Rarity Round-up, 19th to 25th October 2019

With more unsettled weather afoot, chilly northerlies swung quickly to south-westerlies, bringing rain, bluster and birds. In the last week before taking the unwelcome plunge into late afternoon darkness for the next few months, leaf-fall accelerated and migration continued apace – especially where passerines were concerned – with the reservoirs at Pitsford and Stanford again delivering the best in class.

Looking set for the long haul, the adult Whooper Swan remained all week at Thrapston GP, while four adults flew north over Pitsford Res on 21st and another adult was found at Summer Leys LNR on 25th. The female Ruddy Shelduck was still at Ravensthorpe Res on 19th and the continued presence of one Red-crested Pochard at Clifford Hill GP was eclipsed by three at Pitsford on 25th. More Greater Scaup arrived this week and included three at Daventry CP on 22nd, one of which – a juvenile – remained until 25th, while the juvenile at Pitsford on 13th reappeared there on 24th.

Adult Whooper Swan, Summer Leys LNR, 25th October 2019 (Adrian Borley)

The number of Cattle Egrets present at Stanwick varied by the day and included a maximum of six on 21st, while Great Egrets were reported from the usual localities, including reservoirs at Hollowell, Pitsford and Stanford and gravel pits at Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with no more than two at any locality.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd October 2019 (Alan Coles)

Waders were understandably thin on the ground. With the recognised passage period now over and water levels at local reservoirs unseasonally high after the past few weeks’ persistent rain, it is, after all, hardly surprising. So a Ruff at Stanwick on 23rd and a Jack Snipe at Ditchford GP on 22nd, were all local observers were able to squeeze out of this week’s birding.

Just one Mediterranean Gull – a first-winter – found its way to the county this week, when a first-winter appeared in the roost at Boddington Res on 22nd, this date also producing a respectable site total of ten Yellow-legged Gulls at the same locality. Singles of the latter were also seen at Hollowell, Pitsford and Thrapston.

First-winter Mediterranean Gull, Boddington Res, 22nd October 2019 (Gary Pullan)

The first Short-eared Owl of the autumn/winter period was found on Borough Hill on 19th, quickly followed the next day by another at Harrington AF, where a Merlin was seen also on 19th, the same individual possibly accounting for one reported in the nearby Brampton Valley during the week.

Following small numbers Waxwings turning up in Orkney and Shetland as early as 2nd October and with many localities on the east coast and across the Midlands (and even Scilly) pulling in the odd bird, three making a five-minute stopover at Stanford on 25th is perhaps not as surprising as it may at first seem. Are we in for a Waxwing Winter? When and where will the next ones be in the county and who will be the claimant? The bets are on …

Much rarer locally than those jingling, colourful and charismatic berry-gobblers and altogether much less flamboyant, Woodlark remains highly prized in Northamptonshire. On 23rd, two circled Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay before flying north. With just three previous records this century (2001, 2014, 2016) and ten in the last fifty years, it’s a puzzle as to why we don’t see more. The above two, along with earlier reports of singles at Woodford on 1st January and Pitsford on 15th April, will give us our best-ever year for this species, assuming all records are formally submitted and subsequently accepted by the local records committee.

Background image: Ron Knight/Wikimedia commons

There were no more Yellow-broweds this week but continuing the rare warblers theme was an ‘eastern’ Lesser Whitethroat at Stanwick on 21st. With the east coast – particularly East Yorkshire – having produced a number of candidates for Siberian blythi and a possible Turkestan halimodendri in the past couple of weeks, its occurrence comes as no real surprise. Siberian Lesser Whitethroat has already occurred in Northants in recent years – the first, a wintering bird, in 2014 (1, 2, 3) and the second, trapped and ringed in 2015.

Firecrest, Stanford Res, 25th October 2019 (Mick Towsend)

Stanford scored another ‘back of the net’ with a Firecrest trapped and ringed on 25th. More good stuff from the Stanford Ringing Group before the autumn’s out, I’ll wager! Stonechats continued to be seen at Borough Hill, Clifford Hill, Pitsford Res, in the Brampton Valley and at Harrington AF, where vizmig fly-overs included the hunky Anthus duo of Rock Pipit and Water Pipit on 19th and 20th respectively. With five Common Crossbills flying over Stanwick on 20th, this week the passerines have it, the passerines have it!

Rarity Round-up, 12th to 18th October 2019

The weather remained largely unsettled, with heavy rain and sporadic showers, backed by blustery south to south-westerly winds during the early part of the week. The period’s highlight was a Yellow-browed Warbler, trapped and ringed … where else other than at Stanford Reservoir.

Last week’s adult Whooper Swan was present all week at Thrapston GP, where hopefully it will remain for the winter. Also remaining – though highly mobile – was at least one Ruddy Shelduck, a female having been seen at Foxholes Fisheries (Crick) on 12th and it seems likely this was the same individual seen briefly at Stanford Res later the same day and again at Ravensthorpe Res on 18th.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 12th October 2019 (Joan Chaplin)

A juvenile drake Red-crested Pochard visited Clifford Hill GP on 12th and two were present there on 15th but it was Pitsford Res which produced the best diving ducks this week, with a juvenile Greater Scaup on 13th followed by five Common Scoters two days later, on 15th. Unfortunately, this was the best we could manage during a week when, just over the county boundary in Leicestershire, Rutland Water pulled in a fine drake Lesser Scaup. Spitting distance from Northants, again, as we remain the only Midlands county to have missed out on adding this species to our list. One day, maybe, one day …

Common Scoters, Pitsford Res, 15th October 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Up to six Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick throughout, as did up to two Great Egrets with more of the latter including singles at Ditchford GP, Thrapston and Summer Leys, Two at Pitsford and three at Stanford. On 17th, Stanford also produced a Marsh Harrier, which drifted away toward the reservoir’s namesake, Stanford on Avon, in the latter half of the morning.

Great Egret, Stanwick GP, 17th October 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Wader-wise, it was again slim pickings, which consisted of a late Whimbrel flying west over Grafton Regis on 15th and a Ruff at Stanwick the following day, on 16th.

With most of them long gone, any report of a Common Sandpiper at this time of the year is guaranteed to quicken the pulse. How well was it seen? Spotted Sandpiper ruled out? So, the chances of the late example of the aforementioned Common, which turned up on the dam at Pitsford on 17th, being one of the latter surely had to be higher than normal. But no such luck. Well, this is Northamptonshire, don’t forget and, just like Lesser Scaup, we’re still owed one – big time!

And so to gulls, with Mediterranean Gull topping the bill and kicking off with a first-winter on land cleared for housing at Upton Park (Northampton) on 12th and an adult in the roost at Boddington Res on the same date, plus a second-winter there on 18th. The roost off the sailing club at Pitsford then produced an adult and a second-winter on 13th, a second-winter on 16th, an adult again on 17th and an adult plus a first-winter on 18th, while the maximum counts of Yellow-legged Gulls were nine in the roost at Pitsford on 16th and six at Boddington on 12th and 18th. Surprisingly, last week’s juvenile Arctic Tern lingered, still being at Hollowell Res on 16th.

Thanks to the IOC, ‘new order’ raptors appeared in the shape of a Merlin or two – at Harrington AF on 16th and 18th.

Once again, those hallowed nets of the Stanford Ringing Group delivered Northamptonshire’s fourteenth Yellow-browed Warbler on 12th. With more than four hundred on the east coast during the past week (and six hundred the week before that) it came as no real surprise – especially when the group’s track record is taken into consideration.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Stanford Res, 12th October 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

With Northern Willow Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, Dusky Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler and Siberian Lesser Whitethroat all ‘back of the net’ in recent years, the group is almost duty-bound to trap the obligatory Yellow-browed every year. This one is their fifth (including one at nearby Naseby Res) in addition to one which managed to avoid the nets altogether in October 2016!

Ring Ouzel, Stanford Res, 14th October 2019 (Chris Hubbard)
Ring Ouzel, Stanford Res, 14th October 2019 (Steve Nichols)

Also at Stanford, a Ring Ouzel was discovered near the dam on 15th, remaining there until the next day, when one was also found in a Spratton garden.

Male Stonechat, Brampton Valley, 12th October 2019 (Angus Molyneux)

Stonechat numbers dwindled to ones and twos at Stanford Res, Harrington AF and in the Brampton Valley, while what seems highly likely to be the last Northern Wheatear was the bird lingering on the dam at Pitsford Res from last week until 15th.

Rarity Round-up, 5th-11th October 2019

An unsettled week with a strong, predominantly westerly airflow saw a couple of potentially weather-related arrivals in the respective shapes of Dark-bellied Brent Goose and Gannet, amid more winter thrushes and the autumn’s first Bramblings.

