Following a similar event this time last year, Western Europe is, once again, experiencing a late spring influx of Rose-coloured Starlings. Numbers in Spain have recently exceeded 300 and in France numbers had likely reached four figures by 1st June, with the biggest flock totalling 320 birds. Here in the UK, there have been more than 130 records to date but unlike last year, far fewer birds have made it inland and most reports have been restricted to coastal locations.
Against the odds, then, we have been fortunate in having one arrive in Northants and the fact that it was found in a readily accessible location, combined with a stay of at least three days, constitutes a big bonus for local birders.
Discovered by Dave Smith on the evening of 12th June, it was feeding on the grassy, sheep-grazed banks in the vicinity of the north-east corner of the Main Barrage Lake, remaining long enough for a number of locals to catch up with it before the end of the evening.
Still present the next morning, although mobile along the full length of the barrage lake, it attracted a steady procession of admirers throughout the day before flying off west during the evening. Fortunately, it reappeared close to the main river bridge early on 14th, after which it quickly became even more mobile and elusive throughout the remainder of the day.
During its stay, it associated with Starlings but, at the same time, doing very much its own thing in terms of behaviour. Its movements while feeding were slower and less ‘frenetic’ and it did not adopt the ‘busy’ attitude of the surrounding Starlings, which were clearly absorbed in collecting as much food as possible and flying off north over the River Nene. This is not unusual, as gait – in terms of vagrants – is described by BWP as ‘often slow and methodical, at least when feeding in grass or weeds’, so suggestions made on the 13th that it might be suffering from ill health would appear to be unfounded.
In terms of sex, the clean bright pink of its upper and under parts point clearly to a male but ageing may be more problematic. Dave’s image, above, clearly shows only the shortest of crest feathers (not long, as can be seen in many photographs of classic adult males), while the excellent images from Ken Prouse show worn – almost bleached – brown (not black) primary feathers, suggesting it is one of last year’s juveniles which has, in part, arrested its post-juvenile, autumn moult. Such delays do sometimes occur and moult then takes place in spring (BWP). Two new tail feathers are also growing with pale, as yet unworn tips. This, combined with the short crest feathers, strongly suggest this is a first-summer male, although this may be pure speculation.
Whatever its age, it’s a fantastic bird, the 6th county record and the first to be truly twitchable in Northants since a relatively long-staying bird in, and around, Woodford Halse for 12 days in September 1998. In addition to the latter, previous records were at Weedon in September 1888, Thrapston in July 1908, Wellingborough in May 2018 and Hackleton in June 2020.
With the country sitting under high pressure all week and the calm after the storm finally with us, there was a lull in birding activity as things went seasonally quiet.
Therefore, some excusable barrel-scraping seems justified in terms of flagging up the continued presence of the Chiloe Wigeon x Crested Duck hybrid, at Summer Leys LNR, on 5th.
Apart from that, the wider horizons of the Brampton Valley were the backdrop for a singing male Quail from 7th until 10th and another was singing near Geddington on 5th.
Two Cattle Egrets maintained the species’ weekly appearance at Stanwick GP on 7th and single Great Egrets – or perhaps the same bird – were seen in flight over Stanford Res on 6th and 11th.
On the raptor front, an Osprey, ‘blue T3’, a male from the Rutland project, hatched in 2016, visited Pitsford Res on 7th and Hollowell Res on 9th.
Adult male Osprey ‘T3’, Hollowell Res, 9th June 2021 (Martin Swannell)
Adult male Osprey ‘T3’, Pitsford Res, 7th June 2021 (Helen Redpath)
Waders were, unsurprisingly, in short supply but away from breeding sites, 2 Curlews dropped in at Summer Leys on 5th, while three late spring Knots paid a brief visit to Stanwick on 10th.
Summer Leys also produced two adult Mediterranean Gulls again on 5th and a first-summer of the same species visited Clifford Hill GP on 6th, while a third-summer Yellow-legged Gull was at Stanwick on 10th.
Channel Wagtail, Stanford Res, 8th June 2021 (Glynn Preston)
Scarce passerines were thin on the ground and represented this week only by a smart male Channel Wagtail, which appeared around the dam at Stanford during the evening of 8th.
May goes out with a bang at the eleventh hour and, as we usher in meteorological summer, a high pressure system delivers warm south-easterlies and a nugget of gold to the far eastern part of the county.
With the spotlight firmly on the Nene Valley this week, four Cattle Egrets were at Stanwick GP on 30th and at least one was present on 1st. The 30th also saw a Great Egret in flight over Castle Ashby Lakes and what was presumably the same individual was subsequently seen just a stone’s throw away from there, at Earls Barton GP’s Quarry Walk, on 4th. One also visited Thrapston GP on the same date.
Last week’s hide-packing Purple Heron was still on show at Summer Leys LNR on 29th before flying off north-east during the evening of the same date. How far it actually went is a matter of conjecture as, on 2nd and 3rd, it was seen at Quarry Walk, 2 km south-west of Summer Leys.
On the raptor front, Marsh Harriers were logged at two sites on 1st – a wing-tagged bird at Summer Leys and possibly the same individual at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR. But in the north of the county things went large when a satellite-tagged White-tailed Eagle from the IoW reintroduction scheme was tracked skimming the southern flank of Stanford Res before passing over DIRFT 3, prior to entering Warwickshire, early in the afternoon of 29th.
