Newsround – 20th to 26th May 2023

Persistent north-easterlies and recurrent gin-clear skies set the tone for the period, weatherwise, but it was undoubtedly quality, not quantity, that prevailed on the birding front this week.

Yes, while the birds available plainly did not reach the full gamut of what we had been used to seeing earlier in the spring, there was still enough out there to raise the spirits and keep local birders on their toes. As for finding a rare or scarce bird – well, it’s a bit of a gamble on when and where to go and, spinning the wheel, this week the smart money was clearly on black.

First up was a glitzy Black-necked Grebe, found at the southern end of Pitsford Res, on 24th. While we’ve already enjoyed ones and twos, both there and at Daventry CP back in April, another certainly doesn’t go amiss.

Systematically second but unquestionably the outright winner, though, was the Black-winged Stilt which was found at Summer Leys on the last morning of the week, remaining on site throughout the day. Had four highly obliging birds not turned up at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows earlier in the month then this one would have been a much bigger crowd-puller than it turned out to be. Nevertheless, it makes it into the record books as Northamptonshire’s seventh.

Other waders were also available and, in the same vein as last week, Lilbourne Meadows NR pulled in another Wood Sandpiper and a Greenshank on 26th, while Summer Leys held up to three of the latter between 20th and 23rd and one was at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings on 21st. The only other noteworthy wader was a ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover at DIRFT 3’s A5 Pools on 22nd.

The latter locality also held a first-summer Caspian Gull on the same date, while another first-summer visited Hollowell Res on 25th.

That just leaves raptors and while single Ospreys flying east over Brackley on 20th and fishing at Biggin Lake, adjacent to Oundle Golf Club, on 25th were only to be expected, what happened at Stanwick GP at the end of the previous week most certainly was not …

Belated news emerged late this week of a Short-toed Eagle over the site on 19th. Apparently seen well by an experienced observer, it flew north at low altitude without stopping. Jaw-dropping to say the least, this would, unsurprisingly, constitute the first record for Northants if it is submitted to the British Birds Rarities Committee and accepted. Its mega status is reflected in the UK national, all-time tally standing at a mere five accepted records, with two more from 2022 still under consideration. Earlier this year, one was seen near Santon Downham, Suffolk on 21st March and, more relevant to the Stanwick bird’s occurrence, one was seen also heading north over Ambleside, Cumbria early on 22nd May and, in terms of hours, that’s less than three days later …

So, anything’s possible. Let us not forget the hallowed 29th May when, in 1980 a Sooty Tern was found at Ditchford GP and, in 1993, a Bridled Tern made a ten-minute stopover at Mary’s Lake, Earls Barton GP. This year’s 29th is a bank holiday …


Newsround – 13th to 19th May 2023

As we entered the new week, prospects were not looking good and things appeared to be going rapidly downhill. Spring, in fact, appeared to be all but over and local birding seemed resigned to simply bumping along the bottom. This, however, was not quite the case although, as it turned out, the week’s rarest birds were seen by the fewest people.

With wildfowl on the wane, sitting ducks were restricted to single drake Garganeys on Gull Island, at Summer Leys LNR, on 13th and at Fawsley Park Lakes on the same date. Pure and simple.

Heading up the cast of waders, though, was the first of this week’s two rares – a routinely hoped-for, mid-May Temminck’s Stint, which turned up at a largely unexpected location. While all eyes were on the Nene Valley, DIRFT 3 quickly ushered one onto its A5 Pools, for one evening only, on the 18th. The few who made the trip there, hoping for a dawn viewing the following morning, unfortunately went away empty-handed. Ironically, the last Temminck’s to be recorded in Northamptonshire was found at exactly the same location, in May 2021, when it also scooped the accolade for being the first one in the county for four years.

Other staging waders were a notable flock of thirty-two Black-tailed Godwits at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on 16th, an impressive five Wood Sandpipers at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 13th and three Greenshanks at Summer Leys on 19th.

Which brings us neatly on to the second rare of the week. While many enjoyed the one at Summer Leys in April, a White Stork is always an impressive bag wherever it turns up – this week’s bird being a fly-over for one lucky birder at Wicksteed Park, Kettering on 17th.

This week’s raptors were down to single Ospreys over Stanford Res on 15th and Hollowell Res on 18th, while a Short-eared Owl was an unseasonal find at Stanwick GP on the 13th.

