Low-down on Lesser Spots – a cause for concern

Ron Knight

The national decline of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is well documented. Since 1974, the UK population has fallen by at least 72% and in 2009 the species was added to the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Reasons for this dramatic drop are cited as a combination of fragmentation of woodland, a significant reduction in the abundance of food source (principally butterfly and moth caterpillars) plus competition with, and predation (of young), by a rapidly growing population of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

This decline is, of course, mirrored in Northamptonshire. Going back just over thirty years sees this species recorded from a peak of sixty-seven sites but fast-forward to 2016 and the number of sites has fallen dramatically to just nine. In this instance, only a very small proportion of the overall yearly totals are breeding sites.It has even been suggested that the species is on the verge of extinction in the UK and that our endemic race, comminutus, should it be lost, would be the first extinction of an endemic avian subspecies in recent British history (see here).

Such is the national concern that some counties and organisations are now receiving records ‘in confidence’ and not publishing site details. This arguably rightly tight-lipped stance has not (yet) been adopted in Northants but it may only be a matter of time. The most popularly visited Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers over the years are those at Lings Wood, Northampton, where they have been present now for at least seven years.

With their presence already widely publicised on social media and elsewhere, it has only recently emerged that the Lings Wood birds have, this year, been subjected to considerable undue disturbance. If we are to retain these woodpeckers as a breeding species, at both local and national levels, then a responsible approach to their observation needs to be taken by visitors to the site. Put bluntly, it would be doing them a favour to keep visits to a minimum or avoid the location altogether. This is not meant to be in any way dictatorial, more a plea to reduce disturbance to the site. Discovery of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at new, or underwatched, locations is encouraged through the means of participation in national survey work here. What can be more rewarding than finding your own …?

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Rarity Round-up, 24th to 30th March 2018

In contrast to the previous week, this last week was milder with the more usual Atlantic airstream dominating – and bringing some hefty downpours to boot. Summer visitors new in were Garganey, Common Tern and Swallow on 30th and the first migrant Northern Wheatear on 26th.

Remaining until at least 27th, the wintering Pink-footed Goose kept up its visits to the main lake at Stanwick GP while, further down the Nene Valley at Oundle, the first Garganey of the year, a male and female, were found on floodwater on 30th, although they did not linger. More Common Scoters came through this week, with two drakes at Daventry CP on 24th, quickly followed by six – including five drakes – at Stanford Res the following day.

Common Scoter, Daventry CP, 24th March 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Common Scoters, Stanford Res, 25th March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Common Scoters, Stanford Res, 25th March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Common Scoters, Stanford Res, 25th March 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Pitsford’s Slavonian Grebe was last reported on 27th, while Great White Egrets were dramatically reduced to one, mobile around Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR between 27th and 30th.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Following the first, on 13th March, two more Ospreys were seen heading north this week – one high over Daventry CP on 26th, followed by another over Pitsford Res the following day. The only other raptors of note were single Merlins, both on 26th, comprising a female flying north at Daventry CP and a male hunting over farmland at Merry Tom Lane, north of Chapel Brampton.

Among more common fare, this week’s scarcer waders were limited to a Black-tailed Godwit on floodwater at Oundle on 28th and two Jack Snipes at Hollowell Res on 24th plus one at Stanwick GP on 26th.

Kittiwake, Stanwick GP, 24th March 2018 (Steve Fisher)

Kittiwake, Ravensthorpe Res, 25th March 2018 (Stuart Mundy)

Single adult Kittiwakes visited Stanwick GP on 24th and Ravensthorpe Res the following day but the only Mediterranean Gull this week was an adult at Thrapston GP on 29th. Larger gulls, too, were in short supply with just two Yellow-legged Gull at Daventry CP on 24th and a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res on the same date.

Male Northern Wheatear, Whiston Locks, 26th March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

The first migrant Northern Wheatear was found at Whiston Lock on 26th while Hawfinches were still in evidence this week, with seventeen at Polebrook AF on 24th, dropping to three by 30th and a Corn Bunting visited a private feeding station in Woodford Halse on the latter date.

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Rarity Round-up, 17th to 23rd March 2018

Once more, the county was plunged back into winter as the easterly airstream from Siberia again took hold for the first two days of the period. However, the resultant deposit of snow was short-lived as rising temperatures got to work and the winds subsequently swung north and then south-westerly by the week’s end. In contrast to last week’s flurry of spring migrants, local birders faced a lean period in the field, with little sign of anything new to show for their efforts.

Still hanging with the Greylags, the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose put in an appearance again on 23rd and it seems likely to be around for a while yet as pinkfeet into April are not unusual. The three Scaup from the same locality transferred to the Watersports Pit at nearby Ditchford GP, where they were discovered on 17th, remaining there until at least 20th.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 23rd March 2018 (Steve Fisher)

The Pitsford Slavonian Grebe – now qualifying for long-stayer status – was still present on 21st, while Great White Egrets lingered in all the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which again included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (four), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP.

Great White Egret, Earls Barton GP, 23rd March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Last week’s ‘cream-crown’ Marsh Harrier at Earls Barton GP was again seen on 18th and 19th over Summer Leys on both dates.

