The wind throughout the week took a prolonged easterly slant and temperatures fell accordingly, a high of 10°C on 17th had slipped down to a low of just 4°C on 20th.
Two new Whooper Swans appeared this week, a lone adult at Earls Barton GP on 21st, followed by another youngster joining the Pitsford eleven on 22nd, while the first-year remained at Thrapston GP throughout the period.
Last week’s Barnacle Goose revisited Stanwick GP on 19th and the mobile female Ruddy Shelduck dropped into Pitsford Res on 21st, the latter site again accounting for the highest total of Red-crested Pochards, which topped eighteen on the same date.
Elsewhere, four were at Stanford Res on 17th, with just one remaining until 21st, one remained at Hollowell Res all week and singles were at Clifford Hill GP on 17th and Thrapston GP on 23rd, where the first-winter Scaup also remained all week.
And so to this week’s puzzle: the adult drake Ring-necked Duck reported on Town Lake at Thrapston on the morning of 18th. Local observers were on site within an hour or two of the national news broadcast, diligently scanning the lake, along with all the other lakes in the complex. It was nowhere to be seen. The source is a mystery … but Thrapston has history. So, more ‘fake news’ then or, if you prefer a rather more British approach to the phraseology, ‘patent twaddle’. Nuff said. At least we know the one remaining Velvet Scoter, last seen there on 17th, was genuine and contributed to the county chalking up a ‘two-scoter week’ with two Common Scoters at Stanford Res on 19th.
The three Cattle Egrets at the north-east end of the Stanwick GP complex were once again joined by a fourth on 21st-22nd, while one or two Great White Egrets continued to be seen at this and six other locations, Pitsford topping the bill with four on 21st-22nd.
On the raptor front, Stanford Res continued to maintain its monopoly on harriers with the juvenile Hen Harrier still present until at least 18th and a Marsh Harrier there on 22nd-23rd.
The only wader of note this week was the first-winter Black-tailed Godwit at Pitsford Res, remaining throughout, while the usual adult Yellow-legged Gull also remained there throughout the period, three were at Hollowell Res on 17th, followed by two on 21st.
Short-eared Owls were more widespread this week, being reported from no less than five localities. Two were at Stanford Res on 17th and singles were seen at Weldon on 18th, Stanwick GP on 21st, Pitsford Res on 22nd and Borough Hill on 23rd. The only Brambling reported was one at Pitsford Res on 22nd.
Maintaining temperatures some 5°C higher than they should have been, the wind this week again blew southerly and then south-westerly, before swinging south-easterly during the last two days of the period. Making the news this week were two birds which, in all likelihood, nobody ever saw, although we know at least one of them was there …
The eleven Whooper Swans remained at Pitsford Res all week and look settled for the winter. New arrivals during the period were three adults, arriving at Stanford Res on 13th before hurriedly departing to the north-east the same day and a lone first-winter, which was discovered at Thrapston GP on 16th.
Now for the first of those two intangible birds. Belated news concerns the curious case of the Greenland White-fronted Goose, which dropped into a field near Aynho, under the cover of darkness, for just two hours on 27th October. A radio-tagged female, originally bound for Wexford, went well off course to the Dutch coast, before successfully re-orientating west across the UK, which included a short stop-off in Northants. Read the full story here. The appropriate radio telemetry, had it been available live online to the masses, would no doubt have had a good number of us reaching for those infra-red bins – well, maybe. This is only the 5th county record of this potential species, the last being in 2009. Back down to earth, the two adult White-fronted Geese remained at Sywell CP all week and a Barnacle Goose visited Stanwick GP on 12th. The top count of Red-crested Pochards was ten at Pitsford Res on 14th, followed by seven at Stanford Res on the previous day.
Elsewhere, up to three were seen at Hollowell Res and one was at Stanwick GP during the period. The six first-winter Velvet Scoters remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake until 11th, after which only one remained until the end of the week, as did the first-winter Scaup there and the drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid at Daventry CP.
