Northamptonshire’s 5th Dartford Warbler makes landfall … in a garden.
It’s been ten years since the last Dartford Warbler appeared in Northants, when a first-winter was discovered in an overgrown field off Wire Lane, East Carlton on 25th November 2010, remaining there for a further five days.
The long wait for another finally came to an end last Saturday morning, 17th October, when one, a first-winter, paid a brief visit to a garden at Blakesley, in south Northants. Initially alighting on a wooden fence, it quickly dropped into an area of spent Sweet Peas and Cornflowers, where it skulked just above ground level and mostly out of sight, for about ten minutes. During this short period of time, a handful of photos were obtained by Colin and Gill Stafford before it flew off. Unfortunately, it did not return and it hasn’t been seen since, despite looking.
From an identification perspective, Dartford Warbler was the only likely candidate fitting the bill, although the rather subdued first-winter plumage tones, dull iris and lack of red eye-ring were enough to cast some doubts and the bird was not conclusively identified from the photos until 19th October. With regard to iris and orbital ring colour, young Dartford Warblers – especially those from second broods – can have a dull iris through October and, as with adult females, the orbital ring can vary from brown, through yellow-brown and pink-red to brick red and exceptionally, there is a white ring of feathers around the eye (BWP v.6).
‘Out of range’ Dartford Warblers occurring so far during this October include three in Bedfordshire and individuals in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire where, paralleling the Blakesley bird, one was photographed in a flower bed in a private garden in Chesham on 18th.
Previous county records are:
1998 Summer Leys LNR, 6th December
1999 Hollowell Res, 31st October to 2nd November
2004 Swan Valley, Northampton, 3rd December 2004 to 9th January 2005, two, with one remaining until 25th February 2005
2010 East Carlton, 25th-30th November
Given the increase in this species’ UK population (approximately 2,200 territories in 2017) since it was hit significantly by the hard winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, perhaps we can look forward to more coming our way in the future.
While things were hot on the coast from a birding perspective, a period of unsettled weather, backed largely by north-easterly winds, likely contributed to a gamut of goodies at a local level.
With flocks streaming south over coastal locations, the arrival of 8 Pink-footed Geese at Hollowell Res on 13th and three or four at Thrapston GP two days later, on 15th, was perhaps unsurprising but both were welcome discoveries, nonetheless.
The latter site also produced a female Common Scoter from 12th to 13th and – for the record, as well as something to keep an eye on – a Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid on 16th. Although not overly scarce, there were many more Pintails around this autumn, particularly at Stanford Res, where sixteen were present at one point.
Further up the Nene Valley, Cattle Egrets hit an all-time high with eleven at Stanwick GP on 12th – a new Northants record. Great Egrets, too, raised their profile, doubling the number of sites they were reported from last week to ten, with Stanwick claiming the lion’s share of four on 15th.
Seemingly enjoying its prolonged stay, the red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier moved south-west to Summer Leys, where it was seen on 11th and 14th, being joined there by a second individual on 16th. An unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier sp., believed probably to be a Hen Harrier, was seen in flight over Harrington AF on 10th as it drifted north-west.
The proximity of the growing numbers of Common Cranes on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire recently (up to sixty-six in recent days), inspires hope that we will be seeing more locally as time advances. In this respect, two flying south over Crick on 14th becomes the fourth sighting this year, following records in the consecutive months of May, June and July.
Waders were understandably at a low ebb as we go deeper into the latter part of autumn, with just a single Black-tailed Godwit visiting Summer Leys on 11th and a Ruff at Clifford Hill GP the following day. So, too, the scarcer gulls were less frequently encountered, with a Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford Res on 11th and a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 13th, while no autumn would be complete without at least one late Arctic Tern. It duly flew east through Stanwick on 15th.
Away from the water, a Short-eared Owl was seen from an automobile passing close to Moulton Park on 15th – both were on the move at the time – and a Merlin flew low east over Harrington AF on 11th.
