Newsround – 21st to 27th November 2020

The wind continued mainly southerly but a swing to the east occurred on the last day of the period. Becoming no easier to see, the male Parrot Crossbill remained into the week.

Continuing to elicit some interest, the Barnacle Goose flock, still present at Clifford Hill GP into this week, had significantly reduced to twenty by 21st and they remained there until the week’s end.

Barnacle Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 24th November 2020 (Doug Goddard)

One also lingered at Stanford Res all week. While the six Pink-footed Geese remained ensconced at Hollowell Res throughout the period, some inflight entertainment came in the form of a flock of some fifty to fifty-five heading north-west over Harringworth Lodge Lake on the morning of 21st. This appears to have been part of a wider national movement on the day and back at Stanford, two joined the local Greylags and three flew over.

Pink-footed Geese, Harringworth Lodge Lake, 21st November 2020 (James Underwood)
Pink-footed Geese, Harringworth Lodge Lake, 21st November 2020 (James Underwood)
Pink-footed Geese and Barnacle Goose, Stanford Res, 21st November 2020 (Matt Jackson)

The following day, five Whooper Swans flew east at the latter locality, constituting the 160th species for the year at that site, equalling its best-ever species total, which was in 2017. DIRFT 3 was paid a surprise visit by five Ruddy Shelducks on 22nd, although they were absent the next day, while the long-staying female was seen again at Hollowell on 26th-27th. Numbers of Red-crested Pochards fell to just four at Pitsford Res, although two were found at Clifford Hill GP on 23rd.

Ruddy Shelducks, DIRFT 3, 22nd November 2020 (Steve McAusland)

Looking set for a protracted stay, the juvenile Great Northern Diver remained throughout at Hollowell. Surprisingly, no Cattle Egrets were reported this week but Great Egrets continued to be reported from seven sites. Hollowell and Pitsford were the only sites away from the Nene Valley and Thrapston again logged the week’s highest site count of five on 27th.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 22nd November 2020 (Jim Dunkley)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 23rd November 2020 (Martin Swannell)

Following their initial discovery on 12th, three locally unseasonal Curlews continued to come in to roost on the DIRFT 3 A5 pools, being seen just prior to dusk on 23rd and 26th, while the only other notable wader was Jack Snipe, with singles at Hollowell on 23rd and Stanford on 27th, plus four on a field pool close to Ravensthorpe STW on 26th.

Curlew, DIRFT 3, 26th November 2020 (Mike Alibone)

In addition to the semi-regular third-winter Caspian Gull again at Hollowell on 24th, the same date saw a first-winter come in to roost at Boddington Res and three – an adult and two third-winters – were at DIRFT 3 on 26th.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Borrow Pit, Oxfordshire, November 21st 2020 (John Friendship-Taylor). This individual roosted at nearby Boddington Res on 24th November.
Third-winter Yellow-legged Gull (left), 23rd November 2020 and third-winter Caspian Gull, 26th November 2020, both DIRFT 3 (Mike Alibone)

This week’s Yellow-legged Gulls rallied somewhat, with one at Pitsford on 21st and 24th, two at DIRFT 3 on 23rd and eleven counted in the Boddington roost on 24th.

Two Short-eared Owls emerged during the period – one from a roadside field north of Sywell AF on 22nd and the other, remaining in the air for an hour, was at Pitsford on 26th, while this week’s Merlin was a female at Stanwick on the first of these two dates.

Short-eared Owl, Pitsford Res, 26th November 2020 (Ant Hall)

Wintering Stonechats were recorded from DIRFT 3, Hollowell, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston, with no more than four at any one site.

Male Stonechat, Lilbourne Meadows LNR, 23rd November 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Last week’s male Parrot Crossbill continued to elude, evade and generally played hard to get, being seen only briefly on 21st at Wakerley Great Wood, which continued to host Crossbills, clearly on the up this week, with at least sixty-one being present there on 27th. Up to nine were still being seen at Hollowell during the period, eight were still in Bucknell Wood on 22nd and singles flew over both Stanwick GP and Pitsford on 24th.