Three Cattle Egrets, happily ensconced at Stanwick, continued to entertain and remained all week, having moved to a smaller, more constrained cow field adjacent to the North Lake at the Ringstead end of the complex.
Great White Egrets continued to be seen regularly, with Pitsford and Stanwick recording three a piece, Ravensthorpe Res held two and singles were also seen at Clifford Hill GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Stanford Res, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP.
On the raptor front, a Marsh Harrier flew south at Stanwick GP on 11th and the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier – aged as a juvenile – was seen on and off all week at Stanford Res. Though last week’s Rough-legged Buzzard near Apethorpe ultimately proved to be a Common Buzzard incognito, another was reported near Aldwincle on 11th. Said to be watched for fifteen minutes in the Brancey Bridge area, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility for the sighting and the origin of the report is vague, to say the least. Ah well, fake news it is, then. “Another glass of Tempranillo, Donald?” “Don’t mind if I do, Buddy!”
So, moving swiftly on to waders … a Black-tailed Godwit appeared at Pitsford Res on 12th and was still present on 14th and another appeared at Summer Leys, also on 12th. The late autumn lingering Common Sandpiper remained at Stanwick until at least 11th but it was joined by another one just prior to dusk on 10th, although this second individual had vanished by the following morning. Surprisingly, another Common Sandpiper was found at Hollowell Res on 16th. All three are very late occurrences and anyone coming across an Actitis sandpiper here in November is surely in with a 50:50 chance of it being a Spotted Sandpiper. While surrounding counties have enjoyed multiple records, Northamptonshire awaits its first …
Two Mediterranean Gulls – both of them first-winters – were found this week, one in the Pitsford gull roost on 14th and the other two days later at Daventry CP. The usual adult Yellow-legged Gulls were to be found at Pitsford and Hollowell, with three at the latter site on 16th, although a first-winter was in the Pitsford gull roost on 14th and a fourth-winter visited Daventry CP on 16th.
Two Short-eared Owls were found on 11th, hunting the grassy summit of Borough Hill, where they remained all week, while last week’s two Bearded Reedlings at Stanwick performed a short encore on 10th before apparently disappearing for good. Single Bramblings were seen at Hollowell on 10th and Stanwick on 12th, a female Crossbill was found at Fineshade Wood on 13th and eight more visited Ditchford GP briefly on 16th before flying toward nearby Irchester CP. Also on 13th, a single Hawfinch was heard calling at Brixworth CP.
A largely southerly airstream throughout the week kept temperatures above average, peaking at 15ºC on 5th-6th. Wildfowl numbers continued to build and most of last week’s rare fare remained settled and on show. Additionally, for the second week running, a handful of new arrivals included another species which was the first this century in Northamptonshire …
The flow of Whooper Swans over the past weeks appears now to have halted but it has left us with eleven (nine adults and two first-winters) at Pitsford Res, present north of the causeway for nigh on two weeks. Hopefully they will remain for the foreseeable future. Similarly ensconced, the two adult White-fronted Geese remained at Sywell CP and the female Ruddy Shelduck was still at Ravensthorpe Res on 4th.
Red-crested Pochards were widespread with this week’s highest count of six at Stanford Res on 9th. Elsewhere, between one and three were seen at Daventry CP, Hollowell Res, Stanwick GP, Thrapston GP and Wicksteed Park Lake and the first-winter Scaup remained at Thrapston GP all week.
Held over by popular demand, the six first-winter Velvet Scoters remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake for a second week, still showing well there on 9th. Conversely, of interest but of limited appeal, a very distinctive drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid visited Daventry CP on 7th.
Last week’s Bittern was again seen on the A45 Lay-by Pit at Stanwick on 3rd but the site’s main attraction continued to be Cattle Egrets – last week’s two having doubled to four by the end of the week. Great White Egrets were reported from eight localities including Clifford Hill GP, Ditchford GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res, Stanwick GP, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP with Pitsford again boasting the highest count of five on 6th.
