Putative Azorean Gull at Stanwick

There are two accepted British records of Azorean Gull, the atlantis race of Yellow-legged Gull, based upon two individuals, one of which was a well-travelled bird that visited Northamptonshire in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Is this another, or the same returning individual in a different guise?

On Wednesday, 4th October, Steve Fisher found and photographed a good candidate for an Azorean Gull at Stanwick Gravel Pits. It appears to be the same bird which he also saw there briefly on both 8th and 15th September. Steve’s images, below, pretty much capture all the visible features, so, is it one?

Putative Azorean Gull, Stanwick GP, 4th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

Head and mantle
This bird does not have a full winter hood and so doesn’t immediately resemble the returning adult from 2013, 2014 and 2015, accepted as the second British record by BBRC. It has been said that the extent of the winter head streaking can vary from year to year in the same individual but this remains to be proven – unless anyone knows otherwise. In any case, the returning individual over those three years appears to have exhibited consistency in the extent of its head streaking, always giving the bird a strikingly hooded appearance. Additionally, the mantle of that bird appeared darker than that of this autumn’s individual, although light conditions, camera settings and processing can, of course, serve to distort the true colour. Having said that, in comparison with the Yellow-legged Gull in the image below, there appears to be little difference in mantle colour. Extent of winter hood varies considerably in Azorean Gull – see here, for example and the bird is not too dissimilar to one, also thought possibly to be Azorean Gull, which visited Shawell in Leicestershire in September 2012.

Putative Azorean Gull, Stanwick GP, 4th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

Wing pattern
The upper and lower wing patterns are interesting and look like they could fall within range of variation for Azorean Gull. There is a single mirror on P10, separated from the small white tip by a narrow black band and no mirror on P9, where Yellow-legged Gull usually has a small mirror. P5 shows a black subterminal band. The underwing shows darkish grey secondaries and primary bases contrasting with white coverts – perhaps not as dark as may be expected for Azorean Gull. Questions: is the mirror on the upper side of P10 too extensive for Azorean Gull? It looks OK on the underside. Is the subterminal black band on P5 too broad for Azorean Gull?

Putative Azorean Gull, Stanwick GP, 4th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

Putative Azorean Gull, Stanwick GP, 4th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

According to literature (specifically Olsen & Larsson – Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America), Azorean Gull moults earlier than Yellow-legged, which fits with the Stanwick bird which is still growing P10 but everything else, including secondaries and tail, appears to have been completed. Yellow-legged might be expected to still show more signs of moult at this time of the year (but not always).

For reasons stated above, it is clear this is not the same individual as has already occurred here in previous years. So, a very interesting bird, then. Comments welcomed.

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

A change in the weather from day one this week, with the UK sandwiched between a North Atlantic low and a Scandinavian high, producing southerly and south-easterly winds. The potential was there (and still is) for the appearance of continental migrants and, with hundreds now having been recorded, a Yellow-browed Warbler or two.

With two Dark-bellied Brents flying south from Daventry CP on 26th there is reasonable argument for stating that the first geese of the ‘winter’ have arrived (but it’s probably in poor taste to use the ‘w’ word this early in the year …). Otherwise, scarce wildfowl were restricted to a female Red-crested Pochard at Stanford Res on 29th – a species which has been unusually absent from local water bodies so far this autumn.

Red-crested Pochard, Stanford Res, 29th September 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

No new Great White Egrets appeared this week – the one at Pitsford Res again being joined by the second bird which has been seen intermittently since the early autumn.

Proving to be a juvenile, last week’s Osprey remained in the vicinity of White Mills Marina (Earls Barton GP) on 23rd and 24th, while the only other notable raptor was a Marsh Harrier, which flew south-west over the dam at Boddington Res, late in the afternoon, on 29th.

Juvenile Osprey, White Mills Marina, Earls Barton GP, 24th September 2017 (Leslie Fox)

Aside from a continuing stream of Ringed Plovers, the Pitsford count peaking at twenty-eight on 25th, wader numbers crashed this week.


Stanford’s Black-tailed Godwits were the only birds of note during the period, with seven on 24th, dropping to five by 29th.

