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

With the heatwave over and temperatures 10°C lower than last week’s peak, a mixed bag of weather – backed principally by a southerly airstream – culminated in unseasonal gale-force winds at the end of the period. While wetland species continued to dominate, passerines proliferated and included the appearance of the first Pied Flycatchers of 2020.

More wildfowl were on the menu than during last week and while the Pink-footed Goose and female Ruddy Shelduck both continued to divide their time between the reservoirs of Hollowell and Ravensthorpe, the autumn’s first Garganey was found at Clifford Hill GP on 16th and two more appeared at Pitsford Res on 21st.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 16th August 2020 (John Nottingham)
Garganeys, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

At least four Red-crested Pochards were still present at the latter locality on 17th and a drake Common Scoter made a one-day stopover at Daventry CP on 15th.

With no reports last week, Cattle Egrets were again back in the picture at Stanwick GP, where one was seen on 16th, followed by four on 18th. Numbers of Great Egrets again continued to increase, with six localities each hosting between one and three birds, among which was a building development site at Cranford Road in Kettering.

Ospreys were also reported from six sites with, unsurprisingly, Hollowell producing the most, including three on 15th. Elsewhere, singles were at Pitsford on 16th, 17th and 20th, in flight, east, between Lamport and Maidwell on 16th, at Naseby Res on 19th and over Harrington AF on 21st, while a juvenile lingered at Fawsley Park Lake between 18th and 21st. The latter also date saw a juvenile Marsh Harrier flying south over Harrington.

Juvenile Osprey, Fawsley Park, 18th August 2020 (Linda Honeybourne)

This week’s top waders were limited to the same species as last week’s, albeit at different localities. Just one Whimbrel – again a fly-over – graced the skies above Boddington Res on 16th, while Black-tailed Godwits half returned to form with the 15th seeing one at Stanwick, three at Hollowell and eight at Ditchford GP and the following day producing one at Hollowell and four at Ditchford. Turnstones were again in the frame with two smart adults spending a day on the dam at Pitsford on 16th, which also held a Sanderling on 15th-16th.

Adult Turnstones, Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Turnstone, Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Sanderling Pitsford Res, 15th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

A sprinkling of Ruffs was confined to the Nene Valley, where one remained at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake between 15th and 19th, two visited Clifford Hill GP on 18th and one was at Summer Leys on 21st. One of last week’s Wood Sandpipers made it into this week, remaining at Hardwater Lake until 15th, the same site retaining up to two Greenshanks until 19th. Elsewhere, singles visited Ditchford GP and Pitsford Res on 16th and one was on the Cranford Road development site in Kettering on 21st.

Things were looking up on the gull front when a Little Gull dropped into Boddington Res on 16th, the same site producing a juvenile Mediterranean Gull on 20th. Further juvenile Meds were to be found on 15th, when one was at Daventry CP and two visited Pitsford, the latter site holding another on 21st, the day after one appeared at Ravensthorpe.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Juvenile Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 21st August 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The regular second-summer Caspian Gull remained at Hollowell until at least 15th, while a smart juvenile was on show at Pitsford on 21st but numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls remained low, with Pitsford hanging on to its two long-staying adults throughout. Elsewhere, an adult visited Ditchford GP on 15th, two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 18th, a second-summer was at Boddington on 20th and one was found at Harrington on 21st.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull Pitsford Res, 16th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Another autumn ‘first’ was a Black Tern briefly at Stanford before flying west, early on 17th – the same date upon which three were seen off the dam at Pitsford, while a juvenile appeared at Hollowell the following day.

Juvenile Black Tern, Hollowell Res, 18th August 2020 (Jon Cook)

Said to have been hundreds on the east coast this week, it would have been almost inconceivable not to have had any Pied Flycatchers occurring locally. Sure enough, they came. Four of them. But those thinking they were in with a chance of connecting with one of this quartet were to be disappointed … The first was trapped and ringed at Stanford on 15th, immediately doing a bunk after its release. The second was at Borough Hill on 20th but would-be observers found precise site information concerning its whereabouts woefully lacking – those making the on spec trip there leaving empty-handed. The third, at Yardley Chase on 21st, was in a private woodland and the fourth was also said to be ‘on private land’. Say no more. There is still time for another …

Pied Flycatcher, Stanford Res, 15th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The ‘private land’ theme continued with the discovery of a juvenile Black Redstart near Byfield on 16th – the second of the autumn so far, these individuals occurring much earlier than normal, i.e. outside the expected October time window.

