Rarity Round-up, 21st to 27th December 2019

The week kicked off with the winter solstice, the 24-hour period with the fewest daylight hours of the year. Not that there was anything new to be missed during this year’s shortest day and, despite being the holiday season, birding activities across both county and country were understandably curtailed by mid-week festive celebrations. Wildfowl took centre stage during the period, although Cattle Egrets made a welcome return after a prolonged absence.

Stanford Res once again worked its magic, producing only the second record of Bewick’s Swan for the year when two adults arrived on 27th. Unfortunately, they remained for only twenty minutes – an even shorter period of time than the nine which were present there during the afternoon of 24th November.

Adult Bewick’s Swans, Stanford Res, 27th December 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Just down the road, the female Ruddy Shelduck was at Ravensthorpe Res on 22nd but there were no subsequent reports. Ravensthorpe also provided a short-term break, on 21st, for  the drake Smew found last week at Pitsford Res but it was back at Pitsford on 22nd-23rd. Also on 21st, the ‘redhead’ Smew was still at Hardingstone GP, as was the ‘redhead’ at Summer Leys LNR.

‘redhead’ Smew, Summer Leys LNR, 21st December 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)
Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 23rd December 2019 (Doug Goddard)

The week’s main attraction, however, was the continued presence of the two Velvet Scoters at Hollowell Res throughout the period, providing a Christmas bonus for some on 25th.

First-winter Velvet Scoters, Hollowell Res, 23rd December 2019 (Bob Bullock)

Hollowell also hung on to its Great Egret throughout, while singles continued to be seen at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys, Pitsford Res, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP, with two at Stanwick GP on 27th and three leaving a roost on Wilson’s Pits at Ditchford GP, along with a Cattle Egret, on 23rd. Four Cattle Egrets were subsequently found further west, between Ditchford’s Watersports Pit and the River Nene on 27th. These are the first records since 24th November and together suggest that this species is still very much at large in the Nene Valley.

Great Egret, Stanford Res, 22nd December 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

This winter has yet to deliver a white-winged gull from the north but it’s still early days and an adult Mediterranean Gull at Boddington Res on 27th didn’t quite cut the mustard in this respect. Also at Boddington on 27th were three adult Yellow-legged Gulls, while the only other record of this species came from Pitsford on 22nd.

This week’s Stonechats were singles at Boddington, Stanford and Thrapston, while two were at Earls Barton GP on 25th and three were still at Hollowell on 21st.

Male Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 23rd December 2019 (Doug Goddard)

The next round-up will take us into a new decade, so I would like to take the opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks to all those who have contributed news, information and images to this weekly summary, as well to the Latest Reports page. Happy New Year and here’s looking forward to a great, bird-filled 2020!

Rarity Round-up, 14th to 20th December 2019

A mixed bag of weather included strong westerly winds, sunshine, heavy rain, fog and a range of temperatures culminating in an unseasonally mild 13°C, as a result of southerly winds at the week’s end. New in, a couple of Velvet Scoters provided the week’s highlight, while the long-staying Great Grey Shrike remained as obliging as ever.

Now present since early October and looking set to see in the New Year, the adult Whooper Swan was still at Thrapston GP on 14th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Ravensthorpe Res on the same date, before moving to nearby Hollowell Res the following day.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 15th December 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

At Summer Leys LNR, the drake Red-crested Pochard was still present on 18th and the ‘redhead’ Smew remained until at least 14th. Moving into the latter part of December often sees the arrival of more of these attractive sawbills and with the discovery, on 18th, of a drake at Pitsford Res and a ‘redhead’ at Hardingstone GP, this year is proving to be no exception. The week’s highlight, however, was two first-winter Velvet Scoters riding the waves at Hollowell between 14th and 18th. Hot on the heels of last year’s popular eight at Thrapston GP, this is the 22nd record for Northants.

First-winter Velvet Scoters, Hollowell Res, 14th December 2019 (Mike Alibone)
First-winter Velvet Scoters, Hollowell Res, 15th December 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Hollowell also produced a Great Egret between 15th and 18th, while the usual singles were at Ditchford GP, Pitsford Res/Brixworth CP, Stanford Res, Stanwick GP, Summer Leys and Thrapston.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 18th December 2019 (Paul Crotty)

Last week’s five Ruffs remained at Summer Leys until 14th and the paucity of winter gulls continued, with a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford on 14th and two adults plus a first-winter in the roost at Boddington Res on 18th.

Also in the west of the county, the DIRFT 3 Great Grey Shrike continued to attract admirers until at least 16th, while Stonechats remained at Pitsford, Hollowell, Stanford and Wicksteed Park (Kettering), with a maximum of four at the first of these sites.

