This week presented as a tale of two halves, with a relatively mild and dry beginning giving way in the end to something rather more cold and wet. When the west wind blows, it blows – this one via Greenland, dumping significant snow ‘up north’ while Northamptonshire received only a dusting, nevertheless raising hopes of something new appearing … somewhere.
In the Stanford on Avon area the three Pink-footed Geese border-hopped from Leicestershire to visit Stanford Res on 24th-25th and the Blatherwycke four were still present with the Greylag flock on 25th. Also remaining were the three European White-fronted Geese at Pitsford Res until at least 29th. Back at Stanford Res, the two female Red-crested Pochards were still in residence on 25th and five were still at Ringstead GP on 28th, while the long-staying first-winter drake Scaup yo-yoed between Ravensthorpe Res and Hollowell Res all week.
The four Smew – including two drakes – were still present at Ravensthorpe Res on 26th as were the four at Stanwick GP all week, during which two were also present at Pitsford Res.
Single Great White Egrets were reported from Pitsford Res on 25th and Ditchford GP on 30th, while up to three were seen on and off throughout the week at Summer Leys LNR. This is a poor showing in comparison to recent weeks and will no doubt see the county slip from the national ratings for this species for the period!
Similarly, it was a poor week for both raptors and waders with a Merlin just inside Northants at Turtle Bridge on the River Welland on 27th and another at Blueberry Farm on 30th and single Peregrines were at Ditchford GP on 24th and Higham Ferrers on 29th. A meagre thirty Golden Plovers visited Stanford Res on 24th and fifteen were over Blueberry Farm on 30th, the only Jack Snipe were two at Pitsford Res on 29th and two at Hollowell Res the following day, while this week’s only reported Common Snipe comprised four at Cransley Res on 24th. At least eight Redshanks remained at Stanwick GP, four at Ditchford GP along with two Green Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper was also at Ecton SF on 25th. An adult Mediterranean Gull was at Hollowell Res on 30th, Caspian Gulls were found at three sites with single adults at Stanford Res and Ditchford GP on 24th and at Stanwick GP on 24th and 27th, with a first-winter at the latter site on the first of these two dates. Stanwick also played host to two adult Yellow-legged Gulls on 24th, another adult was at Stanford Res on the same date followed by two adults at Hollowell Res on 27th.
Although at times it proved elusive, the Great Grey Shrike at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe was still present to at least 25th. Smaller wintering passerines included thirteen Chiffchaffs at Ecton SF on 24th and singles at Thrapston GP on 26th, Northampton on 27th and Stanwick GP on 29th, while single Central European Blackcaps were in two Northampton gardens on 25th and in a Raunds garden on 29th. Stonechats were seen this week at Blueberry Farm, Burn Coppice, Ditchford GP and at Hollowell Res, with a maximum of four at the first of these sites on 30th.
A ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw appeared at Hanging Houghton on 28th, although individuals showing characteristics of this race appear to attract little attention these days after enjoying a number of years in vogue nationally.
A largely dry week, in which temperatures oscillated between the mild and the distinctly chilly, saw little change in the birding montage as the first month of the year continued to slip by.
A different set of Pink-footed Geese this week comprised one with the goose flock at Sywell CP on 20th and nine north over Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe the following day, while the three European White-fronted Geese remained at Pitsford Res until at least 17th. The only Pintails this week were found at Stanwick GP, where two resided between 17th and 19th, the two female Red-crested Pochards were still at Stanford Res until at least 17th with this date also seeing a female at Ditchford GP, followed by up to four still at Ringstead GP between 20th and 22nd. The female Ring-necked Duck at Billing GP was at home to all comers on the weekend of 17th-18th, fuelling speculation it had been there all the time and suggesting that the brief Stanwick drop-in on 11th may have been a different individual; after all, the Billing bird had no reason to take a day return trip to Stanwick, unlike its previous foray to neighbouring Clifford Hill GP, when the lake became frozen and open water was in short supply. The long-staying first-winter drake Scaup remained at Hollowell Res until at least 20th, hill-hopping to adjacent Ravensthorpe Res on 17th and 23rd, where the four Smew – including two fine drakes – were still present on 18th. There were few Smew elsewhere, with Stanwick GP hosting a couple on 17th-18th, rising to four (two drakes) on 21st, while single ‘redheads’ continued to be seen at Pitsford Res and Stortons GP on 18th.
This week appears to be the first for a long time that no Great White Egrets were reported from Pitsford Res, although two seemed settled at Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP throughout, two – possibly the same – were at Ditchford GP on 17th and one was seen again at Thorpe Malsor Res the following day. A Bittern was again reported from Sywell CP on 20th and another showed itself at the regular wintering site of Stortons GP on 23rd, while the Slavonian Grebe remained at Pitsford Res until at least 17th.
