Newsround – 22nd to 28th January 2022

The period’s weather remained predominantly dry but was essentially a mixed bag of dull, overcast conditions for the first four days, followed by a glimmer of sunshine during the last three, ahead of mild south-westerlies from the Azores. The best new bird this week was a Great Northern Diver, found in the fading light at Pitsford Res on 23rd.

With very few proving evasive, many of last week’s birds remained on station for anyone wanting to catch up with them. Geese were again prominent with the county’s sole Barnacle Goose, whatever its origin, still languishing at Pitsford at the period’s end. Ditto for the Ravensthorpe Pink-footed Goose, with another Pinkfoot being reported with two White-fronted Geese at Islip Water Meadows, on 22nd. At the adjoining site of Thrapston GP, the two adult and single first-winter Whitefronts remained until 23rd, subsequently being relocated at Stanwick GP on 27th-28th. Sywell CP’s first-winter Whitefront remained until at least 27th, while the trio at Stanford on Avon were still present, showing on the Northamptonshire side of the river on 27th-28th.

White-fronted Geese, Stanford on Avon, 28th January 2022 (Chris Hubbard)

Following a minor flurry of records last week, just one Whooper Swan was available to catch up with this week, an adult in fields near Cosgrove, a mere stone’s throw from the cosy setting of the Navigation Inn, on 25th-26th.  

Adult Whooper Swan, Cosgrove, 26th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Now to more dodgy fare and after last week’s appearance at Hollowell, on 17th, the female Ruddy Shelduck popped again, this time at Stanford on 27th and the female-type White-cheeked Pintail was still frequenting Deene Lake on 22nd.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Stanford Res, 27th January 2022 (Chris Hubbard)
White-cheeked Pintail, Deene Lake, 22nd January 2022 (James Underwood)

Kicking off the week, although two months later than the peak for arrivals, a Great Northern Diver was found at Pitsford, late on 23rd. It remained throughout and if you’ve got it in mind to find one, Pitsford’s the place, accounting for more than half of all the county’s records in the last 35 years, and November’s normally the month, producing 48% of the records during the same period, followed by December with 33%.

The first Bittern of 2022 also pitched up at Stortons GP, where it was seen flying into the reedbed on 28th. Cattle Egrets peaked at eight at Stanwick GP on 24th and two were at Irthlingborough/Ditchford on 24th and 28th. Great Egrets maintained last week’s low profile with fourteen leaving the roost at Stanwick on 27th, while top counts elsewhere were threes at Ravensthorpe and Summer Leys LNR, twos at Ditchford and Pitsford and singles at Clifford Hill GP and Hollowell.

Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 24th January 2022 (Paul Crotty)

With no reports of the Wood Sandpiper at Pitsford this week, top waders were down to just three species. Earls Barton’s Common Sandpiper remained throughout, while a Ruff scraped in at Summer Leys on 22nd and single Jack Snipes were present at Hollowell all week and at Ditchford on 27th.

Common Sandpiper, Earls Barton GP, 28th January 2022 (Leslie Fox)

On the Larid front, Caspian Gulls once again came to the fore, with Stanford hosting a third-winter on 23rd and DIRFT 3 producing two adults on the same date. An adult was at Rushton Landfill on 24th and 28th with two first-winters there on the latter date and Hollowell held an adult on 26th and two adults on 28th. In a similar vein to last week, Yellow-legged Gulls remained in short supply with just a first-winter at Clifford Hill on 25th.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Rushton Landfill, 28th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)

This week’s token Merlin was again between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton on 28th.

Once again, the Black Redstart remained at Borough Hill throughout, Stonechats were thinly distributed this week with birds at Ditchford, Upton CP and Hollowell, with a maximum of six at the latter site on 28th. And it looks as though interest in Hawfinches is now running at a low ebb, with just one seen at the much favoured site of Blatherwycke Churchyard on 23rd. At least one Corn Bunting hung on in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, being seen on 24th and 28th.

