Following the somewhat tongue-in-cheek story about Fulmar ‘breeding’ in Northamptonshire a couple of weeks ago, it’s a bizarre coincidence that one should turn up at Ravensthorpe Reservoir this week.
Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)
There have been twenty-three since the first record in 1958, so they’re by no means annual and they are frequently difficult to catch up with, averaging approximately 0.4 records per year! Fortunately the Ravensthorpe individual lingered long enough to be photographed and appreciated by a number of local birders. Analysis of past records reveals that May is the peak month of occurrence so keep your eyes open! Many thanks to Bob Bullock for his excellent series of images.
The Marbled Duck, first discovered by Steve Fisher at Stanwick GP’s main lake on 13th January and still present today, promptly disappeared almost immediately until rediscovery on 19th February. Or did it? With persistent inclement weather, rising water levels and less than ideal viewing conditions, it appears it may have been there, somewhere, all the time as it is now known to hide among the overgrown islands on the western side of the lake.
Despite being recorded sporadically in the UK, this species remains on category D of the British List as it is common in captivity but an established pattern of records suggests it is likely that some wild individuals occur. Vagrants have been recorded in Northern Spain and in the Camargue in Southern France with most French records in August-September and a secondary spring peak in April. The pattern of British records also reflects this and Marbled Duck has been accepted as a genuine vagrant in the Netherlands.
Pouring at least some cold water on the vagrancy hypothesis, analysis of the stable-hydrogen isotope content of feathers taken from a first-winter shot in Essex on 1st September 2007 suggested that the bird originated from outside of the normal breeding range of the species and was most likely to have been of captive origin (see British Birds).
Although thought to be in decline, the global population is estimated at c.50,000-55,000 individuals, based on estimates of 3,000-5,000 in the west Mediterranean and West Africa, 1,000 in the east Mediterranean 5,000 in south Asia, and at least 44,000 individuals counted in Iraq in 2010 according to BirdLife International.
There has been one previous record of Marbled Duck in the county – coincidentally at Stanwick GP, on 29th June to 3rd July 1990.
This spring the BTO is organising a nationwide Peregrine survey to record the number of occupied territories in the UK, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Details are on the BTO website here and they will be working closely with established groups that study raptors to complete a comprehensive survey of all known territories. Another aspect of the survey is checking for possible breeding in randomly selected 5×5 km squares and there are 14 of these squares in Northants (below).
So far volunteers are lined up to cover 10 of these squares – the remaining vacant squares are in the centre of the county:
Cottesbrooke, Creaton, Brixworth
East Haddon, Holdenby, Gt Brington
East Edge of Northampton, Ecton
The aim will be to search each square for suitable habitat (e.g. quarries, pylons, industrial buildings, church towers) and to look for the presence of Peregrines. Apparently in some regions Peregrines will also nest in trees. Three visits to the square are recommended between March and mid-July. The first and second visits will be used to establish the presence or otherwise of Peregrines and the third visit to look for evidence of breeding success or as a further check for Peregrine presence in squares in which Peregrine detection may be particularly challenging.
Volunteers are required for the four remaining squares. If you would like to help, then please contact Barrie Galpin, BTO Regional Representative for Northants, 15 Top Lodge, Fineshade, Corby NN17 3BB firstname.lastname@example.org
I am delighted to be taking part in the Champions of the Flyway bird race in Israel, which is being staged by The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (BirdLife’s national partner in Israel) and is a BirdLife International Migratory Birds & Flyways Programme initiative. The race will take place on April 1st 2014, starting and ending in Eilat. In the course of just 24 hours, a number of international teams will compete to see the highest number of bird species in southern Israel. This is not just a bird race, but a massive fundraising campaign to support conservation work and, while the race will be fun, the goal is serious – to raise funds to help BirdLife International tackle the illegal killing of birds in southern and eastern Europe.
I am a member of the Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners team and we are looking for sponsors/donors to support our fundraising efforts. Our team’s target is to raise £5000. If you care about the perils which are faced by ‘our’ birds as they migrate to and from the UK and elsewhere in northern Europe then please consider visiting our donation page and pledging even a small amount. Many thanks for your kind support!
I received a nice letter today from Jan Pickup, daughter of AJB (‘Tommo’) Thompson, who was an eminent Northamptonshire birder in the latter part of the last century. Jan and husband, Tony, had kindly given me some literature which formerly belonged to AJBT and Jan had posted me a ‘missing’ bird report from 1969 – the very first edition of the Northamptonshire Bird Report, the forerunner of today’s annually produced Northants Birds.
In her letter she drew my attention to a note relating to an interesting local encounter with a Fulmar in May 1961, published by Laurie Taylor in British Birds in 1962, a transcript of which is reproduced below. What was not published, however, was the personal account from the Thompson family perspective, which Jan remembers well and recounts as follows:
Laurie lived in Bush Hill, quite close to us in The Headlands and came round and knocked on the door. He said to Dad, “I’ve got something to show you.” Dad said, in protest, “I can’t come now, I’m listening to Beethoven’s Seventh.” Laurie said “Blow Beethoven, I’ve got a new breeding record for the County.” So Dad went!
