There was no drama in regard to this week’s weather, which remained settled and largely dry, with temperatures above average.
Emulating the weather, many of the previous week’s long-stayers also remained settled, among them the first-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose, which was still at Clifford Hill GP when checked in on, on 14th. The Barnacle Goose, last reported at Pitsford Res on 3rd, was relocated there on 16th, the same site continuing to hang on to its star attraction of the two debonair drake Smews until at least 15th.
A drake Greater Scaup was also reported there on 14th and, after a week without any, two Red-crested Pochards were at Daventry CP on 16th-17th.
Back at Pitsford, a Black-necked Grebe was reported on 14th and Cattle Egrets hit rock bottom this week with just one at Stanwick GP on the same date. Conversely, Great Egrets reached a new record high on 16th, when nineteen were counted coming in to roost at the latter site. Top totals elsewhere were up to eight at Pitsford on 16th, three at Thrapston GP on 11th, two at Stanford Res on 12th and singles at Upton CP on 15th and at Stortons GP and Summer Leys LNR on 16th.
Arguably the period’s top bird, in terms of rarity, was the juvenile/first-winter Shag found at Pitsford on 15th and still present there as the week drew to a close on 17th. Given that most records of this species are in autumn, December records are few and far between, this one likely to stir memories for many a local birder of the highly approachable, fearless first-winter that took a shine to Abington Park Lake in suburban Northampton, from 17th December 2006 until 4th February 2007.
Again, it was a case of as you were, on the wader front, with the Wood Sandpiper remaining at Pitsford and the long-staying Ruff lingering at Summer Leys until at least 16th, last week’s Black-tailed Godwit remaining at the latter locality until 12th and the wintering Common Sandpiper also staying put at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) at the end of the period. Jack Snipe was added to the mix this week, with one near Wicksteed Park (Kettering) on 11th and five at Daventry CP on 16th.
Gulls fared better, with an adult Mediterranean Gull at Summer Leys on 12th, a third-winter Caspian Gull at Stanford Res on 11th, accompanied there by 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls, while the usual, single adult Yellow-legged Gull was seen at Pitsford on 16th-17th.
Hardly a week passes without a Merlin these days, so one in a field adjacent to Ravensthorpe Res on 14th served to keep the species on the radar and comes as no real surprise.
On the passerine front, the number of Stonechats remained low, with up to four at Upton CP to 15th, two in the Brampton Valley on 13th and one at Borough Hill on 17th.
And it looks like the recent supply of Water Pipits has now dried up, with just one remaining on view at Summer Leys’ scrape until 11th, after which … nothing.
Pushing on into December and Arwen’s successor, Storm Barra, swept in off the Atlantic during 7th and 8th but appeared to have a negligible impact on local bird movements. New in, and undeniably topping this week’s celebrity bill, were two handsome drake Smews, found at Pitsford Reservoir at the eleventh hour …
But the wildfowl line-up kicks off with the first-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose, remaining faithful throughout the period, to the eastern end of the Main Barrage Lake at Clifford Hill GP. The Ravensthorpe Pink-footed Goose was still with Greylags at Ravensthorpe Res on the last day of the week and a ‘small flock’ flew south, calling, over the Brampton Valley near Hanging Houghton, after dark on 9th.
A female Greater Scaup was reported from Summer Leys LNR on 6th but our ducks deluxe highlight was provided by the two dapper drake Smews, discovered at Pitsford Res on the last day of the week. With the two recently at Ringstead GP and the ‘redhead’ currently settled at Thrapston GP’s Aldwincle Lake, things look like they’re shaping up nicely for the usual sprinkling of this species over the winter – a far cry from last year, when local Smews were very much in short supply.
This week’s capricious Cattle Egrets were unpredictable in terms of where they might be reliably encountered. The much-depleted Ringstead roost, seemingly now out of favour with this species, produced three, in from the nearby horse paddocks, on 10th, while at least eight were seen leaving the former roost at Stanwick, early on 5th. On the latter date, the same roost also produced the week’s highest count of Great Egrets when nine also emerged at first light. Elsewhere, Pitsford held at least six – well down on the recent record high of eighteen – and singles were at Clifford Hill, Foxholes Fisheries (Crick) and Summer Leys.
