A high pressure system settled over the UK for much of the week delivered calm, though cold, conditions with overnight frosts and a succession of patchy, early morning fogs. Topping the week’s news, a short-staying Glossy Ibis had no difficulty in filling the slot for bird of the week.
But we start, as usual, with the Clifford Hill GP Dark-bellied Brent Goose which, present all week and in contrast to the aforementioned ibis, is now potentially a record-breaking long-stayer for this species in the county, having been on site since 17th November last year. Hopefully, it will remain there to see the winter out. The only Pink-footed Goose on show during the period was the individual mobile around fields between Ravensthorpe village and its reservoir, visiting the latter on 11th. Last week’s three White-fronted Geese remained in the vicinity of Stanford Res throughout the week but they were tricky to pin down, occasionally spending time with the Greylags and Canadas at nearby Stanford on Avon, where they were invariably on the wrong side of the river of the same name.
No Newsround would be complete without the inclusion of the odd dodgy duck, or two, so, enter Wood Duck, a female of which was on the river at Wellingborough Embankment during the last two days of the week. It’s not the first time one’s turned up on the Nene and it won’t be the last. Although a sure-fire escape, this species is currently vying for a place on the British List on the basis of several nationally occurring individuals, favourably located in time and space, all be they lacking other credentials beyond reproach. Over to you, BOURC.
A flash in the pan female Ring-necked Duck was reported from Thrapston GP on 12th. Unsurprisingly, those scrambling to see it went away empty-handed. Drake Smews were more obliging, though, with a good two at Pitsford remaining until at least 12th.
However, bird of the week was, indisputably, the county’s eighth-ever Glossy Ibis. Discovered on the currently flooded Main Lake at Summer Leys, at 09.15 on 10th, despite looking settled, it promptly did a bunk at 09.45 and hasn’t been seen since. Once again, local birders were robbed! In line with all but one previous occurrences, this sharp exiting behaviour represents a true return to form for this species in Northants. The exception was, of course, last winter’s long-stayer at Thrapston GP, which was present between 13th February and 17th April, also visiting Stanwick during the final days of its stay.
Its occurrence at this time comes as no real surprise. The UK and Eire are currently enjoying a huge winter influx, with a record minimum of 125 Glossies currently on the romp, from Shetland to the south coast, including double-figure flocks at some locations. So, is it still in the county? Well, that’s the problem because although generally associated with water, these birds are not fussy when choosing somewhere to feed. It appears any old, wet, boggy field will do. Some of us will no doubt have memories of seeing the wintering bird in Weymouth in December 2013, which spent most of its time on and around a waterlogged football pitch. It could be anywhere …
The number of Cattle Egrets roosting at Stanwick GP climbed no higher than eight on 9th and up to four visited Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows reserve on 9th-10th. Stanwick’s magic egret roost also produced the highest number of Great Egrets with a maximum of seventeen there, again on 9th, while Pitsford and Thrapston produced six apiece, Hollowell Res, Summer Leys and Sywell CP each mustered two and singles were found at Clifford Hill, Cranford STW, Earls Barton GP and Fawsley Park Lakes.
And while we’re in the west of the county, following the disappearance of the two first-winter Shags from Pitsford after the 2nd, two were discovered at Daventry CP on 10th and were still present off the dam there on 12th. Undoubtedly, they represented a welcome cache for the 2022 yearlisters who rapidly scurried over to see them.
With everything still in place, no such haste was necessary on the wader front this week. The Pitsford Wood Sandpiper and the Earls Barton Common Sandpiper both rode it out until the end of the period, one Ruff remained at Summer Leys until at least 11th and Jack Snipes were present at Daventry CP, where there were three on 10th, at pools near Raventhorpe, where up to three were present all week and at Hollowell, where one remained on 9th.
Winter gulling continues to be slow, with an adult Caspian Gull at Clifford Hill GP on 9th and a first-winter on the roof of the recycling centre at Rushton Landfill on 13th, while the only Yellow-legged Gull reported was an adult in the roost at Clifford Hill GP’s Main Barrage Lake on 11th.
So far, winter 2021-22 has turned out to be somewhat poor for Short-eared Owls, so one over rough grassland, east of Ellands Farm, Hemington, was a wholly worthwhile find for one observer on 13th. Two airfield-based Merlins were singles at Harrington on 8th and 10th and at Hinton on 9th.
There was no improvement on last week’s thinly spread collection of passerines but who would grumble about the quality – after all, how many showy, mid-winter Black Redstarts are currently at large in the UK? OK, nearby Milton Keynes currently has a handsome male … but it’s not in Northants. Our wintering Borough Hill bird was still playing to an audience this week and remained in place around the summit compound there on 14th.
With a maximum of four at Upton CP on 13th, Stonechats were found at a further ten localities, comprising Borough Hill, Catesby, Clifford Hill, Earls Barton, Ecton SF, Hollowell, Ravensthorpe, Summer Leys, Sywell CP and Wellingborough Embankment, the image of one at the last of these perfectly encapsulating the foggy, frosty conditions characterising the latter part of this week.
The other ‘quality’ passerine on show throughout the period was, of course, the one Hawfinch, still in Blatherwycke Churchyard, while similarly remaining were two Corn Buntings in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton at the week’s end.