Newsround – 15th to 21st May 2021

Despite the presence of another slow-moving low pressure system seemingly locked over the UK throughout the period, after last week’s relative lull, local birding bounced back with the discovery of a long overdue confirmed county ‘first’, as well as a uniquely flamboyant rarity, which chose not to hang around.

This week’s limited wildfowl action was confined to Summer Leys LNR with, once again, a lone drake Garganey on 18th and the continued presence of the Chiloe Wigeon x Crested Duck hybrid through to 21st.

Recognisable by missing wing feathers as the same individual, Summer Leys also saw the arrival, on 17th, of the Cattle Egret from Pitsford Res after it was last seen there on 15th. Its presence at this Nene Valley site was purely transitory, though, and it did not linger. Four Cattle Egrets were also in the favoured location of Stanwick GP on 16th.

Cattle Egret, Pitsford Res, 15th May 2021 (Dave James)
Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 17th May 2021 (Alan Coles)

On the raptor front, single Ospreys were seen at both Pitsford and Stanford Res on 17th, Hollowell Res on 19th and Thrapston GP on 20th, while a Marsh Harrier was at Polebrook AF on 15th.

In stark contrast to last week, this week’s notable waders were limited to just two species. Whimbrel numbers at Clifford Hill GP had dwindled to just one on 15th, while the following day saw the arrival of a Sanderling on the dam at Stanford Res, ahead of an impressive double-figure count of ten at DIRFT 3 on 21st.

Sanderling, Stanford Res, 16th May 2021 (Chris Hubbard)

The reputation of the latter site for attracting the scarce and the rare was further elevated this week with the discovery there of the first confirmed Baltic Gull for the county. Found on 16th and seen again on 18th, this second-summer individual was positively identified from the number of a black colour ring on its right tarsus as having been ringed as a pullus in Norway in August 2019 (see here).

Second-summer Baltic Gull, Norwegian ring number J129K, DIRFT 3, 16th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Amazingly, an unringed adult, also showing characteristics of this (sub)species, was then found at DIRFT 3 on 19th, subsequently being seen over the Leicestershire border at Shawell, little more than 5 km to the north. In the absence of a ‘ring of provenance’, the field separation of this bird from dark, long-winged individuals of the intermedius race of Lesser Black-backed Gull is, at the moment, considered well nigh impossible.

Apparent adult Baltic Gull, DIRFT 3, 19th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

We’ve had birds like this before in Northants – see here and here, for example – but in the absence of rings which can identify the individuals, one way or another, they are not acceptable at a national level. Hopefully, this week’s second-summer will enjoy a not too bumpy ride through the scrutineers of the British Birds Rarities Committee.

A first-summer Caspian Gull was also at DIRFT 3, on 15th and from 18th to 20th.

The second rare of the week was found at Croyland Park, in suburban Wellingborough, on 18th. Feeding on freshly mown grass, a magnificent Hoopoe was discovered early in the afternoon, went missing mid-afternoon and was then refound early in the evening. It was not present the following day.

Hoopoe, Wellingborough, 18th May 2021 (Jim Dunkley)

Despite averaging just over one record every two years, there has been a series of blank years during the last thirty, the longest of which was six consecutive years, 1997-2002. How long will the wait for the next one be?

Baltic Gull at DIRFT 3

The first confirmed record for Northamptonshire.

The construction site for the Phase 3 extension of the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT 3) has become renowned for producing some interesting birds over the last 3 years. The area of flood pools alongside the A5 have, to date, attracted a variety of spring passage waders as well as gulls, which are known to commute between the site and nearby Shawell, where there is a landfill alongside other suitable habitat .

By this time of the year, most of the wintering gulls have departed, leaving a much smaller number of non-breeding immatures and a handful of adults, all of which are frequently joined by northbound migrants. It was on the morning of 16th May when, going through some 250 or so gulls at DIRFT 3, I came across a very interesting-looking, sub-adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, which stood out from the crowd by virtue of its startling black-and-white appearance, with almost jet-black upperparts and wings, which appeared virtually as black as the bird’s primary feathers. Closer examination revealed an extremely long primary projection beyond the tail, along with a relatively slim-looking body, lending an almost tern-like appearance.

Second-summer Baltic Gull, ring number J129K, DIRFT 3, 16th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Alarm bells started ringing as I realised I was almost certainly looking at a Baltic Gull, the (sub)species of Lesser Black-backed Gull with a breeding range from certain parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland to the White Sea.

The bird was resting on, and preening in, the water of the A5 pool and all parts of it were visible except for the legs. The bird was aged as a second-summer by some subtle dark brownish tones to some of the scapulars, faded blackish webs to 2 or 3 of the outer tail feathers, 2 small and inconspicuous pale brown feathers on the right side of the breast and a small, blackish subterminal mark on an otherwise adult-type bill. At all times during the observation the legs remained out of sight, below the water level.

Second-summer Baltic Gull, ring number J129K, DIRFT 3, 16th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

I managed a few rather disappointing digiscoped shots and some rather ropey video before the gulls became disturbed by something unseen and took to the air. Although many returned, the gull in question headed off north with a handful of others, appearing to have very long, slim wings, and that, as they say, was that.

Having not seen the legs, it was not possible to ascertain if it was ringed or not … and reading the ring number to determine the bird’s origin and race is currently the only way to positively identify a Baltic Gull of this age in the UK.  

The potential similarity of the other European race of Lesser Black-backed Gull, intermedius, to Baltic Gull, fuscus, means that without ring detail, no UK records of the latter are acceptable to the British Birds Rarities Committee, the only exception being birds in their second calendar year between April and June (and perhaps into summer) through their unique moult strategy. Consequently, there have been only 12 acceptable records of Baltic Gull in the UK up to the end of 2019!

That would have been the end of it but for the fact that I returned to DIRFT 3 A5 Pools two days later … and there it was again – this time out of the water and as luck would have it, it was sporting a field-readable alphanumeric ring on its right tarsus, along with a small metal one on its left. The ring was of the same type used to ring intermedius and fuscus in Norway. I was half-way to getting an ID, one way or the other. Given that the potential interest level had just moved up a notch, I put the news out on the Northants Birds WhatsApp Group and contacted Carl Baggott, Leicestershire Bird Recorder and avid Laridophile with a first-hand experience in Baltic Gull, having recently co-authored a British Birds paper on their breeding at Horsvaer in Norway.

Second-summer Baltic Gull, ring number J129K, DIRFT 3, 16th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Second-summer Baltic Gull, ring number J129K, DIRFT 3, 16th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The problem was the ring was indecipherable as a result of a combination of heat haze and long range. I persevered and managed a few high magnification digiscoped shots of the ring, which were still very blurry. In the meantime Carl had arrived and had limited time to watch the gull, which had taken to sitting down and sleeping. In a short instance of the gull standing, Carl managed to read some of the ring number, the first two characters of which were ‘J1’. All good so far and then the gulls took flight and the presumed Baltic again flew north.

Later checking and attempting to sharpen my images revealed the last character of the ring as a ‘K’. With just two more characters to decipher I emailed them to Carl, who then shared them with Morten Helberg, gull ringing project leader in Norway. Both Morten and Carl agreed the ‘missing’ characters were ‘2’ and ‘9’. We had it! ‘J129K’, this number subsequently being confirmed in the field when Carl relocated the bird at Shawell later in the evening.

Ring Number J129K

So, with a bit of international cooperation and some ‘high level forensics’, we got there. But what about the bird’s ID? Oh yes, Baltic Gull, ringed as a pullus in Norway on 1st August 2019, as per the details below.