At least some reward for a seemingly endless succession of early morning visits by one observer to Stanwick GP appeared in the form of a Dark-bellied Brent Goose on the Main Lake there, albeit briefly, on 6th. Further down the valley, at Thrapston GP, there was speculation that the adult Whooper Swan there on 7th-8th was last winter’s ‘ugly duckling’ all grown up and back for the winter. Let’s see if it stays. Meanwhile, in the north of the county, the roving Ruddy Shelducks were still making sporadic appearances – the drake at Stanford Res on 8th and the female returning to Hollowell Res on 10th.

Drake Ruddy Shelduck, Stanford Res, 8th October 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Up to six Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick until at least 10th, the same site being visited by a Great Egret on 5th and again on 10th. Great Egrets were also at Ditchford GP on 5th, Stanford on 6th and 8th, Thrapston on 6th-7th, Pitsford Res on 7th and 9th and Summer Leys LNR on 9th-10th. Two were also at the latter locality on 5th and 7th and at Pitsford on 5th and 6th, while three visited Stanford on 11th.

It would have been surprising if we hadn’t had at least one seabird in the county over the past couple of weeks, so the juvenile Gannet found grounded at Gretton Weir on 8th was not entirely unexpected, even if the locality in which it occurred was. Discovered shortly before midday, it had disappeared when the observer returned later in the day. September is the peak month in Northants but early October has also produced numerous records.

Juvenile Gannet, Gretton, 8th October 2019 (Harriet Crawford)

And by the time we hit October it’s usually all over for the waders – this year so far proving to be no exception. A Ruff at Stanwick on 6th and the two Greenshanks remaining at Pitsford until the same date constituted this week’s meagre tally.

Conversely, Mediterranean Gull was well represented by a mix of ages, primarily at the Pitsford gull roost, where two first-winters and a second-winter were present on 5th, single second-winters on 6th and 8th, an adult and three first-winters on 7th and an adult on 10th. Elsewhere, a first-winter was at Panattoni Park (Northampton) on 7th and the gull roost at Boddington Res produced an adult on 10th, as well as an adult hybrid Mediterranean Gull x Black-headed Gull on 8th.

Mediterranean Gull x Black-headed Gull, Boddington Res, 8th October 2019 (Gary Pullan)

Hollowell Res produced the only Caspian Gull of the week, a first-winter on 10th, while the maximum count of Yellow-legged Gulls was ten in the roost at Pitsford on 5th and single-figure counts came from Boddington and Hollowell. A juvenile Arctic Tern, typically late, was found at the latter locality on 10th.

Passerine migrants were unsurprisingly on the wane this week although, in the wake of hundreds of recent east coast records, a Yellow-browed Warbler was reported in flight in a Duston (Northampton) garden on 7th. Common Redstarts hung on with one in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton on 5th, while Stonechats were seen in ones

Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 8th October 2019 (Mike Alibone)
Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 10th October 2019 (Martin Swannell)

and twos at Brampton Valley, Harrington AF, Panattoni Park and Pitsford, although four were at Hollowell on 10th. Northern Wheatears were still represented by singles at Panattoni Park on 5th-6th, Harrington on 6th and Pitsford from 6th to 10th.

Pitsford Pied Wagtail: seeing things in black and white

When Matthew Care posted two tweets containing mobile phone images of a Pied Wagtail on Pitsford dam showing, as he put it, ‘isolated black breast and white wing patch’, it appeared, at least in some quarters, that there were enough ingredients there to alert local birders to the possibility that it might be something worth investigating.

Amur Wagtail was flagged up as a possibility. However remote this may seem, this south-east Asian subspecies has already reached Britain (see here) and the classic eastern vagrant month of October would surely be a prime time to find one.

The images, taken only with a mobile phone camera, left a lot to be desired from an ID perspective, as well as leaving a lot to the imagination, thus telling only half the story. The bird depicted in the images, despite also looking unusually ‘white-faced’ (the origin of the scientific name leucopsis for the Amur race of White Wagtail) was surely just a Pied Wagtail, wasn’t it? It is well known that pictures can lie and it had to be worth a look, to be sure, to be sure.

The bird was in the same place, on the wall of the valve tower walkway, when I arrived late afternoon and after a quick look, I set up my camera to get some digiscoped shots. Unfortunately, at the same time, an Anglian Water engineer proceeded down the walkway and entered the tower. The bird quickly took flight and I was left with the rather messy images, below.

