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?

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