In praise of … County Recorders


A timely Editorial in the British Birds e-Newsletter

With little more than a month to go before my ‘retirement’ as County Recorder, the following Editorial appeared in the BB e-Newsletter, reproduced here by kind permission of BB Editor, Roger Riddington. The post remains vacant …

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rrRecently, I was talking to Ben, the BB web designer. He had done some work on our website, including the page of current county recorders. He expressed some surprise when I told him I’d be making changes to the content of that page on a regular, probably monthly, basis. I think he’d assumed that county recorders, once appointed, were likely to remain in post for a very long time, possibly forever. There are a few long-term stalwarts, of course, but nationally, there is a good deal of turnover. It’s perhaps not surprising – the volume of work can be significant and for most recorders, that work equates to spare time not spent in the field. I suspect that most recorders would say that the bulk of the records come in with little effort, it’s chasing up the (hopefully small) minority of difficult species and recalcitrant observers that takes such a lot of time. Yet the county recorder network is a foundation for a huge amount of amateur ornithology and citizen science in Britain, and it plays a key part of the main reports in BB, including the Rarities, Scarce Migrants and Rare Breeding Birds reports. We acknowledge this in an admittedly small way by giving current county recorders a 50% discount on their annual subscription to BB. But by and large, county recorders are unsung heroes. So to all you past and present recorders and bird report editors: we salute you, thanks for your efforts. And to anyone thinking of putting their hand up for a vacant position – go on, give it a try; it need not be forever, and you will be making a really key contribution.

Roger Riddington, Editor British Birds

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A particularly tricky white-winged gull

This morning I paid my usual weekly visit to Rushton Landfill. In recent weeks it has been pulling in up to 4,000 gulls, including several Caspians, and the chances of finding either Glaucous or Iceland has been on the cards for some time, given the current higher than usual numbers of both species present in the UK this winter.

Gulls frequently loaf in good numbers on adjacent fields and one of the favourite gathering places is the field immediately north of the landfill, at Storefield Lodge Farm. It was here that, going through the assembled flock this morning, I picked out a first-winter Caspian and, at last, found a white-winged gull.dscn3449-copy My immediate reaction was forth-winter dscn3451-copydscn3452-copyGlaucous as it seemed quite large, looked a little dingy and had a blackish subterminal band on the bill – otherwise it was a winter ‘adult’ with fairly well-marked head streaking, which extended to the neck and upper breast, albeit rather faded. I duly broadcast the news and then went back to getting a proper look.

Next to Lesser Black-backed and Herring it appeared marginally larger, although the bill was not long but the head appeared rather flat-crowned. Given size and proportions I quickly came to the conclusion it must be a small female Glaucous. Over the next couple of minutes I took a few long distance digiscope shots before the bird disengaged itself from the flock and flew a few metres closer. Any potential prolonged observation was quickly cut short at this point, however, as the explosive gull-scarer went off on the adjacent landfill and all the gulls took to the air and quickly dispersed. Despite a search of neighbouring fields I failed to relocate the gull. dscn3455-copyIt was only after later examination of the images I managed to obtain that nagging doubts about the bird’s identity crept in. Although in the first three images reproduced here the bird appears large and ‘mean-looking’ (= Glaucous) in the last of the series of images the true proportions are visible. It lacks the truly hefty proportions of Glaucous Gull, appears attenuated with a long primary projection and has a more rounded head and relatively small, short bill, bearing a resemblance to a Common Gull. This all adds up to it being an Iceland Gull with the size and sometimes flattish, sloping forehead suggesting a ‘butch’ male.

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Rarity Round-up 21st to 27th January 2017

The days in the early part of the week remained cold but were marred by more damp and foggy starts. The murky conditions cleared, however, as the winds swung to the south-east, bringing cold, sharp air and frosts from the continent. Many bodies of water became covered with a thin layer of ice, albeit for the short term. The first white-winged gull of the winter put in an all too brief appearance but the Waxwing influx continued to dominate, with new birds found at a number of localities.

Fourteen Eurasian White-fronted Geese remained in the Nene Valley below Great Doddington, with varying numbers of them paying almost daily visits to the main lake at Summer Leys LNR. The two Red-crested Pochards were still at Pitsford Res on 24th, and two also visited Summer Leys on the same date, while the latter site, along with adjacent Earls Barton GP, continued to host the long-staying drake Scaup, which was joined by another drake on 22nd (when two females were also reported) and a third drake on 24th. The female remained on the main lake at Stanwick GP until at least 23rd. Meanwhile, Stanford Reservoir’s Long-tailed Duck remained all week and the drake Smew at Ditchford GP was joined there briefly by a ‘redhead’ on 21st, on which date both birds flew off in the direction of nearby Stanwick GP.

