Three Weeks in Focus 30th April to 20th May 2016

The first two weeks of May proved to be particularly rewarding for migration-watchers, the highlight of which occurred during the period 4th to 9th when high pressure over north-east Europe combined with a central European low produced a prolonged spell of south-easterly winds stretching to the UK. These conditions proved conducive to opening the gates for a significant influx of Black Terns while, at the same time, delivering higher than average numbers of waders, both in terms of quantity and diversity. Summer Leys received the lion’s share – primarily as a result of habitat management through the control of water levels. It was also understandably an exceptional period for the spread and proliferation of bird news across the county, with Twitter now seemingly the principal line of communication for much of this. By contrast, the last week of the period was particularly quiet, despite some bouts of overcast and wet conditions towards the end of it, which looked likely to ground a few more migrants. Is it all over? Only the next two weeks will tell …

A late migrant Pink-footed Goose joined the Greylags at Pitsford Res on 14th and was still present the following day and, after an apparent absence, the Ruddy Shelduck returned to the same site on 18th, sadly trailing an injured left wing.

Pink-footed Goose, Pitsford Res, 14th May 2016 (Stuart Mundy)

Seven Garganeys were found, including a pair at Summer Leys LNR on 2nd followed by single drakes there on 5th and 10th and at Stanwick GP on 13th and 20th and Ditchford GP on 15th, while the female Scaup reappeared briefly at Summer Leys on 4th.

Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 10th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

The first Quail of the year was heard at Harrington AF on 2nd, followed by another at Welford Res on 8th. Neither of these lingered beyond their discovery date. Also on the move, a Great White Egret flew over Hardwater Crossing at Earls Barton GP on 5th and, at adjacent Summer Leys, four Spoonbills arrived from the south on the morning of 7th, remaining on the scrape there for only forty-five minutes before heading off north-west – much to the delight of the handful of birders on site at the time. This is only the 33rd record for the county, with the May being the peak month of occurrence.

Spoonbills, Summer Leys LNR, 7th May 2016 (Martin Swannell). Two of the four present.

Four Marsh Harriers were logged during the period, including singles flying high north over East Hunsbury (Northampton) and in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton on 30th, one at Earls Barton GP’s Quarry Walk on 1st followed by another over Hardwater Crossing there the following day.

Marsh Harrier, Quarry Walk, Earls Barton GP, 1st May 2016 (Douglas McFarlane)

Ospreys were seen at Hollowell Res on 30th, 2nd, 12th-13th and 17th and one visited Ravensthorpe Res on 1st. Aside from the fifteen records of Hobbies – including ten at Quarry Walk on 12th – the only other raptors of note were single Peregrines in Northampton on 5th-6th and at Summer Leys on 5th and 10th.

One of the period’s highlights – for two observers at least – was the second appearance this spring of Common Crane in the Nene Valley with one flying east at Stanwick GP on 2nd. There have been less than twenty county records in total.

The small passage of Avocets this spring continued with another at Summer Leys on 1st but a remarkable run of waders kicked off at the same locality on 5th with the discovery there of a Grey Plover, which had become three by the next day, these birds remaining until 7th, after which two remained until the following day.

Grey Plover, Clifford Hill GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Grey Plover, Clifford Hill GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

More Grey Plovers were found on floodwater at Braunston on 9th, at Stanwick GP on 9th-11th and at Clifford Hill GP on 10th-12th. Little Ringed Plovers were present at four localities, with a maximum of five at Clifford Hill GP on 10th, while Ringed Plover passage ramped up with possibly as many as seventy scattered across six localities between 1st and 18th, including one flock of twenty-four at Clifford Hill GP on 11th. Several of these were identified as belonging to the ‘arctic’ race tundrae, including four at Harrington AF on 3rd, the same number at Braunston on 9th and one at Stanwick GP on 18th, although many more – if not all – were probably of this subspecies.

Ringed Plover, Pitsford Res, 12th May 2016 (Martin Swannell)

There were few Whimbrels by comparison, with one lingering at Summer Leys between 30th and 6th followed by five there on 10th, three were at Stanwick GP on the latter date and singles visited Stanford Res on 11th and Clifford Hill GP on 15th. Just one Curlew was reported during the whole of the period – one at Stanford Res on 6th. After the recent record-breaking flock of Black-tailed Godwits at Summer Leys, five there on 30th followed by one on 4th seemed meagre by comparison; one also visited Stanwick GP on 1st. Bar-tailed Godwits have been scarce this spring and, if we disregard the unconfirmed report of a flock of forty-six over Aldwincle on 10th, there was just one at Stanwick GP on the same date with two there the next day and two at Clifford Hill GP on 11th-12th.

Male Bar-tailed Godwit, Clifford Hill GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Female Bar-tailed Godwit, Clifford Hill GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Turnstones put on a reasonable show, however, with singles visiting Stanwick GP on 2nd and 9th, two there on 11th and four on 12th, while Summer Leys produced two on 10th, four on 11th and two on 13th-14th. Elsewhere, two visited Pitsford Res on 10th and one was at Clifford Hill GP the following day.

Turnstone, Stanwick GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Only one site produced any Ruff and that was Summer Leys, where up to four were present between 4th and 13th, including a rather black-looking male.

Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 10th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

The waders continued with the first of the few migrant Sanderlings being found on Pitsford Res dam on 10th, followed the next day by two at Stanwick GP and singles at Clifford Hill GP and Summer Leys. On 12th one remained at Stanwick and another was there on 16th and a different individual arrived two days later on 18th.

