Newsround – 19th to 25th November 2022

The week was characterised by bouts of heavy rain, brought in from the Atlantic by a series of low pressure systems on a varying westerly airstream. And the rain made its mark, leaving some areas flooded and, from an active birding perspective, less easy to negotiate. On the back of this came a handful of new birds to add a little more spice to the birding landscape.

So, new in, on the last day of the week, was a juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose consorting happily with Canada Geese on Stanwick GP’s Main Lake. Somewhat surprisingly, this is only the second for the county in 2022, the first being a lingering individual from last year, which remained at Clifford Hill GP until mid-January.

Juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Stanwick GP, 25th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Popping up on the radar again this week was Whooper Swan, which, like last week’s four, touched neither ground nor water as it flew east over Stanford Res on 19th. Once again, the sole representative of the period’s ducks was Red-crested Pochard. Stanford’s fourteen took a tumble, falling to eight by 25th, Daventry CP’s drake remained until at least 21st, a new drake was discovered on the Fishing Lake at Wicksteed Park on 24th and Pitsford Res retained two of its drakes on 25th.

Making its way into the charts this week was a Bittern – seen in flight and believed to have landed – at Stortons GP on 24th. This suburban locality has a track record for producing wintering Bitterns but its reedbed is dense and offers little in the way of ideal viewing points. The only other ‘herons’ of note were single-figure numbers of Cattle Egrets, which were predominantly at Stanwick GP, where the maximum was seven on 20th. Apart from this, four flew north-east over Ditchford GP on 21st.

After a one-day bird at Thrapston GP last week, the Nene Valley ramped up its numbers of Marsh Harriers, with one seen at Summer Leys daily throughout the period, two flying east together over Stanwick on 22nd, followed by one there on 25th and one flying west over Ditchford on 23rd. At Summer Leys, exciting photographic opportunities await those with time and patience …

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 20th November 2022 (Ricky Sinfield)

Last week’s ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier remained in the Blueberry Farm/Brampton Valley area, again being seen on 20th and 22nd.

With water levels still relatively low, Pitsford remained the premier venue for waders, prime of which were the Wood Sandpiper, remaining in Scaldwell Bay throughout, and the Common Sandpiper in the dam area until at least 23rd. Both birds look set to winter but the chances of this actually happening currently look slim, given the ongoing rainfall and the heavy gush of water through a large feeder pipe into the back of Scaldwell Bay, if the latter continues. A Jack Snipe also added flavour on 19th.

But if Pitsford topped the leaderboard with waders, then Summer Leys pulled in two oft sought-after gulls which are more usually associated with spring passage. First up were two Little Gulls, which flew through the site without lingering, after the week opened, on 20th. These were followed in the last hour of daylight as the week closed on 25th, when, looking potentially moribund, an adult Kittiwake appeared on the Main Lake there. Shaping up to be the one and only Kittiwake of 2022, there has been no further news of it to date. After a momentary downturn, Stanford’s remarkable autumn run of Mediterranean Gulls was reignited this week when the roost there held no fewer than four different individuals, with anything up to three being seen there nightly between 20th and 25th.

Otherwise, large, white-headed larids in the shape of Yellow-legged Gulls were divided between Pitsford, where single adults were present between 21st and 23rd, and Stanford, where two adults joined the roost on 19th and 21st and single birds were present on 20th, 24th and 25th.

Away from the water, the somewhat drier habitat of Harrington AF played host to this week’s Short-eared Owl on the last day of the period. And what a great week for Merlins, with no less than four being seen. The 19th saw one in the Brampton Valley while, the following day, DIRFT 3, Stanford Res and Stowe-nine-Churches all came up trumps for birders in these three areas.

Topping the bill for passerines was the ongoing presence of the handsome male Bearded Tit along the causeway and in the reedbeds skirting Stanwick’s A45 Lay-by Pit. Although remaining on site throughout the week, easy to see it was not. Mobile, elusive, wide-ranging and frequently invisible, though audible, attempting to nail it down continued to present a challenge.     

Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 25th November 2022 (Duncan Woodhead)

Similarly, the Black Redstart found at Pitsford’s Saling Club, late on 22nd, presented its own viewing problems. Feeding mainly on the ground, as it slipped between the onshore yachts, keeping tabs on it proved to be anything but plain sailing.

Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 19th November 2022 (Leslie Fox)

Ending, as is the norm of late, with Stonechats, numbers this week were poor. Two or three at Earls Barton GP on 19th, two at Clifford Hill GP on 24th and three at Pitsford on 25th were very much the lowest for some considerable time.

Newsround – 12th to 18th November 2022

As weather conditions moved slowly along in the direction toward a seasonal norm, last week’s leftovers, combined with a few new arrivals, served to keep things going …

Heading up this week’s wildfowl – if only for a few minutes – four Whooper Swans flew west at Daventry CP on the last day of the week. Apart from that, more static fare was on offer in the shape of a generally settled bunch of Red-crested Pochards, fourteen of which continued to feature at Stanford Res throughout the period. Daventry CP also hung on to its one and only drake for the same duration, while Pitsford Res made a bit of a comeback, with four on 13th and two on 16th.

