Last week’s Red-necked Grebe, found by David Arden at Pitsford Reservoir on Wednesday 19th March, is the first in Northamptonshire since 22nd November 2008, when one paid a brief visit to Stanwick GP. An analysis of the last thirty years’ records reveals that, prior to that date, this species was an annual visitor to the County, with up to half a dozen records per year, including several instances of summering. So, after an absence of five and a half years, the Pitsford individual proved to be a bonus for local birders, as well as a number of out of county visitors who also travelled to see it.
Still present today but not yet in full summer plumage, it has remained relatively close to the dam during its stay, providing good views and exceptional photo opportunities for all comers.
Red-necked Grebe, Pitsford Res, 21st March 2014 (Mike Alibone). Ensure the ‘cogwheel’ is clicked on and the resolution 720p selected to watch in higher quality HD.
The week started warm, bright and dry under a continued south-westerly airstream, which turned more westerly with falling temperatures as the week progressed. However, it remained relatively mild and largely dry, providing ideal conditions for the arrival of more spring migrants.
A pair of Ruddy Shelduck was present near Slipton until 18th, having been present in the area since 12th. The reduction in wintering wildfowl numbers became more evident this week but the 2 Egyptian Geese were seen at Ditchford GP on 16th, the unringed female Wood Duck of unknown origin was still being seen on the River Nene at Northampton on 18th and the red colour-ringed Marbled Duck remained at Stanwick GP until at least 19th. The first Garganey arrived this week at Daventry CP, where four were found on 20th and two pairs of Red-crested Pochards dropped into Stortons GP on
17th, while the drake Scaup remained at Ditchford GP on 16th, the same date that the Thrapston GP Long-tailed Duck was still on Town Lake and the ever popular Earls Barton GP individual remained on Mary’s Lake there until at least 20th. The only Smew left over from the winter were a pair at Stanwick GP until at least 19th while single-figure counts of Goosanders came from nine localities throughout the week.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver continued its protracted stay at Pitsford Res all week and at least one Great White Egret remained faithful to Summer Leys LNR until at least 18th, while two were again at Ditchford GP on 16th. Bird of the week, for many, however, was the Red-necked Grebe discovered off the dam at Pitsford Res late on 19th and still showing well to all comers on 21st. Red-necked Grebe has become a bit of a local rarity in recent years, this individual being the first in the County since one put in a brief appearance at Stanwick GP on 22nd November 2008.
Hot on the heels of the first two Ospreys last week came two more – one over Brackmills, Northampton on and another over Ditchford GP on 21st. Four in the County already bears testament to the growing UK population, which is now estimated to be in the region of two hundred and fifty pairs. Aside from this, Peregrines were seen in the Brampton Valley, Ditchford GP, Hanging Houghton, Hardingstone GP and at Harrington AF.
The Brampton Valley continued to host up to 300 Golden Plovers throughout the week and six Jack Snipe were found at Hollowell Res on 16th, while 2 Dunlin were at Summer Leys on 16th-18th. A Curlew visited Thrapston GP on 19th, twelve Redshanks were at Stanwick GP on 17th with smaller numbers at Aldwinckle and Summer Leys, while a single Green Sandpiper was seen below the dam at Pitsford Res on 20th.
Winter gulls have begun to disperse but there are still good numbers moving through on passage with adult Mediterranean Gulls in reservoir roosts at Pitsford on 15th and two different individuals at Boddington on 20th and 21st. A second-winter Caspian Gull was again at Stanwick GP on 17th, and a first-winter Kittiwake visited Pitsford Res on 16th. The pair of ringed Bearded Tits at Stortons was seen again on 16th. Interestingly, the ringers on site believe there are two pairs present. More Sand Martins drifted through at several sites with approximately twenty at Stortons GP on 20th being the maximum count, while more and more Chiffchaffs piled inthis week, with singing males widely reported. Central EuropeanBlackcaps began to melt away with established long-stayers remaining in gardens at Barton Seagrave until 16th and Wellingborough, where there were two males and a female until 21st. Singing males in Wellingborough and Hardingstone may have been early summer visitors or winterers on the move. The first Ring Ouzel of the spring, a male, was found at Harrington AF on 17th and the first Northern Wheatears were found at Harrington AF and in the Brampton Valley on 18th and another was at Borough Hill on 20th. Hot on the heels of last week’s early Yellow Wagtail three more were seen – two at Middleton Cheney on 15th and one in the Brampton Valley on 18th, while Northamptonshire’s only know wintering Water Pipit showed itself again at Ditchford GP on 16th. Serving to remind us that winter is not yet over, Bramblings hung on all week at Harrington AF with sixteen still there on 18th and one was also at Kelmarsh on 17th.