Juvenile Black Redstart, Byfield, 16th August 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Meanwhile, Common Redstarts were widespread, with at least six localities delivering, including one trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 15th, up to three at Harrington between 15th and 21st, the same number at Hellidon on 17th and at least four between Walgrave and Old on 20th, while singles were found at both Borough Hill and Hollowell Res on the same date.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 15th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Common Redstart, Hollowell Res, 20th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Following records from just one site last week, Whinchats rose to prominence during the period, the star locality being Borough Hill, where there were five on 18th, nine on 20th and two on 21st. Other favoured localities were Pitsford Res, Hellidon and Ditchford GP, each producing singles on 16th, 17th and 20th respectively, while two were at Harrington on 17th.

Whinchat, Borough Hill, 18th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Not to be outdone, Stonechats put in a token appearance, with up to two at Hellidon on 16th-17th, while Northern Wheatear numbers were up on last week, with one still at Clifford Hill GP on 16th, followed by four there two days later, on 18th. Elsewhere, singles were at Hellidon on 20th and at Borough Hill on 20th-21st.

Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 19th August 2020 (Ant Hall)

Tree Pipits and late August is the prime time these days for this long-lost county breeder, now reduced to scarce migrant status. Borough Hill laid claim to the lion’s share with four on 20th, while singles flew over the Brampton Valley at Brixworth on 18th and Hanging Houghton the following day. Crossbill numbers dwindled further with just three in flight at Harlestone Heath on 15th and two over Kentle Wood (Daventry) on 20th. It appears this species is now on the brink of slipping back to its scarce, pre-influx status …

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

Another week of high temperatures, peaking at 33°C on 12th, saw a continental airstream which resulted in north-easterlies for much of the period. Highlights were limited to the first 2020 records of Turnstone and Wood Warbler – but it could have been oh so different if a certain wader had played ball …

Hollowell Res – arguably the place to be during August – continued to prove attractive to birds and birders alike, hanging on to much of the previous week’s fare, including its somewhat dodgy Pink-footed Goose. Déjà vu and the only other noteworthy wildfowl during the period were again Red-crested Pochards, with Pitsford Res harbouring three eclipse drakes and a female/juvenile on 9th.

Numbers of Great Egrets continued to increase, Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP again topping the locality leaderboard with numbers fluctuating daily and a maximum of five on 8th. Elsewhere, three visited Hollowell on 14th, up to two were seen at Pitsford throughout, and singles were at Stanwick GP on 10th and 14th.

Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 8th August 2020 (Paul Crotty)

Back on form, Hollowell produced the most Ospreys with twos on 8th and 11th and one on 12th, while Stanford Res hosted one on 8th and 9th and one was at Stanwick on 14th. Meanwhile, Stanford produced its fourth Marsh Harrier of the year, a juvenile, on 10th.

Osprey, male ‘T3’ from Rutland, fledged 2016, Hollowell Res, 12th August 2020 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Stanford Res, 10th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

But it’s back to Hollowell, where this week’s drama unfolds, with a fly-over adult Pacific Golden Plover, early on 9th. Light conditions put paid to the possibility of clinching that all-important underwing as the bird continued over high west, calling … and the call was spot-on! No view of the underwing, no sound recording and, therefore, no acceptance by the BBRC. It’s a life-haunting moment. Ouch. With PGPs in Suffolk, Northumberland, Donegal, Clare and a possible in Kent it’s clearly in the zone – and stirs memories of July 2013, when one was just up the road at Rutland Water, details of which are here.

Potential patch gold aside, in a week when Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake stole the thunder from Summer Leys, there were other waders to be had. Let’s face it, as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century, any waders in the county are good these days, now that the acres of autumn mud are no longer exposed and long, long gone from Pitsford, as the water authority is obliged to maintain high water levels to service the overpopulated mess we now find ourselves living in …

So, the pick of fourteen wader species to be found in the county this week starts with Whimbrel – four fly-overs at Hollowell on 10th and one over Harlestone Heath on 13th. Two Black-tailed Godwits again put in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 14th and the first Turnstone of 2020 – a juvenile – paid an all-too-brief visit to Stanwick on the same date.

Juvenile male Ruff, Earls Barton GP, 13th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)

The aforementioned Hardwater Lake attracted two Ruffs between 12th and 14th, the latter date panning out to be a good wader day under leaden skies, with misty and drizzly conditions also bringing Sanderlings to three localities – one at each of Stanwick and Boddington Res and at least nine at Pitsford, all of which visited the dam at some point beyond midday.

Adult Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 14th August 2020 (Nick Parker)
Adult Sanderling, Pitsford Res, 14th August 2020 (Nick Parker)

Back at Hardwater, things had warmed up nicely with two Wood Sandpipers playing centre stage between 9th and 14th and up to three Greenshanks during the same period. One or two of the latter hopped across the road to Summer Leys scrape on occasions. The only other Greenshanks were at Hollowell on 12th and at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.

