Rarity Round-up 25th to 31st March 2017

Spring ramped up this week, local temperatures topping 20ºC as winds turned southerly. With winter well and truly on the retreat, more summer birds arrived, including firsts of Common Tern, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Swallow, House Martin and Yellow Wagtail – all between 28th and 31st. Apart from a couple of obstinate ducks and a grebe, this week also saw a significant clear-out of winter visitors.

The Pitsford White-fronted Goose lingered into the early part of the week, still present with Greylags on 25th. The drake Red-crested Pochard remained at Earls Barton GP until 28th and three were still at Thrapston GP on 30th, while both the long-staying female Scaup at Stanwick GP and – aside from one reported at Pitsford on 31st – the Long-tailed Duck at Stanford Res (the latter chalking up its three-month anniversary this week) were present all week. The same goes for Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe, although the Red-necked Grebe appears to have ended its stay there, having not been seen since 20th.

Eurasian White-fronted Goose, Pitsford Res, 25th March 2017 (Jacob Spinks)

Five more Ospreys came through – a green colour-ringed female ‘5N’ from the Rutland Water scheme at Pitsford Res on 25th, two over Welford on 26th and singles over Daventry CP and another at Pitsford Res on 30th.

Female Osprey, Pitsford Res, 25th March 2017 (Jacob Spinks)
Male Osprey, Pitsford Res, 30th March 2017 (Matthew Rivers). Diffuse, almost absent breast band and clean underwing coverts indicate this as a male.

Four Ruffs – less common in spring than in autumn – were at Stanwick GP on 26th and they were the only waders of note, despite the beckoning mud of Stanford.Last week’s run of Little Gulls continued, with 27th producing two adults at both Ditchford GP and Summer Leys LNR, plus a single adult at Pitsford Res, while a first-summer appeared at Stanwick GP the following day and further singles were at Pitsford Res and Summer Leys LNR on 31st.

Adult Little Gull, Pitsford Res, 27th March 2017 (Martin Swannell)
First-summer Little Gull, Stanwick GP, 29th March (Bob Bullock)
First-summer Little Gull, Stanwick GP, 29th March (Bob Bullock)

Stanwick also hosted a first-summer Caspian Gull on 26th followed by a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull the next day. Part of a series of national inland records, a Sandwich Tern flew through at Pitsford Res on the last day of the month.

The show wasn’t quite over as far as Waxwings were concerned and migrant flocks lingered briefly at Hardingstone, where there were twelve on 26th, Eastfield Park (Northampton), where there were at least thirty on 27th, Rothwell, where there were four also on 27th, Castlethorpe, where there were at least five on 29th, and Brackley, which held a singleton from 26th to 28th. Two more White Wagtails appeared – one at Harrington AF on 25th and one, briefly, at Stanford Res on the same date. There is much to look forward to over the coming weeks …

Rarity Round-up 18th to 24th March 2017

Despite the winds coming from the south-west, the majority of the week remained cold as a North Atlantic low dragged winds down from northern latitudes and these were subsequently replaced by easterlies at the week’s end. Summer migrants continued to arrive, however, with the first Garganey, Osprey, White Wagtail and Northern Wheatear all making an appearance during the period. Despite this, some of our long-staying winter visitors remained, clearly waiting to choose their moment for migration.

The wintering adult Whooper Swan was still present at Sywell CP on 22nd and the Eurasian White-fronted Goose stayed put with Greylags at Pitsford Res all week, while the first Garganeys appeared on 21st – a male and female at Summer Leys LNR – but they had promptly moved on by the following day. Three Red-crested Pochards were still at Thrapston GP on 19th and a solitary drake remained at Earls Barton GP all week, as did the long-staying female Scaup at Stanwick GP and the Long-tailed Duck at Stanford Res, where the water level continues to drop nicely.

Low Water at Stanford Res, 18th March 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Just one wintering Great White Egret lingered at Summer Leys until 21st while Pitsford’s two rare grebes, Slavonian and Red-necked, remained until at least 20th. Aside from belated news of a male Hen Harrier on the edge of the Rowley Estate, north of Croughton on 13th, the only scarce raptor of the week was the first migrant Osprey, over Little Irchester, on 20th.

