Rarity Round-up, 20th to 26th June 2020

A hot and humid period, with local temperatures hitting 30°C on the last day of the week, by which time it was clearly evident waders were returning and we were in the midst of a Crossbill invasion …

The Pink-footed Goose, last seen with Greylags at Pitsford Res on 9th June, was back there again on 25th, a return mirrored by the female Ruddy Shelduck at Hollowell Res which, after being absent from 12th June, reappeared on the same date. Stanwick GP’s Red-crested Pochard was again on site on 25th, while last week’s two drake Common Scoters remained off the sailing club at Pitsford until 20th.

After last week’s announcement that Cattle Egrets had once again bred successfully at Ringstead GP, four – possibly five – fledged juveniles were seen there on 21st but the only Great Egrets during the period were at Hollowell Res, where one on 24th-26th was joined by another there on 25th.

Hollowell also produced single Ospreys on 20th, 24th, 25th and 26th, one of which was wearing a ring identifying it as a female from Rutland Water. The only other Ospreys were singles at the other oft favoured fishing localities, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP – both on 22nd. Surprisingly, none was reported from Pitsford this week.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 25th July 2020 (Jon Cook). Female ’30’ from Rutland Water.

Although it’s only June, the return wader passage is picking up already. A juvenile Avocet visited Pitsford Res on 25th, remaining throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits have started moving through in small numbers, with Summer Leys LNR hosting two on 24th, one on 25th and five on 26th, the same site producing an early Wood Sandpiper along with a Greenshank on the latter date.

Juvenile Avocet, Pitsford Res, 25th June 2020 (Tony Stanford)
Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Just along the Nene Valley, at Stanwick, Mediterranean Gulls have once more successfully bred following a year’s absence since they first bred there in 2018. Two adults and a recently fledged juvenile were observed on 25th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 25th June 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Elsewhere, one was seen in flight over Barton Seagrave on 21st. The only other reasonable larid of note was a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Hollowell on 20th and 26th. Hollowell also held a first-summer (or second-summer) Arctic Tern from 20th to 22nd – its occurrence, identification and ageing having already been discussed here.

First/second summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

Beyond this, the week belonged to Crossbills. The UK is currently enjoying a national influx, said to be the result of a ‘bumper breeding season’, with many east coast sites recording huge numbers on the move, one of the biggest including more than twelve hundred south over Scarborough during the morning of 25th.

Crossbill, Hollowell Res, 26th June 2020 (Gary Pullan)


Many quickly made their way inland, resulting in their appearance in at least eleven localities in Northamptonshire. The majority of sightings were fly-overs and numbers ranged from singles to double-figure counts of sixteen at Bucknell Wood on 24th and fourteen at Harlestone Heath on 25th. The movement continues …

‘First-summer’ Arctic Tern

An Arctic Tern at Hollowell Reservoir provides the opportunity to study a plumage rarely seen in the UK in summer.

Found by Gary Pullan during the morning of 20th June, a first- (or possibly second) summer Arctic Tern was still present there yesterday, allowing Jon Cook to capture some clearly instructive images of a bird which would normally be expected to spend the northern summer south of the Equator. A tiny proportion is, however, known to accompany adults when they move north in spring, although they are likely to wander and do not usually appear in breeding colonies.

Any tern with a white forehead and a predominantly dark bill, seen in late spring/early summer, is likely to draw attention, as it stands out from the typical fully black-capped, red-billed Common and Arctic Terns normally encountered on spring passage or, in the case of Common Tern, breeding in the county. Identifying it to species is one thing and ageing it correctly is another.

Jon’s excellent series of photos nicely illustrate its identity, which is straightforward, given good views in the field. In the first image, against the light the translucent primaries are clearly visible, immediately putting the bird in the Arctic camp before any full assessment of the plumage detail.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

A check of the upperside of the primaries also adds to this identification, as they are ‘clean’ and uniform, lacking the darker, unmoulted outer primaries of both first- and second-summer Common Tern.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)
First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

There is a darker bar on the leading edge of the wing coverts, which looks more prominent in some photos than others. First-summer Common Tern would also show this but in combination with darker (not white) secondaries.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

The overall ‘neat’ proportions also look right for Arctic Tern, although in some photos the bill looks rather long but this is probably accentuated by the white forehead.

Leg colour is said to be variable – see, for instance, Terns of Europe and North America (Larsson & Malling Olsen, 1995) and this bird has a definite redness associated with its legs.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

Bill colour of second-summer is said to be red like that of an adult but with a dark tip to the upper mandible and a darker base. The images above appear to depict an all dark bill but the one below, from Adrian Borley, taken on 20th in different light conditions, appears to show some redness in the bill’s centre, as well as some brown tones to the dark crown. The underparts are a mixture of grey and white. The last two features are said by Larsson & Malling Olsen (1995) to be indicitave of second summer birds.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 20th June 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The Hollowell bird appears to show features of both first- and second-summer. Any further comments on its age would be welcomed.

