Rarity Round-up, 7th to 13th March 2020

Against the continuing blustery – though relatively mild – conditions, the wheels of spring continued to turn this week, albeit slowly, with the arrival of the first Sand Martin on 7th.  Beyond that, there were few surprises.

Although they have no doubt been there since the early part of the year, the two first-winter drake Scaups at Clifford Hill GP were back in the news this week, having moulted into their adult finery. They remained until at least 11th. Meanwhile, the female had returned to Stanwick GP on 8th, after last week’s visit to nearby Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows LNR.

Greater Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 8th March 2020 (Mark Williams)
Greater Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 8th March 2020 (Mark Williams)

Pleasingly, the Cattle Egrets mobile in the same area had regrouped, the famous five now all back together around Stanwick’s Roadside Lake, remaining there throughout the week. With some now sporting exquisite summer plumage, as well as having undergone a change in bare part colour, Great Egrets maintained their presence in the county, being logged at ten localities, with a maximum of three at Thrapston GP on 8th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 13th March 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)

While a total absence of rare and scarce gulls this week may be welcome news to some, there was little to fill the gap, save the flock of ten Ruffs which dropped into Summer Leys unexpectedly for just thirty minutes on 7th and up to two Jack Snipes at Hollowell Res between 10th and 13th.

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 8th March 2020 (Dan March)

Old faithfuls remaining from weeks gone by included one of Stanford’s Short-eared Owls, which was still performing well on 8th and the Siberian Chiffchaff along the outflow stream that is home to a high concentration of Chironomids at Ecton SF on 10th.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 10th March 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Remaining Stonechats is a sure sign that winter is still not quite over and done, so seven sites supporting between one and three birds apiece means there is a way to go yet. Winter 2019-20 has proven to be a good year for them.

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 12th March 2020 (Tony Stanford)

But one species which we are now seeing in lower numbers of late is Water Pipit, one of which was located at the county’s previously foremost wintering site, Ditchford GP, on 13th. This, so far, is the only one to have been found in the county this winter.

Rarity Round-up, 29th February to 6th March 2020

In a nod to the arrival of meteorological spring this week, a singing Chiffchaff at a non-wintering locality provided a hint of many more migrants to come but it was the first Black-bellied Dipper for twenty-four years which drew the crowds during its three-day stay in the county.

A female Scaup at Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows on 5th was the sole representative of this week’s Anseriformes. Surely more is on the cards from this group over the next few weeks as things start to move throughout the early part of the spring. But just a hop, skip and a jump to the Watersports Pit, west of Ditchford Lane saw last week’s four Cattle Egrets now down to three on 6th, while Great Egrets continued to be found at eight localities, with no more than two at any one site. Further down the Nene Valley, the first Marsh Harrier of the year appeared at Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR on 5th.

Things were looking up again for gulls, with March normally seeing a good deal of northward movement – particularly for Mediterranean Gulls, an adult of which was at Daventry CP on 5th-6th.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Daventry CP, 6th March 2020 (Gary Pullan)

The year’s second Iceland Gull – again an adult – joined the throng at Rushton Landfill on 6th, the same site hosting a third-winter Caspian Gull on the same date, while a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull visited Daventry CP on 2nd, followed by a fourth-winter there the next day. Keep watching those gull roosts!

Adult Iceland Gull, Rushton Landfill, 6th March 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Harrington AF hung on to its Short-eared Owl until at least 29th, Borough Hill still had two on 6th and the Stanford Res bird notched up another week, still being present on 5th. Stonechats were still on station at Borough Hill (six), Hartwell, where there were five and Stanford, two, while singles at Harrington and Thrapston appeared to be new birds.

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 3rd March 2020 (Matt Jackson)

But bird of the week and, so far, the year was the first Northamptonshire Black-bellied Dipper – or any Dipper come to that – for almost a quarter of a century. Oh, yes. On display at Sywell CP for only two and a half days, it attracted the attention of more than just a steady procession of admiring birders, narrowly escaping the talons of a Sparrowhawk on two occasions, one of which was neatly captured on film by Graham Norris.

