Newsround – 17th to 23rd April 2021

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.

First-winter Shag, Daventry CP, 18th April 2021 (Gary Pullan)

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.

Adult male Osprey ‘blue T3’, Hollowell Res, 22nd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

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.

Avocets, Pitsford Res, 22nd April 2021 (David Arden)

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.

Whimbrel, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd April 2021 (Steve Hemming)
Whimbrels, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd April 2021 (Steve Hemming)

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.

Male Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 21st April 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Female Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

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.

Adult Little Gull, Pitsford Res, 23rd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

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.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 23rd April 2021 (Alan Coles)

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.

Arctic Tern, Stanwick GP, 21st April 2021 (Steve Fisher)
Arctic Tern, Boddington Res, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Pollard)
Arctic Tern (right) and Common Tern, Boddington Res, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Pollard)

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.

Female Common Redstart, Honey Hill, 20th April 2021 (Jon Cook)
Male Common Redstart, Sywell CP, 23rd April 2021 (Sophie Rowell)

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.

Female Northern Wheatear, Hinton AF, 19th April 2021 (John Friendship-Taylor)
Male Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 23rd April, 2021 (Mike Alibone)

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 …

Newsround – 10th to 16th April 2021

A predominantly northerly airstream, changing to easterly at the week’s end, ensured temperatures remained depressed, although the migrants just kept coming, with passerines aplenty …

The continued popularity of the four Garganeys at Summer Leys LNR was a draw to the site for many and at least two remained until 14th. Pitsford Res also chipped in with two in Scaldwell Bay, from 11th until the week’s end, as well as producing two Common Scoters at the opposite end on 14th – the latter being the dambusters in ending the dry run for this species which, hitherto, had been confined to ‘nocmig only’ records this year.

This winter’s long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck sat another week out at Clifford Hill GP, sometimes displaying to female Tufted Ducks – well, when in Rome … and the Ditchford/Stanwick drake Smew appeared to be edging closer to its homeland as it moved just that little bit further east, to Thrapston GP, on 10th-12th.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Clifford Hill GP, 12th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Meanwhile, back at Pitsford, after a dearth this winter, a Great Northern Diver was found on 14th, remaining there until 16th.

The pattern of early morning sightings at Stanwick continued this week for the county’s historically most accessible and much admir’d Glossy Ibis, which duly became more difficult to pin down. It was still present, at its formerly favoured location of Aldwincle Lake at Thrapston, as we moved into the new week.

Glossy Ibis, Stanwick GP, 15th April 2021 (Steve Fisher)

Stanwick also continued as usual to be the main site for Cattle Egrets, four being present there on 10th and two on 16th, while one visited Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 15th. Great Egrets continued to make their normal spring exit from the county, with singles, only, hanging on at Pitsford, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys as the week progressed.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 11th April 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

Single Ospreys were seen at the eight sites of Chapel Brampton, Clifford Hill, Deene Lake, Ditchford, Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Stanwick and Summer Leys, while other raptors also available – if you were there at the time – were, as last week, a Marsh Harrier over Earls Barton GP’s new workings (south) on 11th and a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier flying south-west over Stanwick on 16th.

Waders this week were limited. Single Curlews were at Hinton AF on 13th, Ecton SF on 15th and at both Stanford Res and Summer Leys on 16th. The year’s second Bar-tailed Godwit – a proper spring passage bird – pitched up at Thrapston GP on 16th, while single Black-tailed Godwits were at Ditchford on 15th and Summer Leys on 16th and single Greenshanks were also at Ditchford on 15th and Thrapston the following day.

Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 16th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 16th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Greenshank, Thrapston GP, 16th April 2021 (Nick Parker)

Another week, another Kittiwake – an adult being a brief visitor to Stanwick on 10th. Other fixtures and fittings included the now weekly Mediterranean Gull line-up at Earls Barton/Summer Leys, where two or three adults and a second-summer were present, on and off, and another adult was at Chelveston AF on 10th. Last week’s juvenile Glaucous Gull put in another appearance at DIRFT 3 on 11th, the same site holding both adult and third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls on 15th, while an adult and a second-summer of the latter species remained at Pitsford on 16th.