Rarity Round-up, 13th to 19th June 2020

A slow-moving low pressure system over the UK dragged in a mixed bag of warm air and showers from the east, on the back of which were just about enough birds to keep spirits up during a traditionally quiet period.  

Single Garganeys at Hollowell Res on 19th and Pitsford Res on 18th would appear to be firsts for both sites this year, while the latter locality also produced two drake Common Scoters off the sailing club there on 17th-19th – both showing signs of immaturity. This ties in nicely with moult migration movements of one-year old birds, some of which start to move as early as May, after curtailing their spring migration to the north-east before reaching the breeding range. Perhaps not as exciting but a might more colourful, the drake Red-crested Pochard continued its stay at Stanwick GP until at least 16th.

Four Cattle Egrets were at Ringstead GP on 15th, two of these being seen at adjacent Stanwick GP the following day. With their continued presence in this part of the Nene Valley, it comes as no surprise to discover that, following successful breeding at Ringstead last year, they have bred there again this year – three young being present on 19th.

Juvenile Cattle Egrets, Ringstead GP, 19th June 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The Great Egret at Thrapston GP remained until 15th, being joined by another on 13th, while one was also seen at Stanford Res on 15th-16th.

Four localities produced Ospreys this week. One flew north-east over Spratton on 13th, one was over Bulwick on 14th and two at Ravensthorpe Res on the same date, while another visited Pitsford Res on 17th.

Osprey, Pitsford Res, 17th June 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Following the Irthlingborough Common Cranes at cockcrow on 16th May, another flew north over East Hunsbury, Northampton at a similarly early hour on 16th. There have been twenty-two accepted records to the end of 2018. Sometimes insomnia pays dividends.

Northamptonshire Common Cranes: monthly distribution of records, 1937-2018. Background image Phadke09/Wikimedia Commons.

More late spring Black Terns appeared this week – this time at Clifford Hill GP on 13th, when three were present, two of which remained the following day.

Black Tern, Clifford Hill GP, 13th June 2020 (Dave Smith)
Black and Common Terns, Clifford Hill GP, 13th June 2020 (Dave Smith)

Scarce passerines were at a premium and represented only by a single Crossbill, which was seen at Hardwick Wood on 17th. June-July is the time when this species is on the move so hopefully there will be more to come.




Rarity Round-up, 6th to 12th June 2020

Showers, a northerly blow and below average temperatures provided the overall backdrop for this week’s birding, although the wind had developed a strong easterly component by midweek. ‘Staying alert’ could not have been more appropriate advice for the period – there are clearly some quality birds still being found out there …

In a month not normally recognised for wildfowl, there was a decent crop – although how genuinely ‘wild’ they are is a matter of opinion. It would appear that Clifford Hill GP’s Pink-footed Goose relocated to Pitsford Res, where it was discovered in Scaldwell Bay on 9th. At least it’s moving in the right direction. A female Ruddy Shelduck was found at Hollowell Res on 7th, remaining there at the week’s end.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 12th June 2020 (Jon Cook)
Female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 12th June 2020 (Jon Cook)

It is easy to speculate this is last year’s individual, returning to the same site to see out its summer moult. Having not been reported for more than a week, it appears that Stortons GP’s drake Red-crested Pochard has relocated to Stanwick GP, where one was present from 6th until at least 11th. Back at Hollowell, four Common Scoters dropped in on 8th.

Common Scoters, Hollowell Res, 8th June 2020 (Martin Swannell)

Following last week’s Brampton Valley Quail, another was singing at Harrington AF on 7th, proving itself a popular draw for listeners until 9th. It was sound-recorded during its stay. One was also reported from Haselbech on 7th. Fifty years of Northamptonshire Quail records are depicted here.

Stanwick continued to host at least two Cattle Egrets throughout the period, while the Great Egret at Thrapston GP was seen again on 9th.

Three localities produced Ospreys this week, down from last week’s seven. Singles visited Stanford Res on 7th and 10th, Hollowell on 7th, 8th and 12th and Thrapston on 10th and 11th, where Elinor Trout Lake is a popular draw.

Thrapston also produced an Avocet on 11th and three were on site there the following day, on 12th. Also in the Nene Valley, two Black-tailed Godwits visited Summer Leys LNR on 8th, followed thereafter by one on 10th-11th and one at adjacent Earls Barton GP, also on 11th. It is not known if all sightings were of the same two birds, or whether four were involved. Those on 11th involved both races, the commonly encountered Icelandic race islandica at Earls Barton and the much scarcer ‘continental’ race limosa at Summer Leys.



            Gulls and terns featured well for June. A first-summer Little Gull visited Stanford Res on 11th, a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull was at Hollowell Res on 8th and a late spring Black Tern appeared at Stanwick GP on 6th.

