Rarity Round-up, 22nd to 28th June 2019

After a dry start, the week went through a short dull and damp phase before becoming rather bright and breezy. Local winds remained mainly north/north-easterly while, nationally, a more southerly vector kicked in. Migration was expectedly slow for the masses, evidenced only by a handful of returning waders, while this week’s highlights, an audible European Bee-eater and a visible Spoonbill presented to just two lucky observers.

The first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res all week while, ducking and diving, three Red-crested Pochards appeared at Clifford Hill GP on 22nd during a period understandably quiet for wildfowl.

Following the Common Quail at Mears Ashby and Sywell on 15th, two were heard again at the first of these two localities on 23rd and one on 24th but their uncharacteristic reticence, shortly after discovery, made them immensely difficult to nail. One was also heard briefly near Kentle Wood, Daventry on 22nd before the locality fell silent. Local birders wanting to catch up with this species, this year, clearly need to be quick, quick, quick off the mark …

Stanwick GP’s two Cattle Egrets moved from its northern extremity to the main lake between 24th and 26th and at least one remained on 27th. Arguably better, though, was this week’s star bird, a Spoonbill which, unfortunately harassed by local Black-headed Gulls, failed in its attempt to alight on the scrape at Summer Leys LNR on 22nd and headed off high west instead. Of late, Spoonbill has been a much more difficult species to catch up with locally than Cattle Egret. Clearly rarer in terms of number of records, the latter has now provided many more available ‘bird-days’ than Spoonbill, which tends to be short-staying and highly transitory, with many fly-over records. One notable exception was a flock of eight, which remained in the shallows at Pitsford Res between 29th September and 14th October 1984, in the good old days, when the section north of the causeway featured mud, mud, glorious mud.

First-summer Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd June 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

With regular Hollowell observers apparently AWOL this week, there were no reports of Ospreys from this site during the period. Instead, examples of this adept aerial angler were seen at both Pitsford Res and Thrapston GP on 22nd and at Biggin Lake, Oundle on 27th.

Osprey, Thrapston GP, 22nd June 2019 (Ady Leybourne)

Among small numbers of returning Common and Green Sandpipers, this week, was a Grey Plover, found at Ravensthorpe Res on 26th and four Black-tailed Godwits in flight over Summer Leys on the same date, while another Black-tailed Godwit was on the scrape at the latter site on 28th.

Totally eclipsing the Spoonbill in terms of sheer rarity, a European Bee-eater was heard calling three times in flight over Byfield on 28th, remaining frustratingly invisible to the finder. This would represent only the 4th for Northamptonshire, following accepted records in 1995, when 2 were at Ditchford GP on 5th May, in 1997 when one was at Oundle Cemetery on 13th May and in 2003, when one was near Badby on 31st May.

Not quite as colourful were two male Common Redstarts – one at Moreton Pinkney on 22nd and the other at Lamport on 26th. More to come as we move into July – the gateway to autumn.

Rarity Round-up, 8th to 21st June 2019

With below average temperatures, high winds and twice the month’s expected rainfall in two days, June is now odds on to be the wettest on record. The county was deluged by heavy rain during the first week of the review period, resulting in disaster for many ground-nesting birds around bodies of water and in other low-lying areas. Unsurprisingly, there were few new migrants reported.

Now seemingly ensconced at Hollowell Res, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained throughout the period, while the only other waterfowl conceivably vying for attention was a drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford  Res on 15th-17th.

The first Common Quail of the year was a singing male, just north of Mears Ashby, early on 15th. Unfortunately, it did not linger and it later emerged that what was very likely to have been the same individual was also reported singing from a field at Sywell, 2 km due west, on the same date. Although June is generally recognised as the month, this species is unpredictable in its occurrence in the county. The perception that it is becoming rarer locally is not necessarily true, as the analysis of records, below, illustrates. Occurrences peaked in Northants in the 1990s although, prior to that decade, with four blank years (1973-75 and 1985) Quails look to have been rarer than they appear to be today, which is surprising. But are they being overlooked? [see here]                                                                                                                          This species is declining as a result, in part, of uncontrolled netting of migrating birds, particularly in Egypt, where Quail trapping is now taking place on an unsustainable, commercial scale. In Europe agricultural intensification has led to the loss of rough grass and uncultivated land and an increase in the use of herbicides and insecticides, which has led to a reduction on the availability of weeds, seeds and insects. In Europe the population size is estimated to be fluctuating and Quail is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (BirdLife International 2018, 2019).

Up to two Cattle Egrets remained at the northern end of Stanwick GP throughout, with one venturing south, down to the main lake, before flying toward Ditchford GP on 10th. Moving up the size scale, with none reported since 29th May, Northants did not manage to stay Great Egret-free for long, as one appeared at Thrapston GP on 14th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 10th June 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, Hollowell maintained its reliability for Osprey sightings with one on 8th, 9th and 14th, while two were there on 12th. Elsewhere, singles visited Pitsford on 11th and Thrapston on 14th and 18th.

The adult Yellow-legged Gull remained at Hollowell between 8th and 14th, visiting nearby Ravensthorpe on 11th and another adult was at Stanwick on 17th, while the only passerine of the period was a Crossbill, which flew over Yardley Chase’s Denton Wood on 17th.

Rarity Round-up, 31st May to 7th June 2019

As we entered the summer lull, a westerly to south-westerly airstream initially brought a heady mix of mid-twenties temperatures and dry sunny conditions, later followed by sunshine and showers. ‘Storm Miguel’, a swirling low pressure system moving north from Iberia, brought rain on gathering south-easterlies at the very end of a not too species-rich period.

Last week’s newly arrived Ruddy Shelduck moved from Ravensthorpe Res and remained settled at nearby Hollowell Res throughout the period. Might it remain into the summer to moult and become temporarily flightless, as others have done in previous years?

First-summer female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 5th June 2019 (Mike Alibone)
First-summer female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 6th June 2019 (Jon Cook). The grey centres to the outer three greater coverts, just visible in the image, age this bird as a first-summer and the white face mask barely contrasting with the remainder of the rather worn and faded head sex it as a female.

In the first Great Egret-free week of 2019, remaining throughout were the three Cattle Egrets at the northern end of Stanwick GP, mirroring the small flocks currently residing in north Norfolk.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 1st June 2019 (Alan Coles)
Osprey, Hollowell Res, 1st June 2019 (Alan Coles)

Coming to the fore, Ospreys were reported from five localities, with Hollowell – highest in the reliability stakes – producing birds on 31st, 1st, 2nd and 5th, followed by singles at Biggin Lake (Oundle) on 1st, Thrapston GP on 2nd, flying north over Irthlingborough on 3rd and at Pitsford Res on 5th.

The only migrant wader this week was a Grey Plover, found at Hollowell on 7th.

Little Tern, Wicksteed Park Lake, 31st May 2019 (Alan Francis)
Little Tern, Wicksteed Park Lake, 31st May 2019 (Alan Francis)

Further scarce migrants appeared in the shape of two Little Terns, surprisingly suburban, at Wicksteed Park Lake (Kettering) on 31st. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they did not linger and neither did the first-summer Arctic Tern, which appeared at Summer Leys on 1st.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st June 2019 (Matt Hazleton)
First-summer Arctic Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st June 2019 (Matt Hazleton)

An adult Yellow-legged Gull kept the larids afloat this week, with an adult mobile between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe on 5th.

Short-eared Owl, Grendon, 6th June 2019 (Ken Prouse)

Somewhat unseasonal for Northamptonshire, a Short-eared Owl was observed between Grendon and Easton Maudit on 6th, moving on after a brief interaction with a hunting Barn Owl.