Three Great White Egrets were at Summer Leys on 21st, this locality competing for highest site total with Ravensthorpe Res, where the three long-stayers were still present on 24th. Apart from almost daily sightings at the first of these two locations, there was one at Thrapston GP on 21st and up to two were still at Pitsford Res throughout the week.

Thought to have departed some time ago, Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe was seen again in Pintail Bay on 23rd. Where has it been in the intervening period? The week went by with no uncommon raptors reported, while the only scarce waders were single Jack Snipe at Stanford Res on 21st and 27th and at Summer Leys on 26th.

While gulls-a-plenty is not a term applicable to the distribution of this week’s larids, there was a first-winter Mediterranean Gull in the roost at Pitsford Res on 21st and    Caspian Gulls continued to be seen in reasonable numbers, with three adults at Rushton Landfill on 21st and 2 there on 27th, single adults at Stanford Res on the same dates, at Chacombe on 22nd and at Boddington Res on 24th and single first-winters at the latter site on 22nd and at Pitsford Res the next day. Only one Yellow-legged Gull was seen – at Pitsford Res on 21st. Highlight of the week, however, was the adult Glaucous Gull which was discovered near Chacombe on 22nd, subsequently appearing in the gull roost at nearby Boddington Res late in the afternoon.

Adult Glaucous Gull, Chacombe, 22nd January 2017 (Mike Pollard)

Adult Glaucous Gull, Chacombe, 22nd January 2017 (Mike Pollard)

In a winter frequently remarked upon for its higher than usual numbers of white-winged gulls – including inland – it’s surprising that this is the first and only one which has been discovered in the county so far. Even more remarkable is the fact that up to twelve different individual Glaucous Gulls have recently been identified visiting the gull roost just over the border at Draycote Res in Warwickshire …

A new maximum count of six Short-eared Owls was made at Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon, on 22nd with at least three still present the following day. But it was Waxwings which stole the show again this week, with seven visiting Summer Leys briefly on 21st, up to sixteen at Hanging Houghton on 23rd-24th, separate flocks of eight and twenty in

Waxwing, Summer Leys LNR, 21st January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Waxwing, Summer Leys LNR, 21st January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Waxwing, Summer Leys LNR, 21st January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Waxwing, Summer Leys LNR, 21st January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Waxwings, Broughton, 26th January 2017 (Jon Lyles)

Waxwings, Broughton, 26th January 2017 (Jon Lyles)

Northampton’s eastern district on 24th, ten at Kettering on 26th, eight in Broughton on 26th-27th and nine at Little Stanion, Corby on 27th. Drabber but, these days, arguably rarer at a local level, a Corn Bunting was seen at Harrington AF on 22nd.

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Rarity Round-up 14th to 20th January 2017

The northerly wind, which brought lower temperatures at the end of last week, shifted back westerly for the first half of the period, bringing overcast and wet conditions before high pressure delivered colder, drier weather on the back of an easterly airflow from the continent. There were no major surprises, however, and Waxwings remained firmly in the limelight at the very beginning of the week.

Predictably, the adult Whooper Swan remained at Sywell CP until at least 17th but a herd of fifteen flying up the Nene Valley between Elton and Fotheringhay on 19th was more unusual in terms of the number involved.

Whooper Swan, Sywell CP, 17th January 2017 (Alan Francis)

Whooper Swan, Sywell CP, 17th January 2017 (Alan Francis)

At least eleven Eurasian White-fronted Geese were still with Greylags below Great Doddington on 17th, while a juvenile was reported at Kislingbury GP on the same date. Oddball of the week was a female Wood Duck on the Nene at Wellingborough Embankment on 15th. Although mooted as a potential vagrant, this one must surely have been a fence-jumper at some previous point in time.

Female Wood Duck, Wellingborough Embankment, 15th January 2017 (Paul Gosling)

Female Wood Duck, Wellingborough Embankment, 15th January 2017 (Paul Gosling)

Just two Red-crested Pochards were at Pitsford Res on 17th, with one remaining to 20th and both Scaups remained on station all week on the large lake east of Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP and on the main lake at Stanwick GP.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 17th January 2017 (Doug Goddard)

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 17th January 2017 (Doug Goddard)

Red-crested Pochard, Pitsford Res, 21st January 2017 (Clive Bowley)

Red-crested Pochard, Pitsford Res, 21st January 2017 (Clive Bowley)

The Long-tailed Duck – apparently unreported last week – was still at Stanford Res, by the reedbed on the northern bank, at the week’s end, while a ‘redhead’ Smew was seen there again on 14th. The drake Smew from last week remained on the large lake between Higham Ferrers and Irthlingborough at Ditchford GP until 14th.

Long-tailed Duck, Stanford Res, January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Long-tailed Duck, Stanford Res, January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

The usual fixtures and fittings included three Great White Egrets still at Ravensthorpe Res on 17th, apparently dwindling to one there by 20th, up to two were still at Pitsford Res to 17th and one was at Summer Leys all week, with two there on 19th. Two species of harrier were notched up during the period, both on 15th, beginning with with a male Marsh Harrier at Stanford Res and followed by a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier at Polebrook AF, which was also reported at nearby Lutton on 12th. The 15th also saw an unconfirmed report of a Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys.

Caspian Gulls came to the fore this week. On 14th they were found at no less than five different localities, which may actually constitute a local ‘day record’. On this date, there were three (two adults and a first-winter) at Rushton Landfill, a first-winter near Chacombe and single adults at Hollowell Res (remaining all week), Pitsford Res and Stanford Res. The following day saw three adults at Rushton Landfill and an adult plus a first-winter in the gull roost at Pitsford and subsequent to this, near Chacombe, a second-winter on 18th and an adult the following day. The number of Yellow-legged Gulls looked poor by comparison, with an adult and a second-winter near Chacombe on 14th – the second-winter remaining on 19th, a first-winter in the Pitsford roost on 14th and two there the following day and a first-winter at Rushton Landfill also on 14th.

Short-eared Owl, Neville's Lodge, Finedon, 18th January 2017 (Doug Goddard). One of four long-staying individuals wintering in this area.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 18th January 2017 (Doug Goddard). One of four long-staying individuals wintering in this area.

Four Short-eared Owls remained at Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon until at least 18th, while Waxwings continued to prove a popular draw in downtown Kettering, where twenty-seven entertained observers (and bemused shoppers) around the Sainsbury’s/Pets At Home/School Lane area on 14th, the flock subsequently moving to St Mary’s Road the following day.

Waxwing, Kettering, 14th January 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Waxwing, Kettering, 14th January 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Waxwing, Kettering, 14th January 2017 (Stuart Mundy)

Waxwing, Kettering, 14th January 2017 (Stuart Mundy)

Following this, six or seven were feeding on apples in a Great Billing Garden on 18th and approximately twenty were in the Boothville area of Northampton briefly on 20th.

Stonechat, Blueberry Farm, Maidwell, 20th January 2017 (Martin Swannell). A maximum site count of six came from Hollowell Res during the week.

Stonechat, Blueberry Farm, Maidwell, 20th January 2017 (Martin Swannell). A maximum site count of six came from Hollowell Res during the week.

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Rarity Round-up 7th to 13th January 2017

A mild start to the week even inspired some to go birding without a coat on 8th but the relatively warm blip, brought by light south to south-westerlies, quickly gave way to cooler, wetter conditions the following day. By mid-week, the wind had swung to the west before becoming north-westerly, and eventually northerly, by the week’s end. The change in direction saw daytime temperatures fall to just above freezing and the county experienced its first snow showers on 12th and 13th. The weather evidently had little influence on the arrival of Northamptonshire’s sixth-ever Cattle Egret, which was part of a national invasion, while Waxwings continued to be discovered and proved to be as popular as ever.

The ‘roll up and see’ adult Whooper Swan, now into the sixth week of its stay, remained at Sywell CP throughout, while the twenty-three Eurasian White-fronted Geese remained in the vicinity of Summer Leys LNR/Great Doddington, until at least 10th. Four White-fronts also visited Pitsford Res briefly on 11th. Small numbers of Red-crested Pochards included a drake at Stanford Res on 7th, a female at Pitsford Res on 8th and two at Ditchford GP on 11th, while the drake Scaup returned to, and remained on, the large lake east of Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP from 8th until the end of the week and the female was also still on the main lake at Stanwick GP on 13th.

