Newsround – 20th to 26th February 2021

A south to south-westerly airstream ensured temperatures remained above average throughout the period. This week the spotlight remained firmly on Thrapston.

Barnacle Geese came to the fore in this week’s wildfowl line-up, with nine at Stanwick GP, apparently replacing the White-fronted Geese there on 23rd. In fact, the only White-fronts during the period were two in flight over Byfield on 20th, while single Pink-footed Geese were at both Ringstead GP and Stanwick on 20th.

Stanwick was also paid another visit by the itinerant female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid on 21st, the day on which the drake Ring-necked Duck was refound back on Ditchford GP’s Big Lake, where it was still present at the week’s end. Paralleling this, last week’s two Smews at the same locality also re-emerged on Higham Lake on 23rd and on the same date, a new ‘redhead’ was discovered on Thrapston GP’s Aldwincle Lake, where it, too, remained until the end of the week.

‘Redhead’ Smew, Thrapston GP, 23rd February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Looking set to see the winter out, Pitsford’s juvenile Great Northern Diver stayed mobile between the causeway and the dam there until at least 23rd.

The focus of attention remained, however, on Thrapston’s Glossy Ibis, having abandoned its regular haunt of Islip Water Meadows in favour of Aldwincle Lake, where it appeared settled throughout the week, mercifully free of human disturbance.

Glossy Ibis, Thrapston GP, 23rd February 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Glossy Ibis, Thrapston GP, 23rd February 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Glossy Ibis, Thrapston GP, 24th February 2021 (Angus Molyneux)

Thrapston’s purple patch continued with the appearance, albeit briefly, of a Cattle Egret on 21st – seemingly the first record for this locality while, further up the valley, up to three remained at the usual Stanwick stronghold.

Back at Thrapston, a milestone was reached this week in the shape of a single-site, double-figure count of Great Egrets, with a likely ten there on 25th. So it looks very much like the county’s wintering population is now twenty plus, the majority of which are in the Nene Valley. Common as muck, as they say …

No so common and, in reality, at the other end of the scale, a White-tailed Eagle was seen drifting high over the Boughton Estate, north of Kettering, on 21st. With those from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme floating around off the leash, it might not ordinarily have raised too many eyebrows but we have it on good authority that all the satellite-tagged birds were accounted for elsewhere. Boom! Somewhat overshadowed, under the circumstances, was a Marsh Harrier, which passed through almost unnoticed, at Stanford Res on 20th.

Numbers held up on the wader front this week, with Stanwick’s Bar-tailed Godwit continuing to occupy the prime slot until at least 22nd, while new in was a Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys LNR on 21st. Also new were single Curlews at Stanford Res on 21st, Lilbourne Meadows on 22nd and at Clifford Hill GP on 25th, while numbers of Dunlins again fell to just four at the DIRFT 3 development area and 2 at Stanwick GP – all on 21st. Only two localities hosted Jack Snipes with possibly up to eight present in suitable habitat near Ravensthorpe – again on 21st – and up to four at Hollowell between 23rd and 26th.

With only a few more days to go until March, the prime spring month for the movement of Mediterranean Gulls, a few have already started coming through. Stanford’s gull roost held two on 24th and 26th, while the second of these two dates saw one in a gathering of gulls at Hollowell during the last hour of daylight. All birds were adults. By contrast, a young bird with nowhere to go anytime soon was the juvenile Iceland Gull at Rushton Landfill, which remained there throughout the period.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 20th February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

This week’s Yellow-legged Gulls were all adults, with singles seen at Ditchford GP on 20th and sporadically throughout at Pitsford, plus four at Hollowell on 26th.

The 23rd saw Merlins at Sutton Bassett and Harrington AF while, on the passerine front, Stonechats were found at ten sites this week, with no more than three at any one of these.

Stonechat, Stortons GP, 21st February, 2021 (Tony Stanford)
Stonechat, Ecton SF, 25th February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Although it’s late February and Crossbills should be breeding, it appears we still have flocks locally, with up to twenty at Wakerley Great Wood on 25th-26th and up to fifteen still at Hollowell between 21st and 26th. Maybe our birds are from further north …

Newsround – 13th to 19th February 2021

This week, the meteorological pendulum swung in the opposite direction and almost at the flick of a switch, temperatures soared from well below, to significantly above, average. South-westerlies were back and the ice melted as one celebrity bird ended the long wait for many local birders to catch up with it in the county.

But first things first and new on the scene this week were more Pink-footed Geese – one at Stanwick GP from 13th until at least 17th and two just along the valley near Ringstead GP on 17th with at least one remaining until 19th. Back at Stanwick, the wintering White-fronted Geese topped thirty-three – a highly respectable total for the county in recent years.

