Newsround – 22nd to 28th April 2023

A somewhat assorted set of weather conditions was thrown at us this week, ranging from cold northerlies to warm, shower-loaded southwesterlies – none of which appeared to hold back any northbound migrants.

Another five new summer visitors crossed the line, the standout bird being seen by the fewest birders – just the one, as it happens – as a result of its pitching up in an undisclosed location with, in the standard, current-day birding parlance, ‘no public access.’ Yes, the Wood Warbler somewhere south-west of Northampton may yet turn out to be the only one of the year, given the fact that, after a ‘glut’ of four in 2021, there was none last year. Only time will tell. While the arrival dates of Whinchat, Black Tern and Wood Sandpiper were not particularly off-cue, the Hobby was unfashionably late.

Kicking off with wildfowl, then, it was a matter of déjà vu, plus one, as far as this week’s species were concerned. Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose remained until at least 25th and the one-eyed bird at Wicksteed Park, Kettering resurfaced on 27th. Scarce so far this spring, a drake Garganey appeared at Stanwick GP on 25th and it, or another, was found further down the Nene Valley on floodwater at Barnwell Lock on 28th. This is in stark contrast to last year’s spring deluge, which included eight together at Stortons GP and protracted stays by up to six showy birds at Summer Leys, plus lingering pairs and individuals at a number of other sites.

A female Ring-necked Duck made a surprise, one-day appearance on Higham Lake, at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR, on 23rd though, given the long-staying, highly accessible bird at Ravensthorpe over the winter and with birds at Ringstead and Thrapston GPs, few, it seems, would have batted an eyelid. Another one-day appearance was made by two drop-in Common Scoters at Stanford Res on the same date.

Following the first, last week, Whimbrels continued to trickle through, although numbers remained low. Two, or possibly three, separate individuals stopped off at Summer Leys for short periods on 24th. The following day saw single birds at Clifford Hill GP and in flight over Stanwick, while two turned up at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 27th.

After last week’s rush of Bar-tailed Godwits, things calmed down considerably during the period with just two – one at Clifford Hill GP and the other at Summer Leys – both on 23rd. Outnumbering the above, Black-tailed Godwits from last week remained at Clifford Hill, where their numbers had risen to six on 23rd, dropping to four on 24th and one on 27th-28th. One also visited Stanwick on 26th.

Jack Snipe is a bird which has normally departed by mid-April but one lingered all week at Stanwick’s Main Lake and two were found at Daventry CP on 25th. Another first for 2023 was a Wood Sandpiper at Earls Barton GP on 26th. Discovered late in the afternoon, its stay was cut short as it was inadvertently ‘moved on’ by dog-walkers, after which it didn’t reappear. There will no doubt be more on the cards as the current season further unfolds.

Nevertheless, other smart spring Tringas were available in the shape of Greenshanks, with singles at Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston on 22nd, Lilbourne Meadows on 23rd-24th and at Stanwick again from 26th to 28th.

Compared with last week, there was little to shout about on the Larid front. Little Gulls were few and far between with just one at Boddington Res and two at Pitsford on 27th, then followed by one at Thrapston GP the next day. Throw in a couple of first-winter Caspian Gulls – one apiece at Boddington Res on 24th and DIRFT 3 on 28th – and a Yellow-legged Gull at the first of these two sites on the same date … and that’s your lot.

However, this diminutive gull crop was, this week, made up for by a short explosion in numbers of terns – more specifically by the grace and elegance that is Arctic Tern – an indisputable cut above those ‘Common’ Terns which have recently moved into many of our local water bodies. On 23rd there were four at Clifford Hill GP, three at Stanford and one at Summer Leys but the following day the floodgates opened and Boddington received at least eighty-one, while Pitsford pulled in more than fifty. A subsequent lull saw singles at Pitsford on 24th and 25th but Thrapston came back with thirty-seven on 28th.

Continuing the theme, the first Black Terns of the year arrived at three sites simultaneously on 23rd. Stanford and Billing GP both produced single birds, while two appeared at Clifford Hill. One more was seen at the first of these locations on 27th.

