Newsround – 3rd to 9th October 2020

Backed by Atlantic westerlies, heavy rain was the order of the first part of the week, leaving its mark in the form of floodwater in many lowland areas. Temperatures dropped to below average and with the arrival of the first Whooper Swans, the county took another step closer toward winter …

In fact, this week’s wildfowl line-up took on a whole new identity with a distinctly coastal feel as five Dark-bellied Brent Geese touched down at Clifford Hill GP on 4th and an adult Whooper Swan arrived at Stanwick GP on 3rd, before quickly moving off east. Four more adults arrived at Summer Leys LNR on the afternoon of 7th but had departed by the following morning.

Adult Whooper Swan, Stanwick GP, 3rd October 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Adult Whooper Swans, Summer Leys LNR, 7th October 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)
Adult Whooper Swans, Summer Leys LNR, 7th October 2020 (Paul Crotty)
Adult Whooper Swans, Summer Leys LNR, 7th October 2020 (Paul Crotty)

On 4th, it was clear that a sizeable movement of Common Scoters was taking place across the Midlands, with the landlocked counties of Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire each enjoying a slice of the cake. In Northants, we, too, received our own share when a drake splashed down on the main lake at Stanwick and four were mobile north of the dam at Pitsford Res.

Varying numbers of Cattle Egrets remained throughout at Stanwick, where the highest total of nine left their roost site early on 4th, while no more than two Great Egrets were seen at each of Ditchford GP, Pitsford, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys.

A minor resurgence of Ospreys occurred this week, with singles reported at Stanford on 4th and at both Hollowell Res and Kislingbury GP on 8th and, completing the raptor line-up, the wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier was again at Ditchford on 5th and at Stanwick the following day.

The smouldering embers of shorebird migration burst briefly back into flame as waders, too, made a bit of an unexpected comeback, including three species which have put in lower than average appearances in the county this year. Two Grey Plovers were found on floodwater in the River Tove valley, near Grafton Regis, on 8th but their stay on the Northants side of the river was brief before they quickly defected to more appealing habitat on the Bucks side. At the same site, on the same date, a flock of four Spotted Redshanks – multiples being a minor miracle locally, these days – flew east and pitched down in Buckinghamshire, although their stay there was similarly brief. Further scarce, short-stayers in less contentious locations were two single Knots, which arrived and departed on the afternoon of 3rd on Summer Leys scrape and Pitsford Res dam. Runners up were five Black-tailed Godwits in flight over Stanford Res on 9th, one and then two, Ruffs at Stanwick on 5th and 9th respectively – plus one at Summer Leys on 6th – and a Greenshank at Clifford Hill GP on 4th.

The scarcer gulls continued to be in short supply, with an adult Mediterranean Gull plus a Yellow-legged Gull in the roost at Stanford on 5th, up to three Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford on 3rd and a third-winter Caspian Gull at Stanwick on the same date.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 3rd October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Turning to passerines, last week’s Borough Hill Black Redstart remained remarkably faithful to the eastern yard area and fenceline of the summit compound all week, the same location producing the period’s maximum tally of at least seven Stonechats on 9th, while between one and two of the latter were seen at Kettering, Stanford, Stanwick and Summer Leys, with the week’s only Northern Wheatear at Stanford on 5th.

Juvenile Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 7th October 2020 (Nick Truby)
Male Stonechat, Borough Hill, 7th October 2020 (David Smith)

Following two last week, another Rock Pipit paid an all too brief visit to the dam at Pitsford on 3rd, before being flushed. Sadly, the level of human disturbance in this area has increased significantly this year, making it far less appealing to birds and birders alike. Crossbills on the move this week included singles flying over Stanwick on 5th and 9th, five over Thrapston on 5th and one at Brookfield Plantation (Corby) on the same date.

Newsround – 26th September to 2nd October 2020

A series of Atlantic-borne fronts brought a week of mixed, often showery, weather, culminating in a low pressure system, ‘Storm Alex’, delivering a strong easterly airstream off the continent throughout the final day of the period. The arrival of the first Redwings on 27th saw autumn enter another phase, while the week’s highlights appeared in the shapes of Black Redstart and Rock Pipit.

Now a long time part of the furniture, the female Ruddy Shelduck maintained its presence in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area until at least 27th and a Garganey was again at Pitsford Res on 29th. A ‘new’, or relocating, female Red-crested Pochard was found on 28th at Kislingbury GP, a site rapidly becoming engulfed by housing developments, and it was still present there on 1st.

Female Red-crested Pochard, Kislingbury GP, 28th September 2020 (Tony Stanford)

A little deeper into suburbia and a Bittern emerged from a reedbed at Stortons GP on 29th, while up to six Cattle Egrets confined themselves to Stanwick GP until at least 30th. No doubt they will be there for a long time to come. Great Egrets were seen at Ditchford GP, Geddington, Hollowell, Naseby Res, Pitsford, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with Pitsford again clocking up the maximum count of six on 28th-29th.

The wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier continued to roam the Nene Valley in the vicinity of the Ditchford/Stanwick lake complex and was still present on 30th.

Meanwhile, things looked grim on the wader front, with just a single juvenile Ruff at Pitsford on 27th and a juvenile ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover at Daventry CP on 28th-29th. So, is it all over for another year? Time is fast running out for surprises …

Juvenile Ruff, Pitsford Res, 27th September 2020 (Doug Goddard)

Gulls, too, dwindled. A first-winter Mediterranean Gull visited Pitsford on 29th and Yellow-legged Gull numbers were down on previous periods, with one at Stanford on 26th and up to three at Pitsford all week. A Merlin was again seen at Harrington AF on 30th.

