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 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

Rarity Round-up, 28th September to 4th October 2019

At the beginning of the period, things augured well for the end of the week, as ex-Hurricane Lorenzo looked set to deposit a scattering of inland seabirds. Unfortunately, by the time it reached the UK, it was full out of puff and brought only disappointment. As soon as September clicked into October, however, day one of the ‘magic month’ produced the first local Redwings of the autumn. Apart from that, Slavonian Grebe, Spoonbill and Spotted Redshank stole the show.

Another autumn ‘first’ appeared in the shape of six Pink-footed Geese over the Brampton Valley on 4th and Ruddy Shelducks were seen at Stanford Res and Pitsford Res on 28th and 29th respectively. A Garganey appeared briefly at Summer Leys LNR on 3rd and further up the valley, a drake Red-crested Pochard was on show at Clifford Hill GP from 28th to 2nd.

Drake Red-crested Pochard, Clifford Hill GP, 30th September 2019 (Bob Bullock)

The two Slavonian Grebes – believed to be just ‘one-day’ birds at Clifford Hill on 16th – were seen there again from 28th until 30th, with only one present on 3rd. Surprisingly easy to overlook, clearly they had been there all the time throughout the intervening period. In a bizarre turn of events, one was picked up dead below a Peregrine roost site in Kettering on 3rd, leading to speculation that it may have been from Clifford Hill.

Slavonian Grebe, found dead, Kettering 3rd October 2019 (Bob Bullock)

A Spoonbill – only the third for the county this year – flew high north over Stanford Res on 28th, while on the Cattle Egret trail, the Stanwick six were seen on 2nd and 4th. Single Great Egrets were seen, on and off, at Pitsford, Summer Leys and Thrapston GP throughout the week.

Raptors at large this week were Ospreys at Thrapston GP on 30th and 2nd and a Marsh Harrier in the Brampton Valley on 29th.

Last week’s juvenile Little Stint remained at Boddington Res until 1st, while the fifth Spotted Redshank of the autumn was discovered at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 3rd, remaining there the following morning before quickly relocating to nearby Stanwick. Pitsford was again the favoured locality for Greenshanks, with two still on the dam on 29th, at least one of which remained until 4th.

Greenshank, Pitsford Res, 29th September 2019 (Mike Alibone)

A first-winter Little Gull flew through Boddington Res on 4th, a second-winter Mediterranean Gull was again at Pitsford on 29th and single-figure numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were also at this locality, Thrapston, and Stanwick, with the maximum count of four at the latter site on 4th.

The first Short-eared Owl of the autumn-winter period was found at Harrington AF on 30th and what is almost certainly the last ‘Common’ Swift was seen flying north over Corby on 2nd. Interestingly, however, the observer did not identify it to species and so it should really be relegated to swift sp., as October is normally the month of the year reserved exclusively for those seriously rare Apus boys … Although the last Hobbies are now passing through, another master of the skies was present at Harrington AF on 3rd, when the third Merlin of the autumn was watched chasing Meadow Pipits there.

Harrington was also the venue for what may well turn out to be the last Common Redstart of the year, with one there on 30th. Two were also present at Borough Hill on 28th. Significantly more Whinchats coming through compared to last week included up to two at Clifford Hill and Borough Hill between 28th and 30th and the same number in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton between 29th and 4th.

Whinchat, Clifford Hill GP, 30th September 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Stonechats continued to arrive in numbers, with Brampton Valley, Clifford Hill, Harrington, Neville’s Lodge (Finedon), Pitsford Res and Stanford Res producing up to two and Borough Hill between eight and ten on 30th. Northern Wheatears were down to singles at both Borough Hill and Clifford Hill on 28th and Pitsford Res on 4th.

Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 4th October 2019 (Richard How)

Following last week’s Rock Pipit at Daventry CP, one was at Pitsford on 30th and another at Stanwick on 4th and to round off, fifteen Crossbills flew north-west over Borough Hill on 30th.