Drake Scaup, Earls Barton GP, 11th January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Drake Scaup, Earls Barton GP, 11th January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

The only Smew reported this week was a drake on the large lake between Higham Ferrers and Irthlingborough at Ditchford GP on 11th.

The highlight of the week materialised in the form of Northamptonshire’s sixth-ever Cattle Egret which, alas, remained for only one day near Dunkley’s old restaurant at Whiston on 7th. Part of a national invasion exceeding one hundred individuals, it was not entirely unexpected.

Cattle Egret, Whiston, 7th January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Cattle Egret, Whiston, 7th January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

captionFrom the exciting to the more mundane, up to three Great White Egrets remained at Ravensthorpe Res, numbers between one and three were at Pitsford Res and one was again at Summer Leys all week. Also making it into the new week was the Pitsford Res Slavonian Grebe, which was still present around the dam/sailing club/Pintail Bay area until at least 11th.

Great White Egrets, Ravensthorpe Res, January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

Great White Egrets, Ravensthorpe Res, January 2017 (Bob Bullock)

The scarcest waders of the week were Jack Snipe, with two at Barnes Meadow LNR, Northampton between 7th and 12th and one at Ditchford GP on 11th. Similarly uncommon gulls during the period were restricted to the third-winter Mediterranean Gull at Daventry CP again on 12th, two Caspian Gulls (adult and first-winter) near Rushton on 8th and an adult at Daventry CP the following day. In a period during which considerable numbers of northern ‘white-winged’ gulls have appeared in the UK it is disappointing that we have not yet had one in Northants!

Short-eared Owl, Neville's Lodge, Finedon, January 2017 (Simon Wantling www.simonwantlingphotography.com)

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, January 2017 (Simon Wantling www.simonwantlingphotography.com)

Two Short-eared Owls were still present at Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon on 8th and one near Summer Leys on 13th, while the flow of Waxwings into the county continued, with the three at Woodford Halse increasing to seven on 7th, three appearing at Sywell on 8th, eight in Bulwick on 10th and twenty-four in Kettering between 11th and 13th, while two Crossbills were still in Fineshade Wood on 10th.

Waxwing, Kettering, 13th January 2017 (Mark Tyrrell)

Waxwing, Kettering, 13th January 2017 (Mark Tyrrell)

Waxwing, Kettering, 11th January 2017 (Paul Bolton)

Waxwing, Kettering, 11th January 2017 (Paul Bolton)

Waxwing, Kettering, 11th January 2017 (Alan Francis)

Waxwing, Kettering, 11th January 2017 (Alan Francis)

Waxwings, Kettering, 13th January 2017 (Geof Douglas)

Waxwings, Kettering, 13th January 2017 (Geof Douglas). A nice comparison between adult male (left) and first-winter male.

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The Whiston Cattle Egret

Northamptonshire’s 6th Cattle Egret was found by Neil Underwood this morning, close to the site of last month’s White-fronted Goose grazing area alongside the River Nene, at Dunkleys, between Whiston and Earls Barton. Around midday it moved a few hundred metres to the south to a weedy field between Dunkleys and the newly-formed earth bank running alongside the new quarry conveyor belt.

In a winter notable for its Cattle Egret invasion it would have been surprising (and disappointing!) if Northants had not featured. Currently there are well over 100 individuals at large in the UK, most of which are in south-west England, although some have reached as far north as Lancashire.

A few digiscoped shots below. dscn3319-copy                                                                                                     dscn3326-copydscn3325-copy                                     Lack of dark tip to bill (when not soil-covered) ages it as an adult. There have been 5 previous  records, 4 of which have been in the same short stretch of the Nene Valley as this one. Previous accepted records are:

2006   Earls Barton GP, 11th-13th August                                                                                                                 2008   Fotheringhay, 23rd February; Earls Barton GP, 30th-31st July                                               2009   Earls Barton GP, 27th-28th May                                                                                                            2012   Earls Barton GP, 1st-6th May

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Rarity Round-up 1st to 6th January 2017

The beginning of the week was marked by a shift in the wind direction with a more northerly vector, bringing with it lower daytime, and sub-zero overnight, temperatures with associated heavy frosts. The conditions did not produce anything dramatic beyond a few new and scarce wildfowl, while local Short-eared Owls and Waxwings continued to prove popular attractions.

The 5th brought five adult Bewick’s Swans to Pitsford Res, albeit fleetingly as they were picked up flying south over the dam. Veteran local birders will recall the time when this species was a fairly common visitor, with Pitsford annually holding flocks of between sixty and seventy individuals from late October well into the winter months.

