The start of May was marked by a bank holiday weekend and barely had the week kicked off when the drums started beating out news of the discovery of one of the rarest waders on the county list – a mere stone’s throw from Northampton …
But before all that … Lost and lonely, last week’s Pink-footed Goose was back at Stanwick GP on 4th-5th, clearly having decided not to move north yet and another lingerer was Summer Leys LNR’s drake Garganey, which remained all week.
There’s a niggling belief in the Western psyche that bad things always come in threes but this was certainly not the case at Ravensthorpe Res on 2nd, when three Black-necked Grebes, in all their summer finery, were on display close to the causeway. Needless to say, they did not stay.
And after a week with no sightings, Cattle Egrets were back in the game, with two at Stanwick on 2nd, one there on 5th and one at Pitsford Res at the week’s end, on 7th. Unsurprisingly, as we move deeper into spring, Great Egrets were down to singles at Clifford Hill GP on 1st, Thrapston GP from 3rd to 7th and Pitsford on 4th.
Raptors, too, were in short supply with single Ospreys at Hollowell on 5th and 7th and in flight over the A45 near Earls Barton on the latter date, while Stanford Res produced another Marsh Harrier on 4th.
But it was waders that came to the fore and what better way to kick the week off than with a Dotterel … or two. So, history was made with the discovery, on 1st, of Northamptonshire’s eleventh at a relatively unknown site, only a stone’s throw from the county town. The extensive, flat bean fields, alongside New Farm AF at Piddington, proved attractive to two of these highly attractive, montane beasties as they took a break from their journey from Africa to likely breeding sites in Scotland and/or Scandinavia. Staying for five days, they became crowd-pullers and pleasers – their admirers coming from further afield than just Northants.
The last record in the county was a fly-over, photographed at Pitsford Res in November 2017 but the last truly twitchable bird was near Lutton, an area with reputational pulling power for this species, in May 2014. The population, however, is said to be declining. The estimate of 423 breeding males in 2011 represents a decline of 43% since 1999, when the comparable total was 747 pairs, and of 57% since 1987/1988 (981 pairs) (Appleton, 2015 & 2020).
Other waders were available, with many again making longer stays than we have come to expect during spring. One such species was Whimbrel, with the number of localities hosting them matching last week’s eight, although the total number of birds seen had fallen by a third to just twenty-one. This week’s peak included up to eight at Clifford Hill all week, while last week’s three were still at Hollowell Res until 3rd, two remaining on 4th, two were at Summer Leys on 1st and singles there on 2nd and 7th, two flew over DIRFT 3 on 6th and singles were in flight over the A361 near Byfield on 1st, at Stanwick on 4th, at Thrapston on 4th and 7th and at Stanford Res on 5th.
Away from breeding sites, a Curlew visited Summer Leys on 1st, the latter site producing the week’s only Black-tailed Godwits, with five on 4th, one on 5th and two on 7th. The year’s first Turnstone made landfall at Clifford Hill on 6th and a single Ruff remained at Summer Leys throughout the period.
Which brings us neatly to the second-best wader of the week, Temminck’s Stint – the first in the county for four years. Discovered on 6th at the A5 Pools of the DIRFT 3 industrial development site, it has now significantly contributed to putting the locality firmly on the map after its potential was flagged up here in 2017 and again here in a wider context in 2021. The vast majority of previous records have been in spring and of those, the easybirdin’ site of Summer Leys has (artificially, through observer number bias) exerted the most pull, as the graphic below neatly illustrates. Almost annual in the last decade of the previous century it has, however, become a less frequent visitor in recent years.
Temminck’s Stint, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, 6th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
The year’s first Sanderling was found on 3rd May at Clifford Hill, quickly followed by another the next day, at Thrapston GP. And the waders still kept coming, with birders in the Nene Valley experiencing a Dunlin rush on 4th, when double-figure counts were made at four localities as birds moved quickly through. These included forty-two at Clifford Hill, at least thirty-eight through Stanwick GP, thirty-two at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) and twenty-two at Summer Leys. Outside of this date these, along with two further localities recorded a total of at least 52 between them during the week.
The Summer Leys long-staying Spotted Redshank again remained there throughout, being joined by a fine summer-plumaged bird from 4th until the week’s end.
Compared to the previous week, Greenshank numbers were well down, with three at Ecton SF on 1st and two at DIRFT 3 on 2nd being the highest counts. Elsewhere, singles were at Earls Barton GP on 1st, 6th and 7th, Summer Leys on 2nd and 7th and Pitsford on 6th.
Gulls and terns also tailed off dramatically, with an adult Little Gull at Thrapston on 7th and single Caspian Gulls at DIRFT 3 on 1st and 7th. The 5th saw a Sandwich Tern fly through at Summer Leys and mere single-figure counts of Arctic Terns included two at Stanwick on 3rd, followed by six there the next day, which also delivered three to Summer Leys, two to each of Pitsford and Stanford and one to Clifford Hill, while one visited Stanford on the following day, 5th. A Black Tern was also at Stanford on 7th.
Topping the passerines bill this week was a Wryneck, found on Borough Hill on 2nd. It remained for a further three days, showing particularly well and providing superb photographic opportunities for all comers.
Although dubbed by some as the most confiding Wryneck we’ve ever had, the truth is it wasn’t. That accolade goes to one which, completely oblivious to vehicles and bystanders, occupied a small mown grass roundabout on a busy road, bizarrely within spitting distance of Borough Hill, at High March Industrial Estate, Daventry on 8th September 2003. The difference is this week’s bird stayed four days, providing a comfortably protracted period for anyone who wanted to catch up with it. The number of Wrynecks visiting Northants averages just above one per year, with September being the peak month.
Another week, another Wood Warbler and in contrast to last week’s crowd-pleaser it remained in the shadows of Barnwell CP during the morning of 1st.
And while we’re talking ‘firsts’, the first Spotted Flycatcher of the spring appeared at Hollowell Res on the relatively early date of 2nd but it still would have had a long way to go to have beaten the joint record-holders of 1971 and 1976, when the earliest of all recorded arrivals were on 20th April. Hot on the heels of the first Whinchat of the spring, on 30th April, were six more scattered across the week and shared between Borough Hill, Honey Hill, Northampton, Piddington and Ravensthorpe STW.
Northern Wheatears also put on a reasonable showing, with ten at Piddington on 1st, two near Charwelton on 7th and singles at Boddington Res, Deenethorpe and Clifford Hill.
White Wagtails continued to trickle through and singles were found at Earls Barton on 1st, Clifford Hill on 2nd and Welford Res on 5th and the year’s second-only Tree Pipit flew over Borough Hill, early on the last of these dates.