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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.