Newsround – 19th to 25th June 2021

A grim week on the weather front, with predominantly north-easterly winds, showers and depressed temperatures AND although a Rose-coloured Starling made the headlines once again, ITS presence was SOMEWHAT short-lived.  

Decidedly more dodgy than the weather, though, last week’s Pink-footed Goose was still at Pitsford Res on 23rd, while the only other wildfowl stepping up to the mark were two Garganeys at Stanwick GP on 20th and one at Summer Leys LNR on 22nd-23rd.

Raptors this week were limited to single Ospreys visiting Stanford Res on 23rd and 24th and, while waders are normally in short supply in June, Clifford Hill GP produced two Avocets on the evening of 24th and DIRFT 3 pulled in a Whimbrel and 2 Curlews on 21st. The latter site also held a first-summer Caspian Gull plus a fourth-summer Yellow-legged Gull on 19th and two first-summer Caspian Gulls plus five Yellow-legged Gulls on 25th. Further Yellow-legged Gulls included a first-summer at Pitsford on 20th and two there on 24th.

First-summer Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 21st June 2021 (Steve Fisher)

Stanwick produced two different first-summer Mediterranean Gulls on consecutive days, 21st and 22nd.

Presumed Northern Willow Warbler, Stanford Res, 19th June 2021 (Stanford Ringing Group)

Once again, passerines were in the limelight. The Stanford Ringing Group trapped what would appear to be a Willow Warbler showing characteristics of the race acredula, known colloquially as Northern Willow Warbler, on 19th. Although this race breeds from Scandinavia eastwards, birds showing similar characteristics are present in Scotland. All of the county’s previous five records have come from the mist nets of Stanford, the last one as recently as August 2020.

Rose-coloured Starling, Grange Park, Northampton, 19th June 2021 (Mark Oldham)

Some species are less cryptic, however. So, another week, another Rose-coloured Starling, although the images snatched of one in a private garden at Grange Park, Northampton, on 19th do not entirely rule out last week’s bird that spent three days at nearby Clifford Hill GP. The propensity for this ‘Martini’ species to turn up almost any time, any place, anywhere means that they are inevitably chance-encountered without investing any effort into locating and watching local Starling flocks. “Who dares wins” is clearly not applicable to finding them in this case. Simply hang your fat balls out and sit back …

Newsround – 12th to 18th June 2021

High pressure and a south to south-westerly airstream saw temperatures move toward the upper twenties during the period, although the week ended on A somewhat damp note as heavy rain moved in from the continent. However, it was the VERY beginning of the week which produced the goods …

And from day one, Clifford Hill GP was, this week, at the forefront, on the 12th topping the locality leader board for the best in class, although that is not seriously applicable to the first of the two – let’s say ‘unusual’ – species found there on that date. During the morning, seven white morph Snow Geese were discovered feeding on the north side of the Main Barrage Lake. It would appear there has never been anything constituting a flock of this species in Northants before … but the date, coupled with the existence of steadily growing numbers of feral birds at Farmoor, Oxfordshire (103 were counted there on 4th May) unequivocally dashes any hopes of their being wild.

Snow Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 12th June 2021 (Mark Williams)
Snow Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 12th June 2021 (Mark Williams)

There have been a number of flocks seen in the UK over the past six weeks, with forty-two in North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Lincolnshire last month and, more recently, thirty-seven moving through Durham, Cleveland, Northumberland and Lothian. Smaller numbers have also appeared in other counties of late. Interestingly, the Northants seven showed up at Eyebrook, Leicestershire the following day and seven, dubbed by BirdGuides as ‘of unknown origin’ (now, there’s a teaser …), were on the Dumbles at Slimbridge on 17th. It seems likely that these were the same birds.

Still on the wild (or not) goose theme, a Pink-footed Goose was in Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res on 15th-17th, while the nearby Brampton Valley continued to host a singing male Quail on 16th. The latter date saw the only Great Egret of the week at Stanwick GP and single Ospreys visited Hollowell Res on 12th-13th and Thrapston GP on 14th-15th. Away from breeding sites, single Curlews flew over Stanford Res on 15th and 16th and two Yellow-legged Gulls were at Pitsford on 17th.

Once again, the far east of the county struck gold – this time at Glapthorn Cow Pasture, where three people who had made the journey from Cornwall to see Black Hairstreaks had excellent views of a male Golden Oriole on the morning of 13th. Two lucky local birders, present around the same time, also connected, enjoying brief flight views. Further attempts to find it later in the day, and again early the following morning, unfortunately met with disappointment by the handful of hopefuls searching for it. This bird follows hot on the heels of the male at Fotheringhay on 2nd June.

