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.

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