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