Rarity Round-up, 19th to 25th May 2018

The fact that weather can be a massive influencer in what turns up where, and when, was aptly demonstrated during this week which, for the first half was clear, warm and sunny. A light easterly airflow predominated, bringing murky, wet and, for a time, windy conditions off the continent during the latter half – a classic scenario for grounding migrants. In stark contrast to the previous week, there was plenty to get excited about, topped dramatically during the last hours by the fourth Rose-coloured Starling for Northamptonshire.

Summer Leys LNR saw the reappearance of a drake Garganey on 19th, followed by a male and female there on 24th-25th, while Stanwick GP hung on to its two drakes from last week before a third drake appeared there from 21st to 24th. Back to provide some summertime entertainment, last year’s presumed escaped female Bufflehead returned to Clifford Hill GP on 25th, after visiting Nottinghamshire earlier in the year.

A Great White Egret continued to visit Thrapston GP, with sightings on 21st, 23rd and 25th although, based on bill colour, local observers have identified two different individuals there over the past two weeks. A Marsh Harrier was also hunting there again on 20th, while two days later, on 22nd, single Ospreys were seen at both Hollowell Res and flying west at Summer Leys.

And then the floodgates opened. After bemoaning the fact that this had been an exceptionally poor spring for waders (and for some species, it has), local birders were treated to a weather-induced rush of Arctic-bound lovelies at the week’s end. A Grey Plover – scarce this year – appeared at Stanwick GP on the 25th, the date on which wader passage was most evident. This day also saw up to forty Ringed Plovers, the majority of which appeared to be of the race tundrae, at Clifford Hill GP after three more tundrae had been identified at Stanwick GP the previous day. Just one Black-tailed Godwit arrived this week, staying a day at Summer Leys on 24th, while the same site hung on to its Turnstone from 18th until 19th.

Turnstone, Clifford Hill GP, 25th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)

At least four more Turnstones appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 25th and a Knot made a stopover on a tern raft at Thrapston GP on 21st, while a brief and elusive evening visitor to Summer Leys on 23rd appeared in the shape of a fine summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpiper.

And so to Sanderlings … there had been three prior to this week but singles were found at Summer Leys on 23rd and 24th (two different individuals), Stanwick GP on the same dates with four (possibly six) there on 25th, two more at Summer Leys on 25th and twenty-three at Clifford Hill GP – comprising groups of eight, twelve and three – also on 25th. Single Wood Sandpipers visited Summer Leys and Stanwick on 23rd and 24th respectively, while a late flurry of Greenshanks included singles at Croughton Quarry on 23rd-24th, Stanford Res on 24th, Summer Leys and Ditchford GP on 25th with four at Lower Barnwell floods on the latter date.

Greenshank, Stanford Res, 24th May 2018 (Steve Nichols)

The last two days of the month saw an arrival of Black Terns. On 24th, ten were at Summer Leys, nine at Boddington Res, seven at Stanford Res and six at Pitsford Res and on the following day, five visited Thrapston GP, two were at Clifford Hill GP and one was at Pitsford Res.

Black Tern, Stanford Res, 24th May 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Meanwhile, late Arctic Terns included one at Stanwick on 24th, followed the next day by ten flying east there and two at Clifford Hill GP. The adult Mediterranean Gull was again at Stanwick on 23rd.

Rose-coloured Starling, Wellingborough, 25th May 2018 (Alex Martin)

Which brings us neatly on to … Rose-coloured Starling. This ‘bird of the week’ or, more likely, ‘bird of the year’ in this instance, was discovered in a private garden in Wellingborough, late in the afternoon of 25th. It lingered long enough to be photographed and then promptly vanished, not being seen during the evening or subsequently. This is only the fourth record for Northamptonshire, having been seen previously in 1888, 1908 (both of which were shot) and 1998 – the latter an accommodating adult which frequented Woodford Halse between 11th and 22nd September. It appears that years ending in 8 may prove to be good for finding this species in future …

Kestrel does Qualcast

Kestrels. Frequently seen hovering above motorway verges and over open countryside, their behaviour normally associated with the search for mammalian prey. Kestrels’ diets are not restricted entirely to mammals, though, and as well as small birds, they frequently feed on insects. These are taken to varying extents, depending on range/location and food availability and they can form a considerable proportion of diet in some cases, with beetles, dragonflies, grasshoppers, moths recorded as frequently being taken. The implication, though, is that they are taken on the ground after being spotted through hovering, or from a stationary perch.

