Newsround – 24th to 30th December 2022

Continuing last week’s theme, the relatively mild weather continued throughout, with some areas recording a positively balmy 14°C as the week unfolded. After Boxing Day though, the post-Christmas rush was not for the sales but instead to Earls Barton GP where, it seems, Yellow-browed Warblers abounded …

But first, paying due diligence to the systematic list, the Ravensthorpe Pink-footed Goose was back, around and about the area of the reservoir, on 27th and in fields behind the Fishing Lodge there on 30th. Three sites produced Red-crested Pochards during the period – Stanford Res hung on to its long-staying drake throughout, two drakes appeared at Pitsford Res on 24th and a female found at Hardingstone GP on 27th remained until at least 30th.

Female Red-crested Pochard, Hardingstone GP, 30th December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

Moving upmarket somewhat, last week’s two drake Smews were still at Pitsford on 24th, at least one of which was still present on 27th.

By the time the week closed, the back end of this year had notched up another Great Northern Diver – this second bird on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP, on 27th, following the trait of the one at Pitsford in November insomuch as it was present for less than 24 hours. Such short visits are very much out of character for this species in Northants, where we’re much more accustomed to seeing protracted stays over the winter period. There’s still time for another …

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Earls Barton GP, 27th December 2022 (Bob Bullock)

Following an apparent absence of any last week, a single Cattle Egret was found with cows on the edge of Southfield Farm Marsh NR, near Kettering, on 28th.

The long-staying ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier remained in the north-central part of the county, being seen near Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 24th and at Harrington AF again on 27th. The latter date also saw the appearance of a male between Mears Ashby and Earls Barton and what was presumably the same individual flew over Summer Leys LNR toward Bozeat not long afterwards.

Waders were in short supply this week but in a bizarre turn of events, the Wood Sandpiper – last seen at Pitsford on 7th December – made a reappearance on 29th on the same building site pool at Upton, Northampton, as it did in early April, again after vacating Pitsford at the end of January. It didn’t stay beyond the morning of that date and, despite a local search, it wasn’t relocated by the time the week closed on 30th.

On the Larid front, two adult Caspian Gulls were at Hollowell on 27th and an adult visited Stanford on 28th and 29th, the latter date producing two Yellow-legged Gulls there, while an adult was seen briefly at Hardingstone GP on 30th.

Stanford also produced one of this week’s two Merlins, on 26th, while the other was seen between Harrington AF and Draughton on 29th.

A Waxwing was reported flying from the Gladstone Road area of Northampton toward Dallington Park on Boxing Day but there was never any doubt about the week’s top passerines when a veritable tsunami of Yellow-browed Warblers hit on 27th, as two were found in close proximity in trees and scrub adjacent to the entrance of Earls Barton GP’s Mary’s Lake. Clearly one of these birds was the individual first seen on the nearby island in the lake, briefly, on 16th. This stripey duo clearly saw fit to do the decent thing and remained, showing well, to the delight of all comers, until the week’s end.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 27th December 2022 (Bob Bullock)
Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 27th December 2022 (Martin Swannell)
Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 27th December 2022 (Bob Bullock)
Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 27th December 2022 (Martin Swannell)

We’re so used to hearing of this species being trapped and ringed in the county (two at Stanford earlier, in the autumn) and these birds go some way to redress the balance. And two together? Well, that’s a first, locally! Winter records are rare in Northants but not without precedent. Indeed, with increasing numbers appearing in Europe during autumn and winter, Yellow-browed Warbler has been suggested as an ideal model for studying the links between vagrancy and the emergence of new migratory routes.

Female Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 26th December 2022 (Leslie Fox)
Female Stonechat, Upton CP, 29th December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

But back down to earth, the week’s Stonechats were seen at Earls Barton GP, Lilbourne Meadows NR, Pitsford Res, Summer Leys LNR, Sywell CP and Upton CP with no more than four at any one locality.

Newsround – 17th to 23rd December 2022

As the meteorological pendulum swung back to weather conditions more normally associated with the time of year, cold north-easterlies from the Arctic gave way to warm south-westerlies off the Atlantic and a rapid thaw ensued.

