Newsround – 18th to 24th February 2023

There was no drama this week as far as the weather was concerned and, come to that, the same statement applies equally to the status of the county’s birds for the same period. Once again, it was the flamboyant, bold as brass, male Bearded Tit which held sway at Stanwick, pulling the punters and wooing watchers and photographers alike as the week rolled out …

As we near the end of February, it’s turned out to be a locally lean winter for grey geese. Apart from three White-fronts at Stanford Res on 2nd December last year, plus a smattering of odd Pink-footed Geese, there’s been no real sniff of any. This week, one of the latter species joined the Greylag flock at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 19th but was not present subsequently.

Pink-footed Goose, Lilbourne Meadows NR, 19th February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Just down the road, the female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Winwick Pools on 20th and, seemingly now in it for the long haul, the females of Ring-necked Duck and Greater Scaup both chalked up another week at Ravensthorpe Res. Static, too, was the long-staying drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanford, while a ‘new’ male was found at Daventry CP on 20th and a female spent 22nd-23rd on the Main Lake at Summer Leys.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Daventry CP, 20th February 2023 (Gary Pullan)

Also new in on 18th were two Smews – a drake and a ‘redhead’ – at Blatherwycke Lake, where they remained throughout the period.

Smew, Blatherwycke Lake,19th February 2023 (James Underwood)

Winter waders were limited to Jack Snipe, two of which were at Hollowell Res on 20th with at least one still there on 24th, while one was also seen at Pitsford Res on the same two dates.

Numbers of scarce gulls remained fairly steady with Caspian Gull being the dominant species. An adult paid a brief visit to Boddington Res on 20th, the same date seeing a trio, comprising an adult, a ‘near-adult’ and a second-winter, at Hollowell Res, while an adult and a second-winter were there on 24th. Four – two adults, a second-winter and a first-winter – were at DIRFT 3 on 22nd and a first-winter visited Summer Leys on 24th.

Adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 22nd February 2023 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 22nd February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

The regular wintering adult Yellow-legged Gull remained in the vicinity of the sailing club at Pitsford until at least 22nd. A teaser and potential pitfall for any would-be ‘white-winged’ gull finders was a strikingly conspicuous, leucistic Lesser Black-backed (or possibly Herring) Gull, bearing a passing resemblance to a second-winter Iceland Gull, at DIRFT 3 on 22nd.

Other odds and sods this week were a Merlin in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton, on 18th and a Bittern in flight at the western end of Stanwick GP on 21st.

But the true star of Stanwick was, for the second week running, the male Bearded Tit, positively sizzling in the late winter sunshine as it continued, unabated, to pull in an avalanche of admirers until 23rd, when two birds were reportedly present.

Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2023 (Alan Coles)
Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2023 (Mike Alibone)
Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Somewhat overshadowed, and in an arguably less appealing setting, was the single Siberian Chiffchaff that lingered throughout the period along the sewage outflow stream at Ecton SF. Elsewhere, Stonechats were seen at four sites, with trios at Earls Barton GP, Hollowell and Pitsford and two near Walgrave.


Newsround – 11th to 17th February 2023

With little rain, and winds chiefly from the south-west, local temperatures reached a balmy 15°C at the week’s end. The local birdscape remained largely unchanged, although the discovery of the year’s first Bearded Tits, headed up by an exceptionally showy male, proved to be a popular draw throughout the period.

Wildfowl continued in very much the same vein as last week with, in the north-west of the county, the female Ruddy Shelduck still at Winwick Pools on 11th and the drake Red-crested Pochard seeing another week out at Stanford Res. Another drake was found at Pitsford Res on 15th. Not so far away, Ravensthorpe’s female Ring-necked Duck remained faithful to the location, moving into its fourth week on site at the end of the period. The same could not be said for the female Greater Scaup in the same area as it alternated between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe but it was still present at the latter site at the week’s end. Blatherwycke Lake’s drake, found on 10th, remained until at least 12th.

