Mild conditions again prevailed under the continuing influence of the Atlantic airstream and a relatively quiet week ensued on the birding front.
The Clifford Hill GP Pink-footed Goose lingered with Greylags there until at least 25th, as did the Barnacle Goose, while the Ruddy Shelduck continued to be seen – if only sporadically – at Pitsford Res. A female or first-winter Scaup was at Earls Barton GP’s
Mary’s Lake on 23rd but it was not seen subsequently. Paying an equally brief visit to Clifford Hill GP, a drake Red-crested Pochard was a one-day bird on 24th, while Smew continued to remain both scarce and elusive with just single drakes at Pitsford Res on 23rd and Ravensthorpe Res on 26th and a ‘redhead’ at Thrapston GP on 29th.
The latter site continued to host a long-staying Great White Egret throughout the week, as did Summer Leys LNR and Ravensthorpe Res, while one flew west over Ecton SF on 24th and singles were also at Ditchford GP on 25th and Pitsford Res the following day. Pitsford’s Red-necked Grebe became more mobile, venturing north to the opposite shore of the ‘big side’, where it was seen off the gorse bushes on 23rd.
Raptors were again poorly represented this week with just two reports of Peregrines comprising one at Thrapston GP on 23rd and two between Badby and Upper Catesby on 25th, while single Merlins were seen at Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) on 26th and between Walgrave and Holcot on 28th.
Meagre pickings for wader buffs included Golden Plovers at Harrington AF, Summer Leys, and Stanwick GP with a maximum of approximately five hundred at the latter site on 24th, while the only Redshanks were two at Pitsford Res on 23rd and up to nine at Stanwick GP between 26th and 28th. Two Green Sandpipers were located at Broadholme STW (Ditchford GP) on 24th and the WeBS count at Pitsford Res yielded forty Common Snipe on 23rd.
The county’s reservoirs produced an adult Mediterranean Gull at Ravensthorpe on 26th and a third-winter Caspian Gull flew south over Pitsford on 23rd, while an adult visited the roost there later the same day.
In what is proving so far to be a good winter for Firecrests another was found by the main observation hide overlooking the A45 Lay-by Pit at Stanwick GP on 24th, along with a Siberian Chiffchaff near to the visitor centre there on the same date. Just occasionally in winter a Black Redstart will put in an appearance but visits tend to be brief and long stays rare, so conforming to this pattern was one in Kingsthorpe (Northampton) on 23rd, which was not accessible to the public and it had departed by the following day. Easier to get to grips with, however, were Stonechats which continued to be seen at Blueberry Farm, in the Brampton Valley, Summer Leys and Pitsford Res. The Mealy Redpoll making sporadic visits to a garden feeder at East Hunsbury (Northampton) was seen again on 23rd and 25th, while single Bramblings were at Harrington AF on 25th and in Hanging Houghton on 26th-27th with at least six still showing between 23rd and 28th between Badby and Upper Catesby, where the two Corn Buntings continued to be seen until 28th.
The mini cold snap, which delivered some snow locally on 17th, proved to be short-lived and it was back to the influence of an Atlantic airstream and unseasonally mild temperatures by the week’s end. One or two new birds were discovered during the period, while the same long-staying scarcities stayed put.
New in – and on the ground for once – single Pink-footed Geese joined local Greylags at Weston Mill/Clifford Hill GP from 19th to 22nd and Deene Lake on 20th, the first of these two sites continuing to host a solitary Barnacle Goose throughout. The Pitsford Ruddy Shelduck was still present there on 18th and up to three Pintails were at Ravensthorpe Res mid-week, while the first-winter drake Scaup paid one of its occasional visits to Stortons GP on 19th and it, or another, visited Clifford Hill GP on 22nd. Coinciding with the snowfall on the 17th, three Common Scoters arrived at the latter locality but had similarly melted away by the following day.
Smew remained sporadic in their appearances with a ‘redhead’ and a drake at Ravensthorpe Res on 18th – the drake still present on 20th – and another drake was close to the causeway at Pitsford Res the following day. The 16th saw a ‘redhead’ Red-breasted Merganser come in to roost with Goosanders on the main lake at Stanwick GP, although it has not been seen since, despite searching by the locals.
