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.
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 …
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