Back along the Nene, at Stanwick, four Black-tailed Godwits arrived on 17th and remained until 19th, with one staying until the following day

Last week’s adult Mediterranean Gull at Stanwick was still present on 17th and single adults also appeared at Daventry CP on 18th and 23rd, while the only Yellow-legged Gull during the period was a first-winter in the roost at Pitsford Res on 19th. Caspian Gulls, too, were fewer in number this week, with the Boddington Res roost holding an adult on 17th and Pitsford’s roost producing a second-winter on 17th and 20th and an adult on 19th.

Though still low in numbers, Hawfinches continued to be seen and this week’s comprised one in Dallington Cemetary, Northampton on 17th and up to two still at Cottesbrooke on 19th-20th.

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Rarity Round-up, 10th to 16th March 2018

Little Ringed Plover, Priors Hall, Corby, 11th March 2018 (James Underwood)

A predominantly southerly airstream from west coast Europe helped not only to lift temperatures but also undoubtedly gave a welcome boost to northward migration for our earliest summer visitors. This week saw the arrival of Osprey, Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martins, as well as some scarce migrants and the visible movement of winter visitors, including wildfowl and thrushes, beginning their departure.

In fact, there was not much to write home about when it came to wildfowl. The three Scaup remained on the main lake at Stanwick GP until 11th and a ‘redhead’ Smew spent three days, from 10th to 12th, on Clifford Hill GP’s Deep Water Lake before moving on.

Smew, Clifford Hill GP, 12th March 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Less willing to budge, the Slavonian Grebe remained all week in the vicinity of Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res, while Great White Egrets also seemed in no hurry to move from the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which again included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (up to four), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP (two). Mercifully, on rare occasions, not all things big and white in the Nene Valley are the latter species and one such bird at Stanwick, on 11th, proved to be a nice adult Spoonbill. Arriving in the early evening, it stayed for just forty minutes before heading off west at dusk. This is the 36th county record and only the second to be recorded in March, after one at Ditchford GP in 1980.

After five weeks without a mention, raptors were back on the agenda this week with a ‘cream-crown’ Marsh Harrier flying west at Earls Barton GP on 16th and the first migrant Osprey of the year heading east over Billing GP/Ecton SF three days earlier, on 13th. More will surely follow in the not too distant future.

Hot on the heels of last week’s Avocet, at Summer Leys, came another on 13th – again in the Nene Valley – at Clifford Hill GP. A Black-tailed Godwit flying east at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR on 16th may have been the same as that reported sporadically at adjacent Stanwick GP over the past few weeks. The only other wader of note was a Jack Snipe at Hollowell Res on 11th.

March has produced a fair proportion of our Kittiwakes in the past and this week saw a notable overland movement, which resulted in an adult at Daventry CP on 13th and twelve at Pitsford Res on 16th, none of which lingered. Following last week’s trickle of Mediterranean Gulls at Boddington Res, another adult was found in the roost there on 10th, one was in the Pitsford roost on 13th, an adult remained at Stanwick between 13th and 16th and a first-winter visited Clifford Hill GP on 12th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Pitsford Res 13th March 2018 (Jacob Spinks)

Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls remained low, with two first-winters at Pitsford Res on 11th and an adult at Stanwick on the same date while, back at Pitsford, a first-winter was in the roost on 14th. Things were looking up as the same roost attracted a juvenile Iceland Gull on 13th – surprisingly the first ‘white-winged’ gull to be found here for many years. Back in the day, when Brixworth had a landfill instead of a Mercedes commercial centre, they were encountered rather more frequently in the roost. Meanwhile, Hollowell Res grabbed the lion’s share of Caspian Gulls this week, producing a second-winter on 11th, an adult, a second-winter and a first-winter on 13th, with the second-winter remaining until the following day. Elsewhere, single second-winters were found at both Pitsford Res and Rushton Landfill on 15th.

There was only one Hawfinch this week, along the road to Irchester CP on 14th. Perhaps this is the last to be seen in what can only be described as the most fantastic winter ever for this species in the UK, probably an event unlikely to be repeated.

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Mary’s & Moon Lake Fencing Proposal

What follows below is published at the request of the Wildlife Trust to draw attention to the above proposal and to provide the opportunity for questions and comments. The publication here of this proposal in no way represents an endorsement of the proposal nor an opposition to it by Northants Birds.