Raptors were limited to the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier, remaining elusive at Stanford Res between 3rd and 5th and a Rough-legged Buzzard reported on roadkill along the relatively short stretch of road between Apethorpe and Woodnewton on 9th. Should the latter be proven to remain, it is likely to become a more popular attraction than the six smart scoters down the road. Despite occasional reports, the last accepted record, only the third this century, was in October 2014 and as always, it was a fly-over. There has never been a twitchable Rough-leg in Northants …
Save the odd Jack Snipe – of which there was one at Stanwick on 6th – it’s normally all over for waders until spring but both the Black-tailed Godwit at Daventry CP and the Common Sandpiper at Stanwick remained until 7th and 9th respectively, while a late and fleeting Spotted Redshank at the latter site was a surprise on 6th.
On the gull front it was more of the usual fare, with single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Hollowell, Pitsford and Daventry and a third-winter at the latter locality on 5th, while a first-winter Caspian Gull was at Hollowell on 3rd and 5th and a third-winter visited Stanwick on the last of these two dates.
Another Short-eared Owl was found at Harrington AF on 3rd but bird of the week – at least for one observer – was the Hooded Crow which flew south-west over Pury Hill, Alderton on 7th. The species was formerly a more regular, though scarce, winter visitor to Northants but its appearance in the south, east and central parts of the UK is now much less frequent than it was during the last century. In fact, this is the first in the county since 1999. Others were seen inland during the period in Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and East, South and West Yorkshire. More readily accessible and guaranteed to delight, however, were two Bearded Reedlings, which were discovered at Stanwick on 4th and did the decent thing of posing well for photos until at least 6th.
The only Brambling this week was one at Harrington AF on 3rd.
Found on 27th October, a small flock of Velvet Scoters on Thrapston’s Town Lake is the first in the county since 1995 and rightly continues to attract a steady stream of admirers. Widely touted as ‘juveniles’, additional high-quality photos to emerge allow a more analytical approach to ageing, sexing and individual recognition.
The original eight, found on 27th October, had become six by the following day when two distinct individuals, which frequently kept apart from the rest of the flock, had departed. As well as being the largest flock to be recorded in Northamptonshire, the remaining six may also be in line to break the long stay record for more than one bird, having been present now for at least eleven days. The record is currently held by two which were mobile between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, from 7th to 27th November 1983.
Close examination of the excellent images obtained by Alan Boddington and Bob Bullock enables individuals to be readily identified by their head patterns, which are quite variable. Because of the broad, pale feather fringing on the wing coverts, the ‘long staying six’ (A to F) can be aged as first-winters and at least two of these (B, D) are young males, the dull yellow areas being visible on their bills. None of the other four shows the slightest hint of yellow but C, E and F are showing pale horn-coloured areas on, or around the sides of the nail. This is interesting because, according to Reeber (Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America, 1995), this is a characteristic associated with adult females and not present in first-winters.
The ‘short staying two’ (G, H) are adult females with uniform dark plumage, which includes, most importantly, the belly – visible in the only flight shot (below) obtained so far. First-winters have a pale belly until adult plumage is acquired later in the winter or during their second calendar year. Hopefully, the remaining birds will continue their stay at Thrapston for some time to come.
The period started with northerly winds, rain and temperatures significantly depressed, while the first frosts since last spring served to remind that it is now late autumn. Many a glove came on as BST slipped mercilessly into GMT, plunging the late afternoons into near-darkness and curtailing any after-work birding activity for those of us still having to earn a crust. Surprisingly, wildfowl well and truly stole the show this week, which saw the arrival of one species not seen in Northamptonshire for nearly a quarter of a century …
So, they just keep coming. Smashing all previous records for autumn occurrences in Northants, Whooper Swans continued to pile in … and some lingered. The 27th saw two adults at Thrapston GP and two further adults at Pitsford Res, the number at the latter location doubling by close of play, with all four remaining throughout the following day. On 29th, they were joined by another adult and two first-winters during the morning and then by four more adults during the afternoon, giving eleven birds in total – all of which remained throughout the week. Elsewhere, during late morning on 28th, twelve – including two first-winters – arrived at Earls Barton GP’s Mary’s Lake and on 29th an adult was found at Daventry CP.