But if one species stole the award for ‘passerine of the week’, it was Woodlark. After a belated report of one in flight over Yardley Chase on 9th, another was seen flying over Cotton End Park, Long Buckby two days later, on 11th. Despite breeding no further away than Nottinghamshire and The Brecks, this species remains a truly difficult bird to catch up with in Northamptonshire and, offering the best chance, October is probably the prime month in which to try.
Meanwhile, at Borough Hill, the first-winter Black Redstart continued to remain faithful to the eastern yard area and fenceline of the summit compound until at least 14th, the same location producing the period’s maximum tally of six Stonechats on the same date, while seven further localities produced between one and four birds.
Borough Hill also produced what was surely a Northern Bullfinch – also on 14th. Despite the size and structure, along with those cool plumage features of pallid mantle and pinkish underparts, it was not heard to call and disappeared within minutes of its discovery.
Other ‘big’ finches are, of course, available and filling this slot, a Hawfinch was logged flying over Yardley Chase on 15th. Continuing the Fringillidae grand theme, a Mealy Redpoll was seen by the ringing group at Stanford Res on 10th but managed to evade capture. A second individual on 12th was not so lucky, subsequently departing the processing area sporting its own unique, shiny band, as well as leaving a trail of controversy in its wake.
Images published on social media had sceptics ‘dissing’ it as a pale Lesser Redpoll, without being in full possession of the biometric data, including size, weight, bill depth, as well as various plumage features not revealed in the photographs. Misidentify from photos in haste, repent at leisure, as they say. We’ve all been there … This week’s Crossbills were, unsurprisingly, all fly-overs and included a dozen or so moving west over Pitsford Res on 11th, twelve south over Stanwick on 12th and two north-east over Brackley on 14th. Autumn is far from over …
A morning spent with the Stanford Ringing Group produced some interesting birds, top of the bill being a Mealy Redpoll. After a local ‘species drought’ over the past year, significant numbers of Lesser Redpolls have been recorded across the county over the past ten days or so, including a Mealy Redpoll seen but not trapped, at Stanford Res on 10th October.
Out of 108 birds trapped and ringed at Stanford today, 33 were redpolls, including two which were noteworthy. The first of these was an adult Mealy Redpoll, aged principally by tail feather shape. This one stood out initially because of its pallid, lightly streaked appearance and closer examination revealed features consistent with the species. However, it was not the bird seen there two days previously. Basically, pale face and supercilium, pale and finely-streaked nape, contrasting with rear crown and mantle, tramlines on the latter (buff, not yet white), pale grey rump with darker streaks and larger bill compared with the Lesser Redpolls trapped at the same time. It also weighed in at up to 2 g more than the Lessers being trapped.
While all these are ‘good’ characters, the clincher was the wing length, which was 74 mm, which is just outside the range of that given by Svensson’s Identification Guide to European Passerines for Lesser Redpoll (68-73 mm for male, 67-71 mm for female) but see below … The fact that there was a total absence of pink in the plumage suggested the bird was a female and the buff tips to all the secondary coverts is consistent with a freshly-moulted adult (complete moult July-September) before they fade to whitish during the winter.
Another redpoll trapped showed typical Lesser Redpoll characteristics but its wing length was measured at just a fraction beyond 76 mm. This one is currently under investigation, although it is not likely to prove to be anything else …
Backed by Atlantic westerlies, heavy rain was the order of the first part of the week, leaving its mark in the form of floodwater in many lowland areas. Temperatures dropped to below average and with the arrival of the first Whooper Swans, the county took another step closer toward winter …
In fact, this week’s wildfowl line-up took on a whole new identity with a distinctly coastal feel as five Dark-bellied Brent Geese touched down at Clifford Hill GP on 4th and an adult Whooper Swan arrived at Stanwick GP on 3rd, before quickly moving off east. Four more adults arrived at Summer Leys LNR on the afternoon of 7th but had departed by the following morning.
On 4th, it was clear that a sizeable movement of Common Scoters was taking place across the Midlands, with the landlocked counties of Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire each enjoying a slice of the cake. In Northants, we, too, received our own share when a drake splashed down on the main lake at Stanwick and four were mobile north of the dam at Pitsford Res.
