The first Pale-bellied Brent Goose for Northamptonshire

A great find by Jon Bowley at Boddington Reservoir this afternoon was the first confirmed Pale-bellied Brent Goose for Northamptonshire. Possibly associated with Storm Arwen, its arrival today coincided with that of a Common Scoter at the same locality. Interestingly, both birds remained close together while on the water this afternoon.

Adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose and first-winter female Common Scoter, Boddington Res, 27th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Pale-bellied Brent Goose is the race hrota, which breeds from the east Canadian Arctic to Svalbard and winters on both coasts of the north Atlantic. It would appear to be exceedingly rare inland and all previous occurrences of Brent Geese in Northants have related to the Dark-bellied race bernicla, which occurs in the county annually in very small numbers, normally as lone individuals joining flocks of Canada Geese for short periods of time during spring and autumn passage.

Adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Boddington Res, 27th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Identification is straightforward, Pale-bellied showing strong contrast between the sharply-demarcated black breast, pale belly and flanks, with the pale brown upperparts ‘sandwiched’ between black neck and the black feathers of the closed wing. Dark-bellied is much more uniformly coloured. The lack of whitish fringes to the upper wing coverts easily ages it as an adult.

Newsround – 13th to 19th November 2021 

There was little change in this week’s weather, with the westerly airstream still in place and temperatures remaining above average for mid-November. However, vestigial summer visitors were still to be found alongside some classic winter arrivals.

The third Dark-bellied Brent Goose to be found in the county this year was a juvenile/first-winter, which tagged along with the local Canada Goose flock at Clifford Hill GP on 17th.

Juvenile moulting to first-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 17th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Meanwhile, the Hollowell Res Pink-footed Goose remained there throughout the period and despite last week’s speculation that it may have also visited Stanford Res, photographs clearly indicate it is a different bird.

Pink-footed Goose, Hollowell Res, 15th November 2021 (Alan Coles)

The fifteen-strong raft of Red-crested Pochards also remained at Pitsford Res, as did the three at Stanford, both groups still being present at the week’s end, while 17th saw the reappearance of one of the Greater Scaups at Daventry CP – this one being the bird which had earlier been on site between 1st and 4th November.

And the pick of this week’s ducks deluxe was the first Smew of the winter – two to be precise – discovered on 19th on Brightwells Lake, a small body of water that receives scant attention compared to certain other areas of the Ringstead GP complex, of which it is a part. While the November date may seem a little early for this species in the county, a dig into historical records unearths a number of October birds, the earliest of which was at Stanford on 11th October 1993. The first in the UK this autumn was one at Hornsea, East Yorkshire on 13th October.

‘Redhead’ and moulting eclipse drake Smew, Ringstead GP, 19th November 2021 (Nick Parker)

With no reports for the best part of a month, a Bittern resurfaced briefly at Summer Leys LNR on 14th but other herons were, of course, available … and much easier to see, at that. After last week’s record-busting totals, numbers of both Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets nudged higher still, with the first of these two amassing sixteen in a cattle field north of Ringstead on 16th-17th. Many of these joined the egret roost at Kinewell Lake, while fourteen flying north-east at nearby Stanwick GP, at dawn on 14th, were clearly the same birds.

Cattle Egret, between Woodford and Ringstead GP, 17th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Great Egret numbers reached a minimum of sixteen at Pitsford on 15th – the highest ever single-site total for Northants – while nine were counted at Ringstead’s Kinewell Lake on 14th. Elsewhere, Hollowell produced five, Thrapston GP four, Stanwick three and Summer Leys two, resulting in a potential current wintering population of perhaps as many as forty birds. Who said they were rare … ?

Also looking set to winter – or at least in no hurry to move on anytime soon – the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper remained throughout, the long-staying Ruff at Summer Leys was joined by another there on 16th and the Common Sandpiper at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) was still present at the week’s end. The only Jack Snipes found during the period were two near Ravensthorpe on18th.

Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 14th November 2021 (Leslie Fox)

Gull numbers were once again very low and included a third-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 19th, and an adult Yellow-legged Gull was still at Pitsford on 14th.

In contrast to last week, just one Merlin was seen, this time at Harlestone Lake, on 15th and just when you thought it was all over for Swallows, one was seen flying south-west over Bradden on 13th. It surely is now …

The past couple of weeks has seen a number of late Ring Ouzels moving through the UK and we were not left out. One was found behind Byfield Pool at Boddington Res on 14th and another reported from below Hanging Houghton on 17th, while this week’s Stonechats included four at Thrapston GP on 14th, four at Hollowell between 15th and 19th, two at Earls Barton GP on 15th and one at Sywell CP on 14th and 15th.

