Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th December 2018

Under the influence of a predominantly south-easterly airstream, the past week remained dry with daytime temperatures gradually falling from the highest of 11 ºC on 8th to the lowest of 1ºC at the week’s end. Much of the previous week’s fare stayed put, providing plenty of opportunities for birders to play catch-up with any birds missed during the preceding period. Again, the spotlight was firmly on Pitsford as the place to be.

Seemingly now settled at Pitsford Res, the adult Bewick’s Swan remained throughout the week, as did the eleven Whooper Swans, now in their seventh week on site. Also staying put was the first-winter on Elinor Trout Lake at Thrapston GP, while another visited Stanford Res briefly on 14th.

First-winter Whooper Swan, Thrapston GP, 14th December 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Stanwick GP continued to play host to all of this week’s geese – the Pink-footed Goose on 9th, six White-fronted Geese on 14th and the Barnacle Goose until at least 11th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck remained north of the causeway at Pitsford Res until at least 11th. The drake wigeon resembling an American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid came under the spotlight this week and is now considered most likely to be a hybrid between Eurasian Wigeon and Gadwall.

Hybrid Wigeon showing some characteristics of American Wigeon but now considered most likely to be Eurasian Wigeon x Gadwall. Ravensthorpe Res, 10th December 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Whatever its genetic composition, it’s still an unusual and striking-looking bird. Red-crested Pochard numbers had fallen this week to a maximum of just four at Pitsford Res on 8th, when the lone drake was also seen at Hollowell Res. Over at Thrapston, the first-winter Scaup was still present on 13th and the genetic purity of the female – perhaps a first-winter – at Ditchford GP was the subject of some discussion on 8th. After initially proving elusive, Pitsford’s drake Ring-necked Duck finally gave itself up to photographers – even to the point of showing off its ring. Remaining principally in Scaldwell Bay, it still occasionally proved tricky to get to grips with.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Reservoir, 8th December 2018 (Adrian Borley)
Drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Reservoir, 8th December 2018 (Angus Molyneux)
Drake Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Reservoir, 8th December 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

Also in Scaldwell Bay, a dapper drake Smew – the first of the winter – was discovered on 10th but it was nowhere to be seen beyond 11th.

At the opposite end of Pitsford, the juvenile Great Northern Diver remained throughout the week, often appearing close to the dam.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 10th December 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 12th December 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Bitterns have been scarce so far during the autumn and early winter period and in line with sporadic occurrences, Stanwick produced another drop-in at dusk on 11th. Rarer, though far easier to see, were the two Cattle Egrets at the same locality, while Pitsford also attracted one, albeit briefly, on 12th. Seen well with a small herd of cows below the dam, this constitutes a ‘first’ for the reservoir. Elegant, though somewhat less exciting, up to four Great White Egrets continued to be seen at the same site, while Stanford Res and Stanwick mustered three a piece, Thrapston hosted two and Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Summer Leys produced singles during the period.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th December 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

Harriers were the only raptors of note this week and these included last week’s male Hen Harrier, ranging over farmland at the north-eastern extremity of Stanwick GP on 10th, 11th and 13th and a Marsh Harrier over Summer Leys LNR on 13th.

Marsh Harrier, probably juvenile female, Summer Leys LNR, 13th December 2018 (Ian Hicks)

Pitsford continued to host last week’s Ruff until 8th, as well as an adult Yellow-legged Gull and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hollowell Res, also on 8th.

A ‘new’ Short-eared Owl was discovered at the north-eastern end of Stanwick GP on 11th and the two Bearded Tits were still present at a site with no public access on the same date, while a single Crossbill flew east at Ditchford GP on 14th.

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