Local bodies of water became ice-free once again and wildfowl numbers had rallied by the week’s end. Overall, though, in the run up to Christmas the picture was bleak. Smew topped the bill with the discovery of two drakes at Pitsford Res on 22nd, otherwise a drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanford Res was the only one left holding the fort throughout the period.

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 22nd December 2022 (Matthew Cottrell)

The Nene Valley hung on to at least one Marsh Harrier, with one seen over Earls Barton GP’s new workings, both north and south, on 18th, while the long-staying ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier continued to feature in the Brampton Valley at Blueberry Farm on 19th, crossing the Harborough Road to visit Harrington AF the following day.

In what transpired to be almost a carbon copy of last week’s waders, the Black-tailed Godwit remained at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on 17th and single Jack Snipes were at both Daventry CP and Hollowell Res on 21st.

On the Larid front, single adult Caspian Gulls continued to be seen at both Hollowell and Stanford on 21st and 23rd, while adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at both Daventry and Pitsford on 21st.

Propping up the passerines, a sprinkling of one or two Stonechats occurred in the Brampton Valley on 17th, at Chipping Warden on 18th, Weedon on 19th, Earls Barton GP on 20th and Hollowell on 23rd.

Newsround – 10th to 16th December 2022

As the temperature dropped to minus 9°C in the early hours on the last day of the period, the week just gone gave us a taste of what winters used to be like, in the days when we were all made of sterner stuff. Although new birds were on offer, the continuing cold spell also delivered some casualties.

And the sub-zero temperatures resulted in increasingly extensive ice and more bodies of water freezing over, the resultant effect of which was a clear-out of wildfowl from many localities. Such displacements are not without reward, though, and, disregarding the appearance of a Barnacle Goose at Kislingbury GP on 10th, eight Pink-footed Geese flew east over Hartwell on 15th and the Ravensthorpe bird was still in place at the week’s end.

Red-crested Pochards were here and there, with Stanford’s quota up to seven again on 10th and the two drakes still at Kislingbury on the same date. By the following day, just one drake remained at Stanford and two drakes were found on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP, while 14th saw three (two drakes) at Daventry CP.

Two new Smew – a drake and a ‘redhead’ – were found at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on the last day of the week.

Smews, Thrapston GP, 15th December 2022 (Nick Parker)

Sadly, two days after initially being reported, the period’s only Cattle Egret was found dead at Thorpe Malsor Res on 16th. Accompanying a small flock of sheep and having been present since at least 11th, it had become approachable down to 2 metres and it appears safe to conclude that its death resulted from not being able to find enough food in the frozen conditions. No other Cattle Egrets were reported from the usual localities during the week.

Cattle Egret, Thorpe Malsor Res, 16th December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

A juvenile Shag paid a brief visit to Daventry on the morning of 14th, checking out before midday, ahead of the expanding icy conditions which resulted in 90% of the water’s surface there being frozen by the following day. This is the second record for Daventry in 2022 and the fifth for the year as a whole – two at Pitsford and one in Towcester.

Maintaining their winter presence in the Nene Valley, Marsh Harriers were seen at Summer Leys LNR on 10th, Stanwick GP on 13th and at Titchmarsh LNR on 16th.

Obviously it’s not a standout time of year for waders, so the week’s tally remained low and was restricted to a meagre crop of a Black-tailed Godwit at Titchmarsh LNR on 16th and two Jack Snipes at Hollowell and Pitsford on 11th and 13th, respectively.

Black-tailed Godwit, Thrapston GP, 16th December 2022 (Nick Parker)

Gulls, too, had dwindled to just two adult Caspian Gulls at Hollowell on 11th and one there again on 16th, plus single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford on 11th and 14th. Despite the sustained, icy, northerly blow, the number of ‘white-wingers’ remains surprisingly small, nationwide, so the chance of anything dropping in from the Arctic in the near future remains low.

This week’s token Short-eared Owl flew west-north-west over Daventry CP on 15th, while the period’s two Merlins were both seen on 14th – one at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell and the other near Burton Latimer.

Apart from the – or ‘a’ – Bearded Tit heard calling near the Visitor Centre at Stanwick, this week’s standout passerine was a Yellow-browed Warbler which showed briefly on the island in Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP during the last couple of hours of daylight on 16th. The observer’s caveat to the effect that Hume’s Warbler could not be ruled out, along with this bird’s appearance at one of the county’s most popular birding locations, should be more than enough to ensure it is searched for over the ensuing days.