Passerines came very much to the fore this week. We kick off with the first Cuckoo of the year, at Southwick Wood on 14th – a pretty much average arrival date – but a Woodlark flying north at Onley on 16th was only the second to be reported this year, as well as constituting a near-miss for Warwickshire, as it cruised through on our side of the border.

The year’s first Reed Warblers were both found on 13th, one at Summer Leys just pipping one at Stanwick to the post by a mere forty minutes!

But it was the first Ring Ouzel which proved to be a popular draw for many of the county’s birders this week – a male in the fields just east of Summer Leys on 12th and 13th, the warm sunshine, a Blue-headed Wagtail and the point-blank drake Garganey nearby no doubt strongly contributing to the observer build-up there on the latter date. Another was was found at Harrington AF, also on 13th, again proving popular there until the week’s end.

Male Ring Ouzel, Earls Barton GP, 12th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Ring Ouzel, Harrington AF, 15th April 2021 (Dave Smith)
Ring Ouzel, Byfield, 16th April 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Another first in for the year was a Nightingale at Stanwick on 11th, while another Black Redstart, this week at Long Buckby on 13th, continued this species’ remarkable run so far this spring.

Black Redstart, Long Buckby, 13th April 2021 (Chris Ebbage)
Black Redstart, Long Buckby, 13th April 2021 (Chris Ebbage)

More Common Redstarts also followed on from last week’s sprinkling, with ones and twos at Daventry CP, Eydon, Fawsley Park, Harrington, Hinton, Summer Leys and Stanford, the latter trapped and ringed. Most, if not all, were males.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 12th April 2021 (Chris Hubbard)
Male Common Redstart, Harrington AF, 15th April 2021 (Dave Smith)

Northern Wheatears pretty much followed suit, with Chelveston, Clifford Hill, Deenethorpe AF, Harrington, Hinton and Hollowell all holding one or two migrants, the exception being four at Chelveston on 10th and three at Deenethorpe on 11th.

Male Northern Wheatear, Deenethorpe Airfield, 11th April 2021 (James Underwood)

But generating considerable interest this week were wagtails. Set against a backcloth of the largest number of Yellow Wagtails we have seen in spring for several years was a series of potential oddballs and some not so oddballs. We begin with a swanky male Blue-headed Wagtail, which became the focus of attention for many, in the fields behind Summer Leys from 10th until at least 13th. Following this  was the subsequent discovery of a female (or possibly ‘Channel’-type hybrid) in the same area from 13th, intermittently until 16th. Two more classic male ‘Channel’ Wagtails were also discovered – one at Earls Barton’s New Workings (North) on 12th, swiftly followed the next day by another at Clifford Hill GP.

‘Channel’ Wagtail, Clifford Hill GP, 13th April 2021 (Trevor Ellery)

White Wagtail passage also gathered pace, with Clifford Hill, DIRFT 3, Earls Barton, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanwick and Summer Leys all producing multiples, the highest counts being eleven at Pitsford on 16th, at least ten at Summer Leys on 10th and six at Earls Barton on 15th.

White Wagtail, Clifford Hill GP, 12th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Another first for the year was a Tree Pipit flying over Stanford on 10th, while another  Water Pipit was also seen and head in flight at Pitsford on 16th.

Also in flight, a Hawfinch heard at Harrington on 10th, while Crossbill makes it into this week’s round-up by the skin of its teeth with one at Hollowell on the same date.

Blue-headed and Yellow Wagtail variants at Summer Leys

A male Blue-headed Wagtail has been present in fields adjacent to Summer Leys LNR since its discovery on 12th April. Being a scarce migrant in Northants and the UK in general, it has attracted a lot of attention from local birders and scrutiny of the accompanying Yellow Wagtails has also thrown up some interesting plumage variants, sparking much debate on origins and racial identity.

Fortunately, the site routinely attracts a wealth of photographers, who have been on hand to capture a range of images, allowing subsequent at length plumage examination.

