Northern Willow Warbler at Stanford

Northamptonshire’s fourth-ever Northern Willow Warbler was pulled from the nets of the Stanford Ringing Group, at Stanford Reservoir, this morning.

Willow Warbler comprises three subspecies – nominate trochilus from Britain, central Europe and southern Scandinavia, acredula (‘Northern Willow Warbler’) from northern Scandinavia, Russia and western Siberia and yakutensis (‘Siberian Willow Warbler’) from central and eastern Siberia. However, the subspecies are not well defined and there is extensive intergradation. Furthermore, variation is not linear, and birds showing the characters of one subspecies occur regularly within the range of another (BWP).

Northern Willow Warbler, Stanford Res, 21st August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Fortunately, visual characteristics, when combined with in-hand biometrics allow identification of acredula to be made. Trying to do so in the field, however, is more than a challenge on an out of range individual! This one is a typical, cold, pallid individual, with reduced yellow tones and quite a striking supercilium.

Northern Willow Warbler (left) and Willow Warbler, Stanford Res, 21st August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

This is the fourth record of acredula for Northants, all of which to date have been trapped at Stanford! Previous records were 23rd August 2008, 30th June 2011 and 8th September 2014.


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Rarity Round-up, 28th July to 10th August 2018

With local temperatures hitting 30°C, this two-week period saw the heat waver before coming to an abrupt end during the last two days. It was back to sweeping Atlantic low pressure systems, average temperatures and heavy showers setting in on 10th, creating a truly autumnal atmosphere. Among the more common migrants, there were a few surprises – not least of which was Northamptonshire’s fourth-ever Marsh Warbler.

Three Garganeys appeared during the latter half of the period, comprising singles at Pitsford Res on 3rd, Hollowell Res on 7th and Stanwick GP on 8th and 10th, while the only other wildfowl were five Red-crested Pochards still at the first of these localities on 3rd. A Bittern at Stortons GP on 5th was, at first sight, surprising, although this species is now being seen more frequently outside of the traditional winter period as the UK population continues to grow. Also doing well, Great White Egret totals increased by 150% as the two long-stayers at Thrapston GP became three on 8th and further singles were at Stanwick GP on 28th-31st and presumably the same again on 8th-10th, while another was at Daventry CP from 7th to 10th.

Great White Egret, Daventry CP, 7th August 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Great White Egret, Stanwick GP, 8th August 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Three localities produced Ospreys. Singles visited Stanford Res on 31st and 6th, Hollowell Res on 5th, with two there on 8th, and Thrapston GP on 4th-5th, with three there on 9th. Thrapston also produced a Marsh Harrier on 28th and further singles were subsequently seen at Summer Leys LNR on 1st and at Priors Hall, Corby on 5th.

In stark contrast to the large flock recorded at Stanwick on 27th July, the only Whimbrel during the period was one which stayed briefly at Hollowell Res on the evening of 4th.  Black-tailed Godwits, too, were fewer in numbers with singles at Stanwick on 30th-31st and 10th, although three were present there on 9th. Further singles were at Ditchford GP on 3rd (followed by two there on 7th), Stanford Res on 4th, Hollowell Res on 5th and 8th, Naseby Res on 5th, while two were at Thrapston GP on 8th-9th and four adults – one with a series of colour rings – visited Daventry CP on 9th. The only other notable wader was a Turnstone at Thrapston GP on 3rd-4th.

Black-tailed Godwit, Stanford Res, 4th August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

The first Black Tern of the autumn was found at Clifford Hill GP on 28th but gulls were poorly represented over the period. Hollowell Res produced an adult Caspian Gull on 5th and a juvenile visited Daventry CP on 9th-10th but there were no large counts of Yellow-legged Gulls. Singles of the latter species were at Thrapston GP on 3rd-4th and Hollowell Res on 7th-8th, while four were at Stanwick GP on 4th and at least four were at Daventry CP on 7th and 9th, with 5 there on 10th.

Passerines were certainly well represented in quality, if not quantity, during the period. A Wryneck was discovered ‘anting’ along the track approaching Foxhill Farm, just south of Daventry, on 4th. Shortly after its discovery, it appeared to move off to an adjacent woodland and was not seen subsequently. This follows a spring record at Thrapston GP so two of these amazingly-marked little ‘woodpeckers’ in one year is excellent.

Marsh Warbler, Stanford Res, 9th August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Outshining them in rarity but not in character, was the county’s fourth-ever Marsh Warbler – and the first record for twenty years – trapped, ringed and released at Stanford Res on 9th.

Juvenile Whinchat, Stanford Res, 6th August 2018 (Mick Townsend)

Other than that, a juvenile Whinchat was also trapped at Stanford Res on 6th and a Northern Wheatear was found at Harrington AF on 4th.

