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.
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.
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.
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.
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.