All the pizzazz exuded by Ditchford’s glitzy drake Ring-necked Duck quickly evaporated as it seemingly vanished after 14th, the date it was last seen on Higham Lake. It might just be that no one has looked since, of course. Perhaps the same could be said about the two Smews at the same locality – the ‘redhead’ not having been seen since the day it was found and the drake coincidentally appearing to do a bunk after 14th. What is it about Valentine’s Day?

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 14th February 2021 (Adrian Borley)
‘Redhead’ Smews, Ravensthorpe Res, 13th February 2021 (Angus Molyneux)

Perhaps the drake making a brief appearance in Pitsford’s Holcot Bay on 16th was the same bird. Some consolation was subsequently provided by a bevy of three ‘redheads’ which turned up at Ravensthorpe Res on 13th, remaining there until 15th, after which only one appeared to be present the following day. Across the road, at Hollowell Res, a female Greater Scaup was discovered on 14th, remaining there until the week’s end.

Female Greater Scaup, Hollowell Res, 15th February 2021 (Jon Cook)

Meanwhile, fast fading into the background was Pitsford’s juvenile Great Northern Diver, which was reported only on the first day of the period.

In a bizarre and unexpected turn of events, however, it was a species hitherto notoriously difficult to catch up with locally that stole the limelight this week. After multiples in neighboring Cambridgeshire and a roving bird in Bedfordshire this winter, a Glossy Ibis finally found its way into Northants. First seen flying south over Thrapston GP on 13th it was subsequently discovered three days later on Islip Water Meadows, only a stone’s throw from where it had originally been seen in flight. Providing respectable views from the track running down the western flank of Thrapston’s Town Lake and from Islip’s Mill Lane, unlike the previous six seen in the county, it did the decent thing and settled there throughout the remainder of the week, allowing many a local to catch up with it. Hopefully, it has now dug in for the rest of the winter.

First-winter Glossy Ibis, Islip Water Meadows, 17th February 2021 (Bob Bullock)

First-winter Glossy Ibis, Islip Water Meadows, 18th February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Undoubtedly overshadowed by the above, just two Cattle Egrets were reported, not a million miles away, at this species’ favoured location of Stanwick on 13th. Nine wetland localities produced between one and four Great Egrets apiece this week with, once again, Summer Leys LNR laying claim to the lion’s share of seven on 13th. A Bittern was reported from Thrapston on 19th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 13th February 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)

Some of last week’s hard weather waders remained in the county throughout the period, most notably Stanwick’s Bar-tailed Godwit, which crossed the A6 to visit Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR on 16th before returning to Stanwick to see out the remainder of the week. A single Knot further contributed to putting Islip Water Meadows firmly on the map during its brief visit on 13th, while Dunlins maintained a presence of sorts, with lower numbers this week including up to four at Stanwick and Clifford Hill GP, three at Earls Barton GP and one at Pitsford. Only to be expected were Jack Snipes at the usual locality of Hollowell, where there were up to three and at the less renowned sites of Wicksteed Water Meadows, Kettering – again with three and two at Clifford Hill GP.

Apart from an adult Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford on 16th-17th, a gull with ‘form and history’ visited Stanford Res on 13th, identifying itself to observers as a Polish-ringed, first-winter Caspian Gull by way of its decorative legwear. Yellow ring, number P:PW6, enabled its movements to be followed since being ringed as a nestling at Mazowieckie, Poland on 16th May 2020. On 12th December 2020, it visited Zeeland in The Netherlands, subsequently crossing the North Sea to appear at Tanholt Landfill, Peterborough on 26th January 2021, before being seen again at Shawell Landfill in Leicestershire on 5th February – a distance of 1522 km from its Polish colony.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Stanford Res, 13th February 2021 (Chris Hubbard). This individual was ringed as a nestling in Poland.

On dry land, last week’s Short-eared Owl remained at Harrington AF throughout and another was seen nearby, in the Brampton Valley, on 14th, while a female Merlin was at Harrington on 13th.

Stonechats were found at eight sites this week, with Hollowell producing the highest count of six between 16th and 19th, as well as solely accounting for this week’s Crossbills the highest number of which was eight or nine on 13th.

That would be it, other than for the fact that we now know the first summer visitors have arrived in the UK this week, with South Wales producing the first Northern Wheatear and Sand Martin, Dorset seeing the country’s first Swallow and the first Ring Ouzel appearing in Devon. Dare we hope the forthcoming week will deliver at least one early migrant to our own county … ?

