What a difference a week makes! Suddenly it was full-on autumn. On 16th October ex-Hurricane Ophelia battered the west coast and whipped up Saharan sand and smoke from Iberian forest fires, turning the skies an eerie yellow-grey and the sun orange over Northants and much of the remainder of the country. The winds throughout the week took on a distinctly southerly bias, keeping temperatures high, but it is unknown if these conditions contributed to the arrival of some seriously scarce birds, one of which was a Northamptonshire first.
Last week’s two Whooper Swans, which arrived at Pitsford Res on 7th remained all week and were joined by a third individual on 19th, while the 18th saw more arrivals, which included one at Ravensthorpe Res and four at Stanwick GP – the last birds staying until the following day.
The juvenile Pink-footed Goose also reappeared with Greylags at the latter site on 20th. Smaller scarce wildfowl included a Red-crested Pochard at Thrapston GP on 15th and a female Common Scoter at Boddington Res on 18th-19th, while the escaped, metal-ringed female Bufflehead was still at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.
A Bittern was back in the scrape reedbed at Summer Leys LNR on 20th – assuming it had ever left the site – but considerably more upmarket than this, Northamptonshire’s 7th-ever Cattle Egret was found just down the valley at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 14th. Although it flew east within a few minutes of its discovery, it remained ‘somewhere in the Nene Valley’ for the following three days.
During this time, it flew west with Little Egrets over Stanwick GP shortly after first light on 16th and 17th and, on the morning of the latter date, it was discovered feeding with horses on the north side of Chester House Lake at Ditchford GP, again disappearing within two hours of its discovery. There is now a handful of birders who have seen all three egrets in one day in Northants – unimaginable less than a decade ago! So let’s not forget about the formerly rare Great White Egret, up to three of which remained north of the causeway at Pitsford Res all week, as did the individuals at Ravensthorpe Res and Stanwick GP, while two paid the briefest of visits to Stanford Res on the afternoon of 17th. With only one other on offer earlier in the year, a Black-necked Grebe at Ringstead GP from 14th was a welcome addition to this autumn’s cast. They have been unusually scarce this year.
This week’s raptors featured a Marsh Harrier around the scrape at Summer Leys during the early afternoons of 19th and 20th, single fly-over Merlins at East Hunsbury (Northampton) on 16th and at Daventry CP on 18th and a later than last week’s Hobby at Thrapston GP on 15th.
Late passage waders included another juvenile Little Ringed Plover at Boddington Res on 18th-19th, a Grey Plover over Pitsford village on 15th and single Black-tailed Godwits at Pitsford Res on 15th and one remaining at Stanford Res all week. There was more. A Knot was discovered at Hollowell Res on 20th and remained into the weekend, a rather tardy Common Sandpiper was in Pitsford’s Walgrave Bay on the same date and a Turnstone made a late autumn appearance at Stanwick GP on 15th.
On the gull front, an adult Mediterranean Gull visited Pitsford Res on 19th, the same day that the enigmatic, putative adult Azorean Gull was seen again on Stanwick’s Visitor Centre Lake. Up to two Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford and Daventry CP, while the adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell was joined by a third-year on 19th, a second-winter was at Pitsford Res on 14th and 19th and an adult visited Stanwick GP on the last of these two dates.
As hundreds now arrive in the UK every autumn it now seems almost inevitable that someone, somewhere, will find a Yellow-browed Warbler. The county’s ninth duly arrived on cue at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows (that place again) on 19th. They often don’t stay long in autumn and this one was no exception, vanishing immediately after it was found. The same date brought a blockbuster of a bird to Stanford Res, where the county’s first-ever Dusky Warbler was pulled from the nets of the Stanford Ringing Group. It was released shortly afterward in the reservoir’s eastern car park (on the Leicestershire side) but it was seen only once, briefly, half an hour later.
Photographs circulated after the event sparked a debate as to its true identity – read the story here. It was seen in Northamptonshire by only two very lucky birders. Will the rest of us ever get over it … ?
Back on earth, there was again no shortage of Stonechats, with reports from Brampton Valley, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford and Sywell CP, while a Northern Wheatear was still at Hollowell on 14th. October normally yields a few passage Rock Pipits and Hollowell produced four on 19th followed by one there the next day and a Water Pipit was mobile with Meadow Pipits around Pitsford’s Maytrees Hide on 18th.
Following last week’s occurrence of two Hawfinches over Long Buckby, it became evident that these were forerunners of a large movement of this species over the UK. One flew south over Scaldwell on 17th and five flew eat at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 19th. So endeth the best week of the autumn so far – and one which will be difficult to top …