This was second calendar-year male ‘G461’, the fourth individual from the above scheme to be recorded in Northants, following female ‘G318’ in spring 2020 and winter 2021, male ‘G393’ during the same two periods and female ‘G405’ during spring this year. Flying from The Wash to the Mendip Hills in Somerset, it covered approximately 300 km in two days.
Back in the Nene Valley, things hotted up when, once again, the easybirdin’ site of Summer Leys delivered the goods, in the last hours of 31st, with the discovery of the first Red-necked Phalarope in the county for five years. It proved to be a popular draw throughout its evening stay but was nowhere to be seen the following morning.
Apart from one on 30th April and one on 25th June, all previous spring records fall into an 11-day window between 29th May and 8th June, while 75% of all autumn records have been in September.
Other waders were, of course, available – most notably a Knot, which dropped into Stanwick early in the morning of 3rd, remaining into the afternoon.
Summer Leys also produced two adult Mediterranean Gulls on 2nd, while immature, non-breeding gulls of note were restricted to a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull and a first-summer Caspian Gull – both at DIRFT 3 on 3rd.
Two Black Terns visited Thrapston GP on 1st but … a little further down the Nene Valley …
Fotheringhay came to the fore with the flash sighting of a male Golden Oriole just outside the village, briefly, on 2nd. Twenty-four hours elapsed before the news came to light and, needless to say, it couldn’t be found the following day – which was a shame because the last accepted record in Northants was ten years ago, in May 2011. This bird falls neatly into this spring’s mini-influx of nearly sixty records, nationally, mostly in eastern England inland to the Midlands.
Our own county has seen only fourteen records in the last fifty years, with eight in May, four in June and singles in September and October. The only one to be ringed in Northants was at Ecton SF on 1st May 1971 – which some of us will remember – and it was trapped by Chris Whittles, who was subsequently the founder of CJ WildBird Foods Ltd, now known as CJ Wildlife.
The majority of the week saw cool, low pressure-dominated air delivering thunder clouds and rain from the Atlantic. But in the last two days of the period, high pressure moved in and the winds swung southerly, resulting in long overdue sunshine and blue skies. Indisputably, however, this week belonged to the colour purple …
… and with the rush of migrants well and truly over, after what has been an almost legendary spring in the county, the last of the regular summer visitors rolled up right on cue and, as always, fashionably late. So, with an element of site predictability, the first Quail to sound the summer in was singing in the Brampton Valley, between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke, on 26th, remaining until the week’s end.
Keeping a low profile, at least two Cattle Egrets remained in the favoured location of Stanwick GP on 23rd-24th but it was a different kettle of fish altogether that became this week’s birding blitzer. Snapped and subsequently flagged up by the Summer Leys photographic fraternity, a smart adult Purple Heron broke cover onto the scrape on 27th before allegedly disappearing. But, next day, there it was again, as it happened, going on to please all comers from dawn until dusk, albeit partly obscured by reeds for the majority of the time.
Purple Heron, Summer Leys LNR, 28th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
With visits more frequent in the last century, it’s been a long, 10-year wait since the last one, in 2011, with the 1980s enjoying records in 6 out of 10 years, including annual occurrences in the 4 consecutive years of 1984-87. This year’s bird is the 20th county record.
On the raptor front, single Marsh Harriers were at Harrington AF briefly on 25th and over Stanford Res on 27th.
This week’s wader action – such as it was – was confined to DIRFT 3, where six of last week’s ten Sanderlings remained on 22nd and a Tundra Ringed Plover put in an appearance on 26th. The same site also continued to produce gulls of note, including five Yellow-legged Gulls on 22nd and two on 27th, when two first-summer Caspian Gulls were also present.
Another first-summer Caspian Gull visited Pitsford Res on 23rd, when a Black Tern was also discovered there. This was followed by another which lingered at Earls Barton GP and Summer Leys from 25th to 27th.
Despite the presence of another slow-moving low pressure system seemingly locked over the UK throughout the period, after last week’s relative lull, local birding bounced back with the discovery of a long overdue confirmed county ‘first’, as well as a uniquely flamboyant rarity, which chose not to hang around.
This week’s limited wildfowl action was confined to Summer Leys LNR with, once again, a lone drake Garganey on 18th and the continued presence of the Chiloe Wigeon x Crested Duck hybrid through to 21st.
Recognisable by missing wing feathers as the same individual, Summer Leys also saw the arrival, on 17th, of the Cattle Egret from Pitsford Res after it was last seen there on 15th. Its presence at this Nene Valley site was purely transitory, though, and it did not linger. Four Cattle Egrets were also in the favoured location of Stanwick GP on 16th.
On the raptor front, single Ospreys were seen at both Pitsford and Stanford Res on 17th, Hollowell Res on 19th and Thrapston GP on 20th, while a Marsh Harrier was at Polebrook AF on 15th.
In stark contrast to last week, this week’s notable waders were limited to just two species. Whimbrel numbers at Clifford Hill GP had dwindled to just one on 15th, while the following day saw the arrival of a Sanderling on the dam at Stanford Res, ahead of an impressive double-figure count of ten at DIRFT 3 on 21st.
