Summer Visitor Arrival Dates: 2

Six of the best – and another record-breaker in this week’s look at summer visitors arriving in the county.

Following last week’s review of this year’s summer visitor arrival dates so far, another six are now in, including the earliest-ever Lesser Whitethroat on 10th April. This species appears to have enjoyed a fairly consistent run of early arrival dates in recent years, with the previous earliest on 12th April in 1981, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Last year’s first was found on 17th April – a full week later than this year’s.

Coming close, in second place, is Whinchat on 16th April, which is only one day behind the previous earliest in 1984 and 2015. Beyond this, the Nightingale is four days earlier than last year’s, the Reed Warbler was found on the same date as last year’s first and the Hobby is six days earlier than the first one to be seen last year but probably more in line with the ‘average’ arrival date for this species.

This leaves Tree Pipit. It’s a difficult one to draw comparisons in arrival dates between this year and previous years because of the population decline it has undergone, especially in central and southern England, over the past twenty-five years. Red-listed in the UK as a species of critical concern, in our county it is now a scarce passage migrant. In 2012, for the first time ever, there were no spring records.

More to come. As always, an expanded list of general migrant arrival and departure dates, including historical extremes, is published annually in the Northamptonshire Bird Report.

Avian images used in map pins courtesy of RSPB

Another White-tailed Eagle in Northants

A ‘new’ White-tailed Eagle travels the length of the county and this time … the eagle has landed.

Following last week’s overview of White-tailed Eagle occurrences in Northamptonshire, another individual, radio-tagged male ‘G393’ from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, made a more prolonged visit to the county during 13th-14th April. During its short stay, it was seen by only one person and photographed.

This bird’s late March and early April wanderings have been documented here. It was one of the two birds that was in the North York Moors before moving south and covering 223 miles over two days. It then entered Northamptonshire north-west of Hellidon, late in the afternoon of 13th, before choosing a roosting site in a line of trees on farmland between Maidford and Little Preston.

It left its roost site the following morning, drifting east through the county, dropping briefly into a field just south-east of Northampton at 12.15. Somewhat amazingly, it appeared to have passed over unnoticed until, continuing north-east, it was spotted at 13.00 by eagle-eyed Steve Fisher, who was watching the skies above the Nene Valley from his garden in Irthlingborough. Shocked and elated, Steve managed some quick-fire shots with his camera as it drifted over Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR before it carried on north-east along the valley. A just reward for persistent lockdown garden birding!

At 14.15 it passed Barnwell, having continued to follow the Nene Valley and after this, it left the county, heading into Cambridgeshire and the Nene Washes, south of Peterborough. It subsequently ended up in west Norfolk, where it remained during the evening. If a bird this large can fly almost the entire length of the county undetected, then what else are we missing!

I would like to thank Dr Tim Mackrill (@timmackrill) of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation for providing updates, tracking data (and maps via RDWF/Forestry England) and Steve Fisher (@stanwicktramp) for additional information and images.

POSTSCRIPT

Did you know … Pete Campbell, Proprietor of Cherwell Ironwork Ltd and well-known ex-Northamptonshire birder, made the cages for the young eagles in Charwelton and helped babysit them on the Isle of Wight prior to their release.

Birdingplaces: a new website for birding locations in the UK and Europe

An online interactive ‘Where to Watch Birds’ has just been launched, helping users to plan trips, discover new local birding sites and importantly, to add new localities to the map. Not one single site in Northamptonshire is currently featured, so it’s wide open for contributors to update.

The health crisis caused by the Coronavirus forces most of us to stay at home as much as possible but there is now the ability almost to bird online, exploring new areas and running through the localities featured on the new website www.birdingplaces.eu. The site is a virtual gateway to hundreds of birding areas across the UK and Europe and provides much of the information needed for some fine hours of birding.

You can also place your own favourite bird areas on the map simply by clicking on “Add a birdingplace” and following the instructions. It’s easy to do – especially with time on your hands when you have to stay at home in these times of lockdown and self-isolation.

European birding sites currently covered by Birdingplaces.eu

www.Birdingplaces.eu  is made by, and for, birders and is non-commercial. It’s an easy-to-use platform that connects birders from all over Europe and when logged in, you can also leave tips and comments, check out the “Birdingplaces League” or use the “Find a Bird”-tool. It’s all free to use.

To celebrate the launch of Birdingplaces.eu there is now have a chance of winning a top model Leica binocular and telescope when you add birding spots to the website. See www.birdingplaces.eu/go-in-and-win for more information.

Summer Visitor Arrival Dates

The first twenty are in! But how do this year’s arrival dates compare with those of previous years?

A review of how spring is progressing, in terms of the arrival of summer visitors, covers the five weeks up to 9th April. Two species, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, are excluded as both have significant wintering populations that cloud the arrival dates of those wintering outside of the UK.

