The first half of the week remained unsettled with showers from the continent initially moving north across the country before winds from the east took over in the latter half. Migration slowed considerably with few new birds being found.
Two Egyptian Geese visited Summer Leys LNR on 25th but the only other wildfowl of note were lingering Goldeneyes comprising a female still at Earls Barton GP and a drake still at Thrapston GP all week. A Quail was singing at Boddington Res on 24th and yet another Spoonbill – this time a second-summer – put in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 29th. This is the third to visit this site this spring, being readily distinguished from last week’s individual by the amount of black present in the primaries.
The only Osprey reported this week was one at Pitsford Res on 26th, a Marsh Harrier visited Harrington AF on 25th and a Peregrine was near Stortons GP on 27th-28th.
Little Ringed Plovers continued to be reported from Summer Leys and Clifford Hill GP, while 2 Ringed Plovers were at the first of these two sites on 25th and one was at the latter on 26th. Both sites also held single Dunlins – Clifford Hill GP on 24th and Summer Leys on 30th, while the only other migrant waders this week were a Wood Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper – both being at Stanwick GP on 24th. A second-summer Yellow-legged Gull visited Clifford Hill GP on 26th but arguably more interesting was the leucistic Black-headed Gull,doing its best to look like a Slender-billed Gull but falling well short of the mark, at Summer Leys the day before.
A small flurry of Arctic Terns comprised sixteen at Daventry CP on 27th and one at Boddington Res on 29th. Single fly-over Ring-necked Parakeets were seen at Ditchford GP on 28th and at Roade on 30th.
High pressure over the country in the early part of the week brought high temperatures and a weak southerly airstream, which turned south-westerly in the latter part of the week, delivering heavy showers and thunderstorms. With fewer migrants now in evidence the emphasis turned from quantity to quality …
The escaped Ross’s Goose continued to put in sporadic appearances at Summer Leys LNR, being seen again there on 20th but the only other wildfowl of note were Red-crested Pochards, with two drakes at Stanwick GP on 18th and a pair at Earls Barton GP on 20th, moving to Pitsford Res the following day. Otherwise, lingering Goldeneyes included a female at Earls Barton GP all week and a drake still at Thrapston GP until at least 21st.
Last week’s Quail was still singing at Stanford Res on 17th and, hot on the heels of last month’s Spoonbill, another – or possibly the same – appeared at Summer Leys on 19th, where it stayed for a mere two hours during the early evening before flying high west.
The only Osprey reported this week was one at Thrapston GP on 23rd and, similarly, the only Peregrine was one at Ditchford GP on the same date.
Topping the bill, though, a pair of Black-winged Stilts brought a touch of exotica to Summer Leys on 18th, these leggy wanderers earning a place in the annals of Northamptonshire’s avifauna as the fourth county record. Performing well for all comers, they remained on the scrape throughout but there was no sign of them the following day.
Little Ringed Plovers continued to be reported from Clifford Hill GP and Summer Leys while Ringed Plovers continued to trickle through in small numbers, with four at Clifford Hill GP on 17th and one there on 20th and two at Stanwick GP on 19th with three there on 22nd. Following heavy rain on the latter date, two Sanderlings were also found at Stanwick GP and seven appeared at Clifford Hill GP at the same time, while the only Dunlins were singles at Clifford Hill GP on 17th and at Stanwick GP on 18th, 19th and 22nd. The three long-staying Whimbrel remained at Summer Leys on 17th, dwindling to
just one on 19th while the only Common Sandpipers were singles at Summer Leys on 18th and 23rd, Stanwick GP on 19th and Clifford Hill GP on 22nd. A first-summer Caspian Gull was at Daventry CP on 23rd and another again at Stanwick GP on 19th along with two Yellow-legged Gulls, while Black Terns – uncommon this spring – were two at Earls Barton GP on 20th and one at Daventry CP on the same date. The week’s sole scarce passerine was a male Whinchat at Summer Leys on 19th.
These super Black-winged Stilts were found at Summer Leys very early this morning by Steve Murfitt and John and Ruth Ward. Initially on the slips they quickly moved to the scrape where they were also seen mating several times throughout the morning.
