Rarity Round-up, 15th to 21st February 2020

Another week of wind and wuthering saw most of the action taking place in Northamptonshire’s northwest, which produced a second for the county – albeit briefly.

In a lean week for wildfowl, the nine Pink-footed Geese continued to be seen daily at Stanford, on the Northamptonshire side of the River Avon, until 18th.

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford on Avon, 17th February 2020 (John Moon)

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford on Avon, 17th February 2020 (John Moon)

So far, proving unusually scarce this winter, a Bittern was seen in flight close to Stoke Bruerne on 16th but a search of suitable habitat in the vicinity turned out to be fruitless the following day. This was, of course, not the case with Great Egrets, which were found at six localities during the week, with a maximum of up to three at Thrapston GP on 16th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 18th February 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)

Making an all too brief sortie into the county, from across the border in Leicestershire, was this winter’s first Iceland Gull, an adult, found in the roost at Stanford Res on 18th.

Adult Iceland Gull, Stanford Res, 18th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

As if that wasn’t enough, a third-winter Kumlien’s Gull from the same Leicestershire stable appeared in the same roost! A double whammy, a county second and more than ample reward for the time invested at this site by its single, relentlessly enthusiastic observer. “It’s only a ‘sub’, chap,” the cynics may say but a great bird, nonetheless. The first acceptable record was as recently as March 2016, at Daventry CP. The only Caspian Gulls this week also appeared in the Stanford roost – a first-winter on 17th and a third-winter on 21st.

Third-winter Kumlien’s Gull, Stanford Res, 18th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Third-winter Kumlien’s Gull, Shawell, Leics, 18th January 2020 (Mike Alibone). The same individual that visited Stanford on 18th February.

Just two reports of Short-eared Owls included the Borough Hill three on 17th and the one still at Harrington AF on 20th, the latter site also producing a Merlin on 17th.

Nordic Jackdaw, Stanford on Avon, 21st February 2020 (Steve Nichols). A very well-marked individual, showing all the features normally associated with the race monedula, i.e. extremely broad and prominent white neck sides (almost forming a collar), paler grey nape and – from some angles – seemingly paler underparts than British spermologus. The above features are also not too far adrift from being associated with Russian Jackdaw soemmeringii and do not necessarily rule this race out.

Back up at Stanford, at the field with the Percy Pilcher Monument, last week’s cute corvid showing characteristics of Nordic Jackdaw was again on show on 21st, while Ecton SF’s Siberian Chiffchaff was also still in situ on 17th, along with at least ten Common Chiffchaffs.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 17th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 17th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Stonechat numbers were down from last week, with singles only at Pitsford Res, Stanford and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering). Now, if we can only lose those winds …

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Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th February 2020

For those who like their isobars squeezed, then this was the week. It was time to batten down the Nuthatches as Storm Ciara felled trees indiscriminately across the county, during the strongest winds experienced for seven years. There was, however, little change to the birding scene.

Nine Pink-footed Geese, which had been residing on the Leicestershire side of Stanford Res on 7th, entered Northamptonshire airspace the following day, when they flew over the reservoir toward Stanford Hall. There they stayed throughout the week – on the ‘wrong’ side of the Avon – until 14th, when they ventured, albeit briefly, across the border to the water-logged fields around the Percy Pilcher Monument.

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford Res, 7th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard). Part of a gaggle of nine which flew over the reservoir toward Stanford on Avon on 8th.

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford on Avon, 14th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard).

The only other wildfowl of note were the two first-winter drake Greater Scaups, which remained at Clifford Hill GP until at least 8th.

Great Egrets were found at eight localities this week, with a maximum of three at both Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP.

From one white bird to another (well, almost) as this week’s Mediterranean Gulls – both adults – were seen at both Daventry CP and Stanford on 14th, while the third-winter Glaucous Gull, found in the roost at Stanford on 7th, did the decent thing and lingered there throughout most of the following morning.

Third-winter Glaucous Gull, Stanford Res, 8th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Third-winter Glaucous Gull, Stanford Res, 8th February 2020 (Stuart Mundy)

It failed to return to the roost in the evening, during which a near-adult Caspian Gull provided a consolational ‘by-catch’ for a small handful of hopeful observers. Further Caspians were a fourth-winter at Pitsford Res on the same day and an adult at Hollowell Res on 8th-9th. An adult Yellow-legged Gull visited at Daventry on 10th and two – an adult and a second-winter – were in the roost at Boddington Res on 11th. Waders on parade this week were limited to just three Jack Snipes at Hollowell on 14th.