Newsround – 14th to 20th November 2020

A mild, southerly airstream continued into the first half of the period before the wind swung momentarily northerly toward the week’s end. The chance discovery of a fine male Parrot Crossbill duly elicited a local northerly movement by those hoping to catch a glimpse.

With last week’s presumed ‘C list’ Barnacle Goose flock still present at Clifford Hill GP, having risen to forty-one on 15th, some light was at last shed on its origin.

One of two Barnacle Geese found at Stanford Res last week was also metal-ringed on its left leg but no colour rings were in evidence. Both birds remained until 16th. Meanwhile, the goose theme continued at Hollowell Res, where last week’s six Pink-footed Geese were back up again to seven on 19th. The only other waterfowl of note were Red-crested Pochards which, this week, were confined only to Pitsford Res, where the highest count was eight on 19th.

Back at Hollowell, the juvenile Great Northern Diver was still present on 19th, after becoming evasive in the early part of the week.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 14th November 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

Cattle Egrets remained, as usual, in the Stanwick/Irthlingborough area, where the highest count was six on 16th and 18th. Upsizing, Great Egrets were again much in evidence, widespread across at least ten localities in the county, from Blatherwycke Lake to Stanford in the north and along the Nene Valley from Thrapston GP to Billing GP, Thrapston logging the week’s highest site count of five on 15th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 15th November 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

A superb total of fourteen Jack Snipes at Daventry CP on 17th was nearly triple last week’s count from there and is surely a record count for the site.

Winter gulls this week included two adult Mediterranean Gulls – one flying south-west over Stanwick GP on 19th and the other at Boddington Res the following day. The third-winter Caspian Gull was again at Hollowell on 14th and 17th, while a first-winter visited Daventry CP on the latter date. Single adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Pitsford on 14th-15th, Hollowell and Daventry on 17th and at Thrapston on 18th.

A Short-eared Owl was reported from the Irthlingborough area on 16th, while this week’s Merlin was an immature male at Harrington AF on 18th.

As a result of their often nebulous nature, ‘possibles’ rarely feature in this report but for the sake of completeness and on the off-chance that a Northamptonshire first – a ‘mega’ at that – could potentially be passing us by, it would seem prudent to include the possible Dusky Thrush reported on 20th. Said to have been with Fieldfares and Redwings, close to the north-west corner of Kingthorn Wood, between Greens Norton and Bradden, late morning, the news was released during the afternoon. Those (three) who made it to the site in gloomy conditions met with disappointment as a highly animated flock of some four hundred or so winter thrushes kept their distance and eventually split up and dispersed. But in case anyone fancies chancing his or her arm, it’s a very nice area, with a pocket park …

Back down to earth somewhat, Stonechats were recorded from Boddington, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston. Once again, four at Hollowell on 17th was the highest total at any locality.

But tangible bird of the week, without doubt, was the smart male Parrot Crossbill photographed at Wakerley Great Wood on 15th. The first of these vagrant cone-crunchers for almost 30 years and not the easiest to pin down – and there may have been more than just the one.


Common Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 16th November 2020 (Mike Alibone). An individual with a slightly larger than average bill.

A veritable supporting cast, Crossbills were prevalent at the same site throughout, with more than forty estimated to be present. Hollowell, too, is fast proving itself to be a reliable site for this species, with numbers there growing throughout the week and peaking in excess of twenty on 20th, while at least five flew north-west over Harrington AF on the same date.

Parrot Crossbill at Wakerley

Lightning strikes twice and a thirty-year wait comes to an end.

It’s been almost thirty years since the last Parrot Crossbill was seen in Northants. That was in March 1991. But it’s exactly thirty years to the month, November 1990, when the first one for the county was found. Between those two months a male and a female were seen on and off throughout the winter of 1990-91 and a flock of 10-12 was seen on just one date, 22nd November 1990. All these birds have one thing in common: Wakerley Great Wood.