Varying numbers of Cattle Egrets remained throughout at Stanwick, where the highest total of nine left their roost site early on 4th, while no more than two Great Egrets were seen at each of Ditchford GP, Pitsford, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys.
A minor resurgence of Ospreys occurred this week, with singles reported at Stanford on 4th and at both Hollowell Res and Kislingbury GP on 8th and, completing the raptor line-up, the wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier was again at Ditchford on 5th and at Stanwick the following day.
The smouldering embers of shorebird migration burst briefly back into flame as waders, too, made a bit of an unexpected comeback, including three species which have put in lower than average appearances in the county this year. Two Grey Plovers were found on floodwater in the River Tove valley, near Grafton Regis, on 8th but their stay on the Northants side of the river was brief before they quickly defected to more appealing habitat on the Bucks side. At the same site, on the same date, a flock of four Spotted Redshanks – multiples being a minor miracle locally, these days – flew east and pitched down in Buckinghamshire, although their stay there was similarly brief. Further scarce, short-stayers in less contentious locations were two single Knots, which arrived and departed on the afternoon of 3rd on Summer Leys scrape and Pitsford Res dam. Runners up were five Black-tailed Godwits in flight over Stanford Res on 9th, one and then two, Ruffs at Stanwick on 5th and 9th respectively – plus one at Summer Leys on 6th – and a Greenshank at Clifford Hill GP on 4th.
The scarcer gulls continued to be in short supply, with an adult Mediterranean Gull plus a Yellow-legged Gull in the roost at Stanford on 5th, up to three Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford on 3rd and a third-winter Caspian Gull at Stanwick on the same date.
Turning to passerines, last week’s Borough Hill Black Redstart remained remarkably faithful to the eastern yard area and fenceline of the summit compound all week, the same location producing the period’s maximum tally of at least seven Stonechats on 9th, while between one and two of the latter were seen at Kettering, Stanford, Stanwick and Summer Leys, with the week’s only Northern Wheatear at Stanford on 5th.
Following two last week, another Rock Pipit paid an all too brief visit to the dam at Pitsford on 3rd, before being flushed. Sadly, the level of human disturbance in this area has increased significantly this year, making it far less appealing to birds and birders alike. Crossbills on the move this week included singles flying over Stanwick on 5th and 9th, five over Thrapston on 5th and one at Brookfield Plantation (Corby) on the same date.
A series of Atlantic-borne fronts brought a week of mixed, often showery, weather, culminating in a low pressure system, ‘Storm Alex’, delivering a strong easterly airstream off the continent throughout the final day of the period. The arrival of the first Redwings on 27th saw autumn enter another phase, while the week’s highlights appeared in the shapes of Black Redstart and Rock Pipit.
Now a long time part of the furniture, the female Ruddy Shelduck maintained its presence in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area until at least 27th and a Garganey was again at Pitsford Res on 29th. A ‘new’, or relocating, female Red-crested Pochard was found on 28th at Kislingbury GP, a site rapidly becoming engulfed by housing developments, and it was still present there on 1st.
A little deeper into suburbia and a Bittern emerged from a reedbed at Stortons GP on 29th, while up to six Cattle Egrets confined themselves to Stanwick GP until at least 30th. No doubt they will be there for a long time to come. Great Egrets were seen at Ditchford GP, Geddington, Hollowell, Naseby Res, Pitsford, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with Pitsford again clocking up the maximum count of six on 28th-29th.
The wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier continued to roam the Nene Valley in the vicinity of the Ditchford/Stanwick lake complex and was still present on 30th.
Meanwhile, things looked grim on the wader front, with just a single juvenile Ruff at Pitsford on 27th and a juvenile ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover at Daventry CP on 28th-29th. So, is it all over for another year? Time is fast running out for surprises …
Gulls, too, dwindled. A first-winter Mediterranean Gull visited Pitsford on 29th and Yellow-legged Gull numbers were down on previous periods, with one at Stanford on 26th and up to three at Pitsford all week. A Merlin was again seen at Harrington AF on 30th.
