The extended round-up period saw the arrival of more traditional winter fair in the shape of white-winged gulls, scarce grebes and more Waxwings, the largest flock of which exceeded fifty. Wildfowl, too, remained prominent, with long-stayers remaining and a few new ones being thrown into the wetland mix.
Like the first on 5th January, the second record of Bewick’s Swan for 2017 consisted of a small, fly-over flock of four flying east along the Nene Valley on 13th, while the adult Whooper Swan remained at Sywell CP until at least 19th.
There were more fly-overs to come as eight Pink-footed Geese were seen heading south over Pitsford Res on 17th and the wintering Eurasian White-fronted Geese appearing to break up, with fourteen commuting erratically between riverside locations at Great Doddington and Whiston between 28th and 8th. During, and beyond, this period there were reports of small numbers elsewhere – possibly as a result of the original flock of twenty-four dispersing and remaining local. In this respect, two visited Wicksteed Park Lake on 28th, six were at Clifford Hill GP on 1st, two remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake between 4th and 18th, one was at Pitsford Res between 15th and 19th and a first-winter visited Daventry CP on 20th.
Keeping tabs on escapes which could be future additions to the British List is always worth doing but in the case of the Wood Duck, which turned up at Shelfley’s Lake, Northampton on 14th this could be stretching things a bit as far as this individual is concerned. Nevertheless, this species is always a nice bird to see.
With no more than two at any location, five sites produced Red-crested Pochards, including Earls Barton GP, Pitsford Res, Summer Leys LNR, Thrapston GP and Wicksteed Park Lake, while the long-staying female Scaup remained at on the main lake at Stanwick GP until at least 20th. The two drake Scaup were still at Earls Barton GP on 29th, a drake was at Ditchford GP on 19th and two females visited Daventry CP the following day – all combining to represent a healthier than average showing for this species during the first two months of the year.
Stanford’s Long-tailed Duck, now into its ninth week, remained throughout the period and another sea duck – a female Common Scoter – was reported from Sywell CP on 3rd. Smew have been relatively scarce this winter in comparison to recent previous years and a drake seen at Pitsford Res on 30th, 6th and 7th was probably the same individual which visited Ravensthorpe Res on 4th, 5th and 11th. Elsewhere, single ‘redheads’ were seen at Stanford Res on 5th and 10th and at Earls Barton GP from 16th to 18th.
Skulking Bitterns were present on the Heronry Lake at Thrapston GP on 5th and 12th and another was seen at Stanwick GP on 6th. Rather more obvious, though, was the period’s crop of Great White Egrets and, while there were no stunningly high single-site totals, this species was on show with up to two almost daily somewhere or other in the county, records coming from Ditchford GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res Ravensthorpe Res, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP.
Upstaging Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe, which remained until at least 21st, a Red-necked Grebe was found close to the causeway there on 13th, thereafter remaining until the end of the period. The only scarce raptor reported was a Merlin at Pitsford Res on 13th. This species has, so far, been unusually scarce this winter. Predictably the only scarce waders were single Jack Snipe at Stanford Res on 4th and 10th, two at Barnes Meadow LNR, Northampton on 16th and one at Ditchford GP on 19th.
While gulls are currently enjoying a good deal of renewed adverse media publicity, the demise of their favourite inland habitat, landfill sites, is making them more sought after by local birders. With apparently just one active landfill in Northants the second best option is a local gull roost in fading light … There was a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at the Boddington Res roost on 18th but, as we move into March, more Meds will appear at roosts as they move through the county on passage. Caspian Gulls have also been visiting our roosts, with Pitsford and Boddington attracting adults sporadically throughout the period. Hollowell, Stanford and Daventry have also produced singles during the day but better by far has been the Rushton Landfill site which has produced up to three adults and a first-winter, on and off, throughout. This site has also attracted two different, ‘one-day’ Glaucous Gulls – a fourth-winter on 18th, quickly followed by a juvenile the following day. An adult Iceland Gull visited Stanford Res briefly on 2nd but, apart from these three ‘white-wingers’ along with the recent Glaucous near Chacombe, the winter has been treating Northants rather meanly. A trickle of Yellow-legged Gulls has included singles at Boddington Res, Chacombe, Daventry CP, Pitsford Res, Thrapston GP and, of course, Rushton Landfill, where two were present on 19th.
Up to four Short-eared Owls were still at Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon, until at least 6th and one was at Twywell Hills & Dales on 13th.
Are birders still looking for them at Finedon or has interest diminished in the wake of the continuing winter Waxwing invasion, which continues to illicit considerable interest from birders and the general public alike? The maximum counts for the nine areas in which they have occurred during the last four weeks are as follows: East Hunsbury, fifty-plus on 23rd; Wootton, forty-five/fifty on 18th; Irthlingborough, forty-one on 7th; Kettering, thirty-eight on 29th; Bush Hill (Northampton), twenty-five on 29th; Boughton Green Road (Northampton), ten on 18th; Oundle, nine/twelve on 13th and Rushton, nine on 6th.
Out in the country, away from all the panache and pizzazz, the second and third Corn Buntings of the year were found: one was with Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings near Warmington on 18th-19th and the other visited a feeding station at Woodford Halse on 20th. Good try in both cases but time is fast running out for the discovery of a Pine or a Little …