Rarity Round-up, 23rd-29th November 2019

Dull, dank, murky drizzle dominated the week’s weather as low pressure once again dragged in copious moisture off the Atlantic. Notable wildfowl were back on the menu, while scarce passerines maintained their prominence.

The first Bewick’s Swans to occur at Stanford Res since 2007 arrived on the afternoon of 24th. The herd, comprising five adults and four juveniles, was still present at lights out but they were nowhere to be seen first thing the following morning. This is the only record of this species in the current year, so far, in Northamptonshire.

Adult Bewick’s Swan, Stanford Res, 24th November 2019 (Chris Hubbard). One of nine present.

More of a fixture, the adult Whooper Swan remained at Thrapston GP on 23rd and the drake Red-crested Pochard at Summer Leys LNR maintained its presence all week. The latter locality also continued to host the ‘redhead’ Smew, now enjoying the beginning of its 5th week on site. Snatching the ducks deluxe award this week, on 24th, was a Red-breasted Merganser – a fine, spiky-haired drake, which was initially found off the dam before quickly relocating to the vicinity of Catwalk Bay, prior to equally quickly flying off, never to be seen again. Formerly seen virtually annually, this species has become scarce and much sought after in the county, the last being seen at Stanwick GP in January 2016.

Narrowly preserving its weekly appearance in these summaries, just one Cattle Egret was logged at Stanwick GP, on 24th, while Great Egrets maintained their presence in ones and twos at Ditchford GP, Pitsford Res, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with Stanford hosting three on 27th.

Just about keeping raptors afloat, a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier was hunting over fields between Scaldwell and Old on 28th while similarly, on the wader front, the sole representative this week was again a Black-tailed Godwit – this time at Stanwick on 24th and 27th.

We’re not quite in season with true winter gulls yet but a third-winter Caspian Gull was on the flood pools at DIRFT 3 on 28th, along with an adult Yellow-legged Gull. Up to two of the latter species were also present at Pitsford between 24th and 28th, the same site continuing to play host to the long-staying adult Mediterranean Gull, looking fit and healthy apart from a gammy right leg and foot.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res, 24th November 2019 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res, 24th November 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Fifty shades of grey may be more than apt to describe the past week’s weather but it’s equally applicable to the bird topping the bill for the second week running, the Great Grey Shrike at DIRFT 3. Appearing to have done a bunk by 25th, it was back on station, large as life – minus its parasitic friend – on 28th. DIRFT 3 also retained its Short-eared Owls, with three still present on 25th, while another was seen flying over the A510 and across allotments between Wellingborough and Finedon on 29th.

Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 28th November 2019 (Mike Alibone)

A Firecrest showed well, if only briefly, to members of the Peterborough Bird Club on an awayday to Summer Leys on 24th. There must surely be more of these little gems just waiting to be found wintering in the extensive river valley scrub along the Nene. Meanwhile, Stonechats were reduced to just singles seen at Stanford, Summer Leys, Thrapston and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering) and Hawfinch once again made it into the week’s round-up, with one in flight at Salcey Forest on 27th.

Rarity Round-up, 16th to 22nd November 2019

Although the weather was again largely dominated by Atlantic low pressure systems, last week’s heavy rain subsided, allowing local floodwater a chance to drain away – at least in part. The end of the period saw milder conditions resulting from a warmer, continental airstream from the south-east. This week’s top birds were again all based on terra firma, further extending this great autumn’s run of passerines.

Not always readily viewable, the adult Whooper Swan remained at Thrapston GP throughout and three adults were logged flying east over Summer Leys on 17th. The long-staying and highly mobile female Ruddy Shelduck, which turned up at Foxholes Fisheries, near Crick, last week, remained until at least 16th and reports of  Red-crested Pochards dwindled to two at Thrapston between 18th and 21st and a single drake at Summer Leys LNR from 19th until the week’s end. The ‘redhead’ Smew, found at Pitsford Res on 13th, was still present on 17th while the Summer Leys ‘redhead’ also remained throughout the period.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Summer Leys LNR, 20th November 2019 (Alan Coles)

Back on the menu this week … Cattle Egrets at Stanwick GP. Three were present daily between 17th and 19th but four assembled in the small cattle field between Roadside Lake and the Fishing Lakes on 20th. There was also a better showing of Great Egrets this week, with twos at both Pitsford and Summer Leys and singles, on and off, at Ditchford GP, Foxholes Fisheries (Crick), Stanford Res and Stanwick. Last but not least, the only other wetland bird of the week was a Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys on 22nd.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 20th November 2019 (Alan Coles)

Raptors were thin on the ground and in the air but the ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier was still present in the DIRFT 3/Lilbourne Meadows area on 17th, as were up to three Short-eared Owls throughout the period, and two – possibly three – were still at Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) between 16th and 18th. Merlins continued to be seen, with singles at Pitsford Res on 16th, Croughton Quarry on 17th and in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton on 19th.