In the passerine camp, Borough Hill came up trumps with another Black Redstart on 1st – or had the last one there simply gone missing for nine days? A leap to the north-east of here, the elevated ground which is Harrington AF was one of only two localities to produce Common Redstart with one on 26th and 30th, while one was trapped at Stanford on 28th – the twenty-ninth to be ringed there this year.
In the absence of Whinchats, the number of Stonechats continued to climb, with records from Borough Hill, Bozenham Mill, Brampton Valley, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell, Kislingbury, Pitsford, Stanford and Storton’s GP, with a maximum of six at Hollowell on 29th and the same number at Borough Hill on 1st.
Northern Wheatear numbers fell further to just singles at Hollowell on 29th and Kislingbury on 30th-1st.
With a penchant for reservoir dams from late September into early October, Rock Pipits are now on the radar and the first for the year appeared briefly on the weathered concrete of Pitsford’s on 29th, followed quickly by another flying over Stanford’s the next day. Crossbills clung on in the north of the county, with four flying over Kettering on 28th, around twenty at Wakerley Great Wood on 1st and six at nearby Fineshade Wood on the same date.
A short-lived ‘Indian Summer’ extended into the second half of this two-week period before giving way to a northerly airstream, culminating in lower than average temperatures and gales. The good fortune of the Stanford Ringing Group continued with another Wryneck and a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was – and probably still is – on a roll …
Present throughout the period but clearly taking an awayday, the female Ruddy Shelduck visited Foxholes Fisheries at Crick on 22nd before returning to its now favoured locality of Ravensthorpe Res later on the same day.
Meanwhile, heading up the wildfowl cast proper, single Garganeys were found at Hollowell Res on 12th, Daventry CP on 18th and at Pitsford Res on 18th-19th, while the female Red-crested Pochard remained at the latter site until 14th.
Continuing this year’s Spoonbill rush, another put in a brief appearance, sharing the shoreline with two Great Egrets at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 15th.
And yes, they made it – Cattle Egrets hit double figures – a new Northamptonshire record count for the species was made at the Stanwick roost, where at least ten were present, early in the morning on 23rd. Numbers here varied daily throughout the period but up to five visited nearby Ditchford/Irthlingborough between 12th and 15th.
Great Egrets remained well-scattered over seven sites, with Pitsford producing the maximum count of five on 17th and 22nd.
Just three raptors during the period included an Osprey over Ditchford/IL&M on 19th, a ‘ringtail’ harrier sp., believed to be a Hen Harrier, at Lilbourne Meadows LNR on 13th and a Marsh Harrier at Stanwick, intermittently throughout. The latter sported red wing-tags, enabling it to be identified as a young female from a brood of four (one female, three males) raised at Thorpe Marshes, near Beccles, Suffolk. This is the first sighting since it was tagged on 7th June 2020.
Waders bounced back a little, with two Ruffs at Pitsford on 22nd and one at Stanwick on 25th and the star of the wader movement so far this autumn, a juvenile Little Stint, at Hollowell between 18th and 20th. In fact, it’s likely to be the only one in the county in 2020 …
A juvenile Wood Sandpiper dropped into Summer Leys late on 22nd, remaining until the following morning, while single Greenshanks visited Pitsford on 12th, Naseby Res on 15th and two were at Earls Barton GP on 16th.
No new species were added to the gull list when compared with the last period. Single first-winter Mediterranean Gulls visited Summer Leys on 19th and Stanwick on 21st, where an adult Caspian Gull was found on 18th. It, or another, had been at nearby Ditchford GP/IL&M on 13th. Meanwhile, Yellow-legged Gulls were to be had at Earls Barton, Pitsford, Stanwick and Thrapston, with Stanwick producing the highest total of seven on 18th. One more Merlin appeared during the period, this time at Harrington AF on 19th.
