Four Weeks in Focus: 27th June to 24th July 2015

Leave it a month and see what happens. In a normally quiet period of the year – at least in Northants – the last four weeks have produced some cracking birds to keep locals busy and, more latterly, very happy. Set against a backcloth of good numbers of passage waders came a number of scarcities and rarities more typical of spring or autumn proper than summer. And as for the weather, well, largely warm and dry until the forecasted twelve hours’ heavy rain set in on 24th …

Aside from one at Stortons GP on 27th, two Ruddy Shelducks were back at Pitsford Res the following day, vanishing again until 11th and then remaining there until at least 22nd. More intriguingly, three were discovered at Stanwick GP on 14th, where they remained for only a matter of early morning minutes before moving on. One had an inconspicuous pink ring on its left leg and speculation has it that this trio first appeared at Cley, Norfolk on 12th before moving to Drayton Basset Pits in Staffordshire later on 14th after a quick Stanwick stopover.

Ruddy Shelducks, Stanwick GP, 14th July 2015 (Steve Fisher)

The only other scarce dabbler was a Garganey – also at Stanwick GP – on 19th and diving ducks included two drake Red-crested Pochards at Summer Leys on 28th, three drakes at Pitsford Res on 4th with one there from 7th to 18th, two at Stanwick GP on 11th and a drake at Hollowell Res on 20th, while a drake Common Scoter was a nice summer discovery at Daventry CP on 15th.

Drake Common Scoter, Daventry CP, 15th July 2015 (Gary Pullan)

A Bittern at Stanwick GP on 19th was most unseasonal – perhaps reflecting the increase in numbers of Britain’s breeding population in recent years but even more unusual was the discovery of an adult Night Heron at Ditchford GP on 22nd. Disturbed from riverside vegetation by a passing fisherman, who was clearly well up on his bird ID (and had the good sense to report it locally), the news filtered down to Steve Fisher who, on his second search attempt of the day, located it in the same area during the evening. After some skulking in waterside willows it broke cover just as night fell and headed off presumably to feed somewhere locally.It was back again in the same area the following evening, the end of which saw it flying east down the Nene, and was again present opposite the nearby sewage outfall on 24th. How long it has been there and will remain is anyone’s guess but it’s only the tenth record for Northants and the second in the last twenty-five years. Tame by comparison, single Great White Egrets were seen at Thrapston GP on 1st and 4th, at Summer Leys also on 4th and flying west over Stanwick GP on 20th.

Following last month’s Honey Buzzard another was seen over Daventry CP on 10th and yet another two days later, on 12th, over Corby STW, while single Marsh Harriers flew over Summer Leys on 21st and Stanwick GP on 23rd. Visiting Ospreys were observed flying over, or fishing, at Hollowell Res, Northampton, Pitsford Res and Welford/Sulby Res while Peregrines were seen at three sites with proven breeding at one of these.

Running deep into July it’s inevitable there’ll be at least a few waders coming back through but the county managed to attract more than its expected quota. Four Avocets at Clifford Hill GP on 19th constituted a bit of a mid-summer bonus, while more normal fare included both summering and passage Little Ringed Plovers at seven localities, with a maximum of ten at Hollowell Res on 15th. By contrast, however, there were just two reports of Ringed Plovers with one at Stanwick GP on 14th and two at Hollowell Res the following day. Following heavy rain, Stanwick GP produced three Little Stints on 19th, while the same site, along with Hollowell Res and Pitsford Res, held between one and five Dunlins between 15th and 22nd. Singles of Ruff visited Pitsford Res on 8th and Summer Leys on 15th and Common Snipe Hollowell Res on 15th and Summer Leys on 17th. A pronounced passage of Black-tailed Godwits occurred between 4th and 21st, with birds occurring at Pitsford Res, Clifford Hill GP, Summer Leys and Stanwick GP with the latter site producing 57 on 8th, although another double-figure count of ten was made at Pitsford Res on 19th.

Black-tailed Godwits, Stanwick GP, 8th July 2015 (Steve Fisher). Part of an evening gathering of fifty-seven on the Visitor Centre Pit.

Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 14th July 2015 (Alan Coles)

Other large waders included single Whimbrels at Stanwick GP on 13th and 15th, and single Curlews at Harringworth on 2nd and Daventry CP on 15th, with three over the latter site on 21st and two over Byfield on 11th. Redshank numbers were low with one to three at Daventry CP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Summer Leys and Stanwick GP with the latter site also producing a Spotted Redshank on 4th. A handful of Greenshanks included singles at Clifford Hill GP and Daventry CP on 6th, Pitsford Res on 11th and Stanwick GP on 19th, with two at Daventry CP on 15th and Green Sandpipers were reported from six localities between 3rd and 21st with a maximum of six at Daventry CP on 8th, 17th and 21st. Early returning Wood Sandpipers comprised singles at Summer Leys on 4th and 6th with one at Stanwick GP on 11th, while Common Sandpipers were unsurprisingly more numerous with reports from five localities between 29th and 21st and with a maximum of six at Stanwick GP on 19th.

A species more scarce in the county than it used to be, a Little Tern flew west at Summer Leys on 23rd. Eclipsing this, however, was a fine summer-plumaged White-winged Black Tern at Stanwick GP early in the morning of 19th. Unfortunately it did not stay and it was relocated later in the day at Rutland Water, Leicestershire. This is the sixteenth record for the county and the first since 2003, when one spent nine days at Earls Barton GP. There were no reports of the record long-staying second-summer Mediterranean Gull at Summer Leys beyond 29th and single adults were found Daventry on 3rd and Stanwick GP on 18th and 23rd, while the county’s earliest ever juvenile appeared at the latter locality on 10th and another visited Hollowell Res on 16th. The now annual summer build-up of Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick GP commenced early in July with approximately thirty there on 7th, rising to an impressive minimum of ninety-two on 21st.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, July 2015 (Steve Fisher)

Elsewhere ones and twos visited Clifford Hill GP, Daventry CP and Pitsford Res. Stanwick also played host to up to three Caspian Gulls between 8th and 23rd.

Adult, third-summer and second-summer Caspian Gulls, Stanwick GP, 13th July 2015 (Steve Fisher)

Exotic stuff rarely finds its way to Northants but barely had a belated report of a Hoopoe at Grendon on 16th June reached the ears of local birders before news broke of something even more colourful – and a whole lot rarer – in the shape of a European Bee-eater heard calling over Hanging Houghton on 19th. Constituting the fourth record for the county, this was another species seriously overdue for a repeat visit following three previous records in 1995, 1997 and 2003, all of which were in May.

Hoopoe, Grendon, 16th June 2015 (Gwen Maisey)

Hoopoe, Grendon, 16th June 2015 (Gwen Maisey)

A female Common Redstart trapped at Stanford Res on 5th had an active brood patch suggesting it was a local breeder, while a late summer movement of Crossbills included nine over Hanging Houghton on 1st, eight over Pitsford Res on 13th, fourteen over Scaldwell on 16th, singles over Ravensthorpe Res on 17th and Stanwick GP on 23rd and approximately ten at Lady Wood on the latter date.