This is currently the only confirmed record for Northamptonshire. Along with the 12 records already accepted in the UK, BBRC is currently considering another half a dozen or so. As the committee quite rightly states, “… the British status of fuscus is being under-stated. In reality, fuscus may be of regular occurrence here.”  So, more will surely follow and a small number of likely candidates have previously been seen in Northants … but all remain unproven.

A big thank you to Carl Baggott (UK) and Morten Helberg (Norway) for their constructive input and swift information dissemination.

Newsround – 8th to 14th May 2021

Compared to the last two, this week was somewhat mellow, belonging rather more to the hangers-on than the newly arrived. A low pressure system centred over the British Isles for the majority of the period delivered unsettled weather and ‘false southerlies’, resulting from a northerly wrap-around, rather than anything originating from deep down in southern Europe. So, the foot was off the gas for high octane birding … but is that it for the spring?

Well, it would certainly appear so as far as wildfowl are concerned, since the week’s only pukka ducks were single drake Garganeys, at both Summer Leys LNR and Stanwick GP on 8th. However, it was the latter site which dipped more than one toe into muddy waters as, bobbing on the surface, was last week’s and the week before’s Pink-footed Goose – now looking distinctly suspect in terms of origin.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 11th May 2021 (Steve Fisher)

But looking further into the murky depths revealed some unquestionably dodgy fare in the shape of a Chiloe Wigeon x Crested Duck hybrid on 8th, which proceeded to make its way to Summer Leys for 11th. And if that wasn’t enough, just to add insult to injury, a Barnacle Goose x Cackling Goose hybrid followed two days later, accompanied by a ‘pure’ Barnacle Goose.

Relying principally on cast-offs from Thrapston and Ditchford GPs to keep it afloat, Stanwick has, so far, come in decidedly under par this spring. But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings … or so they say.

One thing Stanwick is reliable for, of course, is Cattle Egrets, four – or possibly as many as six – of which were present there on 9th, while the one which turned up at Pitsford Res at the end of last week remained throughout. Pitsford was also one of the four sites producing Great Egrets this week, with one still there on 12th, while singles were also seen at Thrapston on the same date and at both Clifford Hill GP and Summer Leys on 8th.

Cattle Egret, Pitsford Res, 11th May 2021 (John Moon)
Cattle Egret, Pitsford Res, 13th May 2021 (Ant Hall)

Raptor sightings this week were limited to single Ospreys at Thrapston on 9th and 12th, Pitsford on 10th, Hollowell Res on 11th and Stanford Res on 14th.

If last week belonged to waders, then this week followed suit – albeit at a less prestigious level. Two Grey Plovers – relatively scarce so far this spring – were found at DIRFT 3 on 8th and two Ringed Plovers of one of the tundra races also turned up there on 14th.

Waders at DIRFT 3: Dunlin and Grey Plovers, 8th May and Tundra Ringed Plover, 14th May (Gary Pullan)

The long-staying Whimbrels, present at Clifford Hill GP from last month, notched up a mammoth stopover of 18 days this week, although their numbers had dwindled from a maximum of eight to just three by 13th. In contrast to last week, they were recorded from no other sites.

Whimbrel, Clifford Hill GP, 12 May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Away from breeding sites, the week’s only Curlew was also found at Clifford Hill on 8th, while this week’s Black-tailed Godwits consisted of two at Summer Leys from 8th to 10th and one there on 11th. Two also flew west over DIRFT 3 on 9th.

Hot on the heels of the year’s first Turnstone at Clifford Hill last week came four more at the same site in the murky weather of the 8th, the same day also seeing two paying a fleeting visit to Summer Leys and one at DIRFT 3. Clifford Hill produced further singles on 9th and 13th-14th.

Turnstones, Summer Leys LNR, 8th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Turnstone, Clifford Hill GP, 13th May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Following a series of unseasonal occurrences during the second week of February, the first Knot of the spring appeared at DIRFT 3 on 13th, remaining there the following day, while last week’s Ruff lingered at Summer Leys until at least 12th.

Knot, DIRFT 3, 14th May 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Sanderlings, too,were again on the menu, with the 8th delivering five to Clifford Hill, three to DIRFT 3 and one to Summer Leys, while the following day, two remained at DIRFT 3 and another was found there on 13th. All the blow and bluster of the 8th saw many more Dunlins moving through during the miserable conditions of the day. DIRFT 3 produced sixty (in two flocks, of fifty-one and nine), Clifford Hill held at least fifty-one, twenty-five were at Summer Leys, twenty at Ecton SF and ten at Earls Barton GP’s new workings (north). It was all over by the following day, though, with just three at Clifford Hill and singles were at Stanwick on 10th and at DIRFT 3 on 13th-14th.

Dunlins, Ecton SF, 8th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The 8th also brought single Wood Sandpipers to both Stanwick and Summer Leys, as well as a Greenshank to the latter site, which continued to hold on to one of its long-staying Spotted Redshanks, remaining there until at least 13th.

Spotted Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 12th May 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)

In contrast to the continued high velocity wader movement, gulls and terns were at a low ebb. A Little Gull visited Stanford on 12th and the following day saw two first-summer Caspian Gulls at DIRFT 3, while a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited the latter site on 8th and a third-winter was at Pitsford on 9th. With most already having moved through, single-figure counts of Arctic Terns included two at Stanford on 8th and one at Summer Leys on 11th, while single Black Terns visited Clifford Hill, Pitsford and Summer Leys on the consecutive days of 8th, 9th and 10th, respectively.

Another week, another Wood Warbler – this one being even more fleeting than last week’s. Stanwick was the venue, the bird singing for ten minutes and remaining out of sight, early in the morning of 11th. This week’s Whinchats were all on 9th, when four were at Borough Hill and one was at Clifford Hill, while Northern Wheatears still continued to filter through, some showing characteristics of the Greenland race, which tends to be prevalent the deeper we move into May.

Northern Wheatear, probably Greenland race, Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, 9th May 2021 (James Underwood)
Northern Wheatear, probably Greenland race, Stortons GP, 9th May 2021 (Tony Stanford)
Male Greenland Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 11th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Male Greenland Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 12th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Clifford Hill produced the most, with three on 8th and ten there the next day, 9th, which also saw seven at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, six at Borough Hill and one at Stortons GP. Singles were again at Clifford Hill on 10th, 12th and 13th, with two there on 11th and further singles were at Harrington AF on 11th and Boddington Res on12th.

Newsround – 1st to 7th May 2021

The start of May was marked by a bank holiday weekend and barely had the week kicked off when the drums started beating out news of the discovery of one of the rarest waders on the county list – a mere stone’s throw from Northampton …

But before all that … Lost and lonely, last week’s Pink-footed Goose was back at Stanwick GP on 4th-5th, clearly having decided not to move north yet and another lingerer was Summer Leys LNR’s drake Garganey, which remained all week.

Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR. 4th May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

There’s a niggling belief in the Western psyche that bad things always come in threes but this was certainly not the case at Ravensthorpe Res on 2nd, when three Black-necked Grebes, in all their summer finery, were on display close to the causeway. Needless to say, they did not stay.

Black-necked Grebes, Ravensthorpe Res, 2nd May 2021 (Ken Prouse)
Black-necked Grebes, Ravensthorpe Res, 2nd May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

And after a week with no sightings, Cattle Egrets were back in the game, with two at Stanwick on 2nd, one there on 5th and one at Pitsford Res at the week’s end, on 7th. Unsurprisingly, as we move deeper into spring, Great Egrets were down to singles at Clifford Hill GP on 1st, Thrapston GP from 3rd to 7th and Pitsford on 4th.

