The week’s weather was dominated by a westerly airstream, which was largely unfavourable for the arrival of new migrants. In fact, the latter were few and far between, which, by late May, is generally to be expected. However, while a southerly-drifting White-tailed Eagle was, potentially, the highlight of the period, rather more static, coiffured and dapper fare was on offer in the nether reaches of a certain local reservoir.
Yes, last week’s Stanwick-cum-Pitsford Black-necked Grebes continued to put on a show in Scaldwell Bay over the weekend – and, for sheer splendour, a glitzy summer-plumaged Black-necked really does take some beating. There were no further reports beyond 22nd.
Stanwick’s Glossy Ibis remained throughout the week but was seen to fly off north-east on a couple of occasions, five Cattle Egrets were present at the same locality on 22nd, one remained on 23rd and one visited Summer Leys LNR on 24th.
While Summer Leys also hosted a passing Osprey on 23rd, an immature White-tailed Eagle reported flying south over the M1/A43 junction on 21st undoubtedly provided a ‘barn door’ moment for one observer. A subsequent check with a representative of the Roy Dennis Foundation quickly established there were no released immatures in the area at the time …
Returning to more traditional birding environments, four Bar-tailed Godwits were seen in flight over Summer Leys on 23rd and, on the morning of the same date, a Little Tern spent all of eight minutes at Daventry CP before heading off high east.
At the other end of the spectrum, late passerine migrants moving through included a male Common Redstart at Harrington AF on 24th, a female Northern Wheatear at Hartwell between 21st and 24th and, most unexpectedly for the time of year, a Hawfinch flying west at Stanwick GP, also on 24th.
With winds showing a bias toward the southerly quarter, the UK saw its hottest day of the year so far with the national temperature peaking at 26°C on 17th, when Northants also reached 24°C. Intermittent, heavy showers again influenced what was seen on the ground, although this related more to numbers of commoner waders than anything else – and this week’s rare was in the air …
Predictably, ducks were down to just the one species, Garganey, with single drakes at both Summer Leys LNR and Stanwick GP on 15th and at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 19th, while the long-staying pair remained at Thrapston GP throughout the period.
New in this week – and the first in the county for 2022 – were two flamboyant and very showy Black-necked Grebes at Stanwick, sparking a mini-rush to see them on 19th. It seems highly likely this was the same duo that subsequently put in an appearance in Scaldwell Bay, at Pitsford Res, the following day.
Meanwhile, back at Stanwick, the Glossy Ibis remained ensconced on the Main Lake, while egret numbers tumbled, with Cattle Egrets down to one at Summer Leys on 14th and two at Stanwick on 16th and the only Great Egret was one at Earls Barton GP on 17th.
But as far as raptors are concerned, outdoor gatherings have the potential to be rewarding. Go to a BBQ, keep your eyes on the skies and you never know, you might just feature. Such was the case on 15th, when a male Honey Buzzard cruised over, adding much more than a sizzle to a social gathering in Byfield. Commoner, of course, but no less exciting, a Marsh Harrier appeared at Summer Leys late on 16th and was still present the following morning.
And so to waders … For Grey Plovers there are good years and there are bad years and, to date, 2022 falls squarely into the latter category. With just the Stanwick short-stayer on offer so far this spring, an even less obliging bird graced DIRFT 3 for one evening only, on 18th.
While the tendency is for spring records to outnumber those in autumn, there are, historically, still plenty of the latter and even a small number in winter, although the trend line over the last twenty years rolls out to reveal a decline – albeit a shallow one. In fact, in 2020 and 2021, there were more Black-necked Grebes in the county than Grey Plovers …
Equally short-staying were four Turnstones at Summer Leys on the evening of 15th. Back at DIRFT 3, though, and featuring only for their continuing exceptionally high totals, Ringed Plovers numbered twenty-seven on 15th and twenty-one on 19th, with sixteen on the adjacent Lilbourne Meadows NR the following day. Where reasonable views were obtained many showed characteristics of, and were assumed to be, the northern race tundrae, although we should not be overlooking the fact that psammodroma, which is closely similar and breeds no further away than Iceland, could also be occurring.
DIRFT 3 also produced a Sanderling on 15th and the week’s only Whimbrel was one near Daventry on 19th, while Ruffs were found only at Summer Leys, where breeding plumage males were present on 18th and 20th and one in non-breeding attire was seen on 19th.
With tern passage appearing to be fast on the wane, two Arctic Terns were at Clifford Hill GP on 15th.
Rounding up some odds and sods, the year’s only known Turtle Dove was at an undisclosed location in the north of the county on 19th, a somewhat unseasonal Short-eared Owl visited Harrington AF on 14th and Northern Wheatears were down to four at Clifford Hill GP on 15th and one between Yardley Hastings and Easton Maudit on 19th.
