Blow the wind southerly … and it did – at least for the early part of the week in which we crossed the date line into meteorological spring. And while many of our long-staying winterers remained, there were sure signs of things moving – both large, very large and small.
There can’t be much more time left locally for our handful of wintering geese, as mid-March sees the start of the return to their breeding grounds. Some will recall, in days gone by, flocks of White-fronted Geese heading high above the Nene Valley from Slimbridge to the east coast, before making the crossing over the North Sea. With UK wintering numbers having declined considerably this is no longer the case and we have to make do with small mercies. And so it was that the three Stanford on Avon Whitefronts remained settled there until 27th, after which they appeared to develop itchy feet, moving into fields in Leicestershire, both north and east of Stanford Res. By contrast, the Stanwick trio remained until the week’s end, while Ravensthorpe’s Pink-footed Goose continued to keep company with the Greylags there until at least 28th. Meanwhile, back at Stanford on Avon, another Pinkfoot was found on the latter date, the escaped Cackling Goose showed up there at the same time and, undoubtedly with no better pedigree, Pitsford’s Barnacle Goose was still loafing well south of the causeway on 2nd. After nearly a month with no reports, the Tove Valley Whooper Swan resurfaced on 3rd near Yardley Gobion, not too far away from its original place of discovery near Cosgrove.
In contrast to last week, things picked up considerably on the duck front. After keeping an extraordinarily low profile, back on the menu was the female Ring-necked Duck at Thrapston GP. Last reported on 12th January, it was relocated on the Heronry Lake on 26th and remained all week, this time presenting itself quite simply as a sitting duck for anyone who wanted to catch up with it.
Still present throughout the period were the single drake Red-crested Pochards, remaining on show at Earls Barton GP and at Ravensthorpe Res, the latter moving to a filtration pool below the dam from 28th. New in this week was a drake Common Scoter, the first of the year, at Stortons GP on 4th.
Pitsford’s juvenile Great Northern Diver was still on site, between Pintail Bay and The Narrows, on 2nd.
Now appearing reasonably settled, last week’s Glossy Ibis attracted a steady stream of admirers to its preferred feeding area along the west side of Stanwick’s North Lake, where it remained until at least 3rd.
And, like last week, Stanwick also hosted all of the period’s Cattle Egrets – up to five, to be precise and, with no more than three at any other site in the county, for the first time in a while, outnumbering all single site totals of Great Egrets. Small numbers of the latter were found at Ditchford GP, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston.
And then, on 1st, the skies over Upper Harlestone darkened momentarily as an immature White-tailed Eagle made its presence felt, rising up from ground level, gaining height and circling over the village, mobbed by Red Kites, before subsequently heading over trees behind the local cricket club. Totally unprepared, the experience left the observer agog. Well, it would, wouldn’t it! When the news comes through, however majestic an eagle may be, it’s easy to ‘write it off’ as a non-wild, radio-tagged bird from the ongoing Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme. We should now be waking up to the fact that, because this species is doing well in mainland Europe, some immatures are wandering to the UK in winter … and it appears this was one of them as no IoW birds were in the area at the time. Despite being looked for, it was not seen again.
Not quite in the same league but still a little on the large side, two Common Cranes flew low south-east over Ravensthorpe on 26th. Again, with the UK population growing, we should expect these to occur with increasing frequency.
Back down to earth, more meagre fare was on offer on the wader front, a line-up which featured the first Black-tailed Godwits of the year, at Summer Leys, where four were found on 3rd and the long-staying Ruff remained all week. The two wintering Common Sandpipers both made it into the period, the Pitsford bird remaining until at least 26th, while the Earls Barton individual was still present at New Workings (North) at the week’s end. A single Jack Snipe was seen at Hollowell Res on 28th.
Stanford had the monopoly of this week’s Mediterranean Gulls with an adult in the roost there on 28th and 2nd, while Rushton Landfill continued to produce the period’s highest number of Caspian Gulls with a first-winter, a second-winter and two third-winters on 4th. Meanwhile, Hollowell produced an adult on 28th and a third-winter on 3rd.
While passerines were in short supply, a new Black Redstart was discovered below the dam at Ravensthorpe Res on 2nd, remaining there to see the week out, while Stonechats were again thin on the ground with two at Hollowell on 28th and singles at Clifford Hill GP on the same date and at Harrington AF and Hartwell on 3rd.
Another first for the year materialised in the shape of a Mealy Redpoll, briefly inspecting a garden feeder in Farthingstone on 2nd, while two Crossbills were around the garden centre at Harlestone Heath on 28th and one was seen at Wakerley Great Wood on 4th.