So, here they are …

Blue-headed Wagtail

A straightforward, classic individual featuring all the diagnostic characteristics of a male nominate race flava, i.e. sharply demarcated bright blue head with ear coverts and lores darker than the crown, a striking white, long supercilium extending from the base of the bill and over the ear coverts, obvious broken white eye-ring and white flecks in the ear coverts. It also has a yellow throat with a thin white side border.

Male Blue-headed Wagtail M. f. flava, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Ant Hall)
Male Blue-headed Wagtail M. f. flava, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Blue-headed/‘Channel’-type variant

A not so easy to analyse individual. This bird has a much more diffuse head pattern, with green tones permeating the blue, which is paler than that of the male Blue-headed Wagtail, above. It has a largely white throat and remnants of a ‘necklace’ and the worn-looking outer greater coverts suggest it may be a first-summer bird. The overall appearance closely matches female Blue-headed Wagtail and it may indeed be just that. However, a degree of caution is normally urged when trying to assign females of the ‘yellow wagtail group’ to race …

Female Blue-headed Wagtail/’Channel’-type variant, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Martin Swannell)
Female Blue-headed Wagtail/’Channel’-type variant, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Yellow-headed Wagtail-type variant

A very interesting bird, which appears to show characteristics of the race lutea., i.e. strikingly deep yellow underparts and head, the latter with only a hint of dusky lores and a ghosting of green on the crown, which is said to match lutea perfectly (Shirihai & Svensson 2019). However it lacks the broad yellow tips to the median and greater coverts normally exhibited by this race, the coverts in this case conforming to those of standard flavissima Yellow Wagtail.

Male Yellow Wagtail variant resembling Yellow-headed Wagtail M. f. lutea, Summer Leys LNR, 12th April 2021 (Don Lorraine)
Male Yellow Wagtail variant resembling Yellow-headed Wagtail M. f. lutea, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

This race breeds in the lower Volga, middle Ural region and possibly north-west Kirghiz Steppe. While birds resembling lutea have been recorded in the UK, the race is not on the British list and they are generally considered to be variant flavissima. Feathers or faecal samples allowing DNA analysis would be highly desirable in proving subspecific ID in this case.

Newsround – 3rd to 9th April 2021

From a balmy 15°C on 4th, to bone-chilling northerlies and a touch of the white stuff on 6th, weatherwise, this week had it all. And from long-legged things to classy passerines, the birds were not to be sniffed at, either …

So, inching into what was undoubtedly another great early spring week in the county, the adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR was still present on 3rd although, apparently, not subsequently. Unsurprisingly, then, there was no further change to the line-up in geese with another – or perhaps last week’s relocating – Pink-footed Goose, dropping into Stanwick GP for one day, on 9th.

Two Garganeys were discovered at Summer Leys LNR on 6th, remaining until the week’s end, when they were joined there by two more – the striking and intricately patterned drakes posing within spitting distance of the hides and drawing many a murmur of appreciation from observers and photographers alike.

Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 6th April (Bob Bullock)
Drake and female Garganeys, Summer Leys LNR, 6th April (Bob Bullock)
Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 7th April (Mark Tyrrell)
Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 8th April (Ray Seagrove)

Two stops west along the Nene, the drake Ring-necked Duck continued its stay at Clifford Hill GP throughout the period, after first showing up there on 31st March. As we move deeper into spring, its days there are now surely numbered and perhaps this is already the case with the drake Greater Scaup and the presumed female Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, neither of which has been reported from Pitsford Res since 6th.

Reaching out across the night sky, Scaldwell’s nocmig tracking station picked up a migrating flock of Common Scoters as they passed over at 23.15 on 4th. So far, this spring, none has yet been nailed on the water during the hours of daylight … but there is still time. Back in the Nene Valley, the drake Smew commuted daily between Ditchford GP and Stanwick and was still present at the week’s end.

The latter site was also nicely in line to be the first to receive the now mobile Glossy Ibis, which had established a pattern of being seen there early in the morning before heading back to Thrapston GP later in the day. At least, that’s what it looked like initially but by the end of the week, its appearances at Thrapston had become far more erratic.