Looking settled – the Thrapston Glossy Ibis

When is a fly-over not a fly-over? When it’s the 7th Glossy Ibis for Northamptonshire!

On Saturday 13th February, Nick Parker was birding at Thrapston GP when he was lucky enough to pick up a Glossy Ibis flying south at around 11.30. Expectant birders at Stanwick kept their eyes to the skies, hopeful it would appear there. Unfortunately, it didn’t. That would have been the end of it but for Dick Curtiss relocating it late yesterday afternoon on Islip Water Meadows, before it flew off toward Aldwincle. Clearly, it hadn’t gone far since the initial sighting.

Today it was back again on Islip Water Meadows and according to locals, well, it’s been there four or five days …

Glossy Ibis, Islip Water Meadows, 17th February 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Glossy Ibis, Islip Water Meadows, 17th February 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Glossy Ibis, Islip Water Meadows, 17th February 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Glossy Ibis, Islip Water Meadows, 17th February 2021 (Leslie Fox)

Unlike all previous occurrences in the county, this one has stayed for longer than an hour and a half and is the 7th for Northants.

Set in context, following a small influx last autumn, November-February has seen several birds wintering in the UK. Three are currently present together at Earith in Cambridgeshire, at least one is wandering throughout Bedfordshire, four are at one site in Devon and singles are ensconced in Dorset and Kent.

Newsround – 6th to 12th February 2021

From some way beyond Scandinavia, cold Arctic air on the back of so-called ‘Storm Darcy’ delivered little more than a sprinkling of snow during a week in which daytime temperatures reached a low of -3°C. Factor in the wind chill and you were down to -8°C. Associated with these conditions there was also a sprinkling of rather unseasonal waders, along with the discovery of the county’s 9th record of Ring-necked Duck. Other ducks were also available …

And so were geese, with another sizeable flock of Barnacles – this time twenty-four – appearing on land adjacent to Boddington Res on 11th. The same winter gaggle of at least twenty-nine White-fronted Geese continued to find Stanwick GP to their liking, remaining on, and around, the site all week.

White-fronted Goose, Stanwick GP, 8th February 2021 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, some observers were treated to a white-out at Stanford Res, where eighteen Bewick’s Swans were discovered early on 6th. Seemingly ‘grounded’ in foggy conditions, they were off as soon as the mist cleared, being seen minutes later flying north-east over nearby Sulby. Interestingly, at least two of these birds were identified from the Stanford photos (on bill pattern) as having recently left their wintering grounds at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, setting out on the long journey back to their breeding area. However, they seemingly aborted their migration in the face of adverse weather conditions and returned to Slimbridge shortly afterward. More Bewick’s were subsequently logged in the area, with five south-west over Sulby on 11th and two over, north-east, on 12th, when five also flew east over the Brampton Valley Way between Clipston and Arthingworth.

Bewick’s Swans, Stanford Res, 6th February 2021 (Chris Hubbard). Part of the flock of 18 briefly present at this site.
Bewick’s Swans, Stanford Res, 6th February 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Quickly glossing over the appearance of the female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid again at Stanwick on 8th, the focus this week was on the discovery of a fine drake Ring-necked Duck at Ditchford GP on 6th. Mobile between Big Lake and Skew Bridge Lake, it remained until the morning of 12th, after which it promptly did a bunk. To set this occurrence in context, we are in the midst of a sizeable influx, this winter having so far seen almost forty birds across the UK and Eire, with multiples of up to four to be found at some sites.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Ditchford GP, 6th February 2021 (Matt Hazleton)
Drake Ring-necked Duck, Ditchford GP, 6th February 2021 (Bob Bullock)


Vagrants aside – no matter how smart they might be – no winter is complete without that final vital ingredient – a drake Smew. The first one this side of the New Year again put Ditchford firmly on the map, being found on 11th, along with a ‘redhead’, both birds being independently mobile throughout the day before teaming up on Delta Lake at dusk. Neither was seen subsequently.

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 11th February (Bob Bullock)
Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 11th February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Demonstratively more dependable, though eliciting seemingly less interest, Pitsford’s juvenile Great Northern Diver remained all week, as did up to three Cattle Egrets at Stanwick. Four localities – Ditchford, Stanford, Stanwick and Thrapston GP – produced between one and two Great Egrets apiece, while Summer Leys LNR notched up at least five on 12th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 12th February 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

Perhaps an indication of just how severe the freezing conditions have been this week was the arrival in the county of a number of waders which would normally be found wintering in coastal locations. Hard weather movements resulted in the unseasonal appearance of a Ringed Plover at Willowbrook Industrial Estate in Corby on 7th, a Bar-tailed Godwit, which remained at Stanwick from 9th until the week’s end and Knots at four localities.