The reputation of the latter site for attracting the scarce and the rare was further elevated this week with the discovery there of the first confirmed Baltic Gull for the county. Found on 16th and seen again on 18th, this second-summer individual was positively identified from the number of a black colour ring on its right tarsus as having been ringed as a pullus in Norway in August 2019 (see here).
Amazingly, an unringed adult, also showing characteristics of this (sub)species, was then found at DIRFT 3 on 19th, subsequently being seen over the Leicestershire border at Shawell, little more than 5 km to the north. In the absence of a ‘ring of provenance’, the field separation of this bird from dark, long-winged individuals of the intermedius race of Lesser Black-backed Gull is, at the moment, considered well nigh impossible.
We’ve had birds like this before in Northants – see here and here, for example – but in the absence of rings which can identify the individuals, one way or another, they are not acceptable at a national level. Hopefully, this week’s second-summer will enjoy a not too bumpy ride through the scrutineers of the British Birds Rarities Committee.
A first-summer Caspian Gull was also at DIRFT 3, on 15th and from 18th to 20th.
The second rare of the week was found at Croyland Park, in suburban Wellingborough, on 18th. Feeding on freshly mown grass, a magnificent Hoopoe was discovered early in the afternoon, went missing mid-afternoon and was then refound early in the evening. It was not present the following day.
Despite averaging just over one record every two years, there has been a series of blank years during the last thirty, the longest of which was six consecutive years, 1997-2002. How long will the wait for the next one be?
The construction site for the Phase 3 extension of the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT 3) has become renowned for producing some interesting birds over the last 3 years. The area of flood pools alongside the A5 have, to date, attracted a variety of spring passage waders as well as gulls, which are known to commute between the site and nearby Shawell, where there is a landfill alongside other suitable habitat .
By this time of the year, most of the wintering gulls have departed, leaving a much smaller number of non-breeding immatures and a handful of adults, all of which are frequently joined by northbound migrants. It was on the morning of 16th May when, going through some 250 or so gulls at DIRFT 3, I came across a very interesting-looking, sub-adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, which stood out from the crowd by virtue of its startling black-and-white appearance, with almost jet-black upperparts and wings, which appeared virtually as black as the bird’s primary feathers. Closer examination revealed an extremely long primary projection beyond the tail, along with a relatively slim-looking body, lending an almost tern-like appearance.
Alarm bells started ringing as I realised I was almost certainly looking at a Baltic Gull, the (sub)species of Lesser Black-backed Gull with a breeding range from certain parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland to the White Sea.
The bird was resting on, and preening in, the water of the A5 pool and all parts of it were visible except for the legs. The bird was aged as a second-summer by some subtle dark brownish tones to some of the scapulars, faded blackish webs to 2 or 3 of the outer tail feathers, 2 small and inconspicuous pale brown feathers on the right side of the breast and a small, blackish subterminal mark on an otherwise adult-type bill. At all times during the observation the legs remained out of sight, below the water level.
I managed a few rather disappointing digiscoped shots and some rather ropey video before the gulls became disturbed by something unseen and took to the air. Although many returned, the gull in question headed off north with a handful of others, appearing to have very long, slim wings, and that, as they say, was that.
Having not seen the legs, it was not possible to ascertain if it was ringed or not … and reading the ring number to determine the bird’s origin and race is currently the only way to positively identify a Baltic Gull of this age in the UK.
The potential similarity of the other European race of Lesser Black-backed Gull, intermedius, to Baltic Gull, fuscus, means that without ring detail, no UK records of the latter are acceptable to the British Birds Rarities Committee, the only exception being birds in their second calendar year between April and June (and perhaps into summer) through their unique moult strategy. Consequently, there have been only 12 acceptable records of Baltic Gull in the UK up to the end of 2019!
That would have been the end of it but for the fact that I returned to DIRFT 3 A5 Pools two days later … and there it was again – this time out of the water and as luck would have it, it was sporting a field-readable alphanumeric ring on its right tarsus, along with a small metal one on its left. The ring was of the same type used to ring intermedius and fuscus in Norway. I was half-way to getting an ID, one way or the other. Given that the potential interest level had just moved up a notch, I put the news out on the Northants Birds WhatsApp Group and contacted Carl Baggott, Leicestershire Bird Recorder and avid Laridophile with a first-hand experience in Baltic Gull, having recently co-authored a British Birds paper on their breeding at Horsvaer in Norway.
The problem was the ring was indecipherable as a result of a combination of heat haze and long range. I persevered and managed a few high magnification digiscoped shots of the ring, which were still very blurry. In the meantime Carl had arrived and had limited time to watch the gull, which had taken to sitting down and sleeping. In a short instance of the gull standing, Carl managed to read some of the ring number, the first two characters of which were ‘J1’. All good so far and then the gulls took flight and the presumed Baltic again flew north.
Later checking and attempting to sharpen my images revealed the last character of the ring as a ‘K’. With just two more characters to decipher I emailed them to Carl, who then shared them with Morten Helberg, gull ringing project leader in Norway. Both Morten and Carl agreed the ‘missing’ characters were ‘2’ and ‘9’. We had it! ‘J129K’, this number subsequently being confirmed in the field when Carl relocated the bird at Shawell later in the evening.