Last week’s Pink-footed Goose was seen again at Stanwick GP on 29th and 1st, while the two adult White-fronted Geese at Sywell CP remained throughout the period and the female Ruddy Shelduck moved back from Hollowell Res to Ravensthorpe Res, where it was seen on 28th and 30th.
Red-crested Pochards featured heavily this week, particularly at Pitsford Res, where up to seventeen were present from 27th until the week’s end. Elsewhere, two were at Daventry CP on 29th and 30th with two at Thrapston GP on the latter date and singles were at Stanford Res on 28th and 2nd and Stanwick GP between 31st and 2nd. With winter fast approaching, Scaup were also getting in on the act with a first-winter at Thrapston GP from 28th until the week’s end and one at Pitsford Res on 1st, where a female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid provided an interesting distraction in Scaldwell Bay on 27th-28th.
Indisputably, however, this week’s star birds were the eight Velvet Scoters discovered on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake, late in the morning of 28th. Two had departed by the following day but the remaining six continued to delight local observers throughout the period, sometimes being pushed close to the shoreline by yachts from the sailing club at the south-western end of the lake.
Although all appeared to be first-winters, it is possible to sex at least one as a male, based on its emerging bill pattern. This is the 21st record for Northants and the first since 1995, the last prior to which was in 1988 – the 1980s enjoying records in five out of ten years, with November being the peak month for arrivals.
Nene Valley locations continued to provide the focus for more interesting birding, with Stanwick producing a Bittern on its A45 Lay-by Pit on 30th, while continuing to host the two the two Cattle Egrets until at least 31st. The same locality also held a Great White Egret from 27th to 29th and reports of singles seen intermittently came from Clifford Hill GP, Summer Leys LNR, Thrapston GP, Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res and Sywell CP but Pitsford claimed the lion’s share, with possibly as many as six on 27th and certainly at least four on 2nd.
And so to reports of raptors – or Hen Harriers, to be more precise … and both on the same day, 2nd, when a ‘ringtail’ was at Stanford Res just after midday, followed by a male at Harrington AF just before dusk.
But it was the west of the county that scored points once again with another flock of Common Cranes – this time eight, flying west over Fawsley Park on 27th and like the five reported over Shutlanger on 2nd, not obligingly hanging around for photographs as did the ‘Daventry six’ on 27th September. Assuming acceptance of all these, of course, this latest flock constitutes about the twenty-fifth record for the county.
In the wake of this autumn’s wader passage, Black-tailed Godwits continued to put in appearances in the Nene Valley at Stanwick on 28th and Summer Leys on 31st and the lingering, though fidgety, adult, still at Daventry CP on 30th, was seen again on 2nd. Noteworthy for its unusually long, late stay, the Common Sandpiper at Stanwick made it into November and was still present there on 2nd while, just up the valley, a Jack Snipe was found at Summer Leys on 27th.
There was little to write home about on the gull front, with an adult Mediterranean Gull visiting Daventry CP on 1st and single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford Res on 28th-29th and Hollowell Res on 29th, while a third-winter Caspian Gull also visited Hollowell on 30th.
Again this week, another ‘heard only’ Yellow-browed Warbler was reported – this time from a residential road in Corby on 28th and there were more Bramblings on the move, with Stanwick producing one on 28th, followed by five there the next day, when one was also seen at Daventry CP. Single flyover Crossbills were seen and heard over Pitsford on 27th and Kingsthorpe, Northampton on 30th.