This week’s raptors were solely represented by Marsh Harriers. With the number of intermittent sightings of those both lingering and passing through, it’s a difficult call to say exactly how many. A male was seen at Summer Leys on 22nd, 23rd and 24th, while a clearly different bird was also present there on the last of these dates. Stanwick also produced flyovers on 23rd, 26th and 27th.

Passerines were particularly well represented this week, kicking off with arguably the rarest, a fine male Bearded Tit at Summer Leys on 23rd. With an established pattern of autumn and winter occurrences, this is perhaps the latest on record for this time of year.

And then there were Ring Ouzels, one of which proved to be a popular draw while remaining at Harrington AF for the three days, 24th-26th. Things are rarely in black and white and there was some debate as to its sex but quality photographs emerged, proving it to be a first-summer male. With the Harrington bird providing an easy distraction, less popular was a female on the summit of Borough Hill, found on 25th and reported again on 26th-27th.

Common Redstarts continued to be seen in small numbers. Spring, so far, has produced a profusion of males, vastly outnumbering females. Single males were at Clifford Hill, Honey Hill and Harrington on 22nd, with another at Clifford Hill on 24th and one at Borough Hill the following day. A female was found at Boddington Res on 24th, two were at Borough Hill on 26th and one at Harrington on 28th.

Aside from the aforementioned first Whinchat at Clifford Hill on 24th, a male was seen in a different part of this site the following day, when another was also found at Borough Hill. A locally late migrant Stonechat was at Ditchford GP on 22nd.

And so it proved to be a grand week for Northern Wheatears, multiples of which showed some characteristics of the Greenland race leucorhoa. The standout site total was an impressive twenty-two at Clifford Hill GP on 25th, prior to this the same site held up to nine on 22nd-23rd and up to seven on 27th-28th. Elsewhere, seven were at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 23rd with six still present on 25th, at least six were in fields between Collingtree and Milton Malsor on 24th, four were at Honey Hill on 25th with the same number at Borough Hill the following day, twos were between Ecton and Earls Barton and near Great Brington on 26th and at Harrington on 28th, while singles were seen at Stanford on 22nd, between Benefield and Deenethorpe on 23rd, Borough Hill on 25th and at Honey Hill on 26th.

Those showing characteristics of Greenland Wheatear included two at Clifford Hill on 22nd, rising to six on 23rd and eight there on 24th, five at Ellands Farm, Hemington on 26th and one at Borough Hill on 28th.

White Wagtails continued their poor showing this spring, with just two or three at Pitsford on 24th and one at Lilford Lodge Farm, Lilford on 26th.

One bird which did provide some delight for visitors to Summer Leys was a Tree Pipit, which was conveniently present in the scrub triangle next to the car park there, between 22nd and 25th.

A four-day stay by this long-lost Northamptonshire breeding species anywhere in the county is, these days, a very rare event indeed …


Newsround – 15th to 21st April 2023

With a high pressure system firmly anchored over Scandinavia, producing sustained, strong easterlies for a significant part of the week, things began to build nicely for a surge of migrants from the continent. Throw in the essential ingredients of low cloud and rain, and the perfect combination of weather conditions was set to deliver. And it did …

Five more summer visitors checked in this week – all of them pretty much on cue, although in days gone by, when Tree Pipits maintained a healthy local population, this one is ‘late’ in comparison to the first arrivals that used to occur in March, as well as being a scarcity in itself.

By the end of the third week in April, wildfowl numbers are now predictably low, this week’s offering consisting of a Pink-footed Goose at Stanwick GP from 17th to the week’s end, a disappearing drake Garganey, briefly, at Daventry CP on 16th following a much more obliging drake Common Scoter there the day before.

Also adding to, as well as topping, the Daventry delectables this week were two smart, summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes, present there, for one day only, on 17th. For anyone not able to connect with them, there was the chance of a second bite of the cherry when two turned up at Pitsford Res, two days later, on 19th. Perhaps the same duo – and clearly a pair, they were displaying there in Moulton Grange Bay for the greater part of the afternoon.

