Rarity Round-up, 17th to 23rd March 2018

Once more, the county was plunged back into winter as the easterly airstream from Siberia again took hold for the first two days of the period. However, the resultant deposit of snow was short-lived as rising temperatures got to work and the winds subsequently swung north and then south-westerly by the week’s end. In contrast to last week’s flurry of spring migrants, local birders faced a lean period in the field, with little sign of anything new to show for their efforts.

Still hanging with the Greylags, the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose put in an appearance again on 23rd and it seems likely to be around for a while yet as pinkfeet into April are not unusual. The three Scaup from the same locality transferred to the Watersports Pit at nearby Ditchford GP, where they were discovered on 17th, remaining there until at least 20th.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 23rd March 2018 (Steve Fisher)

The Pitsford Slavonian Grebe – now qualifying for long-stayer status – was still present on 21st, while Great White Egrets lingered in all the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which again included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (four), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP.

Great White Egret, Earls Barton GP, 23rd March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Last week’s ‘cream-crown’ Marsh Harrier at Earls Barton GP was again seen on 18th and 19th over Summer Leys on both dates.

Back along the Nene, at Stanwick, four Black-tailed Godwits arrived on 17th and remained until 19th, with one staying until the following day

Last week’s adult Mediterranean Gull at Stanwick was still present on 17th and single adults also appeared at Daventry CP on 18th and 23rd, while the only Yellow-legged Gull during the period was a first-winter in the roost at Pitsford Res on 19th. Caspian Gulls, too, were fewer in number this week, with the Boddington Res roost holding an adult on 17th and Pitsford’s roost producing a second-winter on 17th and 20th and an adult on 19th.

Though still low in numbers, Hawfinches continued to be seen and this week’s comprised one in Dallington Cemetary, Northampton on 17th and up to two still at Cottesbrooke on 19th-20th.

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

Little Ringed Plover, Priors Hall, Corby, 11th March 2018 (James Underwood)

A predominantly southerly airstream from west coast Europe helped not only to lift temperatures but also undoubtedly gave a welcome boost to northward migration for our earliest summer visitors. This week saw the arrival of Osprey, Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martins, as well as some scarce migrants and the visible movement of winter visitors, including wildfowl and thrushes, beginning their departure.

In fact, there was not much to write home about when it came to wildfowl. The three Scaup remained on the main lake at Stanwick GP until 11th and a ‘redhead’ Smew spent three days, from 10th to 12th, on Clifford Hill GP’s Deep Water Lake before moving on.

Smew, Clifford Hill GP, 12th March 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Less willing to budge, the Slavonian Grebe remained all week in the vicinity of Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res, while Great White Egrets also seemed in no hurry to move from the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which again included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (up to four), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP (two). Mercifully, on rare occasions, not all things big and white in the Nene Valley are the latter species and one such bird at Stanwick, on 11th, proved to be a nice adult Spoonbill. Arriving in the early evening, it stayed for just forty minutes before heading off west at dusk. This is the 36th county record and only the second to be recorded in March, after one at Ditchford GP in 1980.

After five weeks without a mention, raptors were back on the agenda this week with a ‘cream-crown’ Marsh Harrier flying west at Earls Barton GP on 16th and the first migrant Osprey of the year heading east over Billing GP/Ecton SF three days earlier, on 13th. More will surely follow in the not too distant future.

Hot on the heels of last week’s Avocet, at Summer Leys, came another on 13th – again in the Nene Valley – at Clifford Hill GP. A Black-tailed Godwit flying east at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 16th may have been the same as that reported sporadically at adjacent Stanwick GP over the past few weeks. The only other wader of note was a Jack Snipe at Hollowell Res on 11th.

March has produced a fair proportion of our Kittiwakes in the past and this week saw a notable overland movement, which resulted in an adult at Daventry CP on 13th and twelve at Pitsford Res on 16th, none of which lingered. Following last week’s trickle of Mediterranean Gulls at Boddington Res, another adult was found in the roost there on 10th, one was in the Pitsford roost on 13th, an adult remained at Stanwick between 13th and 16th and a first-winter visited Clifford Hill GP on 12th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res 13th March 2018 (Jacob Spinks)

Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls remained low, with two first-winters at Pitsford Res on 11th and an adult at Stanwick on the same date while, back at Pitsford, a first-winter was in the roost on 14th. Things were looking up as the same roost attracted a juvenile Iceland Gull on 13th – surprisingly the first ‘white-winged’ gull to be found here for many years. Back in the day, when Brixworth had a landfill instead of a Mercedes commercial centre, they were encountered rather more frequently in the roost. Meanwhile, Hollowell Res grabbed the lion’s share of Caspian Gulls this week, producing a second-winter on 11th, an adult, a second-winter and a first-winter on 13th, with the second-winter remaining until the following day. Elsewhere, single second-winters were found at both Pitsford Res and Rushton Landfill on 15th.

