Couldn’t resist posting a few pics of the Woodford Halse Waxwing this afternoon. After the late autumn influx – chiefly ‘up north’ – and a few fleetingly fickle or fanciful fly-overs locally, this is the first twitchable individual in Northants this year. Clean-cut black bib and broad yellow tail-band sex it as a male and the reduced yellow feather edgings in the primaries age it as a first-winter. A big thank you to Donna Wise for putting the news out.
In the run up to Christmas the week remained mild and largely dry, although it was gloomy, dank and dull for the greater part of the period. The wind direction remained unchanged from last week’s light south to south-westerly airstream. The highlight of the week was the discovery of the largest flock of Eurasian White-fronted Geese locally for nearly twenty years.
The Sywell CP Whooper Swan continued to be reported throughout the period, now seemingly settled and showing all signs of being present for the winter.
On 19th, a flock of twenty-four Eurasian White-fronted Geese was discovered alongside the River Nene, close to the new White Mills Marina, east of Whiston Lock, where they remained all week. While family parties, single-figure flocks and fly-overs are not unusual, this is the largest ‘on the ground’ flock in Northants since December 1998, when up to thirty-eight were present at Ditchford GP. Nevertheless, it remains scarce in the county but not as scarce as Greenland White-fronted Goose, for which there are only four records, in 1981 (2), 1991 and 2009. Another would undoubtedly be appreciated.
Somewhat overshadowed by the birds at White Mills, another adult Eurasian White-front was found with Canada Geese at Fawsley Park Lakes on 20th and was still present there on 22nd.
In a similar vein to last week the only other wildfowl of note were up to four Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res between 18th and 20th, with the two drake Smew still there on 23rd and a ‘redhead’ Smew at Stanford Res from the beginning of the week to 22nd.
The three Great White Egrets remained at Ravensthorpe Res on all week, while ones, twos and, on 20th, three, were reported from Pitsford Res and one was found at Ditchford GP on 18th. On 19th a ‘new’ Slavonian Grebe was discovered north-east of the dam at Pitsford Res, where it was still being seen on 23rd.
There were no reports of the wintering juvenile male Hen Harrier at Stanford Res this week, although a ‘ringtail’ was seen flying north, close to the A508 at Kelmarsh on 21st. A Curlew at Pitsford Res on 20th was the only notable wader during the period.
All the gull action was restricted to the west of the county where, at Daventry CP, a third-winter Mediterranean Gull was present on 19th and 23rd, followed by an adult and a first-winter in the pre-roost gathering there on 21st, while an adult Caspian Gull was in the roost at Boddington Res on 17th and single first-winters were in fields near Chacombe and at Daventry CP on 23rd.
Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon, remained the only reliable location to see Short-eared Owl this week, with up to two present there while, not too far to the south, the male
Bearded Tit remained throughout the week along the causeway at Stanwick GP’s A45 Lay-by Pit and a ‘Nordic’ Jackdaw – of which there have been few reports in recent winters – was seen at Bozeat on 18th.
Under the influence of an Atlantic airstream, the mild and frequently wet weather continued throughout the week, pegging daytime temperatures in the low teens. Few new birds were discovered and perhaps the biggest surprise was an unseasonal Turnstone for one day at Stanwick GP.
The Sywell CP Whooper Swan remained all week and the only other wildfowl of note were a female Red-crested Pochard at Ravensthorpe Res on 10th and two drake Smew at Pitsford on 11th.
On the same date, one of two Bitterns was again seen at Stanwick GP, while the three Great White Egrets remained on show at Ravensthorpe Res all week, two were at Pitsford Res on 11th and one visited Summer Leys on 14th and 16th. In the north-east of the county, at Thrapston GP, a Slavonian Grebe was (re?)discovered on Aldwincle Lake on the morning of 11th but had promptly disappeared by the afternoon.
Becoming more erratic in its appearances, the wintering juvenile male Hen Harrier was again seen at Stanford Res on 14th, although the lack of reports probably relates to a lower level of observer coverage and diminishing interest following its initial discovery in November.
On the wader front, a Turnstone arrived at Stanwick GP on 11th but had departed by the next day. This is a most unusual time of the year for this species to occur, the peak months being May and August. Aside from this, single Jack Snipe were found at both Ditchford GP and Stanford Res on 10th.
There was little change from last week in the numbers of scarce gulls being found. A second-winter Mediterranean Gull visited Daventry CP on 11th and 15th and a first-winter Caspian Gull was at Pitsford Res on 11th and 13th, with an adult there on 14th and another adult at Hollowell Res on 13th.
Finedon continued to hold at least one Short-eared Owl in the Neville’s Lodge area on 11th-12th but the only other one this week was in the Brampton Valley on 14th. The male Bearded Tit remained throughout the period along the causeway at Stanwick GP’s A45 Lay-by Pit but a Siberian Chiffchaff, calling and showing well near the Bird Club Hide at Pitsford Res on 11th, was new.
Lastly, Crossbills can be a bit hit and miss to catch up with in the county but Fineshade Wood’s Wildlife Hide was the place to be to see a showy male present from 10th to 13th, being joined by a female there on 11th.