Three Merlins in seven days is pretty good for Northants and this week’s crop comprised singles at Blatherwycke Lake and Fawsley on 17th followed by one at Weston on 18th, while Peregrines were seen at Barnes Meadow, Brixworth, Greens Norton, Higham Ferrers, Raunds and Rushden.
Golden Plovers remained low in numbers and reports came from Stanwick GP, Stanford Res, Weston and Harrington Airfield with a maximum of four hundred at the latter site on 18th. In contrast to last week, the only Jack Snipe, however, was a duo at Hollowell Res on 23and the only Common Snipe reported were two at Stanford Res on 17th and four at Stortons GP on 23rd. Ten Redshanks remained at Stanwick GP, five at Ditchford GP and two at Summer Leys.
Given that Mediterranean Gull is now a relatively common species in southern Britain it’s surprising it is still rather uncommon in winter in Northants. Just one was seen this week – a first-winter on the ice north of the causeway at Pitsford Res on 20th.
Caspian Gull, on the other hand, is seen regularly in very small numbers throughout the winter and this week single adults were at Stanford Res on 17th and at Stanwick GP on 17th and 19th. Stanwick also played host to single adult Yellow-legged Gulls on 17th and 21st and another adult was in the gull roost at Pitsford Res on 22nd.
Like last week, just one Short-eared Owl was seen between Lamport and Short Wood on 17th but ‘just one’ was enough for observers of the Great Grey Shrike at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe, which was seen daily between 19th and 23rd, completing a third week in residence at this highly accessible roadside locality. Reports of Chiffchaffs comprised one at Pitsford Res on 17th and two at Ravensthorpe and three at Ecton SF on 23rd, while Central European Blackcaps occurred in two gardens in East Hunsbury, Northampton throughout the week.
Stonechats were seen in twos at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell and at Hollowell Res on 23rd but another duo which would have proved much more popular – had they remained – were two Hawfinches, back in a locality where they have occurred before, at Blatherwycke churchyard on 21st. Despite eliciting a ‘mini twitch’ they were nowhere to be seen the following day.
A series of fast-moving Atlantic lows whipped up bouts of strong wind and rain throughout the week, resulting in ‘Cuckoo-clock’ trips into the field for many a weekday birder. Established winter visitors largely stayed put and surprise finds were in short supply …
On 10th the four Pink-footed Geese were still with Greylags at Blatherwycke, a first-winter was found at Ditchford GP and the Leicestershire trio, close to Stanford Hall, strayed momentarily into Northants, while the three European White-fronted Geese remained at Pitsford Res until at least 14th. The week’s brace of Pintail were three also there on 13th and two at Stanwick GP and five at Daventry CP on 16th. The two female Red-crested Pochards remained faithful to Stanford Res until at least 11th, as did the drake at Hardingstone GP until 14th, the same date on which five visited Ringstead GP. At Hollowell Res the first-winter drake Scaup remained all week, and the female Ring-necked Duck at Billing GP stayed until 10th before moving fleetingly down the Nene to Stanwick GP on 11th. It has not been seen since. Three sites produced this week’s Smew with the highest numbers being four (two drakes) at Ravensthorpe Res and the same at Stanwick GP and up to two at Pitsford Res.
Surprise of the week was a Red-throated Diver reported from Canons Ashby Lake on 13th before flying off. You will have to look back to 2008 for the last one, which was at Pitsford Res from 28th January to 9th February. Northants appears to be the UK county capital for the most wintering Great White Egrets at present with up to three at Summer Leys, two at Ditchford GP, two at Stanwick GP (likely to be the Ditchford birds) and at least one still at Pitsford Res. Less obvious was the week’s only Bittern, found at Ditchford GP on 10th, while the Slavonian Grebe remained at Pitsford Res until at least 14th.
There were no rare raptors to tickle and tantalise this week but a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Callendar Farm near Naseby was later reported for 9th. The only others were a Merlin near Towcester on 13th and Peregrines at Ditchford GP on 10th and 15th, Lowick on 11th and Higham Ferrers and Pitsford Res on 14th.
Golden Plovers have been thin on the ground so far this winter and there was no improvement in numbers wintering this week with a maximum of just one hundred and twenty at Harrington AF on 16th. Not so for Jack Snipe, however with a single site record of a fabulous fourteen at Barnes Meadow, Northampton on 13th, while just one was at Pitsford Res the following day. Pitsford also produced the highest number Common Snipe – a very respectable one hundred on the same date. Other waders included up to ten Redshanks at Stanwick GP and a Green Sandpiper at Ravensthorpe Res on 11th with two at Pitsford Res on 14th.
