Rarity Round-up, 20th to 26th October 2018

The beginning of the period started off unseasonally warm with westerly winds, swinging north-west before eventually adopting a strong northerly element with associated showers toward the week’s end.

The above conditions were no doubt highly conducive to Whooper Swan migration and Northants benefited from more UK arrivals on 22nd, when seventeen were found at Hollowell Res and six appeared at Clifford Hill GP, followed by four in flight over nearby Brackmills Industrial Estate the next day. In fact, it would appear that this autumn has seen the most arrivals of this species in the county for decades – perhaps reflecting the long-term trend, which has seen a 21% increase the UK wintering population over the 25 years 1989/90 – 2014/15 (WWT).

Adult Whooper Swans, Clifford Hill GP, 22nd October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

So, this former rare visitor is now the commonest wild swan to visit the county – a huge role reversal when comparing it to the now sadly declining Bewick’s Swan which, in former years, wintered relatively commonly in Northants, as this extract from the Bewick’s species summary in the 1978 Northamptonshire Bird Report illustrates:

Making it into this week were the two adult White-fronted Geese, which moved from Clifford Hill GP to relocate at Sywell CP, where they remained throughout from 21st. A solitary Pink-footed Goose appeared at Stanwick GP on 24th, remaining until the week’s end, while the female Ruddy Shelduck was still at Hollowell Res on 24th. Red-crested Pochards continued to be seen and included six at Summer Leys on 20th and three at Thrapston GP the following day, with four there on 26th.

The two Cattle Egrets, discovered among cattle around the main lake at Stanwick GP on 18th, ultimately found their herd of choice by 20th as they chose to move about one kilometre up the valley to accompany the west end cows which grazed around the rough and reedy ditches opposite the Diamond Centre complex. Sometimes out of sight and difficult to see, they remained at Stanwick throughout the week.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 20th October 2018 (Ady Leybourne)
Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 24th October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

There were no ‘high’ counts of Great White Egrets during the period and, apart from two at Stanwick GP on 25th, singles could be found at Abington Meadows/Clifford Hill GP, Daventry CP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Stanford Res and Summer Leys.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 24th October 2018 (Ady Leybourne)

The autumn’s fourth Gannet was seen in flight, late in the afternoon on 21st as it passed west over Long Buckby.

Disregarding a long-staying, now late Common Sandpiper at Stanwick on 25th, Black-tailed Godwit was the only wader species of note, with last week’s juvenile remaining until 22nd at Summer Leys, while the lingering adult continued to frequent Daventry CP all week.

Yellow-legged Gulls continued to be seen in small numbers, with a maximum of eight at Boddington Res on 24th. Elsewhere, at least three were at Ditchford GP on 23rd, up to two were at Hollowell Res between 20th and 24th and one was at Stanwick on 20th. Like last week, one Short-eared Owl was seen at Harrington AF on 20th.

On the passerine front, the second Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn was heard at Stoke Wood, north of Desborough, on 26th but promptly vanished; it must still be there … somewhere. A Rock Pipit was seen briefly at Hollowell Res on 20th and another flyover Brambling was on the move over Brackley on 23rd, while eight Crossbills flew over the University of Northampton’s Waterside Campus in Northampton on 24tth.

Rarity Round-up, 13th to 19th October 2018

After a dry, bright, though blustery ‘day one’ the weather deteriorated rapidly with almost continual rain over the following two days – all courtesy of ‘Storm Callum’ as its eastern flank brushed the UK. The week in Northants was eventful, with a host of new migrants and three top rarities …

Another week, another Whooper Swan – or twenty-four of them, to be precise. Twenty-two flew north-east at Thrapston GP on 18th, quickly followed by two pitching down on the water there shortly afterward. Also appearing as a double, two adult White-fronted Geese were found with the local Greylags at Clifford Hill GP on 19th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck appeared to be settled at Ravensthorpe Res at the week’s end. Rounding off the cast of wildfowl were six Red-crested Pochards – two at Pitsford Res on 18th had become four the next day, when two were also found at Thrapston GP.

White-fronted Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 19th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The first-winter Cattle Egret, present in the cattle field immediately north of Summer Leys throughout the previous week, remained until 14th, after which there were no further reports. Two more were then discovered among cattle around the main lake at Stanwick GP on 18th, although they appeared not to be present the following day. Another great record, this represents the first ‘flock’ for the county and surely augers well for future occurrences.

Cattle Egret, Earls Barton GP, October 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Cattle Egret, Earls Barton GP, October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

In the meantime, Great White Egret numbers peaked with five at Pitsford Res on 19th, three still at Daventry CP until at least 17th and singles at both Summer Leys and Stanford Res on 18th and at Ravensthorpe Res throughout the period.