A gull which doesn’t quite fit the bill

A closer look at the Ravensthorpe ‘Caspian’ Gull

Generally regarded as a Caspian Gull, this second-calendar year (first-summer) bird has been visiting Ravensthorpe Reservoir since early August. From the initial images obtained by Gary Pullan, it looked marvelously ‘snouty’ and long-legged – two features widely associated with Caspian Gull.

Second calendar year gull, Ravensthorpe Res, 16th August 2019 (Gary Pullan)

There were, however, some characteristics which simply did not ring right for Caspian Gull, leading Gary and I to debate its identity, which swung from Caspian to Yellow-legged, though Caspian x Yellow-legged hybrid and then back to Caspian. John Moon chipped in with a better image, which did not really change anything at the time.

Second calendar year gull, Ravensthorpe Res, 19th August 2019 (John Moon)

On 31st August, I managed to get some digiscoped shots (below) of which some, after scrutiny, were perhaps more suggestive of Yellow-legged Gull – not least because of the bill structure.

Summary of features based primarily on images taken on 31st August.

  • Large and lanky and legs long and good for Caspian
  • Shortish (closed) wings but renewed primaries probably still growing
  • Mantle shade of grey too light for Yellow-leggedGul but OK for Caspian (but see comments)
  • Bill long but heavy, with large gonys – looks in some images to be fine for Yellow-legged Gull but too chunky for Caspian but in others ok(ish) for Caspian
  • Underwing coverts quite dark – darker than I would expect for Caspian but Malling Olsen states some Caspians can have quite dark underwings (and see comments below)
  • Head shape, long forehead and eye position ok for Caspian and looks ‘snouty’

I forwarded a set of images to Carl Baggott – the Leicestershire Recorder, ‘King of Shawell’ and a man with a true passion for gulls and with extensive experience of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls in eastern Europe and Yellow-legged in Portugal.

Carl kindly commented as follows:

This is quite a difficult bird, but I don’t get a Caspian Gull feel from the images. It seems closer to YLG and I am not too concerned about the lightness of the grey feathers as this is quite variable at that age. The tertials favour YLG also, as does the large head and bill. The snouty description of Caspian Gull head is overstressed and doesn’t really help with most gulls. As you say some Caspian Gulls can have dark underwings and I have photographed birds in Germany with similar underwings. Most 2CY Caspian Gulls have pale inner primaries or a venetian blind effect across the inner primaries.

I have seen birds like this at Shawell and left them unidentified. It can be very difficult with ones like this as you don’t know their origin. I have seen Yellow-legged Gulls in Portugal that are easily confused with Caspian Gulls and even American Herring Gulls.

On the question of the possibility of a hybrid:

It could well be [a hybrid], but difficult to say for certain. There is nothing to really hang your hat on. A colour-ring is always useful as you know so at least you know where it’s from. Hybrids are easier as adults or first-winters usually as you can look at coverts (Caspian Gulls especially) on the young birds and primaries on adults. Then it comes down to matter of opinion unless you know the species of the parents. Hybrid is always the go to, but there is a great deal of variation in pure birds.

The above not only highlights the difficulty of identifying ‘odd’ gulls in the field but also the problems with trying to identify them from images taken from different angles and in different poses – for example, see the apparent change in head shape and bill thickness in the above images.

For a set of images of similarly-aged Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls in The Netherlands  see here.

Comments welcomed!

Rarity Round-up, 8th to 21st June 2019

With below average temperatures, high winds and twice the month’s expected rainfall in two days, June is now odds on to be the wettest on record. The county was deluged by heavy rain during the first week of the review period, resulting in disaster for many ground-nesting birds around bodies of water and in other low-lying areas. Unsurprisingly, there were few new migrants reported.

Now seemingly ensconced at Hollowell Res, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained throughout the period, while the only other waterfowl conceivably vying for attention was a drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford  Res on 15th-17th.

