The Week in Focus: 11th to 17th October 2014

Atlantic low pressure systems shaped the weather for the week, a particularly deep low crossing the UK on 13th, bringing with it strong north-easterly winds and rain and displaced seabirds inland in several counties. Northamptonshire’s share was, as usual, meagre compared to neighbouring counties, nevertheless this was arguably the most exciting week of autumn so far.

Aside from the lingering escapes and ferals – specifically Cackling Goose still at Stanford Res on 11th, the two Barnacle Geese still at Hollowell Res all week and the female Wood Duck coming out of the woodwork (where else) on the River Nene in downtown Northampton on 14th, the number of wildfowl remained unremarkable. On 15th-17th the two Ruddy Shelducks were again at Pitsford Res, where sixteen Pintails were counted on 11th and 25 Red-crested Pochards were present the following day. The count for the last species also reached double figures at Stanford Res with ten (eight drakes) on 11th.

An immature Gannet at Pitsford Res on 14th was the chief prize delivered by the previous day’s low pressure system, although it remained on site for little more than one hour after its discovery.

Second calendar year Gannet, Pitsford Res, 14th October 2014 (Dave Jackson)
Second calendar year Gannet, Pitsford Res, 14th October 2014 (Dave Jackson)

The same locality collected yet another Great White Egret – a colour-ringed individual from France – bringing the total there to three from 11th to at least 15th, with singles still at Thrapston GP on 12th and Summer Leys LNR on 14th. Following the two Black-necked Grebes at Pitsford Res last week, two, perhaps the same, were discovered at Thrapston GP on 11th and remained all week.

An immature Merlin flew over Boddington Res on 16th, two Peregrines were at Rushden on 11th and 13th and singles were seen at Polebrook AF on 12th, over Northampton on 14th and at Hollowell Res on 17th.

Passage waders enjoyed a resurgence this week. Single Golden Plovers appeared at Stanford Res on 11th and Boddington Res on 14th with ten over Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 12th and 2 at Hollowell Res on 13th, although two hundred at Harrington AF on 11th are presumably set to winter in the area. A Grey Plover visited Thrapston GP on 14th and a Dunlin appeared at Summer Leys LNR on 12th and 13th, with two more visiting Hollowell Res on the second of these two dates. Hollowell also produced a Little Stint on 14th as well as the first of this week’s storm-driven Grey Phalaropes briefly on 13th, which was quickly followed by two more equally briefly at Pitsford Res the following day. One of these – or perhaps a different individual – was relocated at the southern end there on 15th. A dapper first-winter, it initially showed well and remained until the week’s end, becoming increasingly elusive during its stay.

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Pitsford Res, 16th October 2014 (Clive Bowley)
First-winter Grey Phalarope, Pitsford Res, 16th October 2014 (Clive Bowley)

Late Common Sandpipers visited Stanford Res on 11th and Boddington Res on 16th, with 2 there on 17th, while a single Green Sandpiper remained at Pitsford Res to 17th and four were at Ravensthorpe Res on the same date. Spotted Redshanks continue to remain scarce migrants in Northants and the one which visited Sywell CP for minutes on 14th didn’t do anything to reverse its current status while, on the following day, a Redshank and two Greenshanks visited Pitsford Res and another Greenshank was at Ravensthorpe Res from 15th until 17th.    A Woodcock – perhaps the first of the many continental migrants – was at Harrington AF on 15th and single Common Snipe were at Stanford Res on 11th and Boddington Res on 16th with twelve at the latter site on 17th.

Lone, straggler terns are often encountered inland in late autumn so a juvenile Arctic Tern at Thrapston GP on 12th was not unusual so neither was the juvenile Common Tern seen there over the following two days … More unusual – although not entirely unexpected – was one of the largest flocks of Kittiwakes in the county for many years, in the wet and windy conditions at Pitsford Res on the evening of 13th; another visited Summer Leys LNR during the afternoon on the same date. Thrapston GP produced a juvenile Little Gull, an adult Mediterranean Gull and a second-winter Caspian Gull the following day, at which time a first-winter Mediterranean Gull was at Pitsford Res. The usual single, lingering adult Yellow-legged Gulls remained at Pitsford Res, Hollowell Res and Ravensthorpe Res and one visited Boddington Res on 17th, although three adults were present at the first of these four sites on 14th.

Site-faithful Short-eared Owls returned to Blueberry Farm, Maidwell from 10th with two there on 12th and singles on 14th and 16th, the southernmost set-aside fields having consistently held varying numbers of this species in recent winters. For the second year running, an October Hoopoe was found in Northants, this time visiting a garden near Towcester Racecourse only briefly on 13th. While two Ring-necked Parakeets were seen flying over Eastfield, Northampton on 14th, late news emerged of a ‘colony’ consisting of three nest-holes in trees at a locality in south Northants. This species is still on the up in the UK but numbers recorded in the county remain low. Potentially the last Swallows, three at Pitsford Res on 15th, and the last House Martin, one at Polebrook AF on 12th, were recorded this week and a late Willow Warbler was trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 15th. Among the many northern thrushes coming through during the week – five hundred Redwings being notable at Thrapston GP on 14th – a juvenile Ring Ouzel was found at Blueberry Farm on 12th and the first Fieldfares, approximately sixty, were seen nearby in the Brampton Valley the following day. The same area hosted four Stonechats throughout the week, while the same number was at Thrapston GP on 16th, up to six remained at Hollowell Res on 15th and two were still at Harrington AF on 12th.

Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 16th October 2014 (Clive Bowley)
Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 16th October 2014 (Clive Bowley)

Perhaps the year’s last Northern Wheatears visited Harrington AF on 11th and Pitsford Res on 15th-17th and up to two Rock Pipits were at Hollowell Res on 13th-14th, with singles at Thrapston GP on 14th and Pitsford Res on 14th-15th and again on 17th.

Rock Pipit, Pitsford Res, 14th October 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Rock Pipit, Pitsford Res, 14th October 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Finally, Bramblings moved in: two or three at Blueberry Farm on 11th, six at Thrapston GP on 14th and singles at Harrington AF and Hanging Houghton on 15th and 17th and at Castle Ashby Lakes and Pitsford Res on 16th. Winter is here … nearly.

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