Ringstead Red-foot

Northamptonshire’s tenth and the first twitchable one since 1997

Right place, right time – the two came together for Nick Parker this morning when he discovered the county’s tenth Red-footed Falcon on a visit to Kinewell Lake at Ringstead Gravel Pits. Found at 10.50, this bird, a first-summer (2nd calendar year) male drew modest numbers of birders throughout the remainder of the day as it put on a fine display, hawking insects among Black-headed Gulls, just above the water’s surface.

First-summer male Red-footed Falcon Ringstead GP, 16th May 2020 (Bob Bullock)
First-summer male Red-footed Falcon Ringstead GP, 16th May 2020 (Bob Bullock)2
First-summer male Red-footed Falcon Ringstead GP, 16th May 2020 (Bob Bullock)
First-summer male Red-footed Falcon Ringstead GP, 16th May 2020 (Martin Swannell)



A touch of the continental

Limosa Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys

On the evening of 13th May, Leslie Fox emailed me an image of a Black-tailed Godwit he had seen at Summer Leys LNR during the afternoon. It was immediately apparent that this did not look like one of the ‘usual’ Icelandic race (islandica) birds we see passing through the county in some numbers each year and blowing up the images revealed a number of characters which were inconsistent with the latter race.

‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)

The most striking differences were the complete lack of the extensive rufous ‘tapestry’ of mantle feathers found in typical islandica and the abrupt ending and confinement of rusty feathers to the upper breast and neck. Blowing up the image further revealed a very limited number of broad, warm yellowish-fringed, black-centred feathers scattered on the mantle and the tertials appeared plain and unnotched – both features associated with limosa and not normally exhibited by islandica. Further pro-limosa features were the relatively long, broad-based bill and subtly sloping forehead. The lack of contrast between the wing coverts and the mantle indicated the bird was an adult.

‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)
‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)
‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)

Although the bird was not seen again on 13th, it was still present mid-late afternoon on 14th. Upon request, Leslie sent me some more images before I managed to connect with it on the morning of 15th in an attempt to get to grips with the features in the field. The bird was long-legged and reasonably long-billed (both pro-limosa features) but it was relatively small and its bill was not excessively long, so I concluded it was likely to be a male (females are large and normally very long-billed).

Pleased to have seen it – albeit quite distantly – I sent Leslie’s images off to the ‘Godwit Guru’, Mark Golley, who has probably more experience than anyone else in the UK in limosa godwit identification, which he has distilled into a lengthy paper Notes on the field identification of nominate Black-tailed Godwits in Norfolk.

Many thanks to Mark for providing feedback and comments as follows:


Summer Visitor Arrival Dates: 5

With few left to arrive, only two more spring migrants have turned up over the past week – one of these just a little bit special …

Spotted Flycatcher
The first Spotted Flycatcher to be seen this spring was at Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton on 6th May. Hot on its heels, two more were then found between Byfield and Boddington on 7th. A shade earlier than last year’s first, which was on 10th May – and nowhere near the earliest, the records being held by one at Duston, Northampton on 20th April 1971 and two at Thrapston GP on the same April date in 1976.

Since those days in the 1970s, Spotted Flycatcher has declined in the county (see here) and according to BirdLife International, its population is declining in north and central Europe as a result of habitat conversion, cooler summers and decreasing insect populations caused by pollution and insecticides. In Europe, trends between 1980 and 2013 show that populations have undergone a moderate decline.

The numbers of Northamptonshire localities this species was recorded at over the last five years are: 2015 (49), 2016 (27), 2017 (47), 2018 (35) and 2019 (40).

There is a remarkable number of instances of migrant Nightjars found roosting along the tops of garden fences. On 5th May, such was the case for one lucky observer in a garden backing onto Overstone Wood in Sywell. This one flew in and alighted before flying off after a minute or so. Prior to this, there have been only twelve previous records in the county this century, the last being in August 2016. These have included some oddball individuals, such as the male churring at the end of a Corby garden from 25th to 28th June 2002 and one on Brackmills Industrial Estate, Northampton on 10th September 2014.

Nightjar, France, 18th June 2010. Photographed at night, light is reflecting from its eye (sébastien bertru/wikimedia commons)

The local status of Nightjar is currently unknown. This species bred in the county until the 1980s but labelling it a former breeder may be quite wrong because of its nocturnal and secretive nature. Considering Nightjar has shown marked improvements in population status, attributed largely to sustainable forest management and targeted conservation action, as well as having moved from the Red to the Amber list (BTO), how many are we missing? But then how many local birders venture out to large, isolated woodland clearings at night …?

