Rarity Round-up, 13th to 19th October 2018

After a dry, bright, though blustery ‘day one’ the weather deteriorated rapidly with almost continual rain over the following two days – all courtesy of ‘Storm Callum’ as its eastern flank brushed the UK. The week in Northants was eventful, with a host of new migrants and three top rarities …

Another week, another Whooper Swan – or twenty-four of them, to be precise. Twenty-two flew north-east at Thrapston GP on 18th, quickly followed by two pitching down on the water there shortly afterward. Also appearing as a double, two adult White-fronted Geese were found with the local Greylags at Clifford Hill GP on 19th, while the female Ruddy Shelduck appeared to be settled at Ravensthorpe Res at the week’s end. Rounding off the cast of wildfowl were six Red-crested Pochards – two at Pitsford Res on 18th had become four the next day, when two were also found at Thrapston GP.

White-fronted Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 19th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The first-winter Cattle Egret, present in the cattle field immediately north of Summer Leys throughout the previous week, remained until 14th, after which there were no further reports. Two more were then discovered among cattle around the main lake at Stanwick GP on 18th, although they appeared not to be present the following day. Another great record, this represents the first ‘flock’ for the county and surely augers well for future occurrences.

Cattle Egret, Earls Barton GP, October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Cattle Egret, Earls Barton GP, October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

In the meantime, Great White Egret numbers peaked with five at Pitsford Res on 19th, three still at Daventry CP until at least 17th and singles at both Summer Leys and Stanford Res on 18th and at Ravensthorpe Res throughout the period.

Another ‘one raptor week’ saw a Merlin at Chelveston Airfield on 19th and one of last week’s waders – the Daventry CP Black-tailed Godwit lingering until 16th. Another Black-tailed Godwit appeared at Summer Leys on 18th, a Ruff was found at Hollowell Res on 17th and the second Jack Snipe of the autumn was at Bozeat GP the following day.

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 18th October 2018 (Ian Hicks)

The news that a Great Skua was loafing on the water off the dam at Sywell CP, during the afternoon of 16th, initiated a rush of adrenalin as those who were not hampered by the necessity to go to work headed quickly to site. It was found initially at 13.30 and fortunately remained throughout the afternoon.

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Great Skua, Sywell CP, 16th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Exuding brute and charisma, this Bonxie was a welcome catch-up for local birders, being the first in the county for nine years. And they seem to be getting rarer. This species is now occurring less frequently than it did in the last century, when it appeared in seven out of ten years during the 1980s. This week’s individual was the twenty-first for the county.

With just a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Daventry CP on 17th and single adult Yellow-legged Gulls at Pitsford Res on 14th and Thrapston GP on 17th, larids were thin on the ground. Pitsford, however, produced a flyover Short-eared Owl on the latter date.

Whinchat, Bozeat GP, 18th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

On the passerine front, a late Whinchat was at Bozeat GP on 18th and, conforming to their late autumn occurrence pattern, Black Redstarts were found on private land between Towcester and Abthorp on 15th, followed by one at Chelveston AF on 16th, joined there by another from 17th to 19th, and two were at an undisclosed site at Great Oakley on 17th.

Black Redstart, Chelveston AF, 17th October 2018 (Leslie Fox)

Back at Chelveston AF, a Northern Wheatear was present on 17th but Northamptonshire’s tenth-ever Richard’s Pipit was discovered on 13th, where it remained until 15th. Residing in a high-fenced, gate-locked sheep field, it was not easy to see for the twenty or so birders who braved the inclement weather the following day. However, a kindly farmer granted access and the birders – many of whom were from Bedfordshire – duly connected. The Bedfordshire connection is of particular significance. The Northants/Beds county boundary runs through the middle of the site and the pipit did the honourable thing by appearing in both counties, thereby giving Bedfordshire a new county first. All this raises the inevitable question: is Chelveston the new Harrington? We’ll see … Back on indisputably home turf, a Rock Pipit was found at Hollowell Res on 13th and vizmiggin’ (no ‘G’) at Pitsford Res produced a flyover Brambling on 19th and a Hawfinch heading south-west on 17th. Are we in for another invasion?

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Rarity Round-up, 6th to 12th October 2018

Apart from northerly winds and persistent rain on the first day of the period, the remainder of the week saw the winds blow southerly, bringing unseasonally warm weather from Iberia and temperatures peaking locally at 23ºC on 11th. The wind intensified on the last day, as ‘Storm Callum’ approached from the Atlantic.