Raptors, too, were in short supply with single Ospreys at Hollowell on 5th and 7th and in flight over the A45 near Earls Barton on the latter date, while Stanford Res produced another Marsh Harrier on 4th.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 7th May 2021 (Jon Cook)

But it was waders that came to the fore and what better way to kick the week off than with a Dotterel … or two. So, history was made with the discovery, on 1st, of Northamptonshire’s eleventh at a relatively unknown site, only a stone’s throw from the county town. The extensive, flat bean fields, alongside New Farm AF at Piddington, proved attractive to two of these highly attractive, montane beasties as they took a break from their journey from Africa to likely breeding sites in Scotland and/or Scandinavia. Staying for five days, they became crowd-pullers and pleasers – their admirers coming from further afield than just Northants.

Dotterel, Piddington, 1st May 2021 (Peter Willmott)
Dotterels, Piddington, 2nd May 2021 (Mark Williams)
Dotterels, Piddington, 5th May 2021 (Leslie Fox)

The last record in the county was a fly-over, photographed at Pitsford Res in November 2017 but the last truly twitchable bird was near Lutton, an area with reputational pulling power for this species, in May 2014. The population, however, is said to be declining. The estimate of 423 breeding males in 2011 represents a decline of 43% since 1999, when the comparable total was 747 pairs, and of 57% since 1987/1988 (981 pairs) (Appleton, 2015 & 2020).     

Other waders were available, with many again making longer stays than we have come to expect during spring. One such species was Whimbrel, with the number of localities hosting them matching last week’s eight, although the total number of birds seen had fallen by a third to just twenty-one. This week’s peak included up to eight at Clifford Hill all week, while last week’s three were still at Hollowell Res until 3rd, two remaining on 4th, two were at Summer Leys on 1st and singles there on 2nd and 7th, two flew over DIRFT 3 on 6th and singles were in flight over the A361 near Byfield on 1st, at Stanwick on 4th, at Thrapston on 4th and 7th and at Stanford Res on 5th.

Whimbrels, Clifford Hill GP, 5th May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Away from breeding sites, a Curlew visited Summer Leys on 1st, the latter site producing the week’s only Black-tailed Godwits, with five on 4th, one on 5th and two on 7th. The year’s first Turnstone made landfall at Clifford Hill on 6th and a single Ruff remained at Summer Leys throughout the period.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 4th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 7th May 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Male Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 5th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Which brings us neatly to the second-best wader of the week, Temminck’s Stint – the first in the county for four years. Discovered on 6th at the A5 Pools of the DIRFT 3 industrial development site, it has now significantly contributed to putting the locality firmly on the map after its potential was flagged up here in 2017 and again here in a wider context in 2021. The vast majority of previous records have been in spring and of those, the easybirdin’ site of Summer Leys has (artificially, through observer number bias) exerted the most pull, as the graphic below neatly illustrates. Almost annual in the last decade of the previous century it has, however, become a less frequent visitor in recent years.

Temminck’s Stint, DIRFT 3, 6th May 2001 (Gary Pullan)

Temminck’s Stint, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, 6th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The year’s first Sanderling was found on 3rd May at Clifford Hill, quickly followed by another the next day, at Thrapston GP. And the waders still kept coming, with birders in the Nene Valley experiencing a Dunlin rush on 4th, when double-figure counts were made at four localities as birds moved quickly through. These included forty-two at Clifford Hill, at least thirty-eight through Stanwick GP, thirty-two at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) and twenty-two at Summer Leys. Outside of this date these, along with two further localities recorded a total of at least 52 between them during the week.

Dunlins, Clifford Hill GP, 4th May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

The Summer Leys long-staying Spotted Redshank again remained there throughout, being joined by a fine summer-plumaged bird from 4th until the week’s end.

Spotted Redshanks, Summer Leys LNR, 4th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Spotted Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 5th May 2021 (Tony Stanford)
Spotted Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 5th May 2021 (Clive Bowley)

Compared to the previous week, Greenshank numbers were well down, with three at Ecton SF on 1st and two at DIRFT 3 on 2nd being the highest counts. Elsewhere, singles were at Earls Barton GP on 1st, 6th and 7th, Summer Leys on 2nd and 7th and Pitsford on 6th.

Gulls and terns also tailed off dramatically, with an adult Little Gull at Thrapston on 7th and single Caspian Gulls at DIRFT 3 on 1st and 7th. The 5th saw a Sandwich Tern fly through at Summer Leys and mere single-figure counts of Arctic Terns included two at Stanwick on 3rd, followed by six there the next day, which also delivered three to Summer Leys, two to each of Pitsford and Stanford and one to Clifford Hill, while one visited Stanford on the following day, 5th. A Black Tern was also at Stanford on 7th.

Topping the passerines bill this week was a Wryneck, found on Borough Hill on 2nd. It remained for a further three days, showing particularly well and providing superb photographic opportunities for all comers.

Wryneck, Borough Hill, 3rd May 2021 (Jon Cook)
Wryneck, Borough Hill, 5th May 2021 (Alan Coles)
Wryneck, Borough Hill, 5th May 2021 (Ken Prouse)
Wryneck, Borough Hill, 5th May 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Although dubbed by some as the most confiding Wryneck we’ve ever had, the truth is it wasn’t. That accolade goes to one which, completely oblivious to vehicles and bystanders, occupied a small mown grass roundabout on a busy road, bizarrely within spitting distance of Borough Hill, at High March Industrial Estate, Daventry on 8th September 2003. The difference is this week’s bird stayed four days, providing a comfortably protracted period for anyone who wanted to catch up with it. The number of Wrynecks visiting Northants averages just above one per year, with September being the peak month.

Another week, another Wood Warbler and in contrast to last week’s crowd-pleaser it remained in the shadows of Barnwell CP during the morning of 1st.

And while we’re talking ‘firsts’, the first Spotted Flycatcher of the spring appeared at Hollowell Res on the relatively early date of 2nd but it still would have had a long way to go to have beaten the joint record-holders of 1971 and 1976, when the earliest of all recorded arrivals were on 20th April. Hot on the heels of the first Whinchat of the spring, on 30th April, were six more scattered across the week and shared between Borough Hill, Honey Hill, Northampton, Piddington and Ravensthorpe STW.

Male Whinchat, Honey Hill, 1st May 2021 (Jon Cook)

Northern Wheatears also put on a reasonable showing, with ten at Piddington on 1st, two near Charwelton on 7th and singles at Boddington Res, Deenethorpe and Clifford Hill.

Northern Wheatear, Borough Hill, 1st May 2021 (Jon Cook)
White Wagtail Clifford Hill GP, 4th May 2021 (Bob Bullock)

White Wagtails continued to trickle through and singles were found at Earls Barton on 1st, Clifford Hill on 2nd and Welford Res on 5th and the year’s second-only Tree Pipit flew over Borough Hill, early on the last of these dates.

Newsround – 24th to 30th April 2021

Being treated to easterlies and north-easterlies throughout the period, this week we say goodbye to the UK’s frostiest April for 60 years and one of the driest to boot. Against a backcloth of continually arriving spring migrants, waders piled in ahead of some bright and shiny passerines, with many taking remarkably protracted breaks in their spring migration.

Wildfowl numbers continued to decline, with a lone Pink-footed Goose appearing for a day at Stanwick GP on 29th, and two similarly northbound Common Scoters making a stopover on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 28th.

Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 28th April 2021 (Nick Parker)

This week’s Garganey count was pretty much on a par with last week’s and included the lingering pair at Pitsford Res on 27th and lone drakes visiting Ecton SF on the latter date and Summer Leys LNR on 29th-30th.

Drake Garganey, Ecton SF, 27th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Out on their own, Great Egrets were still to be found at five locations – namely Clifford Hill GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with a maximum of three at Pitsford on 29th.