A new County Recorder for Northamptonshire

A post vacant for more than three years is at last filled!

Having been without since 31st March 2017, Northamptonshire now has a new County Recorder. Stepping into the breach and already well known to many local birders, Jonathan Cook will take on this important role with immediate effect. This is, of course, great news and Jonathan will be warmly welcomed by local and national bodies alike. Jon is, to use his own words, ‘raring to go’ …

Jon’s reference to his interest in photography and his practical skills in this area are depicted in some of his recently produced images below.

Barn Owl, Brixworth, 1st March 2020
Black-throated Thrush, Whipsnade, 3rd January 2020
Glaucous Gull, Skye, 20th January 2020
Rook, Hollowell, 18th April 2020

Currently working in retail, Jon has a degree in Environmental Studies, the course content of which included ecology, environmental impact and protection as well as other elements of relevance useful to the role. “I’d suggest that to protect our bird life it is more and more important to have robust and comprehensive reporting, so feels like the role can make a difference,” says Jon.

Jonathan is under no illusions with regard to what the job entails and is keen to make an impact, bringing structure and order to the way we record birds locally. We wish him well in his future endeavours.

Contact Jon at: joncooknorthantsbirds@gmail.com and follow him on twitter @jcbirder

Summer Visitor Arrival Dates: 4

This week’s summary of summer visitors arriving in the county.

With most of our summer visitors now in, from the handful left to arrive, three more spring migrants have turned up over the past week.

Although the earliest ever was on 5th April 1985, the first Turtle Dove on 25th is by no means late, considering it was found at only five localities in 2019 and its UK population has undergone a 93% decrease since 1994 (BTO). In that year, it was recorded from 23 localities and the first recorded arrival was on 24th April.

While both Wood Sandpiper and Little Tern are summer visitors to the UK, they are only passage migrants in Northants and their arrival dates this year are unremarkable.

As always, an expanded list of general migrant arrival and departure dates, including historical extremes, can be found in the annually published Northamptonshire Bird Report.

Avian images used in map pins courtesy of RSPB

Summer Visitor Arrival Dates: 3

This week’s summary of summer visitors arriving in the county.


Five more spring migrants have arrived during the past seven days. This week’s quintet includes two species which, arguably, are not 100% summer visitors, as both Whimbrel and Spotted Redshank winter regularly in the UK. However, unlike Chiffchaff and Blackcap, for example, their wintering populations are tiny by comparison, with totals of perhaps only 20-30 Whimbrels and 90-100 Spotted Redshanks found principally, although not exclusively, in south coast locations (BTO, RSPB.1, RSPB.2). The arrival dates for these two species are unremarkable, the date for Whimbrel being fairly typical (19th April 2018, 17th April 2019), while Spotted Redshanks are rarer in spring than autumn and often they don’t appear before July.

Arctic Tern this year arrived nine days later than in both 2018 and 2019 and while not being unduly late, Black Terns arrived eleven days later than the earliest ever (7th April in 2019) and one day earlier than in 2018.

The first Common Swift this year, while being a shade on the early side (22nd April in 2018, 25th April in 2019) would have to go a long way, by being a full fifteen days earlier, to beat the earliest ever, on 5th April 1985.

With still more to come, an expanded list of general migrant arrival and departure dates, including historical extremes, can be found in the annually published Northamptonshire Bird Report.

Avian images used in map pins courtesy of RSPB


Summer Visitor Arrival Dates: 2

Six of the best – and another record-breaker in this week’s look at summer visitors arriving in the county.

Following last week’s review of this year’s summer visitor arrival dates so far, another six are now in, including the earliest-ever Lesser Whitethroat on 10th April. This species appears to have enjoyed a fairly consistent run of early arrival dates in recent years, with the previous earliest on 12th April in 1981, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Last year’s first was found on 17th April – a full week later than this year’s.

Coming close, in second place, is Whinchat on 16th April, which is only one day behind the previous earliest in 1984 and 2015. Beyond this, the Nightingale is four days earlier than last year’s, the Reed Warbler was found on the same date as last year’s first and the Hobby is six days earlier than the first one to be seen last year but probably more in line with the ‘average’ arrival date for this species.

This leaves Tree Pipit. It’s a difficult one to draw comparisons in arrival dates between this year and previous years because of the population decline it has undergone, especially in central and southern England, over the past twenty-five years. Red-listed in the UK as a species of critical concern, in our county it is now a scarce passage migrant. In 2012, for the first time ever, there were no spring records.