This year, one species sets a new record for the earliest ever arrival date. The Garden Warbler at Boddington Reservoir on 7th beats the previous earliest, which was in 2010, by three days. This year’s Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler are relatively early for the county, being only three days and seven days later than the earliest, in 1998 and 1997, respectively. No other species produced noteworthy arrival dates, especially when population dynamics are taken into consideration.

With another fifteen species to arrive over the next five weeks or so it will be interesting to see if they are on time, early, or late. An expanded list of general migrant arrival and departure dates, including historical extremes, is published annually in the Northamptonshire Bird Report.

Avian images used in map pins courtesy of RSPB

White-tailed Eagles in Northamptonshire

Is White-tailed Eagle the ultimate local rarity? If not, then it must certainly be the most majestic. Few of today’s birders – possibly only four, in fact – have seen one in the county …

A spate of sightings across southern and eastern England during late March and early April relates in part to four wandering juveniles, ringed, radio-tagged and released on the Isle of Wight in the first stage of a new reintroduction program for this species. The recent movements of each of these individuals have been detailed by Roy Dennis here and one of these birds, ‘G318’, a female, was tracked as it entered Northamptonshire airspace, from the south, during the afternoon of 4th April. At approximately 14.00, it was logged east of Daventry, moving north at an altitude of 521 metres, before eventually roosting in a wood near Grimsby, Lincolnshire during the evening.

However, there have been other sightings of juveniles which are not attributable to any of the above four individuals and it is believed there could be as many as four or five continental birds wandering around the UK, including a metal-ringed bird which is thought to be from Sweden.

It’s been just under two weeks since one of these was seen at Kings Cliffe, in north-east Northants. It was initially thought to be a Golden Eagle, although the tail shape rules that species out and, set in the context of all the other recent sightings, White-tailed Eagle is clearly the species in the frame. Michael Bunting was the lucky observer.

The above bird was also reported as still being in the area on 31st March and may well have been the bird seen and photographed by Mark Hawkes as it moved south-east, mobbed by corvids, over Grafham Water and Perry, Cambridgeshire on the morning of 2nd April. Grafham is little more than 30 km south-east of Kings Cliffe … as the eagle flies.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle, Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire, 2nd April 2020 (Mark Hawkes)

Prior to this, there has been only one recent record in Northants – one in flight over Wansford on 23rd January 2005, which had toured north-east Norfolk from late December 2004 before spending several days around the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire in January. Richard Patient was the lucky observer on this occasion and his narrative, below, forms part of the accounts published on the Cambridge Bird Club website by several birders who were fortunate enough to connect with it.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle, Great Bircham, Norfolk, 15th January 2005 (Paul Bowyer www.birdlist.co.uk). This bird crossed from Cambridgeshire into Northamptonshire on 23rd January 2005.

And you have to go a long way back for the one prior to that – a site-faithful individual which spent successive winters at Blatherwycke Lake, from 1897-98 to 1901-02 and was last seen there on 16th January 1902.

According to BirdLife International (2020), the White-tailed Eagle population is increasing so, hopefully, we can expect more local records in the future.

‘Lockdown’ garden birding delivers Black Redstart

For one lucky person at least, ‘lockdown’ birding has delivered! At home in Spratton, David Arden was fortunate in having a Black Redstart visit his garden this afternoon. His excellent photos depict a very worn and faded bird, which appears likely to be a first-year female, based on appearance and feather wear. It has renewed a tertial on its right wing, the outer whitish edge of which would ordinarily contribute to the white patch on the closed wing, much abraded in this bird.

Black Redstart, Spratton, 2nd April 2020 (David Arden)
Black Redstart, Spratton, 2nd April 2020 (David Arden)

Special Free ‘Lockdown’ Subscription to BTO Garden Birdwatch

A message from the BTO

You can now join the BTO Garden Birdwatch Community for free

During the lockdown, many of us are looking to our gardens to enjoy nature and be outdoors, to learn, and to improve our well-being. BTO Garden BirdWatch offers a great opportunity to learn more about garden birds and other wildlife, and to contribute directly to BTO’s important scientific research on the value of gardens for wildlife. 

By understanding more about how wildlife uses our gardens, we’ll be able to make our cities, towns, villages and individual gardens better for nature.

To take part you simply keep a list of the birds you see visiting your garden over the course of a week, then enter this into our online recording system. If you want, you can also record other garden wildlife, such as butterflies and mammals.

Your sightings will help us to understand how and why populations of garden birds and other wildlife are changing, and how we can all help them.

This free offer includes access to our online recording system, a regular Garden BirdWatch e-newsletter with information on recording and identifying garden wildlife, and access to the BTO’s team of wildlife experts to answer your questions on garden wildlife.

