Newsround – 24th to 30th October 2020

Unseasonally high temperatures borne out of prolonged and blustery south-westerlies resulted in little change to the birdscape … unless, of course, you were a golfer.

Only time will surely tell but it’s looking like at least seven Pink-footed Geese have opted for Hollowell Res as a favoured wintering area this year and if the female Ruddy Shelduck follows last year’s tack she, too, looks set to remain there into the winter months. Another Pink-footed Goose was seen flying west with a sizeable flock of Greylags over Ecton SF on 30th. This week also saw the arrival of a number of Red-crested Pochards at three localities, with five visiting Summer Leys LNR on 27th, eight at Pitsford on 28th increasing to fifteen the following day and at least eleven still present on 30th. A drake was also at Stanwick GP on the last of these dates.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 30th October 2020 (Doug Goddard)

Over the years, the number of scarce and rare birds found on golf courses is legend – a prime example in more recent times appearing in the shape of an invitingly attractive Cream-coloured Courser – an apt name, if ever there was – at Herefordshire’s Kington GC, in May 2012, many local birders making the trip to see it. While Northants is unable to lay any comparable claims, what appears to have been a flock of five Glossy Ibises flying south-west over Kingsthorpe GC, last week, on the morning of 22nd, almost qualifies at a local level. Appearing at the height of a late autumn influx, which saw up to forty across southern Britain, including a flock of five in Hampshire on 20th, they would constitute the 6th county record, if accepted. Perhaps more of us should take up golf …

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 30th October 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Back down to earth, up to six Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick throughout, while Great Egrets maxed out with four at Hollowell on 26th and between one and two were seen at each of seven further localities. There was only one sighting of the wandering red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier this week – again at Summer Leys on 26th.

Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 26th October 2020 (Paul Lawrence)

In a the first waderless week for months and with only gulls to fall back on, Summer Leys also produced a Mediterranean Gull on 30th, the same date an adult Caspian Gull was found at Hollowell, the latter site also producing a Yellow-legged Gull on 26th and 30th, while another was also in the gull roost at Stanford Res on the first of these two dates.

Back over at Stanwick, a Jackdaw showing characteristics of the nominate race monedula – a white collar worker from Scandinavia, colloquially know as Nordic Jackdaw – appeared among around one thousand ‘regular’ Jackdaws on 30th. The last one reported locally was at Stanford on Avon in February.

Female Stonechat, Stanford Res, 28th October 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Male Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 30th October 2020 (Doug Goddard)

Stanwick was also one of five sites to hold between one and three Stonechats, with a further site, Hollowell, claiming the week’s maximum of five on 28th.


Newsround – 17th to 23rd October 2020

With winds predominantly from the south and sporadic heavy showers, one bird stood head and shoulders above the crowd, however, its visit to the county was short-lived …

Last week’s newly arrived mini-flocks of eight and four Pink-footed Geese at both Hollowell Res and Thrapston GP, respectively, remained throughout the period, while the re-emergence of the female Ruddy Shelduck at Hollowell on 20th broke a three-week absence from the site. Once again, Thrapston produced more Common Scoters, a female and two drakes on Town Lake, briefly, on 19th.

Pink-footed Geese, Hollowell Res, 20th October 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Pink-footed Geese, Thrapston GP, 23rd October 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Female Ruddy Shelduck Hollowell Res, 20th October 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Up to ten Cattle Egrets lingered at their favoured locality, Stanwick GP, throughout, while Great Egrets were found at nine sites, with a maximum of five at Summer Leys LNR on 18th.

Cattle Egrets, Stanwick GP, 17th October 2020 (Jon Andrews)
Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 18th October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 21st October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Summer Leys also hung on to its red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier until at least 22nd.