The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained on the watersports pit at Ditchford GP until at least 16th and the same site hosted two Great White Egrets mobile about the complex between Viaduct Pit and Wilson’s Pit until at least 18th. More Great Whites included the Ravensthorpe Res individual all week, singles at Thrapston GP until 17th and Summer Leys LNR until 21st, while two were reported from Clifford Hill GP, along with a Slavonian Grebe on 19th. Pitsford Res hung on to its long-staying Red-necked Grebe off the dam until at least 19th.
On the rather flaccid raptor front single Peregrines were at Stanwick GP on 17th, Stortons GP on 19th and Higham Ferrers the following day and the only Merlin was a female/immature at Charwelton on 20th.
Wader numbers were similarly poor with Golden Plovers reported from Clifford Hill GP, Daventry CP, Harrington AF and Stanford Res with a rather low maximum of approximately one hundred and eighty at the latter site on 16th. The only Redshanks were five at Stanwick GP and one at Summer Leys on 17th, a Jack Snipe was found at Hollowell Res on 20th and Common Snipe were seen at Daventry CP, Ditchford GP, Harrington AF, Hollowell Res, Stanford Res, Stanwick GP and Summer Leys with a maximum of only six at Stanwick GP on 17th.
Looking for larids proved hard work for roost-watchers with a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Boddington Res on 16th followed by an adult there on 22nd. On the first of these dates a first-winter Caspian Gull was at Stanford Res, while single adults were at Stanwick GP and Pitsford Res the following day. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was at Stortons GP on 18th and two more visited Hollowell Res on 20th but an adult Glaucous Gull on Stanwick’s main lake at dusk on 16th did not hang around for a repeat performance on subsequent evenings.
Back on the birding menu this week was Short-eared Owl with one at Harrington AF on 16th; surely there are more to be found in suitable habitats across the county. Considering they are on the up, only two reports of Central European Blackcaps were received including a male in a garden in Scaldwell on 16th and a male and female in a Barton Seagrave garden all week.
The usual Stonechats continued to occupy winter territories at Brampton Valley, Clifford Hill GP, Summer Leys LNR and Hollowell Res, with new birds at Thrapston GP and Barnes Meadow (Northampton) and a maximum of seven at Hollowell Res on 18th. The Mealy Redpoll at East Hunsbury (Northampton) was seen only once this week, on 16th, and another appeared on a garden feeder in Byfield on 21st. This week’s Bramblings were singles at Stanford Res on 16th and Hanging Houghton on 17th-18th, up to ten between Badby and Upper Catesby between 19th and 22nd and 3 visiting a garden feeder in Warmington on 22nd, while two Corn Buntings were with the Bramblings between Badby and Upper Catesby on 19th.
This summary covers the first two weeks of the New Year, a period which saw much of the same unusually mild and wet weather conditions prevail until the middle of the second week when the winds swung northerly, allowing an airstream with a more Arctic element to cover the UK, delivering much lower temperatures more akin to the seasonal norm. Can we at last look forward to some fresh arrivals from north-east Europe?
Still present from the end of last year was the Barnacle Goose at Clifford Hill GP with the Greylags and Canadas there during the first week and the Pitsford Ruddy Shelduck was still mobile around the reservoir until at least 9th. The first day of the New Year produced two Red-crested Pochards at Ringstead GP and, on 15th, the first-winter drake Scaup from the last day of 2015 reappeared at Stortons GP.
Smew continued to remain scarce with up to two drakes at Pitsford Res until 3rd and one at Ravensthorpe Res on 6th and one – possibly two – ‘redheads’ were at Pitsford until at least 13th.
The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained on the watersports pit at Ditchford GP until at least 10th but it was not seen during a one-hour search there on 14th, although it has been known to give observers the slip from time to time. Birders visiting the site are requested not to enter the grounds of the watersports pit as it is private and the landowner has made it unequivocally clear that trespassers will be dealt with harshly. View only from the north bank of the River Nene or more distantly from the pull-in by the gate at the top of Ditchford Lane, just off the slip road from the A45. You have been warned!
