Ha! Having said the Clifford Hill Black-necked Grebe looks like it might be a moulting adult, I had closer views in better light late this afternoon and clearly I was wrong. It’s a juvenile with a considerable brown suffusion to the upperparts and neck, the latter with a faded, almost broken front. Just goes to show that photographs can be deceptive with regard to assessing true colour tones and extent!
Last Friday evening, Dave James and I found a Black-necked Grebe on the main barrage lake at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits and it is still present there today. This appears to be the only one to have been recorded in the County so far this year. We can normally expect up to half a dozen records annually, with Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Reservoir being the place to find one as, in recent years, it has consistently produced one or two from late August into September.
The solid black crown and intensively dark fore-neck suggest this one is an adult in moult to winter plumage. Compare this with the full summer plumaged adult at Pitsford last August. Thanks are due to Jonathan Philpot, who appears to have managed a much closer approach to obtain images than I have been able to!
The decline of the Turtle Dove as a summer visitor to Britain has been well documented and it is believed to be at real risk of disappearing as a breeding species here within the decade. This is mirrored in Northamptonshire, where it has been recorded at only eight sites this year compared with thirty-six just ten years ago. Many of the records refer only to migrants and falling squarely into this category is this one at Stortons Gravel Pits yesterday morning.
Doug McFarlane managed to capture a few images before it was flushed by a dog-walker and not subsequently relocated. This individual is a smart adult. Let’s hope they don’t ‘turn turtle’ and disappear as a breeding bird altogether. For the latest news see www.operationturtledove.org
While some of us were sweltering under canvas at Birdfair others were out in the field, finding good birds. Harrington Airfield was clearly the place to be as, at 08.30, Neil Underwood had a Marsh Harrier between the concrete track and the conifer belt. We’ve now had several in the County this autumn and no doubt there will be more to come. Later in the day, at around 17.15, however, Jonathan Philpot was lucky enough to discover a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier hunting over the fields between the concrete track and the first bunker.
Despite the rather pale underparts, lacking ochre tones, and the reasonably well-marked secondaries, I’m guessing it is probably a juvenile as its primaries are not strongly barred and, from above the secondaries are solidly dark, the primaries are paler but unbarred and there are pale fringes to the primary and secondary coverts.
Whatever its age, it’s a nice bird!
While scanning through the assembled Black-headed Gulls at Summer Leys late this afternoon I came across this smart juvenile Mediterranean Gull.
It has already begun its moult to first-winter plumage with most of the scapulars and many mantle feathers now light grey but it has not yet developed the dark mask of a full first-winter. In this respect it’s a very distinctive bird compared to the accompanying Black-headed Gulls, lacking the latter’s well defined, isolated dark ear covert spot but already showing white ‘eye-lids’, a much heavier, dark, blunt-ended, slightly drooping bill and dark legs.
So far this autumn there have been two juveniles at Stanwick GP on 28th July, and singles at Pitsford Res on 1st, 2nd and 12th August. Hopefully we can look forward to more arriving over the next few weeks …
The last Cuckoo to be recorded in Northants in 2011 was on 26th August at Earls Barton GP – perhaps the individual below, which was photographed there on 14th August. Compare this rufous morph juvenile with yesterday’s grey morph at Crick. The white tips to the scapulars, wing coverts and tertials, along with the barred rump, rule out the rare ‘hepatic’ morph adult female.
Thanks to Clive Bowley for supplying the image.
This juvenile Cuckoo was present yesterday and again today at Foxholes Fisheries, near Crick, where it spent some time feeding from a fence post. It is a grey morph individual – many are also rufous, resembling the so called ‘hepatic’ form of adult females – and shows the white nape-spot characteristic of juveniles.
According to the BTO, Cuckoos have declined by 63% in England over the past 25 years and the now famous BTO satellite-tracking project has revealed that adult Cuckoos can leave the UK as early as the first week in June and be back in Africa by July. Juveniles are obviously later leaving but you won’t see many around from now on. There is a wide variation in the dates for recording the last ones in Northamptonshire, year on year. The latest record during the history of the Northamptonshire Bird Report (since 1969) was of a very late individual at Kettering on 17th October 1972 in contrast to the last one in 2010, at Earls Barton GP, on 4th July! There appear to be few local photos of Cuckoos and thanks are due to Joan Chaplin for supplying the images above.
… except this! I was lucky enough to be at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits when this Scared Ibis dropped in at about 19.20 last night. Dave James, a few hundred metres away from me, picked it up first on the north bank of the main lake. It appeared unringed.
An escape or a wanderer from the French feral population, which numbers more than 600 pairs – a huge reduction from the several thousand birds present a few years ago. In France they are treated as a pest and a conservation concern as they are danger to other birds which are predated. There has been a culling program underway for the past few years.