Sticking with said reservoir, last week’s juvenile Great Northern Diver, found just before dusk on the last day, upped and went the following morning, 12th, heading off high south-west. On the cusp of winter there’s plenty of time for another – at Pitsford, or elsewhere.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 12th November 2022 (Ant Hall)

Over the review period, Cattle Egrets were restricted to Stanwick GP, the roost there attracting up to thirteen between 13th and 15th.

The week’s raptors consisted of two harriers – a Marsh Harrier at Thrapston GP on 16th, followed by a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell two days later, on 18th. If they linger, catching up with them may prove to be another matter entirely …

Last week’s star waders maintained a presence, their numbers briefly boosted by the arrival – and subsequent rapid departure – of two Avocets at Boddington Res on 13th.

Avocets, Boddington Res, 13th November 2022 (Gary Pullan)

With most coming through during spring, appearances in November are few, with Boddington, Daventry and Thrapston accounting for the three records in that month during the last 20 years, which have seen a significant increase in occurrences. While the trend line in local records may mirror the shape of an Avocet’s bill, it also represents the upturn in its UK population growth, which has increased by 326% over the last 25 years.

Back at Pitsford, and looking set to tough out the winter, the Wood Sandpiper lingered along the shoreline, between the causeway and the current ‘low tide’ of Scaldwell Bay, for the duration of the period. Seemingly not following suit, though, last week’s Little Stint remained throughout the weekend of 12th-13th before subsequently vanishing. Another wader still on site there was last week’s Common Sandpiper, still on the dam on 16th, while the week’s only Jack Snipe was found at Hollowell Res on 18th.

Common Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 16th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)
Common Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 16th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Set to rival Stanford for roosting Mediterranean Gulls, Pitsford produced two different adults on consecutive evenings, the 16th and 17th, and Boddington almost made the grade by dishing up an adult Mediterranean x Black-headed Gull hybrid on 13th. Large, white-headed gulls were also available, with single adult Caspian Gulls in the roosts at Stanford on 13th and Boddington on 14th, and at Hollowell on 18th. Boddington, Pitsford and Stanford shared this week’s Yellow-legged Gulls with no more than three at any one location.

The Short-eared Owl remained on the outskirts of Farthingstone, being seen on 12th and 16th and a male Merlin put in an appearance at Summer Leys on 13th, followed by one flying north over the Brampton Valley, near Brixworth, the following day.

Passerines were again in short supply and topping the rather short bill was a first-winter Ring Ouzel over, and behind, the dam at Boddington on 14th, while this week’s Stonechat numbers rallied somewhat, with Pitsford holding five on 13th and Clifford Hill GP, Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell, Kettering, Summer Leys and Upton CP all producing between one and two birds apiece.


Newsround – 4th to 11th November 2022

With the continuing run of unseasonally mild weather, what seemed set to be a lacklustre week was rescued at the eleventh hour by an unexpected reignition of autumn wader passage, along with the arrival of a deep water diver – all very conveniently in one place …

However, the period opened and closed with a rather reduced selection of wildfowl – in this case limited strictly to Red-crested Pochards. While Daventry CP hung on to its one and only drake, numbers built at Stanford Res, which came clearly to the fore by producing fourteen – eleven of which were drakes – from mid-week onwards. During the same period, not even one of Pitsford’s former double-figure flock was anywhere to be seen.

At the week’s end, though, it emerged that the latter locality had clearly traded up its ducks deluxe for a more exciting model in the form of the annually expected Great Northern Diver, a juvenile of which checked in for an overnight stay, late on 11th.

The removal of the Doddington cows from the field next to Summer Leys heralded the departure of the Cattle Egret, which had been accompanying them for the last couple of weeks. That just left the traditional location of Stanwick GP to deliver the goods, with one on 6th, ten leaving the roost there early on 7th, five on site on 9th and ten flying over on 11th.

But it was Pitsford which, once again, entered the limelight by pulling all of this week’s waders out of the hat on the last day. So, only the 5th this year, a juvenile Little Stint appeared just north of the causeway on 11th. It is one of the latest to occur in Northamptonshire, although small numbers were still being seen in at least nine other UK counties during the period.

Juvenile Little Stint, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Somewhat uncannily, though, the appearance of a Wood Sandpiper in the same area, at the same time, almost mirrors last year’s December appearance of a bird which spent the greater part of the winter in the county, after first spending time at Eyebrook Res in Leicestershire. History appears to have repeated itself this year, with one, said to be a juvenile, at Eyebrook last week. Although difficult to age with certainty, the Pitsford bird appears to be an adult. If so, is it a returning bird … and how long will it stay?

Wood Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Last up, a Common Sandpiper was also found on the dam at Pitsford on 11th. While no biggie, it’s well out of season.