Drake Greater Scaup, Blatherwycke Lake, 12th February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

After wildfowl, and in the absence of any notable waders, gulls rule the wetlands. This week’s pick of the crop includes the first-winter Mediterranean Gull again in the roost at Stanford on 12th and 13th and an adult at Daventry CP, briefly, on 17th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Daventry CP, 17th February 2023 (Gary Pullan)

Stanford also produced an adult Caspian Gull on 13th, two adults and a near-adult were at Hollowell on the same date, a first-winter was at DIRFT 3 on 16th and two first-winters were at Daventry CP the following day.

First-winter Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 16th February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Daventry also held a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull on 17th, while the regular wintering adult was still at Pitsford on 14th and 15th.

The first Short-eared Owl of 2023 was seen between Canons Ashby and Eydon on 12th. There have been very few about over the current winter period with the last being seen at Daventry CP on 15th December 2022.

Similarly, the first Bearded Tits of the year appeared at Stanwick GP on 11th. Two were present until 13th, after which a particularly showy male remained on site, wooing the crowds and revealing itself as a true exhibitionist, until the week’s end.

Male Bearded Tit, Stanwick GP, 13th February 2023 (Nick Parker)

At the rather more subtle end of the scale, further up the Nene Valley, two Siberian Chiffchaffs remained at Ecton SF until at least 13th, while Stonechat numbers appeared to fall away to just two at Ditchford GP on 12th and the same number at Earls Barton GP on 15th-17th.

Female Stonechat, Earls Barton GP, 15th February 2023 (Leslie Fox)

Newsround – 4th to 10th February 2023

A mainly westerly airstream, a series of overnight frosts and generally dry conditions throughout appeared to have little influence on what was being seen over the review period. With nearly all of last week’s rares still in place, things remained pretty much unchanged as the week panned out.

A goose-free week means we can avoid the debate on whether or not some locally reported species are truly wild – or can we? Some interesting news emerged this week concerning the female Ruddy Shelduck which has been visiting the north-west of the county for the last few years. Seen at Winwick Pools on 8th and 9th, the local farmer has confirmed its presence there on most days over the last three winters, normally arriving in November and, one year, staying until April. This explains its more often than not absence from Hollowell and several other regularly birded localities in the area … but where does it go during the spring and summer months?

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Winwick Pools, 8th February 2023 (James Urwin)

Meanwhile, last week’s female Red-crested Pochard stayed at Summer Leys LNR until at least 8th and the long-staying drake remained on site at Stanford Res throughout the period. Similarly settled, the Ravensthorpe Ring-necked Duck saw another week out and the female Greater Scaup appears now to be favouring the latter site over its former abode at nearby Hollowell. Another Greater Scaup – this time a drake – was found at Blatherwycke Lake on the last day of the week. The fine drake Smew lingered at Pitsford Res until at least 6th and a Slavonian Grebe was present at the same site on 5th but apparently not since.

The sole representative for this week’s waders was Jack Snipe, one of which was present at Hollowell between 6th and 10th and the other was in the Brampton Valley below Brixworth on the first of those two dates.

And as for gulls … in terms of species, it was all pretty much as last week, with Stanford’s roost pulling in two Mediterranean Gulls – an adult on 7th and a first-winter on 9th and 10th. It also produced a near-adult Caspian Gull on 8th and three (two adults and a third-winter) on 10th. Hollowell held four adult Caspians on 8th and two adults and a second-winter on 10th, while two adults were among the many large gulls at DIRFT 3 on 8th.

The Brampton Valley played host to this week’s raptors on 6th, when a Marsh Harrier was seen near Blueberry Farm and a Merlin was below Hanging Houghton.

Passerines were at a premium during the period, with just one Siberian Chiffchaff identified at Ecton SF between 4th and 9th, the number of Common Chiffchaffs there also down in numbers compared to a couple of weeks ago.

And that just leaves Stonechat, with twos at Ditchford GP, Oundle Water Meadows and Pitsford – all on 6th, singles at Burton Latimer and Earls Barton GP on the same date, two again at Pitsford on 9th and one at Hartwell on 10th.

