one Short-eared Owl showed during the period at the regular location of Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) on 11th and after a couple of weeks of radio silence, the Great Grey Shrike was reported again in the Blueberry Farm area on 11th and 15th. The only passerine migrants discovered during this week’s turbulent weather were two early White Wagtails at Hollowell on 9th. Hopefully, next week’s forecast of calmer conditions will open up the gates for more summer visitors with Garganey, Osprey and Northern Wheatear as odds-on favourites for arrivals over the forthcoming seven days.

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Rarity Round-up, 2nd to 8th March 2019

Winds this week remained south-westerly to westerly and frequently blustery, with sporadic showers, although temperatures were still above average for the time of year. Highlights included an Iceland Gull in the north-west of the county and more Crossbills in the north-east and close to the county town while, apart from a certain roving Ring-necked Duck, the reservoirs and the Nene Valley remained cool, calm and collected …

The week opened with two Whooper Swans flying east over Duston, Northampton on the morning of 2nd, while the first winter remained in situ on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake until 4th. At least two Pink-footed Geese remained at the latter site until the week’s end and the two Pinkfeet showed up again at Stanford Res on 8th, after going AWOL for the previous six days. The only Red-crested Pochard of the week was a drake at Hardingstone GP on 5th and the drake Ring-necked Duck relocated at Stanwick GP on 28th remained until 2nd, before vanishing for the rest of the period.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 5th March 2019 (Beth Clyne)

Pitsford’s two juvenile Great Northern Divers were still ensconced, north of the dam, on 7th but there was a marked decline in reports of Great Egrets, with four at Thrapston on 2nd dwindling to one by the week’s end, three at Summer Leys throughout and three at Stanford Res on 5th, dropping to one on 7th.

Single Jack Snipes were at both Hollowell Res and Stanford Res on 2nd and at Boddington Res the following day.

Second-winter Iceland Gull, Stanford Res, 6th March 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

March is a prime month for passage Mediterranean Gulls – check your local roosts for one of these fine, black-hooded beauties. Two or three adults were seen this week, including singles at Daventry CP on 4th and 7th and at Stanford Res on the latter date, this last locality also producing a second-winter Iceland Gull in the roost on 6th. A third-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited Pitsford on 2nd and the adult was still at Hollowell Res, along with the first-winter Caspian Gull still, on 5th and an adult Caspian again visited Boddington Res on 3rd.

Male Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 4th March 2019 (Ken Prouse)

Female Crossbill, Fineshade Wood, 5th March 2019 (Tony Vials)

Male Crossbill, Fineshade Wood, 5th March 2019 (Tony Vials)

With Irchester CP appearing to have fallen out of favour with Crossbills this week, Wakerley Great Wood took on the mantle, hosting up to a dozen birds in the vicinity of the car park between 2nd and 4th. On the opposite side of the A43, at nearby Fineshade Wood, two were present on 5th, a single female was found in the pines in Hollowell’s Guilsborough Bay, on 2nd and up to eleven were at Harlestone Heath on 8th.

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Rarity Round-up, 23rd February to 1st March 2019

The surge from the south continued to deliver a heady taste of spring, with local temperatures peaking at 17°C on 25th and 26th. However, it all went pear-shaped for the last two days of the period, when an area of low pressure brought showers and a corresponding fall in temperature, which remained above average for the time of year. The first true summer visitors, Sand Martins, arrived on cue on 28th – the same date a drake Ring-necked Duck was discovered at Stanwick. A Cattle Egret also remained at large in the Nene Valley.

At Thrapston GP, the first-winter Whooper Swan and the three Pink-footed Geese remained until the week’s end and the two Pinkfeet were still present around Stanford Res until at least 25th, while the adult White-fronted Goose visited Thrapston GP again the following day. The three Red-crested Pochards remained on Mary’s Lake, at Earls Barton GP, until 24th and a drake was found at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on the same date. On the other side of the A6, at Stanwick GP, the roving drake Ring-necked Duck appeared on the main lake on 28th and was still present the following day.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Stanwick GP, 1st March 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Over to Pitsford Res, where the two juvenile Great Northern Divers were still in situ, north of the dam, on 28th but no Great Egrets were reported from there this week. Topping the bill for numbers of this species was Summer Leys, with five on 25th, while Thrapston managed three, Stanford two and singles were seen at Cransley Res, Earls Barton GP, Ditchford GP/Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, Hollowell Res and Ravensthorpe Res. On the last day of the period, a Cattle Egret, paid a brief visit to Stanwick before disappearing – albeit likely on a temporary basis.