But if Pitsford was the place for waders, then Stanford was the place to be for gulls, having produced three different Mediterranean Gulls during the period. First up was an adult in the roost on 5th, followed by a first-winter, nightly, from 6th to 8th and then a different first-winter on 11th. Larger larids were also available, represented by an adult Caspian Gull in the Stanford roost on 6th and 8th, a near-adult at DIRFT 3 on 9th and a first-winter at Daventry CP the following day.

Near-adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 9th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

The small number of Yellow-legged Gulls this week comprised an adult in the Stanford roost on 6th plus two there on 8th, single adults at Daventry CP on 7th and Summer Leys on 11th and one at Pitsford on the latter date.

A Short-eared Owl was at Farthingstone on 11th and a male Merlin at Stanford on 6th. Passerines were in short supply with this week’s Stonechats appearing to take a tumble with twos at DIRFT 3 on 5th and Sywell CP the following day, while three were at Pitsford on 11th. Apart from that, a Water Pipit paid a brief visit to the Scrape at Summer Leys on 6th.

Newsround – 29th October to 4th November 2022

In the week just gone, we waved goodbye to British Summer Time and, so it seems, to most of the interesting autumn migrants. That’s not to say there was no drama, though, as Northamptonshire likely missed out on adding one more species to its county list …

Echoing last week, the long-staying Pink-footed Goose in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area was seen just the once, again at Ravensthorpe Res, on 31st but a respectable number – twenty-nine this time – was seen in flight over Harrington AF on 4th. Similarly mirroring last week, the female Ruddy Shelduck again paid a one-day visit to Stanford Res on 30th.

Red-crested Pochards continued to loom large, again being seen at five localities. As far as numbers were concerned, Pitsford Res once more came out on top with eleven still present on 31st, while Stanford held on to its six on 29th-30th, dropping to five for the remainder of the period. Clifford Hill GP mustered five on 3rd, Summer Leys LNR retained two on 29th and Daventry CP its one and only until at least 3rd.

Numbers of Cattle Egrets were pretty much down to rock bottom during the period, with Stanwick producing one on 30th, while last week’s bird at Summer Leys remained throughout, on the northern flank of the reserve, in a cattle field below Great Doddington.

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Which brings us neatly on to … Great Egret, dropped from the weekly some time ago. Why so? Well, a record count of twenty-one at Pitsford at the end of the week serves to underline the fact that they are, we’ll just say, really rather common these days. Their ‘rarity status’ is, let’s face it, a thing of the past and you’d be hard pressed to saunter round Pitsford, north of the causeway, and find the same number of Grey Herons. The only difference is they don’t breed … yet. Those of us who made the abortive trip to North Yorkshire’s Scaling Dam Reservoir to see Britain’s 12th, in June 1974, have no doubt felt rightly miffed in recent years. If only we’d known …

This week it was the turn of Hen Harrier to steal the raptorial limelight, with a ‘ringtail’ mobile around the Brampton Valley/Blueberry Farm area, late in the day on 3rd.  

In the wader camp, the lingering Black-tailed Godwit remained north of the causeway at Ravensthorpe until at least 2nd and last week’s Summer Leys bird spilled momentarily into this week, being seen there again on 29th.

The few scarcer larids were represented by an adult Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 31st and Yellow-legged Gulls, which were down to an adult and a third-winter at Pitsford on 31st. Two adults were at Ravensthorpe and an adult at Sywell CP – also on 31st, the latter remaining until 3rd, while another adult visited Summer Leys on 2nd.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Sywell CP, 3rd November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Short-eared Owls were on the up a little this week with the Borough Hill individual still present on 29th, the same date on which another was seen near Thrapston GP’s Elinor Trout Lake. Another was found in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton on 1st and seems likely to have been the same bird seen hunting over adjacent farmland at Cottesbrooke on 4th.

Arguably bird of the week – and potentially bird of the year – was a Pallid or Common Swift seen flying south over Wellingborough during the afternoon of 2nd. Setting this in context, a record-breaking number of at least eighty Pallids have graced British skies over the past couple of weeks. Pallid Swift is unique among European swifts in being routinely double-brooded, with the young of the second brood fledging … in October. Whack in a protracted period of unseasonal, far-reaching southerlies and bingo! But just to complicate matters, a small number of Common Swifts have also been caught up in the influx, being positively identified over the same period. Undoubtedly a heady mixture of surprise and frustration for the observer in Wellingborough, which probably translates broadly into ‘I wish I’d never seen it!’ The one that got away – we’ve all been there …

A Merlin was seen at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 4th.

Passerines kick off with a further report of a single Bearded Tit along the causeway of Stanwick’s A45 Lay-by Pit emerging on 30th but there’s next to no further information about it. While Ring Ouzels made it back onto the menu this week, neither of the two birds reported was readily viewable. One was seen briefly on 30th between Bradden and Greens Norton before flying off with Redwings towards Slapton, while the other was in an unspecified area somewhere near Lamport Hall on 4th.   

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 31st October 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Small numbers of Stonechats continued to be reported with seven localities holding no more than two birds apiece, while a late Northern Wheatear was found at Harrington on 4th.