So, with history repeating itself during the past 24 hours, Wakerley has turned up trumps again, producing another Parrot Crossbill in the area of larches which surround the car park and routinely favoured by Crossbills.

Captured on film during a hardcore Crossbill photography session by Tom Green yesterday, a male was subsequently identified from a photograph posted on Twitter and this led to it being seen ‘live’ early this morning, by Gary Pullan and Neil Underwood, as it fed with three Crossbills in the larches by the car park toilet block. Hopefully it will remain there for some time to come, although it is flighty and there are at least 40 Crossbills to wade through …

Male Parrot Crossbill, Wakerley Great Wood, 15th November 2020 (Tom Green)

Parrot Crossbills, UK, 1st October to 16th November 2020 (BirdGuides), the Wakerley male (Tom Green) and location at Wakerley.

To set it in context, this current autumn has seen a mini-influx of small numbers of Parrot Crossbills across the eastern part of the UK, from Shetland to Kent, suggesting that there are more out there if we make the effort to look.

Newsround – 7th to 13th November 2020

The air off the continent – south-easterlies, subsequently swinging southerly – resulted in a generally mild week, during which a number of new birds arrived on the scene, of which Great Northern Diver and Bearded Tits headed the cast …

Barnacle Geese on the romp, however, provided additional interest. We are used to the odd one or two feral birds tagging along with local Canadas and Greylags but it’s always exhilarating to encounter a large flock, whatever its origin. And so it came to pass that roving multiples were seen in the Nene Valley this week, with twenty-seven flying south-west over Ditchford GP on 10th, some or all of which may have accounted for the larger number of thirty-six on the ground at Clifford Hill GP, two days later, on 12th. The feral population in neighbouring Bedfordshire seems to be their most likely origin

Barnacle Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 12th November 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Black and white toned down to not quite fifty shades of grey at Hollowell Res, as the six Pink-footed Geese remained throughout the period and the female Ruddy Shelduck, although there on 9th, took another trip up to Crick, where it was seen at Foxholes Fisheries on 11th.

Pink-footed Geese, Hollowell Res, 11th November 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Pitsford Res retained at least ten Red-crested Pochards throughout the period and four were found at Daventry CP on 9th, remaining until the following day.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 12th November 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Given the recent numbers inland over the past week, it would have been unthinkable not to have at least one of our reservoirs proving attractive to at least one Great Northern Diver and our first for 2020, a nice, scaly juvenile, duly appeared at Hollowell on 13th.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 13th November 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 13th November 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Hollowell Res, 13th November 2020 (Jon Cook)

Similarly, with a great deal of focus on, and time invested by birders in, Stortons GP this week, it came as no real surprise when a Bittern appeared briefly in flight there on 10th.

Bittern, Stortons GP, 10th November 2020 (Steve Dodkins)

The now resident population of Cattle Egrets in the Nene Valley remained, as usual, in the Stanwick/Irthlingborough area, where the highest count was nine on 7th. Away from there, one flew north-east at Boddington Res on 13th – the first record for the site and it may well have been the bird that briefly visited the Balscote Quarry NR near Banbury, Oxfordshire on 1st November. A humdrum of Great Egrets – the new collective noun, perhaps – saw double figures in the county, with five at Thrapston GP on 10th and ones, twos and threes across seven further localities. Given that our wintering population is quite mobile, it’s difficult to assess the true total.

Waders do not feature strongly at this time of the year, so three locally unseasonal Curlews coming in at dusk to roost on the pools at DIRFT 3 was unusual on 12th, while five Jack Snipes at Daventry CP on 9th appear to be the first for the autumn, as well as being a healthy site total.