The weather, however, appeared to have little effect on migrants from the north-east, with the first Fieldfares arriving on 7th and the first Brambling on 9th, while other factors were clearly responsible for delivering the main rarity of the week – Northamptonshire’s seventh-ever Cattle Egret.

Against a backcloth of coincident arrivals inland, an adult Whooper Swan was discovered at Cransley Res on 7th, while the mobile female Ruddy Shelduck continued to yo-yo between Ravensthorpe and Hollowell Reservoirs, last being seen at the latter site on 11th. Summer Leys attracted far in excess of its usual quota of regulars and casual visitors this week, following the discovery of a first-winter Cattle Egret among a herd of cows in the field immediately north of the reserve on 7th. A popular pull for photographers, it remained throughout the week, commuting frequently between its favoured cattle field, Summer Leys and nearby Mary’s Lake.

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Cattle Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 9th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

With a liberal scattering of some two hundred across the UK, including at least one hundred and five roosting at Shapwick Heath, Somerset on 28th September, its occurrence was only to be expected. It was just a question as to who was going to be the first to find one. In this instance, it was Matt Hazleton’s lucky day! The first Cattle Egret for Northants was also found at Summer Leys, back in August 2006. In fact, only one of the six previous records has occurred away from the Summer Leys/Earls Barton GP complex. It would appear highly likely that many more will follow as this species seems to be on the brink of imminent colonisation.

Firmly in the shade this week, Great White Egrets continued to be seen at six localities, with Daventry CP hosting the period’s maximum of three between 10th and 12th. Elsewhere, Ravensthorpe Res held one all week – joined by a second individual on 10th, one remained at Pitsford Res throughout, with two there on 9th, while singles visited Ditchford GP on 7th, Summer Leys on 7th and 10th and Stanford Res on 8th.

Great White Egrets, Daventry CP, 12th October 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Summer Leys again featured with a Gannet, photographed on the main lake on 10th, ‘back of camera’ images from an unknown photographer being on view to egret-watchers on the day.

Reports of raptors were thin on the ground but what was missing in quantity was made up for by quality in the shape of a Honey Buzzard, which was seen twice – including in a tree – at Kingsthorpe Golf Course, Northampton on the afternoon of 10th. Waders, too, only narrowly made it into this week’s copy, with a Black-tailed Godwit lingering at Daventry CP from 8th until 12th and the autumn’s first Jack Snipe appearing at Hollowell Res on 10th.

No autumn would be complete, however, without a visit by a late, juvenile Arctic Tern and Hollowell duly obliged with one of these crisp little classics on show between 6th and 10th. The same reservoir produced a third-winter Caspian Gull on 12th – the same date that a first-winter was mobile around the Moulton Grange Bay/dam area of Pitsford Res.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Pitsford Res, 12th October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Lest they should be forgotten, small numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were scattered with up to three at both Pitsford Res and Daventry CP, two at Hollowell Res and one at Stanwick GP during the period.

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 7th October 2018 (Alan Coles)

Passerines were again making news this week and heading the cast was Northamptonshire’s tenth-ever Yellow-browed Warbler, pulled from a net at Stanford Res (just for a change) on 10th. Overall, some 500 were recorded nationwide in the run up to this date, so there are surely more out there to be found.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Stanford Res, 10th October 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

The first migrant Ring Ouzel of the autumn was a juvenile at Fermyn Wood CP on 7th when, back at Stanford, a late (for Northants) Common Redstart was trapped and ringed, while the autumn’s second Rock Pipit stayed briefly at Daventry CP on 11th.

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Rarity Round-up, 29th September to 5th October 2018

Another dry week – in terms of both weather and birds – with a primarily westerly airstream, plenty of sunshine and temperatures reaching a high of 21ºC.

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Ravensthorpe Res, 3rd October 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Still doing the rounds, the mobile female Ruddy Shelduck decided to drop into Ravensthorpe Res on 3rd before relocating to nearby Hollowell Res on 5th. Ravensthorpe also continued to host a Great White Egret throughout the period, while others included singles at Stanford Res on 1st-2nd and Pitsford Res to 30th, with three there on 2nd.

Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 2nd October 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Great White Egret, Ravensthorpe Res, 5th October 2018 (Paul Crotty)

Following the tracking of last week’s five Common Cranes from Scotland to their departure over the English Channel, via Daventry CP, five were also reported flying south over Shutlanger on 4th. Waders were, however, scarce, with just a juvenile Grey Plover paying the briefest of visits to Boddington Res before flying off south-east on 2nd. Also at Boddington, three juvenile ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers were present on 29th, with two remaining until 5th.