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, Stanford Res, 24th September 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

Instead, there was rather more gull action, which included a first-winter Little Gull at Ravensthorpe Res on 28th and a first-winter Mediterranean Gull, which was seen at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR (Ditchford GP) on 23rd and then at adjacent Stanwick GP the following day. The only Yellow-legged Gulls were a first-winter at Daventry CP on 23rd and up to two at Pitsford between 23rd and 28th while, aside from the loafing adult Caspian Gulls at Hollowell and Naseby Reservoirs all week, two first-winters visited Daventry CP on 23rd and a second-winter was at Pitsford on 28th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 23rd September 2017 (Mike Alibone), returning for its third winter at this site.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Daventry CP, 23rd September 2017 (Gary Pullan)

Following last week’s Short-eared Owls at Hollowell and Harrington AF, another was seen flying south, mobbed by corvids, at Burton Wold (Burton Latimer) on 25th. Stonechats continued to be found, with up to two at Hollowell Res all week, two at Stanford Res on 24th and one at Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) on 29th, while Hollowell

Stonechat, Stanford Res, 24th September 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

continued to hang on to its Northern Wheatear until 26th, being joined by a second individual on 24th-25th, and another was at Finedon on 29th. The autumn’s first Rock Pipit was found at Hollowell Res on 25th, remaining there until 27th, while a White Wagtail was at Pitsford Res on 28th.

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

The week remained unsettled with periodic showers and mid/late-week night-time temperatures down to around 3ºC, the lowest since before the summer. Although predominantly westerly, the wind in the latter part of the week shifted between gentle northerly to mild southerly. Wader numbers crept up and included some autumn ‘firsts’ at a couple of local reservoirs.

In addition to the long-staying Great White Egret at Pitsford Res, two new birds appeared this week – one strutting around the shallows at the eastern end of Sulby Res on 16th and another on the main lake at Stanwick GP on 20th.

Great White Egret, Sulby Res, 16th September 2017 (Mike Alibone)

Fly-over Ospreys were seen on 17th at Bulwick and the following day at White Mills Marina (Earls Barton GP), while the only other notable raptor was a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier, which was seen on and off throughout the day at Stanford Res – also on 17th.

Hen Harrier, Stanford Res, 17th September 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

Wader passage picked up during the period, with numbers of Ringed Plovers (twenty-three on 19th and twenty-four on 21st) at Pitsford approaching those of the ‘old days’, while the same site continued to hold a Black-tailed Godwit on 16th-17th, another visited Stanford Res on 20th and seven were there on 22nd. Pitsford – still offering the best wetland birding by miles – continued to provide the main wader focus, with a Turnstone there on 19th and the autumn’s first Little Stint on 18th-19th, rising to two there on 20th-21st.


Juvenile Little Stint, Pitsford Res, 21st September 2017 (Martin Swannell)

Juvenile Little Stints, Hollowell Res, 19th September 2017 (Cathy Ryden)

Two Little Stints were also found at Hollowell Res on 19th, where last week’s Grey Phalarope continued to perform until 17th, the last date on which Pitsford’s juvenile Spotted Redshank was also seen.

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 16th September 2017 (Bob Bullock)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 16th September 2017 (Bob Bullock)

The 17th also signalled time up for last week’s Arctic Tern at Stanford, which had moved on by the following day. A first-winter Little Gull visited Daventry CP on 22nd, just one Mediterranean Gull, a first-winter at Stanwick GP, was seen on 21st, while the only Yellow-legged Gulls were single adults at Cransley Res on 16th and at Pitsford Res on 21st, with four at both Pitsford and Daventry CP on 17th and 20th respectively and two again at Daventry CP on 22nd. This week’s duo of Caspian Gulls comprised what seems destined to become a regular adult at Naseby Res on 16th and 21st and a first-winter at Daventry CP on 20th.

Adult Caspian Gull, Naseby Res, 21st September 2017 (Mike Alibone)

It’s normally October before we encounter the first of the autumn’s Short-eared Owls but this week there were two: one at Hollowell Res on 16th and the other at Harrington AF the following day.

Short-eared Owl, Harrington AF, 17th September 2017 (Richard How)

Only the third reported in the county this year, a female Pied Flycatcher was trapped and ringed at Southwick on 22nd. This species appears to have succeeded in evading county listers in 2017! Still more Common Redstarts came through, with one at Harrington AF on 16th-17th and singles in the Brampton Valley on 20th and 22nd, while three sites produced Whinchats, including one at Stanford Res and two at Stanwick GP on 18th and two in the Brampton Valley on 20th.

Stonechat, Sywell CP, 21st September 2017 (Alan Francis)

Stonechat, Brampton Valley, 22nd September 2017 (Richard How)

Stonechats can either be quite scarce or we can sometimes have a bumper winter but with the first ones arriving, or just passing through, locally we can only speculate. Two were at Pitsford Res on 16th, singles were at Stanford Res on 18th and 20th and at Sywell CP on 21st, while two were in the Brampton Valley on 20th and 22nd.

Northern Wheatear, Hollowell Res, 17th September 2017 (Cathy Ryden)

This autumn is, so far, proving extremely poor for migrant Northern Wheatears and the trend continues this week with just two seen: one was at Hollowell Res from 17th to 21st and another was found in the Brampton Valley on 20th, this locality also producing a fly-over Tree Pipit on 22nd.

