Rarity Round-up, 10th to 16th March 2018

Little Ringed Plover, Priors Hall, Corby, 11th March 2018 (James Underwood)

A predominantly southerly airstream from west coast Europe helped not only to lift temperatures but also undoubtedly gave a welcome boost to northward migration for our earliest summer visitors. This week saw the arrival of Osprey, Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martins, as well as some scarce migrants and the visible movement of winter visitors, including wildfowl and thrushes, beginning their departure.

In fact, there was not much to write home about when it came to wildfowl. The three Scaup remained on the main lake at Stanwick GP until 11th and a ‘redhead’ Smew spent three days, from 10th to 12th, on Clifford Hill GP’s Deep Water Lake before moving on.

Smew, Clifford Hill GP, 12th March 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Less willing to budge, the Slavonian Grebe remained all week in the vicinity of Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res, while Great White Egrets also seemed in no hurry to move from the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which again included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (up to four), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP (two). Mercifully, on rare occasions, not all things big and white in the Nene Valley are the latter species and one such bird at Stanwick, on 11th, proved to be a nice adult Spoonbill. Arriving in the early evening, it stayed for just forty minutes before heading off west at dusk. This is the 36th county record and only the second to be recorded in March, after one at Ditchford GP in 1980.

After five weeks without a mention, raptors were back on the agenda this week with a ‘cream-crown’ Marsh Harrier flying west at Earls Barton GP on 16th and the first migrant Osprey of the year heading east over Billing GP/Ecton SF three days earlier, on 13th. More will surely follow in the not too distant future.

Hot on the heels of last week’s Avocet, at Summer Leys, came another on 13th – again in the Nene Valley – at Clifford Hill GP. A Black-tailed Godwit flying east at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 16th may have been the same as that reported sporadically at adjacent Stanwick GP over the past few weeks. The only other wader of note was a Jack Snipe at Hollowell Res on 11th.

March has produced a fair proportion of our Kittiwakes in the past and this week saw a notable overland movement, which resulted in an adult at Daventry CP on 13th and twelve at Pitsford Res on 16th, none of which lingered. Following last week’s trickle of Mediterranean Gulls at Boddington Res, another adult was found in the roost there on 10th, one was in the Pitsford roost on 13th, an adult remained at Stanwick between 13th and 16th and a first-winter visited Clifford Hill GP on 12th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res 13th March 2018 (Jacob Spinks)

Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls remained low, with two first-winters at Pitsford Res on 11th and an adult at Stanwick on the same date while, back at Pitsford, a first-winter was in the roost on 14th. Things were looking up as the same roost attracted a juvenile Iceland Gull on 13th – surprisingly the first ‘white-winged’ gull to be found here for many years. Back in the day, when Brixworth had a landfill instead of a Mercedes commercial centre, they were encountered rather more frequently in the roost. Meanwhile, Hollowell Res grabbed the lion’s share of Caspian Gulls this week, producing a second-winter on 11th, an adult, a second-winter and a first-winter on 13th, with the second-winter remaining until the following day. Elsewhere, single second-winters were found at both Pitsford Res and Rushton Landfill on 15th.

There was only one Hawfinch this week, along the road to Irchester CP on 14th. Perhaps this is the last to be seen in what can only be described as the most fantastic winter ever for this species in the UK, probably an event unlikely to be repeated.

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Mary’s & Moon Lake Fencing Proposal

What follows below is published at the request of the Wildlife Trust to draw attention to the above proposal and to provide the opportunity for questions and comments. The publication here of this proposal in no way represents an endorsement of the proposal nor an opposition to it by Northants Birds.