Glossy Ibis, Thrapston, 5th April 2021 (Jon Cook)

Not to be entirely outdone, Summer Leys LNR attracted what later transpired to be two somewhat capricious Spoonbills, which were first seen flying west over the reserve early in the afternoon of 8th before later returning to settle on the scrape. Their stay there, however, was short-lived and by late afternoon they were picked up flying south-west over Stanwick before being seen again over the same site little more than an hour later, this time flying north-east. The following day, they were relocated in trees near the Cormorant colony on Ditchford’s Delta Pit during the early part of the afternoon, before again flying off north-east. The conduct of these two conforms nicely to the ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ behaviour, which has been the stuff of late for this species in Northants.

Spoonbills, Summer Leys LNR, 8th April 2021 (Ray Seagrove)
Spoonbills, Stanwick GP, 8th April 2021 (Steve Fisher)
Spoonbills, Ditchford GP, 9th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Spoonbill, Ditchford GP, 9th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

The opposite is true, of course, for Cattle Egrets, at least two of which continued to be seen at Stanwick while Great Egrets were still on the wane, with Thrapston producing four, Pitsford two, and Stanford Res and Summer Leys one apiece.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 5th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 5th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)

Away from the all the Nene Valley razzamatazz, Daventry CP pulled in two very short-staying, first-winter Shags – presumably on an awayday from nearby Draycote Water, just over the border in Warwickshire, where three have seen the winter out and any number of which sometimes go missing.

Collectively, the seven sites of Harlestone Lake, Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res, Stortons GP and Thorpe Malsor Res accounted for daily sightings of Ospreys during the week but the only other raptors were a Marsh Harrier at Stanwick on 3rd and a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier close to the A14, near Kettering on 4th.

Ruffs, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

On the wader front, what were presumably last week’s two Avocets worked their way down the Nene, turning up at Thrapston GP on 7th, while single Curlews were at both Stanford and Summer Leys on 3rd. Three Black-tailed Godwits were at Summer Leys on 3rd-4th, three visited Stanwick on 3rd, with two still present on 5th and three dropped in to Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 4th.

Ruff is quite uncommon as a spring migrant locally and on reflection, these days, autumn is not much better, with numbers over the last few years also being relatively low. So, a ‘flock’ of three together at DIRFT 3 A5 Pools on 8th-9th was a nice find for the site. Dunlins remained thin on the ground this week, with just singles at Clifford Hill and Summer Leys – both on 3rd, while a Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell until at least 5th. And the last wader in this round-up is actually the first – that is, the first Common Sandpiper of the year, appearing on 7th Apr on the new workings at Earls Barton GP, a site within a site, which is rapidly gaining in popularity with birders. It covers a sizeable area and for the purposes of pinpointing individual birds is perhaps best regarded as two sub-sites, split as ‘New Workings (North)’ for the pits between the A45 and the River Nene and ‘New Workings (South)’ for the actively quarried area between Whiston Road and Whiston Lock.

In an even more eventful week for gulls, DIRFT 3’s A5 Pools came once more to the fore – and quite rightly so. This somewhat unique, arguably transient habitat may not be to everyone’s taste but there’s no denying it does deliver the goods from time to time.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

April 8th proved to be one of those times when, in addition to the aforementioned Ruffs, diligent roadside viewing returned a juvenile Glaucous Gull, second-winter Iceland Gull, second-winter Caspian Gull plus second-winter and third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls. Two of the latter species were also present at Pitsford at the week’s end, while up to three adult Mediterranean Gulls were still on the loose at Summer Leys throughout and two were at Stanwick GP on 9th.

Second-winter Iceland Gull, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 4th April 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)
Second-summer Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The month so far continued to deal out more Kittiwakes, single adults being seen at Thrapston GP on 5th and at Stanwick, two days later, on 7th. Sandwich Terns, too, were not done with yet, with another, much more obliging bird loafing for a couple of hours on a semi-submerged post in Ditchford’s Watersports Pit on 9th. A male Merlin flew north over Raunds on 4th, on the same date as the county’s first Common Whitethroat of the year, at Hardingstone GP, on 4th, beating the previous earliest, on 5th April 1998, by one day.