Rose-coloured Starling, Clifford Hill GP, 14th June 2021 (Ken Prouse)

Fortunately, quite the reverse situation was true when it came to the discovery of the county’s sixth Rose-coloured Starling. Found at Clifford Hill GP on the evening of 12th, it remained until 14th, allowing many to connect with it, although it became increasingly elusive during its 3-day stay. This was the first twitchable one in Northants for twenty-three years and a full account has already been published here.

Male Channel Wagtail, Stanford Res, 12th June 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Arguably no less colourful, last week’s male Channel Wagtail paid a return visit to Stanford Res on the evening of 12th, when it was again around the dam in company with Yellow Wagtails.

Spring, it seems, is not done with yet …

The Rose-coloured Starling at Clifford Hill GP

Following a similar event this time last year, Western Europe is, once again, experiencing a late spring influx of Rose-coloured Starlings. Numbers in Spain have recently exceeded 300 and in France numbers had likely reached four figures by 1st June, with the biggest flock totalling 320 birds. Here in the UK, there have been more than 130 records to date but unlike last year, far fewer birds have made it inland and most reports have been restricted to coastal locations.

Against the odds, then, we have been fortunate in having one arrive in Northants and the fact that it was found in a readily accessible location, combined with a stay of at least three days, constitutes a big bonus for local birders.

Discovered by Dave Smith on the evening of 12th June, it was feeding on the grassy, sheep-grazed banks in the vicinity of the north-east corner of the Main Barrage Lake, remaining long enough for a number of locals to catch up with it before the end of the evening.

Rose-coloured Starling, Clifford Hill GP, 12th June 2021 (Dave Smith)

Still present the next morning, although mobile along the full length of the barrage lake, it attracted a steady procession of admirers throughout the day before flying off west during the evening. Fortunately, it reappeared close to the main river bridge early on 14th, after which it quickly became even more mobile and elusive throughout the remainder of the day.

Rose-coloured Starling, Clifford Hill GP, 14th June 2021 (Ken Prouse)

During its stay, it associated with Starlings but, at the same time, doing very much its own thing in terms of behaviour. Its movements while feeding were slower and less ‘frenetic’ and it did not adopt the ‘busy’ attitude of the surrounding Starlings, which were clearly absorbed in collecting as much food as possible and flying off north over the River Nene. This is not unusual, as gait – in terms of vagrants – is described by BWP as ‘often slow and methodical, at least when feeding in grass or weeds’, so suggestions made on the 13th that it might be suffering from ill health would appear to be unfounded.

Rose-coloured Starling, Clifford Hill GP, 14th June 2021 (Ken Prouse)

In terms of sex, the clean bright pink of its upper and under parts point clearly to a male but ageing may be more problematic. Dave’s image, above, clearly shows only the shortest of crest feathers (not long, as can be seen in many photographs of classic adult males), while the excellent images from Ken Prouse show worn – almost bleached – brown (not black) primary feathers, suggesting it is one of last year’s juveniles which has, in part, arrested its post-juvenile, autumn moult. Such delays do sometimes occur and moult then takes place in spring (BWP). Two new tail feathers are also growing with pale, as yet unworn tips. This, combined with the short crest feathers, strongly suggest this is a first-summer male, although this may be pure speculation.

Rose-coloured Starling, Clifford Hill GP, 14th June 2021 (Ken Prouse)

Whatever its age, it’s a fantastic bird, the 6th county record and the first to be truly twitchable in Northants since a relatively long-staying bird in, and around, Woodford Halse for 12 days in September 1998. In addition to the latter, previous records were at Weedon in September 1888, Thrapston in July 1908, Wellingborough in May 2018 and Hackleton in June 2020.

Newsround – 5th to 11th June 2021

With the country sitting under high pressure all week and the calm after the storm finally with us, there was a lull in birding activity as things went seasonally quiet.

Therefore, some excusable barrel-scraping seems justified in terms of flagging up the continued presence of the Chiloe Wigeon x Crested Duck hybrid, at Summer Leys LNR, on 5th.

Apart from that, the wider horizons of the Brampton Valley were the backdrop for a singing male Quail from 7th until 10th and another was singing near Geddington on 5th.

Two Cattle Egrets maintained the species’ weekly appearance at Stanwick GP on 7th and single Great Egrets – or perhaps the same bird – were seen in flight over Stanford Res on 6th and 11th.