And, in keeping with last week’s low number of reports, this week’s Ospreys were singles at Pitsford on 25th, Hollowell on 28th, Stortons GP on 30th and what was probably the same individual over nearby Far Cotton, Northampton later the same day. The only other raptors of note were Marsh Harriers at Stanford Res on 24th and Summer Leys on 26th.

Migrant wader numbers continued to build, records were broken and lengths of stay were stretched in many instances. One locality stood proud in this respect. Ah yes, Summer Leys … and the birdin’ is easy … This site pulled in thirteen wader species during the period but, surprisingly, managed to miss out on a couple of species which might have otherwise found their way to this locally unique reserve. But it’s still early days. The first of these was Grey Plover, one of which stayed at Thrapston GP between 24th and 26th, quickly followed by another flying east over Stanford two days later, on 28th. And the other? Well, after the appearance of the year’s first, last week, Whimbrels arrived in force, with eight localities elsewhere collectively producing at least thirty-two birds. Clifford Hill bagged the lion’s share, with ten on 29th, seven on 26th and one on 30th. The length of stay award was won by three that remained at Hollowell for the entire week and the only other site to produce this number, too, was Stanford Res on 28th. Further singles were seen at Wadenhoe on 24th and Stanford on the same date, DIRFT 3 on 24th and 30th, Stanwick on 25th and 26th, Pitsford on 27th and Thrapston on 28th.  

Whimbrels, Hollowell Res, 30th April 2020 (Jon Cook)

Away from breeding sites, a Curlew joined the Whimbrels at Hollowell on 26th, while Bar-tailed Godwits enjoyed another strong week, with singles at Hollowell Res on 24th-25th, Thrapston on 28th and Summer Leys on 24th, followed by five there on 25th. Other multiples were three at Thrapston and four at Stanwick on 25th, plus six at Clifford Hill and two at Pitsford on 26th.   

Once again in the shade, Black-tailed Godwits mustered three at Summer Leys on 25th and one at Thrapston on 28th. Three Ruffs remained at Summer Leys from 27th to 30th and one visited DIRFT 3 on 28th, when a Dunlin was also at the same site and nine were at Clifford Hill, followed by singles at Earls Barton GP on 29th and Summer Leys on 30th. A late Jack Snipe was found at Clifford Hill GP on 24th.

Ruff, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The year’s first Wood Sandpiper pitched up at Summer Leys on 24th, staying until at least 27th, while last week’s Spotted Redshank remained at the same site throughout. In contrast to the handful we normally see in spring, Greenshanks arrived en masse this week, including a record-breaking spring flock of sixteen, again at Summer Leys, on 25th, with six still there the following day and singles on 27th and 29th. Another notable flock was seven at Ecton SF on 27th, with four present on 29th. Elsewhere, three were at DIRFT 3 on 24th and one there on 25th, three visited Stanwick on 26th, two were at Clifford Hill on 24th with singles there on 26th and 28th, two were at Earls Barton on 27th, singles were at Oundle on 24th and 26th and two were at Thrapston on 26th-27th, with singles there on 28th and 30th.

Greenshanks, Ecton SF, 27th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Greenshank, Ecton SF, 29th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Little Gulls, Summer Leys LNR, 26th April 2021 (James Underwood)

The beginning of the period saw the tail-end of last week’s Little Gull influx – and some more very respectable site totals. Leading the way, Thrapston held sixty-two on 24th, the same day producing twenty-six at Pitsford, thirteen at Clifford Hill and probably in excess of a dozen birds at Summer Leys. On 25th, three visited Daventry CP and singles were at Clifford Hill and Summer Leys, while the following day saw four at the latter site and one at Pitsford. Unsurprisingly for the time of year, other gulls were in short supply. Up to two adult Mediterranean Gulls were around all week at Summer Leys, while two second-winter Yellow-legged Gulls were at DIRFT 3 on 25th, followed by a third-winter there on 28th.

Arriving in impressive numbers, Arctic Terns took over where Little Gulls left off. Summer Leys, Thrapston and Stanwick each had up to five during 24th-26th but the biggest movement was noted on 28th-29th, when Boddington held approximately forty, Thrapston saw in excess of forty and seventy-six passed north-east through Stanwick. Maximum site counts elsewhere were fourteen at Clifford Hill and four at Stanford Res – both on 28th, which also saw three Black Terns at Thrapston and one at Boddington.

Arctic Tern, Boddington Res, 28th April 2021 (John Friendship-Taylor)
Arctic Tern, Thrapston GP, 28th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Black Tern, Boddington Res, 28th April 2021 (John Friendship-Taylor)

A male Merlin was between Clopton and Bythorn on 25th.

Among the arriving summer visitors this week were some class passerines. Kicking off was a bright and shiny Wood Warbler in the unusual location of Abington Park, Northampton on 28th – a crowd-pleaser for the one day it was present. Another was also found near Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton on the same date but clearly did not exert the same pull as the soft target, drive-up-and-see bird in the suburban setting of Northampton.

Wood Warbler Abington Park, Northampton, 28th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Wood Warbler Abington Park, Northampton, 28th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Somewhat amazingly, a first-summer male Pied Flycatcher was found in the above location on the same date by those twitching the Wood Warbler. Both birds had departed by the following day.

First-year male Pied Flycatcher, Abington Park, Northampton, 28th April 2021 (Martin Swannell)
First-year male Pied Flycatcher, Abington Park, Northampton, 28th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Another first for the year materialised in the shape of a Lesser Whitethroat, at Earls Barton GP, on 24th – a date on the slightly later side of average for this species.

Other smart passerines included a Ring Ouzel, which lingered by the River Nene at Thrapston from 28th to 30th, two Common Redstarts at Stanford Res on 26th and the first Whinchat of the spring at DIRFT 3 on 30th, scraping into April by the skin of its teeth.

Ring Ouzel, Thrapston, 28th April 2021 (Mark Hammond)

Northern Wheatears were also still on the move, with one at Harrington on 25th, five in the Brampton Valley and seven Clifford Hill GP on 28th, while a male Greenland Wheatear was at Boddington Res the following day.

Male Greenland Wheatear, Boddington Res, 29th April 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Female Blue-headed Wagtails were identified at Ravensthorpe Res on 25th, Thrapston on 26th-28th Stanford Res on 27th and Summer Leys on 28th.

Female Blue-headed Wagtail, Ravensthorpe Res, 25th April 2021 (Paul Crotty)

Next up is May, arguably the grandest spring birding month, although April will be a hard act to follow locally.

Newsround – 17th to 23rd April 2021

A bright, rain-free and erratically warm week, with a high pressure system sitting over Scandinavia in part, brought a mixture of north-easterlies and easterlies, with some short-term southerlies thrown in for good measure. SET AGAINST A BACKCLOTH OF THE CONTINUED ARRIVAL OF SPRING MIGRANTS AND a huge, unprecedented influx of Little Gulls, the first true rarity of the spring – a potential fifth record for Northamptonshire – livened things up, albeit briefly, on 17th.

With winter wildfowl well and truly on the wane, a lone White-fronted Goose dropping in to Stanford Res on 23rd, along with a Ruddy Shelduck flying over nearby Honey Hill on 17th, summed up the anserine oddballs for the week. Indisputably more pukka credentials were attached to the Garganey pairs remaining at Summer Leys until 17th and throughout the week at Pitsford Res, while a lone drake visited Stanwick GP on 18th. Finally, it looked this week like the winter’s long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck decided to call it a day – that day being 19th – the last date it was seen at Clifford Hill GP.

