Rarity Round-up, 21st to 27th April 2018

The uber spring-like temperatures from the end of last week tailed off after the first two days of the period as the Atlantic jetstream moved north, allowing a predominantly westerly airflow to bring more blustery, showery conditions throughout the remaining days. The only on cue summer visitors new in during the period were Common Swifts from 22nd, while a White Stork caused a stir in the Nene Valley on 21st.

In addition to the two which remained at Lower Barnwell floods until 23rd, more Garganeys appeared this week, with 24th seeing the arrival of a drake at Boddington Res and two at Summer Leys LNR, which were still present on 27th, when they were joined by a third. Another drake was found at Thrapston GP on 26th before being joined by a female there the following day. The only other wildfowl of note were the male and female Red-crested Pochard still at Kislingbury GP until at least 24th.

Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 26th April 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

Great White Egrets remained very much in evidence. One continued to be seen intermittently at Summer Leys up to 23rd, two reappeared on Lower Barnwell Floods on 22nd, with at least one remaining until 25th, singles were at Clifford Hill GP on 22nd and in flight, north, over Pitsford Res on 25th, while two flew west over Billing Aquadrome the following day. This week’s star of the Nene Valley was …

Another fine, summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe was discovered this week – this time at Pitsford Res, where it was present south of the causeway on 24th-25th and after a scattering of Ospreys last week, a single ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier flying east at Borough Hill on 25th was the only notable raptor during the period.

Waders were similarly lacking in numbers, with just three Whimbrels – one north over Hollowell Res on 24th and two at Summer Leys on 27th – and two Wood Sandpipers at Summer Leys on 26th, one of which remained the following day, when a Greenshank was also present there. All of these were set against a backcloth of small numbers of commoner migrant waders, including Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Dunlin.

The thin sprinkling of Arctic Terns this week comprised three at Pitsford Res on 22nd and two there on 25th-26th, one at Hollowell Res on 23rd, followed by two on 26th and approximately fifteen there the following evening, at least two at Clifford Hill GP on 23rd, two at Daventry CP on 25th with one there on 27th and two at Summer Leys on the same date.

Adult Kittiwake, Thrapston GP, 22nd April 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Kittiwake, Thrapston GP, 22nd April 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Sometimes appearing moribund but clearly able to fly, the adult Kittiwake at Thrapston GP remained until 22nd, after which it could not be found. A three-day stay at one locality is extremely unusual, if not unprecedented, and this individual may well be the last record for the spring. The two adult Mediterranean Gulls, previously seen at Stanwick, visited Summer Leys on 24th with one of these remaining there the following day.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 24th April 2018 (Ricky Sinfield)

Three Ring Ouzels were reported in hedgerows and rape fields, south-east of Farthingstone on 21st and the first migrant Whinchat of the spring turned up at Boddington Res on 24th, while Northern Wheatears continued to trickle through, with Clifford Hill GP again producing the maximum count of eight on 22nd. Elsewhere, two were at Borough Hill and singles at Newnham Hill and Bugbrooke on 21st, two were at Wappenham and five at Borough Hill on 22nd and three were between Shutlanger and Alderton on 26th. A male Greenland Wheatear was at Ringstead Grange Quarry on 22nd. Lastly, a Tree Pipit was found at Borough Hill on 21st and it, or another, was present there the following day and a White Wagtail – unusually scarce this spring – was at Summer Leys on 27th.

Rarity Round-up, 14th to 20th April 2018

In contrast to last week’s wet and murky conditions, this week was largely dry with a persistent south to south-westerly airstream raising temperatures to a local peak of 26°C on 19th. Summer visitors new in during the period were Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat on 14th, Garden Warbler on 15th, Nightingale on 17th and Reed Warbler on 18th.

After last week’s handful of records, another Dark-bellied Brent Goose was found at Stanwick GP on 17th and more Garganey appeared, with two at Clifford Hill GP on 14th and up to four on Lower Barnwell floods between 16th and 20th. Diving ducks continued to put on a good showing, which included the male and female Red-crested Pochard still at Kislingbury GP until at least 16th, a Scaup at Pitsford Res on the same date and Common Scoters still turning up, with 14th producing two at Pitsford Res, a drake at Summer Leys LNR and one flying over Duston, as well as the two females from last week remaining at Clifford Hill GP until 15th.

