The Pitsford Leach’s Petrel

It’s been a long, thirteen year wait since 2008, which was when the last Leach’s Petrel occurred in Northamptonshire. However, thanks to Adrian Borley, the wait was over yesterday, when he found one during the morning, just north of the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir.

With the news out, a crowd amassed pretty quickly to see the bird which spent most of its time sitting on the water, approximately halfway between the causeway and the opposite shoreline. Occasionally making short flights, it remained into the evening, by which time it had moved into Scaldwell Bay.

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Being overcast, wet and windy, weather conditions were not overly favourable for photography but some images captured managed to illustrate the diffuse darkish line down the otherwise white rump, as well as white tertial tips and the obvious forked tail, characteristic of the species.

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Martin Swannell)

Leach’s Petrel, Pitsford Res, 2nd October 2021 (Mike Alibone)

This was the 27th county record and a new bird, locally and in some cases, nationally, for a number of birders turning up to see it.

Most records have fallen between 1978 and 2008 but outside of these dates there were single records in 1889, 1891 and 1895, five in 1952 and one in 1953. Interestingly, Pitsford has laid claim to almost half of the 1978-2008 records, with records from other, non-wetland, localities relating to birds found dead or simply storm-driven. September appears to be the key month for records but there have also been winter occurrences after bouts of severe weather.

Wrecked: Manx Shearwater in Duston

Another victim of Aileen

Found exhausted in Duston yesterday, a Manx Shearwater was picked up and taken to the local vets. Not knowing the best course of action to take, they contacted Jim Murray who, in turn contacted Dave James for further advice. An initial plan to release it in Northants was quickly deemed inappropriate and subsequently ditched.

Manx Shearwater, in care, Northamptonshire 15th September 2017 (Jim Murray)

Fortunately, it survived overnight and JM today set out to take it took it to the Pembrokeshire coast, where the plan was to meet up with the Pembrokeshire Sea Bird Rescue Society to pass it over to them for further care prior to a hopefully successful release. On the way over, PSBRS recommended taking it to a specialist wild bird hospital near Swansea, which then became the revised destination.

After its admission to the hospital the prognosis appears good, with the hospital confident of the bird’s continued survival with a release planned after a few days. Apparently, Northants is the furthest point away the hospital has ever received a seabird from. Further good news is eagerly awaited.

This individual was not alone in its finding itself inland, presumably as a result of Storm Aileen’s big westerly blow on 12th-13th September. Other Manx Shearwaters were found in inland counties, e.g. Cambridgeshire, London area and up to wrecked birds 300 are being treated and released in Somerset

Many thanks to Dave James and Jim Murray for providing details.

Fulmar at Ravensthorpe Reservoir

Following the somewhat tongue-in-cheek story about Fulmar ‘breeding’ in Northamptonshire a couple of weeks ago, it’s a bizarre coincidence that one should turn up at Ravensthorpe Reservoir this week.

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Fulmar, Ravensthorpe Res, 26th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Fulmar Records by month



There have been twenty-three since the first record in 1958, so they’re by no means annual and they are frequently difficult to catch up with, averaging approximately 0.4 records per year! Fortunately the Ravensthorpe individual lingered long enough to be photographed and appreciated by a number of local birders. Analysis of past records reveals that May is the peak month of occurrence so keep your eyes open! Many thanks to Bob Bullock for his excellent series of images.

Blast from the past: Fulmar ‘breeding’ in Northamptonshire

Fulmarus_glacialis_1_2 (Michael Haferkamp, Wikimedia Commons)I received a nice letter today from Jan Pickup, daughter of AJB (‘Tommo’) Thompson, who was an eminent Northamptonshire birder in the latter part of the last century.  Jan and husband, Tony, had kindly given me some literature which formerly belonged to AJBT and Jan had posted me a ‘missing’ bird report from 1969 – the very first edition of the Northamptonshire Bird Report, the forerunner of today’s annually produced Northants Birds.

In her letter she drew my attention to a note relating to an interesting local encounter with a Fulmar in May 1961, published by Laurie Taylor in British Birds in 1962, a transcript of which is reproduced below. What was not published, however, was the personal account from the Thompson family perspective, which Jan remembers well and recounts as follows:

Laurie lived in Bush Hill, quite close to us in The Headlands and came round and knocked on the door. He said to Dad, “I’ve got something to show you.” Dad said, in protest, “I can’t come now, I’m listening to Beethoven’s Seventh.” Laurie said “Blow Beethoven, I’ve got a new breeding record for the County.” So Dad went!

And this is what it was all about …

Fulmar laying egg in Northamptonshire garden. – On 27th May 1961, I was told by my aunt that a “sea-gull” had laid an egg in her garden in Northampton and that the bird was still there. Very dubiously I investigated and to my astonishment I was confronted with a Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). I captured the bird and released it at Pitsford Reservoir, Northamptonshire that evening. It settled on the water to preen and bathe before flying off in a southerly direction. The egg, which is now in my possession, was also seen by A. J. B. Thompson and M. Goodman. It is a typical Fulmar’s egg, white with a rough surface and slightly pyriform, measuring 73 mm. x 53 mm. It seems extraordinary that a Fulmar in breeding condition should be so far inland during the nesting season, but this hardly constitutes a breeding record for Northamptonshire!                                     British Birds (1962) Vol  55: 164

Header image Fulmar (Michael Haferkamp, Wikimedia Commons)