Another long-stayer, which had become increasingly restless in recent weeks, also appears to have done a bunk, having last been seen at both Stanwick and Thrapston GP on 17th. Yes, the lengthening daylight hours finally called time on the county’s most obliging Glossy Ibis to date, after completing a marathon 63-day sojourn in the Nene Valley.

And had it not been for one at Stanwick on 18th and four on 22nd, Cattle Egrets would have slipped under the radar this week, while Great Egrets were still to be found at four locations – namely Clifford Hill, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston, with a maximum of three at the latter site on 20th.

Following the two short-stayers earlier in the month, Daventry CP again pulled in another of Draycote’s first-winter Shags. It remained all week.

First-winter Shag, Daventry CP, 18th April 2021 (Gary Pullan)

In contrast to last week, Ospreys were limited to just three sightings of singles, these being at both Stanford and Thrapston on 20th and a ringed individual at Hollowell on 22nd. The latter, believed to be unpaired, was ‘blue T3’, a male from the Rutland project, hatched in 2016.

Adult male Osprey ‘blue T3’, Hollowell Res, 22nd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

Other raptors were also available – if you were there at the time, that is – and with a sharp eye to boot. The venue: Pitsford causeway. The date: 23rd April. The bird: probable male Pallid Harrier. An all-too-brief flythrough to the south-east and, by all accounts, giving a frustratingly below par performance that will win no Oscars. Intriguingly, a ‘possible male Pallid Harrier’ was also reported near Sandy, Bedfordshire, approximately 40 km to the south-east, some 35 minutes later …

This week’s wader numbers were on the up, the birds themselves panning out better than those in last week’s meagre line-up. Three Avocets spent less than an hour in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay during the morning of 22nd, before quickly departing to the north-west and another dropped in at Clifford Hill GP the following evening, on 23rd.

Avocets, Pitsford Res, 22nd April 2021 (David Arden)

The year’s first Whimbrel arrived at Summer Leys on 19th, followed the next day by further singles at the same site and at Stanwick, while two more appeared again at Summer Leys on 22nd.

Whimbrel, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd April 2021 (Steve Hemming)
Whimbrels, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd April 2021 (Steve Hemming)

Curlews were limited to three in flight over Pitsford on 18th and one at Thrapston the same day, followed by another over Stanford on 21st, while Bar-tailed Godwits came into their own, this week being recorded from six localities. The top site for numbers was Summer Leys, where eleven were seen on 22nd, followed by Clifford Hill, where three arrived on 19th and were joined by three more on 22nd, after which two remained the following day. Five flew north-east over Boddington Res – also on 22nd and singles were at Thrapston on 17th and at both DIRFT 3 and Stanwick on 23rd.

Male Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 21st April 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Female Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Bar-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

In the shade, then, were Black-tailed Godwits, with singles (or perhaps the same bird) at Summer Leys on 17th and 19th. A Ruff visited DIRFT 3 on 21st, when two Dunlins were at Clifford Hill, remaining there until the following day.

Now rarer in the county than Avocet, a Spotted Redshank was found on 22nd at Summer Leys, where it remained on the following day, when another flew north over the causeway at Pitsford. A Greenshank arrived at Thrapston on 17th, remaining until 19th and two were present there on 20th. Elsewhere, singles were at both Stanford and Stanwick on 22nd and two visited DIRFT 3 the following day.

But it was Little Gulls that really stole the show this week. An influx involving hundreds took place across the Midlands and southern England, peaking hugely on 23rd, when localities in neighbouring counties saw what must surely be unprecedented inland numbers. Rutland Water, in Leicestershire held one hundred and seven at one point, Farmoor Res in Oxfordshire scored eighty-one and Draycote in Warwickshire had more than forty. Numbers here in Northants were also not too shoddy, kicking off with singles at Summer Leys on 17th and 19th and at Pitsford on 21st, the latter site producing three the following day before the floodgates opened on 23rd. The ‘big day’, then, delivered a very respectable minimum of seventy-five to Pitsford, twenty-six at Clifford Hill, minima of twenty-five at Stanwick and nineteen at Summer Leys, while Stanford and Thrapston scraped in with five and two, respectively.

Adult Little Gull, Pitsford Res, 23rd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

With any focus of attention on Mediterranean Gulls momentarily halted, at least two remained on and off at Summer Leys all week. Caspian Gulls were also in evidence with an adult visiting Daventry CP on 17th and a first-winter at DIRFT 3 on 23rd, while Yellow-legged Gulls included the usual one or two Pitsford ‘semi-residents’, a third-winter at DIRFT 3 on 21st, followed by an adult and a first-winter there on 23rd and a third-summer at Clifford Hill GP on the same date.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 23rd April 2021 (Alan Coles)

Back on the migration theme and the spring’s first Black Tern was seen at Thrapston GP, where there were two on 20th, quickly followed there by the first five Arctic Terns the next day, when seventeen also visited Stanwick. On 22nd, fifteen dropped in at Boddington Res and one was again at Stanwick, while the following day brought several more to Thrapston, four were at Clifford Hill, two at Sywell CP and one at Pitsford.

Arctic Tern, Stanwick GP, 21st April 2021 (Steve Fisher)
Arctic Tern, Boddington Res, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Pollard)
Arctic Tern (right) and Common Tern, Boddington Res, 22nd April 2021 (Mike Pollard)

Another first for the year materialised in the form of a Common Swift over Stanwick on 23rd, followed by two more at Kislingbury later in the day. What no-one was prepared for, however, was a little less tangible: a European Bee-eater flew west over Summer Leys on 17th, calling three times. Frustratingly for the two birders tuned in to it, it remained invisible, high up in the clear blue of the troposphere. If accepted, it becomes the fifth county record. Others were found in Cornwall and Scilly during the previous week.

Slightly more down to earth, a male Merlin flew low north-west at Boddington Res on 20th.

More spring migrant ‘firsts’ arrived in the shape of a Grasshopper Warbler at Thrapston on 17th and a Garden Warbler at Summer Leys on 18th, while a male Pied Flycatcher was found in the grounds of Kelmarsh Hall – apparently ‘closed to riff-raff’ – on 23rd and another was reported behind Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on the same date.

More Ring Ouzels this week included the popular Harrington AF male, still present on 17th, another male at Earls Barton GP on the same date and, on 18th, two were found at Honey Hill when last week’s male was still near Byfield, east of Boddington Res. Meanwhile, Common Redstarts continued to trickle through, this week’s four including single males at Harrington on 17th and Kingsthorpe Meadows, Northampton on 19th, a female at Honey Hill on 20th and a male at Sywell CP on 23rd.

Female Common Redstart, Honey Hill, 20th April 2021 (Jon Cook)
Male Common Redstart, Sywell CP, 23rd April 2021 (Sophie Rowell)

Northern Wheatears were also still on the move, with one at Harrington on 17th, three at Honey Hill on 18th, two at Borough Hill on 19th with one there on 22nd, one at Wicksteed Park on 21st and one Clifford Hill GP on the same date, rising to two on 22nd-23rd.

Female Northern Wheatear, Hinton AF, 19th April 2021 (John Friendship-Taylor)
Male Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 23rd April, 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Alongside a report of a female Blue-headed Wagtail at Summer Leys on 22nd, single White Wagtails were at Clifford Hill on 22nd and 23rd.

A busy week with more to look forward to …

Newsround – 10th to 16th April 2021

A predominantly northerly airstream, changing to easterly at the week’s end, ensured temperatures remained depressed, although the migrants just kept coming, with passerines aplenty …

The continued popularity of the four Garganeys at Summer Leys LNR was a draw to the site for many and at least two remained until 14th. Pitsford Res also chipped in with two in Scaldwell Bay, from 11th until the week’s end, as well as producing two Common Scoters at the opposite end on 14th – the latter being the dambusters in ending the dry run for this species which, hitherto, had been confined to ‘nocmig only’ records this year.

