A warm, dry start to the week again gave way to unsettled conditions with westerly and northerly elements to the airstream bringing few new birds to the County.
A drake Garganey at Clifford Hill GP on 31st and a drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanwick GP on 30th were the only ducks of note but a female Goldeneye at Earls Barton GP on 31st was fashionably late. Bird of the week this week, however, was without doubt an adult Gannet, which was seen in flight twice within fifteen minutes at Summer Leys LNR on 29th and over nearby Wellingborough shortly afterwards. This appears to be the 31st record for Northamptonshire with previous records this century in 2001, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Hardly a week goes by without an Osprey or two being seen and this one was no exception with singles over Thrapston GP on 26th and Summer Leys on 30th, while the only Peregrine reported was one at Desborough on 25th. Waders continued to be thin on the ground, which is only to be expected in late May. Two Ringed Plovers visited Summer Leys on 27th, two Dunlins were there on 29th with one there on 31st and single Common Sandpipers were also at this locality on 25th and at Daventry CP on 28th. Summer Leys also produced a Greenshank on the latter date and another, or the same, was there on 31st with one at Thrapston GP on 30th. The only relatively uncommon gull this week was a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Stanwick GP on 27th but a second-summer Common Gull at Summer Leys on 31st was unseasonal while a Black Tern – locally scarce this spring – was at Daventry CP on 28th.
Migration slowed to a mere trickle, almost drying up, during another unsettled week of average and below average temperatures coupled with periodic heavy showers on the back of a largely westerly airstream.
Six drake Mandarin Ducks were counted at Blatherwycke Lake – the long established location for this species – on 21st, a drake Garganey visited Stanwick GP on 20th and a female Common Scoter at Daventry CP on 22nd became the only one to have made it to the County so far this year. On 18th there were unconfirmed reports of Honey Buzzards over Woodford Halse and Islip, the Nene Valley produced a wandering Osprey at Thrapston GP on 20th and at nearby Oundle on 22nd and another at Chadstone on 23rd and two Peregrines were circling over Collingtree Park (Northampton) on 18th with another pair at a breeding site all week. Few waders were found during the period with three ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers at Stanwick GP on 23rd, a Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys briefly on 19th,
a Whimbrel at Clifford Hill GP on the same date and two at Summer Leys LNR on 21st being the only birds of note. An Arctic Tern appeared at Thrapston GP on 22nd followed by two at Stanwick GP the following day.
An unsettled week, dominated by a westerly airstream brought more migrant waders to the Nene Valley gravel pits and the first (overdue) Black Terns of the year to Pitsford Reservoir.
Few raptors were found during the week, those of note being a male Marsh Harrier in the Brampton Valley on 16th with a ‘cream-crown’ over Harrington AF on 17th, an Osprey over Thrapston GP on 13th, and a Peregrine at Trafford Marsh on 11th.
On the wader front, in contrast to previous weeks, Ringed Plovers appeared in good numbers at several Nene Valley locations with fourteen at Clifford Hill GP on 13th, four there the next day, one at Stanwick GP on 13th with six there the next day and two there on 15th and six at Summer Leys LNR on the same date. Most, if not all, of these were likely to have been of the northern race tundrae. More Sanderlings appeared this week with two at Stanwick GP on 14th and one there on 15th, one at Daventry CP also on 15th and five or six at Summer Leys on the same date, while a Temminck’s Stint paid a disappointingly brief visit to Stanwick GP on 13th. Dunlins were up on last week with singles at Summer Leys on 11th, 12th and 14th with fifteen there on 15th and three or four on 17th, one at Pitsford Res on 13th, two at Stanwick GP on 12th to 14th with three there the next day and eight at Clifford Hill GP on 13th with ten there the next day. A Bar-tailed Godwit visited Summer Leys briefly on 15th, three Whimbrels were at the adjacent Mary’s Lake on 12th, four visited Clifford Hill GP the following day and one was at
Whimbrel, Earls Barton GP 12th May 2013 (Mike Alibone)
Boddington Res on 15th. Single Common Sandpipers visited Summer Leys on 11th-12th and 16th, Stanwick GP on 12th and Clifford Hill GP on 16th and a Turnstone was at Summer Leys on 15th.
