I spent a good hour with the Turnstone at Stanwick Lakes yesterday. It was pretty quiet there otherwise and the Turnstone was busy feeding, non-stop, on one of the Visitor Centre Lakes. It’s only when you try to digiscope a bird like this that you appreciate just how animated these things are – it did not stand still at all.
This was also a great opportunity to closely study the plumage. Broad, deep buff fringes to the coverts, white fringes to tertials and small, neat white tips to upperparts and primaries easily age this bird as a juvenile. Adults out of breeding plumage are much more uniform in these areas, their feathers being dull brown with only slightly paler fringes.
Barely is spring over and autumn wader passage has begun. June usually sees the first Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits moving south through the county and the group of three found by Kim Taylor at Summer Leys on Friday included one particularly interesting individual, images here by Adrian Borley.
Interesting because it was colour-ringed and the combination of colours, along with the position of the rings, enabled some of this bird’s history to be traced and its movements to be revealed. It was, as they say in some quarters, a godwit with ‘previous.’
While I’m not a big fan of gaudy ‘bling’ (it looks so unnatural!), I have to acknowledge its use as a tool in providing valuable information which furthers our knowledge of a species and which can be particularly useful in, among other things, future conservation initiatives through the identification of key wintering and breeding areas.
This godwit, a male, was ringed in Hampshire on 5th September 2010. It has been well-travelled during the subsequent six years as the table below – kindly provided by the ringer, Pete Potts – clearly illustrates. Anyone lucky enough to find a colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit can check the colour combination against a detailed key to race, origin and ringing group which can be downloaded from here and observers are encouraged to contact the ringer with details of their observations.
Found in the morning and still present late afternoon, the godwit trio had departed by the next day. Had this male not been ringed it would have slipped by anonymously, giving no clue as to its age, travel history or possible destination.
Northamptonshire’s 20th Red-necked Phalarope chose Stanwick GP as a stopover on its way north yesterday. Found by Steve Fisher on the A45 Lay-by Pit early in the evening, this first for Stanwick gave ample opportunity for local birders to catch up with a species which has been difficult to come by in the county in recent years.
The last was in 2010 and the one prior to that was in 2002. The majority of the previous records have been of autumn juveniles – only six adults have appeared in spring with 50% of these in June.
Spring birds are normally one-day wonders while those in autumn usually stay a day or two. Eight of the previous 19 have been at Pitsford Reservoir.
7th August. The day Hollowell Reservoir was ‘Dunlin-bombed’ by a record flock of around 440. Included among them was this flagged and ringed adult.
Based on the flag colour and ring combination, initial research revealed it had been trapped and ringed in Spain and this was kindly confirmed today by Edorta Unamuno, Coordinator of projects in the Urdaibai Bird Center in the Basque Country, close to Bilbao. It was trapped there as a migrant during the third week of May this year but where has it been since?
Racial identity might give us a clue but its worn summer plumage (it has even already grown a grey winter scapular) makes it difficult to be certain as to whether it’s a schinzii or an alpina. Both races could easily occur in Spain and the UK – schinzii breeds south-east Greenland, Iceland, southern Norway, Britain, Ireland and the Baltic and alpina breeds northern Scandinavia and the USSR and both occur in winter in the western Mediterranean.
Avocets are scarce passage migrants in Northants, mainly in spring, but they are by no means annual. When Bob Bullock found one at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits yesterday morning it seemed like we had achieved our year’s quota for 2015. Things took a turn for the better today, however, when I found two more on the islands in the A45 Lay-by Pit at Stanwick. I watched and videoscoped them between 08.50 and 09.10 after which they flew off.
I decided to take a look at the main pit and while walking round to it I received a text from Dave Warner saying he had found three Avocets on the main barrage lake at Clifford Hill GP. Fifteen minutes later he sent me another text – apparently there were now nine! At about the same time, Tony Vials emailed to say he was watching two at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows. Minutes later they flew off west. I guessed they must have been the Stanwick birds – although not necessarily. Meanwhile, the appeal of the small flock at Clifford Hill was too great to resist so I headed off there to take a look. They were still there, roosting on one of the pools on the main peninsula and being watched by Bob Bullock and Dave, when I arrived.
