Given the huge numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers present in Britain (more than 740, with 320 in Shetland alone) during the last week, it seems almost inevitable that at least one would find its way to Northants. And so it did. When Katie King was ringing at Kingswood, Corby yesterday she pulled this little sprite from the net.
Despite their apparently increasingly common autumn occurrence on the coast, they are by no means annual in the County with only six previous records (two in 1981, 1992, 2001, 2004 and 2010).
Let’s hope more are found locally over the coming weeks!
After a quiet start, with two still and foggy weekend mornings, a largely westerly airflow brought a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers to the county but little in the way of new birds. Although mainstream wader passage is now clearly over for another autumn, historically, the last week of September has a track record for producing some class American shorebirds in the county … and another is long overdue.
Despite the continuing autumn build-up of wildfowl – particularly evident at Pitsford Res – the recent WeBs count failed to produce any surprises with a Barnacle Goose again at Clifford Hill GP on 25th and last week’s drake Pintail remaining at Wicksteed Park Lake until at least 24th, while three were at Pitsford Res between 19th and 23rd.
A ‘new’ Garganey (or perhaps the Hollowell bird relocating) was discovered at Ravensthorpe Res on 20th, remaining there until the next day and seven Red-crested Pochards were found at Ditchford GP on 19th, while four eclipse drakes remained at Pitsford Res all week with the latter site continuing to host a Great White Egret until at least 24th.
Bird of the week was undoubtedly the Honey Buzzard which drifted low south over Harrington AF late in the afternoon on 20th – the fourth to have occurred in the county this year – while, nearby, a juvenile Marsh Harrier was again seen in the Blueberry Farm, Maidwell/Brampton Valley area on 20th, 21st and 23rd. After a week with none, two Ospreys were seen – one flew over Sywell on 19th and the other flew south at Pitsford Res on 21st and this week’s Peregrines were at Higham Ferrers on 20th-22nd, Blueberry Farm on 20th and nearby in the Brampton Valley on 24th.
Wader numbers continued to plummet with four Ringed Plovers at Pitsford Res on 23rd-24th, single Dunlins at the same site on 19th and 24th and single Common Sandpipers at both Naseby Res and Hollowell Res on 20th. Green Sandpipers were still being seen at six localities with singles at Ditchford GP and Summer Leys LNR, two at Naseby Res and four at each of Pitsford Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Deene Lake. Large numbers of Common Snipe have yet to materialise and this week’s were two at Ditchford GP on 19th, four at Deene Lake the following day and the same number at Pitsford Res on 23rd. Small numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls included the regular adult at Hollowell Res on 20th, up to two adults daily at Pitsford Res between 20th and 24th with seven visiting the gull roost there on the latter date.
On terra firma, a late juvenile Cuckoo was discovered at Yelvertoft on 20th, a Short-eared Owl was reported at Summer Leys on 19th and, again on 20th, the autumn’s third Wryneck was watched ‘anting’ on the Cold Ashby road outside Stanford on Avon. After the tremendous autumn run of Common Redstarts there were just two at Blueberry Farm and one at Scaldwell on 19th and two still in a hedgerow between Pitsford Res and Walgrave on 20th-22nd. Whinchat numbers also dropped with one at Harrington AF on 20th and up to six at Blueberry Farm between 19th and 21st, being replaced there by up to four Stonechats there by 25th, while one was at the Northampton end of the Brampton Valley on 24th.
Northern Wheatears remained scarce with just singles at Duston and Blueberry Farm on 19th and at Harrington AF on 19th-20th.
Aside from a tornado hitting Duston on 14th, unsettled weather conditions – courtesy of a couple of low pressure systems crossing the UK – brought little in the way of scarcities to the county, although passerine migration was very much in evidence throughout the week.
