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.