The two weeks immediately following the winter solstice proved largely mild and dry, cooling down only after the winds swung northerly during the last two days of the period. A fair proportion of the birds present in the run up to Christmas made it into the New Year, the first ‘white-winged’ gull of the winter appeared and a locally sought-after species, usually considered a scarce migrant, ensured the first day of 2019 kicked off with a bit of class.
Bucking the trend of the long-stayers, the adult Bewick’s Swan, which had appeared settled at Pitsford Res after it first arrived on 5th December, did a bunk after the first day of the period, while reports of the similarly ensconced Whooper Swans at the same locality dried up beyond 29th. A first-winter Whooper paid a brief visit to a small lake near Purston, south of Farthinghoe NR, before flying off on the latter date, while the bird of the same age remained at Thrapston GP throughout. The only geese appearing during the period were a Barnacle Goose at Stanwick GP between 1st and 4th and a Pink-footed Goose there again on the latter date. Back at Pitsford, Red-crested Pochard numbers topped fourteen between 31st and 2nd, four were at Stanford Res on 27th with one remaining into the New Year, the drake was still at Hollowell Res on 22nd, two visited Thrapston GP on 30th,one was at Stanwick GP on 28th and another, or the same, at nearby Ringstead GP on 4th. Remaining faithful to Pitsford’s north side, the drake Ring-necked Duck continued its stay at the reservoir throughout the period and a female Scaup was also found there on 26th.
Elsewhere, the first-winter or hybrid Scaup was still at Ditchford GP on 2nd and the first-winter remained at Thrapston GP until at least 22nd. At Pitsford, the elusive drake Smew was seen again on 22nd and 26th, while the two young Great Northern Divers remained until at least 2nd with at least one until 4th.
Up to five Great Egrets continued to be seen at Pitsford, while Thrapston GP hosted four – possibly five – Stanford Res and Summer Leys held three a piece and singles were found at Ditchford GP/Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, Earls Barton GP, Fawsley Park Lake, Foxholes Fisheries (Crick) and Hollowell Res.
Stanwick’s second-winter male Hen Harrier disappeared over the Christmas period but was back on 1st, visiting nearby Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows the following day before returning to Stanwick on 3rd-4th. The juvenile last seen at Stanford Res on 16th was back on 28th, remaining until at least 1st.
Bit of @StanwickLakes Hen Harrier footage from just now (13:30) Mega pleased to finally catch up with this bird ! #Northantsbirds pic.twitter.com/rwolT2E3HB
— Tom Green (@Green_Tom_) January 3, 2019
On the somewhat narrow wader front, Stanwick produced two Black-tailed Godwits on 28th, while Hollowell Res hung on to its Jack Snipe on 1st and one was found by the River Nene at Burton Latimer Pocket Park on 30th.
Winter is traditionally gulling time and the period gave rise to an adult Mediterranean Gull at Daventry CP on 27th and 31st, the wintering adult Yellow-legged Gull was remained at Pitsford throughout with further adults at Hollowell Res on 22nd and 1st and Daventry CP on 27th and a second-winter was found at the latter site on 31st. There were more Caspian Gulls than the previous species, with a second-winter at Hollowell Res on 22nd and a first-winter and fourth-winter at Daventry CP on 31st but Rushton Landfill produced the most, with a third-winter on 24th, a first-winter and a second-winter on 28th and a first-winter again on 4th. Rushton was also the site which produced the first ‘white-winger’ of the winter, a juvenile Iceland Gull on 28th. However, with the closure of many local landfills (remember Sidegate Lane, Weldon and Welford?) Glaucous and Iceland Gulls are destined to become more difficult to catch up with in the future.
In what many birders no doubt would regard as a more hospitable environment, the grasslands of Neville’s Lodge near Finedon produced a Short-eared Owl on Christmas Day, followed by two there on 4th. One was also seen at Stanford Res on 27th. Bird of the week, however, must surely be the Woodlark found on a BTO survey of farmland near Woodford on New Year’s Day. This species is by no means annual in the county and there has not been a twitchable one for many years. Also potentially rare but all too readily dismissed as ‘just a sub’, is Nordic Jackdaw, one of which put in a brief appearance at Daventry CP on 3rd. After a surge of interest back in the early 2000s, when they became all the rage, records of this eastern European form, monedula, seem, perplexingly, to elicit little attention these days. Ah well, c’est la vie …