A Marsh Harrier flying west at Stanford Res on 10th was the period’s only raptor of note.
Once again, this week, the county remained in a winter waderland, with the Wood Sandpiper remaining at Pitsford throughout, the long-staying Ruff lingering at Summer Leys, again being joined by another on 4th, while a Black-tailed Godwit dropped in there on 10th. The wintering Common Sandpiper was also still present at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) at the week’s end.
Propping up the Larids, as usual, single adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Pitsford on 9th-10th and at Clifford Hill on the first of these two dates.
Passerines were limited to last week’s two Water Pipits on Summer Leys’ scrape until 5th, with one remaining until the week’s end. A quick analysis of the records for the last twenty years reveals a trendline indicating a slight decline in numbers, November being the peak month for occurrences and, historically, Ditchford accounting for the majority of those seen during the winter months.
The number of Stonechats was down on last week, with just two at Upton CP on 8th and the same number at Earls Barton GP on 10th.
A true taste of winter was delivered by the much-publicised Storm Arwen as the week opened on day one. Gale force northerlies sucked in high Arctic air, bringing snow showers to the county on 27th-28th, along with a daytime wind chill of -4°C. Winds subsequently wavered westerly mid-period, providing a short, milder interlude before again turning northerly.
Few would deny the above meteorological cocktail played a significant part in delivering a Northamptonshire ‘first’ in the form of a Pale-bellied Brent Goose, to Boddington Res, on 27th. Initially reported simply as a ‘Brent Goose’, it was rightly flagged up by John Friendship-Taylor as a Pale-bellied Brent, when he called in to see it shortly after its discovery. It had gone by the following morning and if it hadn’t been for JF-T, well, the frightening prospect of it slipping through the net is likely to have been a stark reality and simply doesn’t bear thinking about …
Pretty much an ‘inland mega’ in its own right, our Pale-bellied Brent was one of a number to be recorded inland during the weekend of 27th-28th. Wetlands away from the coast in Cambridgeshire, Durham, East, West and North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire were similarly paid visits by short-staying individuals. Latest estimates put the British wintering population of Pale-bellied Brents at approximately 5,000 in contrast to some 98,000 Dark-bellieds (Frost et al 2019).
While current taxonomic classification lumps Pale-bellied with Dark-bellied Brent and Black Brant, it has been proposed to treat them as three separate species. This is based on a number of factors, including distinctive plumage differences, the apparent rarity of hybrids and the fact that where the wintering ranges of Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied races overlap, flocks do not usually mix, their activity rhythms are often different and interactions between them do not seem higher than those between other species of geese (Reeber 2015). So, who knows what the taxonomic future holds? But don’t hold your breath …
Other Brents were also available, of course, this comment referring specifically to the first-winter Dark-bellied Brent Goose, now into its third week at Clifford Hill GP. This may well be a unique event in history when Northants plays host to both pale- and dark-bellied races of Brent Goose at the same time.
However, as December kicked in, of undeniably dubious origin was a Barnacle Goose found at Pitsford Res on 1st and still present at the week’s end. Although the same might be said about lone Pink-footed Geese, they tend to enjoy a smoother ride, currying favour with local birders when they join local Greylags, as did this week’s at Ravensthorpe Res, ex-Hollowell, from 27th to 29th, while last week’s Stanford bird was still present on 27th and another – perhaps Arwen-induced – dropped in at Boddington on 28th.
And while we’re back on the storm theme, a blow-in of Common Scoters was clearly evident over the weekend of 27th-28th, with a first-winter female apparently enjoying the company of a certain Brent Goose at Boddington on 27th, followed by two there on 28th, when two were also in deep water at Pitsford Res.
Pitsford also continued to hold good numbers of Red-crested Pochards with a maximum of eighteen there on 27th. Out east, in the Nene Valley, a ‘redhead’ Smew was found at Thrapston GP on the last day of the week – perhaps one of the two which went missing from nearby Ringstead GP after 23rd November.
Maintaining last week’s low profile, Cattle Egrets continued to take a back seat and just five were seen on 29th and 1st, in fields below Irthlingborough, close to the lakes and meadows of the same name. In contrast to the last two weeks, Great Egrets narrowly scraped into double-figures with just ten at Pitsford on 28th while, elsewhere, Thrapston held six, Stanford four, Stanwick three, Clifford Hill and Summer Leys two, while singles were also found at Ditchford GP, Hollowell and Ringstead.
