A bright, rain-free and erratically warm week, with a high pressure system sitting over Scandinavia in part, brought a mixture of north-easterlies and easterlies, with some short-term southerlies thrown in for good measure. SET AGAINST A BACKCLOTH OF THE CONTINUED ARRIVAL OF SPRING MIGRANTS AND a huge, unprecedented influx of Little Gulls, the first true rarity of the spring – a potential fifth record for Northamptonshire – livened things up, albeit briefly, on 17th.
With winter wildfowl well and truly on the wane, a lone White-fronted Goose dropping in to Stanford Res on 23rd, along with a Ruddy Shelduck flying over nearby Honey Hill on 17th, summed up the anserine oddballs for the week. Indisputably more pukka credentials were attached to the Garganey pairs remaining at Summer Leys until 17th and throughout the week at Pitsford Res, while a lone drake visited Stanwick GP on 18th. Finally, it looked this week like the winter’s long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck decided to call it a day – that day being 19th – the last date it was seen at Clifford Hill GP.
Another long-stayer, which had become increasingly restless in recent weeks, also appears to have done a bunk, having last been seen at both Stanwick and Thrapston GP on 17th. Yes, the lengthening daylight hours finally called time on the county’s most obliging Glossy Ibis to date, after completing a marathon 63-day sojourn in the Nene Valley.
And had it not been for one at Stanwick on 18th and four on 22nd, Cattle Egrets would have slipped under the radar this week, while Great Egrets were still to be found at four locations – namely Clifford Hill, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston, with a maximum of three at the latter site on 20th.
Following the two short-stayers earlier in the month, Daventry CP again pulled in another of Draycote’s first-winter Shags. It remained all week.
In contrast to last week, Ospreys were limited to just three sightings of singles, these being at both Stanford and Thrapston on 20th and a ringed individual at Hollowell on 22nd. The latter, believed to be unpaired, was ‘blue T3’, a male from the Rutland project, hatched in 2016.
Other raptors were also available – if you were there at the time, that is – and with a sharp eye to boot. The venue: Pitsford causeway. The date: 23rd April. The bird: probable male Pallid Harrier. An all-too-brief flythrough to the south-east and, by all accounts, giving a frustratingly below par performance that will win no Oscars. Intriguingly, a ‘possible male Pallid Harrier’ was also reported near Sandy, Bedfordshire, approximately 40 km to the south-east, some 35 minutes later …
This week’s wader numbers were on the up, the birds themselves panning out better than those in last week’s meagre line-up. Three Avocets spent less than an hour in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay during the morning of 22nd, before quickly departing to the north-west and another dropped in at Clifford Hill GP the following evening, on 23rd.
The year’s first Whimbrel arrived at Summer Leys on 19th, followed the next day by further singles at the same site and at Stanwick, while two more appeared again at Summer Leys on 22nd.
Curlews were limited to three in flight over Pitsford on 18th and one at Thrapston the same day, followed by another over Stanford on 21st, while Bar-tailed Godwits came into their own, this week being recorded from six localities. The top site for numbers was Summer Leys, where eleven were seen on 22nd, followed by Clifford Hill, where three arrived on 19th and were joined by three more on 22nd, after which two remained the following day. Five flew north-east over Boddington Res – also on 22nd and singles were at Thrapston on 17th and at both DIRFT 3 and Stanwick on 23rd.
In the shade, then, were Black-tailed Godwits, with singles (or perhaps the same bird) at Summer Leys on 17th and 19th. A Ruff visited DIRFT 3 on 21st, when two Dunlins were at Clifford Hill, remaining there until the following day.
Now rarer in the county than Avocet, a Spotted Redshank was found on 22nd at Summer Leys, where it remained on the following day, when another flew north over the causeway at Pitsford. A Greenshank arrived at Thrapston on 17th, remaining until 19th and two were present there on 20th. Elsewhere, singles were at both Stanford and Stanwick on 22nd and two visited DIRFT 3 the following day.
But it was Little Gulls that really stole the show this week. An influx involving hundreds took place across the Midlands and southern England, peaking hugely on 23rd, when localities in neighbouring counties saw what must surely be unprecedented inland numbers. Rutland Water, in Leicestershire held one hundred and seven at one point, Farmoor Res in Oxfordshire scored eighty-one and Draycote in Warwickshire had more than forty. Numbers here in Northants were also not too shoddy, kicking off with singles at Summer Leys on 17th and 19th and at Pitsford on 21st, the latter site producing three the following day before the floodgates opened on 23rd. The ‘big day’, then, delivered a very respectable minimum of seventy-five to Pitsford, twenty-six at Clifford Hill, minima of twenty-five at Stanwick and nineteen at Summer Leys, while Stanford and Thrapston scraped in with five and two, respectively.
With any focus of attention on Mediterranean Gulls momentarily halted, at least two remained on and off at Summer Leys all week. Caspian Gulls were also in evidence with an adult visiting Daventry CP on 17th and a first-winter at DIRFT 3 on 23rd, while Yellow-legged Gulls included the usual one or two Pitsford ‘semi-residents’, a third-winter at DIRFT 3 on 21st, followed by an adult and a first-winter there on 23rd and a third-summer at Clifford Hill GP on the same date.
Back on the migration theme and the spring’s first Black Tern was seen at Thrapston GP, where there were two on 20th, quickly followed there by the first five Arctic Terns the next day, when seventeen also visited Stanwick. On 22nd, fifteen dropped in at Boddington Res and one was again at Stanwick, while the following day brought several more to Thrapston, four were at Clifford Hill, two at Sywell CP and one at Pitsford.
Another first for the year materialised in the form of a Common Swift over Stanwick on 23rd, followed by two more at Kislingbury later in the day. What no-one was prepared for, however, was a little less tangible: a European Bee-eater flew west over Summer Leys on 17th, calling three times. Frustratingly for the two birders tuned in to it, it remained invisible, high up in the clear blue of the troposphere. If accepted, it becomes the fifth county record. Others were found in Cornwall and Scilly during the previous week.
Slightly more down to earth, a male Merlin flew low north-west at Boddington Res on 20th.
More spring migrant ‘firsts’ arrived in the shape of a Grasshopper Warbler at Thrapston on 17th and a Garden Warbler at Summer Leys on 18th, while a male Pied Flycatcher was found in the grounds of Kelmarsh Hall – apparently ‘closed to riff-raff’ – on 23rd and another was reported behind Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on the same date.
More Ring Ouzels this week included the popular Harrington AF male, still present on 17th, another male at Earls Barton GP on the same date and, on 18th, two were found at Honey Hill when last week’s male was still near Byfield, east of Boddington Res. Meanwhile, Common Redstarts continued to trickle through, this week’s four including single males at Harrington on 17th and Kingsthorpe Meadows, Northampton on 19th, a female at Honey Hill on 20th and a male at Sywell CP on 23rd.
Northern Wheatears were also still on the move, with one at Harrington on 17th, three at Honey Hill on 18th, two at Borough Hill on 19th with one there on 22nd, one at Wicksteed Park on 21st and one Clifford Hill GP on the same date, rising to two on 22nd-23rd.
Alongside a report of a female Blue-headed Wagtail at Summer Leys on 22nd, single White Wagtails were at Clifford Hill on 22nd and 23rd.
A busy week with more to look forward to …