We’re not quite there with the time window for ‘white-wingers’ yet, so the next tier down for the scarcer gulls was occupied this week by the itinerant third-winter Caspian Gull again at Hollowell on 9th and 11th, while a first-winter visited DIRFT 3 on 12th. The same site held up to three adult Yellow-legged Gulls on 11th-12th and further singles were seen at Thrapston on 7th and Pitsford Res on 11th.

Third-winter Caspian Gull, Hollowell Res, 11th November 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 11th November 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Adult Yellow-legged Gull, DIRFT 3, 12th November 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Following last week’s discovery of two in the reedbed at Stortons GP, Bearded Tits had doubled their total to four there by 7th. Only two were seen on 8th and one was heard calling on 12th but two subsequently appeared at Stanford Res on 13th. Initially found in the small reedbed on the Leicestershire bank, they vacated the area after only a short period of time, and were watched heading east into Northamptonshire airspace …

Bearded Tits, Stortons GP, 8th November 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Male Bearded Tit, Stanford Res, 13th November 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Always popular, Stonechats were recorded from fewer sites during the period than of late. Boddington, The Brampton Valley, DIRFT 3, Pitsford, Stanford and Thrapston each held between one and four, while five at Hollowell on 9th was the highest total at any locality.

Male Stonechat, Upton CP, 11th November 2020 (Tony Stanford)
Female Stonechat, DIRFT 3, 12th November 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Crossbills, Hollowell Res, 12th November 2020 (Jon Cook)
Male Crossbill, Hollowell Res, 12th November 2020 (Jon Cook)
Male Crossbill, Hollowell Res, 12th November 2020 (Jon Cook)

After a significant downturn in numbers a few weeks back, Crossbills bounced back, strengthening their presence this week with perhaps as many as forty in the car park larches at Wakerley Great Wood, smaller numbers at nearby Fineshade Wood, up to thirteen at Hollowell and ones or twos flying over Scaldwell, Stanford and Stanwick. Hopefully, they will stick around throughout the forthcoming winter.

Newsround – 31st October to 6th November 2020

The long-established south-westerly airstream was dispensed with mid-week by a high pressure system, bringing clearer skies and a swing to the south-east, which saw the autumn’s first frost on 4th – a date which produced some cracking fireworks of the birding kind …

Predictably, Hollowell Res hung on to its Pink-footed Goose flock, well, six of them at least and the female Ruddy Shelduck remained there until 4th. Two more Pink-footed Geese paid a brief visit to Summer Leys LNR, also on 4th.

Pink-footed Geese, Hollowell Res, 1st November 2020 (Jon Cook)

Red-crested Pochards extended the number of visited localities from last week’s three to four, with Pitsford’s fifteen still present on 2nd, up to four at Summer Leys on 2nd-3rd, a drake at Hollowell on 4th and a female at Stortons GP on 5th, while a first-winter Greater Scaup was discovered off the dam at Pitsford on the same date.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 2nd November 2020 (Bob Bullock)
First-winter Greater Scaup, Pitsford Res, 31st October 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

But the fireworks kicked off a day early for one gobsmacked observer. Yes, Glossy Ibis steals the show once more, making the news for the second week running. Not five, this time – just one is all it takes and this particular one flew low over St. James, Northampton, before landing momentarily on a house roof, from which it quickly took flight after being attacked by two Carrion Crows. That was on 4th. Bizarre! Described as looking weak and sickly, it flew off low, appearing to be struggling to gain height. Look out for next week’s, then …

In what is now the new normal, up to eight Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick throughout, while Great Egrets were seen at seven localities, with the highest count being just three, at Hollowell, on 4th.

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 2nd November 2020 (Bob Bullock)

With all the early autumn ones long gone, that peculiar sense of déjà vu must have crept into the minds of birders at Stanford Res when they notched up another Shag there on 3rd. Said to have been seen the day before, it had certainly gone by the day after.