So, with a bit of international cooperation and some ‘high level forensics’, we got there. But what about the bird’s ID? Oh yes, Baltic Gull, ringed as a pullus in Norway on 1st August 2019, as per the details below.
This is currently the only confirmed record for Northamptonshire. Along with the 12 records already accepted in the UK, BBRC is currently considering another half a dozen or so. As the committee quite rightly states, “… the British status of fuscus is being under-stated. In reality, fuscus may be of regular occurrence here.” So, more will surely follow and a small number of likely candidates have previously been seen in Northants … but all remain unproven.
A big thank you to Carl Baggott (UK) and Morten Helberg (Norway) for their constructive input and swift information dissemination.
Compared to the last two, this week was somewhat mellow, belonging rather more to the hangers-on than the newly arrived. A low pressure system centred over the British Isles for the majority of the period delivered unsettled weather and ‘false southerlies’, resulting from a northerly wrap-around, rather than anything originating from deep down in southern Europe. So, the foot was off the gas for high octane birding … but is that it for the spring?
Well, it would certainly appear so as far as wildfowl are concerned, since the week’s only pukka ducks were single drake Garganeys, at both Summer Leys LNR and Stanwick GP on 8th. However, it was the latter site which dipped more than one toe into muddy waters as, bobbing on the surface, was last week’s and the week before’s Pink-footed Goose – now looking distinctly suspect in terms of origin.
But looking further into the murky depths revealed some unquestionably dodgy fare in the shape of a Chiloe Wigeon x Crested Duck hybrid on 8th, which proceeded to make its way to Summer Leys for 11th. And if that wasn’t enough, just to add insult to injury, a Barnacle Goose x Cackling Goose hybrid followed two days later, accompanied by a ‘pure’ Barnacle Goose.
Relying principally on cast-offs from Thrapston and Ditchford GPs to keep it afloat, Stanwick has, so far, come in decidedly under par this spring. But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings … or so they say.
One thing Stanwick is reliable for, of course, is Cattle Egrets, four – or possibly as many as six – of which were present there on 9th, while the one which turned up at Pitsford Res at the end of last week remained throughout. Pitsford was also one of the four sites producing Great Egrets this week, with one still there on 12th, while singles were also seen at Thrapston on the same date and at both Clifford Hill GP and Summer Leys on 8th.
Raptor sightings this week were limited to single Ospreys at Thrapston on 9th and 12th, Pitsford on 10th, Hollowell Res on 11th and Stanford Res on 14th.
If last week belonged to waders, then this week followed suit – albeit at a less prestigious level. Two Grey Plovers – relatively scarce so far this spring – were found at DIRFT 3 on 8th and two Ringed Plovers of one of the tundra races also turned up there on 14th.
The long-staying Whimbrels, present at Clifford Hill GP from last month, notched up a mammoth stopover of 18 days this week, although their numbers had dwindled from a maximum of eight to just three by 13th. In contrast to last week, they were recorded from no other sites.
Away from breeding sites, the week’s only Curlew was also found at Clifford Hill on 8th, while this week’s Black-tailed Godwits consisted of two at Summer Leys from 8th to 10th and one there on 11th. Two also flew west over DIRFT 3 on 9th.
Hot on the heels of the year’s first Turnstone at Clifford Hill last week came four more at the same site in the murky weather of the 8th, the same day also seeing two paying a fleeting visit to Summer Leys and one at DIRFT 3. Clifford Hill produced further singles on 9th and 13th-14th.
Following a series of unseasonal occurrences during the second week of February, the first Knot of the spring appeared at DIRFT 3 on 13th, remaining there the following day, while last week’s Ruff lingered at Summer Leys until at least 12th.
Sanderlings, too,were again on the menu, with the 8th delivering five to Clifford Hill, three to DIRFT 3 and one to Summer Leys, while the following day, two remained at DIRFT 3 and another was found there on 13th. All the blow and bluster of the 8th saw many more Dunlins moving through during the miserable conditions of the day. DIRFT 3 produced sixty (in two flocks, of fifty-one and nine), Clifford Hill held at least fifty-one, twenty-five were at Summer Leys, twenty at Ecton SF and ten at Earls Barton GP’s new workings (north). It was all over by the following day, though, with just three at Clifford Hill and singles were at Stanwick on 10th and at DIRFT 3 on 13th-14th.
The 8th also brought single Wood Sandpipers to both Stanwick and Summer Leys, as well as a Greenshank to the latter site, which continued to hold on to one of its long-staying Spotted Redshanks, remaining there until at least 13th.
In contrast to the continued high velocity wader movement, gulls and terns were at a low ebb. A Little Gull visited Stanford on 12th and the following day saw two first-summer Caspian Gulls at DIRFT 3, while a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited the latter site on 8th and a third-winter was at Pitsford on 9th. With most already having moved through, single-figure counts of Arctic Terns included two at Stanford on 8th and one at Summer Leys on 11th, while single Black Terns visited Clifford Hill, Pitsford and Summer Leys on the consecutive days of 8th, 9th and 10th, respectively.