The two Ruddy Shelducks remained at Pitsford Res until at least 16th while Pintail numbers doubled this week with one at Ravensthorpe Res from 12th to 16th and last week’s drake remaining at Wicksteed Park Lake on 15th. Two of last week’s Garganeys remained – the Pitsford Res juvenile until 13th and the Hollowell individual until 16th while five eclipse drake Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res on 13th and two at Stanford Res between 13th and 16th served to complete the week’s wildfowl line-up. After three weeks of relative prominence there was just one Great White Egret – at Pitsford Res on 13th, the day after the second of the autumn’s Black-necked Grebes was found at Summer Leys LNR. It did not stay.
Raptors provided slim pickings with just one juvenile Marsh Harrier at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 12th or 13th and, intriguingly, an unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier at the same locality on 17th. This site also produced a Peregrine on 12th or 13th and further singles were seen at Pitsford Res on 13th, Higham Ferrers on 16th-17th, between Moulton and Holcot on 17th and in Northampton on 17th-18th.
The decline in numbers of passage waders continued with the four Ringed Plovers at Hollowell Res on 12th having increased to eight by 16th with the lingering juvenile Black-tailed Godwit at nearby Ravensthorpe Res until the same date. Just one Dunlin was at Hollowell Res on 12th, although six were found there on 16th, while the only Ruff was one at Naseby Res on 13th-14th. Common Sandpipers were limited to two at Pitsford Res on 12th-13th and singles at Stanford Res on 13th, Naseby Res on 14th-16th, Hollowell Res on 16th and Stanwick GP on 17th-18th, while Green Sandpipers mustered two at Pitsford Res on 13th and singles at Naseby Res on 13th-14th and Ravensthorpe Res on 16th. The week’s only Greenshank was the lingering individual in Pitsford Res’ Yacht Bay on 13th, while the only Common Snipe were singles at Pitsford Res on 12th and Stanwick GP on 17th.
On 13th a few more Black Terns appeared, including eight at Pitsford Res and two at Hollowell Res, the latter birds remaining to be joined by a third on 16th and a juvenile Little Gull paid a brief visit to Stanwick GP on 15th. Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were down compared to last week and included the regular adult at Hollowell Res, two adults and a juvenile at Pitsford Res on 12th with an adult there on 13th and 17th and two adults at Stanwick GP on the latter date.
Common Redstarts were still very much in evidence with up to five in a hedgerow between Pitsford Res and Walgrave all week, a first-winter trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 13th, singles at Clifford Hill GP and Sulgrave on 14th, two at Harrington AF on 16th with five there the next day and two at Blueberry Farm on 17th-18th.
The latter site continued to hold up to six Whinchats throughout the week, Harrington AF was close behind with at least four, while Clifford Hill GP produced at least three between 14th and 18th, the Pitsford Res/Walgrave hedge held two on 17th and singles were found at Hollowell Res on 12th, Sywell CP on 17th and Summer Leys the following day. The autumn’s first Stonechats appeared this week with two at Blueberry Farm on 17th, two at Stortons GP on 18th and one at Summer Leys on the same date, while single Northern Wheatears were at Hollowell Res on 12th-14th, Harrington AF on 16th, Pitsford Res, Blueberry Farm and Walgrave on 17th and two Tree Pipits overflew Harrington AF on 16th followed by another the following day.
The latest, limited edition, Northamptonshire Bird Report, with records for 2014, is now available. Contents include a full Obituary of bird report founder member and illustrator, Rod Ingram – who sadly died earlier this year – along with a collection of his illustrations, full Systematic List compiled using records from more than 320 local observers, sections on Escapes and Ferals and Corrections and Additions from previous years, as well as many photos and illustrations. There are also reports from the Northants Ringing Group, the Stanford Ringing Group and a WeBs Report, as well as the full list of species recorded in Northants, tables of arrival and departure dates for summer and winter visitors and a County site map.