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 19th October 2020 (Doug Goddard)
Marsh Harrier, Earls Barton GP, 21st October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Black-tailed Godwit, Hollowell Res 18th October 2020 (Jon Cook)

Waders were down to just single Black-tailed Godwits visiting Summer Leys on 17th and Hollowell Res the following day, the latter site also producing a third-winter  Caspian Gull on 23rd, while another, or the same, visited Daventry CP on 18th. One to two Yellow-legged Gulls were found at three sites which included Hollowell Res, Priors Hall and Willowbrook Industrial Estate (both Corby), while at least ten were present at Thrapston GP on 19th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, 19th October 2020 (James Underwood)

Back on dry land, this week’s token Merlin, a juvenile, was hunting farmland between Quinton and Preston Deanery on 22nd. However, the period’s biggest bombshell was the discovery of a first-winter Dartford Warbler in a private garden in Blakesley, where it remained for no longer than ten minutes, on 17th. This is only the fifth record for the county and the first for ten years (full details here).

First-winter Dartford Warbler, Blakesley, 17th October 2020 (Colin Stafford)

And autumn wouldn’t be autumn without at least one Ring Ouzel but the one arriving this week was not at any of the traditional localities. Discovered eating Rowan berries in Brampton Ash on 22nd and remaining secretive, it was believed to have been present in the area for a few days prior to this date.

Female Stonechat, Yardley Chase, 22nd October 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Stonechats maintained a high profile, being seen at seven localities, with no more than three birds at any one of these. And in what has turned out to be an extremely good autumn for Crossbills, four sites produced birds this week, with twelve seen flying south near Kirby Hall, Deene, on 18th, one at Weldon on 19th, fifteen in Bucknell Wood on 22nd and one flying west over Tiffield the following day.

Dartford Warbler in Blakesley

Northamptonshire’s 5th Dartford Warbler makes landfall … in a garden.

It’s been ten years since the last Dartford Warbler appeared in Northants, when a first-winter was discovered in an overgrown field off Wire Lane, East Carlton on 25th November 2010, remaining there for a further five days.

The long wait for another finally came to an end last Saturday morning, 17th October, when one, a first-winter, paid a brief visit to a garden at Blakesley, in south Northants. Initially alighting on a wooden fence, it quickly dropped into an area of spent Sweet Peas and Cornflowers, where it skulked just above ground level and mostly out of sight, for about ten minutes. During this short period of time, a handful of photos were obtained by Colin and Gill Stafford before it flew off. Unfortunately, it did not return and it hasn’t been seen since, despite looking.

First-winter Dartford Warbler, Blakesley, 17th October 2020 (Colin Stafford)
First-winter Dartford Warbler, Blakesley, 17th October 2020 (Colin Stafford)

From an identification perspective, Dartford Warbler was the only likely candidate fitting the bill, although the rather subdued first-winter plumage tones, dull iris and lack of red eye-ring were enough to cast some doubts and the bird was not conclusively identified from the photos until 19th October. With regard to iris and orbital ring colour, young Dartford Warblers – especially those from second broods – can have a dull iris through October and, as with adult females, the orbital ring can vary from brown, through yellow-brown and pink-red to brick red and exceptionally, there is a white ring of feathers around the eye (BWP v.6).

‘Out of range’ Dartford Warblers occurring so far during this October include three in Bedfordshire and individuals in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire where, paralleling the Blakesley bird, one was photographed in a flower bed in a private garden in Chesham on 18th.

Previous county records are:

1998  Summer Leys LNR, 6th December

1999  Hollowell Res, 31st October to 2nd November

2004  Swan Valley, Northampton, 3rd December 2004 to 9th January 2005, two, with one remaining until 25th February 2005

2010  East Carlton, 25th-30th November

Given the increase in this species’ UK population (approximately 2,200 territories in 2017) since it was hit significantly by the hard winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, perhaps we can look forward to more coming our way in the future.

Newsround – 10th to 16th October 2020

While things were hot on the coast from a birding perspective, a period of unsettled weather, backed largely by north-easterly winds, likely contributed to a gamut of goodies at a local level.

With flocks streaming south over coastal locations, the arrival of 8 Pink-footed Geese at Hollowell Res on 13th and three or four at Thrapston GP two days later, on 15th, was perhaps unsurprising but both were welcome discoveries, nonetheless.

Pink-footed Geese, Thrapston GP, 15th October 2020 (Nick Parker)

The latter site also produced a female Common Scoter from 12th to 13th and – for the record, as well as something to keep an eye on – a Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid on 16th. Although not overly scarce, there were many more Pintails around this autumn, particularly at Stanford Res, where sixteen were present at one point.