A high pressure system became established over the UK from the beginning of the week, bringing mild, settled conditions with 19-20°C recorded locally on 9th. Such conditions were clearly conducive to migration and several early summer visitors were found, along with the reappearance of a potential ‘mega’ from the east.
Wildfowl numbers were noticeably down but the red colour-ringed Marbled Duck remained at Stanwick GP until at least 12th, when up to eight Pintails were there, a pair of Red-crested Pochards visited Ditchford GP on 13th and both the drake Scaup and the long-staying Long-tailed Duck were still on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 9th. Similarly, the Long-tailed Duck remained Earls Barton GP on Mary’s Lake until at least 11th, the only Smew reported were single drakes at Ravensthorpe Res on 8th and Stanwick GP on 12th, while the female Red-breasted Merganser was still at Stanford Res on 11th. Goosanders were reported only from Stanford Res, Stanwick GP and Daventry CP, with a maximum of nine at the latter site on 9th.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver continued its protracted stay at Pitsford Res until at least 11th while the only locality at which Great White Egrets were reported was Summer Leys LNR, where there were two to be found on most days during the week. Sunday 9th saw the arrival of the first summer visitor with an Osprey heading north over Daventry CP which was quickly followed by another at Pitsford Res just two days later on 11th. A male Merlin went through at Boddington Res on 13th, while Peregrines were seen in the Brampton Valley on 8th, at East Hunsbury, Northampton on 9th, Stanwick GP on 10th and at Harrington AF on 11th.
Jack Snipe are on the move this month and singles were found at Stortons GP on 9th, 12th and 14th and a Boddington Res on 10th and two were at Ecton SF on 8th, while a significant count of sixty Common Snipe was made at Pitsford Res on 8th. Redshanks were seen at Pitsford Res, Summer Leys LNR, Clifford Hill GP and Stanwick GP with a maximum of twelve at the latter site on 11th, while a single Green Sandpiper remained at Harrington AF until 13th and one was at Pitsford Res on 9th and 11th.
Spring passage of Mediterranean Gulls continued with a first-winter at Daventry CP on 8th, two adults in the roost at Pitsford Res on 9th and an adult at Boddington Res the following evening. An adult Glaucous Gull was still in the vicinity of Ditchford GP on 8th and a second-winter visited Clifford Hill GP briefly on 11th, while a second-winter Caspian Gull was at Stanwick GP on 10th-11th, a third-winter was watched at Rushton Landfill the following day and a second-winter Yellow-legged Gull was at Daventry CP on 8th-9th.
The status of Ring-necked Parakeet in Northants is unclear and it is not known if they breed but one in a Polebrook garden on 8th-9th and six in Stoke Bruerne on 8th gave rise to a modicum of local interest this week. A pair of ringed Bearded Tits at Stortons GP had not been seen since January until they resurfaced on 9th and they remained there all week; a male was also found at Summer leys LNR on the same date and was still present on 12th.
A sure sign of spring was the first Sand Martin at Stanwick GP on 10th and the distribution of Chiffchaffs this week, with singing males reported from half a dozen sites, while also singing were male Central European Blackcaps which continued to be seen in gardens at Wellingborough, Northampton and Spratton. More exciting than this ‘subspecies in waiting’ was the reappearance in a Northampton garden of a potential species in waiting – ‘Central Asian’ Lesser Whitethroat – the name now being suggested for birds falling within the blythi–halimodendri spectrum.
This bird popped up after an absence of more than six weeks, showing itself for just two days on 11th and 12th, before promptly disappearing again. This individual just about ticks all the boxes for acceptance as a sight record of a bird from this eastern group and, if the taxonomists can ever agree, it may, one day, be granted full specific rank. Another summer visitor, a Yellow Wagtail, flew north, calling, over Grange Park, Northampton on 9th. This appears to be the first in the whole of the UK this spring and was quickly followed by another in Hampshire the next day. Both birds are extremely early as the mean arrival date for this species in Britain is 7th April but the earliest ever recorded in Northants is 10th March (1975).
Up to twelve Bramblings remained at Harrington AF during the week and nine were at Hellidon on 13th, while a Mealy Redpoll visited feeders in and East Hunsbury, Northampton garden on 11th and six Crossbills were in Salcey Forest on 10th.
My old buddy Pete Campbell, who divides his time between Northants and the Isle of Wight, sent these images of a Lesser Whitethroat taken in his garden on the island on 7th March. It has been present daily since January. This looks all the world like a standard grey and white curucca therefore we should not assume that all wintering Lesser Whitethroats are of eastern origin. Compare it here with our Northampton bird.