Wood Sandpipers (adult, left and juvenile), Earls Barton GP, 13th August 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Greenshank, Hollowell Res, 12th August 2020 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 13th August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Unsurprisingly, there was little change on the gull front. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull dropped into Daventry CP on 13th and the regular second-summer Caspian Gull was still present at Hollowell throughout but Yellow-legged Gulls were seen at five localities, which included single juveniles at Hardwater Lake on 11th, Summer Leys on 13th and Clifford Hill on 14th, while two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 13th and one or two adults were seen at Pitsford, on and off, throughout. A little earlier than usually expected, a juvenile Arctic Tern spent most of the day at Summer Leys on 14th. 

This week saw passerine migration stepping up out of second gear, with a Northern Willow Warbler trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 8th. This is only the fifth record of this subspecies, acredula, for the county, all previous records have come from the mist nets of Stanford, the last being in 2018.

Northern Willow Warbler, Stanford Res, 8th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

The same site also produced the first Wood Warbler in 2020, the following day and staying with Stanford, three Common Redstarts were there on 8th, while up to two were still at Harrington AF on 11th.

Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 8th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Male Common Redstart, Harrington AF, 11th August 2020 (David Arden)

Elsewhere, up to three Whinchats were at Chelveston AF between 10th and 12th and a Northern Wheatear was at Clifford Hill GP on 14th.

A trickle of Crossbills continued but that’s all it was, with singles – all fly-overs – at Hollowell on 9th and 10th, Weldon on 10th, Brackley on 12th and two over Harrington AF on 11th.

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

A drier period than the last but rising temperatures throughout mirrored the previous week’s, peaking locally at 32°C on the last day, as a blast of hot southerlies reached us from deep within the continent. Perhaps associated with this, another Spoonbill put in a brief appearance for the third week running.

Escape, feral or just a malingering, would-be migrant, a Pink-footed Goose appeared at Hollowell Res on 6th – one of two days when the site’s female Ruddy Shelduck had chosen to visit nearby Ravensthorpe Res. Once again, the only other noteworthy wildfowl during the period were Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res producing one on 1st, six on 4th and two on 6th.

And if Spoonbills were considered difficult to catch up with locally, then they still are, with this week’s itinerant bird putting in a twilight appearance at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake before moving quickly to Summer Leys LNR and then, reportedly, back to Hardwater lake to roost. Needless to say, by dawn’s early light, it had done a bunk …  Keeping a low profile this week, Cattle Egrets were seen on one date only, with three at Stanwick GP on 4th.

Adult Spoonbill, Earls Barton GP, 4th August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Great Egrets became a little more widespread, Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP claiming the lion’s share of four throughout the period while, on 2nd, one visited Daventry CP and was subsequently seen in flight, east, over nearby Borough Hill and at least one remained at Blatherwycke Lake.

In stark contrast to last week, the only Ospreys were singles at Stanford Res on 6th and 7th, while last week’s juvenile Marsh Harriers at Summer Leys and Pitsford were last seen on 1st and 4th, respectively.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 1st August 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Notable waders remained low in numbers, with two Black-tailed Godwits putting in a brief appearance at Summer Leys on 1st and two visiting Hollowell on 4th. But where are all the Greenshanks we normally see from July onwards? Just one lingered at Summer Leys from 3rd to 5th before transferring to nearby Hardwater Lake on 6th-7th.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Hollowell Res, 4th August 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Greenshank, Earls Barton GP, 6th August 2020 (Leslie Fox)

A second-summer Little Gull spent some time at Daventry CP on 7th but it was large, white-headed gulls which, as usual, predominated with a first-summer Caspian Gull at Daventry CP on 7th and a second-summer Hollowell from 4th until the week’s end. This latter individual appears likely to be a male on account of its rather hefty build and large bill size but have some Yellow-legged Gull genes crept in somewhere from a past generation? Talking of which, at least one adult was at Pitsford from 4th to 6th and two adults plus two juveniles were at Daventry CP on 7th.

Second-summer Caspian Gull, Hollowel Res, 6th August 2020 (John Moon)

Passerine migration picked up a little, with Common Redstarts trapped and ringed at Harrington AF on 1st and Stanford Res on 4th and further singles at both Summer Leys and Gretton on 3rd. Like last week, just one Whinchat was found – this one at Chelveston AF on 7th and the autumn’s second Northern Wheatear was at Pitsford on 4th.

