Goosander – a new breeding species for Northamptonshire

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Rarity Round-up, 3rd to 9th August 2019

Under the influence of standard westerlies off the Atlantic, the weather remained largely settled before delivering an avalanche of gales and rain at the week’s end. Some fairly standard early autumn fare was on offer throughout the period.

Having clearly developed itchy feet, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck flipped from Hollowell Res to Ravensthorpe Res on 3rd and was back at Hollowell on 6th-8th before returning to Ravensthorpe on 9th.

First-summer female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 9th August 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Stanford’s eclipse drake Garganey remained until at least 5th and two of last week’s three on Titchmarsh LNR, at Thrapston GP, were seen again on 4th, while the continued presence of up to three drake Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res came as little surprise.

Ringstead GP’s four juvenile Cattle Egrets were still on site mid-week, while the three adults continued to feed with the local herd in the vicinity of Main Lake at nearby Stanwick. After a blank week, a Great Egret at least brought some interest to Summer Leys’ scrape between 7th and 9th, while the escaped Sacred Ibis with a penchant for visiting village gardens, dropped into one briefly at Nether Heyford on 4th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th August 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th August 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Back at Pitsford, a Black-necked Grebe was present in Scaldwell Bay for the afternoon of 8th but provided no joy for those searching for it the following day. There have been numerous August records from said bay at Pitsford over the years but they have tended to occur much closer to the month’s end.

This week there were Ospreys aplenty, with Pitsford producing the lion’s share, including two on 3rd, two – if not three – on 5th and singles on 6th, 8th and 9th. Elsewhere, singles visited Thrapston GP on 3rd, Hollowell on 3rd and 8th and the pool at Harrington AF on 6th, the same date upon which a female or juvenile Merlin was at Stanwick GP.

This week’s wader line-up was not as impressive as last week’s but migration continued with 9th producing single Black-tailed Godwits over Daventry CP and at Pitsford, a Whimbrel over Stanwick on 4th, a Turnstone at Summer Leys on 8th and a Ruff at nearby Ditchford GP’s IL&M the following day. Greenshanks showed up at Pitsford on 5th and 9th and also at Summer Leys on the latter date, while single Wood Sandpipers were found at Stanwick GP on 8th and 9th and at Summer Leys on 9th, only one of which stuck around long enough to be seen by observers other than the finder.

Greenshank, Summer Leys LNR, 9th August 2019 (Mike Alibone)

More juvenile Mediterranean Gulls appeared this week, three in all, comprising singles at Pitsford on 6th and 9th and at Daventry CP on the latter date. Ravensthorpe Res hung on to its adult Caspian Gull until 4th, while small numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were found at Daventry, Hollowell, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe Thrapston and Stanwick, with a maximum of seven at the latter site on 4th.

Hot on the heels of the autumn’s first Tree Pipit, at Harrington AF last week, the same site delivered another one six days later, on 8th. These two are both two to three weeks earlier than normal and it’s interesting that coastal watchpoints (e.g. Portland) are also noting early departing migrants of this species. Fewer Common Redstarts were recorded this week, with just one at Harrington AF on 3rd-4th and another hanging on at Twywell Hills & Dales between 5th and 8th, while at least two Whinchats were still at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 3rd and the first Northern Wheatears of the autumn appeared on 9th, with singles at Hollowell and near Pitsford village.

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Rarity Round-up, 27th July to 2nd August 2019

With the previous week’s heat ebbing away, the country became under the influence of something more readily associated with British summertime: rain. The first two days saw plenty of it and the weather system responsible also had a dramatic effect on migrants, with many appearing far earlier than is normal.

While acknowledging the continued presence of the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck at Hollowell Res, this week there were other ducks on offer to dazzle and delight … perhaps. Stanford’s eclipse drake Garganey remained throughout and this species’ ranks were swelled further by the discovery of first one, then two, then three on Titchmarsh LNR at Thrapston GP before the week was out.

