Rarity Round-up, 20th-26th January 2018

Encompassing a mixed bag of weather conditions, the week kicked off miserably with wet and windy conditions depositing a light covering of snow during the first two days. A subsequent dry and calm period was short-lived, as the tail-end of Storm Georgina produced rain on the back of south-westerly winds, gusting to 50-60 mph locally, mid-week before a mild and settled spell set in at the week’s end. Unsurprisingly, there was little change on the birding scene and, if there were any new arrivals, they did a grand job of evading detection …

Ravensthorpe Res received a little less coverage than is usual but the juvenile Whooper Swan remained in residence until at least 23rd. After missing a week, the Pink-footed Goose made a last-minute reappearance at Stanwick GP on 26th, when it was found feeding there with a flock of forty-four Barnacle Geese, first seen flying south-west over the site two days previously, on 24th.

Barnacle Geese, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2018 (Steve Fisher). Part of a flock of forty-four birds.
Barnacle Geese, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2018 (Steve Fisher). Part of a flock of forty-four birds.

On the same date, this flock – or part of it – was also seen in flight further up the Nene Valley over White Mills Marina/Earls Barton GP. This the largest flock of Barnacle Geese in the county in recent history and, while there is always the outside chance they could be wild, an offshoot of the four hundred or so feral birds resident in neighbouring Bedfordshire seems a much more likely point of origin.  Meanwhile, the female Scaup remained off the dam at Sywell CP all week and the itinerant drake Smew at Ditchford GP revisited Wilson’s Pits for one day only, on 20th.

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 20th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 20th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Numbers of Great White Egrets remained low, with singles at Pitsford Res and Ravensthorpe Res, two at Stanwick and up to three at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR, while Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe remained on station off Yacht Bay all week.

Slavonian Grebe, Pitsford Res, 23rd January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Once again, Merlin was the only reported raptor of note and this week’s were both in the south-west of the county, where singles were near Sulgrave on 21st and at Hinton-in-the-Hedges on 23rd. On the wader front, the Stanwick Black-tailed Godwit reappeared there on 25th-26th and the period’s only Jack Snipe was at Hollowell Res on 20th, while the wintering adult Caspian Gull remained at the latter site on the same date and two were in the gull roost at Pitsford on 25th. Meanwhile, up to four Hawfinches were still showing at the much favour’d site of Cottesbrooke to the week’s end, when 26th also produced one with Bullfinches behind the feeding station at Summer Leys and a whopping twenty-plus in trees above Church Cottages at Thenford.

Rarity Round-up, 13th-19th January 2018

Remaining largely dry and, apart from south-easterly winds over the first two days, the remainder of the period was dominated by west-south-westerly winds, reaching gale force overnight on 17th/18th, during which gusts of up to 105 mph were recorded locally. Unsurprisingly for mid-January, the established long-staying winter visitors stayed put and Northamptonshire birding offered little more than slim pickings in terms of new arrivals.

So, this week’s ball and chain birds predictably included the juvenile Whooper Swan at Ravensthorpe Res and the female Scaup at Sywell CP, while the fidgety drake Smew at Ditchford GP returned to Higham Lake but continued to remain elusive.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 16th January 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Continuing their winter tour, the average white band of Great Egrets played it out at Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Ravensthorpe Res and Summer Leys LNR – the latter the only locality to hold more than one individual. For the first time in weeks, none was reported at Pitsford Res, where a small grebe off the yacht club, initially identified and reported as a Black-necked on 19th, later proved to be a Slavonian Grebe.

In a dearth of raptors, a Merlin at Pineham (Northampton) on 13th managed to stave off a total absence for the period, while the same date also produced the week’s only notable wader, Jack Snipe, with singles at Barnes Meadow (Northampton), Welford Quarry and two at Hollowell Res.

On the Larid front, three Yellow-legged Gulls were at Ravensthorpe Res on 13th and one was there on 15th, while another visited Pitsford Res on 13th but the only Caspian Gull reported this week was the wintering adult at Hollowell on 13th.

Apart from a flyalong Short-eared Owl at Ditchford GP on 19th, the remainder of the week’s quota belongs to Hawfinches, although none was reported from any new sites. Cottesbrooke remained the firm favourite with observers, with up to three there until at least 17th, Thenford Churchyard retained the same number until at least 19th and one was at East Carlton CP on 14th.

Rarity Round-up, 6th-12th January 2018

The start of the week was cold and largely dry and bright, with west to north-westerly winds preceding rather dank, dull, misty and sometimes wet conditions during the middle and at the tail-end. A few new discoveries added potential interest to this otherwise murky period of early January.

The juvenile Whooper Swan remained all week at Ravensthorpe Res, while Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose was similarly ensconced deep in the Nene Valley.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)
Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Doubling the winter goose line-up, meanwhile, was an adult Dark-bellied Brent, discovered on roadside pools alongside the A5 at DIRFT 3, just north-west of Crick, on 7th. Averaging little more than two records per year, this species, has failed to appear in only three out of the last twenty, while the pale-bellied race has never been recorded locally and, if it ever appears, the first example would no doubt prove itself popular. Lower down the pecking order, the long-staying female Scaup notched up nine weeks at Sywell CP and the roaming drake Smew appeared again at Ditchford GP on Wilson’s Pit on 7th-8th, before again vanishing into the murk of the Nene Valley. This species is proving to be very scarce in the county so far, this winter.

Adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, DIRFT 3, 7th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Records of Brent Geese in Northamptonshire, by month, last 20 years (1998-2017)

The Great Northern Diver – presumably the Hollowell individual – which turned up at Pitsford on 5th, stayed until early morning on 6th, before promptly vanishing, while one or two Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, Earls Barton, Ditchford, Stanwick and Thrapston Gravel Pits and Summer Leys LNR, with a maximum of three at Ditchford GP on 9th.

Raptors hit the headlines this week. A male Hen Harrier taking a Woodpigeon in ploughed field by the A5, just north of Grafton Regis on 11th, was said by locals to have been in the general area for several days previously. Prior to this, a Rough-legged Buzzard, reportedly seen well along the minor road between Greens Norton and Blakesley on 7th, could not be found during brief searches in inclement weather over the following two days. Also in the south of the county, a Merlin was seen in flight near Chacombe on 6th.

No new waders were found this week – the Black-tailed Godwit remaining at Stanwick GP throughout the period, while 6th saw the number of Jack Snipes up on last week, with two now at Hollowell and three at Welford Quarry.

Scarce gulls were at a low ebb, with just one Yellow-legged Gull at Ravensthorpe Res, on 7th, along with a first-winter Caspian Gulls there on the same date. The only other Caspians were recorded on 6th, when the wintering adult was still at Hollowell and an adult plus a first-winter joined the scavenging mass of large gulls at Rushton Landfill.

Waxwing, Corby, 10th January 2018 (Sophie Barrell)

Given the current paucity of Waxwings, one photographed from an office window in Corby provided much excitement for the observer on 10th. It would not be surprising if this remains the only one locally this winter. Another Mealy Redpoll was reported this week, this one accompanying Lesser Redpolls in a Scaldwell garden on 11th, while the run on Hawfinches continued.

Male Hawfinch, Cottesbrooke, 12th January 2018 (Ken Prouse)

Two were at Aynho and three over Edgcote on 6th, singles were roosting with Greenfinches in Northampton on 7th and at Badby on 9th and six were at Thenford Churchyard again on 12th. Meanwhile, the small flock at Cottesbrooke – numbering up to eight – continued to attract a steady trickle of admirers throughout the week.

Rarity Round-up, 30th December 2017 to 5th January 2018

Caught on the southern periphery of ‘Storm Dylan’, the first day of the week was marked by hefty south-westerly winds, the strength of which quickly subsided, before ‘Storm Eleanor’ brought further rain and gales from the same direction three days later. Temperatures remained above freezing all week. Local water bodies became flooded, with access limited in several places. Aside from movement between locations for some long-stayers there was little new to add to the week’s proceedings …

Looking like it’s going nowhere fast, the young Whooper Swan entered its second calendar year at Ravensthorpe Res this week and the Stanwick GP Pink-footed Goose was still visiting the site until 5th. Similarly long-staying, the female Scaup remained faithful to Sywell CP throughout the period but a drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res appeared to be new in on 1st, with the same site also producing two drake Smew on the same date.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 4th January 2018 (Alan Francis)

Hollowell’s juvenile Great Northern Diver got itchy feet, disappearing after 2nd and presumably relocating to Pitsford Res, where one was discovered late on 5th. Great White Egrets were still lumbering around in ones and twos at Hollowell, Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, Ditchford and Stanwick Gravel Pits and Summer Leys LNR, while an unidentified small grebe sp., discovered in the gathering dusk at Pitsford on 5th, is likely to morph during daylight hours into either a Slavonian or Black-necked – if it remains on site.

A Black-tailed Godwit, appearing at Stanwick GP on 5th, was a good winter record but single Jack Snipes at Hollowell on 30th and 2nd, Stanford Res on 31st and Welford Quarry on 2nd were more in keeping with the season.

Now well into winter proper, we should be on the look-out for arctic gulls – so far in short supply – and scrutiny of reservoir gull roosts, landfills and daytime loafing flocks could well produce that sought after ‘white-winger’, as well as some of the more uncommon species, such as Yellow-legged Gull, of which there was one at Stanwick GP on 30th and two at Stanford Res roost on 2nd. Caspian Gulls are also seen most weeks, with the wintering adult still in residence at Hollowell Res throughout, a second-winter at Rushton Landfill on 30th and an adult there on 5th. The latter locality continued to host a juvenile Glaucous Gull, which temporarily vacated the site on 1st for a wash and brush up at nearby Thorpe Malsor Res, before returning to remain throughout the week.

There was a little more passerine action during the period, commencing on 30th with the discovery of a Water Pipit at Stanwick GP, where it remained until 5th. A Mealy Redpoll was found in alders on the northern perimeter of Sywell CP on 3rd, while Hawfinches continued to feature, with singles at Fawsley Park on 30th-31st, Blatherwycke Churchyard on 31st and Charwelton on 1st and up to two at Thenford Churchyard until 5th. Most popular, however, was the small flock at Cottesbrooke, which peaked at fourteen on 1st, followed by single-figure counts daily there until the week’s end. Bizarrely rarer – at least for the moment – were two Corn Buntings found with Yellowhammers near Thorpe Mandeville on 31st.