Unrelenting north-easterlies during the period resulted in below-average temperatures persisting throughout the week, while snow showers early on 6th and 8th were short-lived. New arrivals and hard weather movements of some species duly materialised as a result.
But if the snow was short-lived, so was the stay of Northamptonshire’s sixth-ever Greenland White-fronted Goose at Wicksteed Park, Kettering, on the first of these two dates. Clearly it was not cut out for parklife and those would-be observers who turned up to see it early the following morning left disappointed … and most certainly without a sense of enormous well-being … This individual is believed to be one which was initially found at Watermead in Buckinghamshire on New Year’s eve and subsequently departed. Its approachability has led some to question its provenance.
The five previous records of this distinctive, orange-billed race are limited to an even shorter stop by a radio-tagged female near Aynho on 27th October 2018, a first-winter at Daventry CP on 7th February 2009, a juvenile at Pitsford Res on 27th October 1991, five adults and a juvenile at Pitsford Res on 19th December 1981 and an adult plus three first-winters at Stanford Res between 8th and 14th February 1981.
Apart from twenty-two flying south-west over Laxton on 3rd, nominate race White-fronted Geese were limited to the regular gaggle of thirty-three, mobile about Stanwick GP throughout the week.
It seems highly likely that the aforementioned hard weather conditions resulted in the movements of Whooper Swans, presumably pushed west from the continent. Northants has experienced an increase in numbers recorded annually in recent years, pretty much in line with the general UK trend, which has seen a 210% increase in the wintering population over the 25 years 1992/93 to 2017/18 (Frost et al. 2020). None of this week’s birds lingered, all moving on within a matter of hours or, in some cases, minutes. The first day of the period, 2nd, brought six to Pitsford, from where they moved off west within half an hour of their discovery, arriving at Hollowell shortly afterwards.
Their stay there was also brief and they soon departed north. The following day, three flew south-west over Barton Seagrave, with presumably the same birds arriving at Hollowell an hour later where, again, they did not linger.
Later in the day, two flew south-west over Pitsford – again without stopping. On 5th, five made a short stopover at Stanford Res and seven were discovered at Clifford Hill GP just prior to dusk. They were not present the following morning.
More reliable – though eliciting little or no interest – the female Ruddy Shelduck was still present at Hollowell on 2nd, while two Red-crested Pochards were found at Pitsford on 3rd and one was at Kislingbury GP on 5th.
The sole Great Northern Diver of the winter so far, remained at Pitsford all week, mobile between the dam and the causeway, sometimes showing well off the latter in the early part of the period.
Last week’s Bittern was again seen in flight at Earls Barton GP’s Quarry Walk on 3rd and two flew into the reedbed at Stortons GP, at dusk, on 6th. It was mid-December when six Cattle Egrets were discovered feeding in sheep fields north of Summer Leys, north-east of Wollaston Lock. This week, between 2nd and 5th, five were again there and they could sometimes be seen more closely from the road running through Great Doddington to Wellingborough.
Four were at the northern end of Stanwick on 3rd, two on 4th and one on 6th. Meanwhile, Great Egrets were to be found at seven sites, with a maximum of six at Thrapston GP on 8th.
On 4th, what should surely prove to be a record-busting count of fourteen Jack Snipes was made at Daventry CP, counts scraping into double-figures being highly exceptional. Elsewhere, singles were at Hollowell Res and Stanford Res on 2nd and up to two were on a marshy field pool near Ravensthorpe Res between 3rd and 5th.
Once again, Boddington gull roost produced multiple Mediterranean Gulls – three to be precise – an adult plus two first-winters in the fading light of the 5th. But the true joys of the depths of winter crystallised in the form of an Iceland Gull at Rushton Landfill on 5th. This one, a second-winter, will hopefully be the first of a run of ‘white-wingers’ over the next couple of months. Iceland Gulls have occurred annually, in varying numbers, in the county since 1986.
Rushton also held an adult Caspian Gull on 2nd, plus a first-winter and second-winter on 5th, while another first-winter was in the Boddington roost on the same date, as was this week’s only Yellow-legged Gull.
Back on dry land, Merlins were seen at Helmdon on 4th and near Arthingworth on 6th. But it was the long-absent Bearded Tits which popped up again at Stortons GP on 8th which will no doubt rekindle interest in this suburban reserve. With Bitterns there, too, Stortons looks set to become the legally permissive ‘go to’ site for Northampton-based birders over the lockdown period.
Other ‘tits’ with attenuated rear ends are also available – one such being the Ravensthorpe Long-tailed Tit, resembling the Northern race caudatus, from 3rd to 6th. With its credentials blemished, however, it seems to be a continental europaeus-based intergrade at best (more here).
Pitsford produced the highest count of Stonechats, with six on 5th, while between one and three were present at five other locations during the period. Crossbills were down a little on last week, with the larches of Wakerley Great Wood still hanging on to at least twenty until at least 4th, Hollowell maxing out at ten on 8th and six at Harlestone Heath (or Firs, if you prefer) on the same date.