Female Common Scoters, Clifford Hill GP, 15th April 2018 (Doug Goddard)
Drake Common Scoter, Summer Leys, LNR, 14th April 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Apart from the one frequenting the River Nene adjacent to Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR until 20th, Great White Egrets were either mobile or transient and included singles at Thrapston GP on 14th, over Clifford Hill GP on 15th, Ditchford GP on 16th, Stanwick GP on 17th and Stanford Res on 20th, while two paid a five-minute visit to Lower Barnwell floods before flying north-west on 15th. The star of the Nene Valley, making an exclusive appearance for one day only, was a summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Stanwick on 14th.

Raptors were limited to a single Marsh Harrier flying south-west at Stanwick GP on 14th and single – now only to be expected – Ospreys at Thrapston GP on 14th, 16th and 20th, over the A508 at Hanging Houghton on 15th, Hollowell Res on 16th, Pitsford Res on 19th and Ringstead GP on 20th, plus two at Harringworth Lodge Lake on 14th.

Osprey, Ringstead GP, 20th April 2018 (Mark Tyrrell)
Osprey, Ringstead GP, 20th April 2018 (Mark Tyrrell)

Totally unexpected, however, was the Stone Curlew which flew over the A45 at Upton (Northampton) on the evening of 19th and appeared to land somewhere near Upton Lodge Farm. Subsequent searches in the immediate area uncovered nothing, although suitable habitat there is limited. This will be only the sixteenth county record and the first since 2014, if accepted. Following a belated report of an Avocet at Summer Leys on 13th, two were there the next day, remaining throughout the morning.

Avocets, Summer Leys LNR, 14th April 2018 (Doug Goddard)
Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 14th April 2018 (Doug Goddard)

The first spring Whimbrel flew east over Clifford Hill GP on 19th and another was there the following day, the same site producing five Black-tailed Godwits on 14th. Stanford Res again produced a Greenshank on 15th – the third of the spring at this site – while one was seen at Summer Leys, two days later, on 17th.

The first Black Tern of the spring appeared at Ditchford GP on 19th, followed by an Arctic Tern there on 20th while, on the same date, single Arctic Terns were found at Earls Barton GP and Thrapston GP, two were at Clifford Hill GP and four visited Daventry CP.

Arctic Tern, Earls Barton GP, 20th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Arctic Tern, Earls Barton GP, 20th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Three more Kittiwakes – all adults and all at Thrapston GP – extended the species’ outstanding run this spring and included one on 18th and two on 20th, while Little Gulls appeared at four localities, with Clifford Hill GP producing the lion’s share of six on 15th, three on 16th, two on 17th and one on 19th. Two were also at Summer Leys on 19th and singles visited Stanwick GP on 14th and Daventry CP on 17th and 20th.

Adult Kittiwake, Thrapston GP, 20th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Little Gulls, Clifford Hill GP, 15th April 2018 (Martin Swannell)
Little Gulls, Clifford Hill GP, 15th April 2018 (Martin Swannell)
First-summer Little Gull, Clifford Hill GP, 16th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls were at Stanwick on 14th while the only big gull of the week was an adult Yellow-legged Gull at Daventry CP on 17th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

After last week’s two single-observer Ring Ouzels, one finally gave itself up to the masses (or at least to most of those who wanted to see it), although not without a fight. Found at Clifford Hill GP on 16th, it went missing for the whole of the following day, before reappearing in the same favoured spot on the evening of 17th and then playing hide-and-seek on 18th.

Female Ring Ouzel, Clifford Hill GP, 18th April 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Again, just one Common Redstart was seen this week – a female between Scaldwell and Pitsford Res on 16th-17th but there were much better numbers of Northern Wheatears, with Clifford Hill GP producing the maximum count of ten on 18th, plus six on 14th, two on 16th-17th and one on 19th. Elsewhere, singles were at Harrington AF on 14th, Kislingbury Meadows on 16th, Preston Deanery on 17th, Earls Barton GP on 18th and Hartwell on 20th. Finally, a lone, singing male Corn Bunting was between Deenethorpe and Upper Benefield on 19th.

This individual was singing like a Yellowhammer and BWP states that isolated males, which mix regularly with Yellowhammers, away from other Corn Buntings, pick up and sing a Yellowhammer-type song. This is a sad state of affairs and just goes to show how low the Corn Bunting population has fallen locally

Rarity Round-up, 7th to 13th April 2018

Although this week’s winds were largely migrant-friendly south to south-easterlies, the overcast, wet and murky conditions, which ensued throughout the period, were not and left many migrants temporarily grounded. Among these, a ‘mini-invasion’ of northbound Common Scoters marked the week, while summer visitors new in were Common Sandpiper and Sedge Warbler on 8th, Cuckoo and Grasshopper Warbler on 9th and Hobby on 13th.