Making the approach …
that mounting feeling …
that sinking feeling …
Black-winged Stilts, Summer Leys LNR, 18th May 2014 (Mike Alibone)
This pair has been wandering in eastern England over the past week, having last been seen in Cambridgeshire. This is the fourth record for Northants, the previous three having all been in May, including the first at Boddington Res on 22nd-23rd May 1965, one at Summer Leys on 15th May 1997 and the last, a pair, also at Summer Leys on 1st May 2008.
A blustery, showery, westerly airstream persisted for the first part of the week, eventually giving way to more settled conditions and higher temperatures in the latter part as an area of high pressure moved into position over the country.
There was no major change from last week in the wildfowl camp with the long-staying Pink-footed Goose at Thrapston GP remaining until at least 13th and, also helping to maintain the status quo, ‘Rossi’ the escaped Ross’s Goose, continued to roam the Nene Valley, being seen at Summer Leys LNR again on 11th, while two Egyptian Geese were found at Stoke Doyle the next day. The scarcity of Garganey this spring endured with just one – a drake – visiting Summer Leys on 13th and a drake Goldeneye was still at Thrapston GP on the same date.
Appearing on 10th, bird of the week was quite literally a ‘biggie’, coming in the shape of a White Stork, which was first seen as it flew low toward Cottesbrooke from Blueberry Farm at around 09.30. Evidently it swung south and was later refound in a field behind the Raybell skip company, just south of Brixworth, at midday. This is about the 22nd White Stork to be recorded in Northants, following the last over Sywell AF on 5th July last year and, prior to that, one at Weldon on 3rd June 2007. Single Ospreys continued to be seen in the Blueberry Farm/Brampton Valley area on 10th, 11th and 13th, at Pitsford Res on 11th and at Thrapston GP on 13th and a Quail, present from 9th, was singing in a rape field at Stanford Res on 15th.
Heading the cast of waders this week was an Avocet, which spent the day at Summer Leys on 15th. Little Ringed Plovers were reported from Thrapston GP, Clifford Hill GP, and Summer Leys, with a maximum of five at the latter site on 10th while Ringed Plovers occurred at the last two of these sites, peaking at fourteen at Summer Leys on 10th. D-day, where ‘D’ stands for Dunlin, was 11th when twenty-six were counted at Summer Leys and twenty-two at Clifford Hill GP; smaller numbers continued to be reported at Summer Leys throughout the week and one was at Thrapston GP on 13th.
A Black-tailed Godwit visited Summer Leys briefly on 14th, while the same site continued to host three Whimbrels, present since 7th, throughout the week
Whimbrels, Summer Leys LNR, 11th May 2014 (Mike Alibone). [click cogwheel and select 1080 for HD viewing]
and two Curlews were at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 11th. Other waders included single Common Sandpipers at Thenford on 11th, at Sywell CP and Summer Leys on 13th and at Thrapston GP on 16th, while a Wood Sandpiper visited the latter site on 13th, a Turnstone was there on 10th and a first-summer Mediterranean Gull on 11th, while a Caspian Gull of the same age visited Stanwick GP on 15th.Single Turtle Doves – the only ones reported so far this year – were at Blueberry Farm on 11th and Harrington AF the following day, while a Firecrest was reported singing in a Wellingborough garden briefly on 13th and a Wood Warbler was singing in Cottesbrooke on 12th. The first Spotted Flycatcher of the spring was also in Cottesbrooke at the same time and the week’s only Whinchat was nearby – with a Northern Wheatear – at Blueberry Farm on 10th, while another Northern Wheatear was at Harrington AF the following day.
For the first part of the week, the UK was sandwiched between a low pressure system to the west and high pressure to the east, resulting in a warm, southerly airstream off the near continent. Things changed mid-week, however, as winds swung westerly, heralding a period of showery and unsettled conditions, which persisted until the week’s end. The bank holiday, 5th May, took the crown for the best day in terms of both rarity and diversity of species recorded.
Now ensconced within the resident Greylag flock, the long-staying Pink-footed Goose continued to find Thrapston GP to its liking, remaining there until at least 6th, while Clifford Hill GP’s Egyptian Goose was still present on 9th. Also on 6th – and perhaps surprising for the time of year – a Ruddy Shelduck appeared by the yacht club at Pitsford Res, while a late drake Goosander was found at Thrapston GP. The first Quail of the year was heard singing at Harrington Airfield on 4th, quickly to be followed by the second at Draughton Crossing in the nearby Brampton Valley on 7th. The latter site notched up a fly-over Osprey on the same two dates and another was seen at Stanwick GP on 5th.