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Marsh Warbler at Stanford

A routine ringing session at Stanford Reservoir this morning produced Northamptonshire’s fourth-ever Marsh Warbler.

It was trapped, ringed and released along the rear edge of Blower’s Lodge Bay at approximately 11.00. Thanks to Chris Hubbard for the images below.

Juvenile Marsh Warbler, Stanford Res, 9th August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

The lack of contrasting rufous rump (of Reed Warbler) is an immediate pointer to identification, as are the pale-tipped primaries, although they are not as obvious as on some Marsh Warblers. Also pale fringes to tertials are more obvious than on Reed Warbler.

Juvenile Marsh Warbler, Stanford Res, 9th August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Reed Warbler (left) and Marsh Warbler, Stanford Res, 9th August 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Marsh Warbler’s slightly shorter bill, plus eye-ring and supercilium equally distinct compared to Reed Warbler’s, are just about visible in the above image. Visually, though, they are still difficult to tell apart!

Marsh Warbler is just about hanging on as a rare breeding species in the UK, with perhaps only eight pairs restricted to sites on the east coast. Otherwise, it is a rare migrant.

Interestingly, two of the previous three records are from Stanford and include one trapped on 17th June 1984 and a singing male on 16th May 1989. The third was a singing male at Stanwick GP, twenty years ago, on 7th-9th June 1998.

Please note access to Stanford Reservoir is by permit only, issued by Severn Trent Water Authority.

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Rarity Round-up, 14th to 27th July 2018

Unless you were particularly unlucky, over the past two weeks the rain has again held off and the southerly airstream has continued with its delivery of abnormally high summer temperatures. Perhaps surprisingly, local bodies of water remain at relatively high levels, with one source stating reservoirs are currently around 90% full – principally Hollowell (86.42%), Pitsford (90.78%) and Ravensthorpe (91.24%). Hollowell is traditionally the one to expose its mud first and so frequently becomes the initial autumn ‘go-to’ destination to find passage waders for local birders not faithful to a patch.

Somewhat seasonally skewed – or simply an escape – a Pink-footed Goose visited Clifford Hill GP on 17th, while the number of Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res climbed from two, through five on 18th-25th, to nine on 26th. Topping the bill for wildfowl, however, was a drake Common Scoter discovered at Boddington Res on 26th. This species undertakes a ‘moult migration’ in which many thousands congregate at favoured sites – principally in the eastern North Sea, the Baltic and off western France so inland records at this time of the year should not be considered unusual.

Drake Common Scoter, Boddington Res, 26th July 2018 (Gary Pullan)

The two Great White Egrets at Thrapston GP remained throughout the period, favouring the northern end of Titchmarsh LNR’s Aldwincle Lake. The same site produced an Osprey on 17th and again three days later, on 20th, when two flew over. Two more fly-over Ospreys included singles at Towcester on 20th and Stanwick GP on 27th. The latter site also produced a Marsh Harrier, flying west, on 16th.

Osprey, Stanwick GP, 27th July 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Sticking with Stanwick, the evening of 27th produced what is likely to be the largest autumn flock of Whimbrels in the County. Sixty-two flew west together, followed by two more shortly afterward. Numbers of Black-tailed Godwits ramped up during the period, with flocks of fifteen at Earls Barton GP on 17th, twenty at Clifford Hill GP on 20th, five over Thrapston GP on 26th and singles at both Stanwick and Summer Leys on 21st and 27th. Worthy of note also was a Ruff at Stanwick on 21st.  Another milestone along the road to autumn was passed on 17th, when the first fresh, scaly, juvenile Mediterranean Gull appeared at Daventry CP. This was quickly followed by four different individuals there during 20th and 21st, plus another on 27th. Two more juveniles were also seen at Pitsford Res from 21st.

Whimbrels, Stanwick GP, 27th July 2018 (Steve Fisher). Part of a flock of 62 which flew west.

Black-tailed Godwit, Stanwick GP, 27th July 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Daventry CP also briefly played host to what was potentially bird of the summer so far. A ‘black-backed gull’, present during the afternoon of 26th and early morning of 27th, showed all the characteristics you could ever wish to see if you were going to claim a Baltic Gull in the UK. From the observer’s photographs, it certainly looks the business and more will be published on this site in due course. More gull action at Daventry included the occurrence of a first-summer Caspian Gull on 26th and up to four Yellow-legged Gulls between 17th and 27th. Several were seen regularly at Pitsford Res and

Probable Baltic Gull, Daventry CP, 26th July 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Second-summer Yellow-legged Gull, Wicksteed Park Lake, 19th July 2018 (Alan Francis)

singles visited Wicksteed Park Lake on 19th and Thrapston GP on 25th but Stanwick accounted for the lion’s share with the highest counts of seventeen on 20th and thirty-three on 26th. On the passerine front, a Common Redstart at Fawsley Park on stands decidedly lonely …