Newsround – 15th to 21st January 2022

In a similar vein to last week, a high pressure system remained over the UK for the greater part of the period, extending the calm, dry conditions with low, single-figure daytime temperatures and sometimes heavy, overnight frosts.

In the dim and distant past, January was once described by the late, great DIM Wallace as the only truly migration-free month, as far as the UK was concerned. But are things changing? We are only a few weeks away from the first Sand Martins and Northern Wheatears … or are we?

More on that later but this week’s rattle through the top birds kicks off with a veritable Goosefest and for anyone who cared to take a gander, there were plenty of geese on offer. The long-staying Dark-bellied Brent Goose appeared settled at Clifford Hill GP at the beginning of the week but had seemingly gone AWOL by the end of it. It may still be in the area, of course. The Barnacle Goose stood up to be counted with the Canadas at Pitsford Res on 18th and the escaped Cackling Goose, missing for a good while, joined the mixed gaggle at Stanford on Avon on 21st. The three White-fronted Geese, mobile and elusive in the same area, did the decent thing and spent some time on the Northamptonshire side of the river on 18th and 21st, while a sprinkling of new Whitefronts comprised four at Thrapston GP on 16th-17th, dropping to three on 20th and one at Sywell CP from 17th until the week’s end.

Adult White-fronted Goose, Thrapston GP, 17th January 2022 (Nick Parker)
First-winter White-fronted Goose, Sywell CP, 17th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)
Adult White-fronted Goose, Stanford on Avon, 18th January 2022 (Chris Hubbard)
White-fronted Geese, Thrapston GP, 20th January 2022 (Nick Parker)

A ’new’ Pink-footed Goose appeared at Hollowell Res on 19th at the same time as the original bird was still present near Ravensthorpe village and at its reservoir on the same date.

Pink-footed Goose, Ravensthorpe Res, 19th January 2022 (Bob Bullock)

Whooper Swans were clearly on the move on 15th, when eleven flew west over Blatherwycke, appearing shortly afterward on the lake of the same name, while one was also found on DIRFT 3’s A5 Pool. Although none was present the following day, ‘approximately twelve’ seen flying east over Gretton on 18th appear likely to have been the Blatherwycke birds hanging on in the general area.

Whooper Swans, Blatherwycke Lake, 15th January 2022 (Jon Cook)
Whooper Swans, Blatherwycke Lake, 15th January 2022 (Jon Cook)

As the 17th dawned bright and clear, the long-lost female Ruddy Shelduck reappeared at Hollowell, a former favourite haunt at which it was last seen on 11th November last year. But with inimitable style, falling into this week’s truly dodgy duck category was a female-type White-cheeked Pintail at Deene Lake on 19th.

Cattle Egrets were seen only at Stanwick GP, where the highest count was five on 17th, the same date and location producing the week’s highest number of Great Egrets, fifteen. Numbers elsewhere were down, with six at Pitsford, three at Naseby, two at Summer Leys and singles at Stanford and Sywell.

On the wader front this week, the star of the winter, Pitsford’s Wood Sandpiper remained throughout, as did Earls Barton GP’s Common Sandpiper, while up to two Ruffs were still at Summer Leys on 15th-16th.

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 21st January 2022 (Alan Coles)

Four sites produced Caspian Gulls this week, Stanford hosting a third-winter on 15th, an adult or third-winter on 16th and an adult on 18th. An adult and a third-winter were at DIRFT 3 on 16th with 2 adults and a second-winter there on 18th, while an adult was at Rushton Landfill on 19th and two adults were on ice at Naseby Res on 21st. By contrast, the only Yellow-legged Gulls reported were a first-winter at DIRFT 3 on 16th and an adult at Stanford on 20th. None of these, collectively or otherwise, however, makes up for the lack of white-winged gulls so far this winter but there is still time …