Bewick's Swans, Pitsford Res, 5th January 2017 (Jacob Spinks)

Bewick’s Swans, Pitsford Res, 5th January 2017 (Jacob Spinks)

Conversely, the adult Whooper Swan remained at Sywell CP all week, while the Eurasian White-fronted Geese – now down to twenty-three – became much more mobile, being seen to fly off from White Mills Marina, Whiston on 2nd, arriving shortly afterwards at Clifford Hill GP. The following morning they visited the main lake at Summer Leys LNR before relocating to nearby fields alongside the River Nene, below Great Doddington, where they remained until at least 4th. Two adult White-fronts also visited Pitsford Res, where they were seen in Pintail Bay – also on 4th. Red-crested Pochard numbers remained low with singles at both Sywell CP and Pitsford Res on 2nd and two at the latter site on 5th. In the Nene Valley, a female Scaup appeared at Summer Leys on 2nd before quickly relocating later the same day to Stanwick GP, where it remained until the end of the week. A drake Scaup appeared on the large lake behind Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on 4th but it was not seen subsequently.

Drake Scaup, Earls Barton GP, 4th January 2017 (Alan Horsley)

Drake Scaup, Earls Barton GP, 4th January 2017 (Alan Horsley)

Further north, Stanford’s Long-tailed Duck remained there until at least 4th there along with the ‘redhead’ Smew. Elsewhere drake Smews were seen at Stanwick GP on 3rd and at Earls Barton GP the following day, both records almost certainly relating to the same individual.

By 2nd, the Thrapston GP Bittern had moved from Heron Lake to Aldwincle Lake, where it was seen in reeds at the north end of the lake, while Great White Egrets continued to number three throughout at Ravensthorpe Res, up to two at Pitsford Res and the same number intermittently at Summer Leys along with one at Thrapston GP.

Great White Egrets, Ravensthorpe Res, 2nd January 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Great White Egrets, Ravensthorpe Res, 2nd January 2017 (Mike Alibone)

The Slavonian Grebe remained at Pitsford Res throughout, although it became more mobile, ranging between Catwalk Bay and the sailing club, while an unusual winter visitor in the shape of a Marsh Harrier visited Summer Leys briefly on 3rd.The only scarce gulls reported this week were single adult Caspian Gulls at Stanwick GP on 4th and at Pitsford Res the following day.

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 3rd January 2017 (Ricky Sinfield)

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 3rd January 2017 (Ricky Sinfield)

Neville’s Lodge, near Finedon, again continued to prove a popular draw for observers of Short-eared Owls, now with up to five present throughout the period and birders visiting daily.

Short-eared Owl, Finedon, 2nd January 2017 (Mark Tyrrell)

Short-eared Owl, Finedon, 2nd January 2017 (Mark Tyrrell)

Short-eared Owl, Finedon, 5th January 2017 (Martin Swannell)

Short-eared Owl, Finedon, 5th January 2017 (Martin Swannell)

Short-eared Owl, Finedon, 5th January 2017 (Martin Swannell)

Short-eared Owl, Finedon, 5th January 2017 (Martin Swannell)

After the rush last week to see the first Waxwings of the winter there were no reports of the reportedly forty-strong crowd-pleasing birds in Roade, where the flock size peaked at fifteen just prior to their departure on 2nd.

Waxwings, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Simon Hales)

Waxwings, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Simon Hales)

Waxwing, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Alan Coles)

Waxwing, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Alan Coles)

Waxwing, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Alan Coles)

Waxwing, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Alan Coles)

Waxwing, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Alan Coles)

Waxwing, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Alan Coles)

Waxwings, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Simon Hales)

Waxwings, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Simon Hales)

Waxwings, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Doug Goddard). Note the colour-ringed individual on the left (see text).

Waxwings, Roade, 2nd January 2017 (Doug Goddard). Note the colour-ringed individual on the left (see text).

One of these birds was colour-ringed and traceable to Kincorth, Aberdeen, where it was ringed on 2nd December 2016; it’s a first-winter female. Another Waxwing, a male, paid a brief visit to a garden on Borough Hill on 3rd and, perhaps surprisingly, three return to the site of the ‘Boxing Day One’ – the Rowan outside the Co-op at Woodford Halse – on 6th. Lastly, Crossbills continued to be reported intermittently from Fineshade Wood to 5th.

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