Eclipse drake Garganey, Stanford Res, 31st July 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Pitsford’s two drake Red-crested Pochards were still in situ at the northern end on 1st-2nd but south of the causeway up to five drake Common Scoters were found on 28th – perhaps associated with the adverse weather conditions prevailing on that date.

Looking as if they are now on the verge of vacating their nest at Ringstead GP, the four juvenile Cattle Egrets were showing a little more bravado, crashing around in the bushes of their island home, while the three adults continued to feed at nearby Stanwick. Meanwhile, a Great Egret was present again at Pitsford on 2nd.

Cattle Egrets, Ringstead GP, 29th July 2019 (Mark Tyrrell)

Four juvenile Cattle Egrets, Ringstead GP, 29th July 2019 (Mark Tyrrell)

Back on the menu for early autumn, this week saw two Marsh Harriers in the county, one of which was mobile around the Brixworth/Brampton Valley area between 27th and 31st, while the other was at Stanford Res on 29th-30th. Meanwhile, single Ospreys continued to visit Hollowell on 27th and Pitsford on 30th and 1st-2nd.

But for birds susceptible to weather not conducive to overland migration, the grim conditions of the first two days resulted in some remarkably early and scarce species appearing this week. Waders were the first to fall foul and beyond a Black-tailed Godwit visiting at Stanwick on 27th and 2nd, single Whimbrels appeared there on 28th, at Pitsford on 30th and at Hollowell on 31st. A Sanderling was found at Summer Leys LNR on 28th, another visited Stanwick on the same date and a Ruff was also at Stanwick on the following day. Chief prize among this week’s waders, though, were two juvenile Spotted Redshanks, both of which were incredibly short staying. One dropped into Summer Leys on the evening of 30th and the other was discovered at Stanwick, early in the morning of 1st, before apparently moving on in haste.

Juvenile Spotted Redshank, Summer Leys LNR, 30th July 2019 (Ricky Sinfield)

A sprinkling of Greenshanks included singles at both Summer Leys and Ditchford IL&M on 28th, one at Ravensthorpe Res on 31st and at nearby Hollowell on 1st-2nd. A Wood Sandpiper was discovered at Thrapston GP on 27th. While the date is not unusual, the isolation of the record is, as it occurred during an enormous nationwide influx, which included treble-figure counts on the east coast and many birds penetrating far inland. There should have been many more in Northants but it was not to be. Although not in the same league, also noteworthy is the unusually high number of Common Sandpipers which passed through during the week, with Hollowell producing a remarkable twenty on 1st.

And so to the other weather-related arrivals – more specifically, Arctic Terns. Made up of small groups, at least forty of them came through between 28th and 31st, with all but two of these on 28th. What is amazing, however, is that this number included several juveniles, which do not normally occur before September at the earliest. In fact, the occurrence of juvenile Arctic Terns in Northamptonshire in July is probably unprecedented. Location totals for 28th comprise seventeen at Thrapston GP, eleven at Stanford Res, five at Stanwick, at least three at Clifford Hill GP and two at Pitsford. Single juveniles were at Pitsford on 30th and Summer Leys on 31st. Early Black Terns appeared at the same time and on 28th included one at Summer Leys and two at Stanwick, followed by one at the latter locality the next day.

The first juvenile Mediterranean Gull of the autumn was found at Summer Leys on 29th, while numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls continued to rise, with site maxima of ten at Stanwick, five at both Pitsford and Ravensthorpe and singles at Thrapston and Hollowell. This early autumn build-up also came with added Caspian Gulls – a third-summer at Stanwick and an adult at Ravensthorpe on 30th, followed by a first-summer at the latter site on 2nd.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 29th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Third-summer Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 30th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Aside from the autumn’s first Tree Pipit, at Harrington AF on 2nd, there have already been higher than usual numbers of migrant Common Redstarts so far in July and even more were added to the tally during the period. It’s difficult to know if their occurrence was weather-related but it must have at least been an influencing factor to some degree. Up to two were in the Brampton Valley/Blueberry Farm area throughout the week, two were at Upper Boddington on 30th, up to three were at Twywell Hills & Dales on 1st-2nd, a juvenile male was at Yardley Chase between 28th and 1st and singles were at Summer Leys on 29th and at Harrington AF between 29th and 31st.