Male Common Redstart, Alderton, 3rd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

More Common Redstarts appeared in the wake of last week’s, with one at Fawsley Park on 7th and up to two near the River Tove, between Alderton and Shutlanger, on 3rd-4th, the latter site also producing a Black Redstart on the same dates. Coincidentally, another Black Redstart was also in a private garden in Wellingborough on these dates and another was found at Chelveston AF on 4th, crossing the county boundary into Bedfordshire shortly after its discovery.

Black Redstart, Alderton, 3rd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Black Redstart, Alderton, 3rd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Black Redstart, Wellingborough, 3rd April 2021 (Amir Mughal)

Other chats were, of course, available in the shape of Northern Wheatears, with up to four favouring the above site at Chelveston on 4th and 5th, singles at both Harrington and Hollowell on the last of these two dates and three south-east of Mawsley on 9th.     

White Wagtails continued to trickle through, with two at Ravensthorpe Res on 8th, while singles were at Clifford Hill on 8th and DIRFT 3 on 9th.

Water Pipit, Hollowell Res, 3rd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

For the second consecutive week, Hollowell was again the place to be for Water Pipit with one on the dam there, albeit briefly, on 3rd.

Male Mealy Redpoll, Wakerley Great Wood, 8th April 2021 (Martin Swannell)
Crossbills, Wakerley Great Wood, 8th April 2020 (Martin Swannell)

The same scenario came in to play with Wakerley Great Wood and Mealy Redpoll, with a new bird – a male – in the same area as last week’s on 8th, while up to four Crossbills also remained there throughout and two were still at Hollowell on 6th.

Newsround – 27th March to 2nd April 2021

Although local temperatures reached only 22°C, the 30th hit the headlines as the UK’s warmest March day for 53 years, largely as a result of south to south-westerly winds sweeping in from beyond the Iberian peninsula. Unsurprisingly, spring migrants came in thick and fast, these balmy conditions acting as a catalyst for northbound migration. It was all change during the last two days of the week, however, as winter reminded us it was not done with yet, bitter north-easterlies kicked in and temperatures dropped like a stone …

Showing no signs of going anywhere soon, the adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose remained at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR throughout the period, while new in was a Pink-footed Goose, which flew west over Ecton SF on 1st before dropping in to join local Greylags in the adjacent riverside meadow at Cogenhoe Mill.

Pink-footed Goose, Cogenhoe Mill, 1st April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The same date saw the arrival of the year’s first Garganey, at Clifford Hill GP, where four pitched up during the morning, appearing to have moved swiftly on by the end of the day.

Garganeys, Clifford Hill GP, 1st April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Meanwhile, the wintering drake Ring-necked Duck showed further signs of itchy feet this week, appearing again at Stanwick GP on 27th-28th and 30th before heading west to Clifford Hill, where it was seen on 31st and again on 2nd.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Clifford Hill GP, 2nd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

In contrast, the smart drake Greater Scaup, accompanied the presumed female Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, remained site faithful, off the dam at Pitsford Res all week while, back in the Nene Valley, Ditchford GP’s drake Smew resurfaced on Delta Pit on 27th before being seen at Stanwick the following day and again there on 2nd.

Ditchford also produced a one-day wonder in the shape of a flamboyant, summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 31st.

Further down the valley, with no departure date in sight, the local star that is Glossy Ibis clocked up eight weeks of residency at Thrapston GP, spending more of its time on Aldwincle Lake. It will be missed when it finally chooses to move on, although after such a long stay, this species is never likely to be viewed in quite the same light when the next one hits the county.

Talking of which … four Cattle Egrets remained at the favoured locality of Stanwick on 27th-28th, while numbers of Great Egrets continued to decrease, with singles at Summer Leys on 28th and Hollowell on 30th, up to two at Pitsford on 31st-1st and up to five at Thrapston on 31st.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 27th March 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

With Ospreys back in the game, singles were seen at Billing GP, Hollowell, Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Res – all on 27th, Ravensthorpe again on 29th, Oundle on 1st and Hollowell Res again on 1st-2nd. Three pairs have bred in the county over the past few years and with numbers increasing nationally, we must be on for a fourth in the not too distant future. Two single Marsh Harriers flew east through Stanwick, within minutes of each other, on 2nd.