Lovely birds, even if a bit distant! By now the news had got round and other birders were arriving in time to see the largest Avocet flock in the county for a good few years …
Mid-October, low pressure, tightly-packed isobars, strong winds and rain = inland seabirds, although not many – as is usual for Northamptonshire. After a couple of foul weather fly-bys, including one watched briefly by Gary Pullan at Hollowell Res on Monday (13th) followed by fleeting views of two at Pitsford Res by David Arden yesterday, Bob Bullock finally nailed one at Pitsford at lunchtime today.
Grey Phalarope is by no means an annual visitor to Northants, with many previous records relating to storm-driven individuals in late autumn. Dark, rufous-fringed tertials, strong salmon wash to breast and predominantly dark bill age this bird as a first-winter.
These super Black-winged Stilts were found at Summer Leys very early this morning by Steve Murfitt and John and Ruth Ward. Initially on the slips they quickly moved to the scrape where they were also seen mating several times throughout the morning.
Making the approach …
that mounting feeling …
that sinking feeling …
Black-winged Stilts, Summer Leys LNR, 18th May 2014 (Mike Alibone)
This pair has been wandering in eastern England over the past week, having last been seen in Cambridgeshire. This is the fourth record for Northants, the previous three having all been in May, including the first at Boddington Res on 22nd-23rd May 1965, one at Summer Leys on 15th May 1997 and the last, a pair, also at Summer Leys on 1st May 2008.
While out looking for Ring Ouzels, Gary Burrows found this rather nice Stone-curlew at Harrington Airfield this morning. It was still around – though flighty – early in the afternoon. Thanks to Alan Coles for the images below.
Sharp-eyed observers will have spotted the rings: metal on left leg and colour ring on right. Did anybody get the exact colour in the field?
We don’t get them very often. Although it breeds no further away than East Anglia, Stone-curlew is a vagrant to Northants. Including the last, in a field adjacent to Summer Leys LNR on 15th April 2009, there are eleven previous records dating back to 1880. Of these, four have been in April, two in July, and singles in May, August and October with two old records dated only to year of occurrence.
Only hours after bemoaning the fact in Week In Focus that there had been no Little Stints in Northants this year, I did what any desperate birder would do – went out to my local patch and found one. Ok, so it may be pure coincidence but next weekend I’m going to try it again … with White-rumped Sandpiper 🙂
Juvenile Little Stint, Clifford Hill GP, 21st September 2013 (Mike Alibone). Click on the cogwheel to increase resolution to 720p to watch in HD.
It’s a sad fact, though, that in recent years Little Stint has been relegated to (or promoted to, depending on your point of view) the status of very scarce passage migrant in the county. In the ‘70s and ‘80s we all took them for granted. Small numbers would arrive on cue every September at Pitsford and the other reservoirs; unfortunately, however, this is no longer the case. A quick look at the records over the ten years 2002-2011 gives an average of just 4 per year compared to many more than this during the latter decades of the last century.
Fresh autumn juveniles are beautifully marked birds. Catch ’em while you can!
In the early part of the week Bob Bullock was photographing waders at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits when he came across this juvenile Ringed Plover with a rather Semipalmated Plover-like face pattern feeding with other Ringed Plovers and Dunlin on the north shore of the main barrage lake.
Enough to arouse interest as close examination reveals a) the dark band on the lores narrowing considerably where it joins the base of the bill and b) the join is clearly above the gape-line, the latter protruding into the white part of the lores. This loral arrangement is supposedly a key identification feature of Semipalmated Plover – Ringed Plover’s loral band normally broadens and joins the bill base at the gape line, which is clearly not the case with this individual.
However, other Semi-p supporting features are entirely absent: no trace of a narrow yellow eye-ring, lack of stubby bill, and the dark subterminal fringes on the coverts are too broad (many of the whitish terminal fringes have already worn/are wearing off).
Furthermore, closer inspection would reveal a lack of palmations between the middle and inner toes, as can be seen in the image below. Both Ringed and Semipalmated Plovers have palmations between the middle and outer toes but only Semi-p has them between all toes.
The excellent, detailed, close up images from Bob enable this level of scrutiny!