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Rarity Round-up, 9th to 15th September 2017

More North Atlantic lows, with tightly-packed isobars, ensured a westerly airstream for the whole week. One of these – Storm Aileen – hit the country overnight on 12th, resulting in strong westerly gales delivering a number of inland seabirds, for both Northamptonshire and the UK as a whole. Topping the bill locally was the county’s eleventh-ever Sabine’s Gull, at Daventry Country Park.

Observed only on 9th, just one Garganey was on show briefly at Pitsford Res this week and no other notable wildfowl were reported. Picked up in Duston on 15th, a storm-driven Manx Shearwater was taken into care overnight and, the following morning, transported to a specialist hospital in Swansea for further care prior to its intended release following several days of rehabilitation. Further associated with Aileen’s blow, two juvenile Gannets were reported flying east over Daventry CP, late in the afternoon of 15th. This news appeared on some birding information services and it would be useful to know who the observers were … Meanwhile, back at Pitsford – currently the best habitat for waders and stuff in general for miles around – the long-staying Great White Egret remained all week, while the Fawsley Park Osprey remained from last week, finally departing south on the morning of 10th.

Juvenile Osprey, Fawsley Park, 9th September 2017 (Stuart Mundy)

Three more Ospreys included singles at Stanford Res and flying east near Aldwincle – both on 9th – and one over Hollowell Res on 13th and last week’s Marsh Harrier was also seen again at Stanford Res on 9th.

Marsh Harrier Stanford Res, 9th September 2017 (Bob Bullock). This individual has recently renewed all except its outer primaries (which are faded and heavily worn) and one of its secondaries, which ages it as a second calendar year or older – juveniles still having a full set of new feathers.

Waders: it’s what autumn’s all about, isn’t it? Well, at least for September, anyway. While we’re still awaiting the big numbers and the broader species spectrum, the first Grey Plover of the season was seen flying over Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay on 14th, while the same site continued to host between one and three Black-tailed Godwits from 9th to 14th and another visited Stanford Res on 9th. In the meantime, Pitsford’s juvenile Spotted Redshank had managed to chalk up twelve days’ stay by the end of the week. Which brings us to another species proving thin on the ground this autumn: Wood Sandpiper. The second of the season was found at Ravensthorpe’s small, muddy north end on 9th but it failed to show the next day. The reverse was true, though, for another storm-driven thing, a first-winter Grey Phalarope, which appeared at Hollowell Res after Aileen’s gales on 13th and performed well for all comers until the week’s end – although it could sometimes be a little elusive.

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Reservoir, 13th September 2017 (Cathy Ryden)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Reservoir, 16th September 2017 (Bob Bullock)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Reservoir, 16th September 2017 (Bob Bullock)

The last one in Northants was in 2014. Hollowell also produced four Turnstones, which dropped in just after the discovery of the phalarope, only to disappear very quickly.

Juvenile Arctic Tern, Stanford Res, 13th September 2017 (Chris Hubbard)

The star tern of the week came in the form of two juvenile Arctic Terns, one at Stanwick GP on 13th and the other at Stanford Res from 13th to 15th. However, it’s not very often the true star of the week is a gull but even the most convicted laridophobe could not fail to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the juvenile Sabine’s Gull which graced Daventry CP with its presence for three days during the latter half of the week. Thought by some to be in ill health, it made trips away from the reservoir on a number of occasions, finally disappearing for good after 15th. Being the only one lingering inland after Aileen’s big blow, it proved to be a popular attraction for birders from much further afield than Northants.

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Daventry CP, 14th September 2017 (Ken Prouse)

All of this week’s other gulls were, of course, completely overshadowed but do not escape without mention. Up to two first-winter Mediterranean Gulls continued to be seen on Stanwick’s Visitor Centre Lake between 9th and 12th and one visited nearby Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows at Ditchford GP on 10th.

First-winter Mediterranean Gull, Stanwick GP, 11th September 2017 (Steve Fisher)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, for the second week running, Stanwick’s putative adult Azores Gull put in another tantalisingly brief appearance there on 15th. Will it return to stay long enough to be nailed? The same site held fourteen Yellow-legged Gulls on 11th but the only other ‘YLGs’ were at Pitsford Res, where there was one on 9th and two on 13th and at Ravensthorpe Res on 10th. Stanwick also produced a first-winter Caspian Gull on 11th and single adults visited both Daventry CP and Naseby Res on 13th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Ravensthorpe Res, 10th September 2017 (Adrian Borley)

With all the attention justly focussed on wetlands this week, it would appear that passerines have been largely forgotten, but the autumn run of Common Redstarts continued and so did the ringing, with two trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 9th, followed by three more there the next day (two ringed) and a male was trapped and ringed at Southwick on 15th.

