While searching for the female Scaup reported from Sixfields Lake at Stortons GP yesterday, I came across this interesting-looking duck. It was obvious among the Pochards on the lake by virtue of its overall darkness compared to ‘standard’ drake Pochard, to which it bore a passing resemblance.This individual exhibits characters associated with both Pochard and Ferruginous Duck. Approximately the same size and shape as Pochard, perhaps a fraction smaller. The head, neck and breast colours are close to, and are clearly ‘borrowed’ from, Ferruginous Duck, as is the head shape and, to some extent, the bill. The latter has a dirty wash across its basal third. The golden/orange eye colour is neither Pochard (= red) nor Ferruginous Duck (= creamy-white) and the white secondary bar and dirty white undertail coverts are also lent by Ferruginous Duck although they are not as extensive or as distinctive as in that species. The body and wings (apart from the secondaries) appear to be Pochard derivatives.
Hybrids of similar appearance have been recorded before, e.g. at Alexandra Park, London in 2010 here and at Slimbridge on 21st March 2013 here with the latter individual appearing almost, if not completely, identical to the Stortons bird.
It’s been thirty-three years since I last saw a Brϋnnich’s Guillemot. The towering cliffs looking out over the cobalt-blue Barents Sea at the mouth of Varangerfjord – wild, windswept and bustling with breeding seabirds – was the location with that ‘standing on the edge of the world’ feeling. Time to get reacquainted.
It took less than three and a half hours for Gary Pullan, Frank Smith and myself to arrive at Portland Harbour, where a couple of hundred birders had already assembled.
And there it was, just bobbing about like a black and white cork, sheltering in the lee of a moored boat from the rather strong, blustery wind and rain which started lashing the area as soon as we got out of the car. At fairly close range the identification was straightforward. Aside from the obvious diagnostic features, this bird appeared to have a noticeably longer primary projection than the accompanying Common Guillemot, which shows well in the photos below.
[click on the cogwheel and change resolution to 720 HD for marginally better definition]
After a while, it moved very rapidly to another part of the harbour, where it seemed settled and continued to attract a steady stream of admirers.
Other interesting species in the harbour at the same time were Great Northern and Black-throated Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Shag, Razorbill and Black Guillemot – all nice to see.
On the way home we swung by Radipole Park Drive, where a Glossy Ibis has been feeding on a flooded football pitch for the past couple of days.
A cold, blustery day out with some excellent festive season birding!
The juvenile Great Northern Diver, present at Pitsford Reservoir since 15th December, has been showing rather well, presenting superb photographic opportunities for visiting birders. Here are a few.
… and some ropey video …
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 24th December 2013 (Mike Alibone). Click on the cogwheel and change to 720pHD to view at higher resolution.
The broad, neat pale fringes to the upperpart feathers indicate it is a juvenile (plainer upperparts with distinct spotting on coverts and more prominent neck ‘gashes’ in adult). Great Northern Divers have appeared almost annually in Northants in recent years. They are the commonest diver to occur in the County with 29 records in the last 45 years, outnumbering Red-throated and the rarer Black-throated with 23 records and 10 records in the same period respectively.
The weather remained mixed and temperatures unseasonally high throughout the period, with a low pressure system centred just north of the UK bringing gale force west to south-westerly winds toward the week’s end. Another potential first for Northants was discovered on 14th, subsequently proving elusive.
Two Egyptian Geese were at Ditchford GP on 19th with a drake Red-crested Pochard there at the same time, while eight of the latter species were found at Ravensthorpe Res on 14th and eleven were still at Pitsford Res on 17th. The drake Scaup remained at Ditchford GP all week while another was discovered at Pitsford Res on 15th and was still present there on 18th and the three Long-tailed Ducks – now qualifying as ‘long stayers’ – remained on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP all week. At the beginning of the period, six Smew (two drakes) were at Pitsford Res and two ‘redheads’ were found at Ditchford GP on 19th while Goosanders were reported from just three localities.
New in this week was a juvenile Great Northern Diver at Pitsford Res from 15th to 20th, occasionally posing well for photographers but remaining elusive for some would-be observers.
Up to three Great White Egrets remained at the same locality and another visited Summer Leys LNR on 15th and 17th. The only Merlin of the week was a male at Pitsford Res on 17th, while Peregrines were seen in the Brampton Valley on 16th and at Pitsford Res on 16th and 18th.