In the passerine camp, Borough Hill came up trumps with another Black Redstart on 1st – or had the last one there simply gone missing for nine days? A leap to the north-east of here, the elevated ground which is Harrington AF was one of only two localities to produce Common Redstart with one on 26th and 30th, while one was trapped at Stanford on 28th – the twenty-ninth to be ringed there this year.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 1st October 2020 (Mike Alibone). Yellow gape flanges visible on the open bill age this bird as a juvenile.
Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 28th September 2020 (Theo de Clermont)

In the absence of Whinchats, the number of Stonechats continued to climb, with records from Borough Hill, Bozenham Mill, Brampton Valley, Earls Barton GP, Hollowell, Kislingbury, Pitsford, Stanford and Storton’s GP, with a maximum of six at Hollowell on 29th and the same number at Borough Hill on 1st.

Stonechat, Kislingbury GP, 1st October 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Northern Wheatear numbers fell further to just singles at Hollowell on 29th and Kislingbury on 30th-1st.

Northern Wheatear, Kislingbury GP, 30th September 2020 (Tony Stanford)

With a penchant for reservoir dams from late September into early October, Rock Pipits are now on the radar and the first for the year appeared briefly on the weathered concrete of Pitsford’s on 29th, followed quickly by another flying over Stanford’s the next day.  Crossbills clung on in the north of the county, with four flying over Kettering on 28th, around twenty at Wakerley Great Wood on 1st and six at nearby Fineshade Wood on the same date.

Newsround – 12th to 25th September 2020

A short-lived ‘Indian Summer’ extended into the second half of this two-week period before giving way to a northerly airstream, culminating in lower than average temperatures and gales. The good fortune of the Stanford Ringing Group continued with another Wryneck and a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was – and probably still is – on a roll …

Present throughout the period but clearly taking an awayday, the female Ruddy Shelduck visited Foxholes Fisheries at Crick on 22nd before returning to its now favoured locality of Ravensthorpe Res later on the same day.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 17th September (Ant Hall)

Meanwhile, heading up the wildfowl cast proper, single Garganeys were found at Hollowell Res on 12th, Daventry CP on 18th and at Pitsford Res on 18th-19th, while the female Red-crested Pochard remained at the latter site until 14th.

Garganey, Pitsford Res, 19th September 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

Continuing this year’s Spoonbill rush, another put in a brief appearance, sharing the shoreline with two Great Egrets at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 15th.

Spoonbill, Ditchford GP, 15th September 2020 (Tony Vials)

And yes, they made it – Cattle Egrets hit double figures – a new Northamptonshire record count for the species was made at the Stanwick roost, where at least ten were present, early in the morning on 23rd. Numbers here varied daily throughout the period but up to five visited nearby Ditchford/Irthlingborough  between 12th and 15th.

Cattle Egret, Irthlingborough, 15th September 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Cattle Egrets, Stanwick GP, 19th September 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)
Cattle Egrets, Stanwick GP, 19th September 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)
Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 21st September 2020 (Mike Fink)

Great Egrets remained well-scattered over seven sites, with Pitsford producing the maximum count of five on 17th and 22nd.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 18th September 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Just three raptors during the period included an Osprey over Ditchford/IL&M on 19th, a ‘ringtail’ harrier sp., believed to be a Hen Harrier, at Lilbourne Meadows LNR on 13th and a Marsh Harrier at Stanwick, intermittently throughout. The latter sported red wing-tags, enabling it to be identified as a young female from a brood of four (one female, three males) raised at Thorpe Marshes, near Beccles, Suffolk. This is the first sighting since it was tagged on 7th June 2020.

Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Stanwick GP, 19th September 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)
Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Ditchford GP, 19th September 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Waders bounced back a little, with two Ruffs at Pitsford on 22nd and one at Stanwick on 25th and the star of the wader movement so far this autumn, a juvenile Little Stint, at Hollowell between 18th and 20th. In fact, it’s likely to be the only one in the county in 2020 …

Juvenile Little Stint with Dunlins, Hollowell Res, 18th September 2020 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Little Stint, Hollowell Res, 19th September 2020 (Jon Cook)

A juvenile Wood Sandpiper dropped into Summer Leys late on 22nd, remaining until the following morning, while single Greenshanks visited Pitsford on 12th, Naseby Res on 15th and two were at Earls Barton GP on 16th.

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd September 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

No new species were added to the gull list when compared with the last period. Single first-winter Mediterranean Gulls visited Summer Leys on 19th and Stanwick on 21st, where an adult Caspian Gull was found on 18th. It, or another, had been at nearby Ditchford GP/IL&M on 13th. Meanwhile, Yellow-legged Gulls were to be had at Earls Barton, Pitsford, Stanwick and Thrapston, with Stanwick producing the highest total of seven on 18th. One more Merlin appeared during the period, this time at Harrington AF on 19th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 18th September 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, the Stanford Ringing Group was on a roll, trapping its second Wryneck of the autumn on 14th, followed by a Yellow-browed Warbler on 22nd. The latter was the 6th trapped and ringed by the group and is only the 15th Northants record. The SRG’s amazing run continues, with more autumn glory to come, no doubt – and we’re not talking evergreen shrubs here …

Wryneck, Stanford Res, 14th September 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Normally associated with late autumn, the third Black Redstart of the season was found on 20th, obligingly remaining in place until 22nd, at the easily accessible location of Borough Hill. The latter locality also produced Common Redstarts on 15th and 20th, while one was at Stanford on 12th and two remained at Harrington AF between 13th and 17th.

Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 21st September 2020 (Dave Smith)
Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 21st September 2020 (Dave Smith)

Just four Whinchats were found as we approached closer toward the end of September. These included singles at Braunston on 13th, Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering) on 14th, Borough Hill on 20th and Corby on 21st-22nd, while the number of Stonechats ramped up, with records from Borough Hill, Clifford Hill GP, Corby, Geddington, Harrington, Hollowell and Twywell Hills & Dales, including a maximum of at least nine at Borough Hill on 20th.

Whinchat, Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, 22nd September 2020 (James Underwood)
Stonechat, Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, 22nd September 2020 (James Underwood)

Northern Wheatear numbers fell to only four individuals: one trapped and ringed at Stanford on 12th, a different bird there on 14th and singles at both Borough Hill and Harrington on 21st.

Northern Wheatear, Stanford Res, 14th September 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Which leaves only Crossbills, albeit in smaller numbers than in previous weeks, with Wakerley Great Wood holding six on 14th and two on 19th.



Newsround, 5th to 11th September 2020

The westerly airflow continued this week, which remained largely dry, with temperatures depressed in the early part. Shags lingered at two localities, one of which also produced a sixth county record …

In fact, there was little change afoot across the board, including the almost inert Pink-footed Goose and the female Ruddy Shelduck, now part of the fixtures and fittings in the Hollowell/Ravensthorpe area, where they were still present on 9th. Apart from this dodgy duo, a female Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res from 7th to 10th was the only other wildfowl of note.  

Following previous recent occurrences, another Spoonbill was reported during the week, this one flying west over Billing Garden Centre, adjacent to Billing GP, early doors on 8th. It was not relocated. Encouragingly, Cattle Egret numbers jumped to a record nine roosting at Stanwick GP on 9th and 11th, five of which were seen below nearby Irthlingborough Church on the first of these two dates. Just one more gets us to double-figures … Fairly well nailed-down and with no more than three at any one location, Great Egrets maintained a presence at Hollowell, Pitsford and Summer Leys throughout and one flew over Oundle on 10th.

Meanwhile, Shags hung on at two localities, although their numbers dwindled further with the death of one of the Stanford two on 7th, the other remaining until 11th. At Pitsford, three birds appeared to have decreased to one by 8th, after which there were no further reports from the site.

Juvenile Shag, Pitsford, Res, 6th September (James Underwood)
Juvenile Shag, Pitsford, Res, 8th September (Mike Alibone)

On the raptor front, Ospreys were seen at both Thrapston GP and Stanford on 5th and one – a juvenile – was seen flying over the Brampton Valley below Brixworth the following day, while 11th saw Marsh Harriers at both Stanford and Stanwick.

Juvenile Ruff, Clifford Hill GP, 7th September 2020 (Doug Goddard)

 Waders were, again, seemingly on the wane, with two Ruffs briefly at Earls Barton GP on 6th, a juvenile at Clifford Hill GP on 7th and two juveniles at Hollowell Res on 8th. A Greenshank visited Ditchford GP on 8th and up to three were at Earls Barton GP from 8th to 10th – a pretty poor show for a species that used to be a common autumn migrant.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Welford Res, 8th September 2020 (Mike Alibone)

There was also little change regarding gulls this week, with three first-winter Mediterranean Gulls at Daventry CP on 7th and an adult at Welford Res the following day, while a juvenile Caspian Gull appeared in the roost at Boddington Res on 7th and an adult visited Stanwick GP on 9th. Yellow-legged Gull numbers were down on last week – back into single figures, in fact – the highest number at any of this week’s seven localities being eight at Stanwick on 9th. Elsewhere, five were in the roost at Boddington on 7th, up to three were at Pitsford throughout the period and the same number at DIRFT 3 on 5th, while singles visited Thrapston GP on 5th, Daventry on 7th and Ringstead GP on 11th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 9th September 2020 (Steve Fisher)

The male Merlin in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, was seen again on 10th and a female/juvenile visited Stanford on 9th.

Passerine passage continued unabated, which brings us neatly to ‘bird of the week’ – at least for a privileged, though well deserved, few – a juvenile Marsh Warbler trapped and ringed by the hard-working ringing group at Stanford on 10th. This represents only the 6th record for the county, three of which have been in the last three years. The smart money will be on the group trapping a monster rare as autumn further unfolds over the next few weeks …

Juvenile Marsh Warbler, Stanford Res, 10th September 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The SRG also trapped and ringed five Common Redstarts on the same date, while the highest single locality day-count this week was six at Harrington AF on 5th, with up to four remaining there until 9th. Elsewhere, two remained between Walgrave and Old on 6th and singles were found between Shutlanger and Stoke Bruerne on 9th and at Preston Deanery the following day.

Common Redstart, Harrington AF, 6th September (James Underwood)

Back at Stanford, three Whinchats were present on 5th, one of which was trapped and ringed, representing only the fifth ever to be ringed there. Elsewhere, up to two were in the Brampton Valley between 8th and 10th and singles were found near Glapthorn Cow Pasture on 5th, at Chelveston AF on 6th and at Harrington AF on 9th.