Always elusive and typically seen only in flight, two Bitterns were glimpsed during the first week – one at Stanwick GP on 4th and the other at Summer Leys LNR two days later. The opposite is true of Great White Egrets, of course. This sore thumb former rarity now occurs anywhere and everywhere in Northants during winter, with rising water levels at some localities no doubt responsible for local movements between sites. In summary, then, Ravensthorpe Res hung on to its long-stayer throughout, two were at Pitsford Res on 5th with one there the following day and singles were at Stanwick GP on 1st, Ditchford GP on 1st, 10th and 14th, Summer Leys on 3rd-4th, 10th and 14th, Clifford Hill GP on 4th, Stanford Res on 9th and Thrapston GP on 10th-11th. The long-staying Red-necked Grebe remained at Pitsford Res, off the dam or in Moulton Grange Bay, until at least 13th.
Raptors were again scarce – the two week period producing a monster local rare in the form of a Goshawk west of Welford on 9th, while single Peregrines were at Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) on 1st, 3rd and 8th, Kelmarsh and Stortons GP on 1st, Trafford Marsh and Summer Leys on 3rd, at Guilsborough on 4th and Northampton on 15th. The only Merlin was at Harrington AF on 7th.
Golden Plovers were reported from Brixworth, Chacombe, Clifford Hill GP, Harrington AF, Summer Leys and Stanwick GP with a maximum count of approximately eight hundred at the latter site on 6th. A lone Dunlin at Stanwick GP on 6th was the only one during the period, Green Sandpipers were limited to singles at Pitsford Res on 2nd and 9th and Ravensthorpe Res on 4th and the only Redshanks reported were four at Stanwick GP on 1st and nine there on 6th. For those intrepid enough to brave the bogs of Barnes Meadow (Northampton) the rewards came in the form of twelve Jack Snipe on 7th – the highest single site count in recent years – at least two still being present there on 10th. The highest count of forty-six Common Snipe was also made at this site on 7th with eighteen there on 10th, while up to twelve were at Trafford Marsh on 3rd and one was at Pitsford Res on 13th.
In line with a national sprinkling, an adult Little Gull appeared at Fawsley Park Lake on 2nd, quickly followed by seven at Pitsford Res on 4th, three of which remained in the gull roost. Two Mediterranean Gulls were found during the period comprising an adult at Daventry CP on 5th and a second-winter at Hardingstone GP on 14th, while the adult
Caspian Gull continued to visit the gull roost at Pitsford Res, where it was seen on 1st, 4th, 8th and 9th and another adult visited Daventry CP on 6th. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was at Clifford Hill GP on 2nd while, on 4th, singles visited Pitsford Res and Daventry CP and two were at Hollowell Res.
On the passerine front the county experienced a ‘glut’ of Firecrests, with one trapped and ringed at Brixworth STW on 6th remaining there until 8th, another at nearby Hanging Houghton also on 8th, one at Rushden between Washbrook Road Bridge and Waitrose on 9th and another at nearby Ditchford GP the following day. In addition to those four, a ‘probable’ was reported along the entrance track to Ravensthorpe STW on 8th.
Just four Central European Blackcaps were seen in gardens at Wellingborough on 4th, Overstone on 6th, Barton Seagrave on 8th and Woodford Halse on 10th. Stonechats, enjoying a good winter, were reported from Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) and the wider Brampton Valley, Clifford Hill GP, Ditchford GP, Pitsford Res, Summer Leys LNR and Hollowell Res, with a maximum of five at the latter site on 4th. The Mealy Redpoll present in December 2015 continued to make irregular visits to feeders in an East Hunsbury (Northampton) garden where it was seen on 6th, 7th, 12th and 14th,
while Bramblings were found at four localities with one at Fawsley Park on 2nd, up to twelve nearby along the minor road between Badby and Upper Catesby on 2nd and 13th, one at Trafford Marsh on 3rd and two at Sywell CP on 4th. Staying in the west of the county, two Crossbills were at Staverton on 3rd and a Corn Bunting – now sadly a local rarity – was with the Bramblings between Badby and Upper Catesby on 2nd and 13th.