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 …


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