Black-bellied Dipper and Sparrowhawk, Sywell CP, 1st March 2020 (Graham Norris)
Black-bellied Dipper and Sparrowhawk, Sywell CP, 1st March 2020 (Ant Hall)
Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 1st March 2020 (Neil Bramwell)
Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 1st March 2020 (Neil Bramwell)
Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 2nd March 2020 (Chris James)
Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 2nd March 2020 (Martin Swannell)
Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 2nd March 2020 (Martin Swannell)

With Black-bellied Dipper now a national rarity, how long will we have to wait for the next one?

Black-bellied Dipper at Sywell Country Park

Found by Geoff Simons, Senior Countryside Ranger, Northamptonshire’s first Dipper for twenty-four years was identified at Sywell Country Park yesterday, on 29th February.

It’s still there today and what a great little bird it is! It was first located in the by-wash cascade – the overflow from the dam – where it flows through the visitor car park, at 13.35. It then flew up the overflow, under the bridge and on toward the dam. Geoff was kind enough to put the news out immediately but by the time the first birder arrived on site, little more than an hour later, it was nowhere to be seen, despite a search of the full length of the overflow system.

Subsequently relocated at 15.25, it appeared beyond the overflow, in the stream just outside the country park, about forty metres from the entrance gate. Due to the overgrown nature of the stream, it proved difficult to observe from the narrow road bridge but it was quickly identified as the nominate race cinclus i.e. Black-bellied Dipper from mainland Europe (principally Fenno-Scandia). A news update was put out, allowing many local birders to catch up with it before sunset.

Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 29th February 2020 (Stuart Mundy)
Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 1st March 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Dipper is an extremely rare visitor to Northants and most of the previous occurrences have been in autumn and winter, with the notable exception of a one-off breeding record of an adult (British race gularis) feeding young in a nest at Edgcote on 19th July 1975.

Although the Sywell bird is only the third confirmed Black-bellied Dipper for the county, it seems highly likely that most of the previous records are of this race, as a result of their autumn/winter occurrence pattern.

Monthly distribution of records. Background image: Black-bellied Dipper, Sywell CP, 1st March 2020 (Mike Alibone)

However, an up-to-date summary from the British Birds Rarity Committee here states subspecific identification is less than straightforward, especially as nominate cinclus may have some restricted chestnut on the belly and may therefore approach the appearance of hibernicusgularis or aquaticus, while it appears that some birds within the presumed range of hibernicus in western Scotland (and potentially some gularis too) may lack any chestnut, therefore resembling nominate cinclus. The subspecies aquaticus (central Europe) is highly variable and it is not clear how a vagrant might be distinguished.

For the moment, BBRC is taking the pragmatic view that birds with little or no chestnut on the belly in eastern Britain (particularly in the Northern Isles and lowland south-east England away from the range of gularis) are likely to be nominate cinclus but other claims may have to await further investigations on the variation of plumage shown by all the races likely to occur in Britain.

Fortunately, our Sywell bird falls into the three categories of right time, right place, right appearance, so there is little doubt it is cinclus. How long it will remain there is anybody’s guess but one long-stayer was present in the vicinity of Desborough Water Mill from 21st January to 24th March 1979. Potential disturbance from the general public at Sywell could be instrumental in hastening its departure but more pointedly, today’s unfortunate, near-fatal attack by a Sparrowhawk may also have some influence …

 

Rarity Round-up, 22nd to 28th February 2020

Blinked and you’ll have missed it. A phrase equally applicable to two Northamptonshire winter firsts this week. We’re talking snow and Waxwings – bohemian in more ways than one.