On sale in Oundle Bookshop or copies and back issues from:
R W Bullock, 81 Cavendish Drive, Northampton NN3 3HL
After an initially damp start, high pressure system remained over the UK for much of the week, resulting in dry and settled conditions locally, giving way to a south-easterly airstream at the week’s end. Wader numbers began to tail off although passerine migration was very much in evidence throughout the period.
Last week’s Barnacle Goose was still at Clifford Hill GP on 7th and the two Ruddy Shelducks remained at Pitsford Res until the same date. Just one Pintail was seen this week – a drake at Wicksteed Park Lake on 10th and, while Garganey numbers remained low, new birds were found at Blatherwycke Lake on 8th and Pitsford Res on 11th, with the Hollowell Res bird present throughout the period. It’s difficult to assess just how many Great White Egrets have been present over the past week. Three, two or just one highly mobile individual? Singles were at Hollowell Res on 5th, Pitsford Res on 5th-6th and Summer Leys LNR 8th-9th.
Similarly, Marsh Harriers appeared at four localities but there may have been only two individuals which included one flying west at Summer Leys on 8th and a juvenile at Hollowell Res and nearby Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 9th and at Harrington AF the following day. Blueberry Farm also featured Peregrines on 6th and 9th, one was seen at Higham Ferrers on 7th-9th and another visited Summer Leys on 8th.
Wader numbers appear to have dwindled this week with just four Ringed Plovers at Hollowell Res between 6th and 11th and three at Naseby Res on 10th, while the juvenile Black-tailed Godwit lingered at Hollowell Res until 6th, with it, or another, visiting nearby Ravensthorpe Res on 10th and another at Stanwick GP on 5th. Two Whimbrels flew over between Walgrave and Pitsford Res on 8th, a Curlew was at the latter locality on 6th and two more visited Clifford Hill GP the following day. Single Dunlins were at Stanwick GP on 5th and 11th, Naseby Res on 10th and Hollowell Res on 9th-11th with two there on 6th and three on 8th, while single Ruffs were at Stanwick GP on 5th and Summer Leys on 11th with Naseby Res producing seven on 6th, falling to five on 10th. A Turnstone visited Hollowell Res on 6th and Common Sandpipers were found at Pitsford, Hollowell, and Naseby reservoirs as well as at Clifford Hill GP and Stanwick GP, with a maximum of three at the latter locality on 5th. Green Sandpipers occurred at Daventry CP, Harrington AF, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe and Naseby reservoirs with a maximum of four at the latter locality on 8th-10th and in a seemingly good year (by local standards) for Spotted Redshanks another was found this week at Daventry CP on 10th. Greenshank scarcity continued with just singles at Pitsford Res on 5th-6th and Naseby Res on 6th-8th and the only Redshanks were singles at Pitsford Res on 5th and Hollowell Res on 8th plus two at Daventry CP on 11th.
Black Terns have also been hard to come by this year and the only one for this week’s roll-call presented itself at Thrapston GP on 5th, while the only Mediterranean Gull was an adult at Pitsford Res on 7th. Caspian Gulls, on the other hand, continued their long run of occurrence and site-faithfulness at Stanwick GP with four – including an apparently Polish-ringed juvenile – there on 10th, while an adult was at Pitsford Res on 7th.
The latter site continued to host up to two adult Yellow-legged Gulls throughout the week as did Hollowell Res, while an adult and a first-winter visited nearby Ravensthorpe Res on 8th but Stanwick again claimed the lion’s share with approximately forty present there on 10th.
An early Short-eared Owl was seen at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 5th and again on 9th and last week’s juvenile Cuckoo lingered at Brixworth CP/Pitsford Res until at least 6th. Whinchats were recorded throughout the period, from eight localities, with a maximum of eleven at Blueberry Farm on 6th and the remarkable run of Common Redstarts continued with up to thirty individuals recorded from a total of eleven localities. Notable among these was a series of birds trapped and ringed at Stanford Res, which comprised singles on 7th, 8th and 10th plus two on 9th. During the thirty-nine year period 1976 – 2014 the Stanford Ringing Group had trapped and ringed only eighteen Common Redstarts and this year alone has already seen eight processed through the nets.