Another week, another Wood Warbler – this one being even more fleeting than last week’s. Stanwick was the venue, the bird singing for ten minutes and remaining out of sight, early in the morning of 11th. This week’s Whinchats were all on 9th, when four were at Borough Hill and one was at Clifford Hill, while Northern Wheatears still continued to filter through, some showing characteristics of the Greenland race, which tends to be prevalent the deeper we move into May.
Clifford Hill produced the most, with three on 8th and ten there the next day, 9th, which also saw seven at Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, six at Borough Hill and one at Stortons GP. Singles were again at Clifford Hill on 10th, 12th and 13th, with two there on 11th and further singles were at Harrington AF on 11th and Boddington Res on12th.
The start of May was marked by a bank holiday weekend and barely had the week kicked off when the drums started beating out news of the discovery of one of the rarest waders on the county list – a mere stone’s throw from Northampton …
But before all that … Lost and lonely, last week’s Pink-footed Goose was back at Stanwick GP on 4th-5th, clearly having decided not to move north yet and another lingerer was Summer Leys LNR’s drake Garganey, which remained all week.
There’s a niggling belief in the Western psyche that bad things always come in threes but this was certainly not the case at Ravensthorpe Res on 2nd, when three Black-necked Grebes, in all their summer finery, were on display close to the causeway. Needless to say, they did not stay.
And after a week with no sightings, Cattle Egrets were back in the game, with two at Stanwick on 2nd, one there on 5th and one at Pitsford Res at the week’s end, on 7th. Unsurprisingly, as we move deeper into spring, Great Egrets were down to singles at Clifford Hill GP on 1st, Thrapston GP from 3rd to 7th and Pitsford on 4th.
Raptors, too, were in short supply with single Ospreys at Hollowell on 5th and 7th and in flight over the A45 near Earls Barton on the latter date, while Stanford Res produced another Marsh Harrier on 4th.
But it was waders that came to the fore and what better way to kick the week off than with a Dotterel … or two. So, history was made with the discovery, on 1st, of Northamptonshire’s eleventh at a relatively unknown site, only a stone’s throw from the county town. The extensive, flat bean fields, alongside New Farm AF at Piddington, proved attractive to two of these highly attractive, montane beasties as they took a break from their journey from Africa to likely breeding sites in Scotland and/or Scandinavia. Staying for five days, they became crowd-pullers and pleasers – their admirers coming from further afield than just Northants.
The last record in the county was a fly-over, photographed at Pitsford Res in November 2017 but the last truly twitchable bird was near Lutton, an area with reputational pulling power for this species, in May 2014. The population, however, is said to be declining. The estimate of 423 breeding males in 2011 represents a decline of 43% since 1999, when the comparable total was 747 pairs, and of 57% since 1987/1988 (981 pairs) (Appleton, 2015 & 2020).
Other waders were available, with many again making longer stays than we have come to expect during spring. One such species was Whimbrel, with the number of localities hosting them matching last week’s eight, although the total number of birds seen had fallen by a third to just twenty-one. This week’s peak included up to eight at Clifford Hill all week, while last week’s three were still at Hollowell Res until 3rd, two remaining on 4th, two were at Summer Leys on 1st and singles there on 2nd and 7th, two flew over DIRFT 3 on 6th and singles were in flight over the A361 near Byfield on 1st, at Stanwick on 4th, at Thrapston on 4th and 7th and at Stanford Res on 5th.
Away from breeding sites, a Curlew visited Summer Leys on 1st, the latter site producing the week’s only Black-tailed Godwits, with five on 4th, one on 5th and two on 7th. The year’s first Turnstone made landfall at Clifford Hill on 6th and a single Ruff remained at Summer Leys throughout the period.
Which brings us neatly to the second-best wader of the week, Temminck’s Stint – the first in the county for four years. Discovered on 6th at the A5 Pools of the DIRFT 3 industrial development site, it has now significantly contributed to putting the locality firmly on the map after its potential was flagged up here in 2017 and again here in a wider context in 2021. The vast majority of previous records have been in spring and of those, the easybirdin’ site of Summer Leys has (artificially, through observer number bias) exerted the most pull, as the graphic below neatly illustrates. Almost annual in the last decade of the previous century it has, however, become a less frequent visitor in recent years.
Temminck’s Stint, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, 6th May 2021 (Mike Alibone)
The year’s first Sanderling was found on 3rd May at Clifford Hill, quickly followed by another the next day, at Thrapston GP. And the waders still kept coming, with birders in the Nene Valley experiencing a Dunlin rush on 4th, when double-figure counts were made at four localities as birds moved quickly through. These included forty-two at Clifford Hill, at least thirty-eight through Stanwick GP, thirty-two at Earls Barton GP’s New Workings (North) and twenty-two at Summer Leys. Outside of this date these, along with two further localities recorded a total of at least 52 between them during the week.
The Summer Leys long-staying Spotted Redshank again remained there throughout, being joined by a fine summer-plumaged bird from 4th until the week’s end.
Compared to the previous week, Greenshank numbers were well down, with three at Ecton SF on 1st and two at DIRFT 3 on 2nd being the highest counts. Elsewhere, singles were at Earls Barton GP on 1st, 6th and 7th, Summer Leys on 2nd and 7th and Pitsford on 6th.