Things took a turn for the better on the larid front this week with a juvenile Glaucous Gull appearing in the Stanwick GP pre-roost on 16th, along with an adult Caspian Gull; another adult Caspian was at Stanford Res on 10th, while two Yellow-legged Gulls visited Hollowell Res and Stanford Res roost on 11th and singles were at Pitsford Res on 14th, Ditchford GP and Hollowell again on 15th. Mediterranean Gulls featured as first-winters at Ditchford GP on 10th and Stanford Res on 11th and an adult in the roost at Boddington Res on 14th.
Short-eared Owls remained scarce with just one seen at Harrington AF on 11th and 13th, while up to three Ring-necked Parakeets were still very much in evidence in Abington Park, Northampton throughout the week and still proving popular was the Great Grey Shrike at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe until at least 14th.
Worth a mention is Daventry CP’s first-ever Cetti’s Warbler on 12th but there were only two reports of Chiffchaffs, with ten counted at Ditchford GP on 10th and one at Stanwick GP on 14th. Similarly, Central European Blackcaps went under-recorded with one in a Byfield garden on 11th and two in East Hunsbury, Northampton the following day.
Up to two Stonechats continued to be seen throughout the week at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell, Ditchford GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res and Thrapston GP.
The first week of 2015 was dominated by a strong westerly airflow, keeping temperatures above average and bringing intermittent rain throughout the period. With the fading festivities of the preceding week almost a distant memory, the birding bonanza was curtailed as would-be birders donned their workwear and once more returned to mundanity. The left-overs remained at the usual sites and very little new was unearthed anywhere south of Blatherwycke …
It was there that four Pink-footed Geese were discovered consorting with the local Greylag flock on 4th and they remained throughout the week; one was also found at Ravensthorpe Res on 9th. Still present on 8th, the three European White-fronted Geese seemed settled at Pitsford Res, while a Pintail was also found there on 5th. At Hollowell Res the first-winter drake Scaup remained all week, as did the female Ring-necked Duck at Billing GP, where it became more difficult to observe after access to the car-park viewing point was no longer allowed following on-site car damage. This week’s Smew were the regular two favourites at Ravensthorpe Res from 3rd to 7th, up to two at Pitsford Res between 3rd and 5th and the ‘redhead’ at Stortons GP on 4th.
Great White Egrets loomed large as ever with up to 3 still at Pitsford Res and one was at Summer Leys LNR from 4th to 7th and two there on 9th, singles at Clifford Hill GP and Thorpe Malsor Res on 4th, Daventry CP and Silverstone on 5th and Ditchford GP on 7th, while the Slavonian Grebe remained at Pitsford Res on 8th.
Belated news was received of a Rough-legged Buzzard hunting along the approach road to Crockwell Farm near Eydon on 2nd but subsequent searches of the area failed to relocate it. The only other raptors were Peregrines at Clifford Hill GP on 5th and Ditchford GP on 7th, while a female Merlin was seen near Deenethorpe on 6th.
In a meagre week for waders, several Golden Plovers were at Thorpe Mandeville on 3rd, a Green Sandpiper was still at Ravensthorpe Res on 7th with a Redshank at Pitsford Res on the same date, two Jack Snipe and several Common Snipe were also at Pitsford Res on 6th and five of the latter species were at Trafford Bridge on 3rd. An adult Yellow-legged Gull at Hollowell Res on 9th was about it on the larid front …
Up to three Ring-necked Parakeets held out in Abington Park, Northampton between
4th and 9th, while last week’s Great Grey Shrike at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe continued to attract a steady procession of admirers daily until 8th.
Chiffchaffs just one at Ditchford GP on 4th and three (two trapped) the next day at Brixworth, while up to two Stonechats were at Ditchford GP on 4th, Pitsford Res
between 5th and 7th and Hollowell Res on 9th, four were at Thrapston GP until at least 6th and one was also at Burn Coppice on 9th.
It’s the holiday season and the week which straddled two years saw a remarkable up tempo as many birders, freed temporarily from the shackles of gainful employment, headed toward their local patches – and beyond – for some prime mid-winter birding. The rush into the field paid off, coinciding with temperatures falling low enough to freeze many local bodies of water, albeit for the short term, and more birds appeared to have moved in from the continent or other parts of the UK.
Falling squarely into this category was the herd of six adult Bewick’s Swans which arrived at Stanwick GP on 28th and were part of a national movement satellite-tracked across the North Sea from The Netherlands. They did not stay long and they were watched heading off east again late in the afternoon.
The three European White-fronted Geese remained with the goose flock at Pitsford Res all week, while a first-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose constituted another new arrival at Clifford Hill GP on the last day of 2014, remaining there until at least 2nd.