The first Common Quail of the year was a singing male, just north of Mears Ashby, early on 15th. Unfortunately, it did not linger and it later emerged that what was very likely to have been the same individual was also reported singing from a field at Sywell, 2 km due west, on the same date. Although June is generally recognised as the month, this species is unpredictable in its occurrence in the county. The perception that it is becoming rarer locally is not necessarily true, as the analysis of records, below, illustrates. Occurrences peaked in Northants in the 1990s although, prior to that decade, with four blank years (1973-75 and 1985) Quails look to have been rarer than they appear to be today, which is surprising. But are they being overlooked? [see here]                                                                                                                          This species is declining as a result, in part, of uncontrolled netting of migrating birds, particularly in Egypt, where Quail trapping is now taking place on an unsustainable, commercial scale. In Europe agricultural intensification has led to the loss of rough grass and uncultivated land and an increase in the use of herbicides and insecticides, which has led to a reduction on the availability of weeds, seeds and insects. In Europe the population size is estimated to be fluctuating and Quail is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (BirdLife International 2018, 2019).

Up to two Cattle Egrets remained at the northern end of Stanwick GP throughout, with one venturing south, down to the main lake, before flying toward Ditchford GP on 10th. Moving up the size scale, with none reported since 29th May, Northants did not manage to stay Great Egret-free for long, as one appeared at Thrapston GP on 14th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 10th June 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, Hollowell maintained its reliability for Osprey sightings with one on 8th, 9th and 14th, while two were there on 12th. Elsewhere, singles visited Pitsford on 11th and Thrapston on 14th and 18th.

The adult Yellow-legged Gull remained at Hollowell between 8th and 14th, visiting nearby Ravensthorpe on 11th and another adult was at Stanwick on 17th, while the only passerine of the period was a Crossbill, which flew over Yardley Chase’s Denton Wood on 17th.

Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th February 2019

After the first two days, Storm Erik’s wind and rain ultimately gave way to southerly winds bringing warm air to the country from as far south as the Azores. The resultant ‘warm’ conditions were positively spring-like, with temperatures hitting a local daytime high of 14ºC. Some movement took place on the wader front, with Oystercatchers returning to three Nene Valley sites and an Avocet appearing at Hollowell Reservoir.

At Thrapston GP, the first-winter Whooper Swan remained on Town Lake but in terms of species, this week’s goose count was down a little with three Pink-footed Geese still ranging widely over the Thrapston GP complex, while two continued to visit Stanford Res on and off, commuting with Greylags from land adjacent to nearby Stanford Hall.

Numbers of Red-crested Pochards remained low, with a maximum of nine at Pitsford Res on 13th and again, they were not recorded elsewhere, while the drake Ring-necked Duck there continued to perform well in Pintail Bay, often allowing close approach. Once again, the other drake in the Nene Valley, after putting in a brief appearance on Earls Barton GP’s Mary’s Lake on 5th, resurfaced nearby on the main lake at Grendon on 12th. Yes, it’s still down there … somewhere in the valley.

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 9th February 2019 (James Timms)
Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 9th February 2019 (James Timms)
Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 12th February 2019 (Alan Coles)

Meanwhile, the two juvenile Great Northern Divers remained at Pitsford all week, occasionally showing well together, some distance south of the causeway. Great Egrets were a little down on last week and although Thrapston continued to hold four or five and Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys two or three, elsewhere the picture was different, with only singles at Cransley Res, Ditchford GP/Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, Pitsford Res and Stanford Res.

Juvenile Great Northern Divers, Pitsford Res, 10th February 2019 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 10th February 2019 (Jon Cook)

The juvenile Hen Harrier at Stanford Res remained for the duration and continued to show fairly frequently and the Neville’s Lodge ‘ringtail’ showed prior to dusk on 9th, 12th, 13th and 15th, also visiting Summer Leys on 10th, where photographs taken enabled it to be identified as a juvenile female. In contrast to last week, just one Merlin in the vicinity of Blueberry Farm on 13th was more this species’ usual form.

Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 10th February 2019 (Aamir Mughal)
Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 13th February Martin Swannell)
Juvenile female Hen Harrier, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 13th February Martin Swannell)

So, wader of the week, then – in fact the only wader of the week – was the Avocet which visited Hollowell Res on 14th. Still quite scarce in Northants, hopefully this early migrant will be the first of more to come this spring. Scarce gulls were again few and far between, being represented by an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Boddington Res on 14th, an adult Yellow-legged Gull at Daventry CP on 11th and 13th and an adult Caspian Gull at Pitsford Res on 9th plus a first-winter and a second-winter together at Hollowell Res on 15th.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 11th February (Ricky Sinfield)

A Short-eared Owl was found at Harrington AF on 10th, while three were around Neville’s Lodge just prior to dusk on 11th and at least one was there the following evening. Close to the latter site, a Siberian Chiffchaff was at Stanwick GP on 10th, having been first glimpsed there about three weeks ago while, having entered its fourth week,

Siberian Chiffchaff, Stanwick GP, 10th February 2019 (Tom Green)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Stanwick GP, 10th February 2019 (Tom Green)

the Great Grey Shrike continued to be seen throughout the period near to Blueberry Farm, where the Corn Bunting count reached a heady four on 14th. There was a further unconfirmed report of a Great Grey Shrike at the feeder stream end of Hollowell Res on 15th.

Male Crossbill, Irchester CP, 13th February 2019 (Doug Goddard)
Female Crossbill, Irchester CP, 13th February 2019 (Doug Goddard)
Crossbills, Irchester CP, 13th February 2019 (Doug Goddard)

However, setting themselves up as a popular draw, up to eight Crossbills were present almost daily at Irchester CP from 9th. Although it has bred locally in the past, this species is an irregular visitor to the county, normally occurring as a result of late summer and autumn irruptions.

A steppe in the wrong direction?

The Long Buckby Lanius and its capricious taxonomic history

On 3rd November 1997, Nick Roberts was driving between Long Buckby and West Haddon when he came across a shrike on a roadside fence post. The bird quickly dropped to the ground, where it remained for a short period. It was still there a few minutes later when Nick returned with Peter Spokes and together they watched it, subsequently identifying it as a Steppe Grey Shrike.

First-winter Steppe Grey Shrike, Long Buckby, November 1997 (Graham Soden). This bird spent a considerable amount of its time feeding on the ground, ‘hopping around’ like a wheatear. As a consequence, its bill, legs and underparts frequently became stained with soil.

Local birders were duly notified and many arrived the same day to see it. It remained in the vicinity the following day, by which time it had attracted a growing number of observers, many of whom had travelled from different parts of the UK.

The record was submitted to, and accepted by, the British Birds Rarities Committee as the 12th for Britain. There have been fourteen subsequent accepted British records.

First-winter Steppe Grey Shrike, Long Buckby, November 1997 (Graham Soden).

Back in the day, Steppe Grey Shrike was almost whatever you wanted it to be, depending on your choice of taxonomic authority – floating around between being races of Great Grey Shrike, the more recently split (from Great Grey Shrike) Southern Grey Shrike complex, and a full species in its own right. At the time of record acceptance in Northamptonshire it had already been lumped with Southern Grey Shrike (e.g. *Clements 2017) and so constituted a ‘first’ for the county.

However, it was generally recognised as a full species by several authorities (King 1997, Hernández et al. 2004, Panov 2011 – cited by the International Ornithological Congress (IOC)) and has remained as such until this year, being on the IOC World List, which is now followed by the UK in defining what is on (or off) the British list. Unfortunately, because there has never been a true consensus on the definitive taxonomy of this species, last month, the IOC decided to (re)lump Steppe Grey Shrike with Great Grey (see here) ‘pending’, as they say ‘full resolution of this complex.’

It would seem to make better sense to leave it in full species status until the evidence to lump it with Great Grey Shrike is available and undisputed – and in this respect, surely this is a step in the wrong direction.

The above move by the IOC will no doubt prove unpopular – not only with us in Northants but also across the UK as a species is effectively dropped from the British list.

*Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017.
References cited above by the IOC
Hernández, MA, F Campos, F Gutiérrez-Corchero & A Amezcua. 2004.  Identification  of Lanius species and subspecies using tandem repeats in the mitochondrial DNA  control region. Ibis 146:227-230
King BF. 1997. Checklist of the Birds of Eurasia Ibis Publishing Company. Vista, CA.
Panov E. 2011. The true shrikes (Laniidae) of the world. Ecology, Behavior and Evolution. Pensoft Publ.

Rarity Round-up, 1st to 7th December 2018

The first week of winter and some may say, the end of anything new turning up, or was it? The Atlantic airstream brought predominantly south-westerly winds and rain and unseasonally high temperatures, peaking at 13ºC on both 3rd and 6th. Wildfowl were still the number one quarry for local birders in a week when persistent reservoir-watching paid dividends.

After last week’s Bewick’s Swans’ brief dalliance with Thrapston GP, another was found in Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res on 5th, remaining until the end of the week.

Bewick’s Swan, Pitsford Res, 5th December 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, 6th December 2018 (Doug Goddard)
Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, 6th December 2018 (Doug Goddard)
Mute, Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Pitsford Res, 7th December 2018 (Richard How)

Overshadowing the eleven on-site Whooper Swans with its newly acquired celebrity status – Bewick’s have become really quite uncommon in Northants over the last decade or more – it attracted a steady stream of admirers, many of whom were willing to brave the rain for an optics-sodden glimpse in miserable conditions. Only one more Whooper was seen, the young bird now looking settled for the winter at Thrapston GP, where it remained all week. In the Nene Valley, the Pink-footed Goose was again seen at Stanwick GP on 5th and 6th and last week’s five White-fronted Geese, which had previously flown west over Ditchford GP on 25th, had clearly circled back and were also located at Stanwick on 5th, while another White-front was off the dam at Sywell CP on 7th.

White-fronted Goose, Sywell CP, 7th December 2018 (Alan Francis)

Back at Stanwick, the Barnacle Goose was still present until at least 6th. The mobile female Ruddy Shelduck ventured north of the causeway at Pitsford Res, where it was seen on 4th and 6th. Meanwhile, at Ravensthorpe, the drake American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid failed to elicit any interest until at least 1st and the female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid was again seen at Pitsford on 3rd, where the week’s highest site total of Red-crested Pochards was fourteen on 6th. Elsewhere, last week’s two were still at Stanford Res until 3rd and the drake remained at Hollowell Res until 4th, while the first-winter Scaup also remained at Thrapston GP until at least 3rd and a female was found at Ditchford GP, remaining there until the week’s end. Apparently missing for most of last week, the drake Ring-necked Duck in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay reappeared on 1st, after which it was seen intermittently until 6th, although it remained elusive for a great deal of the time.

Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Mark Williams)
Ring-necked Duck, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Mark Williams)

Another first for the winter, a juvenile Great Northern Diver, was discovered off the dam at Pitsford on 1st before promptly being joined by another there on 2nd. Although both were seen together on the latter date, only one has been reported subsequently, right through to the end of the period.

Great Northern Divers, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Peter Grimbley)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Adrian Borley)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Adrian Borley)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Pitsford Res, 2nd December 2018 (Adrian Borley). This bird is a different individual to the one in the above two photographs.

There was little change on the egret front, with the two Cattle Egrets still at the north-east end of the Stanwick GP complex on 6th, while up to two Great White Egrets continued to be seen there, with the same number at Hollowell Res, Ravensthorpe Res, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP, with three at Pitsford and one at Ditchford GP. Some of these will no doubt be duplicates where records from nearby localities are concerned.

Great White Egret, Pitsford Res, 5th December 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

The only raptor of note this week was a fine male Hen Harrier which flew west at Stanwick GP on 4th.

Pitsford continued to host the first-winter Black-tailed Godwit until at least 1st, along with the Ruff all week. There were also two Yellow-legged Gulls there on 5th, while another was logged at Hollowell Res the day before.