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Rarity Round-up, 30th June to 13th July 2018

And so it continues – almost wall-to-wall sunshine and no sign of any rain. Water levels are indeed falling and some of the more outlying and lesser watched sites have begun to attract waders. Both Cransley and Welford Reservoirs produced Common Sandpipers and Dunlins appeared on pools at Priors Hall, while the autumn’s first Greenshank was found at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 30th June. Things can only get better …

The Summer Leys drake Garganey was joined by a female from 30th to 2nd, with only the female remaining until 3rd but the only other wildfowl of note were two drake Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res on 2nd.

Garganeys, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Also doubling up, at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR, the hide-and-seek Great White Egret was joined by a second individual on 12th, with both still present the following day. Stretching the doubles theme perhaps a bit too much, a singing male Quail was heard between Billing GP and Cogenhoe on 13th, constituting only the second record for the county this year.

Two Marsh Harriers were also found – one at Pitsford Res between 30th and 4th, while the other was seen flying east at Summer Leys LNR on 2nd but the only other species of raptor to be recorded during the period was, unsurprisingly, Osprey. Singles were at Thrapston GP on 2nd, flying over the A605 nearby on 3rd, at Stanford Res on 7th and 8th and in flight over the A605 near Oundle on the latter date, while two flew high south over Corby on 4th.

Spotted Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2018 (Bob Bullock)

If football isn’t coming home, then waders certainly are. Against a backcloth of small numbers of commoner species, more Black-tailed Godwits were found, with seven at Earls Barton GP on 5th, three at Stanwick GP on 6th and the same number at Summer Leys the following day but the highlight of the early autumn wader passage, so far, is the fine, summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank, which graced Summer Leys for a full five days from 1st before moving on. And if waders are on their way back so too, it seems, are gulls. July is the month when Yellow-legged Gulls begin to reappear and, following one at Pitsford Res on 6th, two were at Stanwick GP on 10th and 13th.

Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 6th July 2018 (Richard How)

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 10th July 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, on the passerine front, the same two species featured in the last round-up again make an appearance in this one. The singing male Firecrest was still at Badby Wood on 3rd and a lone Crossbill flew over Wellingborough’s Westminster Estate on 10th.

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Rarity Round-up, 16th to 29th June 2018

The calm and settled weather, established over the preceding two weeks, remained throughout the period, while temperatures continued to rise – some parts of the county hitting 27°C during the second week. Other parts of the country exceeded 30°C and with no rain in sight, rumours of a forthcoming drought, water shortages and hosepipe bans began to circulate in the media, as did the suggestion that we might be in for another ‘summer of ‘76’ scenario.

Should this be the case, what might we look forward to during the remaining summer period? A look back at the 1976 Northamptonshire Bird Report reveals that while wildfowl suffered, extensive mud availability in July produced both Little and Temminck’s Stints, Sanderling and Avocets at Pitsford Res, Avocets at Ravensthorpe Res and the county’s fourth-ever Pectoral Sandpiper at Cransley Res … and that was before we hit autumn proper.

Moulting into eclipse, a drake Garganey appeared on the scrape at Summer Leys LNR on 26th, remaining until 29th, when it was joined by a female. Further down the valley, at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR, the Great White Egret continued to put in sporadic appearances, being present on 18th-19th and 28th, as did an Osprey, which was seen on 22nd and 28th. Three pairs are currently feeding young at nests in Northamptonshire, so it is likely to have been a local visitor to the reserve. One also flew north-east over Byfield on 28th. At least three hundred pairs are now breeding in Scotland and with a new translocation scheme operating in Poole Harbour, plus the announcement of measures being taken to conserve this species on migration and in its west African winter quarters, we can surely look forward to more frequent encounters over the forthcoming years.

Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 26th June 2018 (Ricky Sinfield)

Titchmarsh LNR also produced a Marsh Harrier on 23rd and a male Hen Harrier was reported flying over the A43, close to Fineshade Wood the next day, on 24th. It would have been unusual if spring had passed by without at least one Honey Buzzard being recorded so, preserving its almost annual status in the county, one was seen flying north-west over Nether Heyford on the evening of 20th.

Male Firecrest, Badby Wood, 24th June 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Rarely do raptors or even passerines outnumber waders in these reports but compared with the above and below in this instance, three Black-tailed Godwits at Summer Leys on 20th seem distinctly lonely. A singing male Firecrest at Badby Wood on 24th and 25th provided a summer jewel for those who went to see it and ten Crossbills in pines at the University of Northampton’s Park Campus, briefly on 19th, were a sure sign of post-breeding dispersal and perhaps an indication of more to come.



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