Loafing non-breeding gulls are becoming an increasingly common sight as we go into the summer months but the only scarcity falling into this category was a second-summer Yellow-legged at Summer Leys on 12th and an adult at Stanwick GP on 13th while an adult Little Gull visited Thrapston GP on the same date and a first-summer was at Boddington Res the next day. A Little Tern flew through Summer Leys on 14th, the first Black Terns appeared at Pitsford Res with two there on 15th and three on 16th and Arctic Terns this week comprised one at Daventry CP, two at Boddington Res and two or three at Pitsford Res – all on 15th.
A singing male Firecrest in roadside trees west of Scaldwell was a nice surprise for a passing birder on a bike on 17th, a female Redstart was trapped and ringed in a Greens Norton garden on 16th, two Whinchats were at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 13th while singles were at Harrington AF on 15th and 17th and three Northern Wheatears were in the Brampton Valley on 14th with one there on 16th and singles visited Harrington AF on 15th and Clifford Hill GP on 16th.
Late on Thursday, 9th May, I made a flying visit to Summer Leys LNR in the hope that the strong south-westerlies sweeping southern parts of the UK had brought with them something a little different to the run-of-the-mill birds we have been used to seeing in recent days. I had seen nothing from the feeding station or on the adjacent Mary’s Lake and viewing conditions were not ideal, even from the screen hide, which did not offer as much protection from the strong, blustery wind as I had expected.
I was about to leave when a small flock of Dunlins suddenly arrived in front of me on ‘The Slips’. A quick count totalled twelve, all in smart summer plumage with fresh, bright fringes to the upperpart feathers, although it immediately became apparent that one bird was a little different. Closer scrutiny revealed a slightly smaller individual with less brightly patterned upperparts, grey and buff fringes to many of the mantle and scapular feathers (with black centres), sparse streaking above the black belly patch and a more prominent supercilium and shorter bill than most – if not all – the accompanying birds.
I had little more than ten minutes of observation before a very low-flying Hobby skimmed the water’s surface nearby, flushing the flock, which promptly vanished and I was unable to relocate it anywhere on the reserve.
During this time I shot a series of short, wind-shaken videos through my scope and the best of a bad bunch appears below. The same windy conditions left me with one dreadful and barely usable digiscoped shot (above), which serves to illustrate some of the above differences. To my eyes this bird showed all the characters associated with arctica, ‘Arctic’ or ‘Greenland’ Dunlin, the rarest of the three races of Dunlin (schinzii and nominate alpina being the other two) which occur annually in Britain.
‘Arctic’ Dunlin (left) Summer Leys, 9th May 2013 (Mike Alibone). [Run video, click on cog-wheel icon and change image quality to 720p HD to watch at highest definition].
The UK status of arctica is one of a regular passage migrant in relatively small numbers and supposedly with a westerly bias. It breeds in north-east Greenland and Svalbard and its population was recently estimated to be between 7,000 and 15,000 pairs; compare this with schinzii – the race breeding in the UK, northwestern Europe and Iceland – which has an estimated population of 270,000 pairs in the latter country alone (see Gunnar Thor Hallgrimsson) and its relative rarity becomes apparent!
As far as I know, there are, to date, no other records of this race for Northamptonshire, although it must surely have occurred in the past. Trying to identify one which is not in fresh summer (= early spring, unworn) plumage would be a greater challenge.
Largely dry and settled with above average temperatures at the start of the week, falling to average or below average with south-westerly gales at the week’s end.
On 6th an Egyptian Goose was at Summer Leys LNR and drake Garganeys visited Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP and another was at Summer Leys the following day. Nearby Mary’s Lake held a female Goldeneye also on 6th. Single Ospreys were seen at Thrapston GP on 5th, over Moulton on 6th, at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 8th and near Boddington Res on 10th when six Hobbies were together at Earls Barton GP.
An Avocet spent a day at Stanwick GP on 4th and the dearth of Ringed Plovers continued with again just one seen in the period – at Summer Leys on 4th. The same site hosted Sanderlings on 7th and 10th and single-figure counts of Dunlins were made at Clifford Hill GP and Stanwick GP, while twelve visited Summer Leys on 9th. Four Black-tailed Godwits at Stanwick GP on 4th was the only record of this species this week and Whimbrel numbers also remained low with singles at Summer Leys LNR on 8th and at
Daventry CP on 10th. Common Sandpipers were found at just two localities – one at Deene Lake on 7th and up to four at Summer Leys throughout the week while a single Green Sandpiper was at the latter site on 6th, a Greenshank appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 5th and Wood Sandpipers visited Stanwick GP on 7th and Summer Leys on 8th.