Beginning with brisk north-easterlies, which rapidly swung to sustained south-westerlies, this week’s weather played a key role in producing the goods, most particularly on the one significantly rainy day of the period, 11th May. Aside from a lingering White Stork, waders were once again the centre of attention, with a nifty Pectoral Sandpiper stepping up to provide this week’s crème de la crème – albeit fleetingly …
While this was happening, ducks were dwindling, with just one drake Garganey at Summer Leys LNR on 11th and the pair still present at Thrapston GP on 13th. Drake Red-crested Pochards continued to add colour to the week’s proceedings, with one visiting Summer Leys on 8th and two on the dam at Stanford Res on 13th.
Back in the marshy meadow at Lower Barnwell Lock was last week’s White Stork, which established a routine of turning up for a couple of hours or so during the mornings, on 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th.
Further up the Nene Valley, Stanwick’s Glossy Ibis was going nowhere fast, seeing out another full week on site.
Stanwick also continued to hold up to five Cattle Egrets between 7th and 11th and one visited Summer Leys on 11th and 13th. Great Egrets, meanwhile, were bumping along the bottom, with singles at both Hollowell Res and Stanwick on 8th, DIRFT 3 on 11th and Summer Leys on 12th.
Being down to just one species, the week’s raptors can be quickly summed up, as Ospreys were seen at Biggin Lake (Oundle) on 7th, Hollowell on 8th and over Barton Seagrave on 13th.
Bird of the week, however, was the long-overdue Pectoral Sandpiper, which was found at the good old easybirdin’ site of Summer Leys, after the rain, during the early evening of 11th. This resulted in a mad dash, by some, to see it before the light faded and darkness closed in. Despite reports to the contrary, it would appear to have departed early the following day, long before many had awoken from their morning slumber.
Although there have been more than 40 county records, this is the first since 2011, when singles were at Pitsford Res from 10th to 17th September and Stanford Res from 23rd to 30th September. It is also only the fourth to be recorded in spring.
Summer Leys was also among four localities to briefly host two highly ambulatory Avocets on 7th. First located at Stanwick early doors, they quickly moved west to Clifford Hill GP before swiftly heading back east to Summer Leys and then rapidly on to Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows. Another was subsequently reported from the pool east of Warmington Mill, on the evening of 9th.
Further windfalls resulting from the steady precipitation of 11th appeared in the form of a record flock of Ringed Plovers, of which a minimum of forty-six was counted at DIRFT 3, including at least two Tundra Ringed Plovers. At least thirty were still present there the following day. Also on 11th, the same site produced a Greenland Dunlin (race arctica), while another showing characteristics of this race was present at Summer Leys on 11th-12th. After the first in May 2013, one in May 2015 and two in May 2017, these would constitute only the 5th and 6th records for the county, if accepted.
This week’s Whimbrels were restricted to two flying east over the Brampton Valley at Maidwell on 8th and, similarly, Bar-tailed Godwits, were down to one at Stanwick on 7th-8th and last week’s three still at Pitsford, dropping to two there from 9th until the end of the period.
Two more Turnstones turned up, both of them on 13th, at Pitsford and Lilbourne Meadows NR.
It was Summer Leys which had the monopoly on Ruffs, with three on 11th, four on 12th and two on 13th, while Pitsford pulled a Sanderling on 8th, five visited DIRFT 3 on 11th and further singles were at Stanwick on 11th, DIRFT 3 on 12th and Summer Leys on 12th-13th. The only Greenshanks of the week were single birds at Stanford and Summer Leys on 12th.
Gulls this week were at a premium – or not, depending on your opinion, and a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Stanwick on 11th was all the county could muster during the period. Not so for terns, though, with Arctic Terns still on the move and 7th delivering two to Clifford Hill and separate fly-through flocks of seventeen and five to Stanford. A single Black Tern paid a brief visit to Pitsford the following day.
Pretty much taking a back seat in the week’s proceedings, passerines were few and far between. After the year’s first, last week, another two Whinchats were found at Upper Harlestone on 7th and at Stanford on 12th – a somewhat meagre total.
Northern Wheatears were down to singles at Summer Leys on 7th, Clifford Hill on 8th, Ashton STW on 9th and Earls Barton GP on 11th, while Clifford Hill produced two showing characteristics of Greenland Wheatear on 7th and another one on 11th.
Stepping into May sees expectations move up a gear. It’s the month most likely to produce the icing on the cake where spring migrants are concerned and, while this week’s mixed weather conditions made predictions a tough call, some of those most highly anticipated visitors turned up on cue.
So, another week, another White Stork and in terms of highlights, waders again proliferated, those at the scarce end of the spectrum refusing to stick around for any length of time. In the same vein, this week’s quota of rare terns proved even less cooperative. Such are the joys of spring …
Seemingly now part of this year’s spring furniture, Garganeys remained at both Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP, with three at the first of these two sites on 3rd and at least two at the latter on 4th. The drake Red-crested Pochard also remained at Wicksteed Park, Kettering until at least 5th.
Back on the menu, at least for some, was a White Stork … or maybe two – both of which proved to be as slippery as butter. On 30th, one flew over Oundle Rugby Club and it would appear logical to assume this was the same bird relocated on the ground at Lower Barnwell Lock, briefly, early in the morning on 5th. It didn’t stay, of course, and what was presumably the same individual was again seen heading high west over Summer Leys during the afternoon of the same day. What we can be sure of, though, was that it was not the same bird as that which visited Summer Leys and Stanwick GP late on 21st/early on 22nd April. The latter was traced to the White Stork Project via a numbered ring on its left tibia, while this week’s bird had no such ring, having instead a small metal ring on its right tarsus.