Great Egret, Stanford Res, 26th February 2019 (Matt Jackson)

In the absence of any other raptors, Hen Harrier narrowly makes it into this week’s report with the juvenile female again seen at Stanford on 1st March. Waders were also represented by just singles of Jack Snipe at Hollowell Res on 23rd and Black-tailed Godwit at Clifford Hill GP on 27th.

Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 26th February 2019 (Ken Prouse)

Gulls, too, were thin on the ground, with only a fine, summer-plumaged adult Mediterranean Gull on the scrape at Summer Leys, briefly on 26th, the adult Yellow-legged Gull and a first-winter Caspian Gull again at Hollowell Res on 23rd, and an adult Caspian Gull in the roost at Boddington Res on 26th.

Short-eared Owl, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, 26th February 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Up to two Short-eared Owls continued to be seen at Neville’s Lodge throughout the week and another was found at Lilbourne Meadows LNR on 25th-26th. At Irchester CP, last week’s eight Crossbills had fallen to two on 23rd and one on 1st but at least four were in Yardley Chase on 28th and three at Wakerley Great Wood the following day, on 1st.

Male Crossbill, Irchester CP, 23rd February 2019 (Debra Hall)

Rounding off the passerines, a Corn Bunting was found with a winter flock of Yellowhammers, south of Culworth, on 24th. Both sadly and bizarrely, this species is now rarer in Northamptonshire than Great Egret …

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Rarity Round-up, 16th to 22nd February 2019

The spring-like weather continued, remaining dry, with southerly winds again bringing warm air up from well beyond south-west Europe and local temperatures hitting a balmy 15°C on 21st and 22nd. Notable birds during the period were a likely Glossy Ibis and a new Cattle Egret, while nearly all of last week’s scarce winter visitors remained in place.

At Thrapston GP, the first-winter Whooper Swan and the three Pink-footed Geese were still present throughout and the two Pinkfeet, mobile around Stanford Res and nearby Stanford Hall, remained all week. Surprisingly, there were no Red-crested Pochards reported from Pitsford Res and the only ones on show were three on Mary’s Lake, at Earls Barton GP, until at least 21st while, across the lane at Summer Leys, the itinerant drake Ring-necked Duck was seen again for one day only, on 16th. The other drake, at Pitsford, went unreported this week for the first time since its arrival in late November last year.

However, at least one juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Pitsford throughout but Great Egrets were limited there to just two on 19th. Of the other regular sites for this species, Thrapston and Summer Leys scored joint highest with five on 20th and 22nd respectively, while singles were at Cransley Res, Ditchford GP/Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, Ravensthorpe Res and Stanford Res. Not entirely unexpected in these days of Bubulcus aplenty was the second Cattle Egret of 2019, discovered ‘somewhere in the Nene Valley’ on 21st, the location being withheld to avoid disturbance in a sensitive area. Odds on there will be quite a few more discovered as we move deeper into 2019.

Cattle Egret, Northamptonshire Nene Valley (location withheld), 21st February 2019 (Linda Summerfield)

Cattle Egret, Northamptonshire Nene Valley (location withheld), 21st February 2019 (Linda Summerfield)

Cattle Egret, Northamptonshire Nene Valley (location withheld), 21st February 2019 (Linda Summerfield)

Intriguing bird of the week award, however, goes to the ibis sp., which was seen from the window of a moving car, as it flew south between Moulton and Overstone on the morning of 16th. Although the observer exercised caution and refrained from going all out glossy, it appears unlikely to have been anything else – particularly with ‘new’ Glossy Ibises turning up this week in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcestershire.

Meanwhile, both of last week’s Hen Harriers continued to be seen – the Stanford Res individual until 18th and the one at Neville’s Lodge until 21st, while Stanford also featured a Merlin on 16th, as did Blueberry Farm on the same date.

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Stanford Res, 18th February 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 21st February 2019 (Martin Swannell)

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 21st February 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

Hollowell Res again produced the only notable wader of the week – this time a Jack Snipe on 16th. Two days later, on 18th, single adult Mediterranean Gulls appeared in the roosts at Boddington Res (and again there on 22nd) and Stanford Res and a first-winter Iceland Gull made a sortie over the dam at the latter site, before disappearing, on 16th. The only other scarce gulls – an adult Yellow-legged Gull and a second-winter Caspian Gull – were also seen on 16th, again at Hollowell Res.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Boddington Res, 22nd February 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Just one Short-eared Owl was to be found around Neville’s Lodge, just prior to dusk, on 16 and 17th, while the Great Grey Shrike became more elusive but continued to be seen

Great Grey Shrike, Blueberry Farm area, 17th February 2019 (Martin Swannell)

Great Grey Shrike, Blueberry Farm area, 17th February 2019 (Martin Swannell)

throughout the period near to Blueberry Farm, where only one Corn Bunting was reported on 19th.