Juvenile Shag, Stanford Res, 3rd November 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

With the only sighting last week of the wandering, red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier being Summer Leys on 26th, she was back there and being seen daily from 31st to 3rd but by the following day, 4th, she had clearly developed itchy wings and left the confines of the Nene Valley, being seen hunting over fields near Preston Deanery before heading high south-east toward Salcey Forest. The last goodbye, perhaps.

Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 2nd November 2020 (Paul Lawrence)

Further in-flight entertainment this week came in the shape of a Hoopoe, with views snatched briefly near Christie’s Copse, in Pitsford’s Walgrave Bay, on 5th. The last in the county was at Ditchford GP on a more typical date in May 2019 but late autumn birds are not without precedent.

Another splash of seasonal colour was provided by a nine-strong flock of Bearded Tits, initially picked up flying over Summer Leys Main Lake on 4th. They crossed the road and pitched down in the corner of Earls Barton GP’s Reedbed Pit, before flying off high south-west. Birders elsewhere duly jumped on the beardie bandwagon and two were found the next day at Stortons GP, when another was heard calling from reeds near Pioneer Hide, back at Summer Leys.

The flames of autumn continued to burn, however, as a Firecrest was found at Byfield Pool on 31st and another was trapped and ringed at Stanford on 4th, only the seventh ever to be ringed by the group there.

Firecrest, Stanford Res, 4th November 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

And then there were Stonechats, with records from nine sites this week.


Following which were the seed-crunchers – two Hawfinches at a ‘private site’ near Tansor on 4th and an array of Crossbills, with thirteen flying west over Pitsford, also on 4th and two at Hollowell on the same date. Elsewhere, singles flew south-west over Hanging Houghton on 5th, west over Scaldwell on 6th and again at Hollowell on the same date. Autumn, it seems, is far from over.

Newsround – 24th to 30th October 2020

Unseasonally high temperatures borne out of prolonged and blustery south-westerlies resulted in little change to the birdscape … unless, of course, you were a golfer.

Only time will surely tell but it’s looking like at least seven Pink-footed Geese have opted for Hollowell Res as a favoured wintering area this year and if the female Ruddy Shelduck follows last year’s tack she, too, looks set to remain there into the winter months. Another Pink-footed Goose was seen flying west with a sizeable flock of Greylags over Ecton SF on 30th. This week also saw the arrival of a number of Red-crested Pochards at three localities, with five visiting Summer Leys LNR on 27th, eight at Pitsford on 28th increasing to fifteen the following day and at least eleven still present on 30th. A drake was also at Stanwick GP on the last of these dates.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res, 30th October 2020 (Doug Goddard)

Over the years, the number of scarce and rare birds found on golf courses is legend – a prime example in more recent times appearing in the shape of an invitingly attractive Cream-coloured Courser – an apt name, if ever there was – at Herefordshire’s Kington GC, in May 2012, many local birders making the trip to see it. While Northants is unable to lay any comparable claims, what appears to have been a flock of five Glossy Ibises flying south-west over Kingsthorpe GC, last week, on the morning of 22nd, almost qualifies at a local level. Appearing at the height of a late autumn influx, which saw up to forty across southern Britain, including a flock of five in Hampshire on 20th, they would constitute the 6th county record, if accepted. Perhaps more of us should take up golf …

Great Egret, Pitsford Res, 30th October 2020 (Tony Stanford)

Back down to earth, up to six Cattle Egrets remained at Stanwick throughout, while Great Egrets maxed out with four at Hollowell on 26th and between one and two were seen at each of seven further localities. There was only one sighting of the wandering red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier this week – again at Summer Leys on 26th.

Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 26th October 2020 (Paul Lawrence)

In a the first waderless week for months and with only gulls to fall back on, Summer Leys also produced a Mediterranean Gull on 30th, the same date an adult Caspian Gull was found at Hollowell, the latter site also producing a Yellow-legged Gull on 26th and 30th, while another was also in the gull roost at Stanford Res on the first of these two dates.