Meanwhile, Stanwick’s Glossy Ibis remained there until at least 3rd.
Both Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets slipped down into just single birds, with one of the former flying west at Summer Leys on 1st and at Stanwick GP on 2nd-3rd, while a Great Egret was also at Stanwick on 3rd.
Raptors, too, were in short supply – again being limited to the same two species as last week … and the week before. An Osprey flew north over New Duston, Northampton on 30th and singles visited Hollowell Res on 2nd, 3rd and 5th, while a Marsh Harrier appeared briefly at Stanford Res on 2nd.
Waderwise, though, things were on the up – looking up, that is, as catching up with the best required a fairly swift response. Topping this week’s bill was a Curlew Sandpiper on golden pond: DIRFT 3. Found just after midday on 1st, it remained until late afternoon, after which it apparently melted away.
Time, perhaps, to reflect on just what this unassuming drainage pool on the DIRFT industrial development site has produced over the last four years. So, we have at least twenty-two species of wader, including Temminck’s Stint, eleven species of gull, including the county’s only proven Baltic Gull, Spoonbill, Dark-bellied Brent Goose and some unquestionably dodgy ducks. Not a bad haul to date but, as the construction of new buildings is fast encroaching, for how much longer will it continue to deliver?
Other waders proved popular while they were available, these including single Whimbrels at Earls Barton GP on 1st and 4th and two at Thrapston GP on the same date, rising to three on 2nd.
Bar-tailed Godwits, however, were easier to come by, with singles at Clifford Hill GP, DIRFT 3 and Pitsford Res on 2nd, two at Hardwater Lake (Earls Barton GP) on 3rd-4th, one at adjacent Summer Leys on 3rd-5th, one at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 4th and three at Pitsford Res on 4th-6th.
The first Turnstone of the year hit the shoreline of Clifford Hill GP’s Main Barrage Lake on 2nd, quickly followed by three very short-stayers at Stanwick the next day.
Two Ruffs were at Summer Leys on 30th, followed by one there on 3rd and one also visited Clifford Hill GP on 2nd, while single Sanderlings visited DIRFT 3 on 4th and Clifford Hill on 6th. With most having long departed, Jack Snipes are unusual in May but one was still at Summer Leys on 1st and another lingered at Hollowell on 3rd. More Wood Sandpipers came through this week, starting with an obliging bird at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 3rd-4th and a couple of fleeting singles at Summer Leys on 4th and 6th, the latter site producing three stunningly summer-plumaged and equally fleeting Spotted Redshanks on 3rd which, after leaving Summer Leys, were found not too long afterwards in Lincolnshire, at Deeping Lakes, north of Peterborough. The only Greenshank of the week was at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 4th-5th.
After last week’s impressive numbers of Little Gulls, there was none during the period. Instead, two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew west over Summer Leys on 2nd and what was presumably the same two were back there, on Gull Island, briefly on 5th. Otherwise, it was down to a short-staying fourth-summer Caspian Gull at Daventry CP to keep the side going, on 3rd.
While terns were clearly more in evidence this week, the scarcest played hardest to get, with 3rd May seeing a flock of six Sandwich Terns flying non-stop north-east over Stanwick, followed a while later by a Little Tern paying the briefest visit to Ditchford’s IL&M reserve before moving swiftly on. The afternoon of same date also produced three Black Terns, the year’s first, at Boddington Res, where they lingered into the evening.
In better numbers than last week, more Arctic Terns came through, with top tallies including fourteen at Stanford Res on 2nd and six at Thrapston GP on 4th. Elsewhere, Stanwick produced three on 3rd, the gravel pits at Ringstead and Clifford Hill hosting two apiece on the same date, while the latter locality held singles on 2nd and 5th and further singles were at Pitsford on 30th and Summer Leys on 3rd.
Passerines, though, proved to be a puzzle. While one of last week’s female Ring Ouzels lingered at Honey Hill until 2nd, there were no Common Redstarts this week. In fact, so far this year, Black Redstarts have outnumbered their commoner congener, with the latest one to be found near Little Brington on 5th.
The year’s first Whinchats pitched up, perhaps a tad later than expected, starting with a male at Hollowell Res on 1st-2nd, swiftly followed by further birds at both Elkington and Priors Hall, Corby on 2nd and, on 5th, twos at Clifford Hill GP and Stanford Res and one in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton.
Found at no less than nine localities, Northern Wheatears were widespread, with the highest site total of five at DIRFT 3 on 2nd. Elsewhere during the week, ones and twos were at Boddington, Brampton Valley, Clifford Hill, Harrington AF, Honey Hill, Priors Hall (Corby), Sixfields (Northampton) and Willowbrook Industrial Estate (Corby).
Sharing the stage with Common Redstart, another passerine which has been strangely low in numbers so far this spring is White Wagtail. Just one was seen this week – on the dam at Stanford Res on 1st.