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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …