Newsround – 21st to 27th January 2023

The freezing temperatures and the attendant icy conditions of the previous week spilled over into the first half of the period, after which a thaw set in as the thermometer eased its way back up toward something approaching the seasonal norm. Once again, ducks stole the show in terms of overall rarity, although a quartet of easy-to-see Siberian Chiffchaffs proved equally popular, exerting a strong observer pull as the week rolled out.

And it’s probably because we’re becoming more accustomed to seeing Ring-necked Ducks as they’ve upped their numbers visiting the UK over the past few winters. A female discovered at Ravensthorpe Res on the penultimate day of the week, and remaining the following day, continued this species’ run of appearances in Northants for the third consecutive winter. As if to underline its increasing frequency of occurrence, another female was found at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh Reserve at the eleventh hour on 27th, setting a new standard for the multiple presence of Ring-necked Duck in Northamptonshire. The two birds constituted the 10th and 11th county records, following the long-staying female that visited Thrapston GP, Ringstead GP and Stanwick GP between December 2021 and April 2022.

Female Ring-necked Duck, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th January 2023 (Jon Cook)
Female Ring-necked Duck, Ravensthorpe Res, 27th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)
First-winter female Ring-necked Duck, Thrapston GP, 27th January 2023 (videograb, Nick Parker)

Knocked into second place by the above, Hollowell’s female Greater Scaup remained throughout the week.

Once again, the long-staying drake Red-crested Pochard saw another week out at Stanford Res, while the peripatetic female Ruddy Shelduck pitched up again at Hollowell on 23rd and stayed until 25th, when it relocated to Winwick Pools near West Haddon.

Feral to the core, a Barnacle Goose joined local Canadas at Upton CP on 26th while, of perhaps less questionable pedigree, Pink-footed Geese were found in three localities. Two flew north over Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 23rd, the same date on which one also joined the resident Greylags at Wicksteed Park, Kettering and the Ravensthorpe & Hollowell bird was still at the latter locality on 27th.

Pink-footed Goose, Wicksteed Park, 23rd January 2023 (Julie Roe)

This week’s notable wader line-up was once again limited to Jack Snipe with singles at three localities, which included both the Brampton Valley and Ecton SF on 21st and Hollowell, two days later, on 23rd.

Gulls were a little more numerous than during the last period – this comment referring more specifically to Caspian Gulls which, on 21st, broke the record for a single site total when up to six were present in the roost at Stanford. Three were present the following evening and two adults, probably a pair, were regularly visiting throughout the remainder of the week. Elsewhere, two adults and a second-winter were at Hollowell on 27th, two were at Naseby Res on 21st and an adult was there on 27th, single adults visited both Clifford Hill GP and Ravensthorpe Res on 23rd, a second-winter was on ice at Daventry CP on 25th and a first-winter was at DIRFT 3 on 27th.

Second-winter Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 27th January 2023 (Jon Cook)
First-winter Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 27th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)

A token appearance by Yellow-legged Gulls saw a second-winter in the roost at Hollowell on 22nd, single adults at Pitsford on 22nd and 27th and one at Clifford Hill GP on 23rd. That just leaves the rarest gull of the week, out on its own, a first-winter Mediterranean Gull which visited Daventry CP on 24th and 27th.

The rather depressed number of Cattle Egrets continued with just two flying over Summer Leys on 21st.

A Merlin flew over Greens Norton on 27th but making a far bigger impression for two observers in the south-west of the county on 27th, a White-tailed Eagle paid a low-level visit to Everdon Stubbs, where it was seen at one point to land in a tree. Unfortunately, it came under persistent pressure from five mobbing Red Kites before ultimately moving off. It appears that this individual was ‘G818’, a third calendar-year female from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, which had roosted 30 miles north in Leicestershire, having flown over 100 miles south from the Forest of Bowland the previous day.

And from the large to the small … Up to four Siberian Chiffchaffs were present at Ecton SF at the beginning of the period, with at least one remaining as the week drew to a close. Variation in plumage and bare part colour gave rise to some debate on their identification but this is a complex area to delve into and recent DNA analyses on this race have thrown up some surprising results. A discussion will be forthcoming shortly.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 21st January 2023 (James Underwood)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 24th January 2023 (Martin Swannell)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 24th January 2023 (Martin Swannell)

These ‘sibes’ were set against phenomenal, record-breaking numbers of wintering Common Chiffchaffs in the same area, in which at least seventy were present on 22nd and some fifty were counted on 25th. Too difficult? Stick to Stonechats – nice ‘n’ easy – unless, of course you run into a Siberian candidate … Ecton held up to two on 21st-22nd, five were at Upton CP on 25th, three were at Earls Barton GP on the same date and one was at Clifford Hill GP on 23rd.

