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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.