Two Weeks in Focus: 15th to 28th February 2014

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.

Marbled Duck, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Marbled Duck, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

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.

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

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.

Great Grey Shrike, Lowick, 23rd February 2014 (Geof Douglas)

Great Grey Shrike, Lowick, 23rd February 2014 (Geof Douglas)

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.

Firecrest, Thrapston GP, 23rd February 2014 (Kirsty Philpot)

Firecrest, Thrapston GP, 23rd February 2014 (Kirsty Philpot)

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 European Blackcap tally from gardens in Barton Seagrave, Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough reached nine.

Female Central European Blackcap, Kettering, 26th February 2014 (Phil Jackman)

Female Central European Blackcap, Kettering, 26th February 2014 (Phil Jackman)

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.

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2 Responses to Two Weeks in Focus: 15th to 28th February 2014

  1. Barbara Nunn says:

    I am wondering about “Central European Blackcap”. Is this a known sub-species with defined characteristics (in which case, what are they please?) or an assumption about the origin of the bird? Thanks for any information.

    • Mike Alibone says:

      Barbara, these birds are from a defined Central European population which is known to migrate north-west in autumn to spend the winter in the UK. They have undergone a rapid evolution in the space of the last 50-60 years and they are genetically different to those summering in Britain and the rest of Europe which migrate south-west to winter in Spain and North Africa. For a better explanation and useful links see https://northantsbirds.com/2012/12/07/breakaway-blackcaps/

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