Another ‘one raptor week’ saw a Merlin at Chelveston Airfield on 19th and one of last week’s waders – the Daventry CP Black-tailed Godwit lingering until 16th. Another Black-tailed Godwit appeared at Summer Leys on 18th, a Ruff was found at Hollowell Res on 17th and the second Jack Snipe of the autumn was at Bozeat GP the following day.

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 18th October 2018 (Ian Hicks)

The news that a Great Skua was loafing on the water off the dam at Sywell CP, during the afternoon of 16th, initiated a rush of adrenalin as those who were not hampered by the necessity to go to work headed quickly to site. It was found initially at 13.30 and fortunately remained throughout the afternoon.

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Leslie Fox)
Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Alan Coles)
Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Alan Coles)
Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Exuding brute and charisma, this Bonxie was a welcome catch-up for local birders, being the first in the county for nine years. And they seem to be getting rarer. This species is now occurring less frequently than it did in the last century, when it appeared in seven out of ten years during the 1980s. This week’s individual was the twenty-first for the county.

With just a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Daventry CP on 17th and single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford Res on 14th and Thrapston GP on 17th, larids were thin on the ground. Pitsford, however, produced a flyover Short-eared Owl on the latter date.

Whinchat, Bozeat GP, 18th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

On the passerine front, a late Whinchat was at Bozeat GP on 18th and, conforming to their late autumn occurrence pattern, Black Redstarts were found on private land between Towcester and Abthorp on 15th, followed by one at Chelveston AF on 16th, joined there by another from 17th to 19th, and two were at an undisclosed site at Great Oakley on 17th.

Black Redstart, Chelveston AF, 17th October 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Back at Chelveston AF, a Northern Wheatear was present on 17th but Northamptonshire’s tenth-ever Richard’s Pipit was discovered on 13th, where it remained until 15th. Residing in a high-fenced, gate-locked sheep field, it was not easy to see for the twenty or so birders who braved the inclement weather the following day. However, a kindly farmer granted access and the birders – many of whom were from Bedfordshire – duly connected. The Bedfordshire connection is of particular significance. The Northants/Beds county boundary runs through the middle of the site and the pipit did the honourable thing by appearing in both counties, thereby giving Bedfordshire a new county first. All this raises the inevitable question: is Chelveston the new Harrington? We’ll see … Back on indisputably home turf, a Rock Pipit was found at Hollowell Res on 13th and vizmiggin’ (no ‘G’) at Pitsford Res produced a flyover Brambling on 19th and a Hawfinch heading south-west on 17th. Are we in for another invasion?

Rarity Round-up, 6th to 12th October 2018

Apart from northerly winds and persistent rain on the first day of the period, the remainder of the week saw the winds blow southerly, bringing unseasonally warm weather from Iberia and temperatures peaking locally at 23ºC on 11th. The wind intensified on the last day, as ‘Storm Callum’ approached from the Atlantic.

The weather, however, appeared to have little effect on migrants from the north-east, with the first Fieldfares arriving on 7th and the first Brambling on 9th, while other factors were clearly responsible for delivering the main rarity of the week – Northamptonshire’s seventh-ever Cattle Egret.

Against a backcloth of coincident arrivals inland, an adult Whooper Swan was discovered at Cransley Res on 7th, while the mobile female Ruddy Shelduck continued to yo-yo between Ravensthorpe and Hollowell Reservoirs, last being seen at the latter site on 11th. Summer Leys attracted far in excess of its usual quota of regulars and casual visitors this week, following the discovery of a first-winter Cattle Egret among a herd of cows in the field immediately north of the reserve on 7th. A popular pull for photographers, it remained throughout the week, commuting frequently between its favoured cattle field, Summer Leys and nearby Mary’s Lake.

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)
Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)
Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)
Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

With a liberal scattering of some two hundred across the UK, including at least one hundred and five roosting at Shapwick Heath, Somerset on 28th September, its occurrence was only to be expected. It was just a question as to who was going to be the first to find one. In this instance, it was Matt Hazleton’s lucky day! The first Cattle Egret for Northants was also found at Summer Leys, back in August 2006. In fact, only one of the six previous records has occurred away from the Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP complex. It would appear highly likely that many more will follow as this species seems to be on the brink of imminent colonisation.

Firmly in the shade this week, Great White Egrets continued to be seen at six localities, with Daventry CP hosting the period’s maximum of three between 10th and 12th. Elsewhere, Ravensthorpe Res held one all week – joined by a second individual on 10th, one remained at Pitsford Res throughout, with two there on 9th, while singles visited Ditchford GP on 7th, Summer Leys on 7th and 10th and Stanford Res on 8th.

Great White Egrets, Daventry CP, 12th October 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Summer Leys again featured with a Gannet, photographed on the main lake on 10th, ‘back of camera’ images from an unknown photographer being on view to egret-watchers on the day.

