This week was very much a tale of two halves, the first of which saw us under a relatively mild southerly airflow that proved to be highly conducive to spring migration. The second half of the period delivered persistently strong to gale force west to south-westerlies, with gusts topping 55 mph but as far as spring migrants were concerned, we were very much in the zone …
The wildfowl line-up didn’t change appreciably and beyond two Barnacle Geese putting in an appearance and settling at Pitsford Res from 6th until 11th, the only really new arrivals were a briefly staying Pink-footed Goose at Daventry CP on 12th, a White-fronted Goose at Priors Hall, Corby, for one day only, on 7th and a drake Greater Scaup, off the dam at the aforementioned reservoir, on 9th.
It was still present at the week’s end, accompanied by a female which showed the hallmarks of a Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, although it appeared to display mainly Scaup characteristics. The other hybrid of the back end of this winter – the female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard – surfaced again at Stanwick GP on 8th. The ongoing presence of Ditchford GP’s drake Ring-necked Duck continued until at least 9th, as did that of the drake Smew there, accompanied by the fidgety ‘redhead’ for one day only, on 6th.
Further down the Nene Valley and after a week with no reports, the Glossy Ibis was back on Thrapston GP’s Aldwincle Lake – if only intermittently – on 7th-9th. Prior to this it was rumoured to have been frequenting the horse field behind the lay-by on the A605, just east of Thrapston. Also in the same area, a Cattle Egret was seen in fields between the edge of the town and the footpath from said lay-by to Town Lake during the evening of 11th, before being relocated on the nearby Heronry Lake the following morning. Likely though it is to be one of the Stanwick troop, a new bird can’t be fully ruled out and up to five were still at the latter locality on 6th-7th. Thrapston also trumped all other sites for Great Egrets this week, with up to six there on 11th, while three were at Summer Leys, on and off, and singles were seen at Blatherwycke Lake, Clifford Hill GP, Pitsford, Stanford Res and Stanwick. Arguably more attractive and undoubtedly more difficult to get to grips with than any of the above this week, was the Bittern that dropped into reeds at Summer Leys on 7th.
Summer Leys also briefly attracted a Marsh Harrier for half an hour on 9th, another Marsh Harrier went through at Stanford Res on 7th and in the north of the county, a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier coasted over the road between Deenethorpe and Upper Benefield on 6th.
So, more on that Little Ringed Plover touched on above. A single call on a nocmig recording device, at 00.03 hours on 7th was all it took to make its way into the record books as Northamptonshire’s earliest ever spring record, beating the previous earliest, which was on 10th March 1983. Now, imagine if it had been four seconds earlier … Following this one, another was seen flying around the new workings at Earls Barton GP on 9th.
Single fly-over Curlews occurred at Stanford Res on 6th and 8th and this week, other large waders were also available in the form of Black-tailed Godwits, with singles on 8th and 9th at Pitsford and the same two days at Stanwick, while one which flew over Ecton Brook, Northampton on the morning of 9th seems highly likely to have been the same individual located at Ecton SF later in the day.
Single Dunlins visited Stanwick GP on 9th and 11th and two were at Summer Leys on 10th, while wintering Jack Snipes were up to four at Pitsford and three at Hollowell Res.
Associated with that big south-westerly blow was a first-winter Kittiwake, which joined the gull roost at Boddington Res on 11th. It was not entirely alone as others were also seen well inland in Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire during the adverse weather.
Mediterranean Gulls continued to appear nightly at Stanford’s gull roost, which peaked at three on 7th, while last week’s Thrapston individual was again seen on 9th and single Yellow-legged Gulls appeared at three sites, which included adults at Hardingstone GP on 8th, Stanford on 12th and at least one at Pitsford all week.
Continuing the poor winter for this species, the Harrington Airfield Short-eared Owl remained until at least 9th.
Well, if last week delivered our first Sand Martin of the year, this week it was the turn of the first Swallow, with two appearing at Clifford Hill on 9th. Once again, these proved to be record-breakers, the previous earliest being a full week later, on 16th March 1977. Wow! It wasn’t quite the same for White Wagtail, though, with this week’s birds at Thrapston and Stanford on 7th, Hollowell on 9th and by the A14 east of Woodford on 12th coming nowhere near the earliest, which was on 25th February 1995.
Another sign that winter is in full retreat was, once again, the lack of Stonechats, with just one being seen, at Welford Res, on 11th. Crossbills still abound, however, with as many as fifteen still at Hollowell on 7th and nine still on 9th, while 6th saw one at Bucknell Wood and two at Scotland Wood, 7th saw three still at Wakerley Great Wood, four flew south over Denton Wood on 8th and two flew south-west over Harrington AF on 12th.