On the wader front, the Wood Sandpiper remained at Pitsford all week, the long-staying Ruff kept up its presence at Summer Leys, being joined there by another on 28th and the Common Sandpiper at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) crossed the timeline into meteorological winter and can now be declared as ‘officially wintering’. Other scarce waders were two Jack Snipes at Thrapston on 27th.
Gull numbers were their poorest for a long, long time, with just one Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford on 27th. In the coming weeks we can hopefully look forward to some ‘white-wingers’, Arwen having failed to deliver any locally.
Single Merlins were seen this week at Summer Leys on 28th and at Harrington AF on 2nd-3rd.
This week’s passerines were shaping up nicely, starting with four Stonechats at Hollowell, twos at Denton, Thrapston and Upton CP and one at Clifford Hill.
But the best turned out to be a Water Pipit or two at Summer Leys. Showing nicely for long periods from the Paul Britten Hide, the first was discovered on 30th and was subsequently joined by another there on 3rd.
These were undoubtedly the most easily observed Water Pipits in recent years and certainly since the regular wintering birds at Ditchford GP, which were always difficult to pin down, often being seen only in flight. Talking of which, one also flew north-east over Harrington, calling, on 29th as did three Hawfinches later the same day. Meanwhile, staying with Harrington, this winter’s Brambling bonanza continued with an estimated two hundred still present there at the week’s end.
Flyovers aside, with some of the above birds appearing settled, it looks like we could be in for an interesting winter …
It was pretty much déjà vu as far as the week’s weather was concerned, with no real let-up in the westerlies until the week’s end, when the winds swung northerly, introducing a colder, more wintry airstream. There were few new avian arrivals, either, but there was still a grand selection of interesting fare to focus on.
Appearing settled, last week’s Dark-bellied Brent Goose remained with the Canada Goose flock around the Main Barrage Lake at Clifford Hill GP throughout the period. Bets are on to see if it stays into winter proper. Meanwhile, at Stanford Res, the roving, escaped Cackling Goose put in a brief appearance on the last day of the week and just down the road, Hollowell’s Pink-footed Goose had moved to Ravensthorpe Res, where it was seen on 22nd. Hollowell Res, itself, was paid a brief visit by nine Whooper Swans on 21st, obviously choosing not to linger.
At Pitsford Res, Red-crested Pochards appeared to vary in numbers by the day, peaking at sixteen on 21st, while last week’s ‘redhead’ and eclipse drake Smew were the only other ducks of note, remaining on Ringstead GP’s Brightwells Lake until 23rd, after which they did a bunk.
After last week’s all-time high, numbers of Cattle Egrets tumbled to just two in flight over Stanwick GP on 23rd and a mere five remained in the fabled cattle field north of Ringstead GP, where the record-busting sixteen had been present on 16th-17th. Numbers of Great Egrets, on the other hand, continued to climb, setting another Northants site total record of eighteen at Pitsford on 21st and 25th. Elsewhere, Hollowell held three and Ditchford GP, two, while singles were also found at Foxholes Fisheries (Crick), Ravensthorpe, Ringstead and Summer Leys LNR.
A ’ringtail’ Hen Harrier was reported from Harrington AF on 21st.
On the wader front, the late, late Wood Sandpiper show continued at Pitsford throughout the week, the long-staying Ruff remained at Summer Leys and the Common Sandpiper at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) was still present at the period’s end.
Gull numbers remained low and included the third-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 22nd and 24th, with another – or the same – visiting Stanford on the first of these two dates, while an adult was in the roost at Boddington Res on 26th. The same roost produced four Yellow-legged Gulls and the adult continued to be seen at Pitsford throughout the week.
Just two species represented this week’s passerines, with Stonechats found at Clifford Hill, Ditchford, Hollowell, Pitsford and Sywell CP and no more than two at any one locality. Worthy of a mention, if only for sheer numbers, Bramblings came to the fore once again and after last week’s prediction of more to come, an estimated three hundred showed up at Harrington on 21st, falling to around two hundred on 23rd and tens by the week’s end.
There was little change in this week’s weather, with the westerly airstream still in place and temperatures remaining above average for mid-November. However, vestigial summer visitors were still to be found alongside some classic winter arrivals.