Kestrel catching insect in talons and consuming it in mid-air, Sywell CP, May 2018 (Roland Bogush)

However, as Roland Bogush’s excellent sequence of shots, above, illustrates, insects are also taken and eaten in flight. This bird was observed aerial hunting last week at Sywell Country Park. It’s not a behaviour I have knowingly seen in this country by I have observed it in migrants in Israel. So, Kestrel clearly joins prolific aerial hunters, Lesser Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon and Hobby in capturing insects in mid-air. Cruising around, picking up insects? It must surely be a lot less bovver than a hover …

Rarity Round-up, 12th to 18th May 2018

The weather this week was again ‘too good’ although gusty north-easterlies provided a little wader action on 16th-17th.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the week – largely due to its unseasonal occurrence, was a first-summer Whooper Swan, which appeared briefly at Stanford Res on 12th. Its age and the short duration of stay would suggest a late migrant, although small numbers of feral birds can be found not too far from our borders

First-summer Whooper Swan, Stanford Res, 12th May 2018 (Richard Durrant)

.Like last week, the only Garganeys during the period were a drake at Stanwick GP on 13th and two drakes there on 18th while, unsurprisingly, no other scarce wildfowl were reported from any location.A Great White Egret visited Thrapston GP on 16th-17th, where there was also a Marsh Harrier hunting on 13th but there was no sign this week of the previously oft encountered Osprey over Elinor Trout Lake. Hollowell Res produced one, though, on 12th and 14th and another was over Blatherwycke Lake on 17th.

Avocet, Stanwick GP, 16th May 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Wader passage was again at a low ebb, although what was missing in quantity was made up for in quality by an Avocet at Stanwick GP on 16th, with another – or more likely the same one – visiting Summer Leys LNR later in the day. Back at Stanwick, the same date produced a ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover and the spring’s third Sanderling while the following day saw a Turnstone at Summer Leys, staying until 18th.

Sanderling, Stanwick GP, 16th May 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Only the second Black Tern of a dire spring locally for this species was found at Stanford Res on 13th. It didn’t linger. The only other tern was an Arctic Tern at Pitsford Res on 16th, while the adult Mediterranean Gull remained at Stanwick all week.

Turnstone, Summer Leys LNR, 17th May 2018 (Bob Bullock)


Passerine migrants were again in short supply and, arguably predictable, was a male Wood Warbler singing at Borough Hill Plantation on 12th, although a concerted effort to find it from dawn the following day met with disappointment.

Black Tern, Stanford Res, 13th May 2018 (Bob Bullock)

                                                                                                        Northern Wheatear numbers fell this week to just three near Kentle Wood (Daventry) and two at Chelveston AF – all on 12th.

Rarity Round-up, 5th to 11th May 2018

In a week when the most exciting thing was the weather – a record early May bank holiday temperature of 25°C locally – birding fell flat in comparison to the previous seven days. The clear skies, lack of rainfall and an uplift in temperature, caused by a high pressure system importing warm air from south-east Europe, provided conditions conducive to non-stop migration, with few birds deciding to make landfall.

Most of this week’s action came from the Nene Valley, where the only Garganey during the period was a drake at Stanwick GP on 9th-10th and looking like a non-breeding, first-summer bird, the mobile Great White Egret was again at Summer Leys LNR on 5th and 7th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 7th May 2018 (Ricky Sinfield)

Further down the valley, an Osprey was fishing at Thrapston GP’s Elinor Trout Lake on 6th and 8th and singles visited Hollowell Res on 7th and Pitsford Res on 11th.

Osprey, Thrapston GP, 8th May 2018 (Alan Francis)
Osprey, Pitsford Res, 11th May 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Following the high count of Black-tailed Godwits at Clifford Hill GP last week, numbers crashed to just two at Summer Leys on 5th, the latter site attracting four Wood Sandpipers on 6th, with two remaining the following day, while a Ruff was present there on 8th-9th. Clifford Hill, meanwhile, produced the second Sanderling of the spring with a one-day bird on 7th.

Narrowly making it on to the list this week was Arctic Tern, with singles flying west at Clifford Hill GP on 10th and at Pitsford Res the following day. A first-summer Little Gull lingered on Gull Island at Summer Leys on 5th and two adult Mediterranean Gulls again visited Stanwick on 7th, with one still there on 9th, while a first-summer Caspian Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull were at Daventry CP on 11th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 7th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Passerine migrants were in short supply, with Northern Wheatear standing out as the only noteworthy species in this group. Clifford Hill GP was still the top venue at which last week’s double-figure collection of ‘Greenlanders’ fell to seven on 5th, two on 6th and one on 7th.

Male Greenland Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 6th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Elsewhere, up to three were at Chelveston AF on 5th-6th and singles were found at Polebrook AF and Summer Leys on 5th, in Kingsthorpe (Northampton) on 6th and near Horton on 7th.

Rarity Round-up, 28th April to 4th May 2018

The spring’s unseasonally bitter weather continued into this week with the first two days of the period being largely wet with strong, cold, north-easterly winds making the daytime temperatures feel lower than the 6°C they actually were. Birders resorted to wearing gloves which, on the penultimate day of April, must have been a ‘first’ for many. Northants escaped the heavy rain and gales experienced by East Anglia and the south-east on the final day of the month, after which winds turned westerly and calmer, drier weather ensued, with temperatures up to the seasonal norm. The effect on migration was pronounced, with a number of grounded waders on 28th, as well as large concentrations of hirundines, followed by a big push of Arctic Terns through the county on 2nd.