Juvenile Whinchat, Stanford Res, 5th September 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

A single Stonechat was in the Brampton Valley on 10th. With records from five localities, Northern Wheatear numbers were up on last week, although all reports were of singles, apart from two at Borough Hill on 7th. One was at Stanford from 6th to 11th, another at Harrington between 6th and 9th, one visited Pitsford on 6th and another was found at Harpole on the same date.

The early autumn has so far proven generous with Tree Pipits, three more of which were seen this week, including singles over Higham Ferrers and at Chelveston on 6th and over Harrington the following day. Just when we thought Crossbill numbers were dwindling, they bounced back, with the northern woodlands producing the highest numbers of the year so far. These included around forty at the much favour’d locality of Wakerley Great Wood on 7th and thirty-two at nearby Fineshade Wood on 10th. Elsewhere, ten flew over Newnham on 9th and three were over Kettering on 10th.

Stanford nets another Marsh Warbler

With the Stanford Ringing Group going full pelt this autumn, it was odds on that, after the Wryneck trapped and ringed recently, something else high calibre would find its way into the ringers’ nets sooner or later. In this case, it was sooner, as a juvenile Marsh Warbler was processed there this morning after being trapped near the feeding station at 10.00.

It had a wing of 68mm which is 2-3mm longer than average Reed and a notch which is measured on P2, which fell at 9mm, which is short for a Reed Warbler. It also had a bill to feathers measurement of 12mm which is shorter than Reed with it being wider at the base too indicates Marsh (SRG).

Many thanks to Chris Hubbard for the above images and to Theo from the SRG for information.

This is the 6th record for Northamptonshire and the third in the last three years, with Stanford remaining a firm favourite for occurrences (see here and here).

It’s not quite mid-September and it’s really quite frightening to think what lies ahead for the group during the next eight weeks! Said recently to be a bumper year for them in Finland, Red-flanked Bluetail, perhaps …

Rarity Round-up, 29th August to 4th September 2020

Winds took on a northerly vector for the first half of the period, before moving round to deliver milder south-westerlies off the Atlantic. This appeared to have little effect on migrants, of which there were many, although Shags still dominated the news this week.

Both the Pink-footed Goose and the female Ruddy Shelduck continued to put in sporadic appearances at Hollowell Res, the latter site producing a new Garganey on 4th. Elsewhere, single Garganeys were at Pitsford Res on 29th and 3rd, Clifford Hill GP on 31st and at Summer Leys LNR the following day.

Having recently acquired a reputation for appearing at any time of the year, an example of the former winter visitor, going by the Norfolk name of ‘Brown Harnser’ – more commonly known as Bittern – was seen on the scrape at Summer Leys on 2nd, before melting away again. It’s anyone’s guess if this is a new bird or the individual which was present there in the spring, or even the one that has occasionally put in appearances further down the valley at Stanwick GP. The latter site maintained its exclusivity for hosting Cattle Egrets, which were seen there daily, with a maximum of six on 29th. Stanwick, along with Hollowell, also produced the week’s maximum site count of three Great Egrets, while up to two were seen at both Pitsford and Summer Leys throughout and one visited Thorpe Malsor Res on 1st.

Another week, another Shag. The juvenile which roosted at Stanford Res on 29th was joined by another on 31st, both birds remaining until the week’s end, while the mobile Pitsford trio joined forces mid-week, residing on the causeway and obligingly allowing close approach for anyone willing to chance his, or her, arm with a camera.

Juvenile Shag, Stanford Res, 30th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Juvenile Shag, Pitsford Res, 31st August 2020 (Clive Bowley)

Juvenile Shags, Pitsford Res, 2nd September 2020 (Alan Coles)

Raptors this week were at a low ebb, with just two sites producing Ospreys. An adult flew south-east over Moulton Grange Bay at Pitsford on 3rd and it, or another, was seen north of the causeway there some four hours later. The following day, another was fishing at Hollowell before flying off east. Conceivably, all sightings could relate to just one individual.

Waders, too, were poorly represented during the period but then local wetland mud is at a premium this year. Two Bar-tailed Godwits – unusual in autumn – flew west over the dam at Stanford on 29th, while the same date produced a Greenshank at Stanwick, followed by further singles at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 30th and Summer Leys on 1st.

Gulls, however, were on a par with last week, with juvenile Mediterranean Gulls at Daventry CP on 29th and at Pitsford the following day, while the latter site produced an adult on 3rd. Caspian Gulls appeared at three localities, DIRFT 3 industrial development hosting a second-winter on 1st, Hollowell producing a second-summer on 3rd and Daventry delivering a juvenile the next day. This, then, just leaves Yellow-legged Gull, a species well represented during the period with, aside from the two or three fixtures at Pitsford, higher counts than we have seen of late. Priors Hall Quarry at Corby amassed approximately thirty-five on 30th, the same date on which Ringstead GP saw a gathering of fourteen on Kinewell Lake. Nearby Stanwick held twenty-one on 2nd and nine on 3rd, with the latter date producing two at DIRFT 3 and a single adult at Hollowell. Making in onto the list for the second week running, a juvenile Black Tern visited Pitsford on the evening of 3rd.

Yellow-legged Gull, probably fourth-winter, Pitsford Res, 3rd September 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 3rd September 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Two species out on a limb, insomuch as they were a tad earlier than is usual, were a Short-eared Owl at Harrington AF from 29th to 1st and a male Merlin in the Brampton Valley, between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton, on 3rd.