On the raptor front, an Osprey, ‘blue T3’, a male from the Rutland project, hatched in 2016, visited Pitsford Res on 7th and Hollowell Res on 9th.

Adult male Osprey ‘T3’, Hollowell Res, 9th June 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Adult male Osprey ‘T3’, Pitsford Res, 7th June 2021 (Helen Redpath)

Waders were, unsurprisingly, in short supply but away from breeding sites, 2 Curlews dropped in at Summer Leys on 5th, while three late spring Knots paid a brief visit to Stanwick on 10th.

Summer Leys also produced two adult Mediterranean Gulls again on 5th and a first-summer of the same species visited Clifford Hill GP on 6th, while a third-summer Yellow-legged Gull was at Stanwick on 10th.

Channel Wagtail, Stanford Res, 8th June 2021 (Glynn Preston)

Scarce passerines were thin on the ground and represented this week only by a smart male Channel Wagtail, which appeared around the dam at Stanford during the evening of 8th.

Newsround – 29th May to 4th June 2021

May goes out with a bang at the eleventh hour and, as we usher in meteorological summer, a high pressure system delivers warm south-easterlies and a nugget of gold to the far eastern part of the county.

With the spotlight firmly on the Nene Valley this week, four Cattle Egrets were at Stanwick GP on 30th and at least one was present on 1st. The 30th also saw a Great Egret in flight over Castle Ashby Lakes and what was presumably the same individual was subsequently seen just a stone’s throw away from there, at Earls Barton GP’s Quarry Walk, on 4th. One also visited Thrapston GP on the same date.

Last week’s hide-packing Purple Heron was still on show at Summer Leys LNR on 29th before flying off north-east during the evening of the same date. How far it actually went is a matter of conjecture as, on 2nd and 3rd, it was seen at Quarry Walk, 2 km south-west of Summer Leys.

Purple Heron, Summer Leys LNR, 29th May 2021 (Nick Truby)

On the raptor front, Marsh Harriers were logged at two sites on 1st – a wing-tagged bird at Summer Leys and possibly the same individual at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR. But in the north of the county things went large when a satellite-tagged White-tailed Eagle from the IoW reintroduction scheme was tracked skimming the southern flank of Stanford Res before passing over DIRFT 3, prior to entering Warwickshire, early in the afternoon of 29th.

This was second calendar-year male ‘G461’, the fourth individual from the above scheme to be recorded in Northants, following female ‘G318’ in spring 2020 and winter 2021, male ‘G393’ during the same two periods and female ‘G405’ during spring this year. Flying from The Wash to the Mendip Hills in Somerset, it covered approximately 300 km in two days.

Back in the Nene Valley, things hotted up when, once again, the easybirdin’ site of Summer Leys delivered the goods, in the last hours of 31st, with the discovery of the first Red-necked Phalarope in the county for five years. It proved to be a popular draw throughout its evening stay but was nowhere to be seen the following morning.

Red-necked Phalarope, Summer Leys LNR, 31st May 2021 (Jim Dunkley)
Red-necked Phalarope, Summer Leys LNR, 31st May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Apart from one on 30th April and one on 25th June, all previous spring records fall into an 11-day window between 29th May and 8th June, while 75% of all autumn records have been in September.

Other waders were, of course, available – most notably a Knot, which dropped into Stanwick early in the morning of 3rd, remaining into the afternoon.

Summer Leys also produced two adult Mediterranean Gulls on 2nd, while immature, non-breeding gulls of note were restricted to a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull and a first-summer Caspian Gull – both at DIRFT 3 on 3rd.

Two Black Terns visited Thrapston GP on 1st but … a little further down the Nene Valley …

Fotheringhay came to the fore with the flash sighting of a male Golden Oriole just outside the village, briefly, on 2nd. Twenty-four hours elapsed before the news came to light and, needless to say, it couldn’t be found the following day – which was a shame because the last accepted record in Northants was ten years ago, in May 2011. This bird falls neatly into this spring’s mini-influx of nearly sixty records, nationally, mostly in eastern England inland to the Midlands.

Chris Whittles with Golden Oriole, Ecton SF, 1st May 1971 (Giles Dunmore)

Our own county has seen only fourteen records in the last fifty years, with eight in May, four in June and singles in September and October. The only one to be ringed in Northants was at Ecton SF on 1st May 1971 – which some of us will remember – and it was trapped by Chris Whittles, who was subsequently the founder of CJ WildBird Foods Ltd, now known as CJ Wildlife.