After an absence of forty-seven days, the ‘eastern’ Lesser Whitethroat, which had made sporadic appearances in Dave Jackson’s Northampton garden back in January, returned today. Dave managed to capture some images which partly show the tail pattern – a largely white outer tail feather (some faint clouding at the distal end of the inner web) but it’s still not possible to see if there is any white at the tip of the adjacent feather, T5. Is it there or has it worn away (as the tail feathers appear quite abraded)? A video-grab of mine made back in January hinted at its presence but may be inconclusive. Either way, this bird pretty much ticks all the boxes for Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat, the name now being proposed here for birds in the group somewhere within the blythi—halimodendri spectrum.
A quiet and generally mild week with occasional moderate rainfall and a mainly south-westerly airstream heralded conditions conducive to spring migrants, although local birders were left wanting …
Sporadic appearances of two Egyptian Geese at Ditchford GP continued with their presence noted again on 1st, while Pitsford Res continued to host the escapee Bar-headed and Ross’s Geese throughout the week. Falling into the same category, the red colour-ringed Marbled Duck also remained at Stanwick GP all week and at nearby Ditchford GP the drake Scaup was still present on 1st, as were drakes at Pitsford Res on 6th and at Thrapston GP on 1st along with the long-staying Long-tailed Duck still on Town Lake on the same date. Similarly, the Earls Barton GP individual remained on Mary’s Lake throughout the period, both birds appearing to have made it into the record books for their length of stay in the County.
Numbers of Smew began to fall away this week with two drakes remaining at Ravensthorpe Res on 1st and a pair there on 5th, a ‘redhead’ at Ditchford GP on 1st, a drake at Stanwick GP on the same date with a pair there on 3rd-7th, two ‘redheads’ at Clifford Hill GP on 5th and four at Pitsford Res on 6th. Playing ‘hard to get’ (it’s not always there), the female Red-breasted Merganser was again at Stanford Res on 7th, while Goosanders were reported from only two localities localities, with a maximum of eight at Clifford Hill GP on 5th.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Pitsford Res until at least 6th while Great White Egrets were still very much in evidence at Summer Leys LNR throughout the period with a maximum of three there on 2nd and one still at Pitsford Res on 6th. The sole scarce raptor was a Peregrine at Ditchford GP on 1st.
The largest count of Golden Plovers was approximately three hundred at Summer Leys LNR on 2nd, a Jack Snipe was at Hollowell Res on 7th, a significant count of fifteen Redshanks was made at Stanwick GP on 6th and a single Green Sandpiper remained at Harrington AF until 4th.
Spring passage of Mediterranean Gulls continued this week with an adult at Fawsley Park on 2nd and two adults in the roost at Pitsford Res on 5th, the latter site also hosting a juvenile Glaucous Gull on 1st, while a juvenile Glaucous visited Stanwick GP on 7th. An adult Caspian Gull was at Stanford Res on 1st with a third-winter at Stanwick GP on 7th and an adult Yellow-legged Gull was at Hollowell Res on the same date.
Last week’s two Firecrests were still in the bramble clump at Thrapston GP on 1st with at least one remaining on 3rd but the only Chiffchaff reported was one at Hanging Houghton on 2nd. Male Central EuropeanBlackcaps were singing this week in gardens at Brackley and Wellingborough and in two gardens at Barton Seagrave, while others visited gardens in Raunds and Kettering.
A Rock Pipit visited Clifford Hill GP briefly on 5th, a Mealy Redpoll was seen at Grange Park on 3rd and Bramblings were continually present at Harrington AF throughout the period, with a maximum of fifteen there on 1st-2nd.
Much to the relief of many, the Atlantic depressions in the week prior to this reporting period appeared to have run out of steam, resulting in relatively calmer conditions for birding. Signs of spring migration were thin but tangible …
If you look at Slimbridge as a ‘barometer’ then, by the end of this week, most of the Bewick’s Swan wintering there had departed, commencing their long journey back to Siberia. Perhaps from there, then, thirty-seven were seen flying north over Byfield on 22nd – the largest herd reported in Northants for a good many years. Two Egyptian Geese at Ditchford GP on 27th were more standard fare while twenty-three Shelduck at Deene Lake on 19th was an exceptional count. Pintail were clearly on the move with twos at Ditchford GP on 15th and Clifford Hill GP on 17th, nine at Thrapston GP on 22nd and the same number at Stanwick GP two days later and eight at the latter site on 26th-28th. Last month’s Marbled Duck reappeared at Stanwick GP on 20th, remaining until at least 26th. Rumour has it that it was seen to be bearing a red ring – a sure sign of its captive origin.