Mary’s Lake and Moon Lake form part of the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits, a series of pits that are of international importance for overwintering waterbirds, and which has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA). Mary’s Lake and Moon Lake, along with Summer Leys Nature Reserve, sit within one of the most publicly-accessed units of the SPA, with a good network of Rights of Way, permitted paths and informal access. The lakes are regularly visited by good numbers of overwintering birds such as Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Public disturbance and lack of management have been identified as the main threats to the wildlife of the sites.Moon Lake is the least-visited of the lakes in this area, as there are no Rights of Way around the lake and access is not possible all the way around. There is a large area of grassland around the lake which has been covered in scrub in recent years, meaning it is less-suitable as grazing habitat for the waterbirds using the lake.
The Wildlife Trust is working with Natural England, Wellingborough Council and the landowner to address the disturbance and management issues on the site. The aim is to allow management, through scrub clearance and grazing, and provide an undisturbed area of open water at Moon Lake.
It is therefore proposed to construct a fenceline, as shown below, to create a grazing unit around Moon Lake and create an undisturbed area for birds. The fence line will not impact on any of the current Rights of Way and access will be possible along the western edge as shown.
If you have any comments or questions about this proposal please contact the Wider Countryside Team at The Wildlife Trust on 01604 405285 or email Northamptonshire@wildlifebcn.org  We will also be on-site to explain the project and answer any questions on Thursday 22/03/18, between 9-30am and 12-30pm, and again on Monday 09/04/18, between 1 and 4pm, at the Moon Lake Fisherman’s car park ( see above for location ).We are also aware that the Angling Club is considering putting an otter fence around Mary’s Lake itself. Whilst this is their own project we will be liaising with them to ensure that no Rights of Way are affected and that signage and footpath surfaces are improved around that lake.

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Rarity Round-up, 3rd to 9th March 2018

A marked change in wind direction dragged warmer air from the Atlantic via south-west Europe, initiating a rapid thaw in lying snow from the beginning of the week. With this came the first migrants but most winter visitors continued to frequent favoured localities, although some had clearly registered the rapidly lengthening days and decided to move on.

The juvenile Whooper Swan wintering at Ravensthorpe Res was still present on 4th but appeared to have departed by 8th, when there was no sign of it, while Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose remained until at least 5th. The two Scaup there were joined by a third on 6th, all three remaining until the week’s end and the female at Sywell CP was still off the dam there on 8th. It was difficult to be certain if two drake Common Scoters, discovered on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 4th, were a product of hard weather movements or simply spring migrants.

Drake Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 4th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Drake Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 4th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The Slavonian Grebe completed another full week between the sailing club and Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res, while Great White Egrets remained at the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (three), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP (two). One also flew south at Hollowell Res on 4th.

Great White Egret, Earls Barton GP, 6th March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

The first signs of spring wader passage were evident this week with an Avocet, which made a stopover at Summer Leys on 7th, and an early Grey Plover in flight near Clifford Hill GP the following day.

Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 7th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 7th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Also relatively early was an adult Little Gull at Thrapston GP on 4th, although winter and early spring records for this species are not unprecedented. March is typically the major spring passage month for Mediterranean Gulls and the easy to watch gull roost at Boddington Res has a track record for producing them. This year is no exception, with single adults there on 4th and 5th, followed by two adults on 6th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Boddington Res, 4th March 2018 (Gary Pullan)

The same roost produced a juvenile Iceland Gull on 4th and adult Caspian Gulls on 4th and 5th plus a sub-adult the following evening, on 6th. Elsewhere, further Caspian Gulls included an adult and a second-winter at Hollowell Res on 4th, plus a second-winter in the Thrapston GP roost on the same date, a sub-adult and a second-winter in the Pitsford Res roost on 5th and a sub-adult there on 8th plus a second-winter at Rushton Landfill the same day.

Second-winter Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 5th March 2018 (Jacob Spinks)

Proving scarce and difficult to find throughout the winter, Short-eared Owls have been largely absent from traditional localities but one was found this week on farmland near Milton Malsor on 8th.

There were still Hawfinches to be had for those still looking, although numbers were down on previous weeks and included singles at Fawsley Park on 4th, Salcey Forest on 5th and Thenford on 9th, while a Mealy Redpoll was still visiting garden feeders in Irthlingborough on 5th.

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Ageing process of the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose

Since it was first discovered, the Pink-footed Goose, which has been present with the resident Greylag flock at Stanwick Gravel Pits throughout the winter, has undergone a considerable change in appearance.

Juvenile Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 12th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

It arrived as an obvious ‘fresh’ juvenile in October last year. Its overall appearance was scruffy, dull and almost uniform brownish, rather dark-headed and only narrow, dull pale fringes to the scapulars, coverts and tertials. Its bill was also dark, with a dull pink band behind the nail and extending faintly along the cutting edge of the upper mandible. Thanks to images captured by Steve Fisher and Angus Molyneux, it’s easy to see the progression from juvenile to adult-type plumage which has taken place over a matter of almost four months.

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

By January it had acquired adult-type plumage, with streaked rear flanks, a contrast between upperparts and underparts, broader, whiter fringes to mantle, scapulars and coverts and a brighter pink bill (although lighting may exaggerate differences in photos).