This winter’s long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck sat another week out at Clifford Hill GP, sometimes displaying to female Tufted Ducks – well, when in Rome … and the Ditchford/Stanwick drake Smew appeared to be edging closer to its homeland as it moved just that little bit further east, to Thrapston GP, on 10th-12th.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Clifford Hill GP, 12th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Meanwhile, back at Pitsford, after a dearth this winter, a Great Northern Diver was found on 14th, remaining there until 16th.

The pattern of early morning sightings at Stanwick continued this week for the county’s historically most accessible and much admir’d Glossy Ibis, which duly became more difficult to pin down. It was still present, at its formerly favoured location of Aldwincle Lake at Thrapston, as we moved into the new week.

Glossy Ibis, Stanwick GP, 15th April 2021 (Steve Fisher)

Stanwick also continued as usual to be the main site for Cattle Egrets, four being present there on 10th and two on 16th, while one visited Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 15th. Great Egrets continued to make their normal spring exit from the county, with singles, only, hanging on at Pitsford, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys as the week progressed.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 11th April 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

Single Ospreys were seen at the eight sites of Chapel Brampton, Clifford Hill, Deene Lake, Ditchford, Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Stanwick and Summer Leys, while other raptors also available – if you were there at the time – were, as last week, a Marsh Harrier over Earls Barton GP’s new workings (south) on 11th and a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier flying south-west over Stanwick on 16th.

Waders this week were limited. Single Curlews were at Hinton AF on 13th, Ecton SF on 15th and at both Stanford Res and Summer Leys on 16th. The year’s second Bar-tailed Godwit – a proper spring passage bird – pitched up at Thrapston GP on 16th, while single Black-tailed Godwits were at Ditchford on 15th and Summer Leys on 16th and single Greenshanks were also at Ditchford on 15th and Thrapston the following day.

Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 16th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 16th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Greenshank, Thrapston GP, 16th April 2021 (Nick Parker)

Another week, another Kittiwake – an adult being a brief visitor to Stanwick on 10th. Other fixtures and fittings included the now weekly Mediterranean Gull line-up at Earls Barton/Summer Leys, where two or three adults and a second-summer were present, on and off, and another adult was at Chelveston AF on 10th. Last week’s juvenile Glaucous Gull put in another appearance at DIRFT 3 on 11th, the same site holding both adult and third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls on 15th, while an adult and a second-summer of the latter species remained at Pitsford on 16th.

Passerines came very much to the fore this week. We kick off with the first Cuckoo of the year, at Southwick Wood on 14th – a pretty much average arrival date – but a Woodlark flying north at Onley on 16th was only the second to be reported this year, as well as constituting a near-miss for Warwickshire, as it cruised through on our side of the border.

The year’s first Reed Warblers were both found on 13th, one at Summer Leys just pipping one at Stanwick to the post by a mere forty minutes!

But it was the first Ring Ouzel which proved to be a popular draw for many of the county’s birders this week – a male in the fields just east of Summer Leys on 12th and 13th, the warm sunshine, a Blue-headed Wagtail and the point-blank drake Garganey nearby no doubt strongly contributing to the observer build-up there on the latter date. Another was was found at Harrington AF, also on 13th, again proving popular there until the week’s end.

Male Ring Ouzel, Earls Barton GP, 12th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Ring Ouzel, Harrington AF, 15th April 2021 (Dave Smith)
Ring Ouzel, Byfield, 16th April 2021 (Gary Pullan)

Another first in for the year was a Nightingale at Stanwick on 11th, while another Black Redstart, this week at Long Buckby on 13th, continued this species’ remarkable run so far this spring.

Black Redstart, Long Buckby, 13th April 2021 (Chris Ebbage)
Black Redstart, Long Buckby, 13th April 2021 (Chris Ebbage)

More Common Redstarts also followed on from last week’s sprinkling, with ones and twos at Daventry CP, Eydon, Fawsley Park, Harrington, Hinton, Summer Leys and Stanford, the latter trapped and ringed. Most, if not all, were males.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 12th April 2021 (Chris Hubbard)
Male Common Redstart, Harrington AF, 15th April 2021 (Dave Smith)

Northern Wheatears pretty much followed suit, with Chelveston, Clifford Hill, Deenethorpe AF, Harrington, Hinton and Hollowell all holding one or two migrants, the exception being four at Chelveston on 10th and three at Deenethorpe on 11th.

Male Northern Wheatear, Deenethorpe Airfield, 11th April 2021 (James Underwood)

But generating considerable interest this week were wagtails. Set against a backcloth of the largest number of Yellow Wagtails we have seen in spring for several years was a series of potential oddballs and some not so oddballs. We begin with a swanky male Blue-headed Wagtail, which became the focus of attention for many, in the fields behind Summer Leys from 10th until at least 13th. Following this  was the subsequent discovery of a female (or possibly ‘Channel’-type hybrid) in the same area from 13th, intermittently until 16th. Two more classic male ‘Channel’ Wagtails were also discovered – one at Earls Barton’s New Workings (North) on 12th, swiftly followed the next day by another at Clifford Hill GP.

‘Channel’ Wagtail, Clifford Hill GP, 13th April 2021 (Trevor Ellery)

White Wagtail passage also gathered pace, with Clifford Hill, DIRFT 3, Earls Barton, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanwick and Summer Leys all producing multiples, the highest counts being eleven at Pitsford on 16th, at least ten at Summer Leys on 10th and six at Earls Barton on 15th.

White Wagtail, Clifford Hill GP, 12th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Another first for the year was a Tree Pipit flying over Stanford on 10th, while another  Water Pipit was also seen and head in flight at Pitsford on 16th.

Also in flight, a Hawfinch heard at Harrington on 10th, while Crossbill makes it into this week’s round-up by the skin of its teeth with one at Hollowell on the same date.

Blue-headed and Yellow Wagtail variants at Summer Leys

A male Blue-headed Wagtail has been present in fields adjacent to Summer Leys LNR since its discovery on 12th April. Being a scarce migrant in Northants and the UK in general, it has attracted a lot of attention from local birders and scrutiny of the accompanying Yellow Wagtails has also thrown up some interesting plumage variants, sparking much debate on origins and racial identity.

Fortunately, the site routinely attracts a wealth of photographers, who have been on hand to capture a range of images, allowing subsequent at length plumage examination.

So, here they are …

Blue-headed Wagtail

A straightforward, classic individual featuring all the diagnostic characteristics of a male nominate race flava, i.e. sharply demarcated bright blue head with ear coverts and lores darker than the crown, a striking white, long supercilium extending from the base of the bill and over the ear coverts, obvious broken white eye-ring and white flecks in the ear coverts. It also has a yellow throat with a thin white side border.

Male Blue-headed Wagtail M. f. flava, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Ant Hall)
Male Blue-headed Wagtail M. f. flava, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Blue-headed/‘Channel’-type variant

A not so easy to analyse individual. This bird has a much more diffuse head pattern, with green tones permeating the blue, which is paler than that of the male Blue-headed Wagtail, above. It has a largely white throat and remnants of a ‘necklace’ and the worn-looking outer greater coverts suggest it may be a first-summer bird. The overall appearance closely matches female Blue-headed Wagtail and it may indeed be just that. However, a degree of caution is normally urged when trying to assign females of the ‘yellow wagtail group’ to race …

Female Blue-headed Wagtail/’Channel’-type variant, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Martin Swannell)
Female Blue-headed Wagtail/’Channel’-type variant, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Yellow-headed Wagtail-type variant

A very interesting bird, which appears to show characteristics of the race lutea., i.e. strikingly deep yellow underparts and head, the latter with only a hint of dusky lores and a ghosting of green on the crown, which is said to match lutea perfectly (Shirihai & Svensson 2019). However it lacks the broad yellow tips to the median and greater coverts normally exhibited by this race, the coverts in this case conforming to those of standard flavissima Yellow Wagtail.