The same waders as last week’s were still around, including the early returning Oystercatcher at Stanwick GP on 15th-19th, the Pitsford Black-tailed Godwit reappearing on 15th, up to four Redshanks at the same locality throughout the week with seven at Stanwick GP on 19th and single Green Sandpipers at Pitsford Res on 16th and 18th and at Ditchford GP on 19th.
Ditchford GP was also the place to be for gulls this week, producing a potential County first in the shape of a probable second-winter American Herring Gull, which was found on the Watersports Pit late on 14th, reappearing there briefly the following day. The supporting cast comprised up to six different Caspian Gulls on various dates, a juvenile Glaucous Gull on 15th, 16th and 18th, a second-winter Iceland Gull on 16th and 18th and a juvenile on 19th plus three to five Yellow-legged Gulls and, for good measure, two
Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrids on 16th. Another Glaucous Gull was seen flying west at Thrapston GP’s Town Walk on 14th, while up to two adult and second-winter Caspian Gulls were at Stanwick GP between 15th and 19th, where there was also a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull on 17th.
At least one Short-eared Owl remained at Blueberry Farm on 17th and the Hume’s Warbler remained in residence on private land in north Northants all week, while Chiffchaffs were reported from Ecton SF, Ditchford GP, Kelmarsh, Pitsford Res and Stanwick GP with a maximum of three at the first of these localities on 14th. A single male Blackcap visited a garden in Kettering on 17th, two Stonechats were still at Blueberry Farm on 14th and 17th and a Water Pipit – locally very scarce this year – was located at Ditchford GP on 19th. Bramblings were seen only at Kelmarsh and Harrington AF, with a maximum of twelve at the latter site on 17th, while six Crossbills visited Brixworth CP on 18th, two were nearby at Pitsford Res and at least two at Sywell CP – both on 20th.
Yesterday, in the last hour of daylight, Martin Elliott found a promising candidate for a second-winter American Herring Gull on the Watersports Pit at Ditchford GP, immediately west of Ditchford Lane. Fittingly, this was during one of Martin’s gull ageing and ID courses he is running throughout the winter, based out of Stanwick Lakes visitor centre a couple of miles east along the Nene Valley!
The bird was present again on the Watersports Pit, where I saw it albeit briefly, at 11.45 this morning before it flew off in the direction of Viaduct Pit, immediately to the west. It’s a distinctive and interesting-looking bird. Obviously dark compared to Herring Gulls of the same age, dark lower breast/belly, noticeably dark upperparts and black primaries, blackish tail with heavily barred uppertail coverts, bi-coloured bill, small grey ‘triangle’ of feathers on mantle and strikingly dark underwing. Martin’s notes say it all in detail and I would like to thank him for sharing them here.
Good quality photographs and/or video would be useful in helping to provide a fully detailed analysis and hopefully the bird will stick around long enough to allow this to be made possible.
A potential ‘first’ for Northamptonshire was identified at the beginning of a week which remained mild and mainly dry throughout with a warm south-westerly airstream bringing damp conditions towards its end.
Two Egyptian Geese remained at Thrapston GP until at least 8th and another visited Ditchford GP on 9th while a first-winter drake Scaup was found at the former locality on 8th and the adult drake was still at Ditchford GP the following day. The three Long-tailed Ducks remained on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP until 11th with at least two of them still present on 13th, while one remained at Thrapston GP all week and two drake
plus two ‘redhead’ Smew were at Pitsford Res until at least 10th and another ‘redhead’ visited Earls Barton GP on 13th.
Up to three Great White Egrets remained at Pitsford Res until at least 10th, last week’s individual at Summer Leys LNR remained until 9th and was probably the same bird which visited Ditchford GP on 9th.
The only Merlin of the week was a female or immature at Stanwick GP on 12th, while Peregrines continued to be seen in the only to be expected localities of Blueberry Farm and Brixworth on 7th, Ditchford GP on 9th and near Maidwell on 13th.
Reports of waders dropped to a mere three: an unseasonal Oystercatcher at Stanwick GP on 8th (they do not normally return until very late winter) plus three Redshanks at Ditchford GP the following day, along with a Green Sandpiper there on 10th.