Sporting an array of coloured bling, an Avocet pitched up at Summer Leys on 24th and remained throughout the day but, like the Garganeys there before it, it had gone by the following day – well, it is spring, after all …

Colour-ringed Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 24th March 2017 (Bob Bullock)
Colour-ringed Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 24th March 2017 (Bob Bullock)

More Black-tailed Godwits duly piled in, with the 18th seeing one at Stanford Res and thirteen over Summer Leys, Ditchford GP hosting two on 20th and the 23rd producing one at Summer Leys and three at Stanwick GP. Jack Snipes continued to be seen at Hollowell Res, where two were still present on 24th.

With the end of March nigh, most wintering gulls have all but melted away and a lingering first-winter Caspian Gull, at Hollowell Res on 18th, may well prove to be the last of the season as it makes way for the migrants, one of which was a second-winter Mediterranean Gull at Stanford Res on the same date. Four days later, on 22nd, four Little Gulls visited Daventry CP and at least seven were at Summer Leys, followed by six at Boddington Res briefly the following day.

Waxwings clinging to the remnants of winter included approximately fifteen in Little Billing on 21st and one in Brackley three days later, on 24th but, pushing north out of Africa came the first of the summer’s Northern Wheatears – a male at Clifford Hill GP on 19th-20th and the first migrant White Wagtails arrived, including singles at Pitsford Res on 21st and 23rd and at Hollowell Res on 24th.

Rarity Round-up 11th to 17th March 2017

Mild south to south-westerlies coupled with lengthy bouts of unhindered sunshine were largely responsible for Northants hitting its highest temperature (16.2 deg C) of the year so far this week. More summer migrants arrived, with Chiffchaffs widespread by the week’s end – one site hosting at least seventeen on 13th – more Sand Martins and the first Little Ringed Plovers at Stanford Res on 16th, increasing to six there the following day. Stanford is shaping up nicely as the place to watch for wader passage this spring. Maintenance work being carried out on the dam has resulted in a significant drop in the water level there, which is likely to hit an all-time low over the forthcoming weeks.

The wintering adult Whooper Swan remained at Sywell CP until at least 13th, as did the Eurasian White-fronted Goose at Pitsford Res, while another was discovered with the Greylag flock at Blatherwycke Lake on the same date. Up to four Red-crested Pochards (three drakes) were still at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR until 14th, the long-staying female Scaup remained at on the main lake at Stanwick GP until at least 13th and, despite the drop in water level, the Long-tailed Duck remained on site at Stanford Res throughout the period. Also at Stanford, the ‘redhead’ Smew was still present on 13th, while two (one drake) were found at Clifford Hill GP’s main lake on 11th, where they remained until 13th.

Long-tailed Duck, Stanford Res, 12th March 2017 (Alan Boddington)

The clear-out of wintering Great White Egrets continued, with one still at Ravensthorpe Res on 13th and up to two at Summer Leys between 11th and 17th, while Pitsford’s rare grebe duo of Slavonian and Red-necked lingered all week.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 12th March 2017 (Adrian Borley)
Slavonian Grebe, Pitsford Res, 13th March 2017 (Alan Francis)

The 12th proved itself to be a bit of a ‘godwit day’ with single Black-taileds appearing at Clifford Hill GP, Pitsford Res and Summer Leys while, either side of it, single Jack Snipes were at Stanford Res on 11th and Pitsford Res on 13th.With northward Common Gull passage well under way, less common species were also in evidence in the shape of a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Stanwick GP and an adult at Daventry CP – both on 11th. Single Yellow-legged Gulls visited Stanwick GP on 11th and at Daventry on 12th, while three were found on the latter date at DIRFT 3 (near Lilbourne), this site also hosting a first-winter Caspian Gull on 11th and five (an adult, two first-winters and two second-winters) the following day. A third-winter Caspian Gull also visited Rushton Landfill on 17th.                  No Short-eared Owls have been reported since 13th, when one was near Sulgrave and two were still at Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon and, in contrast to last week, the winter’s Waxwings ebbed away with just three briefly in Wellingborough on 13th and five over Moulton on 15th.

