The Week in Focus 23rd to 29th April 2016

Unsettled and cold weather, with below average temperatures, were the hallmarks of the last week of the month, which was characterised in the main by stiff northerly winds bringing rain, sleet and snow – albeit in mercifully small quantities across the county. Spring migration continued unabated, however, with plenty of new birds turning up to keep local birders busy.

Still very much part of the furniture, Pitsford’s Ruddy Shelduck remained but rather more transient were a drake Garganey at Summer Leys LNR and a drake Common Scoter at Clifford Hill GP – both one-day wonders on 24th.

Another Great White Egret was seen around the north side of Pitsford Res on 25th but, more interestingly, a White Stork reported over Northampton on 23rd has the potential to make it on to the record as the county’s 20th – if anyone bothers to submit a description.

The 23rd also produced a couple of Marsh Harriers – one at Summer Leys and the other in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton – while another was seen moving high north-east over Thrapston GP the following day. Also on 23rd, a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier was at Lyveden but apart from this there were no more scarce raptors reported during the period.

This week, however, belonged to the waders. More specifically – Black-tailed Godwits. While we’ve had ‘big’ flocks before they have not run into triple figures, let alone triple hundreds! But this was indeed the case on the evening of 27th, when an astonishing three hundred and twenty-five descended on Summer Leys, much to the amazement of the handful of birders on site at the time.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 27th April 2016 (Matt Hazleton). Part of a gathering of some 325 individuals.

Arriving just after 7 pm, the majority had departed by 8 pm, leaving just four or five on 28th-29th, one of which was colour-ringed. Of course, this small group may have been new, later arrivals. This remarkably short-staying flock gives rise to speculation of what else goes through the county that we must be missing. In much smaller numbers other waders included an Avocet at Clifford Hill GP on 25th and Little Ringed Plovers at three sites throughout the week, while the Whimbrel passage continued with one on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on 23rd, two at adjacent Summer Leys from 23rd until 25th with one remaining until 29th, two at Clifford Hill GP on 24th with three there on 28th and one over Daventry CP on 26th.

Whimbrel, Earls Barton GP, 23rd April 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Whimbrel, Earls Barton GP, 23rd April 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Whimbrel, Summer Leys LNR, 24th April 2016 (Alan Coles)

Whimbrel, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2016 (Mike Alibone)

Curlews were scarce by comparison with a pair at a potential breeding site on 24th. Small numbers of Dunlin included three at Stanwick GP on 25th, singles at Pitsford Res on 27th, Summer Leys on 28th and Stanford Res on 29th and four at Summer Leys on the last of these dates.

Dunlin, Pitsford Res, 27th April 2016 (John Nicholls)

Common Sandpipers were recorded from six localities with a maximum of six at Stanford Res on 29th, while 24th saw Green Sandpipers arriving at Upton Valley (Northampton), Summer Leys and Clifford Hill GP, where there were two. Last week’s Spotted Redshank remained at Summer Leys until 24th, with the same site holding up to three Greenshanks to 27th and the relatively long-staying Wood Sandpiper until 26th. The scrape at Summer Leys provided ideal habitat for Common Snipe, where the maximum count came to at least twenty-three on 24th.

Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 26th April 2016 (Alan Coles)

Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 26th April 2016 (Alan Coles)

Wood Sandpiper, Summer Leys LNR, 24th April 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Arctic Tern passage was still very much in evidence this week with five at Summer Leys and ten at Daventry CP on 23rd – with one at the latter site on 24th-25th – fourteen at Stanwick GP and two at Clifford Hill GP on 25th and one at Earls Barton GP on 27th. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls joined the Black-headed Gull colony at Summer Leys on 28th but then chose to move to the Stanwick GP colony the next day, when they were seen displaying.

Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 29th April 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Migrant passerines included the long-staying male Ring Ouzel at Harrington AF, where it was observed singing on 29th. Common Redstarts were thin on the ground this week with a female at Daventry CP from 24th to 26th, two near Walgrave on 25th, and singles at Stanwick GP on 27th and Summer Leys on 29th, while Northern Wheatears again maintained their presence all week at Harrington AF with the site attracting up to eight on 24th, the same date seeing six at Clifford Hill GP, while two were at Chelveston AF on 26th. The first migrant Whinchat was discovered at Earls Barton GP on 25th, remaining there until 29th and another appeared at Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) on 27th, while single Bramblings in gardens at Hanging Houghton on 25th and 27th and at Kettering on 26th-29th represented the last remnants of winter …

Brambling, Kettering, 26th April 2016 (Phil Jackman)