Back over at Stanwick, a Jackdaw showing characteristics of the nominate race monedula – a white collar worker from Scandinavia, colloquially know as Nordic Jackdaw – appeared among around one thousand ‘regular’ Jackdaws on 30th. The last one reported locally was at Stanford on Avon in February.

Female Stonechat, Stanford Res, 28th October 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Male Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 30th October 2020 (Doug Goddard)

Stanwick was also one of five sites to hold between one and three Stonechats, with a further site, Hollowell, claiming the week’s maximum of five on 28th.


Newsround – 17th to 23rd October 2020

With winds predominantly from the south and sporadic heavy showers, one bird stood head and shoulders above the crowd, however, its visit to the county was short-lived …

Last week’s newly arrived mini-flocks of eight and four Pink-footed Geese at both Hollowell Res and Thrapston GP, respectively, remained throughout the period, while the re-emergence of the female Ruddy Shelduck at Hollowell on 20th broke a three-week absence from the site. Once again, Thrapston produced more Common Scoters, a female and two drakes on Town Lake, briefly, on 19th.

Pink-footed Geese, Hollowell Res, 20th October 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Pink-footed Geese, Thrapston GP, 23rd October 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Female Ruddy Shelduck Hollowell Res, 20th October 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Up to ten Cattle Egrets lingered at their favoured locality, Stanwick GP, throughout, while Great Egrets were found at nine sites, with a maximum of five at Summer Leys LNR on 18th.

Cattle Egrets, Stanwick GP, 17th October 2020 (Jon Andrews)
Great Egrets, Summer Leys LNR, 18th October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 21st October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Summer Leys also hung on to its red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier until at least 22nd.

Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 19th October 2020 (Doug Goddard)
Marsh Harrier, Earls Barton GP, 21st October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Black-tailed Godwit, Hollowell Res 18th October 2020 (Jon Cook)

Waders were down to just single Black-tailed Godwits visiting Summer Leys on 17th and Hollowell Res the following day, the latter site also producing a third-winter  Caspian Gull on 23rd, while another, or the same, visited Daventry CP on 18th. One to two Yellow-legged Gulls were found at three sites which included Hollowell Res, Priors Hall and Willowbrook Industrial Estate (both Corby), while at least ten were present at Thrapston GP on 19th.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Willowbrook Industrial Estate, Corby, 19th October 2020 (James Underwood)

Back on dry land, this week’s token Merlin, a juvenile, was hunting farmland between Quinton and Preston Deanery on 22nd. However, the period’s biggest bombshell was the discovery of a first-winter Dartford Warbler in a private garden in Blakesley, where it remained for no longer than ten minutes, on 17th. This is only the fifth record for the county and the first for ten years (full details here).

First-winter Dartford Warbler, Blakesley, 17th October 2020 (Colin Stafford)

And autumn wouldn’t be autumn without at least one Ring Ouzel but the one arriving this week was not at any of the traditional localities. Discovered eating Rowan berries in Brampton Ash on 22nd and remaining secretive, it was believed to have been present in the area for a few days prior to this date.

Female Stonechat, Yardley Chase, 22nd October 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Stonechats maintained a high profile, being seen at seven localities, with no more than three birds at any one of these. And in what has turned out to be an extremely good autumn for Crossbills, four sites produced birds this week, with twelve seen flying south near Kirby Hall, Deene, on 18th, one at Weldon on 19th, fifteen in Bucknell Wood on 22nd and one flying west over Tiffield the following day.

Dartford Warbler in Blakesley

Northamptonshire’s 5th Dartford Warbler makes landfall … in a garden.

It’s been ten years since the last Dartford Warbler appeared in Northants, when a first-winter was discovered in an overgrown field off Wire Lane, East Carlton on 25th November 2010, remaining there for a further five days.