Gulls and terns also tailed off dramatically, with an adult Little Gull at Thrapston on 7th and single Caspian Gulls at DIRFT 3 on 1st and 7th. The 5th saw a Sandwich Tern fly through at Summer Leys and mere single-figure counts of Arctic Terns included two at Stanwick on 3rd, followed by six there the next day, which also delivered three to Summer Leys, two to each of Pitsford and Stanford and one to Clifford Hill, while one visited Stanford on the following day, 5th. A Black Tern was also at Stanford on 7th.
Topping the passerines bill this week was a Wryneck, found on Borough Hill on 2nd. It remained for a further three days, showing particularly well and providing superb photographic opportunities for all comers.
Although dubbed by some as the most confiding Wryneck we’ve ever had, the truth is it wasn’t. That accolade goes to one which, completely oblivious to vehicles and bystanders, occupied a small mown grass roundabout on a busy road, bizarrely within spitting distance of Borough Hill, at High March Industrial Estate, Daventry on 8th September 2003. The difference is this week’s bird stayed four days, providing a comfortably protracted period for anyone who wanted to catch up with it. The number of Wrynecks visiting Northants averages just above one per year, with September being the peak month.
Another week, another Wood Warbler and in contrast to last week’s crowd-pleaser it remained in the shadows of Barnwell CP during the morning of 1st.
And while we’re talking ‘firsts’, the first Spotted Flycatcher of the spring appeared at Hollowell Res on the relatively early date of 2nd but it still would have had a long way to go to have beaten the joint record-holders of 1971 and 1976, when the earliest of all recorded arrivals were on 20th April. Hot on the heels of the first Whinchat of the spring, on 30th April, were six more scattered across the week and shared between Borough Hill, Honey Hill, Northampton, Piddington and Ravensthorpe STW.
Northern Wheatears also put on a reasonable showing, with ten at Piddington on 1st, two near Charwelton on 7th and singles at Boddington Res, Deenethorpe and Clifford Hill.
White Wagtails continued to trickle through and singles were found at Earls Barton on 1st, Clifford Hill on 2nd and Welford Res on 5th and the year’s second-only Tree Pipit flew over Borough Hill, early on the last of these dates.
Being treated to easterlies and north-easterlies throughout the period, this week we say goodbye to the UK’s frostiest April for 60 years and one of the driest to boot. Against a backcloth of continually arriving spring migrants, waders piled in ahead of some bright and shiny passerines, with many taking remarkably protracted breaks in their spring migration.
Wildfowl numbers continued to decline, with a lone Pink-footed Goose appearing for a day at Stanwick GP on 29th, and two similarly northbound Common Scoters making a stopover on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 28th.
This week’s Garganey count was pretty much on a par with last week’s and included the lingering pair at Pitsford Res on 27th and lone drakes visiting Ecton SF on the latter date and Summer Leys LNR on 29th-30th.
Out on their own, Great Egrets were still to be found at five locations – namely Clifford Hill GP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford, Summer Leys and Thrapston, with a maximum of three at Pitsford on 29th.
And, in keeping with last week’s low number of reports, this week’s Ospreys were singles at Pitsford on 25th, Hollowell on 28th, Stortons GP on 30th and what was probably the same individual over nearby Far Cotton, Northampton later the same day. The only other raptors of note were Marsh Harriers at Stanford Res on 24th and Summer Leys on 26th.
Migrant wader numbers continued to build, records were broken and lengths of stay were stretched in many instances. One locality stood proud in this respect. Ah yes, Summer Leys … and the birdin’ is easy … This site pulled in thirteen wader species during the period but, surprisingly, managed to miss out on a couple of species which might have otherwise found their way to this locally unique reserve. But it’s still early days. The first of these was Grey Plover, one of which stayed at Thrapston GP between 24th and 26th, quickly followed by another flying east over Stanford two days later, on 28th. And the other? Well, after the appearance of the year’s first, last week, Whimbrels arrived in force, with eight localities elsewhere collectively producing at least thirty-two birds. Clifford Hill bagged the lion’s share, with ten on 29th, seven on 26th and one on 30th. The length of stay award was won by three that remained at Hollowell for the entire week and the only other site to produce this number, too, was Stanford Res on 28th. Further singles were seen at Wadenhoe on 24th and Stanford on the same date, DIRFT 3 on 24th and 30th, Stanwick on 25th and 26th, Pitsford on 27th and Thrapston on 28th.
Away from breeding sites, a Curlew joined the Whimbrels at Hollowell on 26th, while Bar-tailed Godwits enjoyed another strong week, with singles at Hollowell Res on 24th-25th, Thrapston on 28th and Summer Leys on 24th, followed by five there on 25th. Other multiples were three at Thrapston and four at Stanwick on 25th, plus six at Clifford Hill and two at Pitsford on 26th.
Once again in the shade, Black-tailed Godwits mustered three at Summer Leys on 25th and one at Thrapston on 28th. Three Ruffs remained at Summer Leys from 27th to 30th and one visited DIRFT 3 on 28th, when a Dunlin was also at the same site and nine were at Clifford Hill, followed by singles at Earls Barton GP on 29th and Summer Leys on 30th. A late Jack Snipe was found at Clifford Hill GP on 24th.