Short-eared Owl, DIRFT 3, 22nd November 2019 (Martin Swannell)

Bird of the week, at least for some, was a crisp and charismatic adult Great Grey Shrike at DIRFT 3 development area, between Lilbourne and Crick, from 17th until the week’s end. This is only the second in the county this year, following one near Scaldwell in December 2018 and the long-staying and well-watched bird in the Brampton Valley during winter 2018-2019. Prior that, the last was in February 2015.

Great Grey Shrike with small mammal prey item, DIRFT 3, 17th November 2019 (Mike Alibone)
Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 20th November 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 20th November 2019 (Bob Bullock)
Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 22nd November 2019 (Wayne Weedon)

Stealing a march on said shrike – but only in terms of tonal palette – a smart male Bearded Tit was discovered close to the Visitor Centre at Stanwick on 16th, remaining there until the following morning to demonstrate its flamboyance before heading off east, never to be seen again. It’s early days as far as winter is concerned so there’s a high likelihood of more appearing over the forthcoming weeks.

Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 17th November 2019 (Bob Bullock)
Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 17th November 2019 (Bob Bullock)

For the third week running, a Siberian Chiffchaff was discovered – this time at Ringstead GP. Unfortunately, like the other three, it quickly melted away into the scrub, eluding even those who were quick off the mark. Scrub, farmland and wetlands continued to produce Stonechats, which were seen in the Brampton Valley, at DIRFT 3, Stanford and Pitsford Res, with a maximum of four at the latter site on 16th. Back to brute and charisma now, with two Hawfinches frequenting the trees by the track along the north side of Fotheringhay Castle on 21st. Despite the recent winter invasion, this is a species which never fails to impress and delight.

Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th November 2019

Low pressure dominated the period, bringing significantly heavy rain which, backed principally by north-easterlies, resulted in considerable flooding of low-lying areas. The Nene Valley bore the brunt but arguably produced the best birds of the week.

Clearly spoilt for choice with the availability of the expanding floodwater, commoner wildfowl appeared in areas that would normally see none. Immediately west of Northampton, for example, the extensively flooded Kislingbury Meadows, at its aqua alta, played host to a couple of Shelducks, as well as to small numbers of Tufted Ducks and even Pochard. At the other end of the county, at Thrapston GP, the adult Whooper Swan was still present until at least 11th, while back over to the west, the female Ruddy Shelduck, which went unreported last week, popped up at Foxholes Fisheries, near Crick, on 12th where, it emerged, she had been holed up for a good few days. North of the causeway at Pitsford Res, Red-crested Pochard numbers increased to six on 12th, while three visited Thrapston on 11th and the Clifford Hill GP drake was joined by a second one from 9th until at least 12th. The juvenile drake Greater Scaup remained at Daventry CP all week and Pitsford’s Pintail Bay was the venue for the discovery of a female Common Scoter on 10th, before two more were found in close proximity the following day.

Common Scoter Pitsford Res, 11th November 2019 (Richard How)

The latter location also produced the second ‘redhead’ Smew of the autumn, on 13th, while Summer Leys retained its own ‘redhead’ until at least 11th, before it was relocated on Mary’s Lake, across the lane of the same name, at Earls Barton GP.

Also at Summer Leys, sporadic in-flight appearances of Bittern continued with one there on 12th, while another was also seen flying between Fawsley and Everdon on 9th. Reports of Great Egrets were down on recent weeks, with up to two at Pitsford between 10th and 13th and singles at Thrapston on 9th, Summer Leys between 10th and 13th and at Stanwick GP on 12th.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 12th November 2019 (Jamie Barrera)

On the raptor front, another Marsh Harrier was found – this time flying west at Oundle on 12th and a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier was hunting over DIRFT 3 and adjacent Lilbourne Meadows LNR on 9th-10th, while a ‘ringtail’ harrier sp. was reported from the Brampton Valley, near Cottesbrooke, on 14th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Stanford Res, 10th November 2019 (Steve Nichols)

The Pitsford adult Mediterranean Gull was again in the roost there on 11th and 14th and just one Yellow-legged Gull was reported this week – an adult at Stanford Res on 10th.

