It was just before two o’clock this afternoon when Matt Hazleton picked up a Spoonbill flying in from the north-east before arriving on the main lake at Summer Leys. It landed in the Brayshaw’s Bund/Wader Bay area and seemed settled, giving Matt the opportunity for a few photos before he emailed me to let me know.
After putting the news out, I made my way to Summer Leys only to discover upon arrival that it had flown off up the Nene Valley. Time was limited so I decided to head back home, calling in at Clifford Hill GP, just in case …
At 15.10, I arrived at the western end of the main barrage lake and quickly scanned the ‘new’ peninsular … and there it was! More news alerts then a bit of video before I had to leave at 15.40, leaving John Moon, Martin and Andrew Dove there to watch it.
Spoonbill, Clifford Hill GP, 27th April 2014 (Mike Alibone). Black primary tips just visible, pale bill tip, no breast band and shortish crest make this a first- or second-summer bird.
It remained there for the next two hours, after which I heard it had been flushed by fishermen driving out on to the peninsular. So much for this being an SSSI …
Many thanks to Matt and to Simon Hales for the use of their images.
An area of low pressure to the south-east ensured a north-easterly airstream in the early part of the week, with outbreaks of rain and misty/murky conditions slowing and lowering a number of northbound migrants, particularly Arctic Terns, which were seen in some numbers on 20th.
Thrapston Gravel Pits continued to host the Pink-footed Goose until at least 21st, while the roving, escaped Ross’s Goose was seen again at Pitsford Res on the same date.
Considered by some to be fighting a losing battle with aesthetics, an Egyptian Goose was at Clifford Hill GP also on 21st, remaining there until at least 24th and a female Red-crested Pochard was discovered at the largely underwatched site of Thorpe Malsor Res – again on 21st. A drake Scaup found at Pitsford Res on 19th was still present there on 24th, the wintering Long-tailed Duck remained at Earls Barton GP all week and a female Common Scoter appeared at Thrapston GP on 24th. Other remnants of winter hung on in the form of 2 Goldeneyes at Thrapston GP on 21st and two were at Pitsford Res on 23rd and one at Summer Leys on 25th, while a drake Goosander was also at Thrapston GP on 21st and a female remained at Daventry CP on 20th.
Three fine, summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes found their way to Pitsford Res on 19th but did not linger and a dip into the almost empty raptor bag pulled out only single Peregrines from Pitsford Res on 19th, Hardingstone on 20th and Hemington on 20th-21st.
Wader passage began to gain momentum but failed to produce anything to match the quality of last week’s Harrington Stone-curlew. Little Ringed Plovers were reported from four Nene Valley localities and dwindling Golden Plover numbers included two at Hemington on 20th and six in the Brampton Valley on 22nd. Six Bar-tailed Godwits spent the day at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows Reserve on 20th with two Black-tailed Godwits at Summer Leys on 25th and the week’s only Whimbrel – which was also the first of the year – flew over Summer Leys on 22nd, while the same Green Sandpiper remained at Kislingbury Meadows on 19th, a lonely Common Sandpiper visited Clifford Hill GP on 22nd-23rd and the spring’s first Turnstone lingered at Summer Leys on 20th-21st.
On 20th, a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull was again at Stanwick GP among ninety-two loafing Greater Black-backed Gulls but the only other gulls of note were single Little Gulls at Daventry CP on 21st and Summer Leys on 25th.
The spring’s first Black Terns, three, were at Daventry CP on 21st and the same site hosted twenty-four Arctic Terns on 20th, several went through Clifford Hill GP and two or three were at Summer Leys on the same date with two there again on 22nd.
A Ring-necked Parakeet was at Stoke Bruerne on 20th, the spring’s first Common Swift appeared at Pitsford Res two days later and a Firecrest was discovered at Pitsford Res on 21st. With almost all the common summer warblers already in, the first Garden Warbler was found at Pitsford Res on 19th, quickly followed by others at Summer Leys on 21st and Daventry CP on 22nd but only one Grasshopper Warbler was located, a singing male at Stortons GP on 19th.