After a recent dearth of wildfowl, things changed dramatically this week. Keeping a generally low profile, the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose was still associating with Greylags there on 8th and the same site also hosted a Dark-bellied Brent Goose on 13th after one had flown south-west there two days previously, on 11th. Seven Dark-bellied Brents also made landfall during the drizzle at Clifford Hill GP on 12th.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 12th April 2018 (Terry O’dell). Four of seven present.
Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Back at Stanwick, a drake Garganey was located on 13th and is still only the second record, so far, this spring. Diving ducks were well-represented during the period, with a drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanford Res on 9th, followed by a male and female at Kislingbury GP on 11th but more interesting was the report of a female Ring-necked Duck, south of the causeway at Pitsford Res, on 11th. Despite subsequent searching, it was not relocated, although a female Scaup was discovered there during the process.

Drake Garganey, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Adrian Borley)

In all this duckin’ n divin’ the week belonged to Common Scoters, which continued to come through in what seems likely to be an unprecedented local ‘spring of scoters’ – perhaps giving rise to a new collective noun for the species. Six – including four drakes – were at Daventry CP on 9th, followed by four more (two drakes) there on 11th. Two also visited Boddington Res on 9th, two drakes were at Pitsford Res on 10th-11th, three (one drake) lingered at Clifford Hill GP from 10th to 13th and a drake was at Hollowell Res on 11th. Interestingly, nine different groups of Common Scoters were sound recorded on nocturnal migration north over one locality in neighbouring Bedfordshire in the early hours of 9th.

Localities visited by Common Scoters in Northamptonshire Spring 2018
Common Scoters, Daventry CP, 9th April 2018 (Gary Pullan)
Common Scoters, Clifford Hill GP, 10th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Apart from two flying east along the Nene Valley on 8th, just one Great White Egret remained in the vicinity of Hardwater Lake and the weir at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR until 13th.

Single Ospreys were seen at six localities during the period, these comprising Pitsford Res on 7th, Hollowell Res, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP on 8th, Ravensthorpe Res on 9th and Welford/Sulby Res on 13th. There were no reports of any other scarce raptors this week.

Wader passage begins to ramp up from hereon but, apart from a Knot at Stanwick GP on 8th, there was little change to last week’s line up, with a Black-tailed Godwit at the aforementioned Stanwick on 7th-8th, followed by another there on 13th and one on floodwater near Oundle on 9th. Stanford Res notched up its second Greenshank of the spring, with one on 8th and a Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell Res on 7th.

Black-tailed Godwit, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Adrian Borley)

April wouldn’t be complete without a Sandwich Tern, so the one which completed a couple of laps of Stanford Res on 8th, before swiftly moving on, was right on cue. Hopefully more will follow. The year’s first Arctic Tern was found at Clifford Hill GP also on 8th, quickly followed by another at Earls Barton GP on the same date and another at Daventry CP on 11th. For the first time this year there were no reports of scarce ‘large’ gulls during the period, although arguably more attractive – and a lot easier to identify – Little Gulls appeared at a couple of localities, with Ditchford GP hosting two adults on 10th and Daventry CP producing three adults the following day.

Adult Little Gull, Ditchford GP, April 2018 (Tony Vials)

Kittiwake is another species which has enjoyed a remarkable series of records so far this spring. The run continued with single adults at both Daventry CP and Stanwick on 8th, with the latter site producing another flying east on 9th followed by one on floodwater at Oundle minutes later, leading to speculation it may have been the same individual.

Adult Kittiwakes, 9th April 2018. Left, Stanwick GP (Steve Fisher), right, Oundle (James Underwood)

The pick of the passerines this week were single Ring Ouzels reported from Chelveston AF on 8th and another in the Brampton Valley, near Chapel Brampton, the following day. Just prior to these two arriving, birders hunting for this species at the traditional site of Newnham Hill on 6th failed to locate any but were amply rewarded with the discovery of a Black Redstart by way of compensation.

Black Redstart, Newnham Hill, 6th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Staying in the west of the county, a Common Redstart was found at Boddington Res on 10th and a Northern Wheatear put in an appearance at Borough Hill on 7th. The east, however, produced the only White Wagtails which included two near floods at Oundle on 9th and one near Barnwell on 11th. At least one Hawfinch hanging on at Cottesbrooke this week, on 8th, may well be the last of an outstanding winter’s run for this species. Probably.

Retrospective rubicola?