The long wait for another finally came to an end last Saturday morning, 17th October, when one, a first-winter, paid a brief visit to a garden at Blakesley, in south Northants. Initially alighting on a wooden fence, it quickly dropped into an area of spent Sweet Peas and Cornflowers, where it skulked just above ground level and mostly out of sight, for about ten minutes. During this short period of time, a handful of photos were obtained by Colin and Gill Stafford before it flew off. Unfortunately, it did not return and it hasn’t been seen since, despite looking.

First-winter Dartford Warbler, Blakesley, 17th October 2020 (Colin Stafford)
First-winter Dartford Warbler, Blakesley, 17th October 2020 (Colin Stafford)

From an identification perspective, Dartford Warbler was the only likely candidate fitting the bill, although the rather subdued first-winter plumage tones, dull iris and lack of red eye-ring were enough to cast some doubts and the bird was not conclusively identified from the photos until 19th October. With regard to iris and orbital ring colour, young Dartford Warblers – especially those from second broods – can have a dull iris through October and, as with adult females, the orbital ring can vary from brown, through yellow-brown and pink-red to brick red and exceptionally, there is a white ring of feathers around the eye (BWP v.6).

‘Out of range’ Dartford Warblers occurring so far during this October include three in Bedfordshire and individuals in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire where, paralleling the Blakesley bird, one was photographed in a flower bed in a private garden in Chesham on 18th.

Previous county records are:

1998  Summer Leys LNR, 6th December

1999  Hollowell Res, 31st October to 2nd November

2004  Swan Valley, Northampton, 3rd December 2004 to 9th January 2005, two, with one remaining until 25th February 2005

2010  East Carlton, 25th-30th November

Given the increase in this species’ UK population (approximately 2,200 territories in 2017) since it was hit significantly by the hard winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, perhaps we can look forward to more coming our way in the future.

Newsround – 10th to 16th October 2020

While things were hot on the coast from a birding perspective, a period of unsettled weather, backed largely by north-easterly winds, likely contributed to a gamut of goodies at a local level.

With flocks streaming south over coastal locations, the arrival of 8 Pink-footed Geese at Hollowell Res on 13th and three or four at Thrapston GP two days later, on 15th, was perhaps unsurprising but both were welcome discoveries, nonetheless.

Pink-footed Geese, Thrapston GP, 15th October 2020 (Nick Parker)

The latter site also produced a female Common Scoter from 12th to 13th and – for the record, as well as something to keep an eye on – a Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid on 16th. Although not overly scarce, there were many more Pintails around this autumn, particularly at Stanford Res, where sixteen were present at one point.

Pintails, Summer Leys, 14th October 2020 (Clive Bowley)

Further up the Nene Valley, Cattle Egrets hit an all-time high with eleven at Stanwick GP on 12th – a new Northants record. Great Egrets, too, raised their profile, doubling the number of sites they were reported from last week to ten, with Stanwick claiming the lion’s share of four on 15th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 10th October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

Seemingly enjoying its prolonged stay, the red wing-tagged juvenile female Marsh Harrier moved south-west to Summer Leys, where it was seen on 11th and 14th, being joined there by a second individual on 16th. An unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier sp., believed probably to be a Hen Harrier, was seen in flight over Harrington AF on 10th as it drifted north-west.

Juvenile female Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 11th October 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)

The proximity of the growing numbers of Common Cranes on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire recently (up to sixty-six in recent days), inspires hope that we will be seeing more locally as time advances. In this respect, two flying south over Crick on 14th becomes the fourth sighting this year, following records in the consecutive months of May, June and July.

Waders were understandably at a low ebb as we go deeper into the latter part of autumn, with just a single Black-tailed Godwit visiting Summer Leys on 11th and a Ruff at Clifford Hill GP the following day. So, too, the scarcer gulls were less frequently encountered, with a Yellow-legged Gull at Pitsford Res on 11th and a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell on 13th, while no autumn would be complete without at least one late Arctic Tern. It duly flew east through Stanwick on 15th.