And where were all the wildfowl? Ducking and diving, no doubt and not a rare goose or cygnus in sight. So it was left for long-legged wetland wanderers to fill the gap, this falling to at least four Cattle Egrets still on Ditchford GP’s Chester House Lake on 25th-26th and the usual scattering of Great Egrets, with threes at Thrapston GP and Summer Leys LNR, twos at Ditchford, Pitsford Res and Stanford Res and singles at Kislingbury GP and Stanwick GP.

Great Egret, Stanwick GP, 26th February 2020 (Steve Fisher)

Waders crept into the picture, literally, with three Jack Snipe at Hollowell Res on 22nd and one at Stanford the following day, while unseasonal Dunlins were found at Summer Leys on 24th and at Stanwick on 27th.

This week’s larid line-up was a little more down to earth compared to that of the last period, featuring single adult Mediterranean Gulls at Hollowell on 25th and Rushton Landfill on 26th. The same two sites produced the bulk of the week’s Caspian Gulls, with an adult at Hollowell on 22nd, an adult at Rushton on 25th and 26th, along with a third-winter there on the first of these two dates, while a first-winter was in the roost at Stanford on 28th.

A new site for Short-eared Owl emerged on 23rd, when one was found near Brixworth, while the Borough Hill three were still performing on the same date and one remained at Harrington AF throughout the period. The week’s token Merlin – a female – was hunting around the DIRFT 3 area, which had played host to the Great Grey Shrike earlier in the year, on 27th.

Short-eared Owl, Brixworth, 23rd February 2020 (Jon Cook)
Short-eared Owl, Borough Hill, 26th February 2020 (Theo de Clermont)

But the undoubted stars of the week were three Waxwings at Harrington AF on 17th. Their disappointingly short stay resulted in only a lucky trio of birders connecting with them before they quickly moved on.

Adult male Waxwing, Harrington AF, 26th February 2020 (Chris James). The broad, white inner webs to the primaries, forming a striking series of ‘V’ shapes age this bird as an adult, while the very long, red, waxy secondary tips, combined with broad yellow tail band and clear-cut throat patch sex it as a male.
First-winter Waxwing, Harrington AF, 26th February 2020 (Nick Parker). Lack of white edges to inner webs of primaries (no ‘V’) indicate age, while few and short red tips to secondaries, along with narrow tail band point to female.
First-winter Waxwing, Harrington AF, 26th February 2020 (Nick Parker)

Stonechats bounced back from a rather poor showing last week, although no more than two were on show at the nine localities which hosted them, including Borough Hill, Ditchford, Hartwell, Hollowell, Kettering, Kislingbury, Naseby, Pitsford and Polebrook AF.

Stonechat, Pitsford Res, 26th February 2020 (Tony Stanford)

 

Rarity Round-up, 15th to 21st February 2020

Another week of wind and wuthering saw most of the action taking place in Northamptonshire’s northwest, which produced a second for the county – albeit briefly.

In a lean week for wildfowl, the nine Pink-footed Geese continued to be seen daily at Stanford, on the Northamptonshire side of the River Avon, until 18th.

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford on Avon, 17th February 2020 (John Moon)
Pink-footed Geese, Stanford on Avon, 17th February 2020 (John Moon)

So far, proving unusually scarce this winter, a Bittern was seen in flight close to Stoke Bruerne on 16th but a search of suitable habitat in the vicinity turned out to be fruitless the following day. This was, of course, not the case with Great Egrets, which were found at six localities during the week, with a maximum of up to three at Thrapston GP on 16th.

Great Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 18th February 2020 (Mark Tyrrell)

Making an all too brief sortie into the county, from across the border in Leicestershire, was this winter’s first Iceland Gull, an adult, found in the roost at Stanford Res on 18th.