The Borough Hill Short-eared Owl remained until at least 1st, another was seen again at Harrington AF on 3rd and the Firecrest discovered near the feeding station at Pitsford Res on 29th was heard calling there again on 3rd. On the latter date, two Bearded Tits were discovered on land with no public access and eleven Crossbills were at Fineshade Wood on 4th.

Rarity Round-up, 30th June to 13th July 2018

And so it continues – almost wall-to-wall sunshine and no sign of any rain. Water levels are indeed falling and some of the more outlying and lesser watched sites have begun to attract waders. Both Cransley and Welford Reservoirs produced Common Sandpipers and Dunlins appeared on pools at Priors Hall, while the autumn’s first Greenshank was found at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows on 30th June. Things can only get better …

The Summer Leys drake Garganey was joined by a female from 30th to 2nd, with only the female remaining until 3rd but the only other wildfowl of note were two drake Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res on 2nd.

Garganeys, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Also doubling up, at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR, the hide-and-seek Great White Egret was joined by a second individual on 12th, with both still present the following day. Stretching the doubles theme perhaps a bit too much, a singing male Quail was heard between Billing GP and Cogenhoe on 13th, constituting only the second record for the county this year.

Two Marsh Harriers were also found – one at Pitsford Res between 30th and 4th, while the other was seen flying east at Summer Leys LNR on 2nd but the only other species of raptor to be recorded during the period was, unsurprisingly, Osprey. Singles were at Thrapston GP on 2nd, flying over the A605 nearby on 3rd, at Stanford Res on 7th and 8th and in flight over the A605 near Oundle on the latter date, while two flew high south over Corby on 4th.

Spotted Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 1st July 2018 (Bob Bullock)

If football isn’t coming home, then waders certainly are. Against a backcloth of small numbers of commoner species, more Black-tailed Godwits were found, with seven at Earls Barton GP on 5th, three at Stanwick GP on 6th and the same number at Summer Leys the following day but the highlight of the early autumn wader passage, so far, is the fine, summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank, which graced Summer Leys for a full five days from 1st before moving on. And if waders are on their way back so too, it seems, are gulls. July is the month when Yellow-legged Gulls begin to reappear and, following one at Pitsford Res on 6th, two were at Stanwick GP on 10th and 13th.

Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 6th July 2018 (Richard How)
Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 10th July 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Meanwhile, on the passerine front, the same two species featured in the last round-up again make an appearance in this one. The singing male Firecrest was still at Badby Wood on 3rd and a lone Crossbill flew over Wellingborough’s Westminster Estate on 10th.

Rarity Round-up, 28th April to 4th May 2018

The spring’s unseasonally bitter weather continued into this week with the first two days of the period being largely wet with strong, cold, north-easterly winds making the daytime temperatures feel lower than the 6°C they actually were. Birders resorted to wearing gloves which, on the penultimate day of April, must have been a ‘first’ for many. Northants escaped the heavy rain and gales experienced by East Anglia and the south-east on the final day of the month, after which winds turned westerly and calmer, drier weather ensued, with temperatures up to the seasonal norm. The effect on migration was pronounced, with a number of grounded waders on 28th, as well as large concentrations of hirundines, followed by a big push of Arctic Terns through the county on 2nd.

Last week’s Summer Leys Garganey duo remained throughout the period and another drake was found at Thrapston GP on 3rd, while the male and female Red-crested Pochards were still at Kislingbury GP on 30th.

Female Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Alan Coles)
Drake Garganey, Summer Leys LNR, 30th April 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Single Great White Egrets were seen at Clifford Hill GP on 28th-29th, Earls Barton GP and Summer Leys on 29th and Billing GP on 30th, although all records could conceivably relate to just one Nene Valley wanderer.

Great White Egret, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Chris Donohoe)

At Pitsford Res, the summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe discovered last week on 24th, remained until 3rd, frequently showing very well off the gorse bushes south of the causeway.

