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 …