Newsround – 20th to 26th March 2021

It was a cool start to the week before northerly winds quickly gave way to westerlies and south-westerlies, temperatures rose a touch and migration began to gain a little more momentum. In fact, with the arrival of more spring migrants, some tantalisingly brief encounters and long-staying rarities still on tap, it was a great week for late March, whichever way you slice it …

Geese made a comeback this week, albeit in minimum numbers. Among them, an adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR from 23rd until the week’s end – a species which has established itself as a regular spring passage migrant over recent years.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Ditchford GP, 23rd March 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Ditchford GP, 23rd March 2021 (Nick Parker)

A first-winter White-fronted Goose joined local Greylags at Stanford Res over exactly the same period while, overnight on 22nd, microphones pointing skyward picked up a calling Pink-footed Goose on nocturnal migration over Scaldwell.   

First-winter White-fronted Goose, Stanford Res, 24th March 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

The same migration station also picked up flight calls of seven Common Scoters (groups of one, 4 and 2) over an hour’s duration, late in the evening on 24th. How did we ever manage without ‘nocmig’ in the past?

The appearance of a drake Ring-necked Duck at Stanwick GP, for one day on 21st, sparked interest and speculation that it was a new bird, as opposed to the Ditchford drake on an awayday. The latter was still in situ on 25th, so who knows … Also sticking it out for the duration was the drake Greater Scaup, accompanied the presumed female Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, off Pitsford dam. A puzzling individual which is more ‘Greater Scaup’ than anything else and in the right light, shows a green sheen to the head. Work that one out! It also roamed to the causeway on at least one occasion.

Hybrid female Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck, Pitsford Res, 25th March 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Star rarity of the winter, the Thrapston Glossy Ibis, remained settled in its favoured horse field throughout the period.

Glossy Ibis, Thrapston GP, 21st March 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)

Four Cattle Egrets were at the established feeding site of Stanwick on 20th, while Great Egrets were at Pitsford, Stanford, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with a maximum of four at the last of these sites on 23rd.

And if the above is old hat, then from now on our county’s bodies of water will be livened up somewhat with the return of this year’s Ospreys, the first of which was seen flying north over Spratton on 21st. Others quickly followed, with one over Bulwick on 24th and reservoirs at Hollowell, Ravensthorpe and Pitsford each receiving a slice of the action on 25th.

So, from the tangible to the intangible. Enter … another White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight – the third to have visited us so far this year. This week’s, a second calendar year female, G405, flew north from Wiltshire on 22nd and amazingly, chose to roost is in exactly the same location, near Silverstone, as G318 a few weeks ago. Her journey north continued the following day, having left the roost site at 08.30 and taking two hours to fly north-east through the county and on into Lincolnshire. Again, it’s astonishing that such a large bird can slip through unnoticed. Clearly nocmig and satellite tracking are helping us to ‘see the unseen’ – although clearly not in the same context as suggested in the tagline of one leading optical manufacturer …

Female White-tailed Eagle G405 movements through Northamptonshire 23rd March 2021 (Tim Mackrill)

Continuing on the ‘big bird’ theme, though arguably less spectacular, a Common Crane flew north over Thrapston GP, late in the morning, on 24th.

On the wader front – and somewhat predictably these days – the first Avocets started to come through, beginning with a short-staying bird on floods at Lower Barnwell Lock on 20th, followed by an all-day stayer at Clifford Hill GP on 23rd and two at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR the following day.

Avocet, Clifford Hill GP, 23rd March 2021 (Ant Hall)

Single Curlews were at DIRFT 3 Pools on 21st and in flight, north, over Pitsford on 24th, while a first-summer Black-tailed Godwit remained at Summer Leys from 22nd until the week’s end. Apart from two at Stanwick on 20th and the same number at Pitsford on 23rd, Summer Leys grabbed the lion’s share of this week’s Dunlins with up to six between 20th and 23rd. Single Jack Snipes were at Hollowell on 20th and 23rd and at Clifford Hill GP on 21st.

Adult Mediterranean Gulls, Stanwick GP, 26th March 2021 (Steve Fisher)

In contrast to last week, Mediterranean Gulls were confined to the two Nene Valley locations of Stanwick and Summer Leys, where they were seen almost daily, the first of these sites producing up to three on 23rd and Summer Leys, one throughout the period. All were adults. At least one Yellow-legged Gull continued to frequent Pitsford and Caspian Gulls materialised in the form of an adult at Hollowell on 23rd and a first-winter at Boddington Res on 25th.

Coming to a gravel pit near you: Common Tern at Thrapston on 26th just misses earliest ever, on 23rd March in 2005. In the vanguard for our summer breeders, it’s the first of many more soon to come.

Meanwhile, Harrington Airfield’s Short-eared Owl was still present on 22nd, as was the female Merlin there and a male turned up on site on 24th, while another was seen at Stortons GP on the same date. It’s been a good winter for them locally.

To passerines and an early House Martin, at Raunds on 21st, constitutes another near miss, just two days off the earliest ever, on 19th March in 2001. And upholding the scarcity flavour of the week … a Black Redstart, seen only briefly at Ashton STW on 24th. Two Stonechats clung on to the ashes of winter still this week, with one at Summer Leys on 20th and another at Clifford Hill on 21st, subsequently being replaced by Northern Wheatears – the first being at Wigsthorpe on 22nd, followed by one at Clifford Hill on 26th. Two were also reported from the Blueberry Farm/Brampton Valley area on 22nd. They have arrived in the county a little later than expected this year. Two more White Wagtails arrived this week – one at Ecton SF on 22nd and the other at Thrapston the following day but neither beats a nice spring Rock Pipit, one of which paid a brief visit to Stanwick on 21st before flying of east.

Female Crossbill, Hollowell Res, 22nd March 2021 (Jon Cook)
Male Crossbill, Hollowell Res, 22nd March 2021 (Jon Cook)

All of this week’s Crossbills were seen at Hollowell between 20th and 23rd, with a maximum of fifteen there on 22nd.

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