Behind DIRFT 3

Where Birding meets Logistics

If you have a sense of adventure, a pioneering spirit and you are willing to risk being hit by an HGV, while getting covered in mud, then read on …

The busy A5, just north of Crick, may not at first sight seem an ideal birding location but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Sandwiched between this major road and the M1 is a 250-hectare wedge of land currently under development by Prologis as an extension to the long-established Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal.

DIRFT 3 represents the third phase in this continually expanding logistics complex, which already includes national distribution centres for Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Royal Mail, as well as those of a number of other well-known retailers and third party logistics operators. The project is a joint venture between Prologis and Rugby Radio Station Limited Partnership, with construction taking place on the former Rugby radio station site, the masts of which have now been removed. I am not a big fan of industrial or housing developments on virgin territory but in this instance, given the location alongside existing industry, it doesn’t strike me as being a big deal and the creation of a 70-hectare nature reserve included as part of the development plan is welcome news, going some way to mitigate the loss of green land to industry. Lilbourne Meadows LNR is a collaborative initiative between Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (WTBCN). Based on the creation of new meanders to the Clifton Brook tributary – a watercourse running east to west across Lilbourne Meadows – a varied wetland habitat will include wet woodland and reed beds, pools and scrapes. The reserve will be located below Lilbourne and behind the industrial site’s northern perimeter landscaping. This new habitat is designed to attract a range of wetland birds and two bird hides are also included in the plan. Excellent!

But back to the here and now. Levelling of the site is well under way and, as a spin-off, some sizeable shallow lagoons and pools have been inadvertently created as a result of standing rain water on the recently created flat earth surfaces. While some of these are inaccessible, deep within the construction site, one area in particular is readily viewable from the A5 – if you don’t mind the proximity of thundering traffic! Parking is also a problem but possible with care in the limited number of narrow pull-ins and lay-bys. This one shallow, though extensive, pool is located immediately to the right (south) one of the entrances to the site, about 1.5 km to the north of the Sainsbury’s DC roundabout. The grassy fields to the north of the entrance are also worth viewing. This roadside area holds hordes of roosting gulls – particularly at the weekend when construction activity is minimal – and many drop in to bathe. Over the past two weeks, it has produced Shelduck, Golden Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Caspian Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Glaucous Gull and, with spring passage now under way, who knows what else might drop in over the coming weeks.

Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls, DIRFT 3, 12th March 2017 (Gary Pullan)

Having stumbled across it by accident while driving along the A5, I have visited this site a good number of times over the last month, recognising its potential for gulls in particular, and I’ve been lucky (or persistent) enough to find Glaucous and Caspian Gulls there. Its location is prime for receiving gulls, which roost at nearby Draycote Water (Warwickshire) 13 km to the south-west and feed on Shawell Landfill (Leicestershire) 5 km to the north and it seems logical to assume there is movement between all three sites. I’m hoping the new Lilbourne Meadows LNR will continue to attract them long after DIRFT 3 is completed. As far as both the reserve and the industrial site are concerned there is, as yet, no completion date. The area remains in a constant state of flux and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Watch this space!

Rarity Round-up 25th February to 10th March 2017

Edging closer toward spring saw rapidly extending daylight hours on both sides of the ‘dark zone’. There was also little in the way of frost and low temperatures, with most of the variations in weather resulting from a series of low pressure systems bringing mild, though wet and blustery conditions from a south-westerly airstream, which turned southerly at the end of the period. The first Sand Martins of the spring were seen at Pitsford Res on 6th and further evidence of northward migration came in the form of a Kittiwake moving over Ravensthorpe Res on 8th.

The wintering adult Whooper Swan remained at Sywell CP until at least 8th and, first discovered on 15th February, the only remaining Eurasian White-fronted Goose from this winter’s generous hand-out was the one at Pitsford Res until at least 7th.