Male Common Redstart, Summer Leys LNR, 3rd August 2020 (Clive Bowley)
Male Common Redstart, Stanford Res, 4th August 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Northern Wheatear, Pitsford Res, 4th August 2020 (David Arden)

Bucknell Wood hung on to at least twenty Crossbills throughout the week, twos were seen flying over Hollowell and Brackley on 1st and 2nd respectively and one was at Pitsford on 4th but the rarest passerine so far – a Corn Bunting – was found at Chelveston AF on 7th. There appear to have been no other records of this once common farmland species in the county this year …

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

In a week of contrast, weatherwise, the Northampton districts of Duston and Moulton were subjected to a fast-moving Tornado on 25th – the same day that weather warnings for rain and thunder were in place for southern parts of England. Subsequent heavy showers duly gave way to more settled conditions and a change in wind direction from westerly to southerly, dragging in hot air from the continent, which resulted in local temperatures reaching 35°C at the week’s end. Stanford and Summer Leys experienced their own tornado in the shape of a Caspian Tern, which swept in – and out again – in little more than the blink of an eye.

Following its brief visit to a rather full Ravensthorpe Res on 29th, the female Ruddy Shelduck returned to the more appealing shorelines of Hollowell Res, remaining there until the week’s end. Again, the only other wildfowl of note during the period were the Pitsford Res Red-crested Pochards, seemingly down once more to two on 26th and one on 29th-30th.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 29th July 2020 (Linda Honeybourne)

Meanwhile, the run of Spoonbills continued with a 35-minute drop-in appearance of an adult at Hollowell on 29th and another (or the same) reported at Thrapston GP’s Aldwincle Lake the following day. Arguably, then, as common as Cattle Egrets this week, with only singles of the latter seen flying east at Stanwick GP on 26th and on the ground there on 31st …

Adult Spoonbill, Hollowell Res, 29th July 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Had it not been for two Great Egrets at Blatherwycke Lake on 29th, the Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys chain of pits would have had the monopoly on this species, with at least three present there throughout the week.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 27th July 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Ospreys were seen on four dates, with Hollowell top of the locality leaderboard as usual. Two were present there on the morning of 26th and one again during the evening, followed by four (a juvenile and three adults) on 31st. Pitsford produced one on 26th and again the following day. Singles were also seen at Thrapston GP on 30th and Stanford Res on 31st. Last week’s juvenile Marsh Harrier at Summer Leys continued to be seen, on and off, throughout the week, as was the juvenile at Pitsford, mobile around the nature reserve, north of the causeway, while one visited Hollowell Res on 31st.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 31st July 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Pitsford Res, 31st July 2020 (Tony Stanford)

The period saw fewer waders than in previous weeks, with Black-tailed Godwit being the only species of note. Twelve were at Summer Leys on 26th and five visited Hollowell Res on 28th. One, at the first of these two sites, photographed distantly on 25th, showed the hallmarks of a continental limosa but the case remains far from proven …

On to gulls. Single juvenile Mediterranean Gulls were loafing at Daventry CP on 25th and at Hollowell on 29th, while one jointed a flock of Black-headed Gulls feeding on flying ants over Wellingborough the following day. Last week’s second/third-summer Caspian Gull was still at Stanwick on 26th, when the maximum count of eleven Yellow-legged Gulls was also made there. Elsewhere, a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was at Clifford Hill GP on 26th-27th, a second-summer at Hollowell on 28th, when an adult was also at Pitsford, followed by a third-summer there on 30th and two at Thrapston GP on the same date.

This week’s star, however, was the mighty Caspian Tern which flew east over Stanford Res at 07.50 on 26th, before turning up two and a half hours later, on the scrape at Summer Leys. It remained at the latter site for all of eight minutes and then it was gone …

Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 26th July 2020 (David Wright)
Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 26th July 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 26th July 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 26th July 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Caspian Tern, Summer Leys LNR, 26th July 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Pure speculation is that it’s the same individual that had already visited Stanford on 31st May and has been doing the rounds in the UK ever since, in the same manner as the 2017 Summer Leys/Clifford Hill bird. Either way, it’s the sixth or seventh county record, a great find and a fantastic bird for the lucky few who were in the right places at the right times.

Caspian Tern: assumed movements through Northamptonshire and the UK 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Completely overshadowed, an adult Arctic Tern was at Pitsford on the unusual date of 29th.

Another nice find was a Nightjar, stumbled upon by the Stanford Ringing Group, along the old railway track at Stanford Res, early in the morning of 30th. The last Nightjar at this site was in 2016.

To passerines proper … and 28th saw the week’s only Common Redstart – an adult male – between Whilton and Little Brington and a male Whinchat at Hollowell, while the autumn’s first Northern Wheatear was found at Deenethorpe AF on 26th.

Male Whinchat, Hollowell Res, 29th July 2020 (Jon Cook)
Northern Wheatear, Deenethorpe AF, 26th July 2020 (James Underwood)

Beyond this meagre sprinkling, Crossbills remained very much in evidence with at least twenty still in Bucknell Wood on 26th-28th, eight over Upper Harlestone on 28th and six still in Wakerley Great Wood on 30th. However, the reporting rate on BirdTrack has fallen back to the historical average in the last week, suggesting this year’s influx has now lost momentum.