Up to three Ring Ouzels performed at Harrington AF between 19th and 24th and a male Black Redstart was discovered nearby in the Brampton Valley on 22nd, while
Common Redstarts, all males, were at Clifford Hill GP on 22nd, Harrington AF on 23rd and in the Brampton Valley on 25th. Northern Wheatears were reported from four localities with a maximum of at nine at Hemington on 21st. Again, only two White Wagtails were found at this week – one at Hemington on 21st and one at Earls Barton GP on 22nd, while the only Brambling was one on a feeder in a Kettering garden on 20th.
Dominated by the presence of a slowly moving area of high pressure, the week remained dry and settled with variable light winds, initially from the west then north and southerly for a short time mid-week. The influx of summer visitors continued with one or two surprises among some notably early arrivals.
With the vast majority of winter wildfowl well on their way back to their summer breeding grounds we are now left with a handful of hangers-on and a few late passage birds stopping over briefly to break their journeys ‘up north’. Falling into the latter category a Pink-footed Goose joined the resident Greylag flock at Thrapston GP on 12th and was still present there on 18th. This species has been unusually scarce this year with no previous records this side of the New Year but its appearance at Thrapston is no great surprise as this site has an established track record for attracting small numbers of pinkfeet in spring.
Falling into the malingerers category, the wintering Long-tailed Duck remained at Earls Barton GP until at least 14th, three Goldeneyes were still at Thrapston GP on 13th with one still there on 18th and a drake Goosander was beside the River Nene at Oundle on 15th.
Raptors were in short supply this week with the most notable of the predatory elite being a male Goshawk flying over Woodford Halse in the direction of Eydon on 15th. This species remains an enigma in Northants. Believed to have bred here in the past, it is no longer being seen at localities favoured in the 80s and 90s so it’s a real local rarity these days, remaining a very difficult bird to catch up with in the county. Making less of a splash but still an essential piece in the summer jigsaw, the first Hobby was reported from Scaldwell on 15th, while single Peregrines were seen over Isham and Little Irchester on 13th and at Summer Leys LNR on 18th.
With the main thrust of passage waders still a couple of weeks away, the lack of quantity was amply made up for by quality in the shape of Northamptonshire’s twelfth-ever Stone-curlew, which was discovered at Harrington AF during the morning of 17th. Flighty and true to form, however, it did not stay long and promptly went AWOL after lunch.
Little Ringed Plovers were found at just three Nene Valley localities, the only Dunlin were five at Clifford Hill GP on 12th with four remaining on 17th-18th and the only Curlews were singles at the latter site on 12th and at Daventry CP on 17th. A Black-tailed Godwit was found at Summer Leys on 18th, while another flew northeast at Thrapston GP on the same date and single Green Sandpipers remained faithful to Pitsford Res on 13th-14th and Kislingbury Meadows on 15th.
With wintering gulls all but gone the only species of note were a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Stanwick GP on 13th and four Little Gulls which visited Daventry CP on 17th. With Common Terns rapidly becoming established back at traditional sites in the Nene Valley, transient Arctic Terns were a welcome addition to the local menu with two picked up heading northeast at Earls Barton GP on 14th.
An early Lesser Whitethroat was found at Harrington Airfield on 12th, rapidly followed by others at Denton Wood, Scaldwell and Summer Leys during the course of the next four days. Common Whitethroats also put in an appearance from 13th, with a male at Old, while the first Grasshopper Warbler was heard reeling at Earls Barton GP on the same day (the average date of first arrival for this species in the UK), quickly followed by others at Stortons GP on 15th and Salcey Forest on 18th. This species has been recorded as arriving as early as 1st April in the county but it is undergoing a long term decline in population and is now red-listed in conservation terms. The first Reed Warblers were heard singing at Thrapston GP also on 13th.
Two Ring Ouzels were located at Harrington AF on 14th, three were there the following day, remaining until at least 17th. One was also found at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 15th and another was seen at Borough Hill on 17th. The year’s first Nightingale was singing in a Blackthorn thicket alongside the River Nene at Thrapston on 17th, while more Common Redstarts continued to pour in with males located at Borough Hill and Clifford Hill GP on 12th, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick on 14th, Hellidon on 14th with two there on 18th, two at Blueberry Farm on 15th and one again at Clifford Hill GP on 18th. A male Whinchat put in a relatively early appearance at Borough Hill on 17th and was still present the following day, while Northern Wheatears were reported from seven localities with a maximum of at least eight (possibly ten) at Harrington AF on 17th.