An adult Caspian Gull again visited Hollowell Res on 29th, while three adult Yellow-legged Gulls were at Stanwick GP on 29th and single adults continued to be seen at Thrapston GP on 1st, Pitsford Res on 2nd, Ravensthorpe Res on 3rd and one visited Boddington Res on 5th.

In contrast to last week, passerines featured a little more prominently, with a report of a Wryneck in an Earls Barton front garden on 30th, which was followed by several observers the following day but not seen subsequently. A Firecrest was in the vicinity of the Heronry Hide at Thrapston GP on 1st, while a Northern Wheatear at Harrington AF on 29th was the only one this week and a Rock Pipit flying south-west at Pitsford Res on 3rd was the first of the autumn.

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Temptingly Tundra

A close look at some of the migrant Ringed Plovers passing through Northants in autumn would suggest they are from further north than the race which breeds in the UK.

The fact that we get ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers on passage in small numbers during late spring is well established (see here and here). As juveniles in autumn they are perhaps less obvious and characters vary as differences are clinal but some readily exhibit certain pointers which suggest they are not the nominate race hiaticula.

At least two such individuals have been present at Boddington Res since 29th September and are still present today. To my eyes they stand out as being different – so much so that they have even been reported by some observers as Little Ringed Plovers.

Presumed ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers, Boddington Res, 2nd October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers can be one of two races, either psammodroma, which has a breeding range from the Faeroes to north-east Canada, or tundrae, which breeds from northern Scandinavia to Russia, although the validity of psammodroma as a race is contested by some authorities.

Presumed ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover, Boddington Res, 2nd October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

The Boddington two differ from each other insomuch as one has a narrow, complete breast-band and the other has a broad, almost broken one. While both appear noticeably smaller than ‘our’ Ringed Plovers, they differ from juvenile Little Ringed Plover by the lack of a pale eye-ring, a fairly obvious supercilium and clean white forehead. Of course, when they fly there’s the wing-bar!

Presumed ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plover, Boddington Res, 2nd October 2018 (Mike Alibone)

In addition to the size difference against the nominate race, ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers have darker upperparts and in October show no signs of the moult to first-winter which has normally already begun to take place in hiaticula. Additionally, the supercilium is less extensive, the legs are a dull, weak ochre and one other feature is the bill, which is smaller and ‘dinkier’ in Tundra birds. All these features are shown by these two birds at Boddington so it’s more than just tempting to call them ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers.

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Rarity Round-up, 22nd to 28th September 2018

Apart from a period of persistent rain on 23rd, local weather remained dry and mainly sunny. South or south-westerly winds from 25th raised temperatures to a peak of 23ºC on 27th, after which northerlies caused the temperature to fall to a maximum of 14°C at the week’s end, on 28th. After producing a Grey Phalarope at the end of last week, Daventry Country Park remained firmly in the spotlight, positioning itself as ‘locality most likely to deliver’ … and it did.

Following a general coastal influx during the month, the second Pink-footed Goose of the autumn (or the first relocating) was found with Greylags at Summer Leys LNR on 24th, while the only other wildfowl of note was the juvenile Garganey still present at Pitsford Res on 22nd. On 24th, a juvenile Gannet was reported flying over Clifford Hill GP and it, or another, was subsequently reported flying low north-west over the road and fields between Church Brampton and Holdenby later in the day, at 16.00. Meanwhile, single Great White Egrets were seen at six locations, which included Stanford Res on 22nd, Pitsford Res on 23rd and 28th, Thrapston GP on 24th and 27th, Summer Leys and Daventry CP on 25th and Ravensthorpe Res on 28th.

On the raptor front, Thrapston GP again produced a Marsh Harrier on 24th and, like last week, just one Osprey was seen – this time at Stanwick GP, where it was observed carrying a fish on 27th. Bird, or birds, of the week, however, were the five Common Cranes watched circling above Daventry CP for fifteen minutes, late in the morning on 25th. About the twenty-third record for the county, it was unusual as ‘flocks’ are scarce, most previous records having been of ones and twos.

Common Cranes, Daventry CP, 25th September 2018 (Gary Pullan). Three of five adults circling the site before all five headed south.