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

The persisting westerly airstream continued to deliver light winds with occasional showers in the early part of the period, appearing to have little influence on birds turning up locally. Spoonbills and Crossbills were flavours of the week.

Languishing in infamy, the female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res throughout and, at Pitsford Res, two Red-crested Pochards reappearing on 19th had become four by 23rd.

Just the one of two long-staying juvenile Black-necked Grebes on the main lake at Summer Leys narrowly made it into the week, being seen on 18th but not subsequently.

Last week’s Spoonbill, seen in fading light at Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake on 17th, materialised the following morning on Summer Leys’ scrape, where it performed well for all comers until its departure, just prior to midday. On 20th, it, or another, was found just before dusk – again at Hardwater Lake. One was also seen circling high above Pitsford Res, before drifting west, on 23rd.

Adult Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 18th July 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 18th July 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 18th July 2020 (Dan Beaman)
Adult Spoonbill, Summer Leys LNR, 18th July 2020 (Dan Beaman)

Eliciting far less excitement these days, Cattle Egrets continued to be seen at Stanwick, where there were four on 18th and three on 24th. Given their presence in the county over the last two years, it would be tempting to change their status from ‘vagrant’ to ‘scarce resident’. Meanwhile, aside from singles at Hollowell on 19th and over Oundle Marina the following day, the focus for Great Egrets this week was the Earls Barton/Summer Leys complex, where up to three were seen, on and off, throughout.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 20th July 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

On the raptor front, Ospreys bounced back with Hollowell producing three different individuals, including female ‘30’ from Rutland Water, all on 22nd. Two were at Pitsford on 23rd and singles were seen at Hollowell on 19th and 23rd, Thrapston GP on 21st and over Harrington AF on 22nd. Marsh Harriers were seen briefly at Stanford Res on 19th, Earls Barton on 22nd and Summer Leys on 24th.

Female Osprey, Hollowell Res, 22nd July 2020 (Jon Cook)
Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 24th July 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

Waders continued to trickle through, Stanford Res holding on to the best, with a Wood Sandpiper there briefly on 19th and two Whimbrels over on 23rd, while Black-tailed Godwits were limited to thirteen at Stanwick on 19th and the same number at Summer Ley the following day, when four were also seen over at Pitsford.

Third-summer Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 23rd July 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Second- or third-summer Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 24th July 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Stanwick became the focus for gulls this week, with three Mediterranean Gulls (two adults and a first-summer) on 18th and three juveniles on 24th, plus a second/third-summer Caspian Gull on 23rd-24th. The late summer build-up of Yellow-legged Gulls now underway there, included at least twenty-two on 23rd. Elsewhere, single Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hollowell on 19th and at Pitsford on 18th-19th, with two there on 20th and three on 23rd.

Juvenile Black Redstart, ‘North Northamptonshire’, 17th July 2020 (Matt Jackson)

Belated news of a juvenile Black Redstart at a ‘private site’ (the latter-day euphemism for ‘site withheld’) in north Northamptonshire on 17th was an unusual July record, to say the least and local breeding not ruled out. Common Redstarts, however, were still very much in evidence, with the long-staying male at Harrington AF all week, a female or juvenile there on 20th-21st and another female/juvenile at Twywell Hills & Dales on 23rd. The autumn’s first Whinchat, a juvenile, appeared at Stanford on 20th, with a juvenile Stonechat there on the same date but it was Crossbills which dominated the passerine division this week as the national influx continued. Wakerley Great Wood saw the greatest numbers, which included at least forty on 18th and up to ten on 21st, while Bucknell Wood held twenty-one on 18th, at least ten on 20th and four on 21st.

Crossbills, Wakerley Great Wood, 21st July 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Juvenile Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 18th July 2020 (James Underwood)

On the latter date, four or five were at Pitsford Res and fly-over singles were seen near Harry’s Park Wood on 18th, Eastfield Park (Wellingborough) on 22nd and East Hunsbury (Northampton) on 24th.

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

A predominantly westerly airstream delivered a mixed bag of sunshine, showers and low to average temperatures this week. As so often happens, the biggest and best birds were seen by only a lucky handful of people.