Larger waders were a key component of this week’s aforementioned weather conditions, kicking off with, as above, the year’s first Whimbrel, which flew east over Clifford Hill GP on the evening of 17th. The next day, four flew east together at Stanwick, followed by one on the main Lake there, briefly, on 19th, the same date producing another bird flying north-northeast over Daventry CP. One more put in a characteristically brief appearance at Clifford Hill GP, early on 20th, before departing to the east.

Then came the godwits. An initial rush of Bar-tailed Godwits commenced with an early morning eleven at Stanwick on 18th, followed there the next day by a flock of thirty, straight through, during the afternoon. In fact, this second day saw the biggest movement with thirteen on the ground, briefly, at Summer Leys before departing east, followed there less than an hour later by eleven more short-stayers on the scrape. Before the day was out, two more had pitched down at Clifford Hill GP, where they were still to be found the next morning, the 20th, having been joined by three more. Back over at Stanwick, two different, single birds dropped in on 20th and 21st, while the Clifford Hill five remained until the latter date, representing the only truly lingering birds during the period.

Considerably outnumbered by the last species, Black-tailed Godwits put in appearance at Summer Leys, where five short-stayers were seen on 18th and three lingered at Clifford Hill GP from 19th to 21st, teaming up with the on-site Bar-tailed Godwits.

And then there were Little Gulls … Perhaps not quite the tsunami we may have come to expect based on previous years but impressive numbers nonetheless. With the biggest arrival on day one, the 19th, Clifford Hill took pride of place in stacking up the numbers. An initial late morning arrival of 17 quickly ramped up to at least twenty-four as more birds arrived during the afternoon but all except three moved on in haste. Elsewhere on 19th, twelve flew east at Stanwick GP and groups of three and eleven passed east through Summer Leys. On 20th, Summer Leys had produced at least a further seven by the end of the day, Daventry CP held on to three for 30 minutes, while Clifford Hill, Pitsford and Stanwick mustered one apiece. Producing two, Stanford Res got in on the action on 21st and single birds were again at Stanwick and Summer Leys.

Other gulls were, of course, available and, this week, adult Mediterranean Gulls were not the sole preserve of Stanwick, where two were present between 15th and 19th, being joined by another two, for one day only, on 17th. Two then flew west through Summer Leys on the evening of 18th. The period’s only Caspian Gull was a first-winter at Hollowell Res on 17th.

Hot on the heels of the year’s first Arctic Tern, at Thrapston on 12th, more arrived this week, Summer Leys taking the lion’s share of eight on 17th, when five also moved through Stanford and two visited Clifford Hill. Summer Leys again saw two on 18th, when one was at Stanwick, while singles visited Pitsford on 19th-20th and Boddington Res on 21st.

After last week’s Nene Valley White Stork it, or another, was reported in the Brampton Valley, between Brixworth and Cottesbrooke on 16th.

Meanwhile, raptors were on the up this week with Ospreys seen at Hollowell on 16th, 17th and 18th, Pitsford on 16th and 17th and at Ravensthorpe on 16th and 21st.

Marsh Harriers, too, were very much in evidence with singles at Polebrook AF on 16th, Pitsford on 17th, Stanwick on 17th and 20th, Earls Barton GP’s Quarry Walk on 20th and at nearby Summer Leys the following day. Two Hen Harriers, including an adult male, were seen in flight between Weston and Helmdon on 21st.

Aside from the arrival of some of the more common summer visitors, scarcer migrant passerine numbers ramped up somewhat during the period. Single male Ring Ouzels put in brief appearances at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 15th and at Polebrook AF the following day. Time for further spring occurrences of this iconic thrush is fast running out …

Not so for Common Redstarts, though, with this week’s quota of bobby dazzlers adding a splash of colour to Blueberry Farm on 15th and 20th, Honey Hill on 15th and at both Lamport and Harrington on 17th.

Northern Wheatears were clearly in evidence during the past seven days and a maximum site count of six at Clifford Hill on 15th was noteworthy. Elsewhere, threes were at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 16th, at Harrington on 17th and in the Brampton Valley between Brixworth and Hanging Houghton on the same date. Two were present at Blueberry Farm on 15th and 20th, singles at Pitsford, Hollowell and Honey Hill on 15th and at Deenethorpe and Wappenham on 16th and 17th, respectively.