Short-eared Owls were reported from three of last week’s localities, with Borough Hill again producing a performing trio on 12th, while singles remained at Harrington AF until at least 11th and Stanford until 13th. Back up at the field with the Percy Pilcher Monument, a Nordic Jackdaw (or one showing characteristics thereof) within a large corvid flock on 11th provided an interesting distraction but hardly constituted a monumental find.

Oundle’s Black Redstart continued to pose on St Peter’s Church on 8th but there were no subsequent reports, although it did roam to nearby dwellings and proved to be elusive.

Black Redstart, Oundle, 8th February 2020 (Ant Hall)

Stonechats were recorded at five sites, which included Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford, Thrapston and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering), with a maximum of four at Pitsford on 14th.

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Rarity Round-up, 1st to 7th February 2020

Continuing mild weather was the order of the week, with local temperatures hitting a high of 13°C on 2nd. There was even a touch of avian spring as two species of wader were back at potential breeding sites in two river valleys during the period.

Hollowell Res’ female Ruddy Shelduck again made it into the week, still present there on 1st, while last week’s Greater Scaups – the two first-winter drakes at Clifford Hill GP and the female at Stanwick GP – remained firmly in place throughout.

First-winter drake Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 7th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)

A quick check of Ditchford GP’s Chester House Lake revealed the five Cattle Egrets to be all present and correct on 6th and 7th, along with a Great Egret and several Little Egrets on the same body of water – a sight which would never have been envisaged a couple of years ago. Great Egrets remained at seven localities, with a maximum of four at Stanwick on 6th.

A dearth of raptors saw just a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier hunting over ploughed fields alongside the A605 near Warmington on 1st.

On a cursory note, a couple of waders provided a ‘heads up’ that spring is just around the corner as Oystercatchers returned to the Nene Valley at Thrapston GP on 6th and Clifford Hill the following day, while a Curlew was bubbling away in south Northants on 5th. A locally unseasonal Dunlin was found at Daventry CP on 4th while, more in keeping with winter, Hollowell produced a high total of nine Jack Snipe on 1st.

First-winter Dunlin, Daventry CP, 4th February 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Gull numbers picked up significantly from last week, at last including the first ‘white-winger’ of the winter. Single adult Mediterranean Gulls visited Daventry CP on 4th and 7th, Boddington Res on 5th and Stanford Res on 7th, when a third-winter Glaucous Gull was also found in the roost there. Earlier in the week it had been seen at nearby Shawell, just over the border in Leicestershire. Three Caspian Gulls – two adults and a third-winter – were at Rushton Landfill on 6th and an adult Yellow-legged Gull visited at Daventry on 4th.

There was no change on the Short-eared Owl front, last week’s four localities continuing to host birds seemingly eager to perform to a steady stream of appreciative onlookers. Borough Hill, topping the bill for both popularity and numbers, produced four, Stanford three and Harrington AF and Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) one apiece.

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 3rd February 2020 (Iain Tidmarsh)

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 6th February 2020 (Matt Jackson)

Short-eared Owl, Borough Hill, 6th February 2020 (Martin Swannell)

Ecton SF hung on to at least one Siberian Chiffchaff throughout and up to two more were discovered with up to eight Common Chiffchaffs at the nicely compact and insect-rich location of Islip STW on 3rd-5th. This (sub)species is probably commoner in winter than we think, although it would appear there are both good and bad winters as far as numbers nationally are concerned. Sewage works are a favoured winter habitat.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Islip STW, 5th February 2020 (Nick Parker)

Siberian Chiffchaff, Islip STW, 5th February 2020 (Nick Parker)

After last week’s Black Redstart in Corby, another was found in the much more easily accessible location of Oundle Church on 6th and it was still present there the following day, albeit after several hours’ absence. Sunday’s churchgoers could be in for a bonus … manna from heaven, maybe?

Black Redstart, Oundle, 7th February 2020 (John Moon)

Black Redstart, Oundle, 7th February 2020 (Nick Parker)

Stonechat, Borough Hill, 6th February 2020 (John Moon)

Stonechats were recorded at five sites, which included Borough Hill, Hollowell, Stanford, Thrapston and Barton Seagrave, with a maximum of three at Hollowell on 1st.

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Rarity Round-up, 25th to 31st January 2020

The mild Atlantic airstream once again ensured traditional winter weather was kept firmly at bay, with local temperatures hitting a high of 12°C during the last two days of the period. The early part of the week, however, had birders ducking and diving when it came to confirming the identification of a problematic Aythya, discovered at Stanwick on day one.