Sanderling, Stanwick GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Dunlins were also on the move with a total of at least seventy-four birds spread across six sites and records almost daily until 16th. Double-figure counts came from Summer Leys, where there were ten on 4th, Clifford Hill GP, with twelve on 10th and Stanford Res, where thirteen were counted the following day.

Dunlin, Pitsford Res, 30th April 2016 (Jacob Spinks)

At least sixty Common Sandpipers were recorded across fourteen localities with a maximum of nine at Clifford Hill GP on 11th, while a rather late Green Sandpiper was found at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows reserve on 7th. One or two Spotted Redshanks were reported over the three-day period 6th to 8th at Summer Leys, with the same site holding up to two Greenshanks between 1st and 8th. Other Greenshanks were at Braunston on 10th, at Stanwick between 10th and 17th (with a maximum of six on 13th) and at Ditchford GP, where four were present on 14th-15th. The scrape at Summer Leys produced another Wood Sandpiper from 6th to 8th, while another visited Stanwick briefly on the latter date.

Wood Sandpiper, Summer Leys LNR, 7th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Aside from potential breeders, Redshanks were also on the move with at least twelve at Summer Leys on 6th, followed by singles at Daventry CP and Braunston on 10th, Pitsford Res and Clifford Hill GP on 11th, six at Stanwick GP on 13th and up to six – possibly eight – at Summer Leys on 20th.

Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 6th May 2016 (Martin Swannell). A potential identification pitfall, this well marked, summer-plumaged bird accounted for several reports of Spotted Redshank at this site.

Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 11th May 2016 (Pete Garrity)

Arguably the most prominent feature of this spring has been the notable influx of Black Terns into the country – primarily as a result of the prolonged south-easterlies during the first week of the month. Records came from nine localities over a ten-day period with well over a hundred birds being logged.

Black Terns, 5th to 14th May. Number of individuals by date.

Black Tern, Stanwick GP, 6th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Black Tern, Stanwick GP, 6th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Black Terns, Stanwick GP, 6th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

Black Tern, Stanford Res, 11th May 2016 (Chris Hubbard)

Black Tern, Stanford Res, 11th May 2016 (Chris Hubbard)

Black Terns, Summer Leys LNR, 11th May 2016 (Pete Garrity)

Little Terns, too, were a nice addition to the mix with two arriving at Summer Leys on 10th, another there on 11th and one at Stanwick GP the following day.

Little Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 10th May 2016 (Bob Bullock). One of two present on this date.

Good numbers of Arctic Terns were also on the move at the same time, with Stanwick GP seeing twenty-seven over on 10th and around forty through on 11th; one was also there on 13th. Elsewhere, two visited Daventry CP on 3rd with singles there on 10th and 12th, seven on 11th and six there on 13th and at Clifford Hill GP there were two on 12th, four on 13th-14th and one on 18th.

Common, Arctic and Black Terns, Clifford Hill GP, 12th May 2016 (Bob Bullock)

After all the Little Gulls last month it is surprising that only one was seen during the review period – a first-summer at Stanwick GP on 30th. Stanwick also produced an adult Mediterranean Gull on 11th and two adults the following day, which were doubtless those seen there at the end of last month. Where had they been throughout the intervening period? The only other gull of note was a second calendar year Yellow-legged Gull, which flew over Harrington Airfield on 2nd.

First-summer Little Gull, Stanwick GP, 30th April (Bob Bullock)

First-summer Little Gull with Black-headed Gull, Stanwick GP, 30th April (Bob Bullock)

The Turtle Dove situation is currently dire. Just four local records reflect the shocking demise of this species both nationally and in Europe. Singles were purring at Polebrook AF on 8th (but subsequent searches drew a blank) and Old Sulehay on 9th, one flew north over Stanwick on 11th and two were near Newton Bromswold on 15th. A Short-eared Owl was hunting over waterside vegetation at Pitsford Res on 11th before disappearing over adjacent fields, after a relatively poor winter for this species.

Migrant passerines included a short-staying, singing Wood Warbler at Earls Barton GP on 1st, the long-staying, singing male Ring Ouzel at Harrington AF, where it remained until 3rd and two more were found at Borough Hill on 30th, while the last migrant Common Redstarts included single females at Boddington Res, Fawsley Park and Long Buckby – all on 30th and a singing male appeared to be holding territory at Badby Wood from 8th to 15th. Northern Wheatear passage continued quite strongly into the first week of May, with 30th producing singles at Long Buckby and Earls Barton GP and ten at Borough Hill; four were at Clifford Hill GP on 1st with ten there the following day and, at Harrington AF, three to five were present on 2nd, nine on 3rd, seven on 4th and two on 5th, while a male Greenland Wheatear was in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton on 2nd. There were, however, few Whinchats, with the Earls Barton GP bird from last month being joined by a second on 30th, one of which remained until 2nd, singles were at Blueberry Farm and Long Buckby on 30th and, on 4th, one was at Eastcote and two visited Harrington AF. Similarly, there were few White Wagtails with the total of four being made up of singles at Stanwick on 2nd and 11th, Pitsford Res on 3rd and Harrington AF on 5th.

White Wagtail, Pitsford Res, 3rd May 2016 (Alan Francis)

Seven Crossbills flying over Denton Wood on 17th rounded off one of the busiest spring periods locally for a long time.