Two Weeks in Focus 1st to 15th January 2016

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.

Red-crested Pochard, Ringstead GP, 1st January 2016 (Alan Francis)

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.

Smew, Pitsford Res, 7th January 2016 (Alan Francis)

Smew, Pitsford Res, 10th January 2016 (Simon Hales)

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.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th January 2016 (Alan Coles)

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th January 2016 (Alan Coles)

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

Second-winter Mediterranean Gull, Hardingstone GP, 14th January 2016 (Mike Alibone)

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.

Firecrest, Brixworth, 8th January 2016 (Bob Bullock)

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,

Mealy Redpoll, East Hunsbury, Northampton, 7th January 2016 (Bob Bullock)

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.