Reports of raptors were thin on the ground but what was missing in quantity was made up for by quality in the shape of a Honey Buzzard, which was seen twice – including in a tree – at Kingsthorpe Golf Course, Northampton on the afternoon of 10th. Waders, too, only narrowly made it into this week’s copy, with a Black-tailed Godwit lingering at Daventry CP from 8th until 12th and the autumn’s first Jack Snipe appearing at Hollowell Res on 10th.

No autumn would be complete, however, without a visit by a late, juvenile Arctic Tern and Hollowell duly obliged with one of these crisp little classics on show between 6th and 10th. The same reservoir produced a third-winter Caspian Gull on 12th – the same date that a first-winter was mobile around the Moulton Grange Bay/dam area of Pitsford Res.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 12th October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Lest they should be forgotten, small numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were scattered with up to three at both Pitsford Res and Daventry CP, two at Hollowell Res and one at Stanwick GP during the period.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 7th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Passerines were again making news this week and heading the cast was Northamptonshire’s tenth-ever Yellow-browed Warbler, pulled from a net at Stanford Res (just for a change) on 10th. Overall, some 500 were recorded nationwide in the run up to this date, so there are surely more out there to be found.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Stanford Res, 10th October 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

The first migrant Ring Ouzel of the autumn was a juvenile at Fermyn Wood CP on 7th when, back at Stanford, a late (for Northants) Common Redstart was trapped and ringed, while the autumn’s second Rock Pipit stayed briefly at Daventry CP on 11th.

Rarity Round-up, 29th September to 5th October 2018

Another dry week – in terms of both weather and birds – with a primarily westerly airstream, plenty of sunshine and temperatures reaching a high of 21ºC.
Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 3rd October 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Still doing the rounds, the mobile female Ruddy Shelduck decided to drop into Ravensthorpe Res on 3rd before relocating to nearby Hollowell Res on 5th. Ravensthorpe also continued to host a Great White Egret throughout the period, while others included singles at Stanford Res on 1st-2nd and Pitsford Res to 30th, with three there on 2nd.

Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 2nd October 2018 (Gary Pullan)
Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 5th October 2018 (Paul Crotty)

Following the tracking of last week’s five Common Cranes from Scotland to their departure over the English Channel, via Daventry CP, five were also reported flying south over Shutlanger on 4th. Waders were, however, scarce, with just a juvenile Grey Plover paying the briefest of visits to Boddington Res before flying off south-east on 2nd. Also at Boddington, three juvenile ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers were present on 29th, with two remaining until 5th.

An adult Caspian Gull again visited Hollowell Res on 29th, while three adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Stanwick GP on 29th and single adults continued to be seen at Thrapston GP on 1st, Pitsford Res on 2nd, Ravensthorpe Res on 3rd and one visited Boddington Res on 5th.

In contrast to last week, passerines featured a little more prominently, with a report of a Wryneck in an Earls Barton front garden on 30th, which was followed by several observers the following day but not seen subsequently. A Firecrest was in the vicinity of the Heronry Hide at Thrapston GP on 1st, while a Northern Wheatear at Harrington AF on 29th was the only one this week and a Rock Pipit flying south-west at Pitsford Res on 3rd was the first of the autumn.

Temptingly Tundra

A close look at some of the migrant Ringed Plovers passing through Northants in autumn would suggest they are from further north than the race which breeds in the UK.

The fact that we get ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers on passage in small numbers during late spring is well established (see here and here). As juveniles in autumn they are perhaps less obvious and characters vary as differences are clinal but some readily exhibit certain pointers which suggest they are not the nominate race hiaticula.

At least two such individuals have been present at Boddington Res since 29th September and are still present today. To my eyes they stand out as being different – so much so that they have even been reported by some observers as Little Ringed Plovers.

Presumed ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers, Boddington Res, 2nd October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers can be one of two races, either psammodroma, which has a breeding range from the Faeroes to north-east Canada, or tundrae, which breeds from northern Scandinavia to Russia, although the validity of psammodroma as a race is contested by some authorities.

Presumed ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover, Boddington Res, 2nd October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

The Boddington two differ from each other insomuch as one has a narrow, complete breast-band and the other has a broad, almost broken one. While both appear noticeably smaller than ‘our’ Ringed Plovers, they differ from juvenile Little Ringed Plover by the lack of a pale eye-ring, a fairly obvious supercilium and clean white forehead. Of course, when they fly there’s the wing-bar!

Presumed ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover, Boddington Res, 2nd October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

In addition to the size difference against the nominate race, ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers have darker upperparts and in October show no signs of the moult to first-winter which has normally already begun to take place in hiaticula. Additionally, the supercilium is less extensive, the legs are a dull, weak ochre and one other feature is the bill, which is smaller and ‘dinkier’ in Tundra birds. All these features are shown by these two birds at Boddington so it’s more than just tempting to call them ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers.