Rarity Round-up 22nd to 28th July 2017

Another unsettled week with frequent, heavy showers and a strong, north-westerly to south-westerly airstream. Autumn wader passage continued to deliver new, short-staying arrivals alongside exceptionally high numbers of Common Sandpipers, including twenty at Pitsford and sixteen at Stanford.

Last week’s eclipse drake Garganey was replaced by two juveniles at Pitsford Res, in Scaldwell Bay, where they remained from 23rd until the end of the week, while the two Red-crested Pochards appeared there again on 27th.The summering Bittern remained at Summer Leys all week and a Great White Egret was also there on 26th and 27th, with presumably the same bird visiting Pitsford Res on 23rd, 25th and 28th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 27th July 2017 (Alan Coles)
Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 27th July 2017 (Alan Coles)
Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 28th July 2017 (Alan Coles)

The week’s focus was on waders, commencing with four Whimbrels flying south over Pitsford Res on 22nd and one ‘on the deck’ there, in Scaldwell Bay, later the same day, while small numbers of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits continued to trickle through. Two were at Stanford Res on 23rd but 28th produced two at Summer Leys, three at Hollowell Res and eight at Daventry CP. A Sanderling – scarce in autumn – visited Stanford Res on 25th, the same site producing a Turnstone on 27th-28th, heralding a small flurry which included one at Daventry CP on 27th and two more at Pitsford Res on 28th.

Turnstone, Daventry CP, 27th July 2017 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 22nd July 2017 (Mike Alibone)

An adult Arctic Tern – the first of the autumn – appeared at Pitsford Res on 27th and was still present on 28th. For those indulging in the black art of gull identification, a second-summer Caspian Gull was present at Daventry CP on 26th but Yellow-legged Gull numbers were dramatically down on last week with Daventry CP attracting up to four between 26th and 28th, Hollowell Res holding one on 26th and Pitsford Res producing up to three throughout the week.

Rarity Round-up 15th to 21st July 2017

The week was unsettled and frequently cloudy, with a series of Atlantic lows bringing sporadic rain on westerly, south-westerly and – as they crossed the country – easterly winds. Wader passage continued and gull numbers increased as water levels at local reservoirs continued to fall …

Last week’s eclipse drake Garganey remained close to the causeway car park at Pitsford Res until at least 16th, two Red-crested Pochards appeared in Walgrave Bay at the same location on 17th and the escaped, metal-ringed female Bufflehead resurfaced at Clifford Hill GP on 15th. However, it has probably remained there since its initial discovery, having elicited little interest since its captive origin was revealed.

Eclipse drake Garganey, Pitsford Res, 16th July 2017 (Mike Alibone)

The summering Bittern continued to be seen daily at Summer Leys until at least 19th, the same site producing a Great White Egret – arguably the first of the autumn – on 20th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 20th July 2017 (John Nicholls)

Ospreys were again fishing at Stanford Res on 16th and 18th and one wandering individual visited Summer Leys, appearing over the scrape there on 17th.

Osprey, Summer Leys LNR, 17th July 2017 (Alan Coles)

Fresh waders in this week included single Whimbrels in flight over Pitsford Res and Stanford Res on 17th, while numbers of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits were substantially lower than last week with one at Summer Leys on 16th being followed by six there the next day and two visiting Stanford Res on 18th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Stanford Res, 18th July 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

A Turnstone was found on the main lake at Stanwick GP on 19th before it moved to the islands in the A45 Lay-by Pit the following day, while a Curlew Sandpiper in flight north of Pitsford’s causeway on 17th was unfortunately not relocated.

At Daventry CP, an adult Mediterranean Gull appeared on 15th, following the adult there on 8th, which turns out had been ringed only a month before, on 6th June at Berendrecht, Antwerp, Belgium. Over in the Nene Valley at Stanwick GP, a juvenile was seen on 15th and an adult plus a juvenile were there on 17th. Stanwick also produced a first-summer Caspian Gull on 17th and a third-summer three days later, on 20th, while the maximum count of Yellow-legged Gulls there was thirty-four on 17th. Stealing Stanwick’s thunder – at least as far as this species is concerned – was, however, Priors Hall, where some newly created pools attracted at least one hundred on 18th – an astonishing number away from the Nene Valley. Pitsford Res was the only other locality from which Yellow-legged Gulls were reported, with one on 18th, three on 20th and two on 21st.