Following one last week, three more Hawfinches were reported on 17th, in trees close to the gatehouse at Lilford Park. Unlike the next species, however, they remain in short supply and there would appear to be no sign of an impending invasion.

Newsround – 6th to 12th November 2021 

A predominantly westerly airstream remained in place throughout the period and temperatures were largely above average for early November, clearly suiting some lingering summer visitors.

Against this backcloth, numbers of winter wildfowl were undoubtedly on the increase, some of which, however, were clearly not so wild. Falling squarely into the latter category was the re-emergence of the Cackling Goose, still on the loose in the west of the county, on this occasion with Canada Geese at Stanford Res on 10th. Stanford also played host to a Pink-footed Goose – most likely the Hollowell Res bird – from 9th until the week’s end. Two more Pinkfeet flew east over Nether Heyford on 6th, while the roving female Ruddy Shelduck appeared at Hollowell on 11th.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanford Res, 9th November 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Making a splash this week were Red-crested Pochards, with arrivals at four localities – most notably at Pitsford Res, where seventeen appeared on 6th and fifteen were still in place at the week’s end. Smaller numbers arriving elsewhere included two at Boddington Res on 6th, three at Thrapston GP on 7th and three at Stanford, which were present from 7th until the end of the period.

Red-crested Pochards, Boddington Res, 6th November 2021 (Gary Pullan)
Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Pitsford also produced a female Greater Scaup – a one-day bird on 7th, while Daventry CP chalked up its third of the autumn this week, with another first-winter from 8th to 10th.

Female Greater Scaup, Pitsford Res, 7th November 2021 (Angus Molyneux)
First-winter Greater Scaup, Daventry CP, 8th November 2021 (Gary Pullan)

At the other end of the county, Cattle Egrets pushed through to deliver an all-time county high with at least fourteen coming into the roost at Ringstead GP on 12th but away from this site only two were seen, at nearby Stanwick GP, on 9th. In parallel, Great Egrets smashed the site record total this week with at least eleven at Pitsford on 7th and 9th, while totting up numbers from Ringstead, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston suggests the total wintering population in Northants currently is likely to be a minimum of twenty. Ignoring possible Nene Valley duplicates, of course, that excludes any which may be lurking at other local bodies of water which would appear not to have been visited by birders this week.

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 7th November 2021 (Alan Coles)

And now to the curious case of the ‘Desborough stork’. Seen only as an early morning silhouette on a house roof on 8th, before quickly disappearing, it later emerged that a bird appearing to match the description of a White Stork was seen on a house roof in Wellingborough, last week, on 4th …

Arguably less ephemeral, though never overly easy to catch up with locally, harriers were still in the spotlight, with two species putting in appearances for the second week running. On 8th, a Marsh Harrier flew south over Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP, while the 7th saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier in the Brampton Valley, north of Brixworth, the same bird again being seen within spitting distance, at Blueberry Farm, on 10th. But stealing the limelight was the male Hen Harrier that cruised over the Main Lake and scrape at Summer Leys on 12th, before proceeding to quarter the rough fields either side of Mary’s Lane, its twenty-minute stay enabling a number of on-site birders to catch up with it. However, this was no ordinary male and, sporting an aerial, it has been identified as a satellite-tagged bird known as ‘Apollo’, originating in Lancashire, previously wintering in Spain and more recently having spent time near (the aptly-chosen) Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire before appearing at Summer Leys. The area it was hunting in would seem like ideal wintering habitat but is it enough to hold its interest? Summer Leys or Spain – where would you rather be … ?

Male Hen Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 12th November 2021 (Alan Coles)
Male Hen Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 12th November 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

Topping the bill for waders again this week was the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper, which remained throughout, while others seemingly in no hurry to move on were the long-staying Ruff at Summer Leys and the Common Sandpiper just up the road at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North). Which one will crack and go first … or are they all in it for the long haul? A Black-tailed Godwit at DIRFT 3 on 7th and a Jack Snipe at Pitsford on 7th-9th also added to this week’s mix.

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2021 (Martin Swannell)

By contrast, however, gulls were once again few and far between and included a third-winter Caspian Gull at Daventry on 12th, along with two Yellow-legged Gulls there on thesame date, while an adult Yellow-legged remained at Pitsford until at least 7th.

