To the tundra

I found a flock of thirteen Ringed Plovers (with five Dunlin and a Little Ringed Plover thrown in for good measure) at Hollowell Reservoir this afternoon. The Ringed Plovers all seemed to be Tundra Ringed Plovers appearing relatively small and neat with quite dark mantles and, for those in the vicinity, only a ‘half size up’ from the Little Ringed Plover. But look at the contrast between the two birds pictured here. One is clearly

Presumed Tundra Ringed Plover, Hollowell Res, 30 May 2011 (Mike Alibone)

a male (black ear coverts, apparently wholly black breast band and sharp demarcation between the orange bill base and the black tip) and the other presumably is a female,

Presumed Tundra Ringed Plover, Hollowell Res, 30th May 2011 (Mike Alibone)

with dull brownish ear coverts and a narrower breast band as well as a narrower black band on the forehead. Unlike nominate race hiaticula Ringed Plovers, tundrae undergoes a late winter moult to summer plumage and so should always appear fresh in spring. I always get the impression that the breast band on tundrae is perhaps slightly narrower and more even in width than that on hiaticula but that’s just a personal perception – I haven’t seen it in the literature and I could be wrong. The two races intergrade and individuals with intermediate morphometrics and moult patterns have been recorded. To make matters worse, tundrae becomes larger again, further east in Siberia. Ringed Plovers are anything but simple!

All you ever wanted to know about optics … and more

Just back from three great days in Wetzlar, Germany, with Carl Zeiss. No birds. Just optics. A very informative two-day seminar and factory tour which really brought home the reasons why top tier optics cost what they do. Expensive? Relatively speaking, they’re not. Find out why here. To Suzanne Challinor (Cley Spy), Richard Caplan (Richard Caplan), Ryan Longley (Focalpoint Optics), Tim Strivens (Viking Optical), Richard Cross (London Camera Exchange) and Paul Longley, Gary Hawkins and Walter Schwab (Zeiss) – a big thank you for being such good company over the last couple of days!

Slavonian stunner

A Slavonian Grebe in full summer plumage was found this afternoon on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton Gravel Pits by Robin and Wendy Gossage. This species averages around two records per year in Northants – normally in the winter months – and individuals in summer plumage are extremely rare in the County. In fact this is the latest spring record ever and the first in May since 1974, when a pair visited Billing GP on 1st May. Thanks again to Bob Bullock for the excellent photo below. 

Slavonian Grebe, Earls Barton GP, 22nd May 2011 (Bob Bullock)

… and now Black Kite!

While working in Rutland on Thursday, 12th May, Tom Lowe ‘videoscoped’ this Black Kite after it had drifted over him, high SSE, and crossed the River Welland into Northamptonshire between Collyweston and Easton-on-the-Hill. His videograb composite, below, leaves no doubts on the ID with perfect structure and the 6-fingered primaries

Black Kite, Collyweston/Easton-on-the-Hill, 12th May 2011 (Tom Lowe)

visible in the the top right and bottom left photos. This will be only the third record of Black Kite for Northants, the previous two were of singles near Long Buckby on 2nd May 1995 and at Summer Leys LNR on 7th May 2007, so May appears to be ‘the’ month. There have been a handful of previous reports but these have either been unaccepted or have related to escapes. Well done, Tom!

Black Stork at Weedon

A phone call to Frank Smith from an excited farmer who was uncertain of the identity of a ‘large stork or ibis’ on his land at Weedon sent Frank over to investigate – and this was the

Black Stork, Weedon, 14th May 2011 (Bob Bullock)

result! A fantastic adult Black Stork, only the second record for Northamptonshire, after the first at Barnwell on 27th-28th July 1990. The swift release of the news allowed local (and some not so local) birders catch up with a long awaited Northamptonshire tick! ‘Unblocked’, I think is the term.

Black Stork, Weedon, 14th May 2011 (Bob Bullock)

The bird, present for 4 hours by the River Nene, just off the Upper Weedon-Dodford Road (see Latest Reports for directions), flew west at 16.45 but was later relocated about 1 km to the west, at the end of a rape field at around 18.45. It then took flight again towards some more ponds about 2 km further west.

 Thanks to Bob Bullock for use of his photos and to the farmer for initially alerting Frank.

From the mist nets of Stanford

Today I spent the morning at Stanford Reservoir with John Cranfield and the Stanford Ringing Group – what a great bunch! This band (if you excuse the American pun), active at Stanford since 1976, ring up to 4,000 birds annually with one of their goals being the introduction of people to bird ringing, training them and enabling them to gain a bird ringing licence. They also undertake a program of site maintenance (scrub management and clearance) during the winter months in conjunction with Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust.