Third-summer Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 20th July 2017 (Steve Fisher)

The only passerines reported this week were a Pied Flycatcher and a Common Redstart in the hedge along the entrance road to Brixworth CP on the evening of 20th, both of which vanished immediately after their discovery.

Rarity Round-up 8th to 14th July 2017

A cooler week than the last, with temperatures ranging between the high teens and low twenties and, other than a hefty downpour on 11th, remaining dry. Winds varied between westerly and north-westerly, aiding the migration of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which continued to arrive in appreciable numbers.

We are clearly experiencing the usual mid-summer lull, as far as ducks are concerned. Two Garganeys were the sole entry for the week – a juvenile at Stanford Res on 10th and an eclipse drake by the causeway at Pitsford Res on 10th and again on 13th-14th.

Eclipse drake Garganey, Pitsford Res, 10th July 2017 (Jacob Spinks)

The intriguing run of summer Bittern records continued at Summer Leys with daily sightings, in flight over the scrape and the car park, throughout the week.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 8th July 2017 (Wayne Weedon)
Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 10th July 2017 (Alan Coles)
Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 12th July 2017 (Alan Coles)
Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 14th July 2017 (Martin Swannell)

With the low water level it must be like shooting rats in a barrel for Ospreys visiting their now fondly favour’d site of Stanford Res, which drew one on 10th and two on 13th, while also continuing to attract Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits. Two were there on 9th, followed by twenty the next day and one from 11th to 13th. Elsewhere, thirteen arrived at Summer Leys on 9th with just two there the following day, two visited Pitsford Res on 8th, rising to three the next day, before falling to one on 10th and singles were at Stanwick GP on 8th and 10th and at Clifford Hill GP on 9th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Stanwick GP, 8th July 2017 (Mike Alibone)

From one extreme to another, after last week’s one-day, Nene Valley ‘giant’, a Little Tern was picked up heading north over the causeway at Pitsford Res on 9th – however, it appeared not to be sticking around. The Mediterranean Gull family was still in residence in the Black-headed Gull colony at Stanwick GP this week. The two juveniles are now fully fledged and able to fly.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, Stanwick GP, 8th July 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Elsewhere, an adult and an apparently unrelated juvenile visited Daventry CP on 11th and a juvenile was there on 14th. One size up, Caspian Gulls were also found at Stanwick, including an adult on 10th, a second-summer on 10th-11th and a first-summer on 13th. An adult also visited Pitsford Res on 10th. Yellow-legged Gull numbers increased dramatically this week with Stanwick GP accumulating a maximum of forty-two on 13th.

Second-summer Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 9th July (Mike Alibone)

Away from here, a second-summer was at Pitsford Res on 8th-9th, a first-summer was there on 10th along with the autumn’s first juvenile on 12th and four on 14th. Elsewhere, an adult and a second-summer visited Daventry CP on 11th.

A juvenile Common Redstart was trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 8th. It was a very young bird which appears, at first sight, not to have travelled far.

Juvenile Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 8th July 2017 (Adam Homer)

There is a possibility it fledged locally as this species once bred in some numbers in the grounds of Stanford Hall and a female with an active brood patch was also trapped at Stanford on 9th July 2015 so, who knows … Another young chat, a juvenile Northern Wheatear, was discovered at Pitsford Res on 13th – the first of the autumn and on a relatively early date for this species.

Rarity Round-up 1st to 7th July 2017

A largely dry week, during which temperatures nudged 30ºC under the influence of a light south-westerly airstream, saw the continued arrival southbound passage waders, the discovery of an immense tern and the surprise rediscovery of breeding Mediterranean Gulls.

A drake Red-crested Pochard visited Summer Leys LNR on 4th, with presumably the same bird relocating to Stanwick GP the following day, while the metal-ringed, escaped female Bufflehead was still present at Clifford Hill GP on 1st. Rare herons were limited to last week’s Bittern again at Summer Leys on 7th.

A female Honey Buzzard was an unexpected bonus for one observer as it drifted south-west over Sywell on 2nd, while there were reports of three Ospreys this week with two on 2nd, including one at Pitsford Res and one at Welford Res. Interestingly enough, the latter, a male, was ringed and proved to be a different individual to either of the two regularly visiting Stanford and Welford Reservoirs which were highlighted in last week’s feature.