Adult Caspian Gull, Rushton Landfill, 19th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Caspian Gulls, Naseby Res, 21st January 2022 (Jon Cook)

The Hinton AF Merlin was again present there on 16th, while another was seen in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton on 19th.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 18th January 2022 (Martin Swannell)

Passerines were pretty much the same as last week with the Black Redstart keeping up appearances on Borough Hill until at least 20th, while Lilbourne Meadows produced the period’s highest tally of four to five Stonechats on 16th. Elsewhere, Borough Hill, Clifford Hill, Hollowell and Stanwick each produced two, while singles were found at Deene, Ravensthorpe and Upton CP.

Male Stonechat, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, 16th January 2022 (Jon Cook)
Female Stonechat, Borough Hill, 18th January 2022 (Martin Swannell)
Male Stonechat, Ravensthorpe Res, 19th January 2022 (Bob Bullock)

Easily the most unusual report of the week was of a Northern Wheatear on a field fence post north of Maidwell, before flying off west, on 21st. Although initially eyebrow-raising, it’s not unprecedented in a UK context as one was also seen at Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire on 9th January and what was presumably the same bird was at Southampton on 18th.

Which brings us neatly on to the ever-popular Blatherwycke Hawfinches. Continuing to attract a steady stream of admirers on a daily basis, the churchyard has never been so busy. There’s even a strategically-placed, comfy bench, on which you can sit, relax and chew the cud with fellow observers while you wait for the birds to fly into the stark, bare branches of the nearby trees.

Hawfinch, Blatherwycke, 22nd January 2022 (James Underwood)

Although two birds is a given, up to five were reported there by a visiting Leicestershire birder on 16th.

Corn Bunting, Brampton Valley, 21st January 2022 (Alan Coles)

Perhaps less appealing but with their current local rarity adding that appealing touch to the proceedings, two Corn Buntings remained in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, at the week’s end.

Controversial age assessment of White-fronted Goose

Found by Dave Warner on 17th January, a White-fronted Goose was present with a mixed Greylag and Canada Goose flock at Sywell Country Park and remains there today. Initially aged as a first-winter, it has since sparked some controversy over how old it actually is.

Shortly after Dave had seen it, I found it still with the local geese, in a field on the north-east side of the reservoir and managed to grab a few photos through the park’s rather thick boundary hedge before it walked off over the rise of the field. It initially appeared rather plain-looking but was also sporting a noticeable white forehead.

First-winter White-fronted Goose, Sywell CP, 17th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Appearing to lack the black belly bars of a ‘standard’ adult – at least when viewed from its left – I was happy enough that it was indeed a first-winter, albeit with a fairly well-developed white blaze. When viewed from the front, however, it displayed some less conspicuous, thin dark lower belly bars and some on its right side, these normally being associated with more adult plumage.

First-winter White-fronted Goose, Sywell CP, 17th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Having tweeted an image out, Tom Lowe made the comment: Pale nail, white blaze, belly bars and squared flank feathers make it an adult, surely? That was based on the image above and it’s difficult to disagree but there are a number of conflicting ID criteria out there.

First-winter White-fronted Goose, Sywell CP, 17th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)

For example, Stoddart (2020) states: Adult Russian White-fronts have a small white ‘front’ (actually the forehead) and highly variable black belly barring. Juveniles and early first-winter birds (the white ‘front’ and black belly markings are acquired during the first winter) lack these features. The keyword here is early. This suggests that first-winters, later in the season, can have black belly bars.

Cramp & Simmons (BWP 1977) states: White forehead appears during first winter but black bars of underparts lacking or incomplete until second autumn. Again this suggests that some black bars may be present during the first winter. Relating specifically to first-winter (and first-summer) birds, it further states: Virtually no black feathers on belly but those of sides of body with contrasting edges like adult.