Even more interesting, however, is the fact that this particular flock has history. All five were unringed adults which had spent the summer in north-east Scotland, where there is a small breeding population. These five had spent much of their time around Loch of Strathbeg and they were last seen on Sunday, 23rd. They subsequently flew south over Saltholme Pools, Teeside the following day before their arrival at Daventry CP at 10.45 on 25th. Continuing their journey south, they were tracked over Knap Hill, Wiltshire at 13.00 and then east over Pennington, Hampshire at 19.00. They were then found at nearby Lymington the following morning, before flying south-east and then finally flying out to sea, south, over St Catherine’s Point, Isle of Wight. Who needs satellite tags?!

Daventry Common Cranes presumed migration route, 23rd to 26th September 2018. Background image of the Daventry birds by Gary Pullan.

Back to the 25th and Daventry where, on the ground, a Little Stint was found and the Grey Phalarope was still present. The phalarope had departed by the following day but the stint remained until 27th. Another juvenile Grey Phalarope was discovered off the dam at Pitsford Res mid-afternoon on 23rd. It remained by the dam until late afternoon the following day, after which it became more mobile and was last seen off the northern shoreline, east of Pintail Bay on 25th.

Juvenile Grey Phalarope, Daventry CP, 24th September 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Juvenile Grey Phalarope, Daventry CP, 23rd September 2018 (Ken Prouse)

Juvenile Grey Phalarope, Pitsford Res, 24th September 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Pitsford’s long-staying juvenile Black Tern remained throughout the week and another juvenile visited Clifford Hill GP, briefly, on 22nd and a first-winter Caspian Gull was found at Daventry CP on 23rd. The usual sprinkling of Yellow-legged Gulls included singles at Ravensthorpe Res on 22nd, 24th and 28th, Pitsford Res on 23rd, 26th and 27th and Thrapston GP on 24th with two there on 28th.

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 23rd September 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 23rd September 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Yellow-legged Gull, Ravensthorpe Res, 24th September 2018 (Paul Crotty)

Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 26th September 2018 (Alan Coles)

Three were at Stanwick GP on 23rd, including one with a partial hood, closely resembling the individual muted as an Azorean Gull candidate which was present at this site on 4th October 2017.

Many thanks to Gary Pullan for Common Crane movement information.

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Rarity Round-up, 15th to 21st September 2018

The week’s weather was strongly influenced by the Atlantic storm track with SSW winds pushing up from the continent and raising the temperature to a local high of 26°C on 17th. The following day, ‘Storm Ali’ (nothing to do with the author!) was named as it advanced rapidly eastwards, bringing strong west to south-westerly wind and rain and delivering at least one storm-driven bird to the county on 21st.

This week’s wildfowl included the female Ruddy Shelduck putting in two appearances at Stanford Res on 15th and 18th with the same site also producing a flock of eight Red-crested Pochards on the latter date.

Juvenile Garganey, Pitsford Res, 21st September 2018 (Martin Swannell)

The Garganey at Daventry CP remained until at least 20th and a, or ‘the’, juvenile at Pitsford Res was again seen between Moulton Grange Bay and the dam on 20th-21st. Meanwhile, Great White Egrets increased in both number and the number of sites they were found at this week – the latter from three to five.

Great White Egret, Pitsford Res, 16th September 2018 (Adrian Borley)

The Thrapston GP individual remained all week, one was at Pitsford Res on 15th-16th while last week’s bird at Summer Leys LNR was still present on 21st, being joined by another there on 18th. Two were also together at Sulby Res on 16th and one flew west over Ditchford GP on 17th.

Juvenile Spotted Redshank, Hollowell Res, 9th September 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Just one Osprey was seen – a migrant flying south at Cosgrove on 17th – and against a flimsy backcloth of commoner waders, the juvenile Spotted Redshank at Hollowell Res chalked up its second full week in residence on 21st. Bird of the week, however, was the Grey Phalarope deposited at Daventry CP, courtesy of ‘Storm Ali’, on 21st. Showing well, as they so frequently do inland, it pushes the number of county records this century into double figures.

Juvenile Grey Phalarope, Daventry CP, 21st September 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Juvenile Grey Phalarope, Daventry CP, 21st September 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Juvenile Grey Phalarope, Daventry CP, 21st September 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Pitsford’s juvenile Black Tern remained until at least 19th, ranging widely between the northern reserve area and ‘The Narrows’, well south of the causeway.