The third Dark-bellied Brent Goose to be found in the county this year was a juvenile/first-winter, which tagged along with the local Canada Goose flock at Clifford Hill GP on 17th.
Meanwhile, the Hollowell Res Pink-footed Goose remained there throughout the period and despite last week’s speculation that it may have also visited Stanford Res, photographs clearly indicate it is a different bird.
The fifteen-strong raft of Red-crested Pochards also remained at Pitsford Res, as did the three at Stanford, both groups still being present at the week’s end, while 17th saw the reappearance of one of the Greater Scaups at Daventry CP – this one being the bird which had earlier been on site between 1st and 4th November.
And the pick of this week’s ducks deluxe was the first Smew of the winter – two to be precise – discovered on 19th on Brightwells Lake, a small body of water that receives scant attention compared to certain other areas of the Ringstead GP complex, of which it is a part. While the November date may seem a little early for this species in the county, a dig into historical records unearths a number of October birds, the earliest of which was at Stanford on 11th October 1993. The first in the UK this autumn was one at Hornsea, East Yorkshire on 13th October.
With no reports for the best part of a month, a Bittern resurfaced briefly at Summer Leys LNR on 14th but other herons were, of course, available … and much easier to see, at that. After last week’s record-busting totals, numbers of both Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets nudged higher still, with the first of these two amassing sixteen in a cattle field north of Ringstead on 16th-17th. Many of these joined the egret roost at Kinewell Lake, while fourteen flying north-east at nearby Stanwick GP, at dawn on 14th, were clearly the same birds.
Great Egret numbers reached a minimum of sixteen at Pitsford on 15th – the highest ever single-site total for Northants – while nine were counted at Ringstead’s Kinewell Lake on 14th. Elsewhere, Hollowell produced five, Thrapston GP four, Stanwick three and Summer Leys two, resulting in a potential current wintering population of perhaps as many as forty birds. Who said they were rare … ?
Also looking set to winter – or at least in no hurry to move on anytime soon – the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper remained throughout, the long-staying Ruff at Summer Leys was joined by another there on 16th and the Common Sandpiper at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) was still present at the week’s end. The only Jack Snipes found during the period were two near Ravensthorpe on18th.
Gull numbers were once again very low and included a third-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 19th, and an adult Yellow-legged Gull was still at Pitsford on 14th.
In contrast to last week, just one Merlin was seen, this time at Harlestone Lake, on 15th and just when you thought it was all over for Swallows, one was seen flying south-west over Bradden on 13th. It surely is now …
The past couple of weeks has seen a number of late Ring Ouzels moving through the UK and we were not left out. One was found behind Byfield Pool at Boddington Res on 14th and another reported from below Hanging Houghton on 17th, while this week’s Stonechats included four at Thrapston GP on 14th, four at Hollowell between 15th and 19th, two at Earls Barton GP on 15th and one at Sywell CP on 14th and 15th.
Following one last week, three more Hawfinches were reported on 17th, in trees close to the gatehouse at Lilford Park. Unlike the next species, however, they remain in short supply and there would appear to be no sign of an impending invasion.
A predominantly westerly airstream remained in place throughout the period and temperatures were largely above average for early November, clearly suiting some lingering summer visitors.
Against this backcloth, numbers of winter wildfowl were undoubtedly on the increase, some of which, however, were clearly not so wild. Falling squarely into the latter category was the re-emergence of the Cackling Goose, still on the loose in the west of the county, on this occasion with Canada Geese at Stanford Res on 10th. Stanford also played host to a Pink-footed Goose – most likely the Hollowell Res bird – from 9th until the week’s end. Two more Pinkfeet flew east over Nether Heyford on 6th, while the roving female Ruddy Shelduck appeared at Hollowell on 11th.
Making a splash this week were Red-crested Pochards, with arrivals at four localities – most notably at Pitsford Res, where seventeen appeared on 6th and fifteen were still in place at the week’s end. Smaller numbers arriving elsewhere included two at Boddington Res on 6th, three at Thrapston GP on 7th and three at Stanford, which were present from 7th until the end of the period.
Pitsford also produced a female Greater Scaup – a one-day bird on 7th, while Daventry CP chalked up its third of the autumn this week, with another first-winter from 8th to 10th.