More to come. As always, an expanded list of general migrant arrival and departure dates, including historical extremes, is published annually in the Northamptonshire Bird Report.

Avian images used in map pins courtesy of RSPB

Another White-tailed Eagle in Northants

A ‘new’ White-tailed Eagle travels the length of the county and this time … the eagle has landed.

Following last week’s overview of White-tailed Eagle occurrences in Northamptonshire, another individual, radio-tagged male ‘G393’ from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, made a more prolonged visit to the county during 13th-14th April. During its short stay, it was seen by only one person and photographed.

This bird’s late March and early April wanderings have been documented here. It was one of the two birds that was in the North York Moors before moving south and covering 223 miles over two days. It then entered Northamptonshire north-west of Hellidon, late in the afternoon of 13th, before choosing a roosting site in a line of trees on farmland between Maidford and Little Preston.

It left its roost site the following morning, drifting east through the county, dropping briefly into a field just south-east of Northampton at 12.15. Somewhat amazingly, it appeared to have passed over unnoticed until, continuing north-east, it was spotted at 13.00 by eagle-eyed Steve Fisher, who was watching the skies above the Nene Valley from his garden in Irthlingborough. Shocked and elated, Steve managed some quick-fire shots with his camera as it drifted over Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR before it carried on north-east along the valley. A just reward for persistent lockdown garden birding!

At 14.15 it passed Barnwell, having continued to follow the Nene Valley and after this, it left the county, heading into Cambridgeshire and the Nene Washes, south of Peterborough. It subsequently ended up in west Norfolk, where it remained during the evening. If a bird this large can fly almost the entire length of the county undetected, then what else are we missing!

I would like to thank Dr Tim Mackrill (@timmackrill) of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation for providing updates, tracking data (and maps via RDWF/Forestry England) and Steve Fisher (@stanwicktramp) for additional information and images.


Did you know … Pete Campbell, Proprietor of Cherwell Ironwork Ltd and well-known ex-Northamptonshire birder, made the cages for the young eagles in Charwelton and helped babysit them on the Isle of Wight prior to their release.

Birdingplaces: a new website for birding locations in the UK and Europe

An online interactive ‘Where to Watch Birds’ has just been launched, helping users to plan trips, discover new local birding sites and importantly, to add new localities to the map. Not one single site in Northamptonshire is currently featured, so it’s wide open for contributors to update.

The health crisis caused by the Coronavirus forces most of us to stay at home as much as possible but there is now the ability almost to bird online, exploring new areas and running through the localities featured on the new website www.birdingplaces.eu. The site is a virtual gateway to hundreds of birding areas across the UK and Europe and provides much of the information needed for some fine hours of birding.

You can also place your own favourite bird areas on the map simply by clicking on “Add a birdingplace” and following the instructions. It’s easy to do – especially with time on your hands when you have to stay at home in these times of lockdown and self-isolation.

European birding sites currently covered by Birdingplaces.eu

www.Birdingplaces.eu  is made by, and for, birders and is non-commercial. It’s an easy-to-use platform that connects birders from all over Europe and when logged in, you can also leave tips and comments, check out the “Birdingplaces League” or use the “Find a Bird”-tool. It’s all free to use.

To celebrate the launch of Birdingplaces.eu there is now have a chance of winning a top model Leica binocular and telescope when you add birding spots to the website. See www.birdingplaces.eu/go-in-and-win for more information.

Summer Visitor Arrival Dates

The first twenty are in! But how do this year’s arrival dates compare with those of previous years?

A review of how spring is progressing, in terms of the arrival of summer visitors, covers the five weeks up to 9th April. Two species, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, are excluded as both have significant wintering populations that cloud the arrival dates of those wintering outside of the UK.

This year, one species sets a new record for the earliest ever arrival date. The Garden Warbler at Boddington Reservoir on 7th beats the previous earliest, which was in 2010, by three days. This year’s Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler are relatively early for the county, being only three days and seven days later than the earliest, in 1998 and 1997, respectively. No other species produced noteworthy arrival dates, especially when population dynamics are taken into consideration.

With another fifteen species to arrive over the next five weeks or so it will be interesting to see if they are on time, early, or late. An expanded list of general migrant arrival and departure dates, including historical extremes, is published annually in the Northamptonshire Bird Report.

Avian images used in map pins courtesy of RSPB