A first-winter Mediterranean Gull visited the A45 Lay-by Pit at Stanwick GP on 10th with the same site hosting an adult Caspian Gull on 8th, while another adult Caspian Gull was in the roost at Thrapston GP on 7th and an adult plus a second-winter were at Ditchford GP on 9th with a third-winter there on 13th. Ditchford also produced a juvenile Glaucous Gull on 8th and 9th plus a second-winter Iceland Gull on the latter date – which then put in a brief appearance at the Stanwick GP ‘pre-roost’ on 12th – and a juvenile on 13th. The only Yellow-legged Gulls this week were two at Stanwick GP on 8th and five at Ditchford GP the following day with one there on 13th.
Unusually scarce this year, a Ring-necked Parakeet paid a brief visit to a garden in Grange Park, Northampton on 13th, while Harrington Airfield produced two Short-eared Owls on 7th with one there again on 9th and another was at Blueberry Farm also on 7th. What must rank as Northamptonshire’s bird of the century so far (there are 87 years left!) was – if accepted by the British Birds Rarities Committee – the county’s first official record of Hume’s Warbler (but see further comment here), which was reidentified on 7th after being reported as a Yellow-browed Warbler last week, on 6th. The bird remained in residence on private land in north Northants all week and was seen well by numerous local visiting birders on a specially organised tour on 11th.
Only one Chiffchaff was reported this week – at Ditchford GP on 9th while the two Stonechats remained at Blueberry Farm all week, Bramblings were seen only at Harrington AF, with a maximum of twelve there on 9th, while several Crossbills were at Pitsford Res on 10th and two at Harlestone Heath on 12th.
It was too good an opportunity to miss. A pre-planned business trip to Utrecht and a long-staying Hawk Owl less than an hour away (52 mins by train + 5 mins in a taxi). It all hinged on having enough daylight left and enough time to get back to the airport to catch the flight home. It was doable – kind of.
I went prepared. Bins, scope, camera and tripod centre column only (for what it was worth) stowed surreptitiously in one bag as hand-luggage. Bowling into to a customer’s premises with a tripod slung over my shoulder would have looked a bit odd. I wasn’t there for a photoshoot.
Visit concluded early afternoon. I could have gone and spent 3.5 hours sitting in the airport. The decision was easy: Zwolle here we come!
An hour later. Walking down Primulapad past the sports field where it is frequently seen. No sign. Then I catch sight of a guy with a tripod disappearing behind some bushes on the other side of Marsweg. He must be in the know. I crossed the road and followed him. As I rounded the bushes I could hear the whirs and clicks of camera shutters and was amazed to see some 20 birders with their equipment trained on some metal framework above an electricity substation. And there it was, ‘The Boy’, seemingly unfazed by the close proximity of its admirers.
Images & Video: Hawk Owl, Zwolle, The Netherlands, 10th December 2013 (Mike Alibone)
I have always wanted to see Hawk Owl – especially after missing them on a two-week trip to Scandinavia many years ago. Unique and charismatic. It was as beautiful as it was awesome (I hate that word – but it was!). It spent much of its time loafing and looking and making a couple of short flights before flying off up Marsweg. My photographic attempts won’t win any prizes. Camera attached to scope, scope rammed against chain-link fence and balanced on laptop bag, just off the ground.
In the excitement I had forgotten I had not moved the time on my watch forward to Dutch time. I had an hour less than I thought. Consequence: train arrives at airport 15 minutes after intended flight has departed. Recovery: caught next cheesyjet flight back to Luton late evening. Mission accomplished.
Hume’s Warbler, Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler – it’s the same whichever way you cut it. Once regarded as a race of Yellow-browed, it was split by the BOU in the late nineties and, with approximately 123 UK records, it’s a national rarity.
This one, seen fleetingly on private land on 6th December, was initially identified as a Yellow-browed Warbler and the identification remained as such until yesterday afternoon (7th December), when it was seen well and heard calling frequently. Identification was confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt based on the diagnostic call, which differs markedly from Yellow-browed Warbler. For an example listen here.
Assuming this record is accepted by the British Birds Rarities Committee, this will be the first for Northamptonshire and only the second for an inland county following one at Westport Lake, Staffordshire on 20th December 1994 (although one in Essex in 2004 was also subsequently seen in Middlesex). However, it is not the first occurrence of this species in Northamptonshire. One discovered by Dave Jackson at Weston Mill, Northampton on 23rd-24th October 2010, remaining in deep sallow cover, was never seen well by local observers and its frequently uttered diagnostic call was impossible to sound record adequately against the background traffic noise from the nearby Nene Valley Way dual carriageway. As a result, the record found its way into the ‘not proven’ category of the British Birds Rarities Committee files.
