Rarity Round-up, 29th June to 5th July 2019

As Southern England basked in 34°C on the first day of the period, Northampton hit 30°C ahead of an overnight drop as cooler air moved in from the Atlantic, sweeping away the humidity and setting a dry and bright scene for the remainder of the week. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘first’ for Northamptonshire caught locals off guard, leaving them somewhat dazed, but is it really all over … ?

While the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res, two Red-crested Pochards were at Pitsford Res on 3rd-4th and the peripatetic, post-captive female Bufflehead was once again back in the county, visiting Sixfields Lake at Stortons GP on 29th. It then decided to ‘do’ neighbouring Buckinghamshire, appearing at  Floodplain Forest NR, Old Wolverton on 2nd – just across the county line.

Female Bufflehead, Floodplain Forest NR, Wolverton, Buckinghamshire, 2nd July 2019 (Angi Harrell)

The run of largely unavailable Common Quails continued with one barely audible individual reported from Harrington AF on 1st. It’s now looking like a tricky year for this species.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 4th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, Stanwick GP’s two Cattle Egrets stuck around to feed by the main lake until at least 4th but another long-legged, largely white, wetland bird in the shape of a Sacred Ibis made headlines at Clipston on 3rd, as it sat around on a house roof, eyeing up the local chickens. An escape most likely but a wanderer from the established French feral population cannot be ruled out.

Sacred Ibis, Clipston, 3rd July 2019 (Steve Carpenter)

In a lean week for Ospreys, one flew over Deene Lake on 2nd and another was at Pitsford Res, early on 5th.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 30th June 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

Wader passage continued to trickle along with Summer Leys monopolising Black-tailed Godwits, the site producing one on 29th, four and a further eleven on 30th, 2 on 1st and thirty-five on 2nd.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 30th June 2019 (Adrian Borley)

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd July 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

Double-figure flock sizes are no longer unusual – a far cry from when this species was an ‘irregular passage migrant’ in the 1970s, when there were just two or three records per year. Were all those birds islandica or did we get any limosa, during an era when they were more abundant in Europe? There have been large and well-documented declines in the mainland European breeding population of the nominate subspecies of between 50-60% (BirdLife International 2015). For example, in the Netherlands the population decreased dramatically from 120,000-135,000 pairs in 1969 potentially to 33,000 pairs in 2015. The population of  islandica, in contrast, has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades, although this increase may be levelling out and this subpopulation represents a relatively small part of the global population. A recent analysis based on published literature, survey data and expert opinions from throughout the species range suggests that, overall, the global population may have declined at a mean rate of approximately 23% over 25 years leading up to 2015 (BirdLife International 2019). Also at Summer Leys, a male Ruff appeared on 5th.

Moving on to Larids, single Yellow-legged Gulls appeared at Hollowell Res on 2nd and at Stanwick GP on 3rd, ahead of the now established late summer build-up.

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 3rd July

On the passerine front, there were 2 Common Redstarts – an adult and a juvenile – at  Arbury Hill, west of Badby, on 2nd. But making the most noise this week, a little gem pulled from a ringer’s net in Pitsford’s Walgrave Bay on 4th was quickly logged as the county’s first Red-breasted Flycatcher – a moulting adult female. Well, we didn’t see that one coming! The anticipated mass turnout for this Northamptonshire ‘first’ simply didn’t materialise and the resulting, incomprehensible lack of observer coverage subsequent to the event surely played a significant part in its not being relocated. A quick scamper through the literature reveals that July records are not unprecedented and Sharrock (Scarce Migrant Birds in Britain and Ireland, 1974) identifies an occurrence window between late April and early July and classifies these as spring migrants, with all records from mid-August onwards categorised, quite rightly, as scarce autumn visitors. Adults moult on, or close to, their breeding grounds between July and September, suggesting this is a non-breeder. Is it still out there … somewhere …?

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