Mary’s Lake and Moon Lake form part of the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits, a series of pits that are of international importance for overwintering waterbirds, and which has been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA). Mary’s Lake and Moon Lake, along with Summer Leys Nature Reserve, sit within one of the most publicly-accessed units of the SPA, with a good network of Rights of Way, permitted paths and informal access. The lakes are regularly visited by good numbers of overwintering birds such as Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Public disturbance and lack of management have been identified as the main threats to the wildlife of the sites.Moon Lake is the least-visited of the lakes in this area, as there are no Rights of Way around the lake and access is not possible all the way around. There is a large area of grassland around the lake which has been covered in scrub in recent years, meaning it is less-suitable as grazing habitat for the waterbirds using the lake.
The Wildlife Trust is working with Natural England, Wellingborough Council and the landowner to address the disturbance and management issues on the site. The aim is to allow management, through scrub clearance and grazing, and provide an undisturbed area of open water at Moon Lake.
It is therefore proposed to construct a fenceline, as shown below, to create a grazing unit around Moon Lake and create an undisturbed area for birds. The fence line will not impact on any of the current Rights of Way and access will be possible along the western edge as shown.
If you have any comments or questions about this proposal please contact the Wider Countryside Team at The Wildlife Trust on 01604 405285 or email Northamptonshire@wildlifebcn.org  We will also be on-site to explain the project and answer any questions on Thursday 22/03/18, between 9-30am and 12-30pm, and again on Monday 09/04/18, between 1 and 4pm, at the Moon Lake Fisherman’s car park ( see above for location ).We are also aware that the Angling Club is considering putting an otter fence around Mary’s Lake itself. Whilst this is their own project we will be liaising with them to ensure that no Rights of Way are affected and that signage and footpath surfaces are improved around that lake.

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Rarity Round-up, 3rd to 9th March 2018

A marked change in wind direction dragged warmer air from the Atlantic via south-west Europe, initiating a rapid thaw in lying snow from the beginning of the week. With this came the first migrants but most winter visitors continued to frequent favoured localities, although some had clearly registered the rapidly lengthening days and decided to move on.

The juvenile Whooper Swan wintering at Ravensthorpe Res was still present on 4th but appeared to have departed by 8th, when there was no sign of it, while Stanwick GP’s Pink-footed Goose remained until at least 5th. The two Scaup there were joined by a third on 6th, all three remaining until the week’s end and the female at Sywell CP was still off the dam there on 8th. It was difficult to be certain if two drake Common Scoters, discovered on Thrapston GP’s Town Lake on 4th, were a product of hard weather movements or simply spring migrants.

Drake Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 4th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Drake Common Scoters, Thrapston GP, 4th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The Slavonian Grebe completed another full week between the sailing club and Pintail Bay at Pitsford Res, while Great White Egrets remained at the usual sites in the Nene Valley, which included Ditchford GP, Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR (three), Stanwick GP (two) and Thrapston GP (two). One also flew south at Hollowell Res on 4th.

Great White Egret, Earls Barton GP, 6th March 2018 (Leslie Fox)

The first signs of spring wader passage were evident this week with an Avocet, which made a stopover at Summer Leys on 7th, and an early Grey Plover in flight near Clifford Hill GP the following day.

Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 7th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Avocet, Summer Leys LNR, 7th March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Also relatively early was an adult Little Gull at Thrapston GP on 4th, although winter and early spring records for this species are not unprecedented. March is typically the major spring passage month for Mediterranean Gulls and the easy to watch gull roost at Boddington Res has a track record for producing them. This year is no exception, with single adults there on 4th and 5th, followed by two adults on 6th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Boddington Res, 4th March 2018 (Gary Pullan)

The same roost produced a juvenile Iceland Gull on 4th and adult Caspian Gulls on 4th and 5th plus a sub-adult the following evening, on 6th. Elsewhere, further Caspian Gulls included an adult and a second-winter at Hollowell Res on 4th, plus a second-winter in the Thrapston GP roost on the same date, a sub-adult and a second-winter in the Pitsford Res roost on 5th and a sub-adult there on 8th plus a second-winter at Rushton Landfill the same day.

Second-winter Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 5th March 2018 (Jacob Spinks)

Proving scarce and difficult to find throughout the winter, Short-eared Owls have been largely absent from traditional localities but one was found this week on farmland near Milton Malsor on 8th.

There were still Hawfinches to be had for those still looking, although numbers were down on previous weeks and included singles at Fawsley Park on 4th, Salcey Forest on 5th and Thenford on 9th, while a Mealy Redpoll was still visiting garden feeders in Irthlingborough on 5th.

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Ageing process of the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose

Since it was first discovered, the Pink-footed Goose, which has been present with the resident Greylag flock at Stanwick Gravel Pits throughout the winter, has undergone a considerable change in appearance.

Juvenile Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 12th October 2017 (Steve Fisher)

It arrived as an obvious ‘fresh’ juvenile in October last year. Its overall appearance was scruffy, dull and almost uniform brownish, rather dark-headed and only narrow, dull pale fringes to the scapulars, coverts and tertials. Its bill was also dark, with a dull pink band behind the nail and extending faintly along the cutting edge of the upper mandible. Thanks to images captured by Steve Fisher and Angus Molyneux, it’s easy to see the progression from juvenile to adult-type plumage which has taken place over a matter of almost four months.

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 10th January 2018 (Steve Fisher)

By January it had acquired adult-type plumage, with streaked rear flanks, a contrast between upperparts and underparts, broader, whiter fringes to mantle, scapulars and coverts and a brighter pink bill (although lighting may exaggerate differences in photos).

Pink-footed Goose, Stanwick GP, 5th March 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

By March, the bird looks neat and has developed some whitish feathering around the base of the bill, which is found quite commonly in adults.

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