By contrast, single Northern Wheatears were found near Cold Ashby on 5th, Pitsford Res/Walgrave on 6th, Blueberry Farm on 6th and 9th and at Hollowell Res on 10th-11th and migrant Tree Pipits were logged at Pitsford Res on 6th (trapped and ringed), Blueberry Farm on 6th and 8th, Hollowell Res on 10th and two over Sulgrave the following day.
The country remained sandwiched between a high pressure system to the west and a low to the east, with the net result of northerly winds (with some easterly influence) and low temperatures. The predicted heavy rain throughout the bank holiday Monday duly materialised, promised much but delivered little and led to localised flooding outside the county.
Although a ‘C lister’, visits to the county by Barnacle Geese remain sporadic but this week saw one at Clifford Hill GP between 1st and 3rd and five at Hollowell Res on 2nd, while the two Ruddy Shelducks remained at Pitsford Res throughout the period. Aside from a Pintail at Summer Leys LNR on 31st, the only other ducks of note were three eclipse drake Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res on the same date. Visits by last week’s Great White Egret to Pitsford Res became erratic with reports from there on 29th and 2nd, while another visited Hollowell Res on the latter date and again on 4th and one was at Summer Leys on 31st and again on 3rd and 4th.
Juvenile Marsh Harriers visited Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 29th-30th, Clifford Hill GP on 1st and Pitsford Res the following day but, after a notable run in records, the week’s only Ospreys were one flying east at Naseby Res on 2nd and another at Hollowell Res on 4th. Peregrines this week were singles at Pitsford Res and Stanwick GP on 31st, Higham Ferrers on 1st and Clifford Hill GP on 3rd.
The only Little Ringed Plovers were single juveniles at Clifford Hill GP on 29th and Naseby Res on 30th with six reported from Hollowell Res on 2nd, when there were six Ringed Plovers there (seven on 1st and 3rd-4th) with singles of the latter species at Naseby Res on 30th-31st, Pitsford Res on 2nd and up to three at Clifford Hill GP between 29th and 3rd. A juvenile Black-tailed Godwit was at Hollowell Res between 31st and 4th, being joined there by a second bird on 1st, the same date that another visited Clifford Hill GP.
The Stanwick Little Stint remained from last week until at least 2nd and small numbers of Dunlin were located at Hollowell Res, Naseby Res, Pitsford Res, Summer Leys, Clifford Hill GP and Stanwick GP with a maximum of four at Hollowell on 3rd-4th. Ruff were found only at Hollowell Res and Naseby Res with a maximum of eleven at the latter site representing a sizeable local count by today’s standards, while Common Sandpiper
numbers were down on the previous period with records from reservoirs at Pitsford, Hollowell, Welford and Naseby plus Clifford Hill GP and Stanwick GP, with a maximum of eight at Hollowell on 31st. Green Sandpipers were found at Naseby, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe and Welford Reservoirs and Stanwick GP with a maximum of 9 at Naseby on 30th, while the only Wood Sandpiper this week was a one-day bird at Clifford Hill GP on 1st.
Uncannily, after last week’s Spotted Redshank at Naseby Res on 27th, another turned up at the same site, exactly a week later, on 3rd. Greenshank numbers remained low, with just one at Summer Leys on 30th-31st and two at Naseby Res on 30th and 3rd, and Redshanks were similarly – though not unusually – scarce with singles at Clifford Hill GP on 29th and at Naseby Res the following day. The only Common Snipe were at Stanwick GP – where there was one on 30th and three the following day – and Summer Leys, where eight were counted on 31st.