Male Yellow Wagtail variant resembling Yellow-headed Wagtail M. f. lutea, Summer Leys LNR, 12th April 2021 (Don Lorraine)
Male Yellow Wagtail variant resembling Yellow-headed Wagtail M. f. lutea, Summer Leys LNR, 13th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

This race breeds in the lower Volga, middle Ural region and possibly north-west Kirghiz Steppe. While birds resembling lutea have been recorded in the UK, the race is not on the British list and they are generally considered to be variant flavissima. Feathers or faecal samples allowing DNA analysis would be highly desirable in proving subspecific ID in this case.

Newsround – 3rd to 9th April 2021

From a balmy 15°C on 4th, to bone-chilling northerlies and a touch of the white stuff on 6th, weatherwise, this week had it all. And from long-legged things to classy passerines, the birds were not to be sniffed at, either …

So, inching into what was undoubtedly another great early spring week in the county, the adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR was still present on 3rd although, apparently, not subsequently. Unsurprisingly, then, there was no further change to the line-up in geese with another – or perhaps last week’s relocating – Pink-footed Goose, dropping into Stanwick GP for one day, on 9th.

Two Garganeys were discovered at Summer Leys LNR on 6th, remaining until the week’s end, when they were joined there by two more – the striking and intricately patterned drakes posing within spitting distance of the hides and drawing many a murmur of appreciation from observers and photographers alike.

Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 6th April (Bob Bullock)
Drake and female Garganeys, Summer Leys LNR, 6th April (Bob Bullock)
Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 7th April (Mark Tyrrell)
Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 8th April (Ray Seagrove)

Two stops west along the Nene, the drake Ring-necked Duck continued its stay at Clifford Hill GP throughout the period, after first showing up there on 31st March. As we move deeper into spring, its days there are now surely numbered and perhaps this is already the case with the drake Greater Scaup and the presumed female Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, neither of which has been reported from Pitsford Res since 6th.

Reaching out across the night sky, Scaldwell’s nocmig tracking station picked up a migrating flock of Common Scoters as they passed over at 23.15 on 4th. So far, this spring, none has yet been nailed on the water during the hours of daylight … but there is still time. Back in the Nene Valley, the drake Smew commuted daily between Ditchford GP and Stanwick and was still present at the week’s end.

The latter site was also nicely in line to be the first to receive the now mobile Glossy Ibis, which had established a pattern of being seen there early in the morning before heading back to Thrapston GP later in the day. At least, that’s what it looked like initially but by the end of the week, its appearances at Thrapston had become far more erratic.

Glossy Ibis, Thrapston, 5th April 2021 (Jon Cook)

Not to be entirely outdone, Summer Leys LNR attracted what later transpired to be two somewhat capricious Spoonbills, which were first seen flying west over the reserve early in the afternoon of 8th before later returning to settle on the scrape. Their stay there, however, was short-lived and by late afternoon they were picked up flying south-west over Stanwick before being seen again over the same site little more than an hour later, this time flying north-east. The following day, they were relocated in trees near the Cormorant colony on Ditchford’s Delta Pit during the early part of the afternoon, before again flying off north-east. The conduct of these two conforms nicely to the ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ behaviour, which has been the stuff of late for this species in Northants.

Spoonbills, Summer Leys LNR, 8th April 2021 (Ray Seagrove)
Spoonbills, Stanwick GP, 8th April 2021 (Steve Fisher)
Spoonbills, Ditchford GP, 9th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Spoonbill, Ditchford GP, 9th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

The opposite is true, of course, for Cattle Egrets, at least two of which continued to be seen at Stanwick while Great Egrets were still on the wane, with Thrapston producing four, Pitsford two, and Stanford Res and Summer Leys one apiece.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 5th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)
Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 5th April 2021 (Mark Tyrrell)

Away from the all the Nene Valley razzamatazz, Daventry CP pulled in two very short-staying, first-winter Shags – presumably on an awayday from nearby Draycote Water, just over the border in Warwickshire, where three have seen the winter out and any number of which sometimes go missing.

Collectively, the seven sites of Harlestone Lake, Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res, Stortons GP and Thorpe Malsor Res accounted for daily sightings of Ospreys during the week but the only other raptors were a Marsh Harrier at Stanwick on 3rd and a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier close to the A14, near Kettering on 4th.

Ruffs, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

On the wader front, what were presumably last week’s two Avocets worked their way down the Nene, turning up at Thrapston GP on 7th, while single Curlews were at both Stanford and Summer Leys on 3rd. Three Black-tailed Godwits were at Summer Leys on 3rd-4th, three visited Stanwick on 3rd, with two still present on 5th and three dropped in to Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 4th.

Ruff is quite uncommon as a spring migrant locally and on reflection, these days, autumn is not much better, with numbers over the last few years also being relatively low. So, a ‘flock’ of three together at DIRFT 3 A5 Pools on 8th-9th was a nice find for the site. Dunlins remained thin on the ground this week, with just singles at Clifford Hill and Summer Leys – both on 3rd, while a Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell until at least 5th. And the last wader in this round-up is actually the first – that is, the first Common Sandpiper of the year, appearing on 7th Apr on the new workings at Earls Barton GP, a site within a site, which is rapidly gaining in popularity with birders. It covers a sizeable area and for the purposes of pinpointing individual birds is perhaps best regarded as two sub-sites, split as ‘New Workings (North)’ for the pits between the A45 and the River Nene and ‘New Workings (South)’ for the actively quarried area between Whiston Road and Whiston Lock.

In an even more eventful week for gulls, DIRFT 3’s A5 Pools came once more to the fore – and quite rightly so. This somewhat unique, arguably transient habitat may not be to everyone’s taste but there’s no denying it does deliver the goods from time to time.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

April 8th proved to be one of those times when, in addition to the aforementioned Ruffs, diligent roadside viewing returned a juvenile Glaucous Gull, second-winter Iceland Gull, second-winter Caspian Gull plus second-winter and third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls. Two of the latter species were also present at Pitsford at the week’s end, while up to three adult Mediterranean Gulls were still on the loose at Summer Leys throughout and two were at Stanwick GP on 9th.

Second-winter Iceland Gull, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 4th April 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)
Second-summer Caspian Gull, DIRFT 3, 8th April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The month so far continued to deal out more Kittiwakes, single adults being seen at Thrapston GP on 5th and at Stanwick, two days later, on 7th. Sandwich Terns, too, were not done with yet, with another, much more obliging bird loafing for a couple of hours on a semi-submerged post in Ditchford’s Watersports Pit on 9th. A male Merlin flew north over Raunds on 4th, on the same date as the county’s first Common Whitethroat of the year, at Hardingstone GP, on 4th, beating the previous earliest, on 5th April 1998, by one day.

Male Common Redstart, Alderton, 3rd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

More Common Redstarts appeared in the wake of last week’s, with one at Fawsley Park on 7th and up to two near the River Tove, between Alderton and Shutlanger, on 3rd-4th, the latter site also producing a Black Redstart on the same dates. Coincidentally, another Black Redstart was also in a private garden in Wellingborough on these dates and another was found at Chelveston AF on 4th, crossing the county boundary into Bedfordshire shortly after its discovery.