Short-eared Owls were found at three localities – one, a presumed migrant, at Stanford Res on 9th, while last week’s DIRFT 3 two were quartering the adjacent Lilbourne Meadows area on 13th and one was still at Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) on 13th and 15th. The Harrington AF Merlin was seen there again on 10th and singles were also in the Brampton Valley and at Stanford Res on 15th.

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 9th November 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Following last week’s Siberian Chiffchaff, trapped and ringed at Stanford, two more were discovered in willows at a heavily waterlogged Ditchford GP on 15th – as ‘half-predicted’ in the last round-up – while just across the A6, at Stanwick, a Firecrest was trapped and ringed on 10th.

Firecrest, Stanwick GP, 10th November 2019 (Stanwick Lakes posts/RSPB Ringing Group)

Lastly, Stonechats continued to be seen in twos in the Brampton Valley, at DIRFT 3 and Clifford Hill GP with three at Pitsford Res and one at Stanford.

Rarity Round-up, 2nd to 8th November 2019

An unsettled week with a variable wind direction, sporadic heavy showers, low cloud and drizzle. Against a backcloth of visible passerine migration, a Siberian Chiffchaff at Stanford Reservoir was arguably the week’s highlight.

This week’s wintering wildfowl numbers were on the up but unevenly distributed with, for example, Pitsford Res and Summer Leys LNR holding relatively good numbers, while in stark contrast the reservoirs at Ravensthorpe and Hollowell barely mustered a handful of common ducks between them. The adult Whooper Swan remained on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake and six flew north over Stanford Res on 8th, the latter site seeing the reappearance of the drake Ruddy Shelduck for one day only, on 6th, although the more regularly encountered female in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area failed to materialise this week.

Drake Ruddy Shelduck, Stanford Res, 6th November 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Up to four Red-crested Pochards continued to favour the northern section of Pitsford Res, three visited Stanford on 3rd and the Clifford Hill GP drake was still present on 7th.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Clifford Hill GP, 7th November 2019 (Mike Alibone)

In the west of the county, at Daventry CP, an adult female and juvenile drake Greater Scaup were present on 4th-5th, the juvenile remaining until 7th, while the Summer Leys ‘redhead’ Smew remained on 2nd and then went missing before its reappearance there on 7th-8th.

Also at Summer Leys, what was presumably last week’s Bittern was again seen briefly in flight on 8th and further down the Nene Valley, at Stanwick GP, the five Cattle Egrets materialised once more on 4th. Stanwick again produced the week’s highest count of Great Egrets with three on 6th, while two were seen at both Pitsford and Thrapston and singles were at  Ditchford GP, Stanford, Summer Leys and Maidwell.

Last week’s Marsh Harrier reappeared at Stanford Res on 3rd, another flew west over Summer Leys’ scrape on 8th and for the second week running, a Jack Snipe at Hollowell on 7th was again the period’s only notable wader.

Just three Mediterranean Gulls included the Pitsford adult on 2nd, 4th-5th and 8th, a second-winter in the gull roost at Boddington Res on 5th and another adult in the roost at Stanford on 5th and 7th-8th. A third-winter Caspian Gull visited Daventry CP on 5th and a thin scattering of Yellow-legged Gulls included a third-winter and the usual one or two adults at Pitsford, single adults at Stanford on 3rd and Daventry on 5th and three adults in the roost at Boddington, also on 5th.

With numerous migrant ‘shorties’ recently logged ‘in-off’ on the east coast, more Short-eared Owls were found this week, with at least two at DIRFT 3 on 6th and one at the more traditional wintering site of Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) on the same date, followed by two there the following evening.