Meanwhile, the Stanford Ringing Group was on a roll, trapping its second Wryneck of the autumn on 14th, followed by a Yellow-browed Warbler on 22nd. The latter was the 6th trapped and ringed by the group and is only the 15th Northants record. The SRG’s amazing run continues, with more autumn glory to come, no doubt – and we’re not talking evergreen shrubs here …
Normally associated with late autumn, the third Black Redstart of the season was found on 20th, obligingly remaining in place until 22nd, at the easily accessible location of Borough Hill. The latter locality also produced Common Redstarts on 15th and 20th, while one was at Stanford on 12th and two remained at Harrington AF between 13th and 17th.
Just four Whinchats were found as we approached closer toward the end of September. These included singles at Braunston on 13th, Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering) on 14th, Borough Hill on 20th and Corby on 21st-22nd, while the number of Stonechats ramped up, with records from Borough Hill, Clifford Hill GP, Corby, Geddington, Harrington, Hollowell and Twywell Hills & Dales, including a maximum of at least nine at Borough Hill on 20th.
Northern Wheatear numbers fell to only four individuals: one trapped and ringed at Stanford on 12th, a different bird there on 14th and singles at both Borough Hill and Harrington on 21st.
Which leaves only Crossbills, albeit in smaller numbers than in previous weeks, with Wakerley Great Wood holding six on 14th and two on 19th.
In fact, there was little change afoot across the board, including the almost inert Pink-footed Goose and the female Ruddy Shelduck, now part of the fixtures and fittings in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area, where they were still present on 9th. Apart from this dodgy duo, a female Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res from 7th to 10th was the only other wildfowl of note.
Following previous recent occurrences, another Spoonbill was reported during the week, this one flying west over Billing Garden Centre, adjacent to Billing GP, early doors on 8th. It was not relocated. Encouragingly, Cattle Egret numbers jumped to a record nine roosting at Stanwick GP on 9th and 11th, five of which were seen below nearby Irthlingborough Church on the first of these two dates. Just one more gets us to double-figures … Fairly well nailed-down and with no more than three at any one location, Great Egrets maintained a presence at Hollowell, Pitsford and Summer Leys throughout and one flew over Oundle on 10th.
Meanwhile, Shags hung on at two localities, although their numbers dwindled further with the death of one of the Stanford two on 7th, the other remaining until 11th. At Pitsford, three birds appeared to have decreased to one by 8th, after which there were no further reports from the site.
On the raptor front, Ospreys were seen at both Thrapston GP and Stanford on 5th and one – a juvenile – was seen flying over the Brampton Valley below Brixworth the following day, while 11th saw Marsh Harriers at both Stanford and Stanwick.
Waders were, again, seemingly on the wane, with two Ruffs briefly at Earls Barton GP on 6th, a juvenile at Clifford Hill GP on 7th and two juveniles at Hollowell Res on 8th. A Greenshank visited Ditchford GP on 8th and up to three were at Earls Barton GP from 8th to 10th – a pretty poor show for a species that used to be a common autumn migrant.
There was also little change regarding gulls this week, with three first-winter Mediterranean Gulls at Daventry CP on 7th and an adult at Welford Res the following day, while a juvenile Caspian Gull appeared in the roost at Boddington Res on 7th and an adult visited Stanwick GP on 9th. Yellow-legged Gull numbers were down on last week – back into single figures, in fact – the highest number at any of this week’s seven localities being eight at Stanwick on 9th. Elsewhere, five were in the roost at Boddington on 7th, up to three were at Pitsford throughout the period and the same number at DIRFT 3 on 5th, while singles visited Thrapston GP on 5th, Daventry on 7th and Ringstead GP on 11th.
The male Merlin in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, was seen again on 10th and a female/juvenile visited Stanford on 9th.
Passerine passage continued unabated, which brings us neatly to ‘bird of the week’ – at least for a privileged, though well deserved, few – a juvenile Marsh Warbler trapped and ringed by the hard-working ringing group at Stanford on 10th. This represents only the 6th record for the county, three of which have been in the last three years. The smart money will be on the group trapping a monster rare as autumn further unfolds over the next few weeks …
The SRG also trapped and ringed five Common Redstarts on the same date, while the highest single locality day-count this week was six at Harrington AF on 5th, with up to four remaining there until 9th. Elsewhere, two remained between Walgrave and Old on 6th and singles were found between Shutlanger and Stoke Bruerne on 9th and at Preston Deanery the following day.