The only scarce gulls this week were a second-summer Yellow-legged at Summer Leys on 9th with the same site hosting an adult and a first-summer Little Gull on 6th, when an adult was also at Stanwick GP.
Also at Stanwick GP was a Little Tern briefly on 4th and a Sandwich Tern paid an equally brief visit to Summer Leys on 9th, while the only Arctic Terns this week were singles at Stanford Res on 4th and Daventry CP on 10th.
A rufous morph Cuckoo was found at Summer Leys on 10th and a Short-eared Owl was seen hunting at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 5th and 6th – the same dates that singing male Wood Warblers were discovered near Badby and at Old Sulehay; needless to say they did not linger. The first Spotted Flycatcher of the year was at Duston on the early date of 4th, a Black Redstart appeared briefly in a garden in Kingsley, Northampton on 8th, single Whinchats were at Shutlanger Sewage Works on 4th and at Summer Leys on 6th while a Northern Wheatear was at Tywell Hills and Dales on 6th and a Greenland Wheatear visited Harrington AF on 10th.
A very dry and settled week with predominantly clear skies conducive to non-stop migration. The week was very quiet, the hoped-for rush of Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels and Little Gulls, which have been the hallmark of late April/early May in recent years simply did not materialise … and neither did anything else.
A drake Garganey was at Summer Leys LNR also on 29th and again on 2nd and a pair of Goldeneye at Pitsford Res on 30th were the only ones recorded during the period. Three Marsh Harriers included a male at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 27th and single ‘cream crowns’ over Stanwick GP on the same day and at Thrapston GP on 29th while an unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier sp. was at Harrington AF briefly on the evening of 1st. An Osprey flew north along the River Nene at Oundle on 27th and another visited the trout lake at Thrapston GP on the evenings of 30th and 1st.
Again, just one Ringed Plover was seen in the period – at Summer Leys LNR on 29th, and the only Dunlins were two at Summer Leys LNR on 27th and up to three at Clifford Hill GP between 27th and 30th while a Black-tailed Godwit was at Summer Leys LNR on 27th, two were at Clifford Hill GP on the same date with one there until 1st and singles were at Pitsford Res on 30th and Stanwick GP on 2nd and 3rd. Just one Whimbrel paid a brief visit to Clifford Hill GP on 30th and a Curlew was at the same site on 28th. Common Sandpipers were found at seven localities and a single Green Sandpiper was at Summer Leys LNR on 2nd, while the same site hosted a Greenshank on 28th with others at Clifford Hill GP on 27th, Stanwick GP on 29th, 1st and 3rd and two visited Daventry CP briefly on 1st.
The only scarce gulls this week were an adult Mediterranean at Summer Leys LNR on 29th and an adult Yellow-legged at Ravensthorpe Res on 30th and the number of Arctic Tern records were down on last week with one at Thrapston GP on 29th followed by thirteen briefly at Pitsford Res the following day and seventeen at Stanwick GP on 2nd. A Short-eared Owl was a surprise find for one would-be Osprey watcher at Thrapston GP on the latter date and another surprise was the winter’s final fling of Waxwings with eight present in Wootton on 30th and 1st.
The long-staying male Ring Ouzel at Harrington AF made it into this week by still being present there on 27th, the same date producing the week’s only Common Redstart – a female at Quinton. Two Whinchats were at Hollowell Res on 30th but more interesting was a male Stonechat possibly of the continental race rubicola at Boddington Res on 2nd, while Northern Wheatears were found at five localities with a maximum of nine – two of which showed characteristics of the Greenland race leucorhoa at Borough Hill on 30th. A Tree Pipit was also present there briefly at the same time. A White Wagtail remained at Upton Valley (Northampton) from 27th to 29th and two were at Stanwick GP on 29th, while ‘finch of the week’ was a Crossbill at Kelmarsh on 27th.