Black-necked Grebe, Pitsford Res, 29th April 2018 (Angus Molyneux)
Black-necked Grebe, Pitsford Res, 29th April 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

On the raptor front, there was a notable arrival of Hobbies this week, while single Ospreys were seen flying north between Barnwell CP and Oundle on 1st and at Hollowell Res on the same date. ‘Bird of the week’, however, was the Common Crane which flew high south-west over Wadenhoe during the afternoon of 3rd. This is approximately the 24th record for Northamptonshire.

Common Crane, Wadenhoe, 3rd May 2018 (Alan Francis)
Common Crane, Wadenhoe, 3rd May 2018 (Alan Francis)

On 28th, after two Whimbrels in flight over Thrapston GP, birders this week were given a taste of more of those eagerly awaited spring passage waders. A Bar-tailed Godwit flew east at Summer Leys and sixty-three Black-tailed Godwits made landfall at Clifford Hill GP during the adverse weather conditions on that date.

Black-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Black-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Black-tailed Godwits, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Ricky Sinfield)

Three more visited Summer Leys on the following day and another stayed there for three days on 2nd-4th. Clifford Hill GP also attracted a Turnstone on 28th, while a Sanderling on the dam at Pitsford Res on 2nd was a classic early May visitor.

Turnstone, Clifford Hill GP, 28th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)
Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 2nd May 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Some short-lived, adverse weather on 2nd produced dramatic numbers of Arctic Terns, with flocks of at least eighty-four at Clifford Hill GP, eighty at Pitsford Res and fifty-five at Hollowell Res. In the run up to this, smaller numbers included at least four at Clifford Hill GP on 28th, with sixteen there the following day; Pitsford had singles on 28th and 29th, eight on 30th and six on 1st; Hollowell produced one on 28th, when there were also two at Boddington Res; eleven visited Stanford Res on 29th, when there was also one at Stanwick, while he following day saw at least nine at Earls Barton GP and one at Daventry CP. Somewhat overshadowed by the above, the two mobile adult Mediterranean Gulls again visited Summer Leys on 29th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Summer Leys LNR, 29th April 2018 (Alan Coles)

The most unexpected bird of the week was the Wryneck discovered on the northern side of Thrapston GP during the last couple of hours of daylight on 4th, although it remained elusive in cover for most of the time. Almost annual, this species is recorded less frequently in spring than in autumn, so this was a nice find and a treat for the handful of birders who quickly managed to connect with it. The old railway track on the southern side of the same site produced a singing male Firecrest on 28th.

Wryneck, Thrapston GP, 4th May 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Chats and their ilk featured more weightily this week, although Common Redstarts were still unusually thin on the ground. Three, all males, included one-day birds at Harrington AF on 28th, Earls Barton GP on 2nd and Daventry CP on 3rd. Following the first last week, Whinchats appeared at two localities, with Clifford Hill GP producing one, possibly two, between 1st and 4th, while another was found near Long Buckby on the latter date and a rather late Stonechat was discovered near Cotterstock on 3rd.

Female Whinchat, Clifford Hill GP, 1st May 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Larger numbers of Northern Wheatears turned up this week with many, if not all, showing characteristics of the Greenland race leucorhoa (‘Greenland Wheatear’) which predominates in May. Singles were at Barnwell on 29th, Pitsford Res on 29th-30th and Summer Leys on 2nd, four were at Clifford Hill GP on 30th, two at Upper Benefield on 1st and two at Earls Barton GP on 3rd, nine were near Long Buckby on 4th and Clifford Hill GP enjoyed a run of up to twelve between 1st and 4th and four were at Fawsley Park on 3rd.

Female Greenland Wheatear, Hemington, 4th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)
Female Greenland Wheatear, Hemington, 4th May 2018 (Mike Alibone)
White Wagtail, Pitsford Res, 28th April 2018 (Richard How)

A male ‘Channel’ Wagtail (Blue-headed x Yellow hybrid) was found alongside Barnwell Brook, south of Barnwell on 29th and Clifford Hill GP produced the lion’s share of White Wagtails, with singles on 28th and 3rd and at least ten on 1st, while another was at Pitsford Res on 28th.