Once again, there were no passerines, for the second week running …


Newsround – 6th to 12th May 2023

A mainly westerly airstream, a hint of higher temperatures and a rash of occasionally heavy showers characterised the weather for the period which, it would seem, played no obvious part in delivering this week’s birds. Barely two days in and the climax came in the form of a delectable quartet of Black-winged Stilts, the sixth county record and the first for six years. Rarer still, but totally overshadowed, was a fleeting appearance by a Black Kite on the same day. Other birds were also available …

In a similar vein to last week, a motley crew of wildfowl consisted of 2 Barnacle Geese at Clifford Hill GP on 8th, the one-eyed Pink-footed Goose still with the local Greylags at Wicksteed Park, Kettering on 11th and the drake Red-crested Pochard still at Pitsford Res on the same date.

The drake Greater Scaup hybrid remained at Summer Leys LNR on 7th but, once again, this week’s only truly unsullied wildfowl were single drake Garganeys at the latter site on the same date and at Lilbourne Meadows NR the following day.

And then came the waders … Taking pride of place this week – and, who knows, possibly this year – were four fabulous Black-winged Stilts. Found during the morning of 7th, they put Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR well and truly on the map, pulling in many local and not-so-local birders alike. Views, however, were somewhat distant but the elevated A6 bridge to the east provided an ideal, unimpeded observation point for those who lined up along its busy, traffic-heavy roadside path.

Such is the variation in the extent of black on the head and neck of this species that each of these birds was identifiable as an individual. Most striking was the white-headed bird – a feature usually associated with breeding males but this individual was clearly a second calendar-year bird, aged by the white trailing edge to the wing, as evidenced in the image above, taken by the finder, Tony Vials.

Black-winged Stilt – British and Irish Records, 4th April to 7th May 2023 (Birdguides)

The above map, reproduced from Birdguides, shows the extent of the spring influx, which started in early April, initially in southern Ireland, where it is considered rare (R), before spreading north and east across the UK, where it is categorised as scarce (S). Breeding in the UK first took place in Nottinghamshire in 1945 and most years now see a handful of breeding attempts, predominantly in southern England.

Four is the largest flock yet to be recorded in Northamptonshire but some UK sites during this spring’s influx have held up to six birds.

Continuing the black and white theme, three Avocets at Clifford Hill played second fiddle to the stilts on 7th, with one remaining there until 9th.

After the year’s first showing of Grey Plovers last week at Summer Leys, another paid a brief visit to the same site on 6th while, back at Clifford Hill, two Whimbrels dropped in on 7th and, to date, the sole Turnstone of 2023 spent the morning there on 10th. The number of Ruffs passing through fell back considerably compared to last week, with just singles present at Summer Leys on 6th-7th and further down the Nene Valley, at Stanwick, on 10th. The same can also be said for Wood Sandpipers, only one of which appeared this week, at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, on 7th. Greenshanks, however, kept up a steady trickle comprising singles at both Lilbourne Meadows and Stanwick on 6th and at Earls Barton GP, Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows and Summer Leys on 7th.

An adult Kittiwake added a little spice to an otherwise bland showing on the gull front this week, putting in a brief appearance at Stanwick on 12th. Otherwise, it was down to single first-summer and second-summer Caspian Gulls at DIRFT 3 on 6th and a first-summer at Hollowell Res on 9th to keep things going. Two Yellow-legged Gulls – an adult and a first-summer – were found at Pitsford on the last day of the period.

Meanwhile, terns maintained a low profile with just two Black Terns at Summer Leys on 9th and one reported there the following day.

Raptors, on the other hand, were a different kettle of fish entirely. Ospreys were noted at both Castle Ashby Lakes and Earls Barton on 7th – sightings which may well relate to the same bird – while one was at the popular venue for this species, Hollowell Res, on 9th. The run of Marsh Harriers also continued with one at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on 7th and what was presumably the regular bird at Summer Leys on 7th and 11th.

But it was the report of a Black Kite flying north at Bearshank Wood, west of Oundle, on 7th, which set some pulses racing as this is potentially only the fourth record for the county – if accepted – following previous flyovers in 1995, 2007 and 2011, all of which were in May.

Surprisingly, there were no scarce passerines reported this week.


Newsround – 29th April to 5th May 2023

As we moved into May, the reputational ‘big’ month, a sustained easterly airstream was evident throughout most of the period. Scarcer waders came to the fore, including the first Stone Curlew for nine years, unfortunately found injured and taken into care. And, it seems, we weren’t quite done with White Storks just yet …

Three more summer visitors checked in this week. In the days when Turtle Doves were commonplace, this one would have been late by comparison. The Spotted Flycatcher, though seemingly early, would have a long way to go to beat the earliest, on 20th April, in both 1971 and 1976.

