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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.