The Week in Focus 22nd to 28th October 2016

Although short-lived, the easterly airstream resumed for the first two days of the period, after which it was replaced by a more westerly to south-westerly airflow from the Atlantic as an area of high pressure became established over southern England by the week’s end. The prime action was, however, limited to just one day – 23rd October – when a Gannet cruised over Summer Leys and Earls Barton GP and the County’s eleventh Woodlark since 1912 put in an all too brief appearance at Borough Hill.

The Ruddy Shelduck was still by the sailing club at Pitsford Res on 22nd, while the same site produced a sizeable total of thirty-six Pintails on 26th. Elsewhere, Pintail numbers were pegged to single figures which included seven at Earls Barton GP on 23rd, 2 at Daventry CP on 22nd and one at Stanwick GP on 25th. A Wood Duck of unknown origin – i.e. an escape – was on the canal at Stoke Bruerne on 28th. Back at Pitsford at least one late Garganey was discovered on 26th and up to eleven Red-crested Pochards remained throughout.

A juvenile Gannet flew over Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP and then over Summer Leys main lake as it tracked westwards along the Nene Valley on 23rd. This is the first since 2014 after a blank year in 2015, although this species is by no means annual in the County.

Juvenile Gannet, Earls Barton GP, 23rd October 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Northamptonshire Gannets, distribution of post-1969 records by month. Background image juvenile Gannet, Thrapston GP, 14th October 2013 (Bob Bullock)

The Stortons GP Bittern was again seen on 25th and another flew into reeds at Titchmarsh LNR (Thrapston GP) at dusk the following day, while up to three Great White Egrets remained north of the causeway at Pitsford Res, one lingered at Daventry CP to at least 27th and the Deene Lake individual was still ensconced there on 23rd.

Great White Egret, Deene Lake, 23rd October 2016 (James Underwood)

Although Little Egrets may be common nowadays, arguably bird photograph of the week was of this one grappling with a pike at Summer Leys on 27th.

Little Egret with Pike, Summer Leys LNR, 27th October 2016 (Alan Coles)

Raptors were limited to a Marsh Harrier between Holcot and Walgrave on 26th, a Merlin at Harrington AF on 28th and Peregrines at Borough Hill, Brampton Valley, Harrington AF, Higham Ferrers, Northampton, Pitsford Res and Upton.

Although low in numbers, Golden Plover was the dominant wader this week with seventy at Daventry CP on 22nd being the highest count, followed by smaller numbers at Boddington Res, Deenethorpe, Clifford Hill GP, Harrington AF, Pitsford Res, Polebrook AF, Stanwick GP, Summer Leys and Sywell CP. A Ruff was feeding with Lapwings in a ploughed field at Polebrook AF on 23rd, two Dunlins were at Stanwick GP on 22nd and a late Common Sandpiper visited Daventry CP on the same date. Pitsford Res produced the week’s maximum of six Green Sandpipers on 26th and singles were also present at Daventry CP, Deene Lake and Stanford Res, while Pitsford also held a Redshank on 26th-27th. Between fifteen and twenty Common Snipe were at Barnes Meadow, Northampton on 25th with smaller numbers at Pitsford Res, Polebrook AF, Stanford Res, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP, the last of these producing a Jack Snipe on 22nd while four were still at Barnes Meadow on 25th.

A few more gulls than last week included single adult Caspian Gulls in the roosts at Boddington Res on 24th and Pitsford Res on 28th, while single adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Culworth on 23rd and at Stanford Res on 23rd and 26th, five were at Boddington Res on 24th and up to two were at Pitsford Res all week.

In a similar vein to last week, another migrant Short-eared Owl was seen – this time on the western side of Northampton, in flight over Stortons GP on 26th.

Short-eared Owl, Stortons GP, 26th October 2016 (Alan Coles)

The two Bearded Tits at Summer Leys were seen again on 23rd and up to six were reported from Stanwick GP the following day. Highlight of the week, however, was Northamptonshire’s eleventh Woodlark since the species last bred here in 1912. Touching down only briefly on Borough Hill early on 23rd, it was unfortunately flushed by non-birders and headed off north. Breeding no further away than Nottinghamshire and Breckland, and with migrants more frequently recorded in neighbouring counties, it’s surprising there are so few local records. It remains one to catch up with for the majority of today’s local birders.

Northamptonshire Woodlarks, distribution of records post-1969 by month. Background image Woodlark (Ron Knight/Wikimedia Commons)

The autumn Stonechat rush continues with the Blueberry Farm/Brampton Valley area featuring eight on 24th plus records of two or more from Borough Hill, Harrington AF, Summer Leys and Sywell CP.

Male Stonechat, Summer Leys LNR, 27th October 2016 (Ricky Sinfield)

Male Stonechat, Summer Leys LNR, 287th October 2016 (Ricky Sinfield)

Although never common, another species which has become more scarce in recent years is Water Pipit, one of which flew west over Pitsford Res on 28th. Also scarce but less so, the first Mealy Redpoll of the autumn/winter period was trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 24th.

First-winter Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 24th October 2016 (Adam Homer)

First-winter Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 24th October 2016 (Adam Homer)

With no more than six Bramblings at any one site, single-figure counts came from Blueberry Farm, Borough Hill, Brampton Valley, Brixworth CP, Evenley Wood, Hanging Houghton and Walgrave, while two Crossbills flew east over the first of these sites on 24th, six more flew south over Borough Hill on 23rd and and another fly-over Hawfinch was logged at the latter site on 22nd.