In another busy week for passerines, Pied Flycatchers were reported from Braunston on 31st and Lamport on 1st, while Common Redstarts maintained a strong presence in what is likely to go down as the best autumn on record for this species.

Common Redstart, Priors Hall, 30th August 2020 (James Underwood)

Once again, the Stanford Ringing Group was on to a good thing, with seven trapped and ringed during the period, while ringers at Harrington trapped and ringed two on 1st after three or four had been present there the previous day. Elsewhere, at least three were still between Walgrave and Old on 31st, three were at Lamport on 2nd and between one and two were seen during the week at Ashby St Ledgers, Borough Hill, Fawsley Park, Priors Hall and Twywell Hills & Dales. In an about-turn from last week, Whinchat numbers were up, with four at both Stanford Res and in the Brampton Valley on 31st and singles at Stanwick on 29th and 31st, Ditchford on 30th, Hollowell on 31st, 1st and 3rd, Borough Hill on 31st, Clifford Hill GP on 2nd, Bozeat GP on 3rd and Preston Deanery on 4th. By contrast, Northern Wheatears proved to be scarce, with singles at Hollowell Res on 31st and Stanford Res on 4th.

Northern Wheatear, Hollowell Res, 31st August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Still moving through, a Tree Pipit was trapped and ringed at Harrington on 1st and singles were seen in flight over Hanging Houghton on 2nd and Brackley on 4th, while back in the limelight – to a certain extent – at least fifteen Crossbills were still in Bucknell Wood on 2nd and four flew west over Harrington the following day.

Rarity Round-up, 22nd to 28th August 2020

The end of the last period very much set the scene for this week’s seriously autumnal weather as Storm Francis lashed the UK with south-westerly gusts reaching almost 80 mph on 25th. Loosely associated with this was a small influx of Shags, while the week’s headline bird, a Wryneck, was trapped and ringed in the north of the county.

Against the backcloth of building wildfowl numbers, there was no change to last week’s species mix, with all the established ‘favourites’ still in situ. These included the Pink-footed Goose at Hollowell Res on 22nd and the female Ruddy Shelduck at the same site on 26th, at least one Garganey at Pitsford Res from 22nd to 24th and a new one at Summer Leys LNR on 26th. A female Red-crested Pochard visited Stanford Res on 22nd, while two drakes and a female remained at Pitsford between 24th and 26th.

Garganey, Pitsford Res, 22nd August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Albeit late in the season, a male Quail was heard singing from an Oat field in the Brampton Valley, below Hanging Houghton, on 27th. For anyone who’s missed out this year, it’s a long wait until next spring … Meanwhile, down in the Nene Valley, up to three Cattle Egrets were still to be found at Stanwick GP between 23rd and 27th. Stanwick was also one of four sites to produce Great Egrets this week, with up to two present throughout the period, while Pitsford and Summer Leys produced three apiece and one was found at the lake in the extensive grounds of Boughton House, Geddington, on 24th.

Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

However, the species very much in the spotlight this week was Shag, a localised, Midlands influx of which delivered one to Pitsford on 22nd, followed by four there on 23rd and seven on 24th, from when numbers dropped to three on 26th and two on 27th-28th. One also roosted on the dam at Stanford on 27th, remaining there the following day. All birds were juveniles.

Juvenile Shags, Pitsford Res, 25th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Juvenile Shag, Pitsford Res, 26th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Having become less than annual in Northants over the past decade, these birds became a popular draw, usually allowing a close approach. While seven may initially appear to be a high number for one site, at least eleven were at Pitsford on 31st October 1996 and six were present there in January 2005. These numbers almost pale into insignificance, though, when as part of the current influx, Draycote Res in Warwickshire accumulated twenty-six on 27th and Rutland Water, Leicestershire held twenty-four on 26th. The sole record in 2019 was of one sickly individual picked up and taken into care at Weedon on 20th August but prior to that the last was one at Stanwick GP in August-September 2016.

Shag: distribution by year of Northamptonshire records over 30 years, 1990-2019. Image of juvenile at Pitsford Res, 24th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Propping up this week’s raptor stand, Ospreys were found at six sites, which included last week’s juvenile still at Fawsley Park Lake on 22nd, and singles flying south over Sywell and at Geddington on 24th, Pitsford on 24th and 27th, Stanford on 26th-27th and over the Brampton Valley on 27th. Pitsford also produced a Marsh Harrier on 24th.

Given the high fill levels of just about all our local bodies of water, waders were, unsurprisingly, few and far between. This week’s ‘haul’ was painfully limited, with one Whimbrel flying south over Harrington AF on 26th, two Black-tailed Godwits at Clifford Hill GP on 24th, a juvenile Knot very briefly at Hollowell on 25th and nine equally ephemeral birds flying along the dam at Pitsford on 27th.

Juvenile Knot, Hollowell Res, 25th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

A Ruff remained at Summer Leys from 22nd until 26th and two visited Clifford Hill GP on 24th, while three Greenshanks were also at Summer Leys on 22nd, dwindling to just one on 26th and one was still on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 24th.

Greenshank Summer Leys LNR, 22nd August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Gulls and terns were well represented this week, kicking off on day one with a first-winter Mediterranean Gull joining a mass of gulls following a plough east of Denton on 22nd. Two juveniles were then seen at Pitsford the next day. Pitsford also retained last week’s juvenile Caspian Gull, which was seen on 22nd and 25th and another juvenile joined twenty-two Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick on 27th. Up to four Yellow-legs were on show at Pitsford throughout the week, although ten were present there on 24th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 28th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Pitsford’s run of prime birds continued with a juvenile Arctic Tern present from 22nd to 24th and a Sandwich Tern briefly on 23rd, while back in the Nene Valley, a juvenile Black Tern visited Summer Leys on 22nd.