Osprey, Ravensthorpe Res, 27th March 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Osprey, Hollowell Res, 2nd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

On the wader front, two Avocets were mobile between Summer Leys and Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR throughout the week, while single Curlews flew over Stanford Res on 27th, Pitsford on 1st and two worked their way from Ditchford along to Stanwick on 2nd. Last week’s first-summer Black-tailed Godwit remained at Summer Leys until 28th, being replaced there by three from 31st to 2nd. Three also visited Stanwick on 31st.

First-summer Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 27th March 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)
Adult Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd April 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

With only singles at Clifford Hill on 30th and DIRFT 3 A5 Pools on 1st, Dunlins were thin on the ground this week. A Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell until at least 30th, the same date on which one was found by chance at Harrington AF.

Pumping up the larid-action, there were gulls for everyone this week – after all, who doesn’t love a Little Gull? One of these delicate, diminutive beauties visited Daventry CP on 31st and another obliged by staying two days at Thrapston on 1st and 2nd. The last of these two dates also saw a first-winter Kittiwake heading south-west over Pitsford, apparently without stopping. Mediterranean Gulls were again largely confined to the two Nene Valley locations of Stanwick and Summer Leys, where they continued to be seen almost daily, the latter site holding three on 29th. The exception was two adults seen south of Burton Latimer, on 27th. The week’s token Caspian Gull, a first-winter, appeared on DIRFT 3’s A5 Pools on 1st, accompanied by another, which wasn’t quite the full shilling in terms of genetic make up, as well as one each of both adult and third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls. Two of the latter species also frequented Pitsford during the week.

Then the summer visitors kicked in. Two Sandwich Terns flew east through Stanford on 31st, followed by two more, east through Stanwick, the following day.

But the first Hobby, on 30th, smashed it, being the first ever to be recorded in March and beating the previous earliest record of 1st April, in 2012.

The first Willow Warbler was a male singing in suburban Northampton on 28th, followed later by one in Corby and, just before the month of March was out, the first Common Redstart appeared on Borough Hill with, hot on its heels, another at Harrington. Both were males. Following last week’s Black Redstart, three more were reported: Harrington AF on 30th, Hanging Houghton on 1st and Borough Hill on 2nd – all strangely vanishing immediately after their discovery. A Stonechat at Summer Leys on 28th was effectively the last man standing.

Unsurprisingly, more Northern Wheatears appeared this week, with the eight localities of Brackley, Chelveston AF, Clifford Hill, Harrington, Hinton AF, Polebrook AF, Stanford and Thrapston producing a couple of dozen between them. The highest counts were nine at Hinton on 29th and five at Clifford Hill GP on the same date.      

Male Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 27th March 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Female Northern Wheatear, Brackley, 30th March 2021 (Mike Alibone). This individual has a parasite attached to its forehead.

Clifford Hill also delivered the first Yellow Wagtail of the year, on 1st, two more being seen at Stanwick later in the day, while White Wagtails continued to come through in small numbers, with Earls Barton producing one on 27th and two on 2nd, while another was at Aldwincle on 1st.

A brief stopover was made by a Water Pipit at Hollowell on 30th before it flew off south. In fact, as Water Pipit must be the only species flying south in spring, this surely constitutes the identification clincher from the often very similarly-plumaged Scandinavian Rock Pipit which, of course, flies north-east. Simple, isn’t it?! The answer was there all along! Well, maybe … Two more Water Pipits were at Earls Barton GP’s new workings on 2nd.

Mealy Redpoll, Wakerley Great Wood, 2nd April 2021 (Stuart Mundy)

Caught on film at Wakerley Great Wood, a Mealy Redpoll visited the feeders there on 2nd, when there were still at least four Crossbills in the same area.

Male Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 29th March 2021 (Angus Molyneux)

Ten were counted there on 29th, while the only other localities continuing to produce this species were Hollowell, with a maximum of five on 27th and Pitsford, where up to four were present on 31st.