Spotlight on Sixfields Waxwings

After a small flock of up to eleven Waxwings was discovered visiting the Rowan trees in the car park at Homebase, Sixfields from 14th to 16th, another fourteen were found at nearby Sixfields Lake on the latter date and at least ten were still present there yesterday. Today, twenty-five have been present – though highly mobile – around the SixfieldsLake area, suggesting that the two flocks have now combined. Being flighty, they have not been easy to catch up with, giving many birders the run-around. Jonathan Philpot was fortunate in capturing the below images after most of us had given up this morning …

Waxwing, Sixfields Lake, Stortons GP, 18th November 2012 (Jonathan Philpot)

Waxwing, Sixfields Lake, Stortons GP, 18th November 2012 (Jonathan Philpot)

An added bonus came in the form of this unusually showy Cetti’s Warbler

Cetti’s Warbler, Sixfields Lake, Stortons GP, 18th November 2012 (Jonathan Philpot)

and a Brambling also put in an appearance. This species has appeared in reasonably good numbers this autumn.

Brambling, Sixfields Lake, Stortons GP, 18th November 2012 (Jonathan Philpot)

Mealy Redpolls at Summer Leys

Earlier this week, Doug Goddard captured images of two Mealy Redpolls feeding on seed heads close to Mary’s Lake, adjacent to Summer Leys LNR. This species can often be tricky to identify as both Lesser and Mealy Redpolls can vary considerably in appearance according to age, sex, moult and feather wear, with some practically defying identification altogether. Most Mealies first attract attention as a result of their being rather pallid and colder toned compared to Lesser Redpoll but this isn’t always the case as some Mealies can be quite dark while, conversely, some Lessers can also take on a rather bright and cold-toned appearance.

First-winter Mealy Redpoll, Summer Leys LNR, 5th November 2012 (Douglas Goddard)

Good views of a suite or ‘checklist’ of characteristics is normally required before a safe identification can be made. This individual appears to tick all the boxes: wholly white ground colour to under parts (no sign of Lesser’s strong buffish wash to flanks and breast sides); broad white (not buff) supercilium; large white spot below eye and whitish ear-coverts with darker streaking; white ‘tramlines’ on mantle (although Lesser can show these); strong white (not buff) tips to the greater coverts, median coverts, tertials and primaries. The tips to the outer couple of greater coverts are buffish, indicating unmoulted juvenile feathers indicating it is a first-winter and this is further supported by patchy/restricted amount of black on the throat and around the bill base which will become more extensive with feather wear. Compare the above with a typical Lesser Redpoll, also at Summer Leys.

Lesser Redpoll, Summer Leys LNR, 6th November 2012 (Douglas Goddard)

First-winter Lesser Redpoll never shows such clean white wing bars so early in the autumn (i.e. before wear). The red ‘poll’ of the Mealy is also rather pale, almost orange, which is a characteristic frequently shown by first-winter and female redpolls but ‘poll’ colour can vary greatly across the board, even becoming yellow in some instances (see here).

Finally, here’s the other redpoll which was accompanying the above Mealy.

Mealy Redpoll, Summer Leys LNR, 5th November 2012 (Douglas Goddard)

Again, this appears to be another Mealy Redpoll and gives the impression of being large, long and big-billed – which they are …

For more on redpoll identification see Andy Warr’s excellent online guide.

Black-throated Diver at Stanford Reservoir

Late yesterday morning Mark Piper discovered a juvenile Black-throated Diver at the feeder stream end of Stanford Reservoir. It remained quite elusive, diving for long periods of time until it was flushed by a fisherman at 11.35 after which it flew off at tree-top height toward the dam. Subsequent searching failed to relocate it. This morning it was present again close to the Leicestershire side of the reservoir, where Chris Hubbard took the photo below.

Black-throated Diver, Stanford Res, 3rd November 2012 (Chris Hubbard)

It then moved again to the small feeder pool on the opposite side of the road to the reservoir before flying again to the main body of water, remaining in the vicinity of the raft during the early-mid afternoon.

Black-throated Diver, Stanford Res, 03 November 2012 (Chris Hubbard)

The white flank patch, visible just above the water, rules out Great Northern Diver (as does the relatively narrow bill, absence of both neck patches and bulging forehead) and vagrant Pacific Diver (as does the large bill and absence of chin strap or vent strap).

Black-throated Diver, Stanford Res, 3rd November 2012 (Paul Riddle)

This is only the nineteenth record for Northants, the last being one at Thrapston GP on 18th November 2001. Ten of the previous eighteen have been at Pitsford Reservoir. It is also the 40th for Leicestershire/Rutland, with most between November and February and 60% of records from Rutland Water, since it was constructed, (Steve Lister in litt).

Boddington bags Bonaparte’s!

I was driving through Newnham, already on my way to the gull roost at Boddington Reservoir, when Gary Pullan – god bless him – phoned me with a message of just two words: “It’s here!” he said. Having visited the site twice yesterday and spent the last two hours of daylight shivering in the falling temperatures without it showing, it was comforting to know the adult Bonaparte’s Gull was there and on view.

While Gary continued to spread the word I stepped up a gear, unashamedly broke the speed limit, and arrived shortly afterward to find just a handful of birders watching it. It was with about two hundred Black-headed Gulls. A cracking little gull (or should I say small gull), the proportions of which can be appreciated when compared with the accompanying Black-headed Gulls, numbers of which had built to well over 1000 by dusk.

Adult Bonaparte’s Gull, Boddington Res, 3rd November 2012 (RW Bullock)

It spent most of its time at rest, flying only a short distance on a couple of occasions. It may be something or nothing but most of the time it held its bill in a horizontal, or slightly raised, position compared to the Black-headed Gulls, which (most of the time) held their bills pointing down, below the horizontal. I don’t know if this might be a useful way of picking it out among Black-headed Gulls at a large gathering such as the Boddington roost – this needs testing.

Adult Bonaparte’s Gull , Boddington Res, 3rd November 2012 (RW Bullock)

There are about 180 records of this North American species for the UK but they are rare inland and this is the first for Northamptonshire, although the neighbouring counties of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire have had two and three records respectively. Well done Gary for finding it on Thursday and thanks are due to Bob Bullock for the accompanying images – which are better than my digiscoped stills – but I did manage to get the videoscope footage below.