Making news for a different reason, however, was the Black Redstart that turned up inside Northampton General Hospital on 12th. An apparent male, it was initially reported by on-site personnel as a ‘pigeon’ trapped in a room, until photographed and subsequently identified by a member of staff, who opened the window to free the bird. A bizarre story indeed.

Black Redstart, Northampton General Hospital, 12th December 2022 (Jeanne Carr)

Otherwise, Stonechats provided a smidgeon of entertainment at six localities, which included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell Res, Sywell CP and Upton CP/Kislingbury GP, with a maximum of at least seven at Hollowell on 11th.

Stonechat, Upton CP, 14th December 2022 (Tony Stanford)

Following one over Oundle last week, another Crossbill was seen at Pitsford on 13th. Hopefully, 2023 will turn out to be a better year for this species than 2022 has.

Newsround – 3rd to 9th December 2022

With the onset of a strong easterly airstream off the near continent, temperatures tumbled from the word go. They were to fall even lower as the winds subsequently swung northerly, delivering significantly colder air from the high Arctic …

Sub-zero overnight temperatures and heavy ground frosts had become the norm as the week drew to a close and, on the last day, single Pink-footed Geese were found at both Ravensthorpe Res and Stanwick GP. There was no way of telling if these were new birds or if they had been kicking around backstage for some time, although the latter seems highly likely for the Ravensthorpe individual at least.

Red-crested Pochards maintained their presence with the highest numbers again at Stanford Res, where last week’s nine had dropped to four as the week opened, further dwindling to one by the end of the period. Elsewhere, two were at Pitsford Res on 4th, the long-staying drake at Daventry CP was joined by another on 8th and two drakes were found at Kislingbury GP on 9th.

Several rungs up the celebrity ladder and looking rather settled – at least for the time being – last week’s dapper drake Smew remained at Pitsford throughout, dividing its time between Holcot and Walgrave Bays.

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 8th December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

This week’s Cattle Egrets were thin on the ground – and in the air, come to that – with single birds seen flying east over Irthlingborough on 4th, at Stanwick on 5th, flying north over Thrapston GP on 9th and in the riverside meadow opposite Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake on the same date.

Nearby, Summer Leys’ Marsh Harrier continued to be seen sporadically throughout the period and it, or another, was also seen almost daily further down the Nene Valley at Stanwick. The ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier was again hunting in the Brampton Valley on 6th.

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 7th December 2022 (Clive Bowley)

Unsurprisingly, there were no new waders to add to last week’s. Pitsford’s Wood Sandpiper remained on site until at least 7th and this week’s Jack Snipes comprised four at Daventry on 5th and two at Hollowell on 9th.

Hollowell also broke Stanford’s monopoly on Mediterranean Gulls with an adult in the roost there on 3rd. On the same date, Stanford’s roost held a first-winter, followed on 4th by an adult and a first-winter, an adult on 5th-6th and the first-winter back on 8th. The same two sites vied again to host the county’s Caspian Gulls this week: Stanford produced single adults on 3rd, 5th and 8th, and Hollowell on 4th, 7th and 9th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 4th December 2022 (Jon Cook)
Adult Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 4th December 2022 (Jon Cook)

Meanwhile, single adult Yellow-legged Gulls were present at Stanford on 3rd, DIRFT 3 on 4th and at Pitsford on 7th and 9th.

Remaining scarce during the autumn and now into the winter, Short-eared Owls are still in short supply. Observed from a moving vehicle, the week’s only bird was seen sitting on a roadside hedge near Sywell on 6th. The man behind the wheel was a photographer in a hurry, with no time to undertake a drive-by shooting …

Passerines were few and far between. Stanwick’s long-staying male Bearded Tit remained along the causeway of the A45 Lay-by Pit until at least 7th – the same date on which a Black Redstart was reported to have been killed by a cat at Sywell CP. Sywell also produced the highest number of Stonechats – six on 7th – while, elsewhere, Hollowell and Stanwick scored four apiece, Clifford Hill and Summer Leys, two and Oundle, one.