Last but not least, the first Greenland Wheatear of the spring was found at DIRFT 3 on the last day of the week. There will no doubt be more of these swarthy-looking hulks to come as we move into the latter part of the spring.


Newsround – 8th to 14th April 2023

Given the veritable rush of quality birds during the past seven days, nobody would ever have believed this was only the second week of April. This time it was the turn of that good old easybirdin’ site, Summer Leys, to produce an outstanding crop of goodies for the delectation of birders, both locally and from further afield. In addition to this, eight more firsts for the year made their presence known at localities across the county.

A belated report of a Ring Ouzel, from the week before the review period, became the forerunner of this week’s birds, which included a male and female at Borough Hill on 11th, followed by single males at Honey Hill on 11th-13th and at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 13th-14th. None of the other arrivals during the period is an early record-breaker but the Pied Flycatcher in Kettering comes close, as well as being a locally sought-after scarcity in itself. The earliest on record in modern times was one at Hazelborough Forest on 7th April 1987.

But as birds continued to arrive, some undertook to depart and this week saw the last of the long-staying female Ring-necked Duck, which was no longer in residence at Ravensthorpe Res after 8th. On its last day, it shared the site with a female Common Scoter – the latter present for one day only.

On the opposite side of the Brampton Valley, a strange case of déjà vu was to unfold on the evening of 10th, when two drake Red-breasted Mergansers were discovered distantly off the sailing club at Pitsford Res. After rapidly moving off into ‘The Narrows’, they disappeared completely as the day drew to a close and were never seen again, echoing the recent behaviour exhibited by the two drakes seen at Daventry CP on 29th March. Pure coincidence maybe, but, given the rarity of these spiky-crested sawbills, it seems much more likely that this duo had been loafing locally, remaining somewhere under the radar for the past twelve days. We’ll never know for sure …

Same time, same place and one would-be merganser observer came across a Black-necked Grebe off ‘The Gorse Bushes’, well south of the causeway. Unfortunately, taking a leaf out of the mergansers’ book, its presence was short-lived and it was nowhere to be found the following morning.

Away from the reservoirs, the Nene Valley was to become the focus for this week’s top tier rarities, all of which conveniently converged on Summer Leys. Kicking off chronologically, the site attracted a smart male Kentish Plover from 11th until the week’s end, during which time it kept its distance on Gull Island.

A truly special wader in many respects, not least for the fact that it was only the 12th record for Northamptonshire but also because it was the first in the county for almost thirty years. In the last century it was simply a scarce annual visitor to the UK but in recent years it has assumed almost vagrant status nationally and, as such, it pulled in birders from far and wide. There were only six records in the UK in 2021.

All but one of the previous county records have come from sites in the Nene Valley and, if we include this latest individual, 75% have occurred in spring.

Only hours after the discovery of the plover, next up came a White Stork. First picked up in flight over Ditchford GP as it moved west along the Nene Valley, early in the afternoon. Some 40 minutes later it entered Summer Leys airspace but, after circling the site, appeared to continue moving west before heading back and making landfall, briefly, on the edge of the reserve’s Main Lake. From here it moved to the bank of the River Nene below Great Doddington.

The following morning it was back at Summer Leys, this time on the Scrape, before once again circling the reserve prior to departing. Its stay over two days allowed a good number of visiting birders to connect with it. It was unringed, which provides no real clue, either way, to its origin.

While reintroduced birds are clearly ringed, wild birds may or may not be and it is said that two collections in Cambridgeshire have a total of at least 5 unringed and free-flying birds. Presumably, this was the same individual seen further down the Nene Valley as it flew south over Thrapston GP, two days later, on the morning of 14th. Origins aside, White Storks have been seen with increasing frequency in Northants during recent years, occurring annually since 2018 and amassing around 25 records in total.

Which brings us neatly on to the third cherry on the Summer Leys cake: two potentially crowd-pleasing Common Cranes, which, after an initial fly-by and then circling over Great Doddington, dropped in on the Scrape where they remained for the best part of two hours during the afternoon of 12th.

