The weather for the past week was largely dry with overnight frost at the beginning of the period, although temperatures lifted as the week progressed, so much so that two Peacock butterflies were on the wing at Thrapston Gravel Pits on 16th. Attracting a host of rare gulls, the Ditchford/Sidegate area was firmly back in the limelight this week and an unseasonal Lesser Whitethroat in a Northampton garden generated both interest and debate at the week’s end.
Static wildfowl included the (probably resident) Barnacle Goose at Blatherwycke Lake until at least 13th and the two Egyptian Geese at Ditchford GP on 15th, while up to eleven Mandarin Ducks were counted at Blatherwycke Lake. A probable Marbled Duck evaded positive identification – and, most likely, recapture – at Stanwick GP on 13th. The only Pintail were at Stanwick GP, with one there on 16th and three the following day, while the two Red-crested Pochards remained at Ringstead GP on 12th, the drake Scaup was at Ditchford GP all week with another at Pitsford Res on 11th and
single Long-tailed Ducks remained on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP until 12th with the Thrapston GP bird reported again on Town Lake on 16th. Up to three Smew, including one drake, were present at Pitsford Res, while two (one drake) remained at Ravensthorpe Res all week and a ‘redhead’ was seen at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Pitsford Res throughout the period and the Bittern at Stortons GP was seen only on 12th, while up to two Great White Egrets remained at Pitsford Res, two were also seen regularly at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR and one visited Ditchford GP on 12th.
As with last week, the only scarce raptors reported were all Peregrines with singles in the Barnes Meadow area of Northampton on 11th and 13th, Earls Barton GP on 11th, Ditchford GP on 14th, Summer Leys on 16th and Harrington AF on 17th.
On the wader front, the solitary, early returning Oystercatcher remained at Stanwick GP all week, while sizeable Golden Plover flocks were c.1000 at Stanwick GP on 17th, c.500 in the Welland Valley at Gretton on 13th and 241 on levelled building land at Pineham, Northampton also on 17th. Two Jack Snipes were found at Hollowell Res on 11th and another was at Pitsford Res on 13th, a Black-tailed Godwit put in an appearance at Stanwick GP on 15th, while up to thirteen Redshanks were there all week.
Laridophiles were on to a good thing this week with Ditchford GP and Sidegate Landfill finally producing good numbers of scarce gulls, many of which regularly visited a flooded field between Wellingborough and the landfill. Three Caspian Gulls (an adult, ringed fourth-winter and a second-winter) were there on 12th with two adults at nearby Stanwick GP on 11th, 13th and 17th, being joined by a second-winter on the latter date. Yellow-legged Gulls were thinly spread, with single adults at Stanwick GP on 11th, 13th and 17th, a near-adult at Pitsford Res on 12th and an adult at Rushton Landfill with another at Finedon and a second-winter near Wellingborough also on 12th and an adult at Ravensthorpe Res on 16th. A second-winter Iceland Gull visited Ditchford GP on 11th and a first-winter was found at Finedon the following day, being seen in the Wellingborough area throughout the week and at Stanwick GP on 17th. Three Glaucous Gulls (an adult, juvenile and second-winter) visited the flooded field near Wellingborough on 11th and 12th with just a juvenile there on 15th and an adult at Stanwick GP on 17th.
No mass accumulation of gulls would be complete without the spectre of hybrids and the Wellingborough site attracted an adult Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid on 11th-12th and examples of both juvenile and second-winter Herring x Glaucous Gull hybrids on the same dates. Elsewhere an adult gull considered to be a Yellow-legged x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid visited Pitsford Res on 12th.
A Great Grey Shrike was an unexpected find near Lowick on 17th while last week’s Bearded Tits were still at Stortons GP on 11th and 12th with the male – originally ringed there last autumn – being retrapped on the latter date. Single Chiffchaffs were present at Stanford Res on 11th, Ditchford GP on 12th and Pitsford Res on 13th, while at least two were at Stanwick GP on 16th and up to nine were at Ecton SF during the same period, the same site hosting a Siberian Chiffchaff on 11th-12th.
Wintering Central European Blackcaps included two singles in gardens in Wellingborough on 15th and two in a Northampton garden all week
but potentially more interesting was a Lesser Whitethroat discovered in a Northampton garden on 17th, possibly having been seen there two weeks previously. As well as this being likely to constitute the first winter record of this species in Northants its racial identity is yet to be resolved, with ‘Siberian’ blythi being mooted as a possible candidate. The two wintering Stonechats were still in residence at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 16th and Bramblings were seen at just three localities, with a maximum of approximately thirty at East Carlton CP on 16th and a Hawfinch was reported at Fermyn Woods CP on 12th.