Juvenile male Common Redstart, Denton Wood, 1st August 2019 (Steve Brayshaw)

The Brampton Valley/Blueberry Farm area also produced up to two Whinchats between 28th and 2nd and four Common Crossbills – presumably fly-overs – on the latter date.

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Rarity Round-up, 20th to 26th July 2019

Sandwiched between an unusual kink in the North Atlantic Jetstream and a high pressure system to the east, winds for the majority of the week emanated from North Africa and the UK enjoyed its potentially hottest day on record, on 25th, when Northampton hit a sweltering 36°C. Although it appeared to have little local influence on migrants, it no doubt contributed significantly to the continued evaporation at local reservoirs, exposing more muddy margins for waders, ahead of the slowly unfolding autumn passage.

But it was already déjà vu in many respects, with not a great deal of change to the birdscape this week. Still enjoying the company of local Canada Geese, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res, while an eclipse drake Garganey, which arrived at Stanford Res on 23rd, was still present at the week’s end. Pitsford’s two drake Red-crested Pochards once again became three on 24th and another drake was found at Ringstead GP on 21st, remaining there also until 24th.

Eclipse drake Garganey, Stanford Res, 23rd July 2019 (Chris Hubbard)

Cattle Egrets maintained their prominence in the Nene Valley, the trio of adults undertaking multiple commutes daily between their highly favoured herd of cows at Stanwick GP and their nest – this week proven to contain four juveniles – at nearby Ringstead GP. Somewhat overshadowed (and rightly so), two Great Egrets were at Pitsford Res on 23rd, with at least one still present the following day.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick 24th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Now mucking in with free-range chickens in a large country garden in north Northants, last week’s Sacred Ibis was said to be enjoying domestic hens’ food, cream crackers, toast and sea sticks – the latter sourced from Heron Foods, no less! Despite the laudable efforts made by the landowner to locate the collection it has clearly escaped from, none of the many contacted has stepped forward to reclaim it. Still present at the week’s end, it looks like it will be around for some time to come but for anyone with this species on his or her bucket list, the nearest truly wild population is in Mauritania.

Sacred Ibis, private site, north Northants, 24th July 2019 (Dot Crowe)

With no records last week, single Ospreys put in brief appearances at Hollowell on 21st-22nd and Pitsford on 22nd.

Set against a backcloth of small numbers of commoner species, wader passage ebbed somewhat during the period, with just two Black-tailed Godwits visiting Stanwick on 23rd and a Greenshank at Stanford Res on 26th.

Meanwhile, as is usual for late summer, numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls began to increase, with up to five at Pitsford and ones and twos regularly at Hollowell, Ravensthorpe and Stanwick.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 20th July 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Passerines of note this week again featured Common Redstarts, with two at Harrington AF on 24th-26th plus one in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton on 25th and a female Common Crossbill at Ravensthorpe on 26th.

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Rarity Round-up, 13th to 19th July 2019

With national weather conditions nothing to shout about, the influence on local migrants was seemingly minimal. Wader passage ramped up somewhat and despite being mid-summer, it was the white stuff that dominated the news this week ….

Not surprisingly, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck stayed put at Hollowell Res all week and the two Red-crested Pochards, ensconced in Walgrave Bay at Pitsford Res, remained until at least 16th.

News that Cattle Egrets have bred successfully in the county for the first time became widespread in recent days. Two, possibly three, well-grown young are being raised in a nest attended diligently by the same trio of adults which has been present at Stanwick GP regularly throughout spring and early summer. More details here. Meanwhile, the period’s token Great Egret reappeared at Pitsford Res on 16th but causing rather more excitement, an adult and three immature Spoonbills flew over Stanwick without stopping, late in the afternoon of the 17th, before presumably the same quartet was relocated at Rutland Water the following morning.

