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 …

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