The Week in Focus: 18th to 24th October 2014

This week’s weather was again dominated by Atlantic low pressure systems – initially delivering a warm, southerly airstream with temperatures up to 20°C – before the winds turned strong north-westerly on 20th-21st as the tail-end of ex-Hurricane Gonzalo hit the UK, resulting in the strongest gales of the autumn so far. Surprisingly, there were fewer inland seabirds than were recorded during last week’s north-easterly blow and, not surprisingly, Northants received none.

Forget the usual escapes and ferals – a Pink-footed Goose at Stanford Res on 19th was surely ‘real’ while the two Ruddy Shelducks remained at Pitsford Res until at least 22nd, the same site hosting thirteen Pintails and the now regular flock of Red-crested Pochards, which reached a record twenty-seven on 22nd. Two drakes of the latter species were at Stanford Res on 18th – the same date a Garganey was found at Pitsford Res, while another ‘new’ Garganey was at Ravensthorpe Res two days later. The first Goosander of the winter, a drake, appeared at Daventry CP on 22nd.

It appears last week’s Gannet at Pitsford Res on 14th was not alone as belated news emerged of another flying over Rushden, late in the afternoon, on the same date. At least two Great White Egrets remained at Pitsford Res and one visited Summer Leys LNR briefly on 19th, while a Bittern was found at Ditchford GP on 18th and two were seen flying into the reedbed at Stanwick GP on 24th. Just one Black-necked Grebe remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake by 18th and Peregrines were at Stanford Res on 18th, Hollowell Res on 20th, Higham Ferrers on 21st and Lamport on 23rd.

The maximum number of Golden Plovers this week was two hundred and ninety-five at Daventry CP on 24th and, for the second week running, a Grey Plover was seen in the Nene Valley – this time at Clifford Hill GP on 18th. The only Dunlin this week was one at Pitsford Res on 22nd and this appears to be the last date on which the well-photographed, celebrity Grey Phalarope was reported there, becoming ludicrously approachable toward the end of its stay.

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Pitsford Res, 19th October 2014 (Simon Hales)
First-winter Grey Phalarope, Pitsford Res, 19th October 2014 (Simon Hales)

Three late Common Sandpipers were found: one at Stanford Res on 18th, one at Stanwick GP on 20th-21st and one at Pitsford Res on 22nd, while a single Green Sandpiper was found at Ditchford GP on 18th and other site maxima for this species included three at Pitsford Res on 22nd and five at Ravensthorpe Res on 20th. The latter site continued to host a Greenshank until at least 23rd and Common Snipe were reported from this locality as well as at Barnes Meadow, Brixworth STW, Ditchford GP and Pitsford Res, where there was a maximum of thirty-eight present on 22nd. A Jack Snipe was also found at Barnes Meadow on 19th.

Up to three adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Pitsford Res during the period, with singles at Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Stanwick GP, with the latter site hosting an apparent adult showing characteristics of the race atlantis, colloquially known as ‘Azorean Gull’, for little more than twenty minutes during the late afternoon of 20th. This is the second or third occurrence of this race in the county, following one – possibly two different individuals – at the same site on six dates during September/October 2013.

Apparent adult 'Azorean' Gull, Stanwick GP, 21st October 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Apparent adult ‘Azorean’ Gull, Stanwick GP, 21st October 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Blueberry Farm’s Short-eared Owl remained all week, showing frequently in the southernmost field of the complex, and another was at Harrington AF on 18th-19th. October is a strong passage month for Shorties so it’s too early to predict if it’s going to be a good winter for this species. Barely a week goes by these days without a report of a flyover Ring-necked Parakeet and this one is no exception with one flying over Weston Favell, Northampton on 19th, while it appears that the previous week’s Swallows were not the last after all as one was at Pitsford Res, also on 19th. Similarly, the Willow Warbler trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 15th made it on to this week’s list, being retrapped there on 18th, along with an equally late Reed Warbler on site. A Ring Ouzel appeared at Harrington AF on 24th – now almost to be expected in late October at this site – and up to two Stonechats were present here and at Pitsford Res, Blueberry Farm and Ditchford GP with three still at Hollowell Res on 23rd. Single Northern Wheatears hung on at Pitsford Res, Harrington AF and in the Brampton Valley between 18th and

Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 20th October 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 20th October 2014 (Doug Goddard)

20th; surely they are the last ones this year … and a Water Pipit was back at this species’ traditional wintering site of Ditchford GP on 18th – or it may just have been a migrant. A handful of Bramblings were seen in the Brampton Valley and at Harrington AF between 20th and 24th, while Harrington hosted a latter-day local scarcity – a Corn Bunting – on the last of these two dates.

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