While the bird did indeed show a lot of white in the wing (formed by unusually broad white fringes to median coverts, greater coverts and tertials – probably freshly moulted and unworn) and an isolated, triangular black breast patch, it was the latter which lent the impression of a greater extent of white to the head. Although there are published images (see here for example) of Amur Wagtail showing the same amount of white in the wing as this bird appears to, the ‘norm’ for Amur Wagtail is more of an extensive white ‘block’ which, when combined with clean white flanks, gives this race a much cleaner, more striking appearance than the bird at Pitsford. Indeed it’s the extensive grey and blackish flanks of the Pitsford individual which, at a glance, kill the chances of it being anything other than the Pied it actually is.

However, there is nothing wrong with flagging up anything which, at first sight, appears unusual – lest something juicy should slip the net …

Rarity Round-up, 28th September to 4th October 2019

At the beginning of the period, things augured well for the end of the week, as ex-Hurricane Lorenzo looked set to deposit a scattering of inland seabirds. Unfortunately, by the time it reached the UK, it was full out of puff and brought only disappointment. As soon as September clicked into October, however, day one of the ‘magic month’ produced the first local Redwings of the autumn. Apart from that, Slavonian Grebe, Spoonbill and Spotted Redshank stole the show.

Another autumn ‘first’ appeared in the shape of six Pink-footed Geese over the Brampton Valley on 4th and Ruddy Shelducks were seen at Stanford Res and Pitsford Res on 28th and 29th respectively. A Garganey appeared briefly at Summer Leys LNR on 3rd and further up the valley, a drake Red-crested Pochard was on show at Clifford Hill GP from 28th to 2nd.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Clifford Hill GP, 30th September 2019 (Bob Bullock)

The two Slavonian Grebes – believed to be just ‘one-day’ birds at Clifford Hill on 16th – were seen there again from 28th until 30th, with only one present on 3rd. Surprisingly easy to overlook, clearly they had been there all the time throughout the intervening period. In a bizarre turn of events, one was picked up dead below a Peregrine roost site in Kettering on 3rd, leading to speculation that it may have been from Clifford Hill.

Slavonian Grebe, found dead, Kettering 3rd October 2019 (Bob Bullock)

A Spoonbill – only the third for the county this year – flew high north over Stanford Res on 28th, while on the Cattle Egret trail, the Stanwick six were seen on 2nd and 4th. Single Great Egrets were seen, on and off, at Pitsford, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP throughout the week.

Raptors at large this week were Ospreys at Thrapston GP on 30th and 2nd and a Marsh Harrier in the Brampton Valley on 29th.

Last week’s juvenile Little Stint remained at Boddington Res until 1st, while the fifth Spotted Redshank of the autumn was discovered at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 3rd, remaining there the following morning before quickly relocating to nearby Stanwick. Pitsford was again the favoured locality for Greenshanks, with two still on the dam on 29th, at least one of which remained until 4th.

Greenshank, Pitsford Res, 29th September 2019 (Mike Alibone)

A first-winter Little Gull flew through Boddington Res on 4th, a second-winter Mediterranean Gull was again at Pitsford on 29th and single-figure numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were also at this locality, Thrapston, and Stanwick, with the maximum count of four at the latter site on 4th.

The first Short-eared Owl of the autumn-winter period was found at Harrington AF on 30th and what is almost certainly the last ‘Common’ Swift was seen flying north over Corby on 2nd. Interestingly, however, the observer did not identify it to species and so it should really be relegated to swift sp., as October is normally the month of the year reserved exclusively for those seriously rare Apus boys … Although the last Hobbies are now passing through, another master of the skies was present at Harrington AF on 3rd, when the third Merlin of the autumn was watched chasing Meadow Pipits there.

Harrington was also the venue for what may well turn out to be the last Common Redstart of the year, with one there on 30th. Two were also present at Borough Hill on 28th. Significantly more Whinchats coming through compared to last week included up to two at Clifford Hill and Borough Hill between 28th and 30th and the same number in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton between 29th and 4th.

Whinchat, Clifford Hill GP, 30th September 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Stonechats continued to arrive in numbers, with Brampton Valley, Clifford Hill, Harrington, Neville’s Lodge (Finedon), Pitsford Res and Stanford Res producing up to two and Borough Hill between eight and ten on 30th. Northern Wheatears were down to singles at both Borough Hill and Clifford Hill on 28th and Pitsford Res on 4th.

Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 4th October 2019 (Richard How)

Following last week’s Rock Pipit at Daventry CP, one was at Pitsford on 30th and another at Stanwick on 4th and to round off, fifteen Crossbills flew north-west over Borough Hill on 30th.