Hollowell Res continued to play host to the female Ruddy Shelduck until at least 27th but it was a different shade of brown which brought a quickening of the pulse to the finder of a controversial quacker, sparking much debate over its identification during its stay at Stanwick GP from 25th to 27th. Initially looking very good for a female Ferruginous Duck, subsequent close examination revealed a hybrid in hiding, the game was up and on 29th it duly scarpered to Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows reserve.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 27th January 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 27th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). Grey wingbar indicates hybrid.

Not so controversial were this week’s Nene Valley Greater Scaups, which included the female still at Stanwick and two very different looking first-winter drakes at Clifford Hill GP from 25th – all birds remaining until at least 30th.

First-winter drake Greater Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 26th January 2020 (Mike Alibone). In an advanced state of moult, this bird has remnant juvenile brown feathers on its right flank and a mottled lower breast.

First-winter drake Greater Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 26th January 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Female Greater Scaup, Stanwick GP, 26th January 2020 (James Underwood)

 

 

 

 

Sticking with said valley, the five Cattle Egrets were still present at Ditchford GP on 25th but they appear to have attracted little interest since. Eager to stay in the frame, though, Great Egrets were present at ten localities with Stanwick and Thrapston GP mustering three apiece. An adult Caspian Gull joined the melee of scavengers at Rushton Landfill on 25th but no ‘white-wingers’ have yet emerged at this, the county’s last bastion of larid-luring putrefaction, during the mild winter we have experienced to date.

Short-eared Owls maintained their presence at last week’s four localities, the Neville’s Lodge three performing well between 25th and 29th, at least three – if not four – were at Borough Hill on 25th, two were still over setaside east of Stanford Res until 31st and one was still patrolling the bunkers at Harrington AF between 25th and 27th.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 25th January 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 25th January 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 25th January 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

At Ecton SF, just one Siberian Chiffchaff – the original bird found on 7th – was present throughout the week, along with at least fifteen Common Chiffchaffs on 28th but bird of the week, at least for one person, was the Black Redstart which played hide-and-seek in an extensive landscape of untidy heaps of scaffolding on an industrial site in Corby on 28th-29th.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 29th January 2020 (Alan Coles)

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 29th January 2020 (Alan Coles)

Stonechats were recorded at six sites, which included Borough Hill, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford, Thrapston and Kettering, with a maximum of five at Pitsford on 28th.

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The Stanwick ‘Ferruginous’ Duck

It’s not called ‘Fudge Duck’ for nothing. Closely resembling the real thing, hybrids abound, enticing observers into a ticking temptation trap, in which nothing is quite what it seems …

When the news broke of Ferruginous Duck or hybrid at Stanwick GP, at around midday yesterday, it was clearly a sensible move to throw in that cautionary caveat – the dreaded ‘h’ word – as rare ducks are notorious for carrying rogue genes. Although looking good at first sight, this was one such bird which, upon closer scrutiny, clearly did not pass muster. OK, it could be said it was mainly but unfortunately, not wholly, Ferruginous. The following assessment is based upon published images of the bird and follows the most up-to-date ‘hybrid checklist’ of features given by Reeber (2015).

It is assumed the bird is an adult female on account of the iris being dark brown (paler in juvenile/first-winter). In terms of size, it’s too large for a Ferruginous Duck. Two of the images below suggest it is virtually the same size as a Pochard. It also appears too bulky. Ferruginous Duck is small and any bird close in size to, or larger than, Tufted Duck is likely to be a hybrid.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Head shape is not perfect for Ferruginous Duck and is similar to Pochard. On close inspection, the head shows two slightly paler brown patches, one at the bill base and one on the rear cheeks, which is strongly indicative of hybridisation with Common Pochard. The bill colouration also indicates a hybrid as the pale subterminal mark extends along the sides of the bill, which would form a ‘U’ shape when seen from above. The subterminal mark should not extend in this way (although many published images of so-called ‘pure’ Ferruginous Ducks show it – including some of Reeber’s – so its validity may be questionable). There also appears to be fine traces of black at the bill base – another hybrid characteristic.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The belly is not sharply demarcated as it should be for an adult and it appears a little smudgy. Also, there appears to be a slight demarcation between the breast and the flanks, which is not right for Ferruginous Duck.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Steve Fisher)

All the above features exhibited by this bird indicate a hybrid origin. Reeber suggests that hybrids are relatively frequent in the wild and even goes as far as stating that in Western Europe, hybrid-like Ferruginous Ducks are commoner than pure individuals!

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Rarity Round-up, 18th to 24th January 2020

With the country sitting underneath a slow-moving area of high pressure for the majority of the week, the weather delivered its own rarity in the form of overnight frost during the first four days. Otherwise, generally mild weather ensued and the range of birds on offer was distinctly narrow – nevertheless new discoveries were made as the week progressed …

The female Ruddy Shelduck, again at Hollowell Res on 18th and 24th, was the closest thing approaching a dapper dabbler this week, while rather more demure divers in the form of Greater Scaup were the first-winter female at Daventry CP all week and the female back at Stanwick GP from 20th to 24th.