The year’s first Wood Sandpiper pitched up at Summer Leys on 24th, staying until at least 27th, while last week’s Spotted Redshank remained at the same site throughout. In contrast to the handful we normally see in spring, Greenshanks arrived en masse this week, including a record-breaking spring flock of sixteen, again at Summer Leys, on 25th, with six still there the following day and singles on 27th and 29th. Another notable flock was seven at Ecton SF on 27th, with four present on 29th. Elsewhere, three were at DIRFT 3 on 24th and one there on 25th, three visited Stanwick on 26th, two were at Clifford Hill on 24th with singles there on 26th and 28th, two were at Earls Barton on 27th, singles were at Oundle on 24th and 26th and two were at Thrapston on 26th-27th, with singles there on 28th and 30th.
The beginning of the period saw the tail-end of last week’s Little Gull influx – and some more very respectable site totals. Leading the way, Thrapston held sixty-two on 24th, the same day producing twenty-six at Pitsford, thirteen at Clifford Hill and probably in excess of a dozen birds at Summer Leys. On 25th, three visited Daventry CP and singles were at Clifford Hill and Summer Leys, while the following day saw four at the latter site and one at Pitsford. Unsurprisingly for the time of year, other gulls were in short supply. Up to two adult Mediterranean Gulls were around all week at Summer Leys, while two second-winter Yellow-legged Gulls were at DIRFT 3 on 25th, followed by a third-winter there on 28th.
Arriving in impressive numbers, Arctic Terns took over where Little Gulls left off. Summer Leys, Thrapston and Stanwick each had up to five during 24th-26th but the biggest movement was noted on 28th-29th, when Boddington held approximately forty, Thrapston saw in excess of forty and seventy-six passed north-east through Stanwick. Maximum site counts elsewhere were fourteen at Clifford Hill and four at Stanford Res – both on 28th, which also saw three Black Terns at Thrapston and one at Boddington.
A male Merlin was between Clopton and Bythorn on 25th.
Among the arriving summer visitors this week were some class passerines. Kicking off was a bright and shiny Wood Warbler in the unusual location of Abington Park, Northampton on 28th – a crowd-pleaser for the one day it was present. Another was also found near Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton on the same date but clearly did not exert the same pull as the soft target, drive-up-and-see bird in the suburban setting of Northampton.
Somewhat amazingly, a first-summer male Pied Flycatcher was found in the above location on the same date by those twitching the Wood Warbler. Both birds had departed by the following day.
Another first for the year materialised in the shape of a Lesser Whitethroat, at Earls Barton GP, on 24th – a date on the slightly later side of average for this species.
Other smart passerines included a Ring Ouzel, which lingered by the River Nene at Thrapston from 28th to 30th, two Common Redstarts at Stanford Res on 26th and the first Whinchat of the spring at DIRFT 3 on 30th, scraping into April by the skin of its teeth.
Northern Wheatears were also still on the move, with one at Harrington on 25th, five in the Brampton Valley and seven Clifford Hill GP on 28th, while a male Greenland Wheatear was at Boddington Res the following day.
Female Blue-headed Wagtails were identified at Ravensthorpe Res on 25th, Thrapston on 26th-28th Stanford Res on 27th and Summer Leys on 28th.
Next up is May, arguably the grandest spring birding month, although April will be a hard act to follow locally.
A bright, rain-free and erratically warm week, with a high pressure system sitting over Scandinavia in part, brought a mixture of north-easterlies and easterlies, with some short-term southerlies thrown in for good measure. SET AGAINST A BACKCLOTH OF THE CONTINUED ARRIVAL OF SPRING MIGRANTS AND a huge, unprecedented influx of Little Gulls, the first true rarity of the spring – a potential fifth record for Northamptonshire – livened things up, albeit briefly, on 17th.
With winter wildfowl well and truly on the wane, a lone White-fronted Goose dropping in to Stanford Res on 23rd, along with a Ruddy Shelduck flying over nearby Honey Hill on 17th, summed up the anserine oddballs for the week. Indisputably more pukka credentials were attached to the Garganey pairs remaining at Summer Leys until 17th and throughout the week at Pitsford Res, while a lone drake visited Stanwick GP on 18th. Finally, it looked this week like the winter’s long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck decided to call it a day – that day being 19th – the last date it was seen at Clifford Hill GP.
Another long-stayer, which had become increasingly restless in recent weeks, also appears to have done a bunk, having last been seen at both Stanwick and Thrapston GP on 17th. Yes, the lengthening daylight hours finally called time on the county’s most obliging Glossy Ibis to date, after completing a marathon 63-day sojourn in the Nene Valley.
And had it not been for one at Stanwick on 18th and four on 22nd, Cattle Egrets would have slipped under the radar this week, while Great Egrets were still to be found at four locations – namely Clifford Hill, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston, with a maximum of three at the latter site on 20th.
Following the two short-stayers earlier in the month, Daventry CP again pulled in another of Draycote’s first-winter Shags. It remained all week.
In contrast to last week, Ospreys were limited to just three sightings of singles, these being at both Stanford and Thrapston on 20th and a ringed individual at Hollowell on 22nd. The latter, believed to be unpaired, was ‘blue T3’, a male from the Rutland project, hatched in 2016.