Black Redstart, Alderton, 3rd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Black Redstart, Alderton, 3rd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Black Redstart, Wellingborough, 3rd April 2021 (Amir Mughal)

Other chats were, of course, available in the shape of Northern Wheatears, with up to four favouring the above site at Chelveston on 4th and 5th, singles at both Harrington and Hollowell on the last of these two dates and three south-east of Mawsley on 9th.     

White Wagtails continued to trickle through, with two at Ravensthorpe Res on 8th, while singles were at Clifford Hill on 8th and DIRFT 3 on 9th.

Water Pipit, Hollowell Res, 3rd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

For the second consecutive week, Hollowell was again the place to be for Water Pipit with one on the dam there, albeit briefly, on 3rd.

Male Mealy Redpoll, Wakerley Great Wood, 8th April 2021 (Martin Swannell)
Crossbills, Wakerley Great Wood, 8th April 2020 (Martin Swannell)

The same scenario came in to play with Wakerley Great Wood and Mealy Redpoll, with a new bird – a male – in the same area as last week’s on 8th, while up to four Crossbills also remained there throughout and two were still at Hollowell on 6th.

Newsround – 27th March to 2nd April 2021

Although local temperatures reached only 22°C, the 30th hit the headlines as the UK’s warmest March day for 53 years, largely as a result of south to south-westerly winds sweeping in from beyond the Iberian peninsula. Unsurprisingly, spring migrants came in thick and fast, these balmy conditions acting as a catalyst for northbound migration. It was all change during the last two days of the week, however, as winter reminded us it was not done with yet, bitter north-easterlies kicked in and temperatures dropped like a stone …

Showing no signs of going anywhere soon, the adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose remained at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR throughout the period, while new in was a Pink-footed Goose, which flew west over Ecton SF on 1st before dropping in to join local Greylags in the adjacent riverside meadow at Cogenhoe Mill.

Pink-footed Goose, Cogenhoe Mill, 1st April 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The same date saw the arrival of the year’s first Garganey, at Clifford Hill GP, where four pitched up during the morning, appearing to have moved swiftly on by the end of the day.

Garganeys, Clifford Hill GP, 1st April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

Meanwhile, the wintering drake Ring-necked Duck showed further signs of itchy feet this week, appearing again at Stanwick GP on 27th-28th and 30th before heading west to Clifford Hill, where it was seen on 31st and again on 2nd.

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Clifford Hill GP, 2nd April 2021 (Bob Bullock)

In contrast, the smart drake Greater Scaup, accompanied the presumed female Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, remained site faithful, off the dam at Pitsford Res all week while, back in the Nene Valley, Ditchford GP’s drake Smew resurfaced on Delta Pit on 27th before being seen at Stanwick the following day and again there on 2nd.

Ditchford also produced a one-day wonder in the shape of a flamboyant, summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 31st.

Further down the valley, with no departure date in sight, the local star that is Glossy Ibis clocked up eight weeks of residency at Thrapston GP, spending more of its time on Aldwincle Lake. It will be missed when it finally chooses to move on, although after such a long stay, this species is never likely to be viewed in quite the same light when the next one hits the county.

Talking of which … four Cattle Egrets remained at the favoured locality of Stanwick on 27th-28th, while numbers of Great Egrets continued to decrease, with singles at Summer Leys on 28th and Hollowell on 30th, up to two at Pitsford on 31st-1st and up to five at Thrapston on 31st.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 27th March 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

With Ospreys back in the game, singles were seen at Billing GP, Hollowell, Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Res – all on 27th, Ravensthorpe again on 29th, Oundle on 1st and Hollowell Res again on 1st-2nd. Three pairs have bred in the county over the past few years and with numbers increasing nationally, we must be on for a fourth in the not too distant future. Two single Marsh Harriers flew east through Stanwick, within minutes of each other, on 2nd.

Osprey, Ravensthorpe Res, 27th March 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Osprey, Hollowell Res, 2nd April 2021 (Jon Cook)

On the wader front, two Avocets were mobile between Summer Leys and Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows LNR throughout the week, while single Curlews flew over Stanford Res on 27th, Pitsford on 1st and two worked their way from Ditchford along to Stanwick on 2nd. Last week’s first-summer Black-tailed Godwit remained at Summer Leys until 28th, being replaced there by three from 31st to 2nd. Three also visited Stanwick on 31st.

First-summer Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 27th March 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)
Adult Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd April 2021 (Ricky Sinfield)

With only singles at Clifford Hill on 30th and DIRFT 3 A5 Pools on 1st, Dunlins were thin on the ground this week. A Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell until at least 30th, the same date on which one was found by chance at Harrington AF.

Pumping up the larid-action, there were gulls for everyone this week – after all, who doesn’t love a Little Gull? One of these delicate, diminutive beauties visited Daventry CP on 31st and another obliged by staying two days at Thrapston on 1st and 2nd. The last of these two dates also saw a first-winter Kittiwake heading south-west over Pitsford, apparently without stopping. Mediterranean Gulls were again largely confined to the two Nene Valley locations of Stanwick and Summer Leys, where they continued to be seen almost daily, the latter site holding three on 29th. The exception was two adults seen south of Burton Latimer, on 27th. The week’s token Caspian Gull, a first-winter, appeared on DIRFT 3’s A5 Pools on 1st, accompanied by another, which wasn’t quite the full shilling in terms of genetic make up, as well as one each of both adult and third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls. Two of the latter species also frequented Pitsford during the week.

Then the summer visitors kicked in. Two Sandwich Terns flew east through Stanford on 31st, followed by two more, east through Stanwick, the following day.

But the first Hobby, on 30th, smashed it, being the first ever to be recorded in March and beating the previous earliest record of 1st April, in 2012.

The first Willow Warbler was a male singing in suburban Northampton on 28th, followed later by one in Corby and, just before the month of March was out, the first Common Redstart appeared on Borough Hill with, hot on its heels, another at Harrington. Both were males. Following last week’s Black Redstart, three more were reported: Harrington AF on 30th, Hanging Houghton on 1st and Borough Hill on 2nd – all strangely vanishing immediately after their discovery. A Stonechat at Summer Leys on 28th was effectively the last man standing.

Unsurprisingly, more Northern Wheatears appeared this week, with the eight localities of Brackley, Chelveston AF, Clifford Hill, Harrington, Hinton AF, Polebrook AF, Stanford and Thrapston producing a couple of dozen between them. The highest counts were nine at Hinton on 29th and five at Clifford Hill GP on the same date.      

Male Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 27th March 2021 (Bob Bullock)
Female Northern Wheatear, Brackley, 30th March 2021 (Mike Alibone). This individual has a parasite attached to its forehead.

Clifford Hill also delivered the first Yellow Wagtail of the year, on 1st, two more being seen at Stanwick later in the day, while White Wagtails continued to come through in small numbers, with Earls Barton producing one on 27th and two on 2nd, while another was at Aldwincle on 1st.

A brief stopover was made by a Water Pipit at Hollowell on 30th before it flew off south. In fact, as Water Pipit must be the only species flying south in spring, this surely constitutes the identification clincher from the often very similarly-plumaged Scandinavian Rock Pipit which, of course, flies north-east. Simple, isn’t it?! The answer was there all along! Well, maybe … Two more Water Pipits were at Earls Barton GP’s new workings on 2nd.

Mealy Redpoll, Wakerley Great Wood, 2nd April 2021 (Stuart Mundy)

Caught on film at Wakerley Great Wood, a Mealy Redpoll visited the feeders there on 2nd, when there were still at least four Crossbills in the same area.

Male Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 29th March 2021 (Angus Molyneux)

Ten were counted there on 29th, while the only other localities continuing to produce this species were Hollowell, with a maximum of five on 27th and Pitsford, where up to four were present on 31st.