Almost paralleling White Stork in its recent occurrence pattern, Common Crane has produced more records in the county with approximately 33 to date, reintroduction schemes likely having contributed to the recent increase in appearances in the county.

After an apparent absence of records since the hard-hitting winter weather conditions, a Cattle Egret was seen flying west at Ditchford GP on 9th.

Back, then, to waders but again there was still no escaping the Nene Valley. On 9th, an Avocet spent the day at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR, the same date seeing a Ruff and a Greenshank at Clifford Hill GP – the latter staying until 11th.

One, possibly two, Jack Snipes were found at Pitsford Res on 8th and 9th with one trapped and ringed on the latter date.

On the Larid front, Stanford Res and Daventry CP both notched up their second records of Kittiwake for 2023, when an adult paid a brief visit to the first of these two sites on 10th and two adults lingered off the dam at Daventry the following day.

The same two days saw adult Mediterranean Gulls at Stanwick GP, while late lingering Caspian Gulls took the form of an adult at Hollowell on 12th and two first-winters at DIRFT 3 on 14th. An adult Yellow-legged Gull visited Stanwick on 13th.

Keeping up appearances, single Ospreys were seen in flight over Kelmarsh and Hollowell village on 8th, at Hollowell Res on 9th and Thornby on 13th but the only other raptor of note was a Marsh Harrier which flew high over Sixfields in suburban Northampton on 9th.

Male Osprey (blue ring T3), Hollowell Res, 9th April 2023 (Jon Cook)

A Short-eared Owl flew north at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 12th.

Aside from the incoming passerines already listed, it appears the male Bearded Tit that attracted so much attention at Stanwick back in February, appearing again briefly in March, was relocated in the reedbed there on 9th, although it was not seen subsequently. But hot on the heels of the year’s first Black Redstart last week, on 7th, came an all too brief appearance of a male at Harrington AF on 8th. Rather more obliging, however, were this week’s Common Redstarts, the vast majority of which were males. Kicking the period off, then, was one in a Brigstock garden on 9th, one at Boddington Res on 10th followed by two there the next day, one at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 11th and one at Honey Hill from 11th to 14th. Up to two were at Pitsford between 11th and 13th, one was at Blueberry Farm on 12th-13th with two present there the following day, when one also visited Harrington AF.

Northern Wheatears were also reasonably well-represented by five males at both Clifford Hill GP on 11th and Honey Hill on 14th, two near Great Doddington on 10th and singles at Harrington AF on 8th and 10th, Pitsford from 10th to 13th, Boddington on 11th, Honey Hill on 13th and at Summer Leys and Blueberry Farm on 14th.

Conversely, numbers of White Wagtails have yet to take off, with just single birds seen at Pitsford on 12th and Ravensthorpe on 13th.

Nevertheless, this past week will need an awful lot to beat it …


Newsround – 1st to 7th April 2023

Set against a very mixed bag of weather conditions, born from a battle between Atlantic low and Scandinavian high pressure systems, spring migration continued apace. Once again, Daventry came to the fore, producing the week’s best birds, while more new summer visitors appeared across the county.

While none of the above is an early record-breaker, the Common Redstart – another of which was found at Burton Latimer on 7th – misses out by only three days and the Cuckoo by five. Further White Wagtails (two males) were seen at DIRFT 3 on 6th.

With wildfowl on the wane, the Pink-footed Goose remained with Greylags at Wicksteed Park, Kettering until at least 6th and the female Ring-necked Duck – having entered its 10th week in the county – was still on site at Ravensthorpe Res throughout. New in, however, was the year’s first Common Scoter, a drake, at Stanford Res on 7th.

Another ‘first’ for 2023 was a smart, summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Daventry Res, for one day only, on 4th. Hopefully, there will be more to come as spring further unfolds.

While last week saw a notable absence of waders, this week saw a minor upturn with two first-summer Black-tailed Godwits spending a day on the Scrape at Summer Leys LNR on 4th and two Jack Snipes at Hollowell Res on 3rd, with at least one still present there on 5th.