Last week’s Summer Leys Garganey duo remained throughout the period and another drake was found at Thrapston GP on 3rd, while the male and female Red-crested Pochards were still at Kislingbury GP on 30th.

Female Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Alan Coles)
Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 30th April 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Single Great White Egrets were seen at Clifford Hill GP on 28th-29th, Earls Barton GP and Summer Leys on 29th and Billing GP on 30th, although all records could conceivably relate to just one Nene Valley wanderer.

Great White Egret, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

At Pitsford Res, the summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe discovered last week on 24th, remained until 3rd, frequently showing very well off the gorse bushes south of the causeway.

Black-necked Grebe, Pitsford Res, 29th April 2018 (Angus Molyneux)
Black-necked Grebe, Pitsford Res, 29th April 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

On the raptor front, there was a notable arrival of Hobbies this week, while single Ospreys were seen flying north between Barnwell CP and Oundle on 1st and at Hollowell Res on the same date. ‘Bird of the week’, however, was the Common Crane which flew high south-west over Wadenhoe during the afternoon of 3rd. This is approximately the 24th record for Northamptonshire.

Common Crane, Wadenhoe, 3rd May 2018 (Alan Francis)
Common Crane, Wadenhoe, 3rd May 2018 (Alan Francis)

On 28th, after two Whimbrels in flight over Thrapston GP, birders this week were given a taste of more of those eagerly awaited spring passage waders. A Bar-tailed Godwit flew east at Summer Leys and sixty-three Black-tailed Godwits made landfall at Clifford Hill GP during the adverse weather conditions on that date.

Black-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Black-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Black-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Ricky Sinfield)

Three more visited Summer Leys on the following day and another stayed there for three days on 2nd-4th. Clifford Hill GP also attracted a Turnstone on 28th, while a Sanderling on the dam at Pitsford Res on 2nd was a classic early May visitor.

Turnstone, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 2nd May 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Some short-lived, adverse weather on 2nd produced dramatic numbers of Arctic Terns, with flocks of at least eighty-four at Clifford Hill GP, eighty at Pitsford Res and fifty-five at Hollowell Res. In the run up to this, smaller numbers included at least four at Clifford Hill GP on 28th, with sixteen there the following day; Pitsford had singles on 28th and 29th, eight on 30th and six on 1st; Hollowell produced one on 28th, when there were also two at Boddington Res; eleven visited Stanford Res on 29th, when there was also one at Stanwick, while he following day saw at least nine at Earls Barton GP and one at Daventry CP. Somewhat overshadowed by the above, the two mobile adult Mediterranean Gulls again visited Summer Leys on 29th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Alan Coles)

The most unexpected bird of the week was the Wryneck discovered on the northern side of Thrapston GP during the last couple of hours of daylight on 4th, although it remained elusive in cover for most of the time. Almost annual, this species is recorded less frequently in spring than in autumn, so this was a nice find and a treat for the handful of birders who quickly managed to connect with it. The old railway track on the southern side of the same site produced a singing male Firecrest on 28th.

Wryneck, Thrapston GP, 4th May 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Chats and their ilk featured more weightily this week, although Common Redstarts were still unusually thin on the ground. Three, all males, included one-day birds at Harrington AF on 28th, Earls Barton GP on 2nd and Daventry CP on 3rd. Following the first last week, Whinchats appeared at two localities, with Clifford Hill GP producing one, possibly two, between 1st and 4th, while another was found near Long Buckby on the latter date and a rather late Stonechat was discovered near Cotterstock on 3rd.

Female Whinchat, Clifford Hill GP, 1st May 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Larger numbers of Northern Wheatears turned up this week with many, if not all, showing characteristics of the Greenland race leucorhoa (‘Greenland Wheatear’) which predominates in May. Singles were at Barnwell on 29th, Pitsford Res on 29th-30th and Summer Leys on 2nd, four were at Clifford Hill GP on 30th, two at Upper Benefield on 1st and two at Earls Barton GP on 3rd, nine were near Long Buckby on 4th and Clifford Hill GP enjoyed a run of up to twelve between 1st and 4th and four were at Fawsley Park on 3rd.

Female Greenland Wheatear, Hemington, 4th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Female Greenland Wheatear, Hemington, 4th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)
White Wagtail, Pitsford Res, 28th April 2018 (Richard How)

A male ‘Channel’ Wagtail (Blue-headed x Yellow hybrid) was found alongside Barnwell Brook, south of Barnwell on 29th and Clifford Hill GP produced the lion’s share of White Wagtails, with singles on 28th and 3rd and at least ten on 1st, while another was at Pitsford Res on 28th.