Pintails, Summer Leys, 14th October 2020 (Clive Bowley)

Further up the Nene Valley, Cattle Egrets hit an all-time high with eleven at Stanwick GP on 12th – a new Northants record. Great Egrets, too, raised their profile, doubling the number of sites they were reported from last week to ten, with Stanwick claiming the lion’s share of four on 15th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Seemingly enjoying its prolonged stay, the red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier moved south-west to Summer Leys, where it was seen on 11th and 14th, being joined there by a second individual on 16th. An unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier sp., believed probably to be a Hen Harrier, was seen in flight over Harrington AF on 10th as it drifted north-west.

Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 11th October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

The proximity of the growing numbers of Common Cranes on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire recently (up to sixty-six in recent days), inspires hope that we will be seeing more locally as time advances. In this respect, two flying south over Crick on 14th becomes the fourth sighting this year, following records in the consecutive months of May, June and July.

Waders were understandably at a low ebb as we go deeper into the latter part of autumn, with just a single Black-tailed Godwit visiting Summer Leys on 11th and a Ruff at Clifford Hill GP the following day. So, too, the scarcer gulls were less frequently encountered, with a Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford Res on 11th and a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 13th, while no autumn would be complete without at least one late Arctic Tern. It duly flew east through Stanwick on 15th.

Away from the water, a Short-eared Owl was seen from an automobile passing close to Moulton Park on 15th – both were on the move at the time – and a Merlin flew low east over Harrington AF on 11th.

But if one species stole the award for ‘passerine of the week’, it was Woodlark. After a belated report of one in flight over Yardley Chase on 9th, another was seen flying over Cotton End Park, Long Buckby two days later, on 11th. Despite breeding no further away than Nottinghamshire and The Brecks, this species remains a truly difficult bird to catch up with in Northamptonshire and, offering the best chance, October is probably the prime month in which to try.

First-winter Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Bob Bullock)
First-winter Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Meanwhile, at Borough Hill, the first-winter Black Redstart continued to remain faithful to the eastern yard area and fenceline of the summit compound until at least 14th, the same location producing the period’s maximum tally of six Stonechats on the same date, while seven further localities produced between one and four birds.

Stonechats, Thrapston GP, 12th October 2020 (Nick Parker)
Female Stonechat, Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Borough Hill also produced what was surely a Northern Bullfinch – also on 14th. Despite the size and structure, along with those cool plumage features of pallid mantle and pinkish underparts, it was not heard to call and disappeared within minutes of its discovery.

Presumed Northern Bullfinch Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Other ‘big’ finches are, of course, available and filling this slot, a Hawfinch was logged flying over Yardley Chase on 15th. Continuing the Fringillidae grand theme, a Mealy Redpoll was seen by the ringing group at Stanford Res on 10th but managed to evade capture. A second individual on 12th was not so lucky, subsequently departing the processing area sporting its own unique, shiny band, as well as leaving a trail of controversy in its wake.

Adult Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Images published on social media had sceptics ‘dissing’ it as a pale Lesser Redpoll, without being in full possession of the biometric data, including size, weight, bill depth, as well as various plumage features not revealed in the photographs. Misidentify from photos in haste, repent at leisure, as they say. We’ve all been there … This week’s Crossbills were, unsurprisingly, all fly-overs and included a dozen or so moving west over Pitsford Res on 11th, twelve south over Stanwick on 12th and two north-east over Brackley on 14th. Autumn is far from over …

A little Mealy Magic

A morning spent with the Stanford Ringing Group produced some interesting birds, top of the bill being a Mealy Redpoll. After a local ‘species drought’ over the past year, significant numbers of Lesser Redpolls have been recorded across the county over the past ten days or so, including a Mealy Redpoll seen but not trapped, at Stanford Res on 10th October.