At present there is no general access to the private Northamptonshire site. If the bird remains there is an intention to provide escorted access on Wednesday 11th December 2013. It is planned to accommodate three time slots of 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm for small numbers of birders only. Should anyone wish to attend please contact Neil McMahon firstname.lastname@example.org who is arranging access and escorting observers on site. Anyone booking for the 9 am time slot is advised to be on-site in any event (the disadvantage of this early slot is that it may not be possible to confirm the presence of the bird by this time).
Please indicate which time slot is preferred. On confirming the appointment Neil will provide a rendezvous point and his mobile number. Please be advised that there may be a delay in his being able to respond. Neil will visit the site early on Wednesday to establish if the bird is still present and update Birdguides and northantsbirds.com accordingly. It is therefore advisable to monitor these websites on Wednesday for any relevant news.
Future access after Wednesday 11th December date may not be possible.
A westerly airstream prevailed, turning northerly at the week’s end with severe gales and flooding devastating parts of east coast Britain while Northamptonshire remained relatively unscathed. A few more winter visitors and scarcities were found in the early part of the week.
Two Egyptian Geese were at Thrapston GP on 2nd with the drake Mandarin Duck still at Wicksteed Park Lake on the same date and single Pintails were at both Stanford Res and Pitsford Res on 30th with ten counted at the latter site on 2nd. Both reservoirs also hosted Red-crested Pochards with a pair at Stanford Res on 30th and at least sixteen at Pitsford on the same date with single-figure counts thereafter. A leucistic female was also at Ravensthorpe Res on 6th. This week’s ducks deluxe, however, were three Long-tailed Ducks found on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on 30th and remaining until at least 4th, along with last week’s individual at Thrapston GP, which was joined by a second bird on 1st.
Two female or first-winter Common Scoters were a surprise discovery at Ditchford GP on 30th and, on the same date, a ‘redhead’ Smew was again at Clifford Hill GP, while three ‘redheads’ were at Ravensthorpe Res the following day and two at Pitsford Res from 2nd until 4th with four and two drakes there on 6th. Single-figure counts of Goosanders were made at Pitsford Res, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP with the maximum number of eleven coming from Abington Park Lake, Northampton on 6th.
Great White Egrets maintained their high profile with up to three remaining at Pitsford Res all week and further singles at Ditchford GP on 30th-1st and at Summer Leys LNR on
6th, while the Stanford Res Black-necked Grebe performed an encore on 30th after many previous erratic stage appearances at the site over the past couple of months. Four records of Peregrines – Ditchford GP on 30th, Blueberry Farm and Hellidon on 1st and Pitsford Res on 4th – comprised the raptor count for the week.
The wader tally was not unexpectedly low. Five Jack Snipe were found at Hollowell Res on 30th, a Dunlin visited Clifford Hill GP on 6th and the lingering Black-tailed Godwit remained at Pitsford Res all week, while up to two Redshanks also remained there throughout the week with four at Stanwick GP and two at Ditchford GP on 2nd, along with a Green Sandpiper there on 1st and two at Pitsford Res on 2nd.
The first ‘white-winged’ gull of the winter proved to be an adult Iceland Gull, which put in a brief appearance at Ditchford GP on 1st, while up to three Caspian Gulls were also there on 1st and 2nd with another at Stanwick GP on the latter date.
Eight Yellow-legged Gulls were also at Ditchford GP on 30th with four there on 2nd and two at Hollowell Res on 6th when an adult Mediterranean Gull also visited Ravensthorpe Res
Although a Firecrest at Ringstead GP was a good find on 1st, the biggest surprise of the week, however, came in the form of a Yellow-browed Warbler, which was heard calling on three separate occasions on private land with no public access on 6th. Other wintering warblers included two Chiffchaffs at Summer Leys on 30th, three at Ecton SF on 1st plus two at Stanwick GP and one at Ditchford GP on 2nd, while single female Blackcaps were in gardens at both Spratton and Sywell on the same date. The two Stonechats remained at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 3rd when two were also discovered at Sywell CP and Bramblings were seen at Cottesbrooke, East Carlton CP, Fawsley Park and Harrington AF with a maximum of twelve at the latter site on 2nd, while fly-over Crossbills this week were two at Hanging Houghton on 3rd and one at Earls Barton GP on 4th.