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 5th March 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

By March, the bird looks neat and has developed some whitish feathering around the base of the bill, which is found quite commonly in adults.

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Rarity Round-up, 17th February to 2nd March 2018

Although signs of spring weather were apparent during the first week of the two covered by this review, the lengthening, sunny days and blue skies belied the fact that temperatures were low and were about to tumble dramatically from the beginning of week two. A veritable ‘polar vortex’ of strong winds whirling around arctic and sub-arctic latitudes brought sustained, biting, sub-zero easterlies to the UK from Siberia and snow … lots of it, dispelling any hopes of finding early spring migrants. Considering previous years have seen arrivals in the county of Sand Martin as early as 26th February and Northern Wheatear on 3rd March, the prospect of either of these occurring any time soon seems, well, a long way off …

Whooper Swans, Stanford Res, 1st March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

So, hard weather movements is what it’s all about but braving the grim conditions to discover what’s moving is another matter entirely. However, some avid patchwatchers did just that and the discovery of three Whooper Swans at Stanford Res on 1st was, perhaps, ample reward. They had gone the following morning but the juvenile Whooper wintering at Ravensthorpe Res stayed put until at least 24th, while the other long-stayer – Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose – was still being seen sporadically throughout the period. Stanwick also produced two Scaup on 2nd, following one at Ditchford GP on 18th. The only other wildfowl of note were two Smew – a drake visiting

Juvenile Whooper Swan, Ravensthorpe Res, 24th February 2018 (Stuart Mundy)

Pitsford Res briefly on 21st and the drake still at Ditchford GP throughout the period, seemingly having become settled on Wilson’s Pit. Smew has remained a very scarce bird in the county this winter so this drake has become a popular attraction since its arrival back in December last year.

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 24th February 2018 (Mike Alibone)

The Slavonian Grebe remained between the sailing club and Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res until at least 23rd but there have been no subsequent reports. Site-loyal Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR, Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP with maxima of three at Stanwick GP on 19th-20th and at Summer Leys on 23rd. Away from the Nene Valley, singles were at Ravensthorpe Res on 17th and Stanford Res on 18th and 27th.

Great White Egret, Mary’s Lake, Earls Barton GP, 23rd February 2018 (Leslie Fox)

After a week without any, waders made a bit of a comeback during the period. A Black-tailed Godwit was again at Stanwick on 21st, followed by a Knot at the same locality on 2nd. The latter stayed only briefly, flying off west shortly after its discovery. Also of note were Jack Snipe duos at Hollowell Res on 17th, Ditchford GP on 18th and near Hartwell on 1st and one at Stanwick GP on 2nd.

And so to gulls … Not quite equalling the splash of northerners to be found the previous week but two Mediterranean Gulls visited the Pitsford roost on 20th, five Yellow-legged Gulls were at Daventry CP on 18th and Caspian Gulls were scattered, with Rushton Landfill producing the lion’s share of two adults on 17th, one on 18th and a second-winter and third-winter on 25th. Elsewhere, the wintering adult was seen at Hollowell Res on 17th and a second-winter was present there on 22nd and 26th, a second-winter was at Pitsford Res on 20th, followed by a third-winter on 1st and a first-winter was in the roost at Thrapston GP on 22nd. Rushton Landfill retained its juvenile Glaucous Gull until at least 17th and an adult appeared there on 25th.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 17th February 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Six localities produced Hawfinches, including the favoured sites of Cottesbrooke (three on 17th, one on 18th), Thenford (at least five on 20th-21st and twelve on 27th) and Blatherwycke, (four on 22nd). Elsewhere, one was at Lings Wood, Northampton on 19th and two were at a ‘traditional’ site in Oundle on 19th-20th. A Corn Bunting – only the second in Northants this year – was found near Upper Benefield on 22nd. Surely there must be more of these now scarce buntings out there, somewhere …

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Rarity Round-up, 10th to 16th February 2018

A mixed bag of weather, predominantly north-west Atlantic-driven, delivered dollops of persistent, heavy rain to the county on 10th and 14th, in between and after which, low temperatures and dry conditions ensued. In the absence of anything else significant, northern gulls took centre stage with three new arrivals teasing at least some local birders out of their comfort zones to visit a habitat just a little more challenging than the regular, easy birding, ‘path-and-hide’ localities.