Adult Iceland Gull, Stanford Res, 18th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

As if that wasn’t enough, a third-winter Kumlien’s Gull from the same Leicestershire stable appeared in the same roost! A double whammy, a county second and more than ample reward for the time invested at this site by its single, relentlessly enthusiastic observer. “It’s only a ‘sub’, chap,” the cynics may say but a great bird, nonetheless. The first acceptable record was as recently as March 2016, at Daventry CP. The only Caspian Gulls this week also appeared in the Stanford roost – a first-winter on 17th and a third-winter on 21st.

Third-winter Kumlien’s Gull, Stanford Res, 18th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard)
Third-winter Kumlien’s Gull, Shawell, Leics, 18th January 2020 (Mike Alibone). The same individual that visited Stanford on 18th February.

Just two reports of Short-eared Owls included the Borough Hill three on 17th and the one still at Harrington AF on 20th, the latter site also producing a Merlin on 17th.

Nordic Jackdaw, Stanford on Avon, 21st February 2020 (Steve Nichols). A very well-marked individual, showing all the features normally associated with the race monedula, i.e. extremely broad and prominent white neck sides (almost forming a collar), paler grey nape and – from some angles – seemingly paler underparts than British spermologus. The above features are also not too far adrift from being associated with Russian Jackdaw soemmeringii and do not necessarily rule this race out.

Back up at Stanford, at the field with the Percy Pilcher Monument, last week’s cute corvid showing characteristics of Nordic Jackdaw was again on show on 21st, while Ecton SF’s Siberian Chiffchaff was also still in situ on 17th, along with at least ten Common Chiffchaffs.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 17th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 17th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)

Stonechat numbers were down from last week, with singles only at Pitsford Res, Stanford and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering). Now, if we can only lose those winds …

Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th February 2020

For those who like their isobars squeezed, then this was the week. It was time to batten down the Nuthatches as Storm Ciara felled trees indiscriminately across the county, during the strongest winds experienced for seven years. There was, however, little change to the birding scene.

Nine Pink-footed Geese, which had been residing on the Leicestershire side of Stanford Res on 7th, entered Northamptonshire airspace the following day, when they flew over the reservoir toward Stanford Hall. There they stayed throughout the week – on the ‘wrong’ side of the Avon – until 14th, when they ventured, albeit briefly, across the border to the water-logged fields around the Percy Pilcher Monument.

Pink-footed Geese, Stanford Res, 7th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard). Part of a gaggle of nine which flew over the reservoir toward Stanford on Avon on 8th.
Pink-footed Geese, Stanford on Avon, 14th February 2020 (Chris Hubbard).

The only other wildfowl of note were the two first-winter drake Greater Scaups, which remained at Clifford Hill GP until at least 8th.

Great Egrets were found at eight localities this week, with a maximum of three at both Stanwick GP and Thrapston GP.

From one white bird to another (well, almost) as this week’s Mediterranean Gulls – both adults – were seen at both Daventry CP and Stanford on 14th, while the third-winter Glaucous Gull, found in the roost at Stanford on 7th, did the decent thing and lingered there throughout most of the following morning.

Third-winter Glaucous Gull, Stanford Res, 8th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Third-winter Glaucous Gull, Stanford Res, 8th February 2020 (Stuart Mundy)

It failed to return to the roost in the evening, during which a near-adult Caspian Gull provided a consolational ‘by-catch’ for a small handful of hopeful observers. Further Caspians were a fourth-winter at Pitsford Res on the same day and an adult at Hollowell Res on 8th-9th. An adult Yellow-legged Gull visited at Daventry on 10th and two – an adult and a second-winter – were in the roost at Boddington Res on 11th. Waders on parade this week were limited to just three Jack Snipes at Hollowell on 14th.

Short-eared Owls were reported from three of last week’s localities, with Borough Hill again producing a performing trio on 12th, while singles remained at Harrington AF until at least 11th and Stanford until 13th. Back up at the field with the Percy Pilcher Monument, a Nordic Jackdaw (or one showing characteristics thereof) within a large corvid flock on 11th provided an interesting distraction but hardly constituted a monumental find.