Male Osprey, Welford Res, 2nd July 2017 (Douglas McFarlane)

The third was watched flying south-west over Thrapston GP on 3rd.The flow of southbound Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits continued with singles at Stanford Res on 1st, 2nd and 6th, three at Thrapston GP on 3rd, two at Pitsford Res on 4th with three there the following day and one on 7th, two at Stanwick GP plus six at Summer Leys on 5th and one again at Stanwick on 7th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Stanford Res, 6th July 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

Local birders were caught completely off guard by the totally unexpected arrival of Northamptonshire’s fifth Caspian Tern, a smart adult, located at Summer Leys on 1st.  This dagger-billed colossus pitched down on ‘The Slips’ and was viewable from the Screen Hide for 80 minutes, before disappearing off down the Nene Valley, only to return again 90 minutes later – this time for 40 minutes – before heading off west. Clifford Hill GP was the next stop, where it was on view for nearly 3 hours in the early evening, after which it flew high west toward the sunset and was gone. It bore a red ring on its left leg, which enabled it to be confidently identified as the individual that had been frequenting the National Wetlands Centre, Carmarthenshire until 29th June. After leaving Northants, it was located briefly the following day at Chew Valley Lake, Somerset, before returning bizarrely to the Wetlands Centre in Carmarthenshire on 3rd. But this is what Caspian Terns do! Proof, if ever there was, that Caspian Terns are really quite mad …

Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Another happy event was the surprise rediscovery of the breeding Mediterranean Gulls at Stanwick GP on 3rd. After a ‘missing, presumed dead’ status had been pronounced last month, there they were – bold as brass – in the middle of the Black-headed Gull colony again this week, the adults feeding two well-grown young. The local Lesser Black-backs are off the hook … for now. Elsewhere, single adults were seen at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows reserve on 2nd and hawking insects over Daventry on 5th, again on 6th and one on 7th, while four adults visited the scrape at Summer Leys briefly on 3rd. July is the month when Yellow-legged Gull numbers begin to build and after one at Stanwick on 3rd, four were present there on 5th plus seven on 7th, four were at Pitsford Res and one at Daventry CP on 5th and a different individual visited the latter site the following day.

The male Common Redstart was still at Clifford Hill GP on 1st, otherwise the week was light in terms of migrant passerines.

Caspian Tern

Full marks to Jon Lyles for finding Northamptonshire’s 5th Caspian Tern, loitering on ‘the slips’ at Summer Leys this morning. It was discovered around 10.40 and remained settled there until midday, when it took to the air and headed off north-east.

Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2017 (Mike Alibone)
Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2017 (Clive Bowley)
Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2017 (Clive Bowley)

Gone? Unlikely. Caspian Terns have a habit of flying off – sometimes visiting sites many miles away – before returning hours later. Luckily, this one conformed and it was back and showing in the Wader Bay from 13.30 until 14.10, when it was off again. This time it appeared to fly south but it was seen shortly afterward heading west over nearby Hardwater Lake at 14.35. As luck would have it, it was relocated at Clifford Hill GP around 16.30, remaining there until at least 19.00 and putting on a good show as it flew up and down the River Nene close to the Weston Mill sluice. Twenty minutes later it had gone, heading off high to the west.

This bird had a red ring on its left leg and may have been ringed in Sweden.

Caspian Tern, as well as being a national rarity, remains a true rarity in Northants with just four previous records as follows:

1967: Pitsford Res, 2 on 12th July                                                                                                                                                      1968: Stanford Res, one on 3rd June                                                                                                                                      1998: Ditchford GP/Stanwick GP/Earls Barton GP, one on 1st August                                                                        2003: Stanwick GP/ Earls Barton GP, one between 16th and 20th July

Many thanks to Clive Bowley for supplying images.

Rarity Round-up 3rd to 30th June 2017

A mini heatwave, with temperatures hitting the low thirties during the penultimate week, sees spring merge with autumn as the first southbound Black-tailed Godwits and Greenshank arrive in the county and a small, brown duck causes a stir.

Continuing its reluctance to depart, the first-summer Eurasian White-fronted Goose moved from Stanford Res back to Pitsford, where it remained until 11th, while single drake Garganeys appeared again at Summer Leys LNR on 3rd and Stanwick GP on 15th. A drake Red-crested Pochard, now in eclipse, loitered at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR until at least 12th but the surprise discovery of a female with one young duckling at Thrapston GP, mid-month, turned out to be the first breeding of this species in Northamptonshire.