Topping the bill on the Larid front – and unmatched for sheer summer elegance – were two adult Mediterranean Gulls at Stanwick GP, on and off, between 5th and 7th. They have bred there in the past but they have also turned up in spring and subsequently moved on …

The week’s quota of Caspian Gulls included a second-summer and a first-winter at DIRFT 3 on 2nd, with a first-winter present there on 6th. A first-winter also visited Ravensthorpe Res on 5th. Yellow-legged Gulls included the lingering adult which continued to patrol the dam/sailing club area at Pitsford Res until at least 4th, while a second-winter visited Wicksteed Park Lake on 3rd.

An unconfirmed report of a White Stork flying east over Oundle during the afternoon of 6th remained just that, with attempts to track it down amounting to nothing and there were no further sightings.

Sightings of Ospreys, however, continued to dominate all things raptorial throughout the period and included singles at Hollowell on 1st, 3rd and 6th, one at Kelmarsh on 4th and further singles over Daventry CP and Lilbourne Meadows NR on 6th. Meanwhile, the Nene Valley played short-term host to one or more Marsh Harriers, with singles over both Irthlingborough and Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on 3rd, followed by a third-year male at Summer Leys on 7th.

The 7th also saw the southern periphery of Daventry producing the area’s second scarcity of the week – a Black Redstart – unfortunately at a site with ‘no public access’ (as is the current vernacular for ‘you can’t go and see it’). Other commoner relatives were also available, although with a rather meagre offering of two Northern Wheatears at the northern end of nearby Borough Hill on the same date.


Newsround – 25th to 31st March 2023

As we exited the wettest March since 1981, many local birders were left high and dry in a period which narrowly avoided becoming a largely lacklustre week. Lifted only by the brief appearances of two Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Water Pipits, the last seven days saw continuing pro-migrant south-westerlies deliver three more firsts for the summer.

None of the above arrivals comes overly close to the record holders but the House Martin beats last year’s firsts, found at four localities simultaneously, by nine days. Before the week was out, another four House Martins appeared at Deene Lake on 30th.

There was clear evidence that wildfowl numbers had taken a tumble this week and, brushing swiftly aside seven C-list Barnacle Geese flying west at Summer Leys LNR on 28th and one at Stanwick on 30th, two Whooper Swans flying north-west over Stanford Res on 26th had better credentials from a wildness perspective. At Ravensthorpe, the long-staying and largely forgotten female Ring-necked Duck remained until at least 30th but it was two dapper drake Red-breasted Mergansers at Daventry CP on 29th that stole the limelight and received the most attention.

Arriving on site late in the afternoon and, with a number of birders quick off the mark, these birds sparked a mini-twitch as a result of their rarity in the county in recent years. They were nowhere to be seen the following morning – which just adds weight to the old adage ‘if you snooze, you lose’ … A quick look at past records reveals just how rare they have become in the county.

Once classified locally as a ‘scarce but annual winter visitor’, Northamptonshire occurrences are now in free fall, with records by no means annual and well down in numbers. This is a far cry from this species’ status in the last century, when an atypical bumper year in 1996 produced fourteen records and included an incredible flock of thirty-six at Hollowell Res on 13th September.

Daventry also produced this week’s crop of rare gulls, albeit a small one. The second-winter ‘Viking Gull’ (Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid) put in a brief appearance again on 27th, the same date on which two first-winter Caspian Gulls and a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull were also at the same location, while another first-winter Caspian was present there on 29th. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was off the sailing club at Pitsford Res, also on 27th.

On the raptor front, single Ospreys were seen over Welford on 25th, at Pitsford on 29th and 30th and at Hollowell on the last of these dates.

The Brampton Valley produced the week’s only record of Stonechats, two being present there on 27th, when there was also a Northern Wheatear in the same area. Two other localities also harboured single Northern Wheatears – Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 27th and Harrington AF on 29th.

And, finally, to another Northamptonshire scarcity: Water Pipit. Although appearing with some regularity, you can usually count the number of annual records on less than one hand and they are rarely easy to catch up with.

This week saw one on the dam at Ravensthorpe Res on 29th and one – possibly two – remained distant and elusive in waterside sedges on Stanwick’s Main Lake during the afternoon of 31st. It’s not too late for one or two more …