Juvenile Whinchat, Pitsford Res, 12th September 2017 (Doug Goddard)

Fewer Whinchats were recorded in comparison to last week, with one at Pitsford Res on 10th-11th being joined by another on 12th, while one was at Hollowell Res on 15th.


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Grey Phalarope at Hollowell

Anticipation was running high among local birders when Storm Aileen made landfall in the UK on Tuesday, with the strong westerly blow continuing into the early part of Wednesday. The resultant winds, 70 mph in some areas, were already producing storm-driven seabirds along the western seaboard and the scene was set for discoveries further inland.

Wednesday, therefore, called for an early start and a reservoir tour was clearly in order, commencing at Pitsford dam. Unfortunately, Pitsford delivered nothing unusual – neither did Naseby, Welford, Sulby or Stanford.

I was beginning to run out of steam by the time I reached Hollowell and decided on a quick, long-distance overview of the northern and central parts of the reservoir from the lay-by on the A5119. And there it was, apparently the only wader there at the time, an animated speck, busily feeding along the shoreline of the Guilsborough Bay Point.

I quickly made my way to the point and, after putting the news out, started to watch and video it, keeping a safe distance so as not to disturb it. I needn’t have bothered. I was soon joined by Cathy Ryden and we were then dismayed to witness a crew of noisy young rowers cruising alarmingly close to the phalarope, at which point it was spooked and promptly vanished. Fortunately, Cathy relocated it later in the afternoon and it remained on site until at least mid-morning today.

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 13th September 2017 (Cathy Ryden)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 13th September 2017 (Cathy Ryden)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 15th September 2017 (Cathy Ryden)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 15th September 2017 (Jonathan Cook)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 15th September 2017 (Jonathan Cook)

First-winter Grey Phalarope, Hollowell Res, 15th September 2017 (Jonathan Cook)

Part of a national influx, this is the first Grey Phalarope in Northants since the relatively long-staying Pitsford individual in autumn 2014 and prior to that, there was one in 2011. There have been thirty-three previous records. As result of Aileen, many have been recorded across the UK during the past few days, although most have been seen at coastal locations.

Many thanks to Cathy Ryden and Jonathan Cook for supplying images,

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Wrecked: Manx Shearwater in Duston

Another victim of Aileen

Found exhausted in Duston yesterday, a Manx Shearwater was picked up and taken to the local vets. Not knowing the best course of action to take, they contacted Jim Murray who, in turn contacted Dave James for further advice. An initial plan to release it in Northants was quickly deemed inappropriate and subsequently ditched.

Manx Shearwater, in care, Northamptonshire 15th September 2017 (Jim Murray)

Fortunately, it survived overnight and JM today set out to take it took it to the Pembrokeshire coast, where the plan was to meet up with the Pembrokeshire Sea Bird Rescue Society to pass it over to them for further care prior to a hopefully successful release. On the way over, PSBRS recommended taking it to a specialist wild bird hospital near Swansea, which then became the revised destination.

After its admission to the hospital the prognosis appears good, with the hospital confident of the bird’s continued survival with a release planned after a few days. Apparently, Northants is the furthest point away the hospital has ever received a seabird from. Further good news is eagerly awaited.

This individual was not alone in its finding itself inland, presumably as a result of Storm Aileen’s big westerly blow on 12th-13th September. Other Manx Shearwaters were found in inland counties, e.g. Cambridgeshire, London area and up to wrecked birds 300 are being treated and released in Somerset http://bbc.in/2y5HeN5

Many thanks to Dave James and Jim Murray for providing details.

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Wednesday 13th September. In the wake of Storm Aileen it was difficult to believe no displaced seabirds would have occurred in Northants. On cue, then, a juvenile Sabine’s Gull arrived at Daventry Country Park at 16.30 and was picked up straight away by Gary Pullan as it circled the northern end of the reservoir.

It soon settled down and spent the next two days in the vicinity of the dam, occasionally flying off north but habitually returning again after only short periods of absence. It is still present today (15th September).

First recorded as recently as 1987, it’s a major rarity in Northants with only ten previous records, in 1987 (5), 1993, 1997, 2007, 2008 and 2010, all of which have been in September or October.

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Daventry CP, 14th September 2017 (Alan Coles)

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Daventry CP, 14th September 2017 (Alan Coles)

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Daventry CP, 14th September 2017 (Alan Coles)

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Daventry CP, 14th September 2017 (Alan Coles)

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