It’s official. This week saw us cross the date-line into meteorological winter and to mark the event, the wind turned to a chilly northerly on the day. In conjunction with this, a run of easterly winds over the preceding days produced conditions conducive to the inbound movement of some notable winter visitors, intent on escaping increasingly inclement conditions on the Near Continent.
The goose theme continued this week with the twenty-strong Barnacle Goose flock still at Clifford Hill GP on 29th and the one at Stanford Res remaining all week. Up to seven Pink-footed Geese lingered at Hollowell Res until at least 1st but more significant was a juvenile White-fronted Goose, new in at Stanwick GP on 28th. ‘Russian’, ‘European’, ‘Eurasian’ – whichever name is currently de rigueur – it had moved on by the next day and was clearly part of a national influx, with more than 100 sites between Norfolk and the Isle of Wight having logged this species since 29th November. This included plenty of single birds, such as the Stanwick individual, as well as small flocks, some of which were in counties where groups are rare, including Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey. Clearly Stanwick’s bird was in the vanguard. The only other record this year was two adults at Clifford Hill GP on 2nd-3rd January so, if nothing else changes, it looks like 2020 will end up being an exceedingly poor white-front year, locally … but there is still time for things to turn around. And then there was Bewick’s Swan, four of which paid a brief visit to Pitsford before flying off north-west on the morning of 4th. In so doing, it narrowly preserved its status as an annual visitor to the county and if there are no more in 2020, this year will rank alongside 2002 and 2010 as the worst on record, with just one occurrence in each.
Besides up to three Red-crested Pochards remaining at Pitsford Res and a female being found at Deene Lake on 30th, two Greater Scaups were discovered on the afternoon of 1st – a drake at Stanford Res and a first-winter at DIRFT 3 – only the 2nd and 3rd records in this half of the year, following one at Pitsford Res on 31st October. More transient winter wildfowl appeared in the shape of two female-type Common Scoters at Clifford Hill GP on 28th and six more at Thrapston GP, two days later, on 30th.
At Hollowell, the juvenile Great Northern Diver remained throughout. Meanwhile, a stone’s throw to the north-west, Stanford magicked up four cute Black-necked Grebes on 30th – the record-breaker for the number of species logged there in one year. They remained all week.
Great Egrets were again reported from seven sites with, once again, Thrapston logging the week’s highest site count of five on 28th and 1st.
On 1st, just one Curlew was seen to come in to roost on the DIRFT 3 A5 pools prior to dusk, while other large, long-legged waders this week were two Black-tailed Godwits at Summer Leys LNR on 29th and one at Stanwick GP the following day. The only Jack Snipe reported during the period was one at Pitsford on 28th.
Winter roost-watching produced an adult Mediterranean Gull at Pitsford on 30th and a first-winter Caspian Gull at Boddington Res on 1st and the semi-regular third-winter Caspian was again at Hollowell on the same date. Nine Yellow-legged Gulls were in the Boddington roost on 1st but elsewhere, it was single adults at Hollowell on 28th, 30th and 3rd, Pitsford on 28th and 30th and in the roost at Thrapston on 30th.
Wintering Stonechats were limited to Deene, Hollowell, Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering), Stanford and Pitsford, with a maximum of four at the latter site on 30th. On 2nd, Pitsford also produced – albeit very briefly – the second Water Pipit of the year in 2020 – the first was at Ditchford GP on 13th March.
Lastly, we come to cone-crunchers’ corner, in which the male Parrot Crossbill was again reported from Wakerley Great Wood on 1st, the same site continuing to host up to a dozen Crossbills, this number being well down on last week’s total of sixty-plus. The only other site at which Crossbills were reported this week was Hollowell, where a maximum of eleven was seen on 28th.
As we stand on the brink of further invasive cold air from the Arctic, hopefully there will be more exciting winter visitors in the offing over the forthcoming weeks.