Relating to first-winters, Reeber (2015) states: Black ventral bars are absent or reduced to a few spots. And furthermore: Second winter identical to adult but adult type birds in autumn/winter lacking black ventral bars (black over less than 10%) could be in their second winter.

So it would seem, from the above references, that it is possible for some (minimal) black to be present on the bellies of some first-winters.

However, this does not explain other features on the Sywell bird being at odds with what is generally accepted as being consistent with first-winter birds.

Looking at the nail of the bill which, despite being illustrated as black by Cramp & Simmons, they state: Bill nail (of juvenile) dark horn becoming white during first winter. This conflicts with Reeber, who states, of juveniles, that the bill has a dark nail but subsequently goes on to say that the bill gains adult colours between mid-winter and spring.

The bill nail of the Sywell bird appears to be pale horn to whitish. Interestingly, Dave Irons’ photo ID gallery shows images of immature Whitefronts taken in November with a pale bill nail, and some in October with extensively dark nails. It is well known that blackish bill nails can remain well into the winter, too. Images of some November birds illustrate a white facial blaze to the same extent as the Sywell individual.

Apart from the extent of black on the underparts, extent of white facial blaze and bill pattern, the stage of moult also plays an important role in ageing.

According to Cramp & Simmons, adults post-breeding undergo a complete moult which is mostly finished before reaching winter quarters. Post juvenile moult, however, is partial. Some moult mantle, scapulars, chest, and longer flank feathers November – January and all body feathers are renewed by February. Also, first-winter/first-summer take on some adult-like feathers. Shape of moulted feathers of mantle and breast square but not as broad as adult. Sometimes medium coverts also moulted but usually many juvenile wing coverts are retained.

Reeber, too, makes similar comments regarding moult. In winter one should expect both adult-type birds and others with an obvious mixture of two generations of feathers among young birds. He goes on to say: until the second pre-basic moult (first summer), the wing feathers are juvenile, often obviously worn, as well as the retrices. And with regard to feather detail: (Adult) feathers of the mantle and scapulars are square-tipped, medium brown with white fringes and black subterminal bars.

Looking again at the first of the above images, it appears (to me, at least) that there is a contrast between what appears to be fresh, second-generation mantle/scapular feathers, with an adult-type pattern described above by Reeber, and the wing coverts, which appear to be faded and worn with abraded tips, indicating retention of first-generation juvenile feathers. The tail feathers also appear pointed and possibly worn, too.

If that’s the case, then the bird is what I would describe as an ‘advanced’ first-winter. If that’s not the case then, taking into account a statement from Reeber that second-winters are generally identical to adults but adult type birds in autumn/winter lacking black ventral bars (black over less than 10%) could be in their second winter, then the Sywell bird might be of that age.

Let’s face it, most birders scanning through a flock of Whitefronts would simply be appreciating the beauty of the flock or looking for other species which might be in the mix, cursorily differentiating between obvious adults and obvious juveniles. It’s only when a lone individual turns up with a local gaggle that it comes under scrutiny …

Newsround – 8th to 14th January 2022

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.

Female Wood Duck, Wellingborough Embankment, 14th January 2022 (James Underwood)

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.

Glossy Ibis, Summer Leys LNR, 10th January 2022 video grab (John Hunt)

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.

First-winter Shag, Daventry CP, 10th January 2022 (Gary Pullan)
First-winter Shag, Daventry CP, 10th January 2022 (Bob Bullock)

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.

Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 8th January 2022 (Leslie Fox)

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.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 9th January 2022 (Alan Coles)
Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 9th January 2022 (James Underwood)

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.  

Stonechat, Upton CP, 12th January 2022 (Tony Stanford)
Stonechat, Wellingborough Embankment, 14th January 2022 (James Underwood)

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.