Adult Sandwich Tern, Pitsford Res, 23rd August 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

The 27th turned out to be a phenomenal day for local ringers, with the Stanford Ringing Group processing an astonishing 639 birds, which included the week’s star, a gorgeous Wryneck. To be able to admire this intricately patterned bird at point-blank range was clearly just reward for the group’s hard work throughout the day at Stanford.

Wryneck, Stanford Res, 27th August 2020 (Theo de Clermont)

Wryneck, Stanford Res, 27th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

With 13 years out of the last 20 producing records, Wryneck is on a par with Shag when it comes down to frequency of occurrence and number of records. Unlike that species, however, many individuals are surely overlooked …

Part of the above ringing haul included eight Common Redstarts and this species was again numerous with, in addition to the above, numbers between one and three at Brampton Valley, Borough Hill, Harrington AF, Lamport, Pitsford Res and Twywell Hills & Dales, while up to five were seen in the Old/Walgrave area.

Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 23rd August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 27th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

By contrast, Whinchat numbers fell again with up to two at Stanford between 22nd and 24th and one at Stanwick on 23rd. Northern Wheatears proved to be a little more numerous, with singles at Chelveston AF on 22nd, Collingtree, Little Brington, Old and Stanwick on 23rd, Pitsford on 25th-26th and Lamport on 27th, while two visited Clifford Hill on 23rd and up to two were at Stanford between 25th and 27th.

Northern Wheatear, Little Brington, 23rd August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Tree Pipits were very much in evidence this week, with Harrington AF producing between twelve and fifteen on 27th, six of which were trapped and ringed. Part of a widely noted national movement, this is the highest count for any site in Northants since the species last bred here.

Tree Pipit, Stanford Res, 23rd August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

One was also trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 23rd and another was seen in flight there on the ‘big day’ of 27th. Elsewhere, singles flew south at Irchester on 24th and Pitsford on 26th, when a single Crossbill flew south over the same site.

Rarity Round-up, 15th to 21st August 2020

With the heatwave over and temperatures 10°C lower than last week’s peak, a mixed bag of weather – backed principally by a southerly airstream – culminated in unseasonal gale-force winds at the end of the period. While wetland species continued to dominate, passerines proliferated and included the appearance of the first Pied Flycatchers of 2020.

More wildfowl were on the menu than during last week and while the Pink-footed Goose and female Ruddy Shelduck both continued to divide their time between the reservoirs of Hollowell and Ravensthorpe, the autumn’s first Garganey was found at Clifford Hill GP on 16th and two more appeared at Pitsford Res on 21st.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 16th August 2020 (John Nottingham)

Garganeys, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

At least four Red-crested Pochards were still present at the latter locality on 17th and a drake Common Scoter made a one-day stopover at Daventry CP on 15th.

With no reports last week, Cattle Egrets were again back in the picture at Stanwick GP, where one was seen on 16th, followed by four on 18th. Numbers of Great Egrets again continued to increase, with six localities each hosting between one and three birds, among which was a building development site at Cranford Road in Kettering.

Ospreys were also reported from six sites with, unsurprisingly, Hollowell producing the most, including three on 15th. Elsewhere, singles were at Pitsford on 16th, 17th and 20th, in flight, east, between Lamport and Maidwell on 16th, at Naseby Res on 19th and over Harrington AF on 21st, while a juvenile lingered at Fawsley Park Lake between 18th and 21st. The latter also date saw a juvenile Marsh Harrier flying south over Harrington.

Juvenile Osprey, Fawsley Park, 18th August 2020 (Linda Honeybourne)

This week’s top waders were limited to the same species as last week’s, albeit at different localities. Just one Whimbrel – again a fly-over – graced the skies above Boddington Res on 16th, while Black-tailed Godwits half returned to form with the 15th seeing one at Stanwick, three at Hollowell and eight at Ditchford GP and the following day producing one at Hollowell and four at Ditchford. Turnstones were again in the frame with two smart adults spending a day on the dam at Pitsford on 16th, which also held a Sanderling on 15th-16th.

Adult Turnstones, Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Adult Turnstone, Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Adult Sanderling Pitsford Res, 15th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

A sprinkling of Ruffs was confined to the Nene Valley, where one remained at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake between 15th and 19th, two visited Clifford Hill GP on 18th and one was at Summer Leys on 21st. One of last week’s Wood Sandpipers made it into this week, remaining at Hardwater Lake until 15th, the same site retaining up to two Greenshanks until 19th. Elsewhere, singles visited Ditchford GP and Pitsford Res on 16th and one was on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 21st.

Things were looking up on the gull front when a Little Gull dropped into Boddington Res on 16th, the same site producing a juvenile Mediterranean Gull on 20th. Further juvenile Meds were to be found on 15th, when one was at Daventry CP and two visited Pitsford, the latter site holding another on 21st, the day after one appeared at Ravensthorpe.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The regular second-summer Caspian Gull remained at Hollowell until at least 15th, while a smart juvenile was on show at Pitsford on 21st but numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls remained low, with Pitsford hanging on to its two long-staying adults throughout. Elsewhere, an adult visited Ditchford GP on 15th, two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 18th, a second-summer was at Boddington on 20th and one was found at Harrington on 21st.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Another autumn ‘first’ was a Black Tern briefly at Stanford before flying west, early on 17th – the same date upon which three were seen off the dam at Pitsford, while a juvenile appeared at Hollowell the following day.