It shouldn’t have happened again … but this week it did. What was potentially Northamptonshire’s fourth-ever Glossy Ibis put in a tantalisingly brief appearance at Summer Leys, showing itself only to one observer as it flew east over the reserve, just before two o’clock on the afternoon of 5th. This species has carved out a local reputation for being the subject of single observer sightings and limiting its Northamptonshire visits to a matter of minutes. Will one ever stay long enough to be seen by the masses?
Fly-over Glossy Ibis notwithstanding, one rarity that did make itself available to most of those who made the trip to look for it was a female Dotterel, which was found between Hemington and Lutton – also on 5th. Distant and camera-dodging, it remained a shimmering vision in the heat haze at the centre of a pea field for most of the morning but appeared to go AWOL during the afternoon. With only ten previous records, this species remains a true rarity in Northants, the last one being in 1996. Interestingly, 50% of all previously accepted records have come from this same area of the county and 80% of these have fallen within the ten-day period 26th April to 5th May.
Not quite matching the latter’s celebrity status, a Grey Plover dropped in at Summer Leys on the same date, while Little Ringed Plovers continued to be reported from four locations and Ringed Plovers occurred at Clifford Hill GP and Summer Leys with site maxima of sixteen on 6th and seven on 7th respectively. The same two sites produced all of this week’s Dunlins, which were present daily at both, with maxima of five at Clifford Hill GP on 7th and thirteen at Summer Leys on 9th. Three Whimbrels arrived at the latter site on the evening of 7th and were still present on 9th and single Curlews were also found here and in the Brampton Valley – both on 7th. Other waders included single Common Sandpipers at Stanwick GP, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP while four were counted at Clifford Hill GP on 5th and Summer Leys produced two Greenshanks on 4th-5th, with one remaining until 9th. The same site hosted a Wood Sandpiper on 5th, while two Turnstones visited Clifford Hill GP on the same date.
One of the week’s surprises came in the shape of a smart, second calendar year Iceland Gull,which visited Daventry CP for thirty-five minutes on 5th. This was the first record of this species for the site and probably the latest in spring to be recorded in the county.
A first-winter Mediterranean Gull was at the same site the following day and a third-year Yellow-legged Gull was found at Stanwick GP on 8th. In contrast to last week, only two Little Gulls were reported – both second calendar years, including one at Summer Leys from 3rd until 6th and one at Stanwick GP on 5th. Tern numbers also dwindled with just one Black Tern at Pitsford Res on 5th, while Arctic Terns totalled just three with singles at Daventry CP on 6th and 9th and one at Clifford Hill GP on 7th.
Scarce passerines were again in short supply this week with a Black Redstart at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 4th, single Whinchats at Harrington AF on the same date and at Clifford Hill GP on 6th and Northern Wheatears at Blueberry Farm/Brampton Valley with 2 on 4th and 7th and 4 on 6th plus one at Clifford Hill GP on the latter date.
A generally mild and dry week with low pressure to the south initially delivering a southerly/easterly airstream, later giving way to a high pressure system bringing north-easterly winds at the week’s end.
The Pink-footed Goose, which joined the resident Greylag flock at Thrapston GP in early April, was still there, appearing very settled, at the month’s end, while the Egyptian Goose remained at Clifford Hill GP until 26th and a pair with nine goslings was discovered at a locality in the north of the county on 30th. Garganeys have remained scarce so far this spring but a drake at Pitsford Res broke the six-week block on 2nd, while the drake Scaup found there on 19th was still present on 26th. A drake Goldeneye lingered at Thrapston GP until 2nd.
Heading the cast of rarities this week – well, the only rarity this week, in fact – was the immature Spoonbill which flew into Summer Leys in the early afternoon of 27th and stayed for forty minutes before continuing its journey up the Nene Valley. It was later discovered at Clifford Hill GP, where it remained for just over two hours before being flushed by fishermen.
