Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th May 2020

The easing of the government’s Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, with regard to travel and ‘exercise’ this week, has resulted in more observers taking to the field and wider local coverage. Birding – with care – is back on …

Mid-May is not a prime time for wildfowl but it’s a great period in which to find one of our most subtly attractive, alluring and scarcest of ducks: Garganey. A pair was found at Stanwick GP on 14th and two superb drakes were on show at Summer Leys LNR the following day. In a more suburban setting, a long-staying drake Red-crested Pochard remained at Stortons GP all week.

Red-crested Pochard, Stortons GP, 11th May 2020 (Tony Stanford)
Red-crested Pochard, Stortons GP, 12th May 2020 (Duncan Cookson)

The first and so far, only, Quail of the spring was heard singing in a rape field adjacent to Little Morton Sale, east of Apethorpe, on 12th. Monkey business aside, this species was particularly hard to come by last year so, hopefully, there will be more as the spring progresses.

We return to the Nene Valley for an intriguing story of two smart-looking Cattle Egrets, which stayed for just one day at Summer Leys, on 10th. Given that our handful of now resident birds remain site-faithful to the Ditchford/Stanwick area and are not prone to going off-piste, these two gave rise to speculation that they could be ‘new’ birds. Sure enough, thanks to photography and the communication miracle that is social media, it transpired that these two had been making their way slowly north. First spotted at Lavell’s & Lea Farm Lakes NR, Berks, on 25th April, they then spent 6th-8th May at Simpson, Milton Keynes, before arriving at Summer Leys. Well, that’s the theory. At least two were still to be seen at Stanwick on 14th.

Cattle Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 10th May 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Cattle Egret: presumed movements of the two Summer Leys birds.
Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th May 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Great Egrets have thinned out appreciably since the last round-up and singles were seen at Summer Leys on 10th and 15th and at Pitsford Res on 12th.

And so to raptors … Just one Osprey was reported during the week, fishing at Elinor Trout Lake, Thrapston GP, on 10th, 12th and 13th. A Marsh Harrier flew over Summer Leys on 12th but by far and away the best bird of the week and surely one of the year’s best, too, ducked the Nene Valley action and appeared at Boddington Res on 11th – a superb female Montagu’s Harrier. Quartering fields in the vicinity of the dam, it was present for a good 15 minutes before eventually heading west toward the nearby Warwickshire border. The last one in the county was a male, apparently holding territory near Juniper Hill for two weeks, in May 2008. News of its presence was withheld by the finders at the time. But you have to go back 26 years for the last local twitchable one: a female in the Harrington AF area between 24th and 30th May 1994. There have now been 17 in the county, the first way back in August 1894.

By this time in spring, numbers of passage waders have usually dwindled but a few quality species normally find their way to the county during May. One such bird was at Summer Leys between 13th and 15th. Colloquially known as ‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, this lingering individual was a classic example of limosa, the race breeding in mainland Europe and in very small numbers in the UK, most of the latter being colour-ringed through Project Godwit. Its current status in Northants can only be described as ‘rare’, as just about every Black-tailed Godwit passing through the county – often in flocks – is of the Icelandic race islandica.

Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)

Other waders this week included single Whimbrels over Braunston Flood on 11th and at Stanwick GP on 15th, the spring’s sole Sanderling at Clifford Hill GP on 10th and single Wood Sandpipers at Summer Leys LNR on 9th and Ecton SF on 14th. The latter site also produced a Greenshank on these two dates.

Wood Sandpiper, Ecton SF, 14th May 2020 (Mike Alibone)

One species failing to materialise in any numbers this spring is Black Tern. One was viewed distantly, in windy conditions, off the dam at Hollowell Res on 10th, the same date on which a first-summer Little Gull appeared at Clifford Hill GP.

Although neither scarce nor rare, Hobbies were seen at multiple locations throughout the week but fourteen at Thrapston GP on 15th is noteworthy.

Hobby, Stortons GP, 14th May 2020 (Duncan Cookson)

A paucity of passerines resulted in just one Northern Wheatear, near Cransley, on 11th and a White Wagtail at Clifford Hill GP on 10th.

Female Northern Wheatear (probably Greenland, O. o. leucorhoa), Cransley, 11th May 2020 (Glynn Preston)
Female Northern Wheatear (probably Greenland, O. o. leucorhoa), Cransley, 11th May 2020 (Glynn Preston)

Next week will be exciting …

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