Other raptors were also available – if you were there at the time, that is – and with a sharp eye to boot. The venue: Pitsford causeway. The date: 23rd April. The bird: probable male Pallid Harrier. An all-too-brief flythrough to the south-east and, by all accounts, giving a frustratingly below par performance that will win no Oscars. Intriguingly, a ‘possible male Pallid Harrier’ was also reported near Sandy, Bedfordshire, approximately 40 km to the south-east, some 35 minutes later …
This week’s wader numbers were on the up, the birds themselves panning out better than those in last week’s meagre line-up. Three Avocets spent less than an hour in Pitsford’s Scaldwell Bay during the morning of 22nd, before quickly departing to the north-west and another dropped in at Clifford Hill GP the following evening, on 23rd.
The year’s first Whimbrel arrived at Summer Leys on 19th, followed the next day by further singles at the same site and at Stanwick, while two more appeared again at Summer Leys on 22nd.
Curlews were limited to three in flight over Pitsford on 18th and one at Thrapston the same day, followed by another over Stanford on 21st, while Bar-tailed Godwits came into their own, this week being recorded from six localities. The top site for numbers was Summer Leys, where eleven were seen on 22nd, followed by Clifford Hill, where three arrived on 19th and were joined by three more on 22nd, after which two remained the following day. Five flew north-east over Boddington Res – also on 22nd and singles were at Thrapston on 17th and at both DIRFT 3 and Stanwick on 23rd.
In the shade, then, were Black-tailed Godwits, with singles (or perhaps the same bird) at Summer Leys on 17th and 19th. A Ruff visited DIRFT 3 on 21st, when two Dunlins were at Clifford Hill, remaining there until the following day.
Now rarer in the county than Avocet, a Spotted Redshank was found on 22nd at Summer Leys, where it remained on the following day, when another flew north over the causeway at Pitsford. A Greenshank arrived at Thrapston on 17th, remaining until 19th and two were present there on 20th. Elsewhere, singles were at both Stanford and Stanwick on 22nd and two visited DIRFT 3 the following day.
But it was Little Gulls that really stole the show this week. An influx involving hundreds took place across the Midlands and southern England, peaking hugely on 23rd, when localities in neighbouring counties saw what must surely be unprecedented inland numbers. Rutland Water, in Leicestershire held one hundred and seven at one point, Farmoor Res in Oxfordshire scored eighty-one and Draycote in Warwickshire had more than forty. Numbers here in Northants were also not too shoddy, kicking off with singles at Summer Leys on 17th and 19th and at Pitsford on 21st, the latter site producing three the following day before the floodgates opened on 23rd. The ‘big day’, then, delivered a very respectable minimum of seventy-five to Pitsford, twenty-six at Clifford Hill, minima of twenty-five at Stanwick and nineteen at Summer Leys, while Stanford and Thrapston scraped in with five and two, respectively.
With any focus of attention on Mediterranean Gulls momentarily halted, at least two remained on and off at Summer Leys all week. Caspian Gulls were also in evidence with an adult visiting Daventry CP on 17th and a first-winter at DIRFT 3 on 23rd, while Yellow-legged Gulls included the usual one or two Pitsford ‘semi-residents’, a third-winter at DIRFT 3 on 21st, followed by an adult and a first-winter there on 23rd and a third-summer at Clifford Hill GP on the same date.
Back on the migration theme and the spring’s first Black Tern was seen at Thrapston GP, where there were two on 20th, quickly followed there by the first five Arctic Terns the next day, when seventeen also visited Stanwick. On 22nd, fifteen dropped in at Boddington Res and one was again at Stanwick, while the following day brought several more to Thrapston, four were at Clifford Hill, two at Sywell CP and one at Pitsford.
Another first for the year materialised in the form of a Common Swift over Stanwick on 23rd, followed by two more at Kislingbury later in the day. What no-one was prepared for, however, was a little less tangible: a European Bee-eater flew west over Summer Leys on 17th, calling three times. Frustratingly for the two birders tuned in to it, it remained invisible, high up in the clear blue of the troposphere. If accepted, it becomes the fifth county record. Others were found in Cornwall and Scilly during the previous week.
Slightly more down to earth, a male Merlin flew low north-west at Boddington Res on 20th.
More spring migrant ‘firsts’ arrived in the shape of a Grasshopper Warbler at Thrapston on 17th and a Garden Warbler at Summer Leys on 18th, while a male Pied Flycatcher was found in the grounds of Kelmarsh Hall – apparently ‘closed to riff-raff’ – on 23rd and another was reported behind Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton GP on the same date.
More Ring Ouzels this week included the popular Harrington AF male, still present on 17th, another male at Earls Barton GP on the same date and, on 18th, two were found at Honey Hill when last week’s male was still near Byfield, east of Boddington Res. Meanwhile, Common Redstarts continued to trickle through, this week’s four including single males at Harrington on 17th and Kingsthorpe Meadows, Northampton on 19th, a female at Honey Hill on 20th and a male at Sywell CP on 23rd.
Northern Wheatears were also still on the move, with one at Harrington on 17th, three at Honey Hill on 18th, two at Borough Hill on 19th with one there on 22nd, one at Wicksteed Park on 21st and one Clifford Hill GP on the same date, rising to two on 22nd-23rd.
Alongside a report of a female Blue-headed Wagtail at Summer Leys on 22nd, single White Wagtails were at Clifford Hill on 22nd and 23rd.