Back at Stanford, three Whinchats were present on 5th, one of which was trapped and ringed, representing only the fifth ever to be ringed there. Elsewhere, up to two were in the Brampton Valley between 8th and 10th and singles were found near Glapthorn Cow Pasture on 5th, at Chelveston AF on 6th and at Harrington AF on 9th.
A single Stonechat was in the Brampton Valley on 10th. With records from five localities, Northern Wheatear numbers were up on last week, although all reports were of singles, apart from two at Borough Hill on 7th. One was at Stanford from 6th to 11th, another at Harrington between 6th and 9th, one visited Pitsford on 6th and another was found at Harpole on the same date.
The early autumn has so far proven generous with Tree Pipits, three more of which were seen this week, including singles over Higham Ferrers and at Chelveston on 6th and over Harrington the following day. Just when we thought Crossbill numbers were dwindling, they bounced back, with the northern woodlands producing the highest numbers of the year so far. These included around forty at the much favour’d locality of Wakerley Great Wood on 7th and thirty-two at nearby Fineshade Wood on 10th. Elsewhere, ten flew over Newnham on 9th and three were over Kettering on 10th.
With the Stanford Ringing Group going full pelt this autumn, it was odds on that, after the Wryneck trapped and ringed recently, something else high calibre would find its way into the ringers’ nets sooner or later. In this case, it was sooner, as a juvenile Marsh Warbler was processed there this morning after being trapped near the feeding station at 10.00.
It had a wing of 68mm which is 2-3mm longer than average Reed and a notch which is measured on P2, which fell at 9mm, which is short for a Reed Warbler. It also had a bill to feathers measurement of 12mm which is shorter than Reed with it being wider at the base too indicates Marsh (SRG).
Many thanks to Chris Hubbard for the above images and to Theo from the SRG for information.
This is the 6th record for Northamptonshire and the third in the last three years, with Stanford remaining a firm favourite for occurrences (see here and here).
It’s not quite mid-September and it’s really quite frightening to think what lies ahead for the group during the next eight weeks! Said recently to be a bumper year for them in Finland, Red-flanked Bluetail, perhaps …
Winds took on a northerly vector for the first half of the period, before moving round to deliver milder south-westerlies off the Atlantic. This appeared to have little effect on migrants, of which there were many, although Shags still dominated the news this week.
Both the Pink-footed Goose and the female Ruddy Shelduck continued to put in sporadic appearances at Hollowell Res, the latter site producing a new Garganey on 4th. Elsewhere, single Garganeys were at Pitsford Res on 29th and 3rd, Clifford Hill GP on 31st and at Summer Leys LNR the following day.
Having recently acquired a reputation for appearing at any time of the year, an example of the former winter visitor, going by the Norfolk name of ‘Brown Harnser’ – more commonly known as Bittern – was seen on the scrape at Summer Leys on 2nd, before melting away again. It’s anyone’s guess if this is a new bird or the individual which was present there in the spring, or even the one that has occasionally put in appearances further down the valley at Stanwick GP. The latter site maintained its exclusivity for hosting Cattle Egrets, which were seen there daily, with a maximum of six on 29th. Stanwick, along with Hollowell, also produced the week’s maximum site count of three Great Egrets, while up to two were seen at both Pitsford and Summer Leys throughout and one visited Thorpe Malsor Res on 1st.
Another week, another Shag. The juvenile which roosted at Stanford Res on 29th was joined by another on 31st, both birds remaining until the week’s end, while the mobile Pitsford trio joined forces mid-week, residing on the causeway and obligingly allowing close approach for anyone willing to chance his, or her, arm with a camera.
Raptors this week were at a low ebb, with just two sites producing Ospreys. An adult flew south-east over Moulton Grange Bay at Pitsford on 3rd and it, or another, was seen north of the causeway there some four hours later. The following day, another was fishing at Hollowell before flying off east. Conceivably, all sightings could relate to just one individual.