Stealing the wildfowl limelight exclusively this week, the female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res throughout and, while we may never know its origins, it would still seem reasonable to believe there is a chance it originates from the well-established European feral population. It would appear that the BOURC will be reviewing a recently submitted dossier on Ruddy Shelduck occurrence in recent years, given the meteoric rise in numbers of the Dutch moulting population and consequent ‘temporal mirroring’ along the English coast. Elevation to category C5 of the British list is surely overdue however, to date, the BOURC’s counterargument has been that “Ruddy Shelduck is commonly and widely kept in captivity in the UK and abroad, of which many birds escape annually (usually after the summer moult when keepers fail to round up all birds for pinioning) – so admission for a species with such a large captive population with frequent escapes is always problematic.” We’ll see.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Hollowell Res, 14th July 2020 (Martin Swannell)

Far less controversial were the two long-staying juvenile Black-necked Grebes on the main lake at Summer Leys, which continued to be seen until 14th, after which only one remained.

However, quickly dipping toes back into contentious waters, this week’s ‘bird of the week’ was White Stork, three of which were seen circling over Long Buckby at 09.00 on 13th, before gaining height and drifting off west. Their origin is, of course, unknown. The birds from the Knepp reintroduction scheme appeared to be still in place at the time, while three flying south-west over Worplesdon, Surrey, on 7th, may account for the Long Buckby trio. There have been approximately twenty-three previous records, the most recent of which were in 2007, 2016, 2018 and 2019.

White Storks, Long Buckby, 13th July 2020 (Cate)
White Storks, Long Buckby, 13th July 2020 (Cate)

Runner-up to the above was a fine adult Spoonbill, found at the eleventh hour in Wader Bay at Summer Leys on 17th. It quickly hopped across the road to Earls Barton GP’s Hardwater Lake, where it stayed into the fading light, allowing a handful of birders to catch up with it before darkness finally fell.

Adult Spoonbill, Earls Barton GP, 17th July 2020 (Matt Hazleton)

Back down to earth somewhat, Cattle Egrets were seen at Stanwick GP three days running: an adult and a juvenile on 14th, an adult on 15th and two adults on 16th. A Great Egret visited Stanford Res on 12th and two were there on 16th, with further duos at Earls Barton GP on 13th and Stanwick on 16th.

Meanwhile, Ospreys were down to just one at Pitsford Res on 13th-14th – the lowest weekly total for quite some time.

Mirroring last week in terms of waders, single Whimbrels flew south-west at Stanwick GP on consecutive days, 15th and 16th, the second of these being on the ground briefly before taking to the air. The latter date saw a Black-tailed Godwit at the same site and one at Pitsford Res, while five were at Summer Leys on 11th.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 11th July 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

A juvenile Little Gull flew east at Clifford Hill GP on 11th, while the Yellow-legged Gull count comprised two at Pitsford on 14th and one at Stanwick on 15th-16th. For the second week running, the county saw a Little Tern – this one lingering long enough to be photographed, at Stanwick, on 14th.

Little Tern, Stanwick GP, 14th July 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Little Tern, Stanwick GP, 14th July 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Passerines maintained their foothold in this week’s report with the long-staying male Common Redstart at Harrington AF all week, last week’s three – including one male – near Brockhall until 14th and another male at Pitsford on 16th. The autumn’s first Stonechat, a juvenile, appeared at Stanford on 14th and Crossbills continued to feature, with singles at Hollowell on 11th, Denton Wood on 13th and over Brackley on 17th, while at least ten were still at Wakerley Great Wood on 11th and six remained at Bucknell Wood on 15th.

Juvenile Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 11th July (Bob Bullock)

Rarity Round-up, 4th to 10th July 2020

Last week’s unsettled conditions continued and again the influence was mainly from the west. Common Crane and Black-necked Grebe were the period’s headliners.

There was no change to the wildfowl line-up, with the female Ruddy Shelduck apparently ensconced at Hollowell Res, while the eclipse drake Red-crested Pochard remained at Pitsford Res until at least 5th.

Lacking the splendour of adult finery but making up for it in a generous length of stay, two juvenile Black-necked Grebes were found on the main lake at Summer Leys on 6th, remaining on view there throughout the rest of the period. July records are exceedingly rare for this species in Northamptonshire.

Juvenile Black-necked Grebes, Summer Leys LNR, 6th July 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Just along the Nene Valley, Stanwick GP’s Bittern showed again briefly on 4th, while up to four Cattle Egrets – three adults and a juvenile – were present there between 6th and 9th while, continuing their summer run this year, Great Egrets were at Stanford Res on 9th and up to two were again at Hollowell Res on 4th-5th.

Juvenile Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 8th July 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Hollowell also continued to produce fishing Ospreys, where there were singles on 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th, while singles were over Harrington AF on 4th, Pitsford on 5th, Thrapston GP on 9th and Deene Lake on 10th.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 6th July 2020 (Jon Cook)

Fast gaining a reputation for becoming suburban fly-overs, 2 Common Cranes were seen heading south-west over Duston (Northampton) on 7th. Now with three similar reports so far this year, it’s worth noting the last ones on the ground were two at Stanford Res, briefly, on 9th April 2017.