Male Stonechat, Upton CP, 8th February 2023 (Tony Stanford)

Newsround – 28th January to 3rd February 2023

With winds off the Atlantic, a dry and ultimately mild week ensued as temperatures rose to above average by the end of the period. Much of last week’s fare lingered, including Ravensthorpe’s Ring-necked Duck and at least two Siberian Chiffchaffs at Ecton while, out of the rarity hat, a surprise appeared in the form of a White Stork, briefly, in Moulton.

Following due process, though, the Barnacle Goose of more than questionable origin remained with Canada Geese at Upton CP on 30th, while the almost equally eyebrow-raising single Pink-footed Geese were still present with Greylags at both Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs on 28th and Wicksteed Park until 31st. On a similar theme, the itinerant female Ruddy Shelduck returned to Hollowell for the day on 30th.

Three Red-crested Pochards included the long-staying drake at Stanford Res all week, a new drake at Daventry CP on 31st and a female was present throughout the period at Summer Leys.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Daventry CP, 31st January 2023 (Gary Pullan)

But moving into the higher echelons of more worthy wildfowl, appearing settled and prone to showing well off the causeway, the now popular female Ring-necked Duck completed its first full week at Ravensthorpe. The same cannot be said, though, for the other female found at Thrapston GP on the final day of the previous week. It was still present there, on Aldwincle Lake, the following day, 28th, but it’s not been seen since …

Female Ring-necked Duck, Ravensthorpe Res, 3rd February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Much more obliging, however, and despite going AWOL for a day, was the female Greater Scaup at Hollowell, now into its third week. Keeping up appearances in Pitsford’s Walgrave Bay, the drake Smew remained until at least 29th.

Drake Smew, Pitsford Res, 29th January 2023 (James Skinner)

In the absence of any notable waders, gulls lined up in pretty much the usual places. The week’s token Mediterranean Gull, an adult, was found in the roost at Boddington on 3rd and Hollowell and Stanford carved up the majority of this week’s serving of Caspian Gulls between them. Of the latter, Hollowell produced an adult on 28th, two adults, a second-winter and a third-winter on 30th, three adults on 1st and two adults on 3rd. Stanford’s gull roost held an adult on 29th, two adults on 30th and a near-adult plus a third-winter on 2nd. It would appear likely that some of these are duplicates, moving between the two sites which, after all, aren’t too far apart as the gull flies. Meanwhile, DIRFT 3 produced an adult on 3rd.

Adult Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 3rd February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

Yellow-legged Gulls were down to just the regular, wintering adult at Pitsford, where it remained all week.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 2nd February 2023 (Mike Alibone)

The week’s big surprise, then, came in the form of a White Stork on a house roof, briefly, in Moulton on 29th. Quick off the mark, the observer managed a hastily obtained record shot of it taking flight, which appeared on social media shortly after the event but it was not possible to determine if it had any rings. It did not linger, nor was it seen again …

This week’s Merlin decided to grace Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 1st.

And sticking with the Nene Valley … At least two Siberian Chiffchaffs remained along the outflow at Ecton SF throughout the period. ‘SF’ is a simple abbreviation of ‘Sewage Farm’ and latter-day birders may be inclined to view the area as the more recently named ‘Great Billing STW’ (Sewage Treatment Works), or even Billing Gravel Pits, as some would have it. But for those of us birding for well over fifty years in Northants, the name ‘Ecton SF’ has heritage and dates back to the pre-1940s. Little Bittern, Night Heron, Montagu’s Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard, Black-winged Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Sociable Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs … the list is endless, the name can never be dropped or forgotten. The site is legend!

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 29th January 2023 (James Underwood)

Ecton SF also periodically produces Stonechats – but not this week, though, when they were limited to two at Upton CP on 30th and singles at Lilbourne Meadows NR and Hollowell Res on the same date and at Earls Barton GP on 1st.

Stonechat, Lilborne Meadows NR, 30th January 2023 (Mke Alibone)