Rarity Round-up, 10th to 16th February 2018

A mixed bag of weather, predominantly north-west Atlantic-driven, delivered dollops of persistent, heavy rain to the county on 10th and 14th, in between and after which, low temperatures and dry conditions ensued. In the absence of anything else significant, northern gulls took centre stage with three new arrivals teasing at least some local birders out of their comfort zones to visit a habitat just a little more challenging than the regular, easy birding, ‘path-and-hide’ localities.

Now firmly established as part of the winter décor at Ravensthorpe Res, the juvenile Whooper Swan continued its stay, while Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR held on to at least three of last week’s Red-crested Pochards – a male and female on 10th and two drakes on 15th. The only other wildfowl of note were the drake Smew again at Ditchford GP on 16th and a female Common Scoter in Pitsford’s Pintail Bay on 13th, the same locality continuing to host the wintering Slavonian Grebe – now having notched up four weeks on site.

Slavonian Grebe, Pitsford Res, 5th February 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Ditchford GP, Ravensthorpe Res, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR, Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP with maxima of three at Stanwick GP on 10th and at Earls Barton/Summer Leys on 15th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 16th February 2018 (Ray Seagrove)

Landfill Larids steal the show

In keeping with their current high abundance in the UK, white-winged gulls from the north made a splash alongside some of the regulars at Rushton’s landfill site this week. Viewing conditions at this locality can often be awkward. The active refuse area faces north and on a clear, sunny day, observation from the road which overlooks it is invariably difficult as a result of the area having to be viewed against the light. The contours of the site provide areas for large numbers of loafing gulls to hide, thereby evading detection, so birding there can be both challenging and frustrating. Meeting the challenges, however, can reap rewards, as this week aptly demonstrated.

A second-winter Iceland Gull, discovered in fields immediately south of the landfill on 10th, was still present the following day, when a fourth-winter Glaucous Gull was also discovered there. On 12th, yet another Glaucous Gull was found at the site – this time a juvenile.

Second-winter Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 10th February 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Second-winter Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 10th February 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 12th February 2018 (Beth Clyne)
Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 12th February 2018 (Beth Clyne)

For anyone willing to put the time in, there is great potential for further discoveries. Taking a back-seat, an adult Caspian Gull was present there on 10th and 13th and a Yellow-legged Gull was there on 12th plus two the following day. Elsewhere, the wintering adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res was seen on 10th and 12th, while an adult was in the roost at Thrapston GP on 11th and 12th, accompanied by a second-winter on the first of these dates. The Thrapston roost also produced an adult on 11th and two on 12th and 14th and one was in the roost at Pitsford on 12th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Rushton Landfill, 10th February 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Up to four Mealy Redpolls were visiting feeders in an Irthlingborough garden on 12th, having been seen there, on and off, over the previous week, while this week’s crop of Hawfinches was much reduced, with Cottesbrooke producing one on 11th and four on 13th, while singles were at Thenford Churchyard on 12th and Salcey Forest on 14th.

Rarity Round-up, 3rd to 9th February 2018

A return to weather more typical of winter this week, with an overcast, miserable and wet start quickly being replaced by cold, easterly winds from northern Europe, turning northerly toward the week’s end.

The Ravensthorpe Whooper Swan showed no signs of departure this week and, at Stanwick, the Pink-footed Goose was still present on 6th. Five Red-crested Pochards appeared at Summer Leys LNR on 3rd but their number had quickly dwindled to two by 5th, while the Thrapston two had grown to three by 4th and the female Scaup remained off the dam at Sywell CP the following day.

A little on the scarce side this winter, a Bittern was seen coming into roost at dusk in the reedbed at Stanwick GP on 6th and 8th and Great White Egrets continued to be seen at the currently favoured localities of Ditchford GP, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanwick GP and Summer Leys, with a maximum of three at the latter locality on 4th, although two were at Stanwick GP on 6th and 9th. Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe remained until at least 8th, staying faithful to the area between the sailing club and Pintail Bay.