Juvenile Black Tern, Hollowell Res, 18th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Said to have been hundreds on the east coast this week, it would have been almost inconceivable not to have had any Pied Flycatchers occurring locally. Sure enough, they came. Four of them. But those thinking they were in with a chance of connecting with one of this quartet were to be disappointed … The first was trapped and ringed at Stanford on 15th, immediately doing a bunk after its release. The second was at Borough Hill on 20th but would-be observers found precise site information concerning its whereabouts woefully lacking – those making the on spec trip there leaving empty-handed. The third, at Yardley Chase on 21st, was in a private woodland and the fourth was also said to be ‘on private land’. Say no more. There is still time for another …

Pied Flycatcher, Stanford Res, 15th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The ‘private land’ theme continued with the discovery of a juvenile Black Redstart near Byfield on 16th – the second of the autumn so far, these individuals occurring much earlier than normal, i.e. outside the expected October time window.

Juvenile Black Redstart, Byfield, 16th August 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Meanwhile, Common Redstarts were widespread, with at least six localities delivering, including one trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 15th, up to three at Harrington between 15th and 21st, the same number at Hellidon on 17th and at least four between Walgrave and Old on 20th, while singles were found at both Borough Hill and Hollowell Res on the same date.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 15th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Common Redstart, Hollowell Res, 20th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Following records from just one site last week, Whinchats rose to prominence during the period, the star locality being Borough Hill, where there were five on 18th, nine on 20th and two on 21st. Other favoured localities were Pitsford Res, Hellidon and Ditchford GP, each producing singles on 16th, 17th and 20th respectively, while two were at Harrington on 17th.

Whinchat, Borough Hill, 18th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Not to be outdone, Stonechats put in a token appearance, with up to two at Hellidon on 16th-17th, while Northern Wheatear numbers were up on last week, with one still at Clifford Hill GP on 16th, followed by four there two days later, on 18th. Elsewhere, singles were at Hellidon on 20th and at Borough Hill on 20th-21st.

Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 19th August 2020 (Ant Hall)

Tree Pipits and late August is the prime time these days for this long-lost county breeder, now reduced to scarce migrant status. Borough Hill laid claim to the lion’s share with four on 20th, while singles flew over the Brampton Valley at Brixworth on 18th and Hanging Houghton the following day. Crossbill numbers dwindled further with just three in flight at Harlestone Heath on 15th and two over Kentle Wood (Daventry) on 20th. It appears this species is now on the brink of slipping back to its scarce, pre-influx status …

Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th August 2020

Another week of high temperatures, peaking at 33°C on 12th, saw a continental airstream which resulted in north-easterlies for much of the period. Highlights were limited to the first 2020 records of Turnstone and Wood Warbler – but it could have been oh so different if a certain wader had played ball …

Hollowell Res – arguably the place to be during August – continued to prove attractive to birds and birders alike, hanging on to much of the previous week’s fare, including its somewhat dodgy Pink-footed Goose. Déjà vu and the only other noteworthy wildfowl during the period were again Red-crested Pochards, with Pitsford Res harbouring three eclipse drakes and a female/juvenile on 9th.

Numbers of Great Egrets continued to increase, Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP again topping the locality leaderboard with numbers fluctuating daily and a maximum of five on 8th. Elsewhere, three visited Hollowell on 14th, up to two were seen at Pitsford throughout, and singles were at Stanwick GP on 10th and 14th.

Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 8th August 2020 (Paul Crotty)

Back on form, Hollowell produced the most Ospreys with twos on 8th and 11th and one on 12th, while Stanford Res hosted one on 8th and 9th and one was at Stanwick on 14th. Meanwhile, Stanford produced its fourth Marsh Harrier of the year, a juvenile, on 10th.

Osprey, male ‘T3’ from Rutland, fledged 2016, Hollowell Res, 12th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Stanford Res, 10th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

But it’s back to Hollowell, where this week’s drama unfolds, with a fly-over adult Pacific Golden Plover, early on 9th. Light conditions put paid to the possibility of clinching that all-important underwing as the bird continued over high west, calling … and the call was spot-on! No view of the underwing, no sound recording and, therefore, no acceptance by the BBRC. It’s a life-haunting moment. Ouch. With PGPs in Suffolk, Northumberland, Donegal, Clare and a possible in Kent it’s clearly in the zone – and stirs memories of July 2013, when one was just up the road at Rutland Water, details of which are here.

Potential patch gold aside, in a week when Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake stole the thunder from Summer Leys, there were other waders to be had. Let’s face it, as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century, any waders in the county are good these days, now that the acres of autumn mud are no longer exposed and long, long gone from Pitsford, as the water authority is obliged to maintain high water levels to service the overpopulated mess we now find ourselves living in …

So, the pick of fourteen wader species to be found in the county this week starts with Whimbrel – four fly-overs at Hollowell on 10th and one over Harlestone Heath on 13th. Two Black-tailed Godwits again put in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 14th and the first Turnstone of 2020 – a juvenile – paid an all-too-brief visit to Stanwick on the same date.