Female Crossbill, Irchester CP, 21st February 2019 (Alan Coles)

Again this week, up to eight Crossbills were present almost daily at Irchester CP until at least 21st.

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Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th February 2019

After the first two days, Storm Erik’s wind and rain ultimately gave way to southerly winds bringing warm air to the country from as far south as the Azores. The resultant ‘warm’ conditions were positively spring-like, with temperatures hitting a local daytime high of 14ºC. Some movement took place on the wader front, with Oystercatchers returning to three Nene Valley sites and an Avocet appearing at Hollowell Reservoir.

At Thrapston GP, the first-winter Whooper Swan remained on Town Lake but in terms of species, this week’s goose count was down a little with three Pink-footed Geese still ranging widely over the Thrapston GP complex, while two continued to visit Stanford Res on and off, commuting with Greylags from land adjacent to nearby Stanford Hall.

Numbers of Red-crested Pochards remained low, with a maximum of nine at Pitsford Res on 13th and again, they were not recorded elsewhere, while the drake Ring-necked Duck there continued to perform well in Pintail Bay, often allowing close approach. Once again, the other drake in the Nene Valley, after putting in a brief appearance on Earls Barton GP’s Mary’s Lake on 5th, resurfaced nearby on the main lake at Grendon on 12th. Yes, it’s still down there … somewhere in the valley.

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 9th February 2019 (James Timms)

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 9th February 2019 (James Timms)

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 12th February 2019 (Alan Coles)

Meanwhile, the two juvenile Great Northern Divers remained at Pitsford all week, occasionally showing well together, some distance south of the causeway. Great Egrets were a little down on last week and although Thrapston continued to hold four or five and Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys two or three, elsewhere the picture was different, with only singles at Cransley Res, Ditchford GP/Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, Pitsford Res and Stanford Res.

Juvenile Great Northern Divers, Pitsford Res, 10th February 2019 (Jon Cook)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 10th February 2019 (Jon Cook)

The juvenile Hen Harrier at Stanford Res remained for the duration and continued to show fairly frequently and the Neville’s Lodge ‘ringtail’ showed prior to dusk on 9th, 12th, 13th and 15th, also visiting Summer Leys on 10th, where photographs taken enabled it to be identified as a juvenile female. In contrast to last week, just one Merlin in the vicinity of Blueberry Farm on 13th was more this species’ usual form.

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 10th February 2019 (Aamir Mughal)

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 13th February Martin Swannell)

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 13th February Martin Swannell)

So, wader of the week, then – in fact the only wader of the week – was the Avocet which visited Hollowell Res on 14th. Still quite scarce in Northants, hopefully this early migrant will be the first of more to come this spring. Scarce gulls were again few and far between, being represented by an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Boddington Res on 14th, an adult Yellow-legged Gull at Daventry CP on 11th and 13th and an adult Caspian Gull at Pitsford Res on 9th plus a first-winter and a second-winter together at Hollowell Res on 15th.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 11th February (Ricky Sinfield)

A Short-eared Owl was found at Harrington AF on 10th, while three were around Neville’s Lodge just prior to dusk on 11th and at least one was there the following evening. Close to the latter site, a Siberian Chiffchaff was at Stanwick GP on 10th, having been first glimpsed there about three weeks ago while, having entered its fourth week,

Siberian Chiffchaff, Stanwick GP, 10th February 2019 (Tom Green)

Siberian Chiffchaff, Stanwick GP, 10th February 2019 (Tom Green)

the Great Grey Shrike continued to be seen throughout the period near to Blueberry Farm, where the Corn Bunting count reached a heady four on 14th. There was a further unconfirmed report of a Great Grey Shrike at the feeder stream end of Hollowell Res on 15th.

Male Crossbill, Irchester CP, 13th February 2019 (Doug Goddard)

Female Crossbill, Irchester CP, 13th February 2019 (Doug Goddard)

Crossbills, Irchester CP, 13th February 2019 (Doug Goddard)

However, setting themselves up as a popular draw, up to eight Crossbills were present almost daily at Irchester CP from 9th. Although it has bred locally in the past, this species is an irregular visitor to the county, normally occurring as a result of late summer and autumn irruptions.

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