The end of the last period very much set the scene for this week’s seriously autumnal weather as Storm Francis lashed the UK with south-westerly gusts reaching almost 80 mph on 25th. Loosely associated with this was a small influx of Shags, while the week’s headline bird, a Wryneck, was trapped and ringed in the north of the county.
Against the backcloth of building wildfowl numbers, there was no change to last week’s species mix, with all the established ‘favourites’ still in situ. These included the Pink-footed Goose at Hollowell Res on 22nd and the female Ruddy Shelduck at the same site on 26th, at least one Garganey at Pitsford Res from 22nd to 24th and a new one at Summer Leys LNR on 26th. A female Red-crested Pochard visited Stanford Res on 22nd, while two drakes and a female remained at Pitsford between 24th and 26th.
Albeit late in the season, a male Quail was heard singing from an Oat field in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton, on 27th. For anyone who’s missed out this year, it’s a long wait until next spring … Meanwhile, down in the Nene Valley, up to three Cattle Egrets were still to be found at Stanwick GP between 23rd and 27th. Stanwick was also one of four sites to produce Great Egrets this week, with up to two present throughout the period, while Pitsford and Summer Leys produced three apiece and one was found at the lake in the extensive grounds of Boughton House, Geddington, on 24th.
However, the species very much in the spotlight this week was Shag, a localised, Midlands influx of which delivered one to Pitsford on 22nd, followed by four there on 23rd and seven on 24th, from when numbers dropped to three on 26th and two on 27th-28th. One also roosted on the dam at Stanford on 27th, remaining there the following day. All birds were juveniles.
Having become less than annual in Northants over the past decade, these birds became a popular draw, usually allowing a close approach. While seven may initially appear to be a high number for one site, at least eleven were at Pitsford on 31st October 1996 and six were present there in January 2005. These numbers almost pale into insignificance, though, when as part of the current influx, Draycote Res in Warwickshire accumulated twenty-six on 27th and Rutland Water, Leicestershire held twenty-four on 26th. The sole record in 2019 was of one sickly individual picked up and taken into care at Weedon on 20th August but prior to that the last was one at Stanwick GP in August-September 2016.
Propping up this week’s raptor stand, Ospreys were found at six sites, which included last week’s juvenile still at Fawsley Park Lake on 22nd, and singles flying south over Sywell and at Geddington on 24th, Pitsford on 24th and 27th, Stanford on 26th-27th and over the Brampton Valley on 27th. Pitsford also produced a Marsh Harrier on 24th.
Given the high fill levels of just about all our local bodies of water, waders were, unsurprisingly, few and far between. This week’s ‘haul’ was painfully limited, with one Whimbrel flying south over Harrington AF on 26th, two Black-tailed Godwits at Clifford Hill GP on 24th, a juvenile Knot very briefly at Hollowell on 25th and nine equally ephemeral birds flying along the dam at Pitsford on 27th.
A Ruff remained at Summer Leys from 22nd until 26th and two visited Clifford Hill GP on 24th, while three Greenshanks were also at Summer Leys on 22nd, dwindling to just one on 26th and one was still on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 24th.
Gulls and terns were well represented this week, kicking off on day one with a first-winter Mediterranean Gull joining a mass of gulls following a plough east of Denton on 22nd. Two juveniles were then seen at Pitsford the next day. Pitsford also retained last week’s juvenile Caspian Gull, which was seen on 22nd and 25th and another juvenile joined twenty-two Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick on 27th. Up to four Yellow-legs were on show at Pitsford throughout the week, although ten were present there on 24th.
Pitsford’s run of prime birds continued with a juvenile Arctic Tern present from 22nd to 24th, while back in the Nene Valley, a juvenile Black Tern visited Summer Leys on 22nd.
The 27th turned out to be a phenomenal day for local ringers, with the Stanford Ringing Group processing an astonishing 639 birds, which included the week’s star, a gorgeous Wryneck. To be able to admire this intricately patterned bird at point-blank range was clearly just reward for the group’s hard work throughout the day at Stanford.
With 13 years out of the last 20 producing records, Wryneck is on a par with Shag when it comes down to frequency of occurrence and number of records. Unlike that species, however, many individuals are surely overlooked …
Part of the above ringing haul included eight Common Redstarts and this species was again numerous with, in addition to the above, numbers between one and three at Brampton Valley, Borough Hill, Harrington AF, Lamport, Pitsford Res and Twywell Hills & Dales, while up to five were seen in the Old/Walgrave area.
By contrast, Whinchat numbers fell again with up to two at Stanford between 22nd and 24th and one at Stanwick on 23rd. Northern Wheatears proved to be a little more numerous, with singles at Chelveston AF on 22nd, Collingtree, Little Brington, Old and Stanwick on 23rd, Pitsford on 25th-26th and Lamport on 27th, while two visited Clifford Hill on 23rd and up to two were at Stanford between 25th and 27th.
Tree Pipits were very much in evidence this week, with Harrington AF producing between twelve and fifteen on 27th, six of which were trapped and ringed. Part of a widely noted national movement, this is the highest count for any site in Northants since the species last bred here.
One was also trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 23rd and another was seen in flight there on the ‘big day’ of 27th. Elsewhere, singles flew south at Irchester on 24th and Pitsford on 26th, when a single Crossbill flew south over the same site.