At the other end of the county, Cattle Egrets pushed through to deliver an all-time county high with at least fourteen coming into the roost at Ringstead GP on 12th but away from this site only two were seen, at nearby Stanwick GP, on 9th. In parallel, Great Egrets smashed the site record total this week with at least eleven at Pitsford on 7th and 9th, while totting up numbers from Ringstead, Stanford, Stanwick, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston suggests the total wintering population in Northants currently is likely to be a minimum of twenty. Ignoring possible Nene Valley duplicates, of course, that excludes any which may be lurking at other local bodies of water which would appear not to have been visited by birders this week.
And now to the curious case of the ‘Desborough stork’. Seen only as an early morning silhouette on a house roof on 8th, before quickly disappearing, it later emerged that a bird appearing to match the description of a White Stork was seen on a house roof in Wellingborough, last week, on 4th …
Arguably less ephemeral, though never overly easy to catch up with locally, harriers were still in the spotlight, with two species putting in appearances for the second week running. On 8th, a Marsh Harrier flew south over Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP, while the 7th saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier in the Brampton Valley, north of Brixworth, the same bird again being seen within spitting distance, at Blueberry Farm, on 10th. But stealing the limelight was the male Hen Harrier that cruised over the Main Lake and scrape at Summer Leys on 12th, before proceeding to quarter the rough fields either side of Mary’s Lane, its twenty-minute stay enabling a number of on-site birders to catch up with it. However, this was no ordinary male and, sporting an aerial, it has been identified as a satellite-tagged bird known as ‘Apollo’, originating in Lancashire, previously wintering in Spain and more recently having spent time near (the aptly-chosen) Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire before appearing at Summer Leys. The area it was hunting in would seem like ideal wintering habitat but is it enough to hold its interest? Summer Leys or Spain – where would you rather be … ?
Topping the bill for waders again this week was the Pitsford Wood Sandpiper, which remained throughout, while others seemingly in no hurry to move on were the long-staying Ruff at Summer Leys and the Common Sandpiper just up the road at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North). Which one will crack and go first … or are they all in it for the long haul? A Black-tailed Godwit at DIRFT 3 on 7th and a Jack Snipe at Pitsford on 7th-9th also added to this week’s mix.
By contrast, however, gulls were once again few and far between and included a third-winter Caspian Gull at Daventry on 12th, along with two Yellow-legged Gulls there on thesame date, while an adult Yellow-legged remained at Pitsford until at least 7th.
Continuing last week’s surge, Merlins were found at Sywell AF on 7th, at Harrington AF and in the Brampton Valley on 8th and at Barnwell the following day. We appear to be enjoying an autumn of plenty locally, so far.
In another parallel with last week, two more late Swallows were found, feeding over horse paddocks at Castle Ashby, on 7th, while this week’s Stonechats included one at Pitsford on 7th and twos at Earls Barton on 8th, Thrapston on 9th and Upton CP on 12th. Rounding off the week’s passerines were a Crossbill flying west over Brackley on 8th and a Hawfinch, briefly, at Hanging Houghton on 10th.
Gale force south-westerly winds on the last day of the month caused widespread minor damage and brought down trees across the county. Much calmer conditions subsequently prevailed, with northerly winds and the first frost of the autumn occurring overnight on 1st of the new month. November – a ‘gap month’ between autumn proper and winter, when summer visitors have long gone, scarce migrants all but dry up and things slow down a bit. But then there were the hangers-on …
Still in place, last week’s Pink-footed Goose remained at Hollowell Res until at least 2nd and after a week without any, a Whooper Swan dropped in to join the local Mutes at Daventry CP on 3rd.
Again this week, the female Ruddy Shelduck continued to visit Foxholes Fisheries at Crick until 31st but it failed to show subsequently. Following two late Garganeys on 21st October, another, or the same was at Pitsford Res on 4th, while a first-winter Greater Scaup appeared at Daventry CP on 1st, remaining there until at least 4th. This bird was identified as a different individual to the one last seen there on 28th, the latter possibly accounting for the first-winter female which paid a brief visit to Hollowell Res on 3rd.
Seemingly settled was the Black-necked Grebe on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake, where it remained all week.