Juvenile male Ruff, Earls Barton GP, 13th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

The aforementioned Hardwater Lake attracted two Ruffs between 12th and 14th, the latter date panning out to be a good wader day under leaden skies, with misty and drizzly conditions also bringing Sanderlings to three localities – one at each of Stanwick and Boddington Res and at least nine at Pitsford, all of which visited the dam at some point beyond midday.

Adult Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 14th August 2020 (Nick Parker)

Adult Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 14th August 2020 (Nick Parker)

Back at Hardwater, things had warmed up nicely with two Wood Sandpipers playing centre stage between 9th and 14th and up to three Greenshanks during the same period. One or two of the latter hopped across the road to Summer Leys scrape on occasions. The only other Greenshanks were at Hollowell on 12th and at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.

Wood Sandpipers (adult, left and juvenile), Earls Barton GP, 13th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Adult Greenshank, Hollowell Res, 12th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Juvenile Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 13th August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Unsurprisingly, there was little change on the gull front. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull dropped into Daventry CP on 13th and the regular second-summer Caspian Gull was still present at Hollowell throughout but Yellow-legged Gulls were seen at five localities, which included single juveniles at Hardwater Lake on 11th, Summer Leys on 13th and Clifford Hill on 14th, while two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 13th and one or two adults were seen at Pitsford, on and off, throughout. A little earlier than usually expected, a juvenile Arctic Tern spent most of the day at Summer Leys on 14th. 

This week saw passerine migration stepping up out of second gear, with a Northern Willow Warbler trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 8th. This is only the fifth record of this subspecies, acredula, for the county, all previous records have come from the mist nets of Stanford, the last being in 2018.

Northern Willow Warbler, Stanford Res, 8th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The same site also produced the first Wood Warbler in 2020, the following day and staying with Stanford, three Common Redstarts were there on 8th, while up to two were still at Harrington AF on 11th.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 8th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Male Common Redstart, Harrington AF, 11th August 2020 (David Arden)

Elsewhere, up to three Whinchats were at Chelveston AF between 10th and 12th and a Northern Wheatear was at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.

A trickle of Crossbills continued but that’s all it was, with singles – all fly-overs – at Hollowell on 9th and 10th, Weldon on 10th, Brackley on 12th and two over Harrington AF on 11th.

Rarity Round-up, 1st to 7th August 2020

A drier period than the last but rising temperatures throughout mirrored the previous week’s, peaking locally at 32°C on the last day, as a blast of hot southerlies reached us from deep within the continent. Perhaps associated with this, another Spoonbill put in a brief appearance for the third week running.

Escape, feral or just a malingering, would-be migrant, a Pink-footed Goose appeared at Hollowell Res on 6th – one of two days when the site’s female Ruddy Shelduck had chosen to visit nearby Ravensthorpe Res. Once again, the only other noteworthy wildfowl during the period were Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res producing one on 1st, six on 4th and two on 6th.

And if Spoonbills were considered difficult to catch up with locally, then they still are, with this week’s itinerant bird putting in a twilight appearance at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake before moving quickly to Summer Leys LNR and then, reportedly, back to Hardwater lake to roost. Needless to say, by dawn’s early light, it had done a bunk …  Keeping a low profile this week, Cattle Egrets were seen on one date only, with three at Stanwick GP on 4th.

Adult Spoonbill, Earls Barton GP, 4th August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Great Egrets became a little more widespread, Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP claiming the lion’s share of four throughout the period while, on 2nd, one visited Daventry CP and was subsequently seen in flight, east, over nearby Borough Hill and at least one remained at Blatherwycke Lake.

In stark contrast to last week, the only Ospreys were singles at Stanford Res on 6th and 7th, while last week’s juvenile Marsh Harriers at Summer Leys and Pitsford were last seen on 1st and 4th, respectively.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 1st August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Notable waders remained low in numbers, with two Black-tailed Godwits putting in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 1st and two visiting Hollowell on 4th. But where are all the Greenshanks we normally see from July onwards? Just one lingered at Summer Leys from 3rd to 5th before transferring to nearby Hardwater Lake on 6th-7th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Hollowell Res, 4th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Greenshank, Earls Barton GP, 6th August 2020 (Leslie Fox)

A second-summer Little Gull spent some time at Daventry CP on 7th but it was large, white-headed gulls which, as usual, predominated with a first-summer Caspian Gull at Daventry CP on 7th and a second-summer Hollowell from 4th until the week’s end. This latter individual appears likely to be a male on account of its rather hefty build and large bill size but have some Yellow-legged Gull genes crept in somewhere from a past generation? Talking of which, at least one adult was at Pitsford from 4th to 6th and two adults plus two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 7th.

Second-summer Caspian Gull, Hollowel Res, 6th August 2020 (John Moon)

Passerine migration picked up a little, with Common Redstarts trapped and ringed at Harrington AF on 1st and Stanford Res on 4th and further singles at both Summer Leys and Gretton on 3rd. Like last week, just one Whinchat was found – this one at Chelveston AF on 7th and the autumn’s second Northern Wheatear was at Pitsford on 4th.

Male Common Redstart, Summer Leys LNR, 3rd August 2020 (Clive Bowley)

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 4th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 4th August 2020 (David Arden)

Bucknell Wood hung on to at least twenty Crossbills throughout the week, twos were seen flying over Hollowell and Brackley on 1st and 2nd respectively and one was at Pitsford on 4th but the rarest passerine so far – a Corn Bunting – was found at Chelveston AF on 7th. There appear to have been no other records of this once common farmland species in the county this year …