Stonechat is a passage migrant and winter visitor to Northamptonshire, also having bred on a handful of occasions. Although they are popular photographic subjects, the vast majority of these birds vary little in appearance, present no identification problems and rarely attract scrutiny as a result. Some, however, stand out as being obviously different and one such individual, found by Gary Pullan, was present briefly at Daventry Country Park last month. Gary has kindly provided details.

A male Stonechat was extremely obliging on the dam at Daventry CP on the morning of the 12th March. This bird was striking for two reasons, firstly, it is a genuinely scarce bird at this site and secondly, it showed an extensive white rump.

Possible ‘Continental Stonechat’, Daventry CP, 12th March 2018

I suspected it may be a ‘rubicola-type’ bird, sometimes known as ‘Continental Stonechat’, the race which occurs in continental Europe but variabilities within our own race hibernans can blur the picture and make it difficult to be 100% positive.

This individual showed a vivid white, and mostly unstreaked, rump which can be seen in the poor phonescoped images. In flight this was very striking and when first glimpsed at distance, alarm bells rang and the thought of Siberian Stonechat briefly entered my head.

It is clearly not Siberian but supporting features that it may very well be rubicola are the large, white collar patches, the tone of the upperparts which lacked the deep rufescent tones, appearing quite grey-brown and the underwing appearing quite dark grey.

The weather conditions could also be a subjective supporting factor in its occurrence as we had just experienced our first, and most extreme, visit from the so-called ‘Beast from the East’. Unfortunately, the scrub the bird was frequenting was being cleared that very day and for that reason, it didn’t linger. 

The two Stonechat races (or ‘forms’) intergrade on the near-continent (BWP) and it has been suggested that there is a cline of darker plumage to the north-west and brighter plumage to the south-east and that hibernans is possibly invalid.

‘Continental Stonechat’ rubicola is not officially on the British List. However, rubicola-like birds are recorded regularly in south-east England and occasionally elsewhere in Britain and birds with this appearance also form part of the breeding population in the south-east. It is therefore possible that rubicola is frequent in Britain or that the intergrade zone on the near-continent actually includes south-east England as well (BBRC).

This is the second record of a Stonechat ‘showing characteristics’ of rubicola in Northants. The first – also found by Gary – was at Boddington Reservoir on 2nd May 2013.



Rarity Round-up, 31st March to 6th April 2018

Last week’s downpours morphed into a weekend deluge, creating widespread flooding which was most evident in the Nene Valley. Water levels there rose dramatically, creating additional – though short-lived – marshland habitats and engulfing well established islands at several wetland localities. As the floods drained slowly away, the end of the week saw a return toward normal water levels and temperatures rose as a southerly wind predominated. Summer visitors new in were House Martin and Yellow Wagtail on 3rd and Willow Warbler on 5th.

A Pink-footed Goose was discovered with Greylags at Clifford Hill GP on 31st but it had departed by the following day. The bill pattern and lack of white feathers at the bill base confirmed it was not the bird which has remained throughout the winter in the vicinity of Stanwick GP, where it was seen again on 6th.

Pink-footed Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 31st March 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Pink-footed Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 31st March 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Also in the Nene Valley, single Great White Egrets were seen at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR on 31st, 2nd and 6th, at Ditchford GP on 1st and at Stanwick GP on 6th. Again, a considerable difference in bare part colouration confirmed the presence of at least two different individuals.

Two more Ospreys this week – both on 2nd – included one around Ravensthorpe Res and one over the A43 between Broughton and Cransley. More will surely follow but there was a notable absence of other raptors during the period.

On the wader front, an early Bar-tailed Godwit flew east at Stanwick GP on 2nd and two Black-tailed Godwits visited Summer Leys LNR on 5th, a Greenshank – an uncommon spring migrant – visited Stanford Res on 5th and a Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell Res on 1st.

Greenshank, Stanford Res, 3rd April 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Eleven Little Gulls flew east through Clifford Hill GP on 2nd but a first-winter Kittiwake, discovered in Pitsford’s Pintail Bay on the same date, was unfortunately found dead there the next day.

First-winter Kittiwake, Pitsford Res, 2nd April 2018 (Richard How)

Last week’s total of Mediterranean Gulls was doubled this week, with two being seen – one at Stanwick GP on 3rd and the other at Daventry CP the following day; both were adults. Larger larids included two Yellow-legged Gulls at Daventry CP on 4th, a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res on 1st, followed by a first-winter there, two days later, on 3rd.