Oundle’s Black Redstart continued to pose on St Peter’s Church on 8th but there were no subsequent reports, although it did roam to nearby dwellings and proved to be elusive.

Black Redstart, Oundle, 8th February 2020 (Ant Hall)

Stonechats were recorded at five sites, which included Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford, Thrapston and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering), with a maximum of four at Pitsford on 14th.

Rarity Round-up, 1st to 7th February 2020

Continuing mild weather was the order of the week, with local temperatures hitting a high of 13°C on 2nd. There was even a touch of avian spring as two species of wader were back at potential breeding sites in two river valleys during the period.

Hollowell Res’ female Ruddy Shelduck again made it into the week, still present there on 1st, while last week’s Greater Scaups – the two first-winter drakes at Clifford Hill GP and the female at Stanwick GP – remained firmly in place throughout.

First-winter drake Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 7th February 2020 (Bob Bullock)

A quick check of Ditchford GP’s Chester House Lake revealed the five Cattle Egrets to be all present and correct on 6th and 7th, along with a Great Egret and several Little Egrets on the same body of water – a sight which would never have been envisaged a couple of years ago. Great Egrets remained at seven localities, with a maximum of four at Stanwick on 6th.

A dearth of raptors saw just a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier hunting over ploughed fields alongside the A605 near Warmington on 1st.

On a cursory note, a couple of waders provided a ‘heads up’ that spring is just around the corner as Oystercatchers returned to the Nene Valley at Thrapston GP on 6th and Clifford Hill the following day, while a Curlew was bubbling away in south Northants on 5th. A locally unseasonal Dunlin was found at Daventry CP on 4th while, more in keeping with winter, Hollowell produced a high total of nine Jack Snipe on 1st.

First-winter Dunlin, Daventry CP, 4th February 2020 (Gary Pullan)

Gull numbers picked up significantly from last week, at last including the first ‘white-winger’ of the winter. Single adult Mediterranean Gulls visited Daventry CP on 4th and 7th, Boddington Res on 5th and Stanford Res on 7th, when a third-winter Glaucous Gull was also found in the roost there. Earlier in the week it had been seen at nearby Shawell, just over the border in Leicestershire. Three Caspian Gulls – two adults and a third-winter – were at Rushton Landfill on 6th and an adult Yellow-legged Gull visited at Daventry on 4th.

There was no change on the Short-eared Owl front, last week’s four localities continuing to host birds seemingly eager to perform to a steady stream of appreciative onlookers. Borough Hill, topping the bill for both popularity and numbers, produced four, Stanford three and Harrington AF and Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) one apiece.

Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 3rd February 2020 (Iain Tidmarsh)
Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 6th February 2020 (Matt Jackson)
Short-eared Owl, Borough Hill, 6th February 2020 (Martin Swannell)

Ecton SF hung on to at least one Siberian Chiffchaff throughout and up to two more were discovered with up to eight Common Chiffchaffs at the nicely compact and insect-rich location of Islip STW on 3rd-5th. This (sub)species is probably commoner in winter than we think, although it would appear there are both good and bad winters as far as numbers nationally are concerned. Sewage works are a favoured winter habitat.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Islip STW, 5th February 2020 (Nick Parker)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Islip STW, 5th February 2020 (Nick Parker)

After last week’s Black Redstart in Corby, another was found in the much more easily accessible location of Oundle Church on 6th and it was still present there the following day, albeit after several hours’ absence. Sunday’s churchgoers could be in for a bonus … manna from heaven, maybe?

Black Redstart, Oundle, 7th February 2020 (John Moon)
Black Redstart, Oundle, 7th February 2020 (Nick Parker)
Stonechat, Borough Hill, 6th February 2020 (John Moon)

Stonechats were recorded at five sites, which included Borough Hill, Hollowell, Stanford, Thrapston and Barton Seagrave, with a maximum of three at Hollowell on 1st.