The first week of the review period saw the coldest overnight temperatures of the autumn so far, with temperatures resulting from a northerly airstream falling to well below freezing on several occasions. The second week saw a swing to the west with daytime temperatures having hit the low teens by the period’s end. The spotlight fell firmly on wildfowl with the appearance of both species of wild swan constituting the highlight for those who managed to catch up with them.
First up were two adult Bewick’s Swans, which dropped into Summer Leys on 26th, remaining there for the afternoon only, and these were quickly followed by another one-day bird at Daventry CP, three days later, on 29th.
Also on 29th, a first-winter Whooper Swan was found at Stanford Res but it too, like the Bewick’s, remained for just one day. On 3rd, however, another Whooper was found – this time an adult at Sywell CP and, on this occasion, it remained until at least 8th.
Shorter-staying than any of the above, though, was an adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, which was found at Clifford Hill GP on 26th but had disappeared within a couple of hours of its discovery. At Pitsford Res, two Red-crested Pochards were present between 29th and 2nd and three out of five relatively long-staying first-winter Scaups were still there on 30th, with at least one remaining until 7th. Stanford Res also continued to hold on to its Scaup – well, one of them at least – until 3rd, with some debate as to age and sex.
The same site also produced three female or first-winter Common Scoters on 27th and, back at Pitsford, another was found the following day.
Staying with the maritime theme, and locally scarcer than any of the above, a female Long-tailed Duck was discovered on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on 29th but it had gone by the following day.
Up to three ‘redhead’ Smew arrived and were at Pitsford on 26th-29th, followed by a drake there between 3rd and 8th.
Bitterns featured at Stanwick GP during the period with one coming in to roost in the reedbed there, between16.00 and 16.30 almost nightly, from 1st to 8th and two present on 2nd. Four localities produced Great White Egrets this week with a minimum of two north of the causeway at Pitsford Res daily, although three or four were reported there on 29th. Ravensthorpe Res is now clearly being favoured by this species with records daily and three there on several dates between 27th and the end of the period, although it’s likely there is some commuting between there and Pitsford Res. Two Slavonian Grebes were found at Clifford Hill GP on 26th, remaining in the north-west corner of the main barrage lake where they were on view until 3rd.
Favouring the disused railway track and small area of set-aside east of Stanford Res, the wintering juvenile male Hen Harrier continued to be seen regularly between 26th and 6th and a Merlin was again present there on 9th, with another reported from the Brampton Valley area on 28th.
December is normally the first month of the winter in which white-winged gulls are found locally but this has not yet been the case. A single first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Hollowell Res on 9th with Caspian Gulls there on the same date and on 26th – plus two at Pitsford Res on 27th and one again on 3rd – reflects the current paucity of wintering scarce Larids in Northants.
Short-eared Owls continued to be seen in the late afternoons at Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, with two on 27th, one on 29th and three on show on 8th while, elsewhere, singles were at Borough Hill on 26th, Sywell CP on 27th, in the Brampton Valley/Blueberry Farm area on 28th and 1st and at Harrington AF on 29th. The male Bearded Tit continued its presence throughout at Stanwick GP’s A45 Lay-by Pit, where it remained mobile along the causeway but at the same time occasionally providing remarkably close views.
The only other passerines of note during the period were two Waxwings which flew south over Harrington AF on 26th.
After about ten years (it feels like more) I have decided to relinquish my post as Northamptonshire County Bird Recorder and I hereby give notice that I will no longer be doing the ‘job’ after 31st March 2017.
If anyone would like to step forward to take on this role then please feel free to contact me. If there are no volunteers prior to the above date then the county will be recorderless from 1st April.
I will not pretend the job is glamorous. There are hours of data input every week, supply of information to various organisations and journals, meetings to attend (which I don’t) and the rewards are meagre. With a more than full time job and other birding interests to juggle I simply don’t have the time to do the job justice.
I intend to continue with the Northantsbirds site and I will continue posting local bird news but the recorder’s job is better served by someone young, energetic and feisty with lots of energy or someone old, wise and wizened with lots of time. At present I fall into neither category.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support and record submissions over the last decade.
While undertaking a WeBS count on 26th November, Bob Bullock found two Slavonian Grebes on the main barrage lake a Clifford Hill GP. Remaining faithful to an area in the north-west corner of the lake, they were still present two days later but there have been no reports since 28th. Are they still there?
November proved to be a good month for this species in the county, with multiple arrivals on 14th including one at Thrapston GP, which remained until at least 19th, and another at Ravensthorpe Res, which was quickly joined by another the same day, both having departed by the following morning.
The two at Clifford Hill GP provided an opportunity for relatively close study and it was immediately evident that the two birds were quite different in plumage.
One was an obvious textbook grey, black and white, winter-plumaged adult with a sharply demarcated black crown, white cheeks and a clean white foreneck. The other could be aged as a first winter, still retaining some juvenile plumage in the form of diffuse, dusky areas, most obvious on the rear cheeks as well as on the neck sides (which show a noticeable brownish hue), extending across the foreneck, which is also rather dirty-looking compared to that of the adult.