Newsround – 1st to 7th January 2022

With many of December’s birds clearly going nowhere fast, it was time to sharpen the pencil as 2022 had local yearlisters off to a sprinting start, stepping out into the dawn of a New Year’s Day which delivered a UK record-breaking balmy high of 16.2°C. Temperatures were to tumble, however, as a northerly blast from the Arctic set in during the latter half of the week, with sub-zero daytime figures and overnight frosts.

Going unreported for a week, Clifford Hill GP’s Dark-bellied Brent Goose was still present on 1st, duly remaining on parade and approachable throughout the period. Back on show, too, was the Pitsford Barnacle Goose on 2nd, as was the Ravensthorpe Pink-footed Goose on 7th and, also making it over the line, the three White-fronted Geese at Stanford Res on 1st but not subsequently. Other Whitefronts were available, however – at least one, anyway – as an adult was seen at Ditchford GP on 2nd and later relocated at Stanwick GP on 6th-7th.

The year’s first Red-crested Pochard was found at Summer Leys LNR on 1st, shortly to be followed by eight at Stanford on 4th, while a female Greater Scaup was reported from Thrapston GP on 7th, the date on which a ‘redhead’ Smew was also reported there. Better looking and more tangible, however, last year’s three drake Smews at Pitsford were all present and correct for anyone wanting to take a peak on 1st and 2nd but only two remained at the week’s end.

Red-crested Pochards, Stanford Res, 4th January 2022 (Chris Hubbard)

Once again climbing into double figures, Cattle Egrets peaked at thirteen at Stanwick on New Year’s Day, followed by smaller numbers there on subsequent dates throughout the week. The Ringstead GP roost on Kinewell Lake maxed out at seven on 3rd and 7th and three visited Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows reserve on the latter date. Stanwick also hosted the highest number of  Great Egrets with a tally of twelve there on 3rd, while Pitsford came second with eight, Thrapston mustered three, Ringstead two and Ditchford and Naseby Res one apiece.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 5th January 2022 (Mark Tyrrell)
Cattle Egrets and Little Egret, Stanwick GP, 6th January 2022 (Bob Bullock)

With no reports for a week, it could have been considered a bonus when, on 1st, one of the first-winter Shags which had been frequenting Pitsford since 15th December, surfaced by the causeway car park. It remained for the following day but there have been no subsequent sightings.

A male Hen Harrier was reported flying south-east at Bulwick on 5th.

Despite rising water levels and subsequent icy weather, the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper miraculously remained, providing another welcome fillip to 2022 local yearlisting. How much longer it stays remains to be seen.

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 7th January 2022 (Tony Stanford)

The two Ruffs at Summer Leys also remained on 1st at least, two Jack Snipes were at Stanwick on 6th and last week’s was still present at Hollowell Res on 7th, while the wintering Common Sandpiper saw the New Year in at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North), again remaining there for another week.

Winter gull flocks are always worth scrutiny and, for that matter, so too are they during other seasons. While nothing breathtaking has appeared so far this winter, two adult Caspian Gulls at Naseby Res on 6th were noteworthy, as were two more at Rushton Landfill on 7th and a first-winter at Ravensthorpe on the same date. Other than that, an adult Yellow-legged Gull was found in the roost at Clifford Hill GP’s Main Barrage Lake on 3rd.

Adult Caspian Gull, Naseby Res, 6th January 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Adding a touch of wholly anticipated magic to the new year’s proceedings, a Merlin was found in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, on 2nd and may have been the same bird reported across the other side of the A508, at Harrington AF, later in the week.

And a collective sigh of relief came as the Borough Hill Black Redstart hung on into the new year, duly lining up for a procession of snap-happy admirers throughout the week. Stonechats, normally a popular quarry for toggers, simply had to take a Borough Hill back seat this week, while others were seen at Clifford Hill, Hollowell and Upton CP.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 2nd January 2022 (Bob Bullock)
Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 5th January 2022 (Martin Swannell)
Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 7th January 2022 (Linda Honeybourne)

But a big, New Year’s Daze for some was delivered by two superb Hawfinches, found in Blatherwycke Churchyard on 1st and remaining for all good people of the yearlisting congregation over the following four days. This is a site which has earned a reputation for producing winter records of this species over a many years but its appearance there is sporadic and far from guaranteed.