Hot on the heels of the autumn’s first, last week, five more Whimbrels flew south-west at Stanford on 10th, while Black-tailed Godwits continued to move through in numbers, with up to twenty-four Icelandic race birds at Summer Leys on 6th, when eight also visited Pitsford. Eight flew south at Clifford Hill GP on 7th, three visited Earls Barton GP on 8th and nine dropped into Summer Leys on 10th. There were no other waders of note but it’s still early days.

The Mediterranean Gull count at Stanwick peaked with five, including three adults, on 4th but it all went downhill from thereon, with just one adult present on 9th. An adult also visited Stanford on 6th. Other loafing larids were a third-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Stanwick on 4th, the second-summer still at Hollowell on the same date and an adult there the following day. Surprisingly, a Little Tern flew straight through at Stanford on 6th.

Last week’s male Common Redstart remained at Harrington all week, another male appeared at Foxholes Fisheries, Crick on 8th and a male plus two female/juveniles were found near Brockhall on 10th.

Male Common Redstart, Foxholes Fisheries, 8th July 2020 (Joan Chaplin)

Crossbill numbers picked up again this week with Bucknell Wood producing more than twenty, Wakerley Great Wood a dozen, Thrapston GP three and Weldon and Hollowell singles. This is the best time to catch up with one …

Crossbills, Bucknell Wood, 7th July 2020 (Tony Vials)

Juvenile Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 10th July 2020 (John Moon)

Female Crossbill, probably first-summer, Wakerley Great Wood, 10th July 2020 (John Moon)

Male Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 10th July 2020 (John Moon)



Rarity Round-up, 27th June to 3rd July 2020

Atlantic low pressure systems dominated the week’s weather, bringing rain and generally unsettled conditions on a mainly south-westerly airstream, while return wader passage gathered pace …

This week, the female Ruddy Shelduck appeared settled throughout at Hollowell Res, with other new wildfowl be represented only by a female Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res on 29th and a drake there on 3rd.

Continuing the trend in summer records, a Bittern was found at Stanwick GP on 3rd – no doubt a reflection of the recent significant increase in the UK’s breeding population.

Bittern, Stanwick GP, 3rd July 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Up to four juvenile Cattle Egrets remained at Ringstead GP, visited sporadically by the adults, both of which were seen feeding around the main lake at adjacent Stanwick GP, while the only Great Egrets this week were fly-over singles at Stanford Res on 27th, 30th and 1st and one still at Hollowell Res on 1st-3rd.

Adult Cattle Egret, Ringstead GP, 29th June 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Juvenile Cattle Egret, Ringstead GP, 30th June 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Hollowell also continued to hold fishing Ospreys, where there were singles on 28th and 29th, with the nearby localities of Pitsford and Harrington AF producing fly-overs on 27th and 30th, respectively, with one fishing at the first of these two sites on 3rd.

On the wader front, the first Whimbrel of ‘autumn’ flew south at Pitsford on 3rd but it was the usual summer spill of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits moving back south through the county which made up the bulk of the week’s waders.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd July 2020 (Ady Leybourne)

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Stanwick GP, 2nd July 2020 (Steve Fisher)

On 27th, twelve were at Stanwick and one visited Summer Leys LNR, followed by two at the latter locality on 30th. The 2nd, though, saw a flock of approximately forty drop into Stanwick GP for some 35 minutes before continuing their journey south, with the same day seeing five at nearby Ditchford GP and one, plus three more, at Summer Leys. Singles then visited Pitsford, Stanwick and Summer Leys the following day, with the latter site producing a Greenshank on 27th.

Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 27th June 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Following last week’s news of Mediterranean Gulls successfully breeding at Stanwick, two adults and two juveniles remained there throughout the period, becoming more mobile around the site by the week’s end. Three Yellow-legged Gulls were at Pitsford Res on 27th with one again on 3rd, while the second-summer remained at Hollowell until at least 1st.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, Stanwick GP, 30th June 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Adult and juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, Stanwick GP, 30th June 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Passerines rarely feature in June-July, so an early migrant male Common Redstart at Harrington from 28th until 3rd was a bonus following a spring in which few were recorded. Crossbills continued to be seen, although in much smaller numbers compared with last week’s influx. Five flew south-west at Stanwick on 27th, two were in pines at Hollowell on 29th and four were seen heading south-west over Stanford Res on 2nd.

Rarity Round-up, 20th to 26th June 2020

A hot and humid period, with local temperatures hitting 30°C on the last day of the week, by which time it was clearly evident waders were returning and we were in the midst of a Crossbill invasion …

The Pink-footed Goose, last seen with Greylags at Pitsford Res on 9th June, was back there again on 25th, a return mirrored by the female Ruddy Shelduck at Hollowell Res which, after being absent from 12th June, reappeared on the same date. Stanwick GP’s Red-crested Pochard was again on site on 25th, while last week’s two drake Common Scoters remained off the sailing club at Pitsford until 20th.

