Rarity Round-up, 27th January to 2nd February 2018

Although an uneventful week weatherwise, mild, south-westerly winds off the Atlantic produced the warmest day of the year so far on 28th, when local daytime temperatures reached 13ºC (15ºC nationally). Perhaps reflecting the generally mild winter, wrapped up in the wider parameters of global climate change, a newly fledged juvenile Blackbird in a Hartwell garden on 31st January was early, to say the least!

The week opened with a new Whooper Swan – this time an adult – in flight over Bragborough, near Daventry, on 27th, while the long-staying juvenile remained on site at Ravensthorpe Res. In the Nene Valley, at Stanwick, the Pink-footed Goose was still present on 30th and the forty-four-strong flock of Barnacle Geese remained there until 28th, after which they moved north to Leicestershire, where they were seen circling over Rutland Water. This movement – clearly not hard weather-related – resurrects the earlier speculation that perhaps they are wild – after all, how far do the ‘Bedfordshire ferals’ travel? Further down the Nene Valley, at Thrapston GP, two Red-crested Pochards were discovered on Town Lake on 30th, the female Scaup was still off the dam at Sywell CP on the same date and the drake Smew at Ditchford GP was perhaps ‘dunroamin’ as it was seen there on a record three consecutive days, 28th-30th, at Higham Lake.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 30th January 2018 (Alan Francis)

Apart from one at Ravensthorpe Res on 31st, sightings of Great White Egrets were restricted to locations in the Nene Valley, with at least two at Summer Leys LNR all week, two at Ditchford GP on 27th, one at Thrapston GP on the same date and one at Stanwick GP on 28th-30th. Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe remained until at least 1st.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 30th January 2018 (Alan Coles)

Just one locality on just one day, 28th, produced the week’s star raptors in the shapes of Merlin and Hen Harrier at Pitsford Res. Similarly, the only waders during the period – the Stanwick Black-tailed Godwit and one of the Hollowell Jack Snipes – were both still present from last week – again, both on the same day, 27th.

Two Yellow-legged Gulls visited the gull roost at Pitsford Res on 29th and two adults were at Ravensthorpe Res on 31st, while the wintering adult Caspian Gull was still at Hollowell Res on 27th-28th, a second-winter was on floodwater near Hinton-in-the-Hedges on 28th and the gull roost at Pitsford produced a first-winter on 28th, followed by a second-winter on 29th.

Male Hawfinch, Thenford, 28th January 2018 (John Friendship-Taylor)

Passerines fared slightly better this week, with two Waxwings reported briefly at Gretton on 30th, the flock of at least twenty Hawfinches at Thenford Churchyard on 28th and one at Silverstone on the same date, plus a minimum of six at East Carlton CP on 30th. At least one Corn Bunting was still with a mobile flock of Yellowhammers between Sulgrave and Thorpe Mandeville on 27th.

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Rarity Round-up, 20th-26th January 2018

Encompassing a mixed bag of weather conditions, the week kicked off miserably with wet and windy conditions depositing a light covering of snow during the first two days. A subsequent dry and calm period was short-lived, as the tail-end of Storm Georgina produced rain on the back of south-westerly winds, gusting to 50-60 mph locally, mid-week before a mild and settled spell set in at the week’s end. Unsurprisingly, there was little change on the birding scene and, if there were any new arrivals, they did a grand job of evading detection …

Ravensthorpe Res received a little less coverage than is usual but the juvenile Whooper Swan remained in residence until at least 23rd. After missing a week, the Pink-footed Goose made a last-minute reappearance at Stanwick GP on 26th, when it was found feeding there with a flock of forty-four Barnacle Geese, first seen flying south-west over the site two days previously, on 24th.

Barnacle Geese, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2018 (Steve Fisher). Part of a flock of forty-four birds.

Barnacle Geese, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2018 (Steve Fisher). Part of a flock of forty-four birds.

On the same date, this flock – or part of it – was also seen in flight further up the Nene Valley over White Mills Marina/Earls Barton GP. This the largest flock of Barnacle Geese in the county in recent history and, while there is always the outside chance they could be wild, an offshoot of the four hundred or so feral birds resident in neighbouring Bedfordshire seems a much more likely point of origin.  Meanwhile, the female Scaup remained off the dam at Sywell CP all week and the itinerant drake Smew at Ditchford GP revisited Wilson’s Pits for one day only, on 20th.

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 20th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Drake Smew, Ditchford GP, 20th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Numbers of Great White Egrets remained low, with singles at Pitsford Res and Ravensthorpe Res, two at Stanwick and up to three at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR, while Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe remained on station off Yacht Bay all week.

