Another predominantly dry week and, aside from a brief south-westerly interlude, winds from the north were the order of the day for the majority of the period. Despite these conditions being far from ideal for scarce autumn migrants, as the week drew to a close, some new and rather more inspiring birds had made it over the county boundary – albeit in small numbers and only for a short period of time …
However, there was nothing majorly new on the wildfowl front and the two Pink-footed Geese of questionable provenance remained with us – the Stanwick GP bird until at least 17th, while the Daventry CP individual was still present on 21st. More sporadic in its appearances this autumn, the female Ruddy Shelduck paid a return visit to Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs on 19th, remaining at the latter site until at least 21st, while Pitsford Res again produced a Garganey on 19th-20th and 23rd.
Following last week’s record number of Cattle Egrets, things simmered down somewhat as a return to more normal figures saw eight in flight at Thrapston GP on 17th, the same date on which two flew over Stanford Res – hot on the heels of the site’s first record less than three weeks previously. One was also present at the more traditional location of Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR on 21st, the same day a Bittern was reported flying south at Broughton.
This week’s raptors were down almost to the bare bones, with just two Ospreys, both appearing on 18th on opposite sides of the county, including one at Stanford and a juvenile over Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR. Similarly, two Marsh Harriers were also seen on the same day, 20th, with one flying from the Brampton Valley toward Brixworth and the other at Summer Leys LNR. An unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier sp. was seen close to Harrington AF on 22nd and was perhaps the Hen Harrier known to have been in the area last week but, then again, perhaps not …
Late September, though, sees the number of passage waders coming through reduced to a trickle, but what may have been lost in quantity was, this week, made up for in quality – if only fleetingly. Black-tailed Godwits were down to single birds at Ditchford on 19th and Daventry on 21st, while Ruffs were similarly reduced to singles at the latter site on 20th-21st and at Pitsford on 21st-22nd, with two there the following day. But it was the 20th which produced two of the week’s star waders. First up was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, seen only briefly and photographed at Pitsford then seemingly disappearing into the ether, only to reappear, equally briefly, two days later on 22nd – assuming it was, of course, the same individual. With just the one previous record this year, Curlew Sandpiper is not the regular autumn migrant it once was and it can no longer be guaranteed as an annual visitor to the county, even when there is a national influx and coastal counts reach triple figures. This is a far cry from the way things used to be a couple of decades or so ago, when this species was taken as a given in autumn and many mud-fringed, local reservoirs laid claim to their own.
Sadly, much the same can be said about Little Stint, once taken largely for granted as a regularly occurring autumn migrant in small numbers. Echoing the one-day bird at Thrapston at the end of August, the second of the year made an equally brief stay at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 20th. Autumn is not yet over but time is running out for further encounters with this little gem.
Although somewhat further down in the pecking order, the third decent wader on the roll call this week was Spotted Redshank, two of which turned up at the above Earls Barton site on 22nd, some forty-eight hours after the Little Stint. In keeping with the last two species, they did not stay but happily, two – perhaps the same – were found during the evening of the same date at Pitsford Res, where they remained until the following day. These were the first autumn Spotted Redshanks to turn up at this site for four years, but it is unlikely we will ever see a return to the good old days of the last century, when acres of beckoning mud was the autumn norm at Pitsford and numbers of this species were inclined to reach double figures there.
Sticking with Pitsford, a Wood Sandpiper was discovered there on 17th, remaining until the week’s end when it ultimately became overshadowed by the aforementioned taller Tringas. Two Greenshanks were also on site there throughout the week and two also visited Earls Barton on 20th, with one remaining until 23rd. The first Jack Snipe of the autumn was found at Hollowell Res on 21st, still being present on 23rd.
Scarce gulls remained just that. Single first-winter Caspian Gulls appeared at Ravensthorpe on 20th and at Daventry the following day, while Yellow-legged Gulls stretched to one at Pitsford on 21st and seven on 23rd, plus three at Summer Leys on 22nd.
This week’s Merlin was in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton, on 20th.
All the period’s passerines fell squarely into the chat zone – well, there or thereabouts – and included single Common Redstarts in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton on 18th and 23rd, two near Old on 19th, up to two at Harrington between 19th and 21st, two at Hollowell on 22nd and one at Honey Hill on 23rd.
Whinchats, too, were still very much in evidence with the Brampton Valley holding up to four during the period, at least two were present at Hollowell between 19th and 23rd, two were at Harrington on 21st and one at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 18th.
It’s also proving to be a good autumn for Stonechats so far, with birds present at seven localities, including Blueberry Farm, Brampton Valley, Harrington, Hollowell, Pitsford, Welford and Willowbrook Industrial Estate. By the end of the week, Brampton Valley and Hollowell had produced the highest numbers of six and five, respectively.
In stark contrast, though, Northern Wheatears were down to singles in the Brampton Valley on 18th and 21st and up to two at Harrington between 19th and 21st.
The last week in September has a track record for producing American waders and, if the short-term weather forecast for wind and rain is correct, we may yet be in for something interesting over the forthcoming days.