Rarity Round-up, 7th to 13th December 2019

Storm Atiyah’s brush with the UK did little for Northants as the cold, bright conditions at the beginning of the period were subsequently replaced by more rain, bluster and ever-changing wind direction. A lingering Dark-bellied Brent Goose and the well-installed Great Grey Shrike continued to provide the main attractions.

Following its frustratingly fleeting appearances at the beginning and end of last week, the Stanford Dark-bellied Brent Goose was finally pinned down to a regular feeding area alongside the River Avon, at Stanford Hall, from 8th until at least 11th. However, it didn’t always play ball, more often than not choosing to remain on the Leicestershire side of the river. Although there are more records in spring and autumn, winter probably provides the best opportunity for catching up with this species as its stays tend to be much more protracted than in passage periods. All previous records assigned to race appear to have been of the nominate dark-bellied form bernicla from Siberia. A pale-bellied hrota from the east Canadian Arctic, or Svalbard, would likely constitute a ‘first’ for the county and in these days of surprise splits, would be a welcome insurance addition to many a county list.

First-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Stanford on Avon, 9th December 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

In the east of the county, the adult Whooper Swan was still in place at Thrapston GP on 9th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck – seemingly absent for three weeks – again visited Ravensthorpe Res on 7th. At Summer Leys LNR, the drake Red-crested Pochard seemed settled throughout the period and the ‘redhead’ Smew was present until at least 7th, although there was a report of two there the following day.

Red-crested Pochard, Summer Leys LNR, 8th December 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Up to two Great Egrets were on site at Stanwick GP, Summer Leys and Thrapston and singles were seen at Ditchford GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res and Stanford Res. Waders this week were limited to five Ruffs at Summer Leys on 13th – really quite unseasonal for Northamptonshire and winter gulls remained low in numbers, with Stanford again producing an adult Mediterranean Gull on 10th, while an adult Caspian Gull was at Sulby Res on 7th and an adult Yellow-legged Gull visited Hollowell Res on the same date.

Adult Caspian Gull, Sulby Res, 7th December 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Looking settled for the long term, the DIRFT 3 Great Grey Shrike was still present on 11th, remaining faithful to a remarkably small area of scrub.

Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 7th December 2019 (Mike Alibone)
Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 13th December 2019 (Tony Stanford)

The same site held at least three Stonechats, although four were at both Hollowell on 7th and Pitsford on 13th while, elsewhere, singles were seen at Stanford, Thrapston and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering).

Rarity Round-up, 30th November to 6th December 2019

With the jet stream having slipped further south, the first half of the week was dominated by high pressure, bringing cold northerly winds and sub-zero overnight temperatures. The second half, though initially still cold, saw a change in wind direction, with westerlies bringing us back up to average temperatures with showers of rain. When all is said, though, this week’s weather appeared to have little influence on the birds occurring during the review period.

Reports of wildfowl were well down on those of previous weeks but a Dark-bellied Brent Goose heading east over Stanford Res on 1st, followed by a first-winter – presumably the same individual – present there again briefly on 6th at least delivered a reasonable level of quality. It is only the second record for the county this year, following the briefly staying individual at Stanwick GP on 6th October. Conversely and unsurprisingly, the adult Whooper Swan remained at Thrapston GP – now present for its ninth week and the drake Red-crested Pochard was still at Summer Leys LNR at the week’s end.

Between one and three Great Egrets remained ensconced at Ditchford GP, Pitsford Res, Stanford, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston, with Daventry CP joining the list of localities hosting this species during the week.

Great Egret, Stanford Res, 3rd December 2019 (Matt Jackson)

December is traditionally quiet for waders and, so far, this one is no exception with just two Jack Snipe comprising singles at Stortons GP on 2nd and Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) on 4th-5th. Gulls, too, were thin on the ground, with Stanford producing an adult Mediterranean Gull on 2nd and two adult Yellow-legged Gulls on 30th, while one of the latter species was also present at Pitsford on 5th.

Short-eared Owl, Borough Hill, 4th December 2019 (Linda Honeybourne)

On dry land, single Short-eared Owls were seen at Stanford on 30th, Lilbourne Meadows LNR on 3rd and at both Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) and Borough Hill the following day, on 4th.

Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 1st December 2019 (Mike Alibone)
Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 2nd December 2019 (Alan Coles)
Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 2nd December 2019 (Alan Coles)
Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 2nd December 2019 (Bob Bullock)

The week’s star bird – the DIRFT 3 Great Grey Shrike – for the third week running attracted a trickle of admirers and continued to perform for the duration of the period. Access to the site has, so far, been granted by the security guard manning the entrance to the development area, approached along the road running past Kinaxia Logistics.

Another week, another Firecrest: one was found in the last hour of daylight at the village institute in Upper Harlestone on 6th.

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 3rd December 2019 (Tony Stanford)

Stonechats continued to be seen at DIRFT 3, Earls Barton, Lilbourne Meadows, Stanford and Pitsford, with a maximum of four at the latter site on 30th and 3rd.