Stonechat, Upton CP, 25th January 2023 (Tony Stanford)

Newsround – 14th to 20th January 2023

After last week’s wet and windy washout, daily frosts ensued and daytime temperatures plummeted, bottoming out at a chilly 2°C, as a northerly, Arctic airstream quickly took hold. New birds were in short supply, however, and the main attraction for some this week was a female Greater Scaup at Hollowell Reservoir.

Seemingly settled after its discovery on 16th, this bird remained faithful to the eastern side of the reservoir throughout the remainder of the period. Over the last 5 years, Greater Scaup has averaged 11 records annually. No doubt there will be more to come.

Female Greater Scaup, Hollowell Res, 18th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)
Female Greater Scaup, Hollowell Res, 19th January 2023 (Jon Cook)

Other ducks were available, of course, including the long-staying drake Red-crested Pochard clocking up another week at Stanford Res and the female remaining at Hardingstone GP until at least 17th. Also lingering until the latter date was a drake Smew at Pitsford Res.

The county’s only Pink-footed Goose – normally to be found at Ravensthorpe Res – left the latter site with Greylags on 20th to visit nearby Hollowell.

Pink-footed Goose, Ravensthorpe Res, 17th January 2023 (Bob Bullock)

Once again, the week’s one notable wader species was limited to Jack Snipe with singles at three localities, which included both the Brampton Valley and Summer Leys on 17th and Hollowell, three days later, on 20th.

Gull numbers were down on last week and much of the action was to be had at the significantly sizeable gull roost at Stanford, where what was presumably the previous week’s first-winter Mediterranean Gull was seen on 19th. Two adult Caspian Gulls were also there on 14th, followed by one on 19th, while the regular adult at Hollowell was joined there by a second-winter on 16th. Single adult Yellow-legged Gulls visited both Naseby and Pitsford Reservoirs on 18th and Hardingstone GP on 19th.

The winter so far has not been the greatest for numbers of Cattle Egrets. The local Nene Valley population appears to have taken a dive and birds are currently by no means guaranteed at the localities at which they once were. Weather-related or not, the period’s sole record relates to just one, flying west over Summer Leys, on 15th.

Also down this week were raptors, with just a Marsh Harrier flying west at Pitsford on 14th representing the poorest showing for some appreciable time.

But on a more promising note, heading up the period’s passerines were at least two Siberian Chiffchaffs, discovered at Ecton SF on the last day of the week. Once again they were present with some twenty to thirty wintering Common Chiffchaffs, in the traditional place which normally attracts them, along the outflow into the River Nene. This outflow has its own microclimate, in which ‘warmer than ambient’ effluent water allows insects to develop and emerge throughout the winter. By no means annual here, they have been observed in previous winters from the locally famous ‘Bridge of Sibes’ or, in down-to-earth alphanumeric reference terms, bridge K121.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 20th January 2023 (Alan Coles)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 20th January 2023 (Bob Bullock)

Identification is not always straightforward but we are better clued up than we were ten years ago (see here). Another bird showing characteristics of this race was found at Stortons GP on 15th and was still present there on 19th. This bird showed a minor excess of olive and yellow in its plumage and may simply be a variant colloquially known as fulvescens, usually associated with having originated from the western end of this (sub)species range. Common Chiffchaffs can, sometimes, also be quite grey, representing a potential ID pitfall. So, is Siberian Chiffchaff a species in waiting? The likelihood is high. Birdlife international have now split it …

Less challenging things abound, however, and the week’s Stonechats were found at Hollowell, Pitsford and Earls Barton GP, where there were one, two and three, respectively.

A Hawfinch was reported briefly at Yardley Gobion on 18th.

Newsround – 7th to 13th January 2023

Looking initially like a largely flat week, the continuation of above average temperatures, rain and an erratic, wuthering wind off the Atlantic probably did little to lift local spirits. Factor in fleeting occurrences of the rare and the scarce, along with birds tantalisingly off limits and, arguably for many, there was seemingly little to shout about.  