Slavonian Grebe, Pitsford Res, 23rd January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Once again, Merlin was the only reported raptor of note and this week’s were both in the south-west of the county, where singles were near Sulgrave on 21st and at Hinton-in-the-Hedges on 23rd. On the wader front, the Stanwick Black-tailed Godwit reappeared there on 25th-26th and the period’s only Jack Snipe was at Hollowell Res on 20th, while the wintering adult Caspian Gull remained at the latter site on the same date and two were in the gull roost at Pitsford on 25th. Meanwhile, up to four Hawfinches were still showing at the much favour’d site of Cottesbrooke to the week’s end, when 26th also produced one with Bullfinches behind the feeding station at Summer Leys and a whopping twenty-plus in trees above Church Cottages at Thenford.

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Rarity Round-up, 13th-19th January 2018

Remaining largely dry and, apart from south-easterly winds over the first two days, the remainder of the period was dominated by west-south-westerly winds, reaching gale force overnight on 17th/18th, during which gusts of up to 105 mph were recorded locally. Unsurprisingly for mid-January, the established long-staying winter visitors stayed put and Northamptonshire birding offered little more than slim pickings in terms of new arrivals.

So, this week’s ball and chain birds predictably included the juvenile Whooper Swan at Ravensthorpe Res and the female Scaup at Sywell CP, while the fidgety drake Smew at Ditchford GP returned to Higham Lake but continued to remain elusive.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 16th January 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Continuing their winter tour, the average white band of Great Egrets played it out at Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP, Ravensthorpe Res and Summer Leys LNR – the latter the only locality to hold more than one individual. For the first time in weeks, none was reported at Pitsford Res, where a small grebe off the yacht club, initially identified and reported as a Black-necked on 19th, later proved to be a Slavonian Grebe.

In a dearth of raptors, a Merlin at Pineham (Northampton) on 13th managed to stave off a total absence for the period, while the same date also produced the week’s only notable wader, Jack Snipe, with singles at Barnes Meadow (Northampton), Welford Quarry and two at Hollowell Res.

On the Larid front, three Yellow-legged Gulls were at Ravensthorpe Res on 13th and one was there on 15th, while another visited Pitsford Res on 13th but the only Caspian Gull reported this week was the wintering adult at Hollowell on 13th.

Apart from a flyalong Short-eared Owl at Ditchford GP on 19th, the remainder of the week’s quota belongs to Hawfinches, although none was reported from any new sites. Cottesbrooke remained the firm favourite with observers, with up to three there until at least 17th, Thenford Churchyard retained the same number until at least 19th and one was at East Carlton CP on 14th.

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Rarity Round-up, 6th-12th January 2018

The start of the week was cold and largely dry and bright, with west to north-westerly winds preceding rather dank, dull, misty and sometimes wet conditions during the middle and at the tail-end. A few new discoveries added potential interest to this otherwise murky period of early January.

The juvenile Whooper Swan remained all week at Ravensthorpe Res, while Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose was similarly ensconced deep in the Nene Valley.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Doubling the winter goose line-up, meanwhile, was an adult Dark-bellied Brent, discovered on roadside pools alongside the A5 at DIRFT 3, just north-west of Crick, on 7th. Averaging little more than two records per year, this species, has failed to appear in only three out of the last twenty, while the pale-bellied race has never been recorded locally and, if it ever appears, the first example would no doubt prove itself popular. Lower down the pecking order, the long-staying female Scaup notched up nine weeks at Sywell CP and the roaming drake Smew appeared again at Ditchford GP on Wilson’s Pit on 7th-8th, before again vanishing into the murk of the Nene Valley. This species is proving to be very scarce in the county so far, this winter.

Adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, DIRFT 3, 7th January 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Records of Brent Geese in Northamptonshire, by month, last 20 years (1998-2017)

The Great Northern Diver – presumably the Hollowell individual – which turned up at Pitsford on 5th, stayed until early morning on 6th, before promptly vanishing, while one or two Great White Egrets continued to be seen at Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, Earls Barton, Ditchford, Stanwick and Thrapston Gravel Pits and Summer Leys LNR, with a maximum of three at Ditchford GP on 9th.

Raptors hit the headlines this week. A male Hen Harrier taking a Woodpigeon in ploughed field by the A5, just north of Grafton Regis on 11th, was said by locals to have been in the general area for several days previously. Prior to this, a Rough-legged Buzzard, reportedly seen well along the minor road between Greens Norton and Blakesley on 7th, could not be found during brief searches in inclement weather over the following two days. Also in the south of the county, a Merlin was seen in flight near Chacombe on 6th.

