Two Weeks in Focus: 21st December 2013 to 3rd January 2014

For two weeks Britain has been in the grip of a series of low pressure systems which raced across the Atlantic bringing with them periods of strong south-westerly winds and rain. The deepest of these, a near-record low, occurred on 23rd although it had little influence on local birding.

A Barnacle Goose was again at Blatherwycke Lake on 21st and two Egyptian Geese were at Ditchford GP the following day while the only Pintail recorded during the period were at Pitsford Res, where there were up to two between 22nd and 2nd. The same site continued to host a sizeable Red-crested Pochard flock, the highest count of which was thirteen on 22nd, while a drake was at Stanwick GP between 26th and 28th. ‘Horrible hybrids’ included a Red-crested Pochard x Mallard also at Pitsford Res on 22nd and a drake Pochard x Ferruginous Duck at Stortons GP on 30th-31st. The drake Scaup remained at Ditchford GP, west of Ditchford Lane, until at least 1st and a female was at the other end of the complex, west of the A6 road bridge, on 27th with another female at Stortons GP on 30th. The three Long-tailed Ducks remained on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP throughout the period.

Long-tailed Duck, Earls Barton GP, 3rd January 2014 (Martin Dove)

Long-tailed Duck, Earls Barton GP, 3rd January 2014 (Martin Dove)

Varying numbers of Smew were present at Pitsford Res, where the maximum was eight, including two drakes, on 27th, while single ‘redheads’ visited Stanford Res on 28th and Stortons GP on 30th and two ‘redheads’ were at Sywell CP on the latter date.

First-winter drake Smew, Pitsford Reservoir, 24th December 2013 (Clive Bowley). By late winter, 'redheads' become assignable to sex. This individual is just beginning to acquire the white crest   feathers of a male.

First-winter drake Smew, Pitsford Reservoir, 24th December 2013 (Clive Bowley). By late winter, ‘redheads’ become assignable to sex. This individual is just beginning to acquire the white crest feathers of a male.

The rarest sawbill of the period was, however, a drake Red-breasted Merganser in Walgrave Bay at Pitsford Res on 26th while Goosanders were reported from seven localities with a maximum of fifteen at Stortons GP on 28th and 30th.

The juvenile Great Northern Diver found at Pitsford Res on 15th December remained throughout the period, as did up to three Great White Egrets while others put in sporadic appearances at Summer Leys LNR on 22nd and 2nd and another visited Cransley Res on 27th. A first-winter Shag was seen briefly at Stanford Res on 24th.

Little and Large. Little and Great White Egrets, Pitsford Res, 28th December 2013 (Alan Coles)

Little and Large. Little and Great White Egrets, Pitsford Reservoir, 28th December 2013 (Alan Coles)

This week’s raptor round-up included a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 29th, female Merlins at Stortons GP on the same date and at Blueberry Farm on 2nd, while a run of Peregrines included singles at Corby on 21st, Pitsford Res on 27th, Harrington AF on 31st and 2nd, Ditchford GP on 1st, Earls Barton GP, Edgcote, Kelmarsh and Stanwick GP on 2nd and Clifford Hill GP on 3rd.

The early returning Oystercatcher was still at Stanwick GP on 1st, while Golden Plovers were recorded at five localities with a maximum of approximately two thousand at Clifford Hill GP on 3rd. Just one Dunlin was found during the period – at Pitsford Res on 22nd – two Jack Snipe were at Hollowell Res on 28th, up to three Redshanks were at Pitsford Res with eight at Stanwick GP, while a Green Sandpiper was at Pitsford Res on 22nd and 2nd-3rd and two were at Wicksteed Park Lake on 23rd.

The last two weeks have been surprisingly quiet for gulls with an adult Caspian Gull in the roost at Pitsford Res on 22nd and 26th, an adult at Stanwick GP on 31st and an adult plus a second-winter there on 1st. The rather dark juvenile Iceland Gull (image in last report) was again at Ditchford GP on 1st and the only Yellow-legged Gulls were all adults with two at Pitsford Res on 22nd and one on 26th and one at Stanwick GP on 1st.

Two Ring-necked Parakeets flew over Pitsford Res on 3rd, a ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw was seen at Hanging Houghton on 23rd and, not too far away, the Hume’s Warbler remained in residence on private land in north Northants until at least 22nd. Other warblers not shy of the (so far) mild British winter were Chiffchaffs, which were reported from Pitsford Res, Preston Deanery and Stanwick GP and Central European Blackcaps, which moved into gardens in Byfield, Northampton (East Hunsbury, Harlestone Road and Kingsthorpe) and Sywell.

Central European Blackcap, Sywell, 27th December 2013 (Jim Dunkley)

Central European Blackcap, Sywell, 27th December 2013 (Jim Dunkley)

Three Bearded Tits appeared again at Stortons GP on 29th but potentially the rarest new bird to be found in the period was a Dipper, of which there was an unconfirmed report on the overflow at Sywell CP on 21st. The last record of Dipper in Northants was at Deanshanger on 20th April 1996 and another one staying for any length of time would no doubt be popular with local birders. The two Stonechats remained throughout the period at Blueberry Farm and a Water Pipit was again seen at Ditchford GP on 22nd and 1st, while Bramblings were seen only at Brixworth CP and Harrington AF, with a maximum of at least ten at the latter site on 2nd and a Snow Bunting put in a brief appearance at Pitsford Res on 22nd before quickly moving off south.

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