Eurasian White-fronted Goose, Pitsford Res, 2nd March 2017 (Alan Francis)

Two drake Red-crested Pochards also remained at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR until 3rd with one still present on 9th, while two (one drake) were at Thrapston GP on 28th. The long-staying female Scaup remained at on the main lake at Stanwick GP, where it was joined by a drake from 7th to 10th and the wintering Long-tailed Duck remained on site at Stanford Res throughout the period, as did the ‘redhead’ Smew, while another ‘redhead’ was again at Earls Barton GP on 25th and 26th.

As winter turned to spring there was a noticeable easing up on the number of Great White Egrets reported, with just two at Pitsford Res to 26th with one remaining until 2nd, one still at Thrapston GP until 7th, one at Summer Leys from 26th – joined by another on 8th and 9th – one flying east along the Welland Valley at Wakerley on 27th, one still at Ravensthorpe Res on 5th and it, or another, flying over Hollowell Res on 10th and one at Earls Barton GP on 10th. Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe was still present on 8th, as was the Red-necked Grebe on 7th – the latter having moved north of the causeway during the period.

Slavonian Grebe, Pitsford Res, 1st March 2107 (Stuart Mundy)

While scarce raptors were sadly lacking, a belated report of a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier came from the disused airfield at Grafton Underwood on 24th and scarce waders were limited to single Jack Snipe at Pitsford Res on 26th and Stanford Res on 4th with four at Hollowell Res on 10th.

Things were looking up on the gull front during the period with a Kittiwake flying low north over Ravensthorpe Res on 8th, a Little Gull reported from Clifford Hill GP on 6th and single first-winter Mediterranean Gulls at Pitsford Res roost on 26th and Hollowell Res on 6th, while an adult visited Daventry CP on 28th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Daventry CP, 28th February 2017 (Gary Pullan)

Three Yellow-legged Gulls comprised an adult at Rushton Landfill on 25th and single first-winters at Pitsford Res on 26th and Daventry CP on 28th. Caspian Gulls have consistently outnumbered the former species this winter and this trend continued, with Rushton Landfill providing the lion’s share, which included single adults on 25th and 28th, two adults on 1st and an adult plus a first-winter on 4th. Elsewhere, single first-winter Caspians were found at Stanford Res on 1st and at Hollowell Res on 6th with single third-winters at DIRFT 3 (near Lilbourne) on 5th and at Pitsford Res two days later. Stanford Res pulled in another roosting Iceland Gull – this time a juvenile – on 25th but, just like the last one on 2nd February, there was no repeat performance on subsequent dates.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Stanford Res, 25th February 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

More obliging, however, was the juvenile Glaucous Gull which was found at Rushton Landfill on 25th and seen almost daily, either in the roadside field at Storefield Lodge Farm or on the landfill itself, until 4th. This bird was considered to be a different individual to the juvenile present the week before. An adult Glaucous was also discovered roosting with Lesser Black-backed Gulls in heavy rain at DIRFT 3 before flying off east on 5th.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 25th February 2016 (Mike Alibone)

Up to four Short-eared Owls were still at Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon, until at least 1st but this number appeared to have dwindled to just two by 9th. Another was seen in the Brampton Valley on 3rd.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 24th February 2017 (Ricky Sinfield)
Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 1st March 2017 (Ricky Sinfield)
Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 2nd March 2017 (Mark Tyrrell)
Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 2nd March 2017 (Mark Tyrrell)
Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 9th March 2017 (Ricky Sinfield)

Waxwings were still very much in evidence throughout the period, with cotoneasters in East Hunsbury (Northampton) providing a ready source of food for more than fifty between 25th and 1st. The focus then shifted to Duston, where up to sixty-six were present in the Kent Road/St Crispin Drive area between 4th and 9th.

Waxwing, East Hunsbury, Northampton, 28th February 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Waxwings, Duston, 5th March 2017 (Martin Swannell)
Waxwing, Duston, 5th March 2017 (Martin Swannell)

Elsewhere, two visited Brackley on 26th, two were in Hanging Houghton the following day and a dozen visited a garden in Nassington on 9th. Overshadowed and outnumbered was a single Crossbill idling at Kelmarsh on 4th and the lingering Corn Bunting near Warmington on 26th.