Flava of the month?

This autumn has been particularly good for Yellow Wagtail passage with double-figure counts from a number of localities, the best of which to date is a count by Simon Towers of 30+ on the old cricket pitch at Yelvertoft on 17th September. Good numbers have also been regularly present at Hollowell Reservoir and they are relatively easy to see on the recently mown, extensive grassy area and nearby shoreline around the Guilsborough Bay ‘point’. At least six were present today, including this rather striking first-winter, which was also present in the same area yesterday.

Unlike the others, which included a mix of adults and ‘diluted colour’ juveniles well into first-winter plumage and an apparently unmoulted ‘brown’ juvenile – the latter well late for this time of year), this individual was much more strongly coloured with a grey head, contrasting bright white throat and broad, flicked-up supercilium. The median coverts, greater coverts and tertials were all new post-juvenile first-winter feathers with clean, broad white fringes contrasting with dark centres. None of the other first-winters approached this rather boldly marked and contrasty individual, which was always easy to locate within the small group.

This bird is a good candidate for first-winter Blue-headed Wagtail (flava) but I believe its plumage probably falls within the range of that of British Yellow Wagtail (flavissima) – despite most of these normally being a rather ‘washed out’ grey with less obvious supercilia. And then there’s the problem of the occurrence of racial hybrids … Whether flava or flavissima it’s a nice bird to see and I would welcome thoughts and comments on its possible racial identity.

Reed Warbler defies the odds!

In the world of birds almost anything is possible, including the well nigh impossible. Chance and fate are frequently major players in the provision of a never ending stream of surprises when it comes to discovering birds in places where – and when – you would least expect them.
On Sunday 14th August John Woolett and his ringing group trapped and ringed a number of birds, including a Reed Warbler, at their regular ringing site, Stortons Gravel Pits, Northampton.

Nearly a month later, on 9th September, while ringing birds at St Andre, Portugal, John retrapped the very same Reed Warbler he had ringed at Stortons on 14th August. How amazing is that?! Same ringer, same bird, different country. What are the odds of this happening? I don’t know but I’ll be getting John to pick my lottery numbers from now on …

John Woolett with Reed Warbler (Lucy Ryan)

Secrets of a Peregrine’s Lair

In recent years Peregrines have habitually used the 418-foot National Lift Tower (formerly Express Lifts Tower) in Northampton to roost and to hunt from. Some 4-5 years ago a pair – which included an immature female – took up almost permanent residence and it seemed likely they would ultimately breed. However, around two years ago there was considerable prolonged disturbance at the top (the tower is now used for abseiling) and these birds now visit the tower only intermittently and they have been seen there far less frequently in the recent past. 

Earlier this month, John Boland visited the tower and found evidence of its recent use by Peregrines, as his photos below quite clearly show. All these carcasses are recent as the microwave antenna they use as a feeding platform gets cleaned on a regular basis.

Peregrine prey items (John Boland)

Visibly identifiable remains include a duck and Green Woodpecker but the identification of the remains of the other bird which, John says, is not quite pigeon-sized and is brown with a light-coloured bill, is unresolved. It is assumed that the good collection of small pebbles have come from the birds’ crops.

Peregrine prey ptems (John Boland)

The view from the top of the tower is quite impressive, with the Stortons Gravel Pits complex clearly visible in the foreground.

Stortons Gravel Pits from National Lift Tower (John Boland)

 All photos: John Boland

Shag at Pitsford

Yesterday, in the early evening murk, Neil McMahon found a juvenile Shag on the valve tower off the dam at Pitsford Reservoir. This is, so far, the only record in Northants this year. Shag is virtually an annual visitor to the County. The vast majority are juveniles and most occur during autumn and winter. Sometimes there are multiple arrivals and ten at Pitsford in autumn 1996 was noteworthy. In the last two weeks Shags have also visited Oxfordshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. Probably the most ‘famous’ Shag in recent years was the long-staying and approachable individual at the unlikely location of Abington Park Lake, Northampton, between December 2006 and February 2007. The Pitsford bird was still present this morning. Here is the best of a bad bunch of photos I took in poor light at around 07.30.

Juvenile Shag, Pitsford Res, 21st September 2011 (Mike Alibone)

Portrait of a Pec

The juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, present at Pitsford Reservoir for the last week, was showing well at the bottom of the old road, close to Maytrees Hide and the feeding station this afternoon. Although this species is the commonest American (or Siberian) ‘vagrant’ (actually it’s just a scare passage migrant) to our shores, this one is easy to see and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet. Pectoral Sandpipers are now annual visitors to Northants and, since the first one in 1940, there have been more than 40 records. At 36, Bob Bullock holds the record for the person to see the highest number of individuals of this species in the County – 36 birds, that is, not Bob – he’s a lot older than that!

When not feeding out in the open, Pectoral Sandpipers often like to hide – either amongst emergent vegetation, old tree stumps or general littoral debris. On this occasion this bird chose to hunker down in the crumbling edges of the old road, which disappears into the reservoir near the feeding station and emerges again on the opposite bank, near the mouth of the Walgrave Bay. I managed to get a few photos.

Looking around …

Decides to go …

Makes a run for it …

The Egret has landed … not

An early morning visit to Daventry Country Park paid off for Allan Maybury when he picked up this Great White Egret dropping in at around 07.30. However, a considerable number of gulls took umbrage and made this bird feel most unwelcome at the site, causing it to think twice about landing and, ultimately, it headed off west.

Great White Egret, Daventry CP, 1st September 2011 (Allan Maybury)

Since the first County record at Stanford Reservoir in July 1992, there have been at least ten subsequent records, including three together in October 2002, as the breeding population of this species has increased on the near continent. Great White Egret has also started to winter regularly in the UK and the last two winters have seen long staying individuals at Pitsford Reservoir. Two arrived together there on 10th October last year, with one staying into the New Year. Can we look forward to more this winter?