Waders, too, were poorly represented during the period but then local wetland mud is at a premium this year. Two Bar-tailed Godwits – unusual in autumn – flew west over the dam at Stanford on 29th, while the same date produced a Greenshank at Stanwick, followed by further singles at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 30th and Summer Leys on 1st.
Gulls, however, were on a par with last week, with juvenile Mediterranean Gulls at Daventry CP on 29th and at Pitsford the following day, while the latter site produced an adult on 3rd. Caspian Gulls appeared at three localities, DIRFT 3 industrial development hosting a second-winter on 1st, Hollowell producing a second-summer on 3rd and Daventry delivering a juvenile the next day. This, then, just leaves Yellow-legged Gull, a species well represented during the period with, aside from the two or three fixtures at Pitsford, higher counts than we have seen of late. Priors Hall Quarry at Corby amassed approximately thirty-five on 30th, the same date on which Ringstead GP saw a gathering of fourteen on Kinewell Lake. Nearby Stanwick held twenty-one on 2nd and nine on 3rd, with the latter date producing two at DIRFT 3 and a single adult at Hollowell. Making in onto the list for the second week running, a juvenile Black Tern visited Pitsford on the evening of 3rd.
Two species out on a limb, insomuch as they were a tad earlier than is usual, were a Short-eared Owl at Harrington AF from 29th to 1st and a male Merlin in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, on 3rd.
In another busy week for passerines, Pied Flycatchers were reported from Braunston on 31st and Lamport on 1st, while Common Redstarts maintained a strong presence in what is likely to go down as the best autumn on record for this species.
Once again, the Stanford Ringing Group was on to a good thing, with seven trapped and ringed during the period, while ringers at Harrington trapped and ringed two on 1st after three or four had been present there the previous day. Elsewhere, at least three were still between Walgrave and Old on 31st, three were at Lamport on 2nd and between one and two were seen during the week at Ashby St Ledgers, Borough Hill, Fawsley Park, Priors Hall and Twywell Hills & Dales. In an about-turn from last week, Whinchat numbers were up, with four at both Stanford Res and in the Brampton Valley on 31st and singles at Stanwick on 29th and 31st, Ditchford on 30th, Hollowell on 31st, 1st and 3rd, Borough Hill on 31st, Clifford Hill GP on 2nd, Bozeat GP on 3rd and Preston Deanery on 4th. By contrast, Northern Wheatears proved to be scarce, with singles at Hollowell Res on 31st and Stanford Res on 4th.
Still moving through, a Tree Pipit was trapped and ringed at Harrington on 1st and singles were seen in flight over Hanging Houghton on 2nd and Brackley on 4th, while back in the limelight – to a certain extent – at least fifteen Crossbills were still in Bucknell Wood on 2nd and four flew west over Harrington the following day.
The end of the last period very much set the scene for this week’s seriously autumnal weather as Storm Francis lashed the UK with south-westerly gusts reaching almost 80 mph on 25th. Loosely associated with this was a small influx of Shags, while the week’s headline bird, a Wryneck, was trapped and ringed in the north of the county.
Against the backcloth of building wildfowl numbers, there was no change to last week’s species mix, with all the established ‘favourites’ still in situ. These included the Pink-footed Goose at Hollowell Res on 22nd and the female Ruddy Shelduck at the same site on 26th, at least one Garganey at Pitsford Res from 22nd to 24th and a new one at Summer Leys LNR on 26th. A female Red-crested Pochard visited Stanford Res on 22nd, while two drakes and a female remained at Pitsford between 24th and 26th.
Albeit late in the season, a male Quail was heard singing from an Oat field in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton, on 27th. For anyone who’s missed out this year, it’s a long wait until next spring … Meanwhile, down in the Nene Valley, up to three Cattle Egrets were still to be found at Stanwick GP between 23rd and 27th. Stanwick was also one of four sites to produce Great Egrets this week, with up to two present throughout the period, while Pitsford and Summer Leys produced three apiece and one was found at the lake in the extensive grounds of Boughton House, Geddington, on 24th.