Close by, at Ringstead GP, there were still nine Cattle Egrets coming in to the evening roost on 4th, the same date seeing four of these at Hall Farm, Irthlingborough, just a short flap up the Nene Valley. Great Egrets, meanwhile, were found at Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Ringstead, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with a respectable eight at Pitsford on 4th-5th being the highest number, although this still falls well short of the staggering count of forty-one made not too far away at Rutland Water in late October!
Last week’s long-staying Osprey made it into November by the narrowest of margins as the first day of the month was the last day upon which it was seen, when it cruised over Summer Leys, heading west … and with it went last week’s exclusivity.
It was not the only raptor on the beat this week, as November ushered more in. The 1st saw a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Harrington AF, still present in the area on 4th, while the latter date gave rise to a Marsh Harrier, seen three times during its short stay at Stanford Res.
After none at all during the last review period, waders were back, with one record-breaking bird in particular hitting the headlines. When confronted with a dainty, neatly-speckled, yellow-legged Tringa during the first week of November, the smart money would be on Lesser Yellowlegs, wouldn’t it? But this is, after all, Northamptonshire, so however unlikely the occurrence of a Wood Sandpiper at this time of year would seem, one at Pitsford on 4th-5th cruised easily into the record books as the county’s latest ever, by a comfortable ten-day margin. The previous latest was one at Earls Barton GP on 26th October 1997.
Perhaps aspiring to do the same – although they do occasionally occur in winter – a rather late Common Sandpiper was found at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 3rd, while a Ruff at Summer Leys on 1st was likely to be this autumn’s established long-stayer and another was a brief visitor to Pitsford on 4th.
Just one Caspian Gull – a second-winter at Daventry on 30th – and one Yellow-legged Gull – at Pitsford on 4th-5th – were the only scarce Larids during the period.
Following last week’s juvenile male Merlin at Hinton AF, a female was found there on 3rd – just one of five, which included singles at Harrington AF on 1st and in the Brampton Valley on 5th, plus two near Hartwell on 4th.
Another hanger-on from summer was a late Swallow, heading east over Clifford Hill GP on 3rd, while this week’s Stonechats included up to four at both Hollowell and Thrapston, two at Earls Barton and singles at Clifford Hill and Pitsford.
The weather this week appeared to be a major influencer in terms of movement of wildfowl. Strong south-westerlies and heavy rain were quickly followed by cold north-westerlies in the latter part of the week, as a deep low pressure system swept east across the country.
So, with a favourable tail-wind, Whooper Swans were the order of the day on 21st-22nd, when they were found at four localities. In the vanguard were two at Pitsford Res, briefly, on 19th, subsequently followed by one at Stanford Res early in the morning of 21st, that number having risen to three there in the evening. On the same date, three flew south-west over Stanwick GP and two were found at Clifford Hill GP – shortly to be joined by two more before the morning was out. Pitsford was back in the game on 22nd, when one was discovered among the Mute Swans there early on and five passed east through Stanwick’s airspace later in the afternoon.
DIRFT 3 held on to its Cackling Goose on 18th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck and the drake Cape Shelduck were also both on site on 16th but their recently developed liking for nearby Foxholes Fisheries at Crick saw them spending more time there – daily from 17th to 20th and again on 22nd.
The last vestiges of summer were evident at Ditchford GP on 21st, where a juvenile Garganey was dozing among surface weed in the sunlit shallows of Delta Pit on 21st. One was also present in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay on the same date. These two are clearly late but not the latest ever in the county – that accolade goes to a bird at Earls Barton GP on 13th November 2015.
A drake Common Scoter dropped in at Boddington Res late on 20th, while a further hint of winter materialised in the form of a female Greater Scaup at Sywell CP, the following day. ‘Duck of the week’, though, was, indisputably, the ‘redhead’ Red-breasted Merganser, which played hard to get, appearing to roost on Stanwick’s Main Lake and being seen only briefly at first light on 21st and 22nd before flying off west to whereabouts as yet unknown. The erratic appearances of this skinny sawbill in the county already render it difficult to catch up with. It’s by no means annual and the last records were of single birds in 2019 and 2016.
Looking settled, last week’s Black-necked Grebe remained throughout the period on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake, as was the Bittern at Summer Leys – at least until 19th.