And this is what it was all about …
Fulmar laying egg in Northamptonshire garden. – On 27th May 1961, I was told by my aunt that a “sea-gull” had laid an egg in her garden in Northampton and that the bird was still there. Very dubiously I investigated and to my astonishment I was confronted with a Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). I captured the bird and released it at Pitsford Reservoir, Northamptonshire that evening. It settled on the water to preen and bathe before flying off in a southerly direction. The egg, which is now in my possession, was also seen by A. J. B. Thompson and M. Goodman. It is a typical Fulmar’s egg, white with a rough surface and slightly pyriform, measuring 73 mm. x 53 mm. It seems extraordinary that a Fulmar in breeding condition should be so far inland during the nesting season, but this hardly constitutes a breeding record for Northamptonshire! British Birds (1962) Vol 55: 164
The relentless, fast moving depressions from the Atlantic continued to batter Britain while local floodwater levels continued to rise in the Nene Valley and elsewhere. The first signs of early spring passage were evident on 10th.
Great weather for ducks, although nothing new was found during the period. Four Pintail were at Pitsford Res on 11th, the same site continuing to host at least two Red-crested Pochards and the drake Scaup until at least 9th, while the Earls Barton Long-tailed Duck had moved to Clifford Hill GP by 10th and the long-staying individual resurfaced at Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 13th.
All three sawbills were available this week, with a maximum of eight Smew at Pitsford Res on 8th, one at Earls Barton GP on 9th, two at Sywell CP on 12th and five at Ravensthorpe Res the following day, while a Red-breasted Merganser reappeared at Stanford Res between 8th and 12th and Goosanders were again reported from just four localities, with a maximum of thirteen at Stanford Res on 8th.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Pitsford Res all week as did at least one Great White Egret while two remained at Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP until 8th. Raptors continued to prove scarce with single Merlins at Pitsford Res on 8th and near Sulgrave on 11th and Peregrines were seen at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell and Ravensthorpe Res on 8th, Summer Leys on 9th and at Kingsthorpe LNR and Harrington AF on 13th. Scarce waders were limited to single Jack Snipes at, Stanford Res, Pitsford Res and Hollowell Res on 8th and again at the latter site on 13th.
Similarly, scarce gulls comprised adult Mediterranean Gulls at Pitsford Res on 8th, 11th and 14th, an adult and a first-winter in the gull roost at Boddington Res on 8th and 10th and a second-winter at Daventry CP on 9th with an adult Glaucous Gull in the Ise Valley near Wellingborough on 8th. The 10th produced adult Kittiwakes at Stanford Res and Boddington Res – part of a series of early storm-driven migrants inland, on their way back to breeding areas further north.
The only Chiffchaff this weekwas one at Stortons GP on 10th, while six wintering Central EuropeanBlackcaps were in gardens in Northampton, Sywell, Kettering and Wellingborough, a new Mealy Redpoll was found at Daventry CP on 11th and Bramblings were present at Harrington AF, Hanging Houghton, Hollowell Res and Stanwick GP.
The week remained mild as an incessant onslaught of depressions in off the Atlantic brought more rain and gale force winds. Few new birds were found locally.
Escapes maintained the status quo this week with the Ross’s Goose still at Clifford Hill GP on 2nd, the long-staying Bar-headed Goose at Pitsford Res still on 4th and the female Wood Duck on the River Nene in Northampton on 1st. Dapper dabblers were represented only by a drake Mandarin at Kettering Leisure Village Lake on 4th and eight Pintail at Ringstead GP on 6th with twenty over Earls Barton GP on the same date. The only Red-crested Pochards reported this week were single drakes at Ringstead GP on 4th and Ditchford GP on 7th and the only Scaup a drake at Pitsford Res on 3rd and 4th,
while the Long-tailed Duck remained in residence on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP all week, being joined there by a drake Smew for the same duration. The only other Smew were a ‘redhead’ at Clifford Hill GP on 2nd and three (one drake) at Pitsford Res all week, while Goosanders were reported from four localities, with a maximum of sixteen at Boddington Res on 7th. Unfortunately, the cat was out of the bag with regard to the pair of Ruddy Ducks wintering in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay, the government’s special boat squadron was duly despatched and it seems likely that these two met their fate on the afternoon of 4th.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver remained on station at Pitsford Res all week and the same locality continued to host at least one Great White Egret while two remained at Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP throughout the period.
Raptors were again scarce with a male Merlin over fields north of Badby on 7th and single Peregrines at Summer Leys on 2nd, Kingsthorpe LNR on 4th and Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on the same date and again on 7th, while a pair was present at an undisclosed locality throughout the week.
Waders hit an all-time low this week with just three Redshanks at Clifford Hill GP on 2nd and a Green Sandpiper at Pineham, Northampton on the same date, while approximately two thousand Lapwings at Stanwick GP on1st was an encouragingly high count.
Similarly, scarce gulls were poorly represented by just two Mediterranean Gulls – an adult and a first-winter – in the gull roost at Boddington Res on 3rd and 7th, a juvenile Glaucous Gull flying over Wellingborough on 1st and an adult in the usual flooded field in the Ise Valley there on 3rd.
The only Chiffchaff this weekwas one at Pitsford Res on 3rd, while five wintering Central EuropeanBlackcaps were in gardens in Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough, up to two Mealy Redpolls were in alders at Daventry CP between 3rd
and 7th and single-figure counts of Bramblings were made at Summer Leys, in the Brampton Valley and at Harrington AF which hosted the week’s maximum of eight on 1st.