Continuing last week’s surge, Merlins were found at Sywell AF on 7th, at Harrington AF and in the Brampton Valley on 8th and at Barnwell the following day. We appear to be enjoying an autumn of plenty locally, so far.

In another parallel with last week, two more late Swallows were found, feeding over horse paddocks at Castle Ashby, on 7th, while this week’s Stonechats included one at Pitsford on 7th and twos at Earls Barton on 8th, Thrapston on 9th and Upton CP on 12th. Rounding off the week’s passerines were a Crossbill flying west over Brackley on 8th and a Hawfinch, briefly, at Hanging Houghton on 10th.

Newsround – 30th October to 5th November 2021 

Gale force south-westerly winds on the last day of the month caused widespread minor damage and brought down trees across the county. Much calmer conditions subsequently prevailed, with northerly winds and the first frost of the autumn occurring overnight on 1st of the new month. November – a ‘gap month’ between autumn proper and winter, when summer visitors have long gone, scarce migrants all but dry up and things slow down a bit. But then there were the hangers-on …

Still in place, last week’s Pink-footed Goose remained at Hollowell Res until at least 2nd and after a week without any, a Whooper Swan dropped in to join the local Mutes at Daventry CP on 3rd.

Whooper Swan, Daventry CP, 3rd November 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Again this week, the female Ruddy Shelduck continued to visit Foxholes Fisheries at Crick until 31st but it failed to show subsequently. Following two late Garganeys on 21st October, another, or the same was at Pitsford Res on 4th, while a first-winter Greater Scaup appeared at Daventry CP on 1st, remaining there until at least 4th. This bird was identified as a different individual to the one last seen there on 28th, the latter possibly accounting for the first-winter female which paid a brief visit to Hollowell Res on 3rd.

Seemingly settled was the Black-necked Grebe on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake, where it remained all week.

Close by, at Ringstead GP, there were still nine Cattle Egrets coming in to the evening roost on 4th, the same date seeing four of these at Hall Farm, Irthlingborough, just a short flap up the Nene Valley. Great Egrets, meanwhile, were found at Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Ringstead, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with a respectable eight at Pitsford on 4th-5th being the highest number, although this still falls well short of the staggering count of forty-one made not too far away at Rutland Water in late October!

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 1st November 2021 (Clive Bowley)

Last week’s long-staying Osprey made it into November by the narrowest of margins as the first day of the month was the last day upon which it was seen, when it cruised over Summer Leys, heading west … and with it went last week’s exclusivity.

Juvenile Osprey, Earls Barton GP, 31st October 2021 (Alan Coles)

It was not the only raptor on the beat this week, as November ushered more in. The 1st saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Harrington AF, still present in the area on 4th, while the latter date gave rise to a Marsh Harrier, seen three times during its short stay at Stanford Res.

After none at all during the last review period, waders were back, with one record-breaking bird in particular hitting the headlines. When confronted with a dainty, neatly-speckled, yellow-legged Tringa during the first week of November, the smart money would be on Lesser Yellowlegs, wouldn’t it? But this is, after all, Northamptonshire, so however unlikely the occurrence of a Wood Sandpiper at this time of year would seem, one at Pitsford on 4th-5th cruised easily into the record books as the county’s latest ever, by a comfortable ten-day margin. The previous latest was one at Earls Barton GP on 26th October 1997.

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 4th November 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Perhaps aspiring to do the same – although they do occasionally occur in winter – a rather late Common Sandpiper was found at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 3rd, while a Ruff at Summer Leys on 1st was likely to be this autumn’s established long-stayer and another was a brief visitor to Pitsford on 4th.

Just one Caspian Gull – a second-winter at Daventry on 30th – and one Yellow-legged Gull – at Pitsford on 4th-5th – were the only scarce Larids during the period.

Following last week’s juvenile male Merlin at Hinton AF, a female was found there on 3rd – just one of five, which included singles at Harrington AF on 1st and in the Brampton Valley on 5th, plus two near Hartwell on 4th.

Female Merlin, Hinton AF, 3rd November 2021 (John Friendship-Taylor)

Another hanger-on from summer was a late Swallow, heading east over Clifford Hill GP on 3rd, while this week’s Stonechats included up to four at both Hollowell and Thrapston, two at Earls Barton and singles at Clifford Hill and Pitsford.