Rarity Round-up, 25th to 31st January 2020

The mild Atlantic airstream once again ensured traditional winter weather was kept firmly at bay, with local temperatures hitting a high of 12°C during the last two days of the period. The early part of the week, however, had birders ducking and diving when it came to confirming the identification of a problematic Aythya, discovered at Stanwick on day one.

Hollowell Res continued to play host to the female Ruddy Shelduck until at least 27th but it was a different shade of brown which brought a quickening of the pulse to the finder of a controversial quacker, sparking much debate over its identification during its stay at Stanwick GP from 25th to 27th. Initially looking very good for a female Ferruginous Duck, subsequent close examination revealed a hybrid in hiding, the game was up and on 29th it duly scarpered to Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows reserve.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 27th January 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 27th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). Grey wingbar indicates hybrid.

Not so controversial were this week’s Nene Valley Greater Scaups, which included the female still at Stanwick and two very different looking first-winter drakes at Clifford Hill GP from 25th – all birds remaining until at least 30th.

First-winter drake Greater Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 26th January 2020 (Mike Alibone). In an advanced state of moult, this bird has remnant juvenile brown feathers on its right flank and a mottled lower breast.
First-winter drake Greater Scaup, Clifford Hill GP, 26th January 2020 (Bob Bullock)
Female Greater Scaup, Stanwick GP, 26th January 2020 (James Underwood)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sticking with said valley, the five Cattle Egrets were still present at Ditchford GP on 25th but they appear to have attracted little interest since. Eager to stay in the frame, though, Great Egrets were present at ten localities with Stanwick and Thrapston GP mustering three apiece. An adult Caspian Gull joined the melee of scavengers at Rushton Landfill on 25th but no ‘white-wingers’ have yet emerged at this, the county’s last bastion of larid-luring putrefaction, during the mild winter we have experienced to date.

Short-eared Owls maintained their presence at last week’s four localities, the Neville’s Lodge three performing well between 25th and 29th, at least three – if not four – were at Borough Hill on 25th, two were still over setaside east of Stanford Res until 31st and one was still patrolling the bunkers at Harrington AF between 25th and 27th.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 25th January 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 25th January 2020 (Ricky Sinfield)
Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 25th January 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

At Ecton SF, just one Siberian Chiffchaff – the original bird found on 7th – was present throughout the week, along with at least fifteen Common Chiffchaffs on 28th but bird of the week, at least for one person, was the Black Redstart which played hide-and-seek in an extensive landscape of untidy heaps of scaffolding on an industrial site in Corby on 28th-29th.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 29th January 2020 (Alan Coles)
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 29th January 2020 (Alan Coles)

Stonechats were recorded at six sites, which included Borough Hill, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford, Thrapston and Kettering, with a maximum of five at Pitsford on 28th.

The Stanwick ‘Ferruginous’ Duck

It’s not called ‘Fudge Duck’ for nothing. Closely resembling the real thing, hybrids abound, enticing observers into a ticking temptation trap, in which nothing is quite what it seems …

When the news broke of Ferruginous Duck or hybrid at Stanwick GP, at around midday yesterday, it was clearly a sensible move to throw in that cautionary caveat – the dreaded ‘h’ word – as rare ducks are notorious for carrying rogue genes. Although looking good at first sight, this was one such bird which, upon closer scrutiny, clearly did not pass muster. OK, it could be said it was mainly but unfortunately, not wholly, Ferruginous. The following assessment is based upon published images of the bird and follows the most up-to-date ‘hybrid checklist’ of features given by Reeber (2015).