Last week’s Hollowell Black Tern lingered to 2nd – so far it’s proving to be a lean year for this species – and two Arctic Terns were recorded including one at Stanwick GP on 31st and another at Hollowell Res the following day, while a first-winter Little Gull briefly visited Summer Leys LNR on 31st. The only Mediterranean Gull this week was a first-winter at Pitsford Res on 30th, the same date an adult Caspian Gull was found at Stanwick GP followed by a juvenile there the next day and two on 4th. There were far fewer Yellow-legged Gulls reported this week with just one or two adults at Pitsford Res on 31st-1st, an adult at Hollowell Res on 31st-2nd and a juvenile at Clifford Hill GP on 1st-3rd.
Some observers took their last 2015 look at a Cuckoo when a juvenile was found adjacent to Pitsford Res at Brixworth CP on 3rd, while scarce passerines included a Pied Flycatcher at Borough Hill on 1st followed by another between Pitsford Res and Walgrave the following day.
Whinchats were recorded between 29th and 3rd from five localities, Borough Hill and Blueberry Farm clocking up six each on 31st, while CommonRedstarts continued to be seen in profusion with records from ten localities including ten birds together in an area of scrub between Pitsford Res and Walgrave on 2nd.
This must be one of the very few autumns where they have outnumbered Northern Wheatears – the latter appearing as singles at only Pitsford Res, Hollowell Res and Blueberry Farm. Long lost as a local breeding species, Tree Pipits now appear only as scarce passage migrants so two at Harrington AF on 29th, one there the next day and four at Borough Hill on 31st constituted a reasonable quota for the week, during which four Crossbills over Hanging Houghton on 29th was the only record of this specialised feeder which also occurs only as a migrant and scarce winter visitor.
Autumn 2015 is so far proving to be a great period for Common Redstarts moving through Northants. The first migrant appeared on 1st August, followed by another the next day and then, from 14th August, they have been seen almost daily with records from 13 sites. Most reports involve 1-3 birds but an exceptional 10 were present in scrub between Pitsford Res and Walgrave yesterday.
Some of these are ‘brown’ autumn birds, which are a challenge to age in the field so, prompted by some recent online discussion regarding the ageing of an autumn female, I pulled together some images of local birds to look at in more detail.
All adults undergo a full post-breeding moult, while first-winters undergo a post juvenile moult which is restricted to head, body, lesser, median and some/all tertial coverts and one or two inner greater covets. The upshot of all this is that all Common Redstarts seen in early autumn will have relatively fresh plumage with lots of bright fringes to the wing feathers.
Svensson (Identification Guide to European Passerines) states that, even in the hand, ageing according to plumage characteristics is very difficult with, on some first years, contrast between one or two fresh inner greater coverts and the slightly worn remaining greater coverts plus more pointed tail feathers on first-winters being the most reliable ageing characteristics.
However, both BWP and Van Duivendijk (Advanced Bird ID Handbook, The Western Palearctic) state that, as well as tail feather tip shape, the middle (BWP) or inner (Van Divendijk) primaries will have distinct pale tips as opposed to very uniform, narrow pale fringes on adults. The presence of rusty/grey tips to the greater coverts is shown by both adults and first-winters, so is not a valid ageing characteristic. BWP goes on to suggest that the tertials of first-winters are more pointed and have broad, buffy fringes while those of adults are squarer with little or no buffy fringes.
Here is the image which sparked the discussion.
Based upon the above criteria (complete narrow fringes to primaries, medium narrow fringes to tertials and nearest outer tail feather appearaing rounded) this an adult. Compare this below with a typical spring female with worn plumage.
Here’s what I would call an obvious first-winter, showing all the classic features associated with a first year bird. Broad buffy fringes to tertials, broad pale tips to middle/inner primaries and apparently pointed tail feathers. The underparts also look a little scaly.
Below is what appears to be another first-winter, although not so well defined as the individual above. Middle tail feathers look rounded, though outers look pointed.
Here’s an undisputed adult female, trapped in summer and found to have an active brood patch – so a likely local breeder. Well worn and no sign of any fringes.
For completeness, below is a first-winter male, already wearing and surprisingly little fringeing.