Adult (left) and three immature Spoonbills, Stanwick GP, 17th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Rounding off the white stuff and presumably of little interest to most local birders, a roaming Sacred Ibis, photographed at Clipston on 3rd July, was again caught on camera as it flew high over both Ravensthorpe Res and Long Buckby on 16th, appearing two days later in a large garden at the latter location. Although a likely escape, a large feral population is established in France and this species breeds no further away than Brittany.

Sacred Ibis, Ravensthorpe Res, 16th July 2019 (Gary Pullan)

Sacred Ibis, Long Buckby, 18th July 2019 (via Adrian Bryan)

The heat was turned up a little on this week’s wader passage when three Avocets    were found at Clifford Hill GP on 14th and a Whimbrel appeared at Stanwick the following day, while transient Black-tailed Godwits included one at Stanwick on 14th, ahead of three there on 16th, followed by three at Ravensthorpe Res on 18th and two in flight at the same locality on 19th.

Black-tailed Godwit, Stanwick GP, 14th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Black-tailed Godwits, Ravensthorpe Res, 18th July 2019 (Jon Cook)

Black-tailed Godwits, Ravensthorpe Res, 18th July 2019 (Jon Cook)

Summer Leys LNR produced two Ruffs on 17th and more unusually, a very short-staying Little Stint on The Slips there on 14th. Back at Stanwick, single Greenshanks were present on 15th and 17th and two visited Hollowell on 18th.

Thrapston GP has been quiet of late – until the appearance of a Little Tern on Aldwincle Lake for just fifteen minutes on 17th. This is the second record for the site this year, following a similarly short-staying individual on 25th April. Larids this week were restricted to sightings of Yellow-legged Gulls, including the first juvenile of the autumn at Ravensthorpe Res on 19th. Additionally, single adults were at Thrapston on 16th, Stanwick and Ravensthorpe on 16th and at Hollowell and Daventry Res on 19th. Multiples – all on 17th – included two adults on ploughed land at Little Addington, two at Thrapston and four at Stanwick.

Again, the only passerines making it into this week’s report were Common Redstarts, with records including one at Hanging Houghton on 13th, two at Harrington AF on 18th and a juvenile again at Denton Wood on the same date.

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Cattle Egret – a new breeding species for Northants

It may come as no surprise to many but Northamptonshire now joins Cheshire, Dorset, Devon, Essex, Hampshire and Somerset as counties which have played host to breeding Cattle Egrets in the UK.

Discovered by Steve Fisher on 8th June, an adult apparently incubating eggs, within a mixed Little Egret and Grey Heron colony in the Nene Valley, gave rise to optimism that we were only a few weeks away from seeing successful local breeding.

Cattle Egret, Ringstead GP, 9th June 2019 (Mike Alibone)

Formerly a very rare vagrant, Cattle Egret has become a more regular sight in the UK in recent years, following several large influxes. The first in 2007 saw over 200 arriving throughout Britain and Ireland and resulted in successful breeding in the Somerset Levels in 2008. Another influx in 2016 brought even larger numbers, with further successful breeding in Cheshire in 2017, during which two more colonies were discovered, giving rise to a total of 10 pairs.

In Northamptonshire, Cattle Egret was first recorded in 2006, when one was present at Summer Leys LNR from 11th to 13th August. Others soon followed and individuals of this species were recorded in five of the twelve years between 2006 and 2017, with the first ‘multiple’ (two together) occurring only as recently as 2018. Up to 4 made a protracted stay at Stanwick GP between mid-October and mid-December 2018, after which singles appeared there and at nearby Ditchford GP in March this year, with 3 adults at Stanwick regularly from late May.                                                                                                                                      Breeding then followed and after hatching successfully, young were observed in the nest for the first time on 1st July. A week later they were looking significantly bigger and today (17th July) one was standing on the nest, stretching, walking and preening and fledging appears likely within the very near future. Because of the vegetation cover, it is not possible to be certain if there are 2 or 3 young at this point. One adult was in attendance and two more adults – making up the original ‘Stanwick three’ – flew in to join it after being observed with cattle at Stanwick some ten minutes earlier.

