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.


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