Eclipse drake Red-crested Pochard, Ditchford GP, 12th June 2017 (Simon Hales)
Female Red-crested Pochard with young, Thrapston GP, 16th June 2017 (Adrian Borley)

The origins of our Red-crested Pochards have never really been known for certain but the above discovery must surely be a case of feral breeding. The last day of the month produced seventeen Common Scoters at Daventry CP – the first decent-sized flock we’ve have locally for a long time and part of a large national overland movement taking place at this time.

Common Scoters, Daventry CP, 30th June 2017 (Gary Pullan)

Nice though they were, they did not attract anything like as much attention as a certain diminutive diving duck, which appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 24th – a potential first for Northamptonshire in the form of a female Bufflehead. Not the best time of year but there has been a series of June occurrences, coupled with a cluster of previous Midlands records, so hopes ran high as local, and some not so local, birders descended on this Nene Valley site on the edge of suburbia. It quickly transpired our girl was wearing a ring – albeit a metal one – and the rot began to set in. With more than 22,500 Buffleheads historically having been ‘banded’ in Canada and the USA, the presence of a ring was still not necessarily a problem but the ring detail was far from clear until, that is, she upped and went to Daventry CP on 27th. It was there and then that she was snapped in close-up, the ring detail scrutinised and any potential credential immediately dismissed as she was duly pronounced an escape. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

Escaped, metal-ringed female Bufflehead, Daventry CP, 27th June 2017 (Bob Bullock)

It has been a very poor spring for Quail, with just two singing males reported – both of which appeared to be one-day wonders. One was near the railway close to Kings Sutton on 9th and the other in a flax field near Burton Latimer on 18th. Summer Leys produced both of the period’s rare herons, which included a Great White Egret on the scrape on 14th and a Bittern in flight over the car park on 20th and again on the scrape the following day.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 21st June 2017 (Alan Coles)

Wandering Ospreys featured at four localities during the month, including Welford Res on 3rd, 8th and 13th, three flew over Bulwick on the latter date and one visited Blatherwycke Lake on 16th but Stanford Res claimed the lion’s share. Stanford’s low water level continued to attract waders, including an Avocet for two days on 25th-26th, a late spring Grey Plover on 3rd and a presumably non-breeding first-summer Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit on 11th ahead of the first southbound Black-taileds – a nice flock of twenty-seven – on 25th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Stanford Res, 25th June 2017 (Chris Hubbard). Part of a flock of twenty-seven.

One of these wore an Icelandic ring indicating it was a twelve-year old male and, thanks to Chris Hubbard’s research, its movement history is charted below. Clearly there was a Black-tailed Godwit movement taking place on 25th with further records of at least twenty-five at Summer Leys and one over St James, Northampton. More had arrived by the month’s end with 30th producing at least nine more at Stanford and singles at both Stanwick and Summer Leys. The autumn’s first Greenshank arrived at Stanford on 28th, lingering until the month’s end but further south, at Daventry CP, it was still spring when
five Sanderlings flew west on 6th.There was no avoiding Stanford’s pull for two Little Terns which arrived there on 28th but Pitsford – at which the water level is now looking enticingly low – attracted a Sandwich Tern to Scaldwell Bay on 19th. Both species are rarely recorded in the county in summer.

Avocet, Stanford Res, 25th June 2017 (Chris Hubbard)


Following the breeding of Mediterranean Gulls at Stanwick earlier this year, another adult visited the Black-headed Gull colony there on 19th and two adults flew over Byfield the following day. June records of Yellow-legged Gulls are few and far between but the month saw two at Stanford on 17th, one at Daventry CP on 26th and one at Boddington Res on 30th – all of which were immatures. We also had our first June records of Caspian Gull, with Pitsford Res producing a second-summer on 10th, two second-summers the following day and one on 18th, while a first-summer appeared at Daventry CP on 27th.

Common Redstart, Spratton, June 2017 (David Arden)


Finally, the only passerine migrants found anywhere this month presumably belonged to autumn and they were all Common Redstarts. A female was at Clifford Hill GP on 25th-26th followed by a male there on 30th and a male visited a garden in Spratton on 26th.