Now firmly established as part of the winter décor at Ravensthorpe Res, the juvenile Whooper Swan continued its stay, while Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR held on to at least three of last week’s Red-crested Pochards – a male and female on 10th and two drakes on 15th. The only other wildfowl of note were the drake Smew again at Ditchford GP on 16th and a female Common Scoter in Pitsford’s Pintail Bay on 13th, the same locality continuing to host the wintering Slavonian Grebe – now having notched up four weeks on site.

Slavonian Grebe, Pitsford Res, 5th February 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Ditchford GP, Ravensthorpe Res, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR, Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP with maxima of three at Stanwick GP on 10th and at Earls Barton/Summer Leys on 15th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 16th February 2018 (Ray Seagrove)

Landfill Larids steal the show

In keeping with their current high abundance in the UK, white-winged gulls from the north made a splash alongside some of the regulars at Rushton’s landfill site this week. Viewing conditions at this locality can often be awkward. The active refuse area faces north and on a clear, sunny day, observation from the road which overlooks it is invariably difficult as a result of the area having to be viewed against the light. The contours of the site provide areas for large numbers of loafing gulls to hide, thereby evading detection, so birding there can be both challenging and frustrating. Meeting the challenges, however, can reap rewards, as this week aptly demonstrated.

A second-winter Iceland Gull, discovered in fields immediately south of the landfill on 10th, was still present the following day, when a fourth-winter Glaucous Gull was also discovered there. On 12th, yet another Glaucous Gull was found at the site – this time a juvenile.

Second-winter Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 10th February 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Second-winter Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 10th February 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 12th February 2018 (Beth Clyne)

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 12th February 2018 (Beth Clyne)

For anyone willing to put the time in, there is great potential for further discoveries. Taking a back-seat, an adult Caspian Gull was present there on 10th and 13th and a Yellow-legged Gull was there on 12th plus two the following day. Elsewhere, the wintering adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res was seen on 10th and 12th, while an adult was in the roost at Thrapston GP on 11th and 12th, accompanied by a second-winter on the first of these dates. The Thrapston roost also produced an adult on 11th and two on 12th and 14th and one was in the roost at Pitsford on 12th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Rushton Landfill, 10th February 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Up to four Mealy Redpolls were visiting feeders in an Irthlingborough garden on 12th, having been seen there, on and off, over the previous week, while this week’s crop of Hawfinches was much reduced, with Cottesbrooke producing one on 11th and four on 13th, while singles were at Thenford Churchyard on 12th and Salcey Forest on 14th.

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Rarity Round-up, 3rd to 9th February 2018

A return to weather more typical of winter this week, with an overcast, miserable and wet start quickly being replaced by cold, easterly winds from northern Europe, turning northerly toward the week’s end.

The Ravensthorpe Whooper Swan showed no signs of departure this week and, at Stanwick, the Pink-footed Goose was still present on 6th. Five Red-crested Pochards appeared at Summer Leys LNR on 3rd but their number had quickly dwindled to two by 5th, while the Thrapston two had grown to three by 4th and the female Scaup remained off the dam at Sywell CP the following day.

A little on the scarce side this winter, a Bittern was seen coming into roost at dusk in the reedbed at Stanwick GP on 6th and 8th and Great White Egrets continued to be seen at the currently favoured localities of Ditchford GP, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanwick GP and Summer Leys, with a maximum of three at the latter locality on 4th, although two were at Stanwick GP on 6th and 9th. Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe remained until at least 8th, staying faithful to the area between the sailing club and Pintail Bay.

After being seen at Pitsford Res once last week, the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier put in another appearance there on 3rd, constituting this week’s only scarce raptor and, for the first time in a ‘long time’, there were no notable waders during the period.

The gull roost at Pitsford Res harboured a first-winter Kittiwake on 4th and two Mediterranean Gulls – a first-winter and a second-winter – on 8th, all perhaps early spring migrants, while 4th also produced a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull at Rushton Landfill, an adult at Hollowell Res on the same date and a second-winter was in the Pitsford roost on 8th. The wintering adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res was joined there by a first-winter on 4th and the only other was a second-winter at Pitsford roost on 8th.

Male Hawfinch, Thenford, 6th February 2018 (Tony Vials)

Apart from a Firecrest in scrub alongside Harper’s Brook, at Lowick on 4th, the only other passerine action was restricted to that flock of at least twenty Hawfinches at Thenford Churchyard, which were still present on 6th, while one was found at Pitsford Res on 3rd.

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