Short-eared Owl, DIRFT 3, 6th November 2019 (Mike Alibone)

The lengthy North Sea crossings between Norway, Britain and Eire made by a satellite-tagged individual over two years, documented here, outlines just what an amazing traveller this species can be. One of last week’s Merlins was again at Harrington AF on 4th and 8th.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Stanford Res, 6th November 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Another scarce late autumn migrant coming through on the east coast at present is Siberian Chiffchaff, one of which was trapped and ringed at Stanford on 6th. Hopefully one or two will be discovered locally as winter progresses. The Stanford ringers also trapped a very late Willow Warbler on the same date. This is probably the latest recorded in autumn in the county, notwithstanding three seen in December 1974, at Pitsford Res (2 on 15th) and Duston (one on 20th) which were considered to have been wintering.

Stonechat, Thrapston GP, 4th November 2019 (Nick Parker)

Lastly, Stonechats continued to be seen in ones and twos at DIRFT 3, Pitsford, Summer Leys and Thrapston, while four were at Hollowell on 7th.

Rarity Round-up, 26th October to 1st November 2019

A change of month, a change of clocks and a change of wind direction back to easterlies resulted in a few new birds, the first autumnal frost on 28th and the arrival of the county’s first Smew of the ‘winter’ at Summer Leys on the last day of the week.

The adult Whooper Swan remained all week on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake and a juvenile was found in the Tove Valley, east of Grafton Regis, on 29th, although it did not linger.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 27th October 2019 (Paul Crotty)

At Hollowell Res, the female Ruddy Shelduck put in an appearance on 27th before moving to nearby Ravensthorpe Res later in the day, while the three Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res had become four by 29th and the Clifford Hill GP bird was still present on 30th. In the west of the county, last week’s juvenile Greater Scaup remained at Daventry CP until at least 31st, while the juvenile at Pitsford was still present off the sailing club on 26th – the same date a female was reported at Summer Leys LNR.

Greater Scaup, Pitsford Res, 26th October 2019 (Mike Alibone)
Greater Scaup, Pitsford Res, 26th October 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Summer Leys also produced the first Smew of the back end of the year, a ‘redhead’, on 1st, serving as a reminder that winter proper is only a few weeks away.

Smew, Summer Leys LNR, 1st November 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Here for the winter or simply in transit, only time will tell on the two Black-necked Grebes which found their way to Pitsford and made their way to Pintail Bay on 1st. The same could well apply to the Bittern seen briefly but ridiculously well in flight at Summer Leys on 27th.

Bittern, Summer Leys LNR, 27th October 2019 (Matt Hazleton)

This species replaces Cattle Egret in a week during which none of the latter was seen for the first time since the spring. By contrast, Great Egrets consolidated their hold, being reported in ones and twos from all of last week’s localities, including Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford, Summer Leys and Thrapston with three at Stanwick on 1st.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 28th October 2019 (Alan Coles)

Two Marsh Harriers appeared this week, one of which showed signs of lingering at Summer Leys on 30th-31st, while the other flew over Stanford Res and into Leicestershire on 29th. A Jack Snipe at Hollowell on 27th was the week’s only notable wader.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 30th October 2019 (Amir Mughal)
Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 31st October 2019 (Alan Coles)

Just that bit too early for any truly winter visiting gulls, roost-watchers managed to eke out possibly up to two Mediterranean Gulls at Pitsford between 26th and 1st and another at Boddington Res on 31st. All birds concerned were adults. Along with Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) and Hollowell, the same two localities also produced Yellow-legged Gulls, with a maximum of eleven at Boddington on 31st.

Following the first Short-eared Owls of the autumn/winter period last week, Borough Hill again produced three on 27th, while single Merlins were seen at Stanford on 30th and at Harrington AF the following day.

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 29th October 2019 (Tony Stanford)
Stonechat, DIRFT 3, 30th October 2019 (Mike Alibone)

In stark contrast to last week, passerines were in short supply and following that week’s Waxwings at Stanford Res on 25th, ten were reported in flight over the same locality two days later, on 27th. Other than that, Stonechats continued and extended their recent abundance, being seen at Borough Hill, Clifford Hill, DIRFT 3, Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston, with a maximum of four at Borough Hill on 27th and the same number at Pitsford on 29th.

Rock Pipit, Pitsford Res, 1st November 2019 (Bob Bullock)
Rock Pipit, Pitsford Res, 1st November 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Also notably lacking in records this autumn, a Rock Pipit was a welcome visitor to the dam at Pitsford on 31st-1st.