Following the ephemeral Rose-coloured Starling in Wellingborough on 26th May and the inevitability of an invasion, the floodgates duly opened and the UK received its fair share of ‘Rosy Pastors’ – in excess of seventy at the time of writing. As they crossed the country, expectations were running high at a local level before one was eventually found in a garden in Hackleton on 9th. It remained long enough for a quick pic and then it was off, never to be seen again. Or was it? It, or another, was reported flying between gardens in Great Houghton, only 4 km to the north, on 9th and 10th. While all this may have been somewhat vexing, to say the least, for those of us routinely cruising and scanning suburbia, scrupulously checking our local Starling flocks, it also offers hope and inspiration that persistence may yet pay off. There are surely more to be discovered. Keep calm and carry on kerb-crawling …

The only other passerines of note were Crossbills. One flew over Pitsford on 7th and approximately twelve were in Yardley Chase, at Denton Wood, the following day.

Rarity Round-up, 30th May to 5th June 2020

Meteorological spring went out with a bang, the last day producing the county’s 6th Caspian Tern. So, too, did the weather and by the end of the week high pressure, high temperatures and an easterly airstream had all given way to cool northerlies and showers.

There were no reports of Clifford Hill GP’s Pink-footed Goose beyond 31st, while Stanwick GP’s drake Garganey remained until at least 2nd and one/two drakes were still frequenting Summer Leys LNR/Earls Barton GP on 3rd with at least one remaining on 5th. New in this week were two Greater Scaups at Daventry CP on 1st, surprisingly remaining on site until at least 4th.

June is generally recognised as being the month for Quail and, right on cue, a male was singing in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, on the evening of 1st, remaining in situ early the following morning. This species appears to be increasingly difficult to catch up with locally, despite being recently identified as now in partial recovery following a protracted period of population decline. It is estimated that there are 540 singing males in the UK in summer (RSPB).

Stanwick continued to host Cattle Egrets with four present on 31st and again on 5th, while a Great Egret remained at Thrapston GP on 30th and one flew over Stanford Res on 3rd.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 1st June 2020 (Steve Fisher)

On the raptor front, the week belonged to Ospreys. Seven localities featured – some more frequently than others. The reservoirs fared well, with Pitsford hosting singles on 30th, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, Stanford produced singles on 31st and 1st plus two on 2nd, while Cransley and Hollowell logged one a piece on 2nd and 3rd respectively. One also flew north over Harrington AF on 2nd and in the east of the county, two drifted north over Barnwell CP on 3rd and singles visited Thrapston GP/Thorpe Waterville on 31st and 2nd. The first of these Thrapston birds wore a blue ring bearing the inscription ‘S1’ in white and it transpired it was a male which had been ringed as a chick at the Manton Bay nest at Rutland Water on 30th June 2015.

Male Osprey, Thorpe Waterville, 31st May 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

Further information reveals ‘S1’ first returned to the UK in 2017 and was seen at Poole Harbour and also Rutland Water that summer. It was subsequently satellite-tagged on 9th August 2018 at a site in Rutland. This has since provided valuable data on the bird’s local movements and annual migration to an island off the coast of Guinea-Bissau.

Male Osprey, Thorpe Waterville, 31st May 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

This spring it left Guinea-Bissau on 8th March and arrived back in Rutland on 4th April. It has subsequently established a new territory in Rutland but has also been ranging widely in the local area. The satellite data show that ‘S1’ isn’t a frequent visitor to the Thrapston area and so other recent sightings – mainly from Elinor Trout Lake – clearly refer to one or more different birds. There are several unattached males in the Rutland Water area and these individuals often range widely on a day-to-day basis (Tim Mackrill, RDWF). Also in the Nene Valley, a Marsh Harrier flew north-east at Summer Leys on 31st.

With the wader passage all but over, a Sanderling paid the briefest of visits to Boddington Res on 5th and an ‘unseasonal’ Green Sandpiper – perhaps an early autumn migrant – at Cransley Res on 2nd, was worthy of mention.

June is not normally recognised as a prime month for gulls, so an adult Mediterranean Gull flying over Wellingborough on 3rd, a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford on the same date and an adult at Daventry CP on 5th were about par for the course. Both were largely of no consequence in comparison to the star of the week, though, the magnificent Caspian Tern, which flew over Stanford Res on 31st – sadly without stopping.

Caspian Tern, Stanford Res, 31st May 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

This, the 6th record for Northamptonshire, appeared at a time of other sightings of this species in the UK, with one visiting four sites in Hampshire later the same day and it, or another (a Swedish-ringed adult) at Saltholme, Cleveland during the evening of 3rd.

Black Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 1st June 2020 (Martin Swannell)

Somewhat overshadowed by the above but in a spring of few records, two Black Terns spent the evening at Summer Leys on 1st. Hopefully more will appear in the autumn.