Cattle Egrets upped their number to seven at the Ringstead GP roost on the latter date and they continued to be seen at Stanwick, where there were four at the week’s end, while three visited cattle fields below the church at Irthlingborough on 21st. Stanwick also hosted the highest number of the period’s Great Egrets, three, while ones and twos were also seen at Daventry CP, Pitsford, Ringstead and Summer Leys.
Last week’s juvenile Osprey, continued to roam the Nene Valley between Billing GP and Summer Leys from 16th to 21st and a male Hen Harrier flying north-west over Daventry CP on 18th was the only other raptor worthy of note.
The long-staying juvenile male Ruff also remained at Summer Leys until at least 19th, otherwise scarce waders were at a premium.
This week’s scarcer larids were limited to three Caspian Gulls – a third-winter at Daventry on 18th and single adults at Boddington on 18th and Pitsford on 19th, while Yellow-legged Gulls included a maximum of six at Boddington on 18th, up to three were at Thrapston between 18th and 22nd and two at Pitsford on 19th-20th.
Passerines were again in short supply with four Stonechats at Thrapston on 18th being the highest count, plus two at Earls Barton GP on the same date and singles at Pitsford on 20th-22nd and at Oundle and Summer Leys on 18th. And finally … about to enter super-rare status, a Rock Pipit was at Stanwick on 17th – only the second in the county this year after one at the same site on 21st March. Times are getting hard …
It was a largely dry week with a bias toward an Atlantic-borne mixture of northerly and westerly airstreams. Nevertheless, the county enjoyed some class arrivals and more than a hint that winter is only just around the corner.
And that hint materialised in the form of migrating geese – all seemingly genuine and kicking off with a small skein of thirteen Pink-footed Geese flying south-east over Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 11th.
These were followed the next day by an adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, found at DIRFT 3, where it remained until at least 14th. Amazingly, this is the second record for this industrial development site, following one there in January 2018.
In line with recent arrivals in Gloucestershire, Norfolk, South Yorkshire and Worcestershire, a White-fronted Goose was also found, at Clifford Hill GP, on 13th and, furthering the winter theme, six Whooper Swans were seen heading east over Summer Leys LNR on 15th.
Entering the murky underworld of the dark and the dubious, this week’s roll-call at DIRFT 3 exposed the ongoing presence of the Cackling Goose, the female Ruddy Shelduck and the drake Cape Shelduck throughout the period, although the latter two enjoyed some time away at nearby Foxholes Fisheries, Crick at the beginning of the week.
On 15th, a new Black-necked Grebe was found to still be present on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake after news emerged of its earlier discovery there on 12th. Coming a full four weeks after the last, this is the 6th record of the autumn and the only bird which has stayed for more than one day.
A Bittern was seen briefly at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 13th and, other than the one which continued to feature throughout the period, Summer Leys has had a lean autumn to date, so the appearance of a Spoonbill there on 9th helped put the site back on the map this week. Despite being an almost annual visitor to the county, this was only the second record for 2021, the previous one being of two that briefly toured the Nene Valley between Summer Leys and Stanwick GP on 8th-9th April.
Cattle Egrets continued to be seen at Stanwick, where there were two on 12th but further down the valley at Ringstead GP at least four appeared to be roosting on the same date and this number had increased to six on 14th. This week’s Great Egrets were found at Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Stanwick, Summer Leys and Thrapston the highest site total being three at Pitsford on 14th.
Two days after the Spoonbill, Summer Leys produced an Osprey, which was presumably the same bird – a juvenile – seen nearby at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 14th.
The long-staying juvenile male Ruff also remained at Summer Leys all week, while a westbound Curlew flew over the site on 9th.
Gull roosts continued to deliver the goods, with Boddington and Stanford vying for pole position, the latter holding a first-winter Mediterranean Gull on 11th and 13th, joined there by a second-winter on the first of these two dates, while an adult was at Boddington on 13th.
The 11th also produced an adult Caspian Gull at Stanford, while the Boddington roost held two Caspians – a second-winter and a fourth-winter – on 13th. Elsewhere, an adult and first-winter Caspians were at DIRFT 3 on 12th and an adult visited Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) on 14th.