First-winter female Greater Scaup, Daventry CP, 18th January 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

Great Egrets remained faithful to Daventry, Ditchford GP, Hollowell, Pitsford Res, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys LNR/Earls Barton GP, with a maximum of three at Stanwick on 20th and the same number at Summer Leys on 24th. Summer Leys also produced the first Black-tailed Godwits of the New Year, with two there on 23rd, while three Jack Snipe at Hollowell on 18th and two on 24th ensured this species remained firmly on the radar this week. Hollowell also produced the only rare larid of the week, an adult Caspian Gull on 24th.

Short-eared Owls extended their presence to four localities, kicking off with up to three at Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) between 18th and 24th, one still at Harrington AF between 19th and 23rd, up to two still over setaside east of Stanford Res between 21st and 24th and three at Borough Hill on 21st.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 20th January 2020 (John Moon)

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 21st January 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Down in the Nene Valley, at Ecton SF, the Siberian Chiffchaff remained throughout the period, being joined there by a second individual on 19th. This new bird was what is often described as a classic ‘Mackintosh-buff’ colour and on close examination it was readily distinguishable from the original bird first discovered on 7th. Twelve Common Chiffchaffs were also present on 20th-21st.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Alan Coles). The original bird number 1.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). The original bird number 1.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). Bird number 2 – ‘Mackintosh-buff’ and a different individual to the one in the previous two images.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). Bird number 2.

Meanwhile, Stonechats were recorded at five sites, which included DIRFT 3, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering), with a maximum of five at Pitsford on 21st. Now, the Siberian version of this species would be a most welcome addition to the county list …

Stonechat, Hollowell Res, 18th January 2020 (Martin Swannell)

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Rarity Round-up, 11th to 17th January 2020

In off the Atlantic, Storm Brendan struck in the early part of the week, while the winds were consistently from the south-westerly quarter, reaching thirty miles per hour locally on 14th. Considerable rain topped up and extended local floodwater and while temperatures remained relatively high throughout, a lull ensued in the discovery of new birds during the period.

Perhaps ironically, waterfowl numbers were at a low ebb, with the female Ruddy Shelduck remaining at Hollowell Res on 11th and the drake Red-crested Pochard still present at Summer Leys LNR on 12th. Just along the Nene Valley, two Red-crested Pochards were found at Ditchford GP on 17th. A report of four Greater Scaup at Stanwick GP on 13th remained unconfirmed, while a presumed hybrid female – showing some Tufted Duck characteristics – was at Pitsford Res until at least 14th. The first-winter female, meanwhile, remained at Daventry CP throughout the week.

With no more than two at any one site, Great Egrets were all over the shop, appearing again at eight localities, this week including Clifford Hill GP, Daventry CP, Ditchford GP, Ecton SF, Pitsford, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys.

Great Egret, Stanford Res, 12th January 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The five Cattle Egrets were present at Ditchford throughout the week, roosting on Wilson’s Pits and favouring the small area between the Watersports Pit and the River Nene during the day. Four of them strayed to nearby Stanwick on 15th.

Waders were again in short supply this week with just a Jack Snipe at Ditchford on 12th, while single third-winter Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls at Daventry CP on 10th were the only scarce larids on offer.

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 12th January 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Hunting on both sides of the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire county boundary, a Short-eared Owl was found close to Stanford on 12th, another re-emerged at Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) – a proven reliable wintering site for this species in recent years – on 15th and was seen again on 17th, while the Harrington AF bird was seen again on 16th. Others are surely out there, aren’t they! A Merlin was also in the vicinity of Harrington AF on 15th.

Great Grey Shrike, DIRFT 3, 15th January 2020 (Matt Jackson)

Sustained by an apparently inexhaustible supply of small mammals, the DIRFT 3 Great Grey Shrike repeatedly performed well during the period, while the constantly warm area around the processed sewage outflow stream at Ecton SF continued to provide the perfect microclimate for the Siberian Chiffchaff, still present on 14th, along with up to seven wintering Chiffchaffs.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 12th January 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

Just east of there, at Summer Leys, a Firecrest was reported along the old railway track on 14th.  Stonechats were recorded at four sites, which included Earls Barton GP, Pitsford, Stanford and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering), with a maximum of two at Pitsford on 14th.

Stonechat, Stanford Res, 15th January 2020 (Matt Jackson)

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