Routine reservoir watching established the ongoing presence of the Pink-footed Goose at Ravensthorpe, lingering until the end of the week. Also remaining on site throughout was the drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanford, while the female at Hardingstone GP went unreported after 8th. Pitsford continued to host two drake Smews until at least 8th, with one still present on 13th and a Greater Scaup was reported in Scaldwell Bay there, also on 8th.

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 8th January 2023 (Jon Cook)

The week’s only waders of note were Jack Snipes – one at Barnes Meadow LNR on 8th followed, on 9th, by one at Summer Leys LNR and two at Ditchford GP.

Hot on the heels of last week’s adult at Daventry CP was another Kittiwake – this time a first-winter and, this time, in the gull roost at Stanford on 9th. The past week has seen a number of records across the Midlands, namely in Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

First-winter Kittiwake, Stanford Res, 9th January 2023 (Chris Hubbard)

The Stanford gull roost also produced the county’s first Mediterranean Gull of 2023, a first-winter, on 12th and it continued to work its magnetic magic by pulling in the highest single site total of Caspian Gulls with five (four adults and a third-winter) there on 13th. DIRFT 3 delivered two Caspian Gulls – a third-winter and a first-winter on 9th, while the regular adult was at Hollowell Res on 7th-9th and 12th-13th and single adults were at Stanford on 9th-10th and Ditchford GP on 12th.

First-winter Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 9th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)
First-winter Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 9th January 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Once again outnumbered by the above species, single adult Yellow-legged Gulls visited Hardingstone GP on 7th and Ditchford GP on 12th, while Pitsford Res retained its regular adult on 12th-13th.

On the raptor front, Merlins were not in short supply but, as ever, being in the right place at the right time was a prerequisite for connecting with them. In this respect, single flyovers were seen at Yardley Gobion on 9th, New Duston (Northampton) on 12th and at Earls Barton GP on 13th.

As for passerines, well, once again, the same out-of-reach group of Waxwings made it into the news for the second week running. Tantalisingly close, the twenty or so birds on the wrong side of the River Ouse that is Buckinghamshire, were again seen in, and around, Stony Stratford on 10th, when it was reported that, for a second time, some had crossed into Northants, briefly visiting the rear gardens of some local houses. So near, yet so far …

By contrast, things were going swimmingly along Mary’s Lane at Earls Barton, where one Yellow-browed Warbler continued to perform throughout the weekend of 7th-8th. Come the working week, however, in line with the old proverb, all good things must come to an end – they did … and there was no subsequent sign of it.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 7th January 2023 (John Kirkelionis)

Stonechats appeared settled at four localities, with four at Earls Barton on 12th, twos at Pitsford on 8th and at Raunds CP on 13th and one at Hollowell on 9th.

Male Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 8th January 2023 (Jon Cook)

Arguably for some, in terms of local rarity, the bird of the week slot was occupied by Twite, two of which were found close to the Grand Union Canal near Yardley Gobion, on 9th. If accepted, these would constitute only the fourth county record this century, the previous three being at Ditchford in December 2014, Pitsford in October 2011 and Borough Hill in October 2000. Twite was formerly a scarce, but almost annual, winter visitor, numbers of which peaked in the 1970s, with a flock of forty-one at Pitsford Res – the prime location for this species – in January 1976. Records continued through the 80s with notably smaller numbers, waning considerably in the 90s, when the last was down to just one in 1998. This represents a sad reflection of its precarious status in England, having suffered a steep decline this century, with the breeding population falling by 75% between 1999 and 2013.



Newsround – 31st December 2022 to 6th January 2023

A mild, wet and frequently windy backdrop to the local birding landscape set the scene for the first week of 2023. And while the dynamic duo of Yellow-browed Warblers clearly constituted the main point of focus for the new year, potentially more alluring fare lurked, overshadowed, in the background …

The bird quite literally in question, then, was an interesting-looking drake Aythya duck found during the last hour of daylight on 2nd, at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh NR. Initially identified and announced as a Greater Scaup, the subsequent publication of an image and videos quickly led to a debate over its true identity and a dichotomy of opinion has given rise to the emergence of a Lesser Scaup camp versus a pro-hybrid faction. While the quality of the published media do not allow detailed, feather-by-feather analysis, there were some pointers clearly leading the identification away from Greater Scaup.

Unidentified Aythya duck, Thrapston GP, 2nd January (Nick Parker)

Most evident was the head shape, which aligns convincingly with that of Lesser Scaup and was instrumental in setting alarm bells ringing. While an assessment of the true feather patterning on the flanks and mantle was just out of reach, there was no ‘write-off’ plumage feature to exclude that species. Plumage does not tell the whole story, however. The perceived size, shape and bulk appeared to match those of nearby Pochards, suggesting that this bird’s dimensions fall outside the parameters generally associated with the more compact appearance of Lesser Scaup and therefore point to a hybrid – suggested by some as being likely between Tufted Duck and Pochard. Advocates of Lesser Scaup point out, however, that there is an overlap in size between Pochard and Lesser Scaup, arguing the point that this bird could simply be one of the latter, at the top end of the size range. The jury is currently out, the bird hasn’t been seen again and hopes are high that it will reappear, providing the opportunity for greater scrutiny, ultimately leading to a positive identification. On the same date this bird was seen, a Greater Scaup was reported from Pitsford Res and, two days later, another was also reported from Summer Leys LNR.  

And so from stranger things to things less complicated, a Pink-footed Goose accompanied a flock of Greylags as they flew in to Daventry CP on 6th and the local female Ruddy Shelduck made its first appearance of 2023 at Hollowell Res on 1st-2nd.

Pink-footed Goose, Daventry CP, 6th January 2023 (Gary Pullan)

This week’s Red-crested Pochards were limited to the long-staying drake at Stanford Res and the female at Hardingstone GP – both remaining throughout the period. Last week’s two drake Smews at Pitsford had grown to three on 1st, dwindling to just one by the period’s end, while a ‘redhead’ was discovered at Blatherwycke Lake on 2nd.

Smew, Pitsford Res, 2nd January 2023 (Alan Coles)

A wholly unexpected visitor to Daventry CP – at least during in January – was an adult Kittiwake, which was found loitering on the dam there during the morning of 5th. Approachable and seemingly moribund, it had departed by the afternoon and was no doubt the same bird which had been exhibiting the same ‘teasing’ behaviour at nearby Draycote Res, Warwickshire the previous day, before flying off strongly with other gulls.

Kittiwake, Daventry CP, 5th January 2023 (Gary Pullan)

Of far more regular occurrence, this week’s only to be expected gulls included up to two adult Caspian Gulls in the roost, nightly, at Stanford, two adults off the dam at Pitsford on 2nd and 5th and one at Hollowell on 2nd. Surprisingly outnumbered by the previous species, single Yellow-legged Gulls were seen at Pitsford on 1st, Stanford on 4th and at both Daventry CP and Hardingstone GP on 5th.

Remember the male Hen Harrier seen between Mears Ashby and Earls Barton, then later over Summer Leys LNR on 27th December? Well, it’s still around, having been seen again over Sywell Road, just east of Mears Ashby, on the afternoon of 3rd. And following two in the county last week, a male Merlin was seen near West Farndon on 6th.

Turning to passerines it would seem that, as far as Northamptonshire is concerned, flyover Waxwings are in vogue and, as if serving to underline this, a flock of approximately twenty was reported flying ‘well into Northants’ from Buckinghamshire, across the River Ouse, toward Cosgrove on 5th. In the context of the current so-called ‘invasion’, with the vast majority of birds in Scotland and northern England, this double-figure flock constitutes a sensationally large number for a location so far south and inland in the UK. The chance of nailing any down locally seems, at present, equivalent to a lottery win …

This is certainly not the case with the two crowd-pleasing Yellow-browed Warblers at Earls Barton GP, both of which were present until at least 2nd, with at least one remaining until the week’s end. Undoubtedly presenting the best photographic opportunity of all time in the UK, these birds have been highly obliging, regularly showing well and low to the masses, down to just a few metres – so much so that the observation area has now become a veritable mud bath!

Yellow-browed Warbler, Earls Barton GP, 6th January 2023 (Keith Jones)

Ending with a splash of colour, the week’s Stonechats were seen at Catesby, Earls Barton GP, Ecton SF, Hollowell, Pitsford and Sywell CP.

Female Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 1st January 2023 (Leslie Fox)