Pitsford causeway provided the stage for a brief, early afternoon performance by a species not seen in Northants since October 2000! Twite – that unassuming upland counterpart of our more familiar Linnet, more uniformly coloured, less white in the wing, rich buff throat, a barely discernible pink rump and, the bit which gives it its scientific name, flavirostris, in winter, a yellow bill. Most of these features are nicely illustrated in finder Adrian Borley’s image below. In fact it doesn’t seem so very long ago that I was walking around Pitsford Reservoir counting them. Nowadays you’d be incredibly lucky to find one in Northants, although until the early 1990s they were recorded annually in small numbers as scarce winter visitors and the ‘big side’ at Pitsford was definitely the place to find them. Cycle-tracks, ice cream vans and gaudily-clad Joe Public were, of course, things of the future. ‘Progress’ not withstanding, where are they now and why don’t we get them any more?
Traditionally, Twite has occurred in Northants in late autumn, with November being a prime month for arrivals and a build up to wintering. However, since the last few records of odd ones and twos in autumn, Twite in Northamptonshire has assumed vagrant status. I put the graph below together (for the Northamptonshire Bird Club Newsletter in 2003) to illustrate just how many were found in the early to mid-1970s, most of which were long-staying, wintering birds (figures from the Northamptonshire Bird Report 1969-2001). Indeed, it was possible to locate a wintering flock in excess of 40 individuals at Pitsford on some occasions. The UK Twite population has declined considerably with an estimate of only 9,950 pairs in 1999 (Langston et al) with around 100 of these in England. Here it is believed the decline has resulted from decreased breeding success associated with changes in feeding area habitat from hay meadows to silage production, resulting in less available food and fewer second broods (LBAP, 2001).
Langston, R.H.W., Smith, T., Brown, A.F. & Gregory, R.D. The Status of Twite Carduelis flavirostris in theUK in 1999.
LBAP. 2001Lancashire’s Biodiversity Action Plan. www.lbap.org.uk/HTML/Species/Twite.htm