Female Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 6th December 2022 (Leslie Fox)

A Crossbill in flight over the last-mentioned locality, on 4th, was only the 8th record for 2022, the last being on 24th September, when three flew over Harrington AF.


Newsround – 26th November to 2nd December 2022

In the week when we officially waved goodbye to another autumn, winter was ushered in under a foggy mantle. Gloom, yes, but not quite doom, as a number of new arrivals emerged between the clag and haar of an otherwise dull and gloomy Northamptonshire.

At home in the cool, chilly conditions, Stanwick GP’s juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose saw the autumn out, still being present on 30th. But, heralding the onset of winter, were three adult White-fronted Geese found at Stanford Res on 2nd. Hopefully, there will be more of these to come as winter unfolds, so check those local Greylag flocks, which normally harbour them.

White-fronted Geese, Stanford Res, 2nd December 2022 (Chris Hubbard)

Ducking and diving, the usual scattering of Red-crested Pochards held good this week with numbers climbing to nine at Stanford by the end of the period, single drakes still at both Daventry CP and Wicksteed Park on 28th and at least one still at Pitsford Res on 30th.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Wicksteed Park Lake, Kettering, 28th November 2022 (Nick Parker)

Topping all of the above, though, the first Smew of the new winter season – a fine, dapper drake – arrived on cue, on 30th. Found late in the morning in Pitsford’s Holcot Bay, it appeared to have vanished by mid-afternoon but it was clearly still there and showing, bold as brass, on 2nd. For many locals these birds often represent the highlight of a winter’s day – but for how much longer? Based on their scarcity in southern England over the last few years, it’s recently been suggested that, as a result of climate change and milder winters, Smews are shifting their wintering range further north. So, get them while you can … 

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2022 (Mike Alibone)

The only Cattle Egrets this week were seven at Stanwick GP on 2nd.

Seen again throughout the week, the Marsh Harrier continued to provide both entertainment and photographic opportunities as it extended its dwell time at  Summer Leys, while an adult male Hen Harrier was reported in the Welland Valley, near Gretton, on 29th, along with a Merlin.

Back at Pitsford, last week’s waders were this week’s waders, with the Wood Sandpiper remaining in Scaldwell Bay throughout. The imminent onset of cold weather, coupled with continually rising water levels, will provide a true test of its resilience as the UK’s only known overwintering bird. So, too, the Common Sandpiper remained in the vicinity of dam until at least 27th. Away from this site, the only Jack Snipe reported was one at Ditchford GP on 26th.

Stanford remained the premier site for gulls this week, with Mediterranean Gulls represented by a first-winter in the roost on 26th, followed by two first-winters and a second-winter there on 27th. Upsizing, two adult Caspian Gulls were also there on 26th and one again on 30th while, on 27th, 2 adults visited Pitsford Res and another was in the pre-roost gathering at DIRFT 3. That just leaves Yellow-legged Gulls, of which there were three at Pitsford, also on 27th.

The week’s best passerines were not the easiest to connect with. A report of ten Waxwings caused a bit of a kerfuffle in Long Buckby on 26th and, remaining no less difficult to see, Stanwick’s long-staying male Bearded Tit remained along the causeway of the A45 Lay-by Pit until at least 29th.

Just upriver, at nearby Ditchford GP, a Siberian Chiffchaff was found on 26th and, while constituting the first for the autumn/winter period, it is only the third for 2022.

Another week, another Black Redstart … or two. Following the one at Pitsford last week, a first-winter male was found in the, as yet unused, lorry park at DIRFT 3 on 27th and Harrington AF, too, unsurprisingly got in on the act with one reported there the following day.

First-winter male Black Redstart, DIRFT 3, 27th November 2022 (Mike Alibone)

After last week’s low, Stonechat numbers rallied this week, with the top count being four at DIRFT 3 on 27th, twos at Ditchford on 26th, Summer Leys on 28th, Earls Barton GP on 29th and Barnes Meadow LNR on 1st, while singles were at Pitsford on 29th and Stanwick on 30th-2nd.

An extensive high pressure system in place over Russia looks promising for the delivery of some more traditional winter visitors – particularly wildfowl – over the forthcoming week.