There was only one Hawfinch this week, along the road to Irchester CP on 14th. Perhaps this is the last to be seen in what can only be described as the most fantastic winter ever for this species in the UK, probably an event unlikely to be repeated.

Mary’s & Moon Lake Fencing Proposal

What follows below is published at the request of the Wildlife Trust to draw attention to the above proposal and to provide the opportunity for questions and comments. The publication here of this proposal in no way represents an endorsement of the proposal nor an opposition to it by Northants Birds.

Mary’s Lake and Moon Lake form part of the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits, a series of pits that are of international importance for overwintering waterbirds, and which has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA). Mary’s Lake and Moon Lake, along with Summer Leys Nature Reserve, sit within one of the most publicly-accessed units of the SPA, with a good network of Rights of Way, permitted paths and informal access. The lakes are regularly visited by good numbers of overwintering birds such as Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Public disturbance and lack of management have been identified as the main threats to the wildlife of the sites.Moon Lake is the least-visited of the lakes in this area, as there are no Rights of Way around the lake and access is not possible all the way around. There is a large area of grassland around the lake which has been covered in scrub in recent years, meaning it is less-suitable as grazing habitat for the waterbirds using the lake.
The Wildlife Trust is working with Natural England, Wellingborough Council and the landowner to address the disturbance and management issues on the site. The aim is to allow management, through scrub clearance and grazing, and provide an undisturbed area of open water at Moon Lake.
It is therefore proposed to construct a fenceline, as shown below, to create a grazing unit around Moon Lake and create an undisturbed area for birds. The fence line will not impact on any of the current Rights of Way and access will be possible along the western edge as shown.
If you have any comments or questions about this proposal please contact the Wider Countryside Team at The Wildlife Trust on 01604 405285 or email Northamptonshire@wildlifebcn.org  We will also be on-site to explain the project and answer any questions on Thursday 22/03/18, between 9-30am and 12-30pm, and again on Monday 09/04/18, between 1 and 4pm, at the Moon Lake Fisherman’s car park ( see above for location ).We are also aware that the Angling Club is considering putting an otter fence around Mary’s Lake itself. Whilst this is their own project we will be liaising with them to ensure that no Rights of Way are affected and that signage and footpath surfaces are improved around that lake.

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

A marked change in wind direction dragged warmer air from the Atlantic via south-west Europe, initiating a rapid thaw in lying snow from the beginning of the week. With this came the first migrants but most winter visitors continued to frequent favoured localities, although some had clearly registered the rapidly lengthening days and decided to move on.

The juvenile Whooper Swan wintering at Ravensthorpe Res was still present on 4th but appeared to have departed by 8th, when there was no sign of it, while Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose remained until at least 5th. The two Scaup there were joined by a third on 6th, all three remaining until the week’s end and the female at Sywell CP was still off the dam there on 8th. It was difficult to be certain if two drake Common Scoters, discovered on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 4th, were a product of hard weather movements or simply spring migrants.

Drake Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 4th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Drake Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 4th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The Slavonian Grebe completed another full week between the sailing club and Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res, while Great White Egrets remained at the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (three), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP (two). One also flew south at Hollowell Res on 4th.

Great White Egret, Earls Barton GP, 6th March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

The first signs of spring wader passage were evident this week with an Avocet, which made a stopover at Summer Leys on 7th, and an early Grey Plover in flight near Clifford Hill GP the following day.

Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 7th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 7th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Also relatively early was an adult Little Gull at Thrapston GP on 4th, although winter and early spring records for this species are not unprecedented. March is typically the major spring passage month for Mediterranean Gulls and the easy to watch gull roost at Boddington Res has a track record for producing them. This year is no exception, with single adults there on 4th and 5th, followed by two adults on 6th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Boddington Res, 4th March 2018 (Gary Pullan)

The same roost produced a juvenile Iceland Gull on 4th and adult Caspian Gulls on 4th and 5th plus a sub-adult the following evening, on 6th. Elsewhere, further Caspian Gulls included an adult and a second-winter at Hollowell Res on 4th, plus a second-winter in the Thrapston GP roost on the same date, a sub-adult and a second-winter in the Pitsford Res roost on 5th and a sub-adult there on 8th plus a second-winter at Rushton Landfill the same day.

Second-winter Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 5th March 2018 (Jacob Spinks)

Proving scarce and difficult to find throughout the winter, Short-eared Owls have been largely absent from traditional localities but one was found this week on farmland near Milton Malsor on 8th.

There were still Hawfinches to be had for those still looking, although numbers were down on previous weeks and included singles at Fawsley Park on 4th, Salcey Forest on 5th and Thenford on 9th, while a Mealy Redpoll was still visiting garden feeders in Irthlingborough on 5th.