Out of 108 birds trapped and ringed at Stanford today, 33 were redpolls, including two which were noteworthy. The first of these was an adult Mealy Redpoll, aged principally by tail feather shape. This one stood out initially because of its pallid, lightly streaked appearance and closer examination revealed features consistent with the species. However, it was not the bird seen there two days previously. Basically, pale face and supercilium, pale and finely-streaked nape, contrasting with rear crown and mantle, tramlines on the latter (buff, not yet white), pale grey rump with darker streaks and larger bill compared with the Lesser Redpolls trapped at the same time. It also weighed in at up to 2 g more than the Lessers being trapped.

Adult Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mealy Redpoll with Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mealy Redpoll with Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

While all these are ‘good’ characters, the clincher was the wing length, which was 74 mm, which is just outside the range of that given by Svensson’s Identification Guide to European Passerines for Lesser Redpoll (68-73 mm for male, 67-71 mm for female) but see below … The fact that there was a total absence of pink in the plumage suggested the bird was a female and the buff tips to all the secondary coverts is consistent with a freshly-moulted adult (complete moult July-September) before they fade to whitish during the winter.

‘Long-winged’ Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
‘Long-winged’ Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Another redpoll trapped showed typical Lesser Redpoll characteristics but its wing length was measured at just a fraction beyond 76 mm. This one is currently under investigation, although it is not likely to prove to be anything else …

Newsround – 3rd to 9th October 2020

Backed by Atlantic westerlies, heavy rain was the order of the first part of the week, leaving its mark in the form of floodwater in many lowland areas. Temperatures dropped to below average and with the arrival of the first Whooper Swans, the county took another step closer toward winter …

In fact, this week’s wildfowl line-up took on a whole new identity with a distinctly coastal feel as five Dark-bellied Brent Geese touched down at Clifford Hill GP on 4th and an adult Whooper Swan arrived at Stanwick GP on 3rd, before quickly moving off east. Four more adults arrived at Summer Leys LNR on the afternoon of 7th but had departed by the following morning.

Adult Whooper Swan, Stanwick GP, 3rd October 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Adult Whooper Swans, Summer Leys LNR, 7th October 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)
Adult Whooper Swans, Summer Leys LNR, 7th October 2020 (Paul Crotty)
Adult Whooper Swans, Summer Leys LNR, 7th October 2020 (Paul Crotty)

On 4th, it was clear that a sizeable movement of Common Scoters was taking place across the Midlands, with the landlocked counties of Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire each enjoying a slice of the cake. In Northants, we, too, received our own share when a drake splashed down on the main lake at Stanwick and four were mobile north of the dam at Pitsford Res.

Varying numbers of Cattle Egrets remained throughout at Stanwick, where the highest total of nine left their roost site early on 4th, while no more than two Great Egrets were seen at each of Ditchford GP, Pitsford, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys.

A minor resurgence of Ospreys occurred this week, with singles reported at Stanford on 4th and at both Hollowell Res and Kislingbury GP on 8th and, completing the raptor line-up, the wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier was again at Ditchford on 5th and at Stanwick the following day.

The smouldering embers of shorebird migration burst briefly back into flame as waders, too, made a bit of an unexpected comeback, including three species which have put in lower than average appearances in the county this year. Two Grey Plovers were found on floodwater in the River Tove valley, near Grafton Regis, on 8th but their stay on the Northants side of the river was brief before they quickly defected to more appealing habitat on the Bucks side. At the same site, on the same date, a flock of four Spotted Redshanks – multiples being a minor miracle locally, these days – flew east and pitched down in Buckinghamshire, although their stay there was similarly brief. Further scarce, short-stayers in less contentious locations were two single Knots, which arrived and departed on the afternoon of 3rd on Summer Leys scrape and Pitsford Res dam. Runners up were five Black-tailed Godwits in flight over Stanford Res on 9th, one and then two, Ruffs at Stanwick on 5th and 9th respectively – plus one at Summer Leys on 6th – and a Greenshank at Clifford Hill GP on 4th.

The scarcer gulls continued to be in short supply, with an adult Mediterranean Gull plus a Yellow-legged Gull in the roost at Stanford on 5th, up to three Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford on 3rd and a third-winter Caspian Gull at Stanwick on the same date.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 3rd October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Turning to passerines, last week’s Borough Hill Black Redstart remained remarkably faithful to the eastern yard area and fenceline of the summit compound all week, the same location producing the period’s maximum tally of at least seven Stonechats on 9th, while between one and two of the latter were seen at Kettering, Stanford, Stanwick and Summer Leys, with the week’s only Northern Wheatear at Stanford on 5th.

