Rarity Round-up, 14th to 20th March 2020

A mild, south-westerly airstream ensured temperatures touched the higher side of seasonal average throughout the most part of the week, providing a much-needed boost for spring migrants. And it happened – migration with a capital ‘M’ – the county seeing the arrival of a decent number of ‘firsts’ for the year.

One of these, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose, was found at Clifford Hill GP on 17th, remaining there until the week’s end, while there was a surprising re-emergence, on 15th, of the nine Pink-footed Geese originally found at Stanford Res on 8th February but absent from there since 18th of the same month. Clearly they had been lurking undetected, somewhere in the vicinity and they were still present in the area on 19th.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 20th March 2020 (Doug Goddard). White fringes to upper wing coverts still present, though worn, and white tertial tips age this bird as a first-summer.
Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 17th March 2020 (Mike Alibone). White tertial tip is still visible at longer range but worn pale tips to wing coverts are less conspicuous.

More long-stayers included the two drake Greater Scaups at Clifford Hill GP all week, while the adult female left Stanwick GP and returned to adjacent Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR, where it was still present on 18th.

Staying with the Nene Valley, two summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes were found on the Main Barrage Lake at Clifford Hill GP as the week drew to a close on the afternoon of 20th.

Black-necked Grebes, Clifford Hill GP, 20th March 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Some distance further downriver, the Stanwick Cattle Egrets went back to playing hard to get, with just two on show early in the day on 15th. Unsurprisingly, the opposite was true when it came to the distribution of Great Egrets, which were present at seven localities, Thrapston GP once again hosting the week’s maximum of four, also on 15th.

The same site packed a punch on 18th, when it delivered the year’s first Osprey, eying up Elinor Trout Lake from a strategically located pylon.

Osprey, Thrapston GP, 18th March 2020 (Nick Parker)

Wader passage picked up from the very start of the period, commencing with an Avocet at Boddington Res on 14th and five more during the day at Summer Leys LNR. Together, they formed part of a wider overland movement involving birds in Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, London, Oxfordshire and Staffordshire on the same date. More will surely follow as spring advances.

Avocet, Boddington Res, 14th March 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Avocets, Summer Leys LNR, 14th March 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Avocets, Summer Leys LNR, 14th March 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

Summer Leys was also responsible for producing another ‘first’ for the year in the shape of a Little Ringed Plover on 19th and the same site also held on to a Knot from 16th until 19th, the same individual no doubt having been seen flying southwest from Stanwick on 15th. Remarkably, the Knot total swelled to five at Summer Leys, albeit briefly, on 18th.

Knot, Summer Leys LNR, 17th March 2020 (Nick Parker)

The same reserve pulled in seven Black-tailed Godwits early in the day on 20th. Rounding off the wader tally were four Jack Snipes still at Hollowell Res on 14th and an amazing total of nine together in one small flooded area behind the dam at Daventry CP on 18th – surely a record count for this species at the site.

After a dismal absence of gulls last week, evidence that Mediterranean Gull passage was underway appeared in the form of an adult at Stanwick on 16th, a first-winter at Daventry CP on 19th and one at Summer Leys the following day. Hollowell produced a first-winter Caspian Gull on 14th, while twos of Yellow-legged Gulls were logged at Summer Leys on 14th and Daventry CP on 18th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 16th March 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Daventry CP, 18th March 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Merlins were also on the move, the week producing singles at Stanford Res and over the feeding station at Summer Leys – both on 20th, while Stanford was also the venue for the appearance of the year’s first Swallow, over the dam there, on 19th. Despite the obvious feeling of spring in the air, the wintering Siberian Chiffchaff along the outflow stream at Ecton SF was still in situ on 19th and, with British winterers sometimes staying into April, it may yet stick around for another week or two. The same may not be said for Stonechats, though. After being recorded at seven localities last week, there was only one report of three at Clifford Hill GP during the period, this site also producing a rather mobile and elusive male Black Redstart on 17th. But arguably, the most attractive and, therefore, popular harbinger of spring – Northern Wheatear – made its 2020 debut this week, on 16th, when one was trapped and ringed at Brixworth STW. Its appearance coincided with a large fall involving hundreds on the south coast, with Dorset, for example, logging more than two hundred and thirty on the same date. Others quickly followed, including singles at Upton CP (Northampton) on 18th, Summer Leys on 19th-20th and at Harrington AF, Hartwell and Maidwell – all on 20th. Surprisingly, none was photographed …

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