Away from the water, a Short-eared Owl was seen from an automobile passing close to Moulton Park on 15th – both were on the move at the time – and a Merlin flew low east over Harrington AF on 11th.

But if one species stole the award for ‘passerine of the week’, it was Woodlark. After a belated report of one in flight over Yardley Chase on 9th, another was seen flying over Cotton End Park, Long Buckby two days later, on 11th. Despite breeding no further away than Nottinghamshire and The Brecks, this species remains a truly difficult bird to catch up with in Northamptonshire and, offering the best chance, October is probably the prime month in which to try.

First-winter Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Bob Bullock)
First-winter Black Redstart, Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Meanwhile, at Borough Hill, the first-winter Black Redstart continued to remain faithful to the eastern yard area and fenceline of the summit compound until at least 14th, the same location producing the period’s maximum tally of six Stonechats on the same date, while seven further localities produced between one and four birds.

Stonechats, Thrapston GP, 12th October 2020 (Nick Parker)
Female Stonechat, Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Borough Hill also produced what was surely a Northern Bullfinch – also on 14th. Despite the size and structure, along with those cool plumage features of pallid mantle and pinkish underparts, it was not heard to call and disappeared within minutes of its discovery.

Presumed Northern Bullfinch Borough Hill, 14th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Other ‘big’ finches are, of course, available and filling this slot, a Hawfinch was logged flying over Yardley Chase on 15th. Continuing the Fringillidae grand theme, a Mealy Redpoll was seen by the ringing group at Stanford Res on 10th but managed to evade capture. A second individual on 12th was not so lucky, subsequently departing the processing area sporting its own unique, shiny band, as well as leaving a trail of controversy in its wake.

Adult Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Images published on social media had sceptics ‘dissing’ it as a pale Lesser Redpoll, without being in full possession of the biometric data, including size, weight, bill depth, as well as various plumage features not revealed in the photographs. Misidentify from photos in haste, repent at leisure, as they say. We’ve all been there … This week’s Crossbills were, unsurprisingly, all fly-overs and included a dozen or so moving west over Pitsford Res on 11th, twelve south over Stanwick on 12th and two north-east over Brackley on 14th. Autumn is far from over …

A little Mealy Magic

A morning spent with the Stanford Ringing Group produced some interesting birds, top of the bill being a Mealy Redpoll. After a local ‘species drought’ over the past year, significant numbers of Lesser Redpolls have been recorded across the county over the past ten days or so, including a Mealy Redpoll seen but not trapped, at Stanford Res on 10th October.

Out of 108 birds trapped and ringed at Stanford today, 33 were redpolls, including two which were noteworthy. The first of these was an adult Mealy Redpoll, aged principally by tail feather shape. This one stood out initially because of its pallid, lightly streaked appearance and closer examination revealed features consistent with the species. However, it was not the bird seen there two days previously. Basically, pale face and supercilium, pale and finely-streaked nape, contrasting with rear crown and mantle, tramlines on the latter (buff, not yet white), pale grey rump with darker streaks and larger bill compared with the Lesser Redpolls trapped at the same time. It also weighed in at up to 2 g more than the Lessers being trapped.

Adult Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mealy Redpoll with Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mealy Redpoll with Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

While all these are ‘good’ characters, the clincher was the wing length, which was 74 mm, which is just outside the range of that given by Svensson’s Identification Guide to European Passerines for Lesser Redpoll (68-73 mm for male, 67-71 mm for female) but see below … The fact that there was a total absence of pink in the plumage suggested the bird was a female and the buff tips to all the secondary coverts is consistent with a freshly-moulted adult (complete moult July-September) before they fade to whitish during the winter.

‘Long-winged’ Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
‘Long-winged’ Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Another redpoll trapped showed typical Lesser Redpoll characteristics but its wing length was measured at just a fraction beyond 76 mm. This one is currently under investigation, although it is not likely to prove to be anything else …