The busiest months are July/August, when the area is flooded with locally-bred juvenile birds; at this time 150-180 birds trapped per day is not unusual. Today was quiet with only around 35 birds trapped, many of which were retraps of birds previously ringed at the site. Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats predominated but we also trapped this first-summer Lesser Whitethroat, aged by the absence of a white tip

Lesser Whitethroat, Stanford Res, 14th May 2011 (Mike Alibone)

to the penultimate outer tail feathers, further supported by the reduced amount of white in the outer tail feathers. A cracking little bird and a great example of putting birds under the spotlight to allow in-hand examination to reveal ID and ageing features not normally

Lesser Whitethroat – tail pattern first-summer (Mike Alibone)

visible in the field. With the increasing interest in ageing and sexing individual birds in the field, along with the tendency to ‘split’ races, feather-by-feather scrutiny of all birds is now at its highest level, with trapping and ringing playing an important role in the process of confirming and establishing ID criteria.

But let’s not forget the original purpose of ringing, which is to produce information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds, to enable an understanding of population dynamics and, ultimately, to help with conservation initiatives for species under threat. An amazing statistic involves a Common Whitethroat retrapped at Stanford on 21st April; originally ringed on 24th July 2004, it is 95 days short of the European longevity record for this species which is also held at Stanford. This also means that this individual must have crossed theSahara at least 15 times!  The Stanford Ringing Group have also trapped their fair share of County rarities, including, Hoopoe, Red-backed Shrike, Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, ‘SiberianChiffchaff and ‘NorthernWillow Warbler. So watch this space …

Wood Warbler

Publishing this rather nice photo by Bob Bullock of the singing male Wood Warbler, present for its third day today at South Wood near Corby, seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. Wood Warbler is a scarce spring passage migrant in Northants with between two and four records annually. There are a handful of autumn records and the species has occasionally bred.

Wood Warbler, South Wood, Corby, 9th May 2011 (Bob Bullock)

The ‘Nordic’ effect

Arriving at Summer Leys’ Screen Hide on Sunday, 8th May, morning, Bob Bullock and I were confronted by this Jackdaw, clearly one of a pair, both of which were gathering food.

Jackdaw, Summer Leys, 8th May 2011 (Bob Bullock)

It clearly exhibits a silvery collar on the side of the neck – a variable feature associated with ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw, the nominate race, monedula, which breeds in southern Scandinavia and is a scarce, though regular, UK winter visitor. In all other respects it is, however, just a ‘Western’ Jackdaw, lacking the greyer underparts and contrasting black throat of ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw. Compare it with a typical ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw, photographed also

'Nordic' Jackdaw, Hayle, Cornwall, 12th April 2008 (Bob Bullock)

by Bob, at Hayle, Cornwall in April 2008. Our British and western European Jackdaws (spermologus) have been known to interbreed with ‘Nordic’ Jackdaws in eastern Europe so is it a ‘Western’ Jackdaw with Nordic genes or just a ‘Western’ Jackdaw with notable feather wear?

It’s raining waders!

Let’s face it, 1st May 2011 provided a great start to the new birding month – if you were at Summer Leys, that is. At 6.35 AM a Spoonbill flew west but was seen only by local photographer, Ben Harrold, who has very kindly agreed to my using one of his splendid flight shots here. Arriving at 6.40, as I did, I was clearly too late for the Spoonbill but from

First-summer Spoonbill, Summer Leys (Ben Harrold)

Pioneer Hide I shortly located a stint feeding among the sparse vegetation on the recently exposed mud of the scrape. Against the bright, early morning sunlight it appeared dark-legged, grey and looked for all the world like a winter-plumaged Little Stint but its crouching gait and creeping feeding action had subconsciously sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of some of the observers in the hide and should have set alarm bells ringing. Viewing conditions from the Paul Britten Hide were far better in terms of lighting, however, and it became immediately obvious that this was actually a Temminck’s Stint, sporting dull, olive-green legs and the rather drab, subdued upperparts characteristic of this species in summer.  The stint soon transfered to ‘the slips’, where it was joined briefly by a Turnstone in almost full summer plumage, a Greenshank and, a few moments later, by 20 Siberian Bar-tailed Godwits, which came in low over the reserve from the south-west before dropping in for an hour or so, allowing the assembled birders to appreciate the variation in size, bill length and plumage. The slightly larger, longer-billed females, which rarely approach the males in terms of rufous-chestnut summer plumage, were readily apparent and one in particular almost towered above nearby males,

Siberian Bar-tailed Godwits on 'the slips' (Mike Alibone)

with the difference in bill length being clearly evident. All the Bar-tailed Godwits passing through Northants at this time are of the Siberian race taymyrensis, which winters in equatorial west Africa, leaving there in late April to undertake the approximately 7000 km flight to breeding grounds far to the north-east. Satellite telemetry has proven this species capable of undertaking long, non-stop flights which cover around 1000 km per day. The record is held by a female, which flew non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand – a distance of 11,400 km – in just 11 days. Amazing to think that just three days previously, these 20 birds would have been in Mauretania, Guinea-Bissau – or somewhere in between – before their appearance at Summer Leys!