Juvenile Black Tern, Pitsford Res, 17th September 2018 (Alan Coles)

Another was found at Thrapston GP on 17th, where last week’s juvenile Little Gull remained on Town Lake until the same date. Just one Mediterranean Gull made it on to the weekly list, a first-winter at Daventry CP on 17th, and an adult Caspian Gull at Ravensthorpe Res on 15th, visiting nearby Hollowell Res on 21st, was the only one the county could muster for this species, as well. Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were down further on last week, with a juvenile at Daventry CP on 17th, an adult at Hollowell Res on 21st and up to three at Pitsford Res during the period.

Yellow-legged Gull, Pitsford Res, 17th September 2018 (Angus Molyneux)

Numbers of passerines also took a plunge, although a Pied Flycatcher seen briefly in canalside bushes near Thrupp, between Long Buckby Wharf and Welton, on 15th would constitute the only record for Northamptonshire so far this year. Otherwise, single Whinchats at both Blueberry Farm, Maidwell and Stanford Res on 15th and two again at the latter site on 17th, were a poor show considering this species had been present at seven localities during the previous week. Only one Northern Wheatear was found – on Pitsford dam on 18th – while a single White Wagtail was identified at Boddington Res on 17th, where it remained until 20th.

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Rarity Round-up, 8th to 14th September 2018

There was perhaps a little more oomph to this week’s autumn migration – just maybe, despite the continuing west to south-westerly winds. The period remained largely dry and warm, with temperatures reaching 22ºC on 9th and 11th.

A Pink-footed Goose at Clifford Hill GP between 8th and 10th at first sight may seem too early to be wild but there were UK arrivals ‘up north’ prior to these dates and this species had appeared in some numbers by the week’s end. Love them or hate them, the female Ruddy Shelduck made another appearance, this time at Stanford Res, on 8th-9th and 11th. The established pattern of occurrence for this species overwhelmingly points to an origin from the feral European population, so at least it counts as a migrant!

Female Ruddy Shelduck, Stanford Res, 8th September 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

The Garganey at Daventry CP remained on view on 8th-9th and again on 12th and 14th and there was also a juvenile at Pitsford Res the following day, on 13th. Meanwhile, single Great White Egrets were again at Thrapston GP on 10th-11th and Pitsford Res on the latter date and one loafed around at Summer Leys all week.

Raptors featured a little more strongly than last week, kicking off with a Honey Buzzard flying low south over Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res on 8th and a Marsh Harrier at Thrapston GP on 14th but in between these dates, single Ospreys were seen at the latter locality on 9th and flying south over Pitsford Res on 12th.

Juvenile Knot, Pitsford Res, 7th September 2018 (Bob Bullock)

On the wader front, last week’s juvenile Knot remained until 9th on the single lump of mud poking out of an otherwise brim-full Pitsford Res. It deserves a medal. A Ruff visited Clifford Hill GP on 8th and on the same date, a juvenile Spotted Redshank was watched flying into Hollowell Res, where it remained until at least 13th.

Pitsford Res again produced single Black Terns on 9th and 12th-13th, or was it simply last week’s bird, from 5th, periodically slipping under the radar?

Juvenile Black Tern, Pitsford Res, 13th September 2018 (Alan Coles)

Juvenile Black Tern, Pitsford Res, 13th September 2018 (Alan Coles)

Staying with the diminutive, the week delivered two Little Gulls – an adult at Sywell CP on 10th and a juvenile at Thrapston GP on 14th and, with Mediterranean Gulls unusually absent, larger larids included adult Caspian Gulls at both Naseby Res and Stanwick GP on 9th and a third-summer loafing on buoys at Hollowell Res throughout the period.

Adult Caspian Gull, Naseby Res, 9th September 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls were down, with a juvenile at Clifford Hill GP on 8th, single adults at Thrapston GP on 10th and Pitsford Res from 9th to 12th and two there on 13th.

Up to two Common Redstarts remained at the popular site of Twywell Hills & Dales until at least 12th and a juvenile female was trapped and ringed at Stanford Res on 13th while, in an ongoing show of strength, between one and three Whinchats were seen throughout the week at Clifford Hill GP, Daventry CP, Hollowell Res, Pitsford Res, Stanford Res, Sywell CP and at Wicksteed Water Meadows (Kettering).

Whinchat, Sywell CP, 11th September 2018 (Martin Swannell)

Whinchat, Sywell CP, 12th September 2018 (Doug Goddard)

Whinchat, Stanford Res, 13th September 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Numbers of Northern Wheatears again remained low, though, with singles at Hollowell Res on 12th and Pitsford Res the following day. Two White Wagtails were found at the dam end of Pitsford Res on 13th.

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