Interesting behaviour followed as two of the birds attended to ‘housekeeping’, one of the arrivals passing a stick to the attendant, which then proceeded to add it to the nest platform before breaking off another twig from a nearby bush and repeating the behaviour. According to BWP, both sexes engage in nest-building, the female taking sticks passed to her by the male, one at a time, before putting them in place, with material continually added to the structure during incubation and long after hatching.

Of further interest is that all three adults appear to be involved in the family business, i.e. the breeding pair has a helper, or even a ‘nanny’, if you will. Again, BWP states that temporary trios of two females and one male are not infrequent at the start of the breeding season but these three appear to have stayed together throughout.

Northamptonshire is not alone in producing a breeding pair in 2019. Others have bred in Hampshire and Essex, away from the initial location in the Somerset Levels.

The information on breeding has now been released on the basis that anyone who wants to see a Cattle Egret will have done so by now. Surrounded by water, the site is largely inaccessible and will therefore not suffer from disturbance, successful hatching precludes the possibility of potential egg-theft and the young will shortly leave the nest. It is also unlikely the site will be used again … but who knows?!

Rapid population growth and range expansion is characteristic of Cattle Egret, which is now probably the most widespread species of bird on the planet, having colonised Europe, the Middle East, and North America from Africa, and Australia from Asia.

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Rarity Round-up, 6th to 12th July 2019

A more temperate period followed the previous week’s hot air and humidity as the wind mix became light northerly and westerly. Long-staying Cattle Egrets remained in the Nene Valley, while wader passage continued to trickle along and included increasing numbers of more common species.

Seemingly in for the long haul, the first-summer female Ruddy Shelduck remained at Hollowell Res all week, and the first Garganey of the autumn appeared at Stanwick GP on 6th-7th. The two Red-crested Pochards at Pitsford Res remained until at least 10th, being joined there by another on 8th, while birders at Stanford Res enjoyed an afternoon stopover by four drake Common Scoters on the same date. These birds are part of the annual, post-breeding moult migration, which initially involves largely adult drakes and immatures moving to traditionally favoured coastal localities, such as the east coast of Scotland, Carmarthen Bay and west coastal France, where they are joined by females and juveniles from mid-August (BTO Migration Atlas, 2002).

Two Bitterns were found this week – one at Stortons GP on 6th and the other at Summer Leys two days later, on 9th. Both gave only the standard flight views typically associated with this species as birds quickly move for one patch of reeds to another. Further east along the valley, up to two Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick throughout the period, while a Great Egret took up temporary residence in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay between 8th and 10th.

Cattle Egret, Stanwick GP, 7th July 2019 (Steve Fisher)

Another lean week for Ospreys produced singles flying east over the A43 near Deenethorpe, north of Corby on 7th, over Thrapston GP on 8th and over Deene Lake on 9th.

Set against a backcloth of more common waders, e.g. returning Green and Common Sandpipers (six of the latter were at Hollowell Res on 12th), Black-tailed Godwits continued to be seen – their numbers including up to twelve at Summer Leys on 7th, one at Stanwick on 9th and two at Ditchford GP on 10th. A Ruff visited Stanwick on 11th and a Greenshank was at the same locality on 10th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Ravensthorpe Res, 4th July 2019 (Paul Crotty)

Another autumn ‘first’ was an adult Mediterranean Gull at Hollowell Res on 9th and the adult Yellow-legged Gull present there last week moved to nearby Ravensthorpe Res, where it remained until at least 9th. Elsewhere, singles visited Stanwick on 6th, Daventry Res on 8th-9th and Pitsford on 10th, with two at the latter site the following day.

Following last week’s adult and a juvenile Common Redstarts near Badby, a juvenile appeared at Denton Wood in Yardley Chase on 11th. Its rather fresh, unmoulted juvenile plumage, coupled with the relatively early arrival date, gives rise to speculation that it had fledged locally. This species has occasionally bred in the county and, although there have been summer females with active brood patches there are no records of proven breeding this century.

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