Northamptonshire checklist and record submission

To make it easy for local birders to submit records and keep their county lists up-to-date, a new page, offering four downloadable documents, has been created on this site under the heading Checklist & Recording

A brief overview of each document is given below. Please visit the Checklist & Recording page to download them.

Checklist (PDF)
Checklist of the Birds of Northamptonshire v.2020.1 is a basic, 8-page PDF file, which covers all 324 species officially recorded in Northamptonshire up to 31st December 2019. The checklist follows the systematic order, nomenclature and taxonomy of the IOC World Bird List. Both species and subspecies are denoted by letters indicating when a description is required to accompany records submitted to the annual Northamptonshire Bird Report Records Committee. This list is viewable online before opting to download it.

Checklist (Excel)
Checklist of the Birds of Northamptonshire (Excel) v.2020.1 is a simple Excel file, which takes the same format as the PDF file, minus the description requirement annotations. It is designed for a variety of uses, e.g. lifelist, yearlist, daylist, locality list, etc. This list is not viewable online and can be used only after downloading.

Recording sheet
Fully updated to include both the IOC British List and an additional new tab outlining all local recording requirements, plus red and amber list species, the Northamptonshire Bird Recording Spreadsheet v.2020.1 is an Excel file which allows easy data input prior to periodic submission. Based on the use of pre-formatted cells, instructions on its completion are part of the package. This sheet is not viewable online and can be used only after downloading.

Description form
Description form v.2020.1 is a slightly modified version of the one currently available and in use for record submission of all species requiring a description. Completion is self-explanatory. This form is not viewable online and can be used only after downloading.

The above checklists and recording requirements tab are based upon the list published in the 2018 Northamptonshire Bird Report and originally compiled by Bob Bullock.

Both the Recording sheet and Description form can be submitted via email to alibone.mike@gmail.com and they will be passed to the Northamptonshire Bird Report Committee for processing.

Rarity Round-up, 21st-27th March 2020

Sunshine and south-easterlies. With some rather nice weather conditions, conducive to migration, things took a turn for the worse halfway through the period as the coronavirus lockdown situation ensued, putting paid to most birders’ activities.

Hanging on in there until 22nd was Clifford Hill GP’s first-summer Dark-bellied Brent Goose, while Stanford Res’ nine Pink-footed Geese again entered Northamptonshire airspace briefly on 21st and 23rd. Back at Clifford Hill, the two drake Greater Scaups were still present on 23rd – at least one of which remained on 27th and the adult female was back at Stanwick GP on 22nd.

Clifford Hill also hung on to its two summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes until at least 21st and on the same date, a Bittern was discovered at Stanford Res before quickly flying off into Leicestershire. Apart from two at Stanwick on 22nd, single Great Egrets were still to be found at Ditchford GP, Kislingbury GP, Pitsford Res, Stanford on Avon, Summer Leys LNR and Thrapston GP

The year’s second Osprey was picked up heading over Bulwick on 21st and, for the second consecutive week, Avocets were again seen in the Nene Valley, when two were found at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 26th. Initially present on Dragonfly Lake, they moved to Townholme Meadow, where they were visible from a bedroom window in Irthlingborough – now there’s lockdown birding for you! They were still present the next day. Other notable passage waders included a Black-tailed Godwit at the same locality, a Knot at Clifford Hill GP on 22nd and a Ruff for a short time at Summer Leys the following day, while a Jack Snipe was at Boddington Res on 26th.

More Mediterranean Gulls this week were two adults on Mary’s Lake, Earls Barton GP on 25th but that was about it as far as gulls were concerned. Single Short-eared Owls were still in evidence at Borough Hill on 21st and near Stanford Res on 21st-23rd, while a Merlin flew north over Chipping Warden, early in the morning of 21st.

Bird of the week without a doubt, though, was a Hooded Crow seen in fields east of the track down to Elinor Trout Lake at Thrapston GP on the afternoon of 23rd. It didn’t linger, as is typical of local occurrences of this species and if accepted, it will be only the third in the county this century, the previous two being flyover singles at Alderton on 7th November 2018 and at Summer Leys on 28th March 2019.

Another ‘first’ for the year this week was a singing male Willow Warbler at Stortons GP on 22nd but it was ‘outsung’ by a something smaller, with more pulling power – a male Firecrest at Ravensthorpe Res on 21st, which delighted all who turned up to admire it, pre-lockdown, on 22nd.

Male Firecrest, Ravensthorpe Res, 21st March 2020 (Jon Cook)
Male Firecrest, Ravensthorpe Res, 22nd March 2020 (Angus Molyneux)
Male Firecrest, Ravensthorpe Res, 22nd March 2020 (Martin Swannell)
Male Firecrest, Ravensthorpe Res, 22nd March 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Meanwhile, following last week’s first, Northern Wheatears continued to pass through in small numbers with singles at both Borough Hill and Stanford Res on 21st, Clifford Hill GP on 21st-22nd and Wollaston STW on 23rd.

