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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.