The two long-staying Ruddy Shelducks at Pitsford Res were also still present at the year’s end and, after a significant period of absence from these reports, Pintail made a return with two at Clifford Hill GP on 30th, a female at Earls Barton GP on 31st and one at Stanford Res the following day. The two female Red-crested Pochards remained at Stanford Res all week and two drakes were at Hardingstone GP between 29th and 31st,
while the first-winter drake Scaup was still being seen at Hollowell Res on 30th. Heavy overnight frosts and generally freezing conditions mid-week resulted in many Nene Valley gravel pits becoming largely frozen and no doubt gave rise to the significant movement of wildfowl between different bodies of water. Associated with this was the arrival of numbers of Tufted Ducks with around four hundred at Clifford Hill GP on 30th and, with them, the female Ring-necked Duck from nearby Billing GP. It remained there until disturbed by shooters the following day before returning to Billing GP, where it was present until the week’s end.
Another arrival associated with the colder weather was a female Common Scoter at Earls Barton GP on the largely underwatched Grendon Lakes water-ski pit.
There were also more Smew this week with up to seven – including three drakes – at Pitsford Res, the ‘redhead’ at Stortons GP until at least 30th, a pair at Sywell CP on 30th, a ‘redhead’ at Clifford Hill GP on 31st and the drake still at Ravensthorpe Res on 2nd.
The 30th produced two Bitterns – one at Sywell CP and the other at Stortons GP, the latter being seen there again the following day, while it also proved to be a good week for Great White Egrets, with at least one daily at Pitsford Res, singles at Ditchford GP on 27th and 30th, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston on 31st, Weston Mill on 1st, while two were at Thorpe Malsor Res on 31st and three visited Summer Leys LNR on 2nd.
Winter is traditionally ‘rare grebe season’ and, right on cue, a Slavonian Grebe was found at Pitsford Res on 1st, while a Black-necked Grebe appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 30th – both birds remaining until 2nd.
Raptors any larger than a Peregrine were non-existent this week and records of the latter consisted of singles at Blatherwycke Lake, Clifford Hill GP, Ditchford GP, Harrington AF, Higham Ferrers and near Pitsford Res, while a male Merlin visited Stanford Res on 29th.
Golden Plovers were reported only from Harrington AF, Stanford Res and Stanwick GP with a maximum of approximately four hundred at the latter site on 1st and the only Dunlin was one at the same site on 28th and 1st. Wintering Green Sandpipers were also thin on the ground with singles at Stanford Res on 1st and Ravensthorpe Res the following day, while Redshanks included singles at Stanwick GP on 28th, Clifford Hill GP on 30th and at Pitsford Res on 31st with two at the latter site on 2nd and six at Stanwick GP on 1st. Numbers of Common Snipe remained in single figures with six at Stanwick GP and two at Stanford Res on 28th, one at Clifford Hill GP on 30th, two at Moulton Quarry and one at Summer Leys LNR on 31st, three at Clifford Hil GP again on 1st and two at Ecton SF on 2nd. The dearth of rare gulls continued with just an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Pitsford Res on 31st, an adult Caspian Gull at Stanford Res on 30th and an adult Yellow-legged Gull there on 1st.
Compared with a couple of winters ago, Short-eared Owls are again in short supply – the only records being singles at Harrington AF on 27th and at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 29th and 1st. Local Ring-necked Parakeets continued to entertain in Abington Park, Northampton on 28th and 31st and one flew over Balfour Road, Northampton on 30th. Rare passerines rose to prominence this week, starting with a Great Grey Shrike found on 2nd at Burn Coppice, Deenethorpe (where it continued to show well by the roadside until 4th). Single Chiffchaffs were at Stanford Res on 30th and 1st and at both Stanwick GP and Clifford Hill GP on the latter date and five were counted at Ecton SF the following day, while up to two Central European Blackcaps were in an East Hunsbury, Northampton garden all week and a female visited a Wellingborough garden on 27th. Two Stonechats remained at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell between 27th and 30th with two at Sywell CP and two at Ditchford GP – both on the latter date – and one was at Pitsford Res on 1st. Ditchford GP also turned up trumps with a Twite on 30th. This species is now a significant rarity in Northants and this is the first one since this individual at Pitsford Res in October 2011. Less rare, although a nice bird nonetheless, was a Mealy Redpoll at Fermyn Woods CP on 30th but potentially topping this was a male Lapland Bunting
reportedly seen well at Stanford Res on 28th. It was not seen again, despite searches and if accepted it would be about 8th record for the county. Lastly, although not a rare, this Kingfisher coughing up a pellet takes some beating!
A huge thanks to all contributors – news, records and images. Here’s to a fantastic, bird-filled 2015!