Only two White Wagtails were found at this week – both at Clifford Hill GP on 12th, while a Tree Pipit – now relegated (or promoted, depending upon your viewpoint) to a scarce local passage migrant, not having bred in the county for a couple of years. Most Bramblings have now departed but four were still at Harrington AF on 14th, one there on 15th and six still at Hellidon on 18th.
While out looking for Ring Ouzels, Gary Burrows found this rather nice Stone-curlew at Harrington Airfield this morning. It was still around – though flighty – early in the afternoon. Thanks to Alan Coles for the images below.
Sharp-eyed observers will have spotted the rings: metal on left leg and colour ring on right. Did anybody get the exact colour in the field?
We don’t get them very often. Although it breeds no further away than East Anglia, Stone-curlew is a vagrant to Northants. Including the last, in a field adjacent to Summer Leys LNR on 15th April 2009, there are eleven previous records dating back to 1880. Of these, four have been in April, two in July, and singles in May, August and October with two old records dated only to year of occurrence.
A run of relatively mild weather, with winds from a southerly quarter in the middle part of the period, served to further advance spring and to introduce a steady flow of migrants to the county.
Two female Ruddy Shelducks were reported on the south bank of the River Welland, west of Rockingham on 10th – an interesting time of year for this species in not conforming to the usual pattern of late summer occurences of birds suspected of being from The Netherlands. If ever proof were needed that Egyptian Geese breed in Northants then here it is – a pair was discovered with two young goslings in the east of the County on 23rd
while other, less auspicious, wildfowl remained in the shape of the unringed female Wood Duck on the River Nene at Northampton to 1st and the red colour-ringed Marbled Duck at Stanwick GP throughout the period. In a similar vein, the long-staying Ross’s Goose –
now apparently paired with a Greylag Goose – commuted between Pitsford Res and Clifford Hill GP between 28th and 4th. A pair of Pintail visiting Summer Leys LNR on
2nd were the only ones recorded but what is likely to be ‘bird of the month’ was a fine drake Blue-winged Teal which appeared only briefly at Stanwick GP on 1st before quickly departing to the north. Both wintering Long-tailed Ducks remained at Thrapston GP until 5th and at Earls Barton GP until 11th, while a handful of
Goldeneyes lingered and odd Goosanders remained at Clifford Hill, Stanwick and Thrapston GPs and at Daventry CP. The latter site hosted three Common Scoters (two drakes) from 4th to 8th and two drakes were also found at Stanwick GP on 4th and a single drake joined the Earls Barton Long-tailed Duck on Mary’s Lake from 6th to 8th.
The wintering second calendar year Great Northern Diver continued its long term winter residence at Pitsford Res until at least 5th while three Bitterns – presumably migrants – were found with one at Summer Leys on 23rd, another or the same at adjacent Earls Barton GP on 31st and another at Pineham (Northampton) on 6th. Great White Egrets remained very much in evidence with singles at Stanwick GP on 22nd, 2nd and 6th with two flying east there on 10th, while one was seen intermittently at Summer
Leys/Earls Barton GP between 24th and 5th with three roosting there on 30th and one visited Ditchford GP on 6th. The Red-necked Grebe discovered off the dam at Pitsford Res on 19th remained until 8th, after which it could no longer be located.
Migrant raptors on the move were a Marsh Harrier visiting Summer Leys on 24th and, on the same date, a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier flew west at Stanwick GP and another ‘ringtail’
flew east at Summer Leys on 2nd. More Ospreys came through during the period, singles being noted at Pitsford Res on 26th, Great Billing on 1st, Northampton on 3rd, Brampton Valley on 4th and two north-east over Harpole on 6th. A Merlin flew high north over Borough Hill on 9th and Peregrines were seen at Summer Leys on 6th, in the Brampton Valley on 8th and in Northampton on 8th and 10th.