No new waders were found this week – the Black-tailed Godwit remaining at Stanwick GP throughout the period, while 6th saw the number of Jack Snipes up on last week, with two now at Hollowell and three at Welford Quarry.

Scarce gulls were at a low ebb, with just one Yellow-legged Gull at Ravensthorpe Res, on 7th, along with a first-winter Caspian Gulls there on the same date. The only other Caspians were recorded on 6th, when the wintering adult was still at Hollowell and an adult plus a first-winter joined the scavenging mass of large gulls at Rushton Landfill.

Waxwing, Corby, 10th January 2018 (Sophie Barrell)

Given the current paucity of Waxwings, one photographed from an office window in Corby provided much excitement for the observer on 10th. It would not be surprising if this remains the only one locally this winter. Another Mealy Redpoll was reported this week, this one accompanying Lesser Redpolls in a Scaldwell garden on 11th, while the run on Hawfinches continued.

Male Hawfinch, Cottesbrooke, 12th January 2018 (Ken Prouse)

Two were at Aynho and three over Edgcote on 6th, singles were roosting with Greenfinches in Northampton on 7th and at Badby on 9th and six were at Thenford Churchyard again on 12th. Meanwhile, the small flock at Cottesbrooke – numbering up to eight – continued to attract a steady trickle of admirers throughout the week.

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Rarity Round-up, 30th December 2017 to 5th January 2018

Caught on the southern periphery of ‘Storm Dylan’, the first day of the week was marked by hefty south-westerly winds, the strength of which quickly subsided, before ‘Storm Eleanor’ brought further rain and gales from the same direction three days later. Temperatures remained above freezing all week. Local water bodies became flooded, with access limited in several places. Aside from movement between locations for some long-stayers there was little new to add to the week’s proceedings …

Looking like it’s going nowhere fast, the young Whooper Swan entered its second calendar year at Ravensthorpe Res this week and the Stanwick GP Pink-footed Goose was still visiting the site until 5th. Similarly long-staying, the female Scaup remained faithful to Sywell CP throughout the period but a drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res appeared to be new in on 1st, with the same site also producing two drake Smew on the same date.

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 4th January 2018 (Alan Francis)

Hollowell’s juvenile Great Northern Diver got itchy feet, disappearing after 2nd and presumably relocating to Pitsford Res, where one was discovered late on 5th. Great White Egrets were still lumbering around in ones and twos at Hollowell, Pitsford and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, Ditchford and Stanwick Gravel Pits and Summer Leys LNR, while an unidentified small grebe sp., discovered in the gathering dusk at Pitsford on 5th, is likely to morph during daylight hours into either a Slavonian or Black-necked – if it remains on site.

A Black-tailed Godwit, appearing at Stanwick GP on 5th, was a good winter record but single Jack Snipes at Hollowell on 30th and 2nd, Stanford Res on 31st and Welford Quarry on 2nd were more in keeping with the season.

Now well into winter proper, we should be on the look-out for arctic gulls – so far in short supply – and scrutiny of reservoir gull roosts, landfills and daytime loafing flocks could well produce that sought after ‘white-winger’, as well as some of the more uncommon species, such as Yellow-legged Gull, of which there was one at Stanwick GP on 30th and two at Stanford Res roost on 2nd. Caspian Gulls are also seen most weeks, with the wintering adult still in residence at Hollowell Res throughout, a second-winter at Rushton Landfill on 30th and an adult there on 5th. The latter locality continued to host a juvenile Glaucous Gull, which temporarily vacated the site on 1st for a wash and brush up at nearby Thorpe Malsor Res, before returning to remain throughout the week.

There was a little more passerine action during the period, commencing on 30th with the discovery of a Water Pipit at Stanwick GP, where it remained until 5th. A Mealy Redpoll was found in alders on the northern perimeter of Sywell CP on 3rd, while Hawfinches continued to feature, with singles at Fawsley Park on 30th-31st, Blatherwycke Churchyard on 31st and Charwelton on 1st and up to two at Thenford Churchyard until 5th. Most popular, however, was the small flock at Cottesbrooke, which peaked at fourteen on 1st, followed by single-figure counts daily there until the week’s end. Bizarrely rarer – at least for the moment – were two Corn Buntings found with Yellowhammers near Thorpe Mandeville on 31st.