Juvenile Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 7th October 2020 (Nick Truby)
Male Stonechat, Borough Hill, 7th October 2020 (David Smith)

Following two last week, another Rock Pipit paid an all too brief visit to the dam at Pitsford on 3rd, before being flushed. Sadly, the level of human disturbance in this area has increased significantly this year, making it far less appealing to birds and birders alike. Crossbills on the move this week included singles flying over Stanwick on 5th and 9th, five over Thrapston on 5th and one at Brookfield Plantation (Corby) on the same date.

Newsround – 26th September to 2nd October 2020

A series of Atlantic-borne fronts brought a week of mixed, often showery, weather, culminating in a low pressure system, ‘Storm Alex’, delivering a strong easterly airstream off the continent throughout the final day of the period. The arrival of the first Redwings on 27th saw autumn enter another phase, while the week’s highlights appeared in the shapes of Black Redstart and Rock Pipit.

Now a long time part of the furniture, the female Ruddy Shelduck maintained its presence in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area until at least 27th and a Garganey was again at Pitsford Res on 29th. A ‘new’, or relocating, female Red-crested Pochard was found on 28th at Kislingbury GP, a site rapidly becoming engulfed by housing developments, and it was still present there on 1st.

Female Red-crested Pochard, Kislingbury GP, 28th September 2020 (Tony Stanford)

A little deeper into suburbia and a Bittern emerged from a reedbed at Stortons GP on 29th, while up to six Cattle Egrets confined themselves to Stanwick GP until at least 30th. No doubt they will be there for a long time to come. Great Egrets were seen at Ditchford GP, Geddington, Hollowell, Naseby Res, Pitsford, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with Pitsford again clocking up the maximum count of six on 28th-29th.

The wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier continued to roam the Nene Valley in the vicinity of the Ditchford/Stanwick lake complex and was still present on 30th.

Meanwhile, things looked grim on the wader front, with just a single juvenile Ruff at Pitsford on 27th and a juvenile ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover at Daventry CP on 28th-29th. So, is it all over for another year? Time is fast running out for surprises …

Juvenile Ruff, Pitsford Res, 27th September 2020 (Doug Goddard)

Gulls, too, dwindled. A first-winter Mediterranean Gull visited Pitsford on 29th and Yellow-legged Gull numbers were down on previous periods, with one at Stanford on 26th and up to three at Pitsford all week. A Merlin was again seen at Harrington AF on 30th.

In the passerine camp, Borough Hill came up trumps with another Black Redstart on 1st – or had the last one there simply gone missing for nine days? A leap to the north-east of here, the elevated ground which is Harrington AF was one of only two localities to produce Common Redstart with one on 26th and 30th, while one was trapped at Stanford on 28th – the twenty-ninth to be ringed there this year.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 1st October 2020 (Mike Alibone). Yellow gape flanges visible on the open bill age this bird as a juvenile.
Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 28th September 2020 (Theo de Clermont)

In the absence of Whinchats, the number of Stonechats continued to climb, with records from Borough Hill, Bozenham Mill, Brampton Valley, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell, Kislingbury, Pitsford, Stanford and Storton’s GP, with a maximum of six at Hollowell on 29th and the same number at Borough Hill on 1st.

Stonechat, Kislingbury GP, 1st October 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Northern Wheatear numbers fell further to just singles at Hollowell on 29th and Kislingbury on 30th-1st.

Northern Wheatear, Kislingbury GP, 30th September 2020 (Tony Stanford)

With a penchant for reservoir dams from late September into early October, Rock Pipits are now on the radar and the first for the year appeared briefly on the weathered concrete of Pitsford’s on 29th, followed quickly by another flying over Stanford’s the next day.  Crossbills clung on in the north of the county, with four flying over Kettering on 28th, around twenty at Wakerley Great Wood on 1st and six at nearby Fineshade Wood on the same date.