Bar-tailed Godwit, Stanwick GP, 11th February (Steve Fisher)
Knot, Gretton, 9th February 2021 (Bob Bullock)

The latter included a flock of thirteen flying NNE over Byfield on 8th, three on floodwater by the River Cherwell near Kings Sutton on the same date, one at Stanwick GP on 9th and one by the River Welland, south of Gretton, from 8th to 10th. This last bird was accompanied by around thirty Dunlins, dropping to about twenty over the following two days. This is an exceptional number in modern-day Northamptonshire – especially in winter! There were more. Five near Kings Sutton and singles at Ditchford GP and Pitsford Res on 8th, up to three at Stanwick between 9th and 12th, five on floods near Barnwell on 10th and two at Summer Leys on the same date. More in season were Jack Snipes, with singles at Hollowell on 6th, Stanford on 7th and Clifford Hill GP on 12th.

Dunlins, Gretton, 9th February 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Meanwhile, scarce gulls remained just that, with two adult Mediterranean Gulls in the roost at Stanford on 12th, the juvenile Iceland Gull seemingly settled at Rushton Landfill all week and an adult Caspian Gull there on 7th.

‘Scarce’ is also undoubtedly applicable to Short-eared Owls this winter, one of which was seen this week at Harrington AF, on 6th. Surely Northants can do better than this? Two Merlins comprised single females in flight at Pitsford on 10th and Boddington the following day.

Stonechats were present in the Brampton Valley and at Hollowell and Stanford, while after a week with no reports, Crossbills were back, with up to five at Harlestone Heath between 8th and 10th and between five and ten at Hollowell on 9th.

Newsround – 30th January to 5th February 2021

Chilly east to north-easterlies kept temperatures depressed in the first half of the period, after which a mild spell saw a double-figure rise to 11°C, under the influence of a south to south-westerly airstream. The week’s focus was centred firmly on the presence of two White-tailed Eagles, the anticipated easy connectivity with one giving rise to a small, though appreciable, stream of ‘local’ birders to its favoured wetland site.

It was, however, a poor week for wildfowl by recent standards with the thirty or so White-fronted Geese remaining around their chosen fields at the northern extremity of the Stanwick GP complex until at least 2nd and the female Ruddy Shelduck enjoying an away-day at Foxholes Fisheries, Crick on the same date. The infamous female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid again materialised at Stanwick on 31st, remaining in the area until at least 3rd. In terms of its physical appearance it looks almost the real deal – close but no cigar.

Female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid, Stanwick GP, 31st January 2021 (Steve Fisher)

The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained loyal to Pitsford Res all week and, keeping a low profile, between one and three Cattle Egrets were seen at Stanwick GP throughout, while three were on fields immediately south of Irthlingborough on 31st. A rather modest number of Great Egrets was logged, with up to three at Stanwick and singles at Ditchford GP (IL&M), Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Ringstead GP, Stanford Res and Stortons GP.

Great Egret, Stortons GP, 31st January 2021 (David Smith)

This week, the county played host to no less than two immature White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of White introduction scheme, their paths almost crossing near Pitsford Res on 1st. Their movements are documented here. Despite not being ‘fully wild’, their majesty, grandeur and sheer enormity were more than enough to captivate, interest, and inspire a number of local birders to make the interpreted ‘permitted short journey to exercise’ at Pitsford to connect with the lingering male, on 31st. He departed to Oxfordshire the following day, when the female arrived, this second bird remaining in the county until moving into Cambridgeshire on 3rd.

Immature male White-tailed Eagle, G393, from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, Pitsford Res, 31st January 2021 (David Preece)

Waders’ sole representative this week was a Jack Snipe at Hollowell on 30th-31st but gulls rallied somewhat, with an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Stanford on 4th, followed the next day by a juvenile Iceland Gull at Rushton Landfill – only the second of the winter so far, the previous one having also been found at the same site. Two adult Caspian Gulls were also present there on 5th and another adult visited Hollowell on the same date, while single adult Yellow-legged Gulls visited Daventry CP on 1st, Pitsford on 2nd and Hollowell on 5th.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 5th February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Adult Caspian Gull, Rushton Landfill, 5th February 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Although passerines were poorly represented during the period, suburban Northampton was still delivering the goods in the shape of at least one Bearded Tit, a male, at Stortons GP, where it popped up again in the reedbed on 4th.

Stonechat, Raunds, 31st January 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)

Otherwise, Stonechats continued to delight at Hollowell, Pitsford, Raunds, Stanford, Summer Leys and Sywell CP, with no more than three at any one locality.