Hawfinch, Blatherwycke, 1st January 2022 (James Underwood)
Hawfinch, Blatherwycke, 5th January 2022 (Nick Parker)

Far less impressively adorned, though, two Corn Buntings were found in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, on the last day of the week. Having undergone a massive decline in recent years, they are now a scarce visitor to the county. Get them while you can …

Newsround – 25th to 31st December 2021 

Under the influence of a strong south-westerly airstream, delivering unseasonally mild weather, which culminated in a UK record-breaking high temperature of 16°C on New Year’s Eve, the last week of 2021 saw little respite from the overcast and wet conditions of the previous review period. Once again, unsurprisingly, the focus was on wildfowl, the highlight of which was the discovery of a Ring-necked Duck at Thrapston.

Kicking off this week’s geese, a Pink-footed Goose found at Stanford Res on 26th and remaining throughout the period, may have been the same bird that was in the area during late November, while another Pinkfoot was discovered with Greylags at Stanwick GP on 31st.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanford Res, 28th December 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Joining the Stanford individual were an adult and two first-winter White-fronted Geese on 31st – again, maybe not entirely new birds as the number and ages matched those of last week’s trio which visited Hollowell Res on 21st.

Adult and two first-winter White-fronted Geese, Stanford Res, 31st December 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

Which brings us neatly to bird of the week, which appeared in the shape of a female Ring-necked Duck at Thrapston on 30th. As the UK is once again experiencing a sizeable influx, under the circumstances it was really only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, stumbled across one. This bird, only the county’s 10th, follows hot on the heels of the popular drake which, earlier this year, remained at Ditchford GP between early February and late March before becoming more mobile along the Nene Valley.

Female Ring-necked Duck, Thrapston GP, 30th December 2021 (Adrian Borley)
Female Ring-necked Duck, Thrapston GP, 30th December 2021 (Nick Parker)

An altogether meatier Aythya was the first-winter female Greater Scaup which remained at Stortons GP throughout the week, as did Stanford’s female Red-crested Pochard, while eight of the latter were found at Pitsford Res on 27th, with two remaining there on 29th.

Female Red-crested Pochard, Stanford Res, 26th December 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

This week’s Smew action was also confined to Pitsford where, after a report of a ‘redhead’ on 27th, two drakes on 29th were joined there by a third for the following two days.

Drake Smews, Pitsford Res, 30th December 2021 (Steven Peppiatt)

Cattle Egrets were found in their usual hotspots of Stanwick, where there were four on 26th and five on 31st, Irthlingborough, where three were below the church on 31st and at Ringstead GP on the same date, when seven were present on the main island in Kinewell Lake. Compared with recent high counts, the number of Great Egrets was no great shakes, with at least twelve at Pitsford, four at Thrapston, two at Ditchford and one at Stanford.

Following the recent spate of rainfall, water levels have been on the rise, rendering some wetland localities potentially suboptimal for wintering waders. The Pitsford Wood Sandpiper remained, however, the two Ruff at Summer Leys were still in situ and at least one Jack Snipe was present at Hollowell Res on 31st, while the wintering Common Sandpiper also saw the year out at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North).

Scarce gulls were at a premium, or so it appears, with just two Caspian Gulls propping up this week’s Larids – an adult at Hollowell on 29th and a third-winter at Stanford the following day.

On the passerine front, the Black Redstart, mobile around the summit compound and concrete blocks on Borough Hill, saw the year out by still being present at sunset on 31st.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 24th December 2021 (Kyle Smith)

The latter site continued to hold two Stonechats throughout, while singles were at both Pitsford and Thrapston on 27th and Upton CP on 30th, with five at Hollowell Res on 31st.