This is the first in Northants since October 2011, when one was at Stanford Res. The only scarce raptor of the week was an Osprey reported fishing in the Elinor Trout Lake at Thrapston GP on 1st.
Little Ringed Plovers were reported from three locations in the Nene Valley, two Dunlins were at Clifford Hill GP on 27th, ten were present on 1st and six there on 2nd, while Summer Leys held two on 27th and four on 1st. Two Black-tailed Godwits were at the latter site on 26th and two Bar-tailed Godwits visited Clifford Hill GP on 29th and the week’s only Whimbrels were nine in the Brampton Valley on 27th. Other waders included single Common Sandpipers at Summer Leys on 1st and Daventry CP the following day while a Turnstone visited Clifford Hill GP on 27th.
Apart from three first-summers at Clifford Hill GP on 29th, this week’s Little Gulls were all at Summer Leys, where at least four different birds occurred during the period, with a maximum of three on 29th-30th.
The same site hosted a Black Tern briefly on 26th, while Arctic Terns were found at Pitsford Res, where there were three on 26th, Clifford Hill GP, where there were two on 27th, one on 1st and four on 2nd, Summer Leys, with two on 29th and Daventry CP, with seven on 2nd.
Passerines were thinner on the ground this week with a male Black Redstart in an area with no public access in Burton Latimer on 28th, a male Common Redstart at Harrington AF on 30th with a Whinchat there at the same time, another Whinchat at Sywell CP on 2nd and two Northern Wheatears at Hemington on 26th, two in the Brampton Valley on 26th-27th and one at Hardingstone GP on 28th.
The satisfaction that comes from completing a project which yields instant results is, arguably, immeasurable and so it was in the case of the creation of a secure and permanent nesting site for Sand Martins at Summer Leys LNR.
Each year, Sand Martins have nested in the drainage holes in the old quarry conveyor loading ramp located on the permissive path along the disused railway, which is owned by Hanson UK and forms part of the Summer Leys perimeter walk. Numbers breeding here have ranged from one to five pairs.
Many Sand Martin nesting colonies are ephemeral affairs, with whole colonies frequently dispersing or shifting to new locations as suitable sand cliffs are created and destroyed over time. Therefore, in order to add a degree of habitat stability, local birders have for many years been keen to create a permanent, bespoke Sand Martin bank at Summer Leys so, at the end of March 2014, fifty new holes were drilled in the ramp wall to provide additional nesting opportunities for returning birds.
The ramp itself was built in the late 1970s/early 1980s to allow excavated gravel to be transferred from dumpers to a 3.5 km long conveyor belt that took the gravel to the Earls Barton processing plant. It was in use until the late 1990s and was originally planned to be removed at the end of its operational life, but later it was agreed that it should be retained as a potential location for a bird hide. A line of c.60 mm diameter drainage (weep) holes was built into the reinforced concrete headwall when the ramp was constructed and their use by sand martins was first noted in 2002 when “a few pairs” nested.
The wall was believed to be 200 mm thick but, after drilling, the first core was found to be 460 mm thick. The majority of the new holes are 64 mm in diameter (77 mm cores lined with 64 mm internal diameter pipe), but the central 11 holes on the top row are 62mm in diameter and are unlined. The cores extend through the concrete wall into the original “as-dug” gravel fill for around 800 mm. Gravel was scraped out behind the wall to create larger voids and these, and a short section of the core/pipe, were repacked with clean sand. The drilling work, which was funded by Hanson UK, was completed on 26th March and the whole project was conceived, designed, specified and managed by Steve Brayshaw on behalf of Hanson UK and the Wildlife Trust.
Upon its completion, Sand Martins showed an immediate interest and Kim Taylor reported them going in and out of the pipes on 6th April. A week later Cathy Cassie of the Wildlife Trust took this video
Initially the martins showed a preference for the top tier of holes but by 26th April the second tier was also occupied.
Temporary fencing is currently guiding walkers around the northern side of the ramp to minimise disturbance at the new colony, but it is planned to erect permanent gates and fencing across the disused railway line to protect the nesting birds during future breeding seasons.
Many thanks to Steve Brayshaw, habitat creation guru, for providing background and project information and photagraphs and to Barry Boswellwww.britishbirdphotographs.comfor the kind use of his excellent Sand Martin images.