Other gulls were available, of course, and a sprinkling of Yellow-legged Gulls included one at Stanwick on 12th, four at DIRFT 3 on the same date, four at Boddington on 13th, five at Thrapston GP on the latter date and one or two at Pitsford on 14th.
A high-flying Short-eared Owl, west over Daventry CP on 13th, is hopefully in the vanguard of more to come.
While passerines were thin on the ground, what the week lacked in quantity was made up for in quality when the Stanford Ringing Group trapped and ringed a Yellow-browed Warbler on 12th. It showed well, on and off, for 20 minutes after being released. As well as being only the sixteenth county record, this bird is the seventh for the site, the sixth to be ringed there and the fourth in consecutive years. There is now an annual air of expectation – if not predictability – of this species finding its way into a net in late autumn at this site.
A single Whinchat, along with approximately ten Stonechats, was at Borough Hill on 9th, two more Stonechats were found at Thrapston GP on 15th and singles were at Stanford on 9th, Harlestone Heath on 12th, Hollowell on 14th and Pitsford on 15th.
A wet start to the period and locally forecast gales that failed to materialise preceded a tantalising ridge of high pressure that crept in from the east near the week’s end. But never mind the weather, as autumn proper got underway October started with a bang!
But before all that, lining up for a gander were the exotica of DIRFT 3, with the Cackling Goose, female Ruddy Shelduck and drake Cape Shelduck continuing their presence throughout the week. And as the pendulum swings from the fence-hoppers to the genuinely wild, passing on the 5th, Hollowell’s Pink-footed Goose mid-swing, two Garganeys were found on Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake on 6th.
Indisputably, however, bird of the autumn – and for some, of the year – was apparently the UK’s only inland Leach’s Petrel of the period, at Pitsford Res, on 2nd. The first in the county since 2008 and 24 hours earlier than predicted, it did the decent thing and remained on view, north of the causeway, until the early evening. Full details here.
The Summer Leys Bittern was back on show, almost daily, during the week – again providing principally flight views, while a Cattle Egret appeared at Ringstead GP on 5th and two were still at Stanwick GP on 5th-6th. Remaining rather low-key, Great Egrets were reported only from Ditchford GP, Earls Barton/Summer Leys, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res and Stanwick, the highest site total being three at Summer Leys on 5th.
Reigniting the seabird theme, a juvenile Northern Gannet was a nice surprise for two startled observers as it cruised at little more than tree-top height, west over Weedon Bec, late in the afternoon of 7th. This one fits in nicely with the autumn prevalence of occurrences in the county and was one of a number of individuals seen inland over Cambridgeshire, East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, London and Nottinghamshire during 6th-7th. A much more frequent visitor than Leach’s Petrel, it would appear to be about the 43rd record for Northants.
With autumn wader passage beginning to feel like a distant memory, only the long-staying juvenile male Ruff at Summer Leys is really newsworthy. It remained all week.
Gulls bounced back a bit this week, with an adult Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Boddington Res on 4th, the same roost also including adult Caspian Gulls on 4th, 5th and 7th, with a first-winter and a fourth-winter also present there on the latter date. Further adult Caspian Gulls were found at DIRFT 3 on 5th and 8th, the individual on 8th sporting a yellow ring inscribed with the characters XLVH. This enabled it to be traced back to eastern Germany, where it was ringed as a 4th calendar year male on 29th April 2021 at Gräbendorfer See, approximately 40 km from the border with Poland and approximately 1,019 km from DIRFT 3. An adult also visited Stanford Res on 8th.
Between one and three Yellow-legged Gulls were seen in the Boddington roost, at Pitsford, Ringstead and Stanwick, while Thrapston GP produced the week’s maximum of five on 7th. More intriguing, though, was a super, smart-looking, diminutive black-backed gull, which ticked all the boxes for Baltic Gull, in the Boddington roost on 4th and coincided with the appearance of an identical bird at Cley, Norfolk on the same evening.
Completing the back-end miscellany of the systematic list, a female Merlin spent an hour and a half around the Main Barrage Lake at Clifford Hill GP on 3rd, a single Whinchat, along with three Stonechats, was near Moulton on 2nd and two more Stonechats were at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby on 4th, while three were at DIRFT 3 on 8th.
The only Northern Wheatear this week was one at Stanford Res on 6th and a lone Crossbill was seen in flight close to Harlestone Firs on 5th.