This is likely to be the last weekly report for some time – for obvious reasons – but for anyone able to travel safely, within government ruling, to local sites then please continue to share records.

Rarity Round-up, 14th to 20th March 2020

A mild, south-westerly airstream ensured temperatures touched the higher side of seasonal average throughout the most part of the week, providing a much-needed boost for spring migrants. And it happened – migration with a capital ‘M’ – the county seeing the arrival of a decent number of ‘firsts’ for the year.

One of these, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose, was found at Clifford Hill GP on 17th, remaining there until the week’s end, while there was a surprising re-emergence, on 15th, of the nine Pink-footed Geese originally found at Stanford Res on 8th February but absent from there since 18th of the same month. Clearly they had been lurking undetected, somewhere in the vicinity and they were still present in the area on 19th.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 20th March 2020 (Doug Goddard). White fringes to upper wing coverts still present, though worn, and white tertial tips age this bird as a first-summer.
Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 17th March 2020 (Mike Alibone). White tertial tip is still visible at longer range but worn pale tips to wing coverts are less conspicuous.

More long-stayers included the two drake Greater Scaups at Clifford Hill GP all week, while the adult female left Stanwick GP and returned to adjacent Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR, where it was still present on 18th.

Staying with the Nene Valley, two summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes were found on the Main Barrage Lake at Clifford Hill GP as the week drew to a close on the afternoon of 20th.

Black-necked Grebes, Clifford Hill GP, 20th March 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Some distance further downriver, the Stanwick Cattle Egrets went back to playing hard to get, with just two on show early in the day on 15th. Unsurprisingly, the opposite was true when it came to the distribution of Great Egrets, which were present at seven localities, Thrapston GP once again hosting the week’s maximum of four, also on 15th.

The same site packed a punch on 18th, when it delivered the year’s first Osprey, eying up Elinor Trout Lake from a strategically located pylon.

Osprey, Thrapston GP, 18th March 2020 (Nick Parker)

Wader passage picked up from the very start of the period, commencing with an Avocet at Boddington Res on 14th and five more during the day at Summer Leys LNR. Together, they formed part of a wider overland movement involving birds in Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, London, Oxfordshire and Staffordshire on the same date. More will surely follow as spring advances.

Avocet, Boddington Res, 14th March 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Avocets, Summer Leys LNR, 14th March 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Avocets, Summer Leys LNR, 14th March 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

Summer Leys was also responsible for producing another ‘first’ for the year in the shape of a Little Ringed Plover on 19th and the same site also held on to a Knot from 16th until 19th, the same individual no doubt having been seen flying southwest from Stanwick on 15th. Remarkably, the Knot total swelled to five at Summer Leys, albeit briefly, on 18th.

Knot, Summer Leys LNR, 17th March 2020 (Nick Parker)

The same reserve pulled in seven Black-tailed Godwits early in the day on 20th. Rounding off the wader tally were four Jack Snipes still at Hollowell Res on 14th and an amazing total of nine together in one small flooded area behind the dam at Daventry CP on 18th – surely a record count for this species at the site.

After a dismal absence of gulls last week, evidence that Mediterranean Gull passage was underway appeared in the form of an adult at Stanwick on 16th, a first-winter at Daventry CP on 19th and one at Summer Leys the following day. Hollowell produced a first-winter Caspian Gull on 14th, while twos of Yellow-legged Gulls were logged at Summer Leys on 14th and Daventry CP on 18th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 16th March 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Daventry CP, 18th March 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Merlins were also on the move, the week producing singles at Stanford Res and over the feeding station at Summer Leys – both on 20th, while Stanford was also the venue for the appearance of the year’s first Swallow, over the dam there, on 19th. Despite the obvious feeling of spring in the air, the wintering Siberian Chiffchaff along the outflow stream at Ecton SF was still in situ on 19th and, with British winterers sometimes staying into April, it may yet stick around for another week or two. The same may not be said for Stonechats, though. After being recorded at seven localities last week, there was only one report of three at Clifford Hill GP during the period, this site also producing a rather mobile and elusive male Black Redstart on 17th. But arguably, the most attractive and, therefore, popular harbinger of spring – Northern Wheatear – made its 2020 debut this week, on 16th, when one was trapped and ringed at Brixworth STW. Its appearance coincided with a large fall involving hundreds on the south coast, with Dorset, for example, logging more than two hundred and thirty on the same date. Others quickly followed, including singles at Upton CP (Northampton) on 18th, Summer Leys on 19th-20th and at Harrington AF, Hartwell and Maidwell – all on 20th. Surprisingly, none was photographed …