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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.