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Rarity Round-up, 23rd to 29th December 2017

Despite the week’s weather being influenced by a largely westerly airstream, resulting in a mild first half of the period, the winds turned northerly for a short spell during the second half, bringing low temperatures and snow, which was heaviest in northern parts of the county. The festive period slipped by quietly with no new birds being discovered.

Still in situ, Ravensthorpe Reservoir’s juvenile Whooper Swan was still on view to those walking off the Christmas excess on Boxing Day and the long-staying female Scaup was still present at Sywell CP on the same date.  The drake Smew, discovered at Ditchford GP’s Higham Lake on 18th, remained until 23rd before hopping across the A6 to Stanwick GP, where it was refound on the A45 Lay-by Pit (North) on 28th.

Hollowell’s juvenile Great Northern Diver remained throughout but Great White Egrets were reported from only three localities, with Pitsford Res, Ravensthorpe Res and Thrapston GP holding two a piece.

Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 24th December 2017 (Mike Alibone)

No unusual waders this week and winter gulls included two Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanford Res roost on 23rd, an adult at Hollowell Res on 24th and a first-winter at Pitsford Res on 25th plus a sub-adult in the roost there on 28th. The usual adult Caspian Gull was still at Hollowell Res on 23rd, being accompanied by a first-winter there, three days later, on 26th, while a second-winter was in the gull roost at Pitsford on 27th. Looking likely to be the only ‘white-winger’ of the first part of the winter, the juvenile Glaucous Gull found at Rushton Landfill on 22nd was seen there again on 24th and 28th, while the only Hawfinches reported this week were two at the regular site of Blatherwycke Churchyard on 26th and 28th.

With this being the last round-up of 2017, I would like to thank all who have contributed records and sightings via the various media channels and to extend a special thank you to all those who have sent in the photographs which bring the weekly reports to life. Happy New Year to all!

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Rarity Round-up, 16th to 22nd December 2017

The cold, northerly airstream in place at the beginning of the week ultimately gave way to warm air from the Atlantic, resulting in damp, foggy conditions and a local daytime temperature peak of 11ºC, 5ºC above average, at the week’s end. This appeared to have little effect on local birds, with most of the scarce winter visitors staying put and the arrival of the first ‘white-winged’ gull of the winter more likely down to seasonality than weather conditions.

A sense of déjà vu ensued as Ravensthorpe Reservoir’s juvenile Whooper Swan remained throughout the week and, again, Stanwick GP’s juvenile Pink-footed Goose was reported only on one date, 17th, with the four first-winter/female Scaup also still there on the same day.

Juvenile Whooper Swan, Ravensthorpe Res, 20th December 2017 (John Moon)

Female Scaup, Sywell CP, 19th December 2017 (Alan Francis)

Sywell CP’s long-staying female Scaup was still present on 19th and a drake was discovered halfway between the causeway and the dam at Pitsford Res on 21st. Pitsford was also one of only two localities to produce Smew, with a ‘redhead’ from 18th to 20th being joined by a drake there on 19th. Another drake was at Ditchford GP’s Higham Lake from 18th to 20th.

The juvenile Great Northern Diver remained at Hollowell Res all week and, again, seven localities produced Great White Egrets, with no more than two at Pitsford, Ravensthorpe and Stanwick and singles at Summer Leys LNR, Billing GP, Thrapston GP and Ditchford GP.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 15th December 2017 (Andrew Cook)

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 15th December 2017 (Andrew Cook)

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Rushton Landfill, 22nd December 2017 (Mike Alibone)

A Black-tailed Godwit at the latter site on 20th was the only wader of note this week. Winter gulls were on the radar for some of us, although Yellow-legged Gulls again remained scarce, with just single first-winters at Rushton Landfill on 17th and 22nd and this week’s Caspian Gulls including the wintering adult at Hollowell Res on 16th and 21st, a third-winter in the gull roost at Pitsford Res on 16th, an adult and a first-winter at Rushton Landfill on 17th and two adults there on 22nd. Rushton also produced the first ‘white-winger’ of the winter – a juvenile Glaucous Gull on 22nd and with around four thousand large gulls now visiting the landfill when active, this locality is now clearly on the map as the county’s premier winter gull-watching site.

Female Hawfinch, Fawsley Churchyard, 18th December 2017 (Ian Dobson)

The world beyond wetland birds was relatively quiet, with just a Short-eared Owl at Harrington AF on 17th and a trickle of Hawfinch sightings comprising one in flight over Kelmarsh on 16th, two at Fawsley Park on 16th and 18th and one or more at Cottesbrooke on 19th.

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