The Week in Focus: 12th to 18th April 2014

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.

Pink-footed Goose, Thrapston GP, 13th April 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Pink-footed Goose, Thrapston GP, 13th April 2014 (Mike Alibone)

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.

Stone-curlew, Harrington AF, 17th April 2014 (Alan Coles)
Stone-curlew, Harrington AF, 17th April 2014 (Alan Coles)

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.

Male Northern Wheatear, Harrington AF, 16th April 2014 (Pete Gilbert)
Male Northern Wheatear, Harrington AF, 16th April 2014 (Pete Gilbert)

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.

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