Male Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 31st March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Passerine migrants continued this week with two more Northern Wheatears at Clifford Hill GP on 31st and three near Brackley on 2nd, while the same Brackley locality produced two White Wagtails on 2nd-3rd and another was found at Thrapston GP on 6th. Hawfinches lingered into April with two at Dallington Cemetery, Northampton on 31st and four or five still at Thenford Churchyard on the same date, while Polebrook AF produced one on 5th. Last week’s Corn Bunting again visited private feeding stations in Hinton on 2nd and adjacent Woodford Halse on 4th.

Low-down on Lesser Spots – a cause for concern

Ron Knight

The national decline of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is well documented. Since 1974, the UK population has fallen by at least 72% and in 2009 the species was added to the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Reasons for this dramatic drop are cited as a combination of fragmentation of woodland, a significant reduction in the abundance of food source (principally butterfly and moth caterpillars) plus competition with, and predation (of young), by a rapidly growing population of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

This decline is, of course, mirrored in Northamptonshire. Going back just over thirty years sees this species recorded from a peak of sixty-seven sites but fast-forward to 2016 and the number of sites has fallen dramatically to just nine. In this instance, only a very small proportion of the overall yearly totals are breeding sites.
It has even been suggested that the species is on the verge of extinction in the UK and that our endemic race, comminutus, should it be lost, would be the first extinction of an endemic avian subspecies in recent British history (see here).

Such is the national concern that some counties and organisations are now receiving records ‘in confidence’ and not publishing site details. This arguably rightly tight-lipped stance has not (yet) been adopted in Northants but it may only be a matter of time. The most popularly visited Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers over the years are those at Lings Wood, Northampton, where they have been present now for at least seven years.

With their presence already widely publicised on social media and elsewhere, it has only recently emerged that the Lings Wood birds have, this year, been subjected to considerable undue disturbance. If we are to retain these woodpeckers as a breeding species, at both local and national levels, then a responsible approach to their observation needs to be taken by visitors to the site. Put bluntly, it would be doing them a favour to keep visits to a minimum or avoid the location altogether. This is not meant to be in any way dictatorial, more a plea to reduce disturbance to the site. Discovery of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at new, or underwatched, locations is encouraged through the means of participation in national survey work here. What can be more rewarding than finding your own …?

Rarity Round-up, 24th to 30th March 2018

In contrast to the previous week, this last week was milder with the more usual Atlantic airstream dominating – and bringing some hefty downpours to boot. Summer visitors new in were Garganey, Common Tern and Swallow on 30th and the first migrant Northern Wheatear on 26th.

Remaining until at least 27th, the wintering Pink-footed Goose kept up its visits to the main lake at Stanwick GP while, further down the Nene Valley at Oundle, the first Garganey of the year, a male and female, were found on floodwater on 30th, although they did not linger. More Common Scoters came through this week, with two drakes at Daventry CP on 24th, quickly followed by six – including five drakes – at Stanford Res the following day.

Common Scoter, Daventry CP, 24th March 2018 (Gary Pullan)
Common Scoters, Stanford Res, 25th March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)
Common Scoters, Stanford Res, 25th March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)
Common Scoters, Stanford Res, 25th March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe was last reported on 27th, while Great White Egrets were dramatically reduced to one, mobile around Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR between 27th and 30th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Following the first, on 13th March, two more Ospreys were seen heading north this week – one high over Daventry CP on 26th, followed by another over Pitsford Res the following day. The only other raptors of note were single Merlins, both on 26th, comprising a female flying north at Daventry CP and a male hunting over farmland at Merry Tom Lane, north of Chapel Brampton.

Among more common fare, this week’s scarcer waders were limited to a Black-tailed Godwit on floodwater at Oundle on 28th and two Jack Snipes at Hollowell Res on 24th plus one at Stanwick GP on 26th.

Kittiwake, Stanwick GP, 24th March 2018 (Steve Fisher)
Kittiwake, Ravensthorpe Res, 25th March 2018 (Stuart Mundy)

Single adult Kittiwakes visited Stanwick GP on 24th and Ravensthorpe Res the following day but the only Mediterranean Gull this week was an adult at Thrapston GP on 29th. Larger gulls, too, were in short supply with just two Yellow-legged Gull at Daventry CP on 24th and a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res on the same date.

Male Northern Wheatear, Whiston Locks, 26th March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

The first migrant Northern Wheatear was found at Whiston Lock on 26th while Hawfinches were still in evidence this week, with seventeen at Polebrook AF on 24th, dropping to three by 30th and a Corn Bunting visited a private feeding station in Woodford Halse on the latter date.