It is assumed the bird is an adult female on account of the iris being dark brown (paler in juvenile/first-winter). In terms of size, it’s too large for a Ferruginous Duck. Two of the images below suggest it is virtually the same size as a Pochard. It also appears too bulky. Ferruginous Duck is small and any bird close in size to, or larger than, Tufted Duck is likely to be a hybrid.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Adrian Borley)
Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Adrian Borley)

Head shape is not perfect for Ferruginous Duck and is similar to Pochard. On close inspection, the head shows two slightly paler brown patches, one at the bill base and one on the rear cheeks, which is strongly indicative of hybridisation with Common Pochard. The bill colouration also indicates a hybrid as the pale subterminal mark extends along the sides of the bill, which would form a ‘U’ shape when seen from above. The subterminal mark should not extend in this way (although many published images of so-called ‘pure’ Ferruginous Ducks show it – including some of Reeber’s – so its validity may be questionable). There also appears to be fine traces of black at the bill base – another hybrid characteristic.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Steve Fisher)
Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Adrian Borley)

The belly is not sharply demarcated as it should be for an adult and it appears a little smudgy. Also, there appears to be a slight demarcation between the breast and the flanks, which is not right for Ferruginous Duck.

Female Ferruginous Duck-type hybrid, Stanwick GP, 25th January 2020 (Steve Fisher)

All the above features exhibited by this bird indicate a hybrid origin. Reeber suggests that hybrids are relatively frequent in the wild and even goes as far as stating that in Western Europe, hybrid-like Ferruginous Ducks are commoner than pure individuals!

Rarity Round-up, 18th to 24th January 2020

With the country sitting underneath a slow-moving area of high pressure for the majority of the week, the weather delivered its own rarity in the form of overnight frost during the first four days. Otherwise, generally mild weather ensued and the range of birds on offer was distinctly narrow – nevertheless new discoveries were made as the week progressed …

The female Ruddy Shelduck, again at Hollowell Res on 18th and 24th, was the closest thing approaching a dapper dabbler this week, while rather more demure divers in the form of Greater Scaup were the first-winter female at Daventry CP all week and the female back at Stanwick GP from 20th to 24th.

First-winter female Greater Scaup, Daventry CP, 18th January 2020 (Angus Molyneux)

Great Egrets remained faithful to Daventry, Ditchford GP, Hollowell, Pitsford Res, Stanford Res, Stanwick and Summer Leys LNR/Earls Barton GP, with a maximum of three at Stanwick on 20th and the same number at Summer Leys on 24th. Summer Leys also produced the first Black-tailed Godwits of the New Year, with two there on 23rd, while three Jack Snipe at Hollowell on 18th and two on 24th ensured this species remained firmly on the radar this week. Hollowell also produced the only rare larid of the week, an adult Caspian Gull on 24th.

Short-eared Owls extended their presence to four localities, kicking off with up to three at Neville’s Lodge (Finedon) between 18th and 24th, one still at Harrington AF between 19th and 23rd, up to two still over setaside east of Stanford Res between 21st and 24th and three at Borough Hill on 21st.

Short-eared Owl, Neville’s Lodge, Finedon, 20th January 2020 (John Moon)
Short-eared Owl, Stanford Res, 21st January 2020 (Chris Hubbard)

Down in the Nene Valley, at Ecton SF, the Siberian Chiffchaff remained throughout the period, being joined there by a second individual on 19th. This new bird was what is often described as a classic ‘Mackintosh-buff’ colour and on close examination it was readily distinguishable from the original bird first discovered on 7th. Twelve Common Chiffchaffs were also present on 20th-21st.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Alan Coles). The original bird number 1.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). The original bird number 1.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). Bird number 2 – ‘Mackintosh-buff’ and a different individual to the one in the previous two images.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton SF, 19th January 2020 (Bob Bullock). Bird number 2.

Meanwhile, Stonechats were recorded at five sites, which included DIRFT 3, Hollowell, Pitsford, Stanford and Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering), with a maximum of five at Pitsford on 21st. Now, the Siberian version of this species would be a most welcome addition to the county list …

Stonechat, Hollowell Res, 18th January 2020 (Martin Swannell)