After last week’s announcement that Cattle Egrets had once again bred successfully at Ringstead GP, four – possibly five – fledged juveniles were seen there on 21st but the only Great Egrets during the period were at Hollowell Res, where one on 24th-26th was joined by another there on 25th.

Hollowell also produced single Ospreys on 20th, 24th, 25th and 26th, one of which was wearing a ring identifying it as a female from Rutland Water. The only other Ospreys were singles at the other oft favoured fishing localities, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP – both on 22nd. Surprisingly, none was reported from Pitsford this week.

Osprey, Hollowell Res, 25th July 2020 (Jon Cook). Female ’30’ from Rutland Water.

Although it’s only June, the return wader passage is picking up already. A juvenile Avocet visited Pitsford Res on 25th, remaining throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits have started moving through in small numbers, with Summer Leys LNR hosting two on 24th, one on 25th and five on 26th, the same site producing an early Wood Sandpiper along with a Greenshank on the latter date.

Juvenile Avocet, Pitsford Res, 25th June 2020 (Tony Stanford)
Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Just along the Nene Valley, at Stanwick, Mediterranean Gulls have once more successfully bred following a year’s absence since they first bred there in 2018. Two adults and a recently fledged juvenile were observed on 25th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 25th June 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Elsewhere, one was seen in flight over Barton Seagrave on 21st. The only other reasonable larid of note was a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Hollowell on 20th and 26th. Hollowell also held a first-summer (or second-summer) Arctic Tern from 20th to 22nd – its occurrence, identification and ageing having already been discussed here.

First/second summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

Beyond this, the week belonged to Crossbills. The UK is currently enjoying a national influx, said to be the result of a ‘bumper breeding season’, with many east coast sites recording huge numbers on the move, one of the biggest including more than twelve hundred south over Scarborough during the morning of 25th.

Crossbill, Hollowell Res, 26th June 2020 (Gary Pullan)


Many quickly made their way inland, resulting in their appearance in at least eleven localities in Northamptonshire. The majority of sightings were fly-overs and numbers ranged from singles to double-figure counts of sixteen at Bucknell Wood on 24th and fourteen at Harlestone Heath on 25th. The movement continues …

‘First-summer’ Arctic Tern

An Arctic Tern at Hollowell Reservoir provides the opportunity to study a plumage rarely seen in the UK in summer.

Found by Gary Pullan during the morning of 20th June, a first- (or possibly second) summer Arctic Tern was still present there yesterday, allowing Jon Cook to capture some clearly instructive images of a bird which would normally be expected to spend the northern summer south of the Equator. A tiny proportion is, however, known to accompany adults when they move north in spring, although they are likely to wander and do not usually appear in breeding colonies.

Any tern with a white forehead and a predominantly dark bill, seen in late spring/early summer, is likely to draw attention, as it stands out from the typical fully black-capped, red-billed Common and Arctic Terns normally encountered on spring passage or, in the case of Common Tern, breeding in the county. Identifying it to species is one thing and ageing it correctly is another.

Jon’s excellent series of photos nicely illustrate its identity, which is straightforward, given good views in the field. In the first image, against the light the translucent primaries are clearly visible, immediately putting the bird in the Arctic camp before any full assessment of the plumage detail.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

A check of the upperside of the primaries also adds to this identification, as they are ‘clean’ and uniform, lacking the darker, unmoulted outer primaries of both first- and second-summer Common Tern.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)
First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

There is a darker bar on the leading edge of the wing coverts, which looks more prominent in some photos than others. First-summer Common Tern would also show this but in combination with darker (not white) secondaries.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

The overall ‘neat’ proportions also look right for Arctic Tern, although in some photos the bill looks rather long but this is probably accentuated by the white forehead.

Leg colour is said to be variable – see, for instance, Terns of Europe and North America (Larsson & Malling Olsen, 1995) and this bird has a definite redness associated with its legs.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 22nd June 2020 (Jon Cook)

Bill colour of second-summer is said to be red like that of an adult but with a dark tip to the upper mandible and a darker base. The images above appear to depict an all dark bill but the one below, from Adrian Borley, taken on 20th in different light conditions, appears to show some redness in the bill’s centre, as well as some brown tones to the dark crown. The underparts are a mixture of grey and white. The last two features are said by Larsson & Malling Olsen (1995) to be indicitave of second summer birds.

First-summer Arctic Tern, Hollowell Res, 20th June 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The Hollowell bird appears to show features of both first- and second-summer. Any further comments on its age would be welcomed.