After being seen at Pitsford Res once last week, the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier put in another appearance there on 3rd, constituting this week’s only scarce raptor and, for the first time in a ‘long time’, there were no notable waders during the period.

The gull roost at Pitsford Res harboured a first-winter Kittiwake on 4th and two Mediterranean Gulls – a first-winter and a second-winter – on 8th, all perhaps early spring migrants, while 4th also produced a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull at Rushton Landfill, an adult at Hollowell Res on the same date and a second-winter was in the Pitsford roost on 8th. The wintering adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res was joined there by a first-winter on 4th and the only other was a second-winter at Pitsford roost on 8th.

Male Hawfinch, Thenford, 6th February 2018 (Tony Vials)

Apart from a Firecrest in scrub alongside Harper’s Brook, at Lowick on 4th, the only other passerine action was restricted to that flock of at least twenty Hawfinches at Thenford Churchyard, which were still present on 6th, while one was found at Pitsford Res on 3rd.

Rarity Round-up, 27th January to 2nd February 2018

Although an uneventful week weatherwise, mild, south-westerly winds off the Atlantic produced the warmest day of the year so far on 28th, when local daytime temperatures reached 13ºC (15ºC nationally). Perhaps reflecting the generally mild winter, wrapped up in the wider parameters of global climate change, a newly fledged juvenile Blackbird in a Hartwell garden on 31st January was early, to say the least!

The week opened with a new Whooper Swan – this time an adult – in flight over Bragborough, near Daventry, on 27th, while the long-staying juvenile remained on site at Ravensthorpe Res. In the Nene Valley, at Stanwick, the Pink-footed Goose was still present on 30th and the forty-four-strong flock of Barnacle Geese remained there until 28th, after which they moved north to Leicestershire, where they were seen circling over Rutland Water. This movement – clearly not hard weather-related – resurrects the earlier speculation that perhaps they are wild – after all, how far do the ‘Bedfordshire ferals’ travel? Further down the Nene Valley, at Thrapston GP, two Red-crested Pochards were discovered on Town Lake on 30th, the female Scaup was still off the dam at Sywell CP on the same date and the drake Smew at Ditchford GP was perhaps ‘dunroamin’ as it was seen there on a record three consecutive days, 28th-30th, at Higham Lake.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 30th January 2018 (Alan Francis)

Apart from one at Ravensthorpe Res on 31st, sightings of Great White Egrets were restricted to locations in the Nene Valley, with at least two at Summer Leys LNR all week, two at Ditchford GP on 27th, one at Thrapston GP on the same date and one at Stanwick GP on 28th-30th. Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe remained until at least 1st.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 30th January 2018 (Alan Coles)

Just one locality on just one day, 28th, produced the week’s star raptors in the shapes of Merlin and Hen Harrier at Pitsford Res. Similarly, the only waders during the period – the Stanwick Black-tailed Godwit and one of the Hollowell Jack Snipes – were both still present from last week – again, both on the same day, 27th.

Two Yellow-legged Gulls visited the gull roost at Pitsford Res on 29th and two adults were at Ravensthorpe Res on 31st, while the wintering adult Caspian Gull was still at Hollowell Res on 27th-28th, a second-winter was on floodwater near Hinton-in-the-Hedges on 28th and the gull roost at Pitsford produced a first-winter on 28th, followed by a second-winter on 29th.

Male Hawfinch, Thenford, 28th January 2018 (John Friendship-Taylor)

Passerines fared slightly better this week, with two Waxwings reported briefly at Gretton on 30th, the flock of at least twenty Hawfinches at Thenford Churchyard on 28th and one at Silverstone on the same date, plus a minimum of six at East Carlton CP on 30th. At least one Corn Bunting was still with a mobile flock of Yellowhammers between Sulgrave and Thorpe Mandeville on 27th.