However, the species very much in the spotlight this week was Shag, a localised, Midlands influx of which delivered one to Pitsford on 22nd, followed by four there on 23rd and seven on 24th, from when numbers dropped to three on 26th and two on 27th-28th. One also roosted on the dam at Stanford on 27th, remaining there the following day. All birds were juveniles.
Having become less than annual in Northants over the past decade, these birds became a popular draw, usually allowing a close approach. While seven may initially appear to be a high number for one site, at least eleven were at Pitsford on 31st October 1996 and six were present there in January 2005. These numbers almost pale into insignificance, though, when as part of the current influx, Draycote Res in Warwickshire accumulated twenty-six on 27th and Rutland Water, Leicestershire held twenty-four on 26th. The sole record in 2019 was of one sickly individual picked up and taken into care at Weedon on 20th August but prior to that the last was one at Stanwick GP in August-September 2016.
Propping up this week’s raptor stand, Ospreys were found at six sites, which included last week’s juvenile still at Fawsley Park Lake on 22nd, and singles flying south over Sywell and at Geddington on 24th, Pitsford on 24th and 27th, Stanford on 26th-27th and over the Brampton Valley on 27th. Pitsford also produced a Marsh Harrier on 24th.
Given the high fill levels of just about all our local bodies of water, waders were, unsurprisingly, few and far between. This week’s ‘haul’ was painfully limited, with one Whimbrel flying south over Harrington AF on 26th, two Black-tailed Godwits at Clifford Hill GP on 24th, a juvenile Knot very briefly at Hollowell on 25th and nine equally ephemeral birds flying along the dam at Pitsford on 27th.
A Ruff remained at Summer Leys from 22nd until 26th and two visited Clifford Hill GP on 24th, while three Greenshanks were also at Summer Leys on 22nd, dwindling to just one on 26th and one was still on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 24th.
Gulls and terns were well represented this week, kicking off on day one with a first-winter Mediterranean Gull joining a mass of gulls following a plough east of Denton on 22nd. Two juveniles were then seen at Pitsford the next day. Pitsford also retained last week’s juvenile Caspian Gull, which was seen on 22nd and 25th and another juvenile joined twenty-two Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick on 27th. Up to four Yellow-legs were on show at Pitsford throughout the week, although ten were present there on 24th.
Pitsford’s run of prime birds continued with a juvenile Arctic Tern present from 22nd to 24th and a Sandwich Tern briefly on 23rd, while back in the Nene Valley, a juvenile Black Tern visited Summer Leys on 22nd.
The 27th turned out to be a phenomenal day for local ringers, with the Stanford Ringing Group processing an astonishing 639 birds, which included the week’s star, a gorgeous Wryneck. To be able to admire this intricately patterned bird at point-blank range was clearly just reward for the group’s hard work throughout the day at Stanford.
With 13 years out of the last 20 producing records, Wryneck is on a par with Shag when it comes down to frequency of occurrence and number of records. Unlike that species, however, many individuals are surely overlooked …
Part of the above ringing haul included eight Common Redstarts and this species was again numerous with, in addition to the above, numbers between one and three at Brampton Valley, Borough Hill, Harrington AF, Lamport, Pitsford Res and Twywell Hills & Dales, while up to five were seen in the Old/Walgrave area.
By contrast, Whinchat numbers fell again with up to two at Stanford between 22nd and 24th and one at Stanwick on 23rd. Northern Wheatears proved to be a little more numerous, with singles at Chelveston AF on 22nd, Collingtree, Little Brington, Old and Stanwick on 23rd, Pitsford on 25th-26th and Lamport on 27th, while two visited Clifford Hill on 23rd and up to two were at Stanford between 25th and 27th.
Tree Pipits were very much in evidence this week, with Harrington AF producing between twelve and fifteen on 27th, six of which were trapped and ringed. Part of a widely noted national movement, this is the highest count for any site in Northants since the species last bred here.
One was also trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 23rd and another was seen in flight there on the ‘big day’ of 27th. Elsewhere, singles flew south at Irchester on 24th and Pitsford on 26th, when a single Crossbill flew south over the same site.