The period produced a rather haphazard collection of wildfowl, consisting of last week’s drake Garganey remaining at Lower Barnwell Lock, Oundle on 29th and a female of the same species at Stanford Res on 1st. While these are both indubitably unsullied, the same certainly can’t be said about the others. An eyebrow-raising drake Red-crested Pochard, accompanied by a female hybrid of the same species x Ferruginous Duck, was at Pitsford Res on 4th and a drake Greater Scaup showing serious hybrid characteristics was present at Summer Leys LNR and adjacent Mary’s Lake on 4th-5th. Throw in an escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck at Ravensthorpe Res for good measure, on 1st, and that’s more than enough to contend with …

Leaping straight to waders and first up comes sketchy news of a Stone Curlew picked up injured near Hackleton, and taken into care, on 30th. The last to be seen in Northants was at Harrington AF on 17th April 2014 and this week’s bird will be only the thirteenth Northants record, if accepted.

The brief appearance of an Avocet at Summer Leys on 29th represents only the third this year, following three together at the same site during March and one at Ditchford GP in April. Becoming scarcer as time goes by, the year’s first Grey Plovers also pitched up at Summer Leys, where three were found on 4th with one remaining until 5th.

This week’s Whimbrels were the sole preserve of Clifford Hill GP’s Main Barrage Lake, where 2 were present on 30th April, one on 3rd May, followed by two there the next day. And, it seems, the above site along with Summer Leys had the period’s godwits sewn up between them, with the Leys producing a Bar-tailed Godwit on 3rd and six fly-over Black-tailed Godwits on 5th, while the Hill mustered a single Black-tailed on 29th-30th.

A notable passage of Ruffs took place in the Midlands this week and we were not left out. A healthy sixteen dropped into Lilbourne Meadows NR on 3rd, all of which departed in the evening and two turned up there the following day. The 4th saw eleven at Summer Leys and three there on 5th, while a small area of floodwater near Aynho attracted three or four on 4th. Clifford Hill mustered one on 5th.

To spice things up a little, there was also a generous dollop of Wood Sandpipers, which kicked off with one at Lower Barnwell Lock, Oundle on 30th, followed on 3rd by three at both Lilbourne Meadows and said floodwater at Aynho and one at Clifford Hill, preceding another on floodwater at Braunston on 4th. None of these remained beyond the days on which they were found.

Upsizing, Greenshanks continued to move through with single birds at Stanwick on 29th-30th, Lower Barnwell Lock on 30th, Lilbourne Meadows on 30th and again there on 4th-5th and at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys on 4th.

There was little of note on the Larid front this week, with two second-summer Caspian Gulls putting in a brief appearance on the A5 Pools at DIRFT 3 on 4th and one present there the following day.

Moving quickly back to the Nene Valley, though, one of the week’s highlights was a Little Tern, the first – and perhaps only – record this year, discovered early in the afternoon of 3rd and remaining throughout the rest of the day, long enough for those with an itch to catch up with it.

Otherwise, it was down to fourteen Arctic Terns passing through Stanwick on 4th to keep terns on the map for this week.

To all things bigger and what can be larger than White Stork? After the previous month’s action, it seems we’re not quite done with them yet as one flew low east over Oundle School playing field on 3rd, subsequently being seen moving in the same direction over the River Nene shortly afterwards. Not as obliging as the recent Summer Leys/Great Doddington bird but impressive for the observers nonetheless and, who knows, it could easily be the same bird.

That’s not to detract in any way from less scarce but equally impressive raptors. Ospreys were seen at Ravensthorpe on 3rd, Earls Barton on 4th and Hollowell on 5th, while this week’s Marsh Harriers were restricted to Summer Leys, where they were seen on 29th, 3rd and 5th, during which time two different individuals were recognised. A Merlin was also identified at the latter site on 2nd.

The plentiful run of passerine migrants continued this week and, although Common Redstarts were restricted to just the one at Harrington AF on 29th, Whinchats took over where the last species left off. Singles were found at six localities which included both Ditchford and Stanwick on 29th, Harrington and Stanford on 30th, Clifford Hill on 1st-2nd, Great Doddington on 2nd and Harrington again on 4th. The latter date saw late Stonechats at Chipping Warden and Priors Hall, Corby, where there were two present. Northern Wheatears remained at Clifford Hill between 29th and 2nd, peaking at nine on 30th, the same date producing the same number at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby. Elsewhere, singles were found at Harrington on 29th and at Borough Hill and Summer Leys on 1st, while two were at Priors Hall on 4th. Swarthy Greenland Wheatears were restricted to two at DIRFT 3 between 30th and 3rd, while the week’s only White Wagtail was one in the Brampton Valley below Brixworth on 30th.