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.
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.
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.
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.
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.