The Week in Focus: 17th to 23rd January 2015

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.

'redhead' Smew, Pitsford Res, 18th January 2015 (Simon Hales)
‘redhead’ Smew, Pitsford Res, 18th January 2015 (Simon Hales)

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.

First-winter Mediterranean Gull with Black-headed Gulls, Pitsford Res, 20th January 2015 (Bob Bullock)
First-winter Mediterranean Gull with Black-headed Gulls, Pitsford Res, 20th January 2015 (Bob Bullock)

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.

Female Central European Blackcap, East Hunsbury, Northampton, 20th January 2015 (Corrie Griffiths)
Female Central European Blackcap, East Hunsbury, Northampton, 20th January 2015 (Corrie Griffiths)

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.

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