Ageing process of the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose

Since it was first discovered, the Pink-footed Goose, which has been present with the resident Greylag flock at Stanwick Gravel Pits throughout the winter, has undergone a considerable change in appearance.
Juvenile Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 12th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

It arrived as an obvious ‘fresh’ juvenile in October last year. Its overall appearance was scruffy, dull and almost uniform brownish, rather dark-headed and only narrow, dull pale fringes to the scapulars, coverts and tertials. Its bill was also dark, with a dull pink band behind the nail and extending faintly along the cutting edge of the upper mandible. Thanks to images captured by Steve Fisher and Angus Molyneux, it’s easy to see the progression from juvenile to adult-type plumage which has taken place over a matter of almost four months.

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

By January it had acquired adult-type plumage, with streaked rear flanks, a contrast between upperparts and underparts, broader, whiter fringes to mantle, scapulars and coverts and a brighter pink bill (although lighting may exaggerate differences in photos).

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 5th March 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

By March, the bird looks neat and has developed some whitish feathering around the base of the bill, which is found quite commonly in adults.

Rarity Round-up, 17th February to 2nd March 2018

Although signs of spring weather were apparent during the first week of the two covered by this review, the lengthening, sunny days and blue skies belied the fact that temperatures were low and were about to tumble dramatically from the beginning of week two. A veritable ‘polar vortex’ of strong winds whirling around arctic and sub-arctic latitudes brought sustained, biting, sub-zero easterlies to the UK from Siberia and snow … lots of it, dispelling any hopes of finding early spring migrants. Considering previous years have seen arrivals in the county of Sand Martin as early as 26th February and Northern Wheatear on 3rd March, the prospect of either of these occurring any time soon seems, well, a long way off …

Whooper Swans, Stanford Res, 1st March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

So, hard weather movements is what it’s all about but braving the grim conditions to discover what’s moving is another matter entirely. However, some avid patchwatchers did just that and the discovery of three Whooper Swans at Stanford Res on 1st was, perhaps, ample reward. They had gone the following morning but the juvenile Whooper wintering at Ravensthorpe Res stayed put until at least 24th, while the other long-stayer – Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose – was still being seen sporadically throughout the period. Stanwick also produced two Scaup on 2nd, following one at Ditchford GP on 18th. The only other wildfowl of note were two Smew – a drake visiting

Juvenile Whooper Swan, Ravensthorpe Res, 24th February 2018 (Stuart Mundy)

Pitsford Res briefly on 21st and the drake still at Ditchford GP throughout the period, seemingly having become settled on Wilson’s Pit. Smew has remained a very scarce bird in the county this winter so this drake has become a popular attraction since its arrival back in December last year.

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 24th February 2018 (Mike Alibone)

The Slavonian Grebe remained between the sailing club and Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res until at least 23rd but there have been no subsequent reports. Site-loyal Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR, Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP with maxima of three at Stanwick GP on 19th-20th and at Summer Leys on 23rd. Away from the Nene Valley, singles were at Ravensthorpe Res on 17th and Stanford Res on 18th and 27th.

Great White Egret, Mary’s Lake, Earls Barton GP, 23rd February 2018 (Leslie Fox)

After a week without any, waders made a bit of a comeback during the period. A Black-tailed Godwit was again at Stanwick on 21st, followed by a Knot at the same locality on 2nd. The latter stayed only briefly, flying off west shortly after its discovery. Also of note were Jack Snipe duos at Hollowell Res on 17th, Ditchford GP on 18th and near Hartwell on 1st and one at Stanwick GP on 2nd.

And so to gulls … Not quite equalling the splash of northerners to be found the previous week but two Mediterranean Gulls visited the Pitsford roost on 20th, five Yellow-legged Gulls were at Daventry CP on 18th and Caspian Gulls were scattered, with Rushton Landfill producing the lion’s share of two adults on 17th, one on 18th and a second-winter and third-winter on 25th. Elsewhere, the wintering adult was seen at Hollowell Res on 17th and a second-winter was present there on 22nd and 26th, a second-winter was at Pitsford Res on 20th, followed by a third-winter on 1st and a first-winter was in the roost at Thrapston GP on 22nd. Rushton Landfill retained its juvenile Glaucous Gull until at least 17th and an adult appeared there on 25th.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 17th February 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Six localities produced Hawfinches, including the favoured sites of Cottesbrooke (three on 17th, one on 18th), Thenford (at least five on 20th-21st and twelve on 27th) and Blatherwycke, (four on 22nd). Elsewhere, one was at Lings Wood, Northampton on 19th and two were at a ‘traditional’ site in Oundle on 19th-20th. A Corn Bunting – only the second in Northants this year – was found near Upper Benefield on 22nd. Surely there must be more of these now scarce buntings out there, somewhere …