The first Little Ringed Plovers were found at Clifford Hill GP and Kislingbury/Upton on 31st, quickly followed by others at Pitsford Res, Stanwick GP and Summer Leys, while the Brampton Valley continued to host good numbers of Golden Plovers with up to five hundred still there on 8th and a single Grey Plover flew over Daventry CP on 4th. The only Dunlin during the period were two at Clifford Hill GP on 7th, similarly one Ruff was seen at Stanwick GP on 10th and a Jack Snipe was at Summer Leys on 5th. Single Black-tailed Godwits visited Clifford Hill GP on 31st and Ditchford GP on 2nd and a Bar-tailed Godwit put in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 29th. The latter site
hosted a long-staying Curlew throughout the review period while others appeared at Thrapston GP on 30th and 6th, Stanwick GP on 6th and in the Brampton Valley, where there were two on 8th.
Single Green Sandpipers lingered throughout below the dam at Pitsford Res and on flooded pools at Upton/Kislingbury/Pineham, while the first Common Sandpiper appeared at Pitsford Res on 8th.
A first-winter Mediterranean Gull was at Stanwick GP on 22nd and 24th while others – all adults – turned up in reservoir roosts at Pitsford on 30th-31st and Boddington on 24th and (two) on 25th. A late second-winter Glaucous Gull put in a brief appearance at Clifford Hill GP on 6th and a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited the Boddington Res roost on 25th, when an adult Kittiwake was also present. An influx of Little Gulls occurred on 31st when thirteen were counted at Summer Leys, nine at Daventry CP and six at Pitsford Res; these were followed by singles at Summer Leys and Daventry CP on 2nd and 3rd respectively, with three more at the latter site on 7th and two at Stanwick GP the following day. Such high numbers are rare before mid-April.
Early sternas included single Sandwich Terns at Daventry CP on 31st, Stanwick GP the following day and at Boddington Res on 9th, while the first Common Tern was found at Daventry CP – again on 31st – quickly followed by others at Stanwick GP, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP from 5th. Single Arctic Terns appeared at Pitsford Res on 1st and Stanwick GP on 5th. The first Cuckoos were found at both Harrington AF and Stanwick GP on 6th, while a Woodlark – the first for several years – flew west over Daventry CP, while Swallows became evident from 31st and the first House Martin was at Byfield on 6th. More spring firsts came in the shape of Willow Warblers – widespread from 31st – and Sedge Warblers from 1st, while the first Common Redstart appeared at Hellidon on 11th and a Black Redstart was in Wollaston on 23rd. Northern Wheatears were reported from five localities with a maximum of seven at Borough Hill on 9th and three Ring Ouzels – all males – appeared in the Brampton Valley on 24th, Daventry CP on 4th and at Old Sulehay on 10th. Following last month’s very early Yellow Wagtails, small numbers were reported from five sites, while single White Wagtails were found at Summer Leys on 4th, Stanwick GP on 5th and 8th and at Braunston and Clifford Hill GP on 8th, while the wintering Water Pipit remained at Ditchford GP until 6th. Up to a dozen Bramblings continued to be seen at Harrington AF until 9th but a build-up in ‘pre-departure’ numbers at Hellidon reached an impressive eighty-two on 4th while a small
movement of Crossbills was noted at Pitsford Res on 30th with parties of two, eight and ten heading south-west. Finally, a very confiding Snow Bunting proved a popular
attraction at Daventry CP on 3rd. It was not present the next day but, amazingly, a different individual flew over the same site on 5th.
Snow Bunting, Daventry Country Park, 3rd April. A great find by Gary Pullan. This species has become rather erratic in its appearances in Northants over the past few years and now seems to be appearing here less frequently than it did in the last century.
Snow Bunting, Daventry CP, 3rd April 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Until 1992 it was recorded annually but, since then, it has been recorded in only seven out of the last twenty years. There have been forty-two records during the last thirty years with twenty-five (60%) falling in the month of November but only one of these was found in April during this period.
This bird appears to be a female on wholly dark primary coverts but it may be a first-year male (contrasting blackish mantle with white ‘shawl’).