Diving ducks were well represented with a drake Red-crested Pochard at Ditchford GP from 15th to 22nd and the drake Scaup there until at least 27th, with one again at Thrapston GP on 23rd and the first-winter drake at Pitsford Res until 25th. After a brief sojourn to Clifford Hill GP, the Earls Barton Long-tailed Duck returned to Mary’s Lake, where it remained until at least 22nd and the Nene Valley also saw some ‘new’ Smew appearing, including a pair at Ditchford GP between 21st and 27th, a pair at Stanwick GP on 26th-28th while up to seven (four drakes) were at Ravensthorpe Res until at least 26th. The Stanford Res Red-breasted Merganser remained until at least 27th and Goosanders were reported from seven localities, with a maximum of twenty at Boddington Res on 19th.
The wintering juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Pitsford Res until at least 24th and Northamptonshire’s twenty-third ever Fulmar was found at Ravensthorpe Res on 26th.
Just how many Great White Egrets we have wintering is anyone’s guess. With an amazing count of fourteen at one locality in Somerset this week, this species is fast losing its UK rarity status. Individuals continue to be reported from Stanwick GP, Ditchford GP, Summer Leys LNR/Earls Barton GP and Pitsford Res with twos at the last three of localities on several dates. On the raptor front, a female Merlin was at Harrington AF between 20th and 25th, while Peregrines were seen at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 16th, in the nearby Brampton Valley and at Deene Lake on 19th, Ditchford GP on 21st, between Moulton and Holcot on 22nd, in Northampton on 23rd, at Pitsford Res on 24th and at Ditchford GP on 27th.
The largest count of Golden Plovers was approximately five hundred at Stanwick GP on 20th. There have been no high counts of this species in recent weeks, the traditional Nene Valley roost site of Clifford Hill GP producing very few. The only Dunlin during the period was one at Stanwick GP on 20th, two Jack Snipe were at Hollowell res on 23rd and one was at Pitsford Res the following day, on which sixty-seven Common Snipe were also counted at the same locality. Further signs of spring were indicated by the appearance of Black-tailed Godwits, which are now clearly on the move, with singles at Stanwick GP on 18th and Summer Leys LNR on 22nd and two more arriving at Stanwick GP on 23rd. Both localities also produced Redshank, with up to fourteen at the latter locality throughout the period and one at Summer Leys on 22nd, while single Green Sandpipers were at Stanford Res on 16th, Harrington AF on 23rd-26th and Pitsford Res on 24th.
While March is traditionally the best month for spring passage of Mediterranean Gulls we have been seeing them appear a little earlier this year with the Black-headed Gull roost at Boddington Res proving to be as reliable as ever for producing this species. Four different individuals (two adults and two first-winters have been present, on and off, between 16th and 25th, one of the adults seen to be bearing a ring). Another adult visited Stanwick GP on 26th. An adult Glaucous Gull was again in the Ise Valley near Wellingborough on 16th and single juveniles were in the gull roost at Pitsford Res (the first there for many years) on 25th, Ditchford GP and Rushton Landfill on 27th and at Stanwick GP on 28th. Single adult Yellow-legged Gulls visited Stanford Res on 15th and Pitsford res on 19th, while Caspian Gulls during the period included a first-winter in the Ise Valley at Wellingborough on 17th and a third-winter at Rushton Landfill on 27th. Surprising for the time of year were Little Gulls in the roost at Boddington Res on 16th and flying over Irthlingborough on 18th, the latter being accompanied by twelve Kittiwakes! Another Kittiwake visited Daventry CP briefly on 27th.
After an apparent absence of a month, the Lowick Great Grey Shrike was back on its favoured hedgerow from 22nd until at least 25th, proving to be a popular draw for local birders, and a ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw appeared at Hanging Houghton on 21st. A Firecrest was found at Thrapston GP on 21st and one became two on the following day, both birds staying until 24th.
Ten Chiffchaffs were counted at Ecton SF on 21st, singles were at Thrapston GP on 22nd-23rd and Ditchford GP on 27th, while two were at Pitsford Res on 24th and the wintering Central EuropeanBlackcap tally from gardens in Barton Seagrave, Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough reached nine.
Migrant Stonechats appeared at Ditchford GP on 22nd and Daventry CP on 24th, up to two Mealy Redpolls were still frequenting the alders at Daventry CP until 17th and Bramblings were present at Harrington AF, Hanging Houghton and Pitsford Res with a maximum of twenty-five at the first of these locations on 17th.