Rarity Round-up, 7th to 13th April 2018

Although this week’s winds were largely migrant-friendly south to south-easterlies, the overcast, wet and murky conditions, which ensued throughout the period, were not and left many migrants temporarily grounded. Among these, a ‘mini-invasion’ of northbound Common Scoters marked the week, while summer visitors new in were Common Sandpiper and Sedge Warbler on 8th, Cuckoo and Grasshopper Warbler on 9th and Hobby on 13th.

After a recent dearth of wildfowl, things changed dramatically this week. Keeping a generally low profile, the Stanwick Pink-footed Goose was still associating with Greylags there on 8th and the same site also hosted a Dark-bellied Brent Goose on 13th after one had flown south-west there two days previously, on 11th. Seven Dark-bellied Brents also made landfall during the drizzle at Clifford Hill GP on 12th.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Clifford Hill GP, 12th April 2018 (Terry O’dell). Four of seven present.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Adrian Borley)

Back at Stanwick, a drake Garganey was located on 13th and is still only the second record, so far, this spring. Diving ducks were well-represented during the period, with a drake Red-crested Pochard at Stanford Res on 9th, followed by a male and female at Kislingbury GP on 11th but more interesting was the report of a female Ring-necked Duck, south of the causeway at Pitsford Res, on 11th. Despite subsequent searching, it was not relocated, although a female Scaup was discovered there during the process.

Drake Garganey, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Adrian Borley)

In all this duckin’ n divin’ the week belonged to Common Scoters, which continued to come through in what seems likely to be an unprecedented local ‘spring of scoters’ – perhaps giving rise to a new collective noun for the species. Six – including four drakes – were at Daventry CP on 9th, followed by four more (two drakes) there on 11th. Two also visited Boddington Res on 9th, two drakes were at Pitsford Res on 10th-11th, three (one drake) lingered at Clifford Hill GP from 10th to 13th and a drake was at Hollowell Res on 11th. Interestingly, nine different groups of Common Scoters were sound recorded on nocturnal migration north over one locality in neighbouring Bedfordshire in the early hours of 9th.

Localities visited by Common Scoters in Northamptonshire Spring 2018

Common Scoters, Daventry CP, 9th April 2018 (Gary Pullan)

Common Scoters, Clifford Hill GP, 10th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Apart from two flying east along the Nene Valley on 8th, just one Great White Egret remained in the vicinity of Hardwater Lake and the weir at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR until 13th.

Single Ospreys were seen at six localities during the period, these comprising Pitsford Res on 7th, Hollowell Res, Stanford Res and Thrapston GP on 8th, Ravensthorpe Res on 9th and Welford/Sulby Res on 13th. There were no reports of any other scarce raptors this week.

Wader passage begins to ramp up from hereon but, apart from a Knot at Stanwick GP on 8th, there was little change to last week’s line up, with a Black-tailed Godwit at the aforementioned Stanwick on 7th-8th, followed by another there on 13th and one on floodwater near Oundle on 9th. Stanford Res notched up its second Greenshank of the spring, with one on 8th and a Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell Res on 7th.

Black-tailed Godwit, Stanwick GP, 13th April 2018 (Adrian Borley)

April wouldn’t be complete without a Sandwich Tern, so the one which completed a couple of laps of Stanford Res on 8th, before swiftly moving on, was right on cue. Hopefully more will follow. The year’s first Arctic Tern was found at Clifford Hill GP also on 8th, quickly followed by another at Earls Barton GP on the same date and another at Daventry CP on 11th. For the first time this year there were no reports of scarce ‘large’ gulls during the period, although arguably more attractive – and a lot easier to identify – Little Gulls appeared at a couple of localities, with Ditchford GP hosting two adults on 10th and Daventry CP producing three adults the following day.

Adult Little Gull, Ditchford GP, April 2018 (Tony Vials)

Kittiwake is another species which has enjoyed a remarkable series of records so far this spring. The run continued with single adults at both Daventry CP and Stanwick on 8th, with the latter site producing another flying east on 9th followed by one on floodwater at Oundle minutes later, leading to speculation it may have been the same individual.

Adult Kittiwakes, 9th April 2018. Left, Stanwick GP (Steve Fisher), right, Oundle (James Underwood)

The pick of the passerines this week were single Ring Ouzels reported from Chelveston AF on 8th and another in the Brampton Valley, near Chapel Brampton, the following day. Just prior to these two arriving, birders hunting for this species at the traditional site of Newnham Hill on 6th failed to locate any but were amply rewarded with the discovery of a Black Redstart by way of compensation.

Black Redstart, Newnham Hill, 6th April 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Staying in the west of the county, a Common Redstart was found at Boddington Res on 10th and a Northern Wheatear put in an appearance at Borough Hill on 7th. The east, however, produced the only White Wagtails which included two near floods at Oundle on 9th and one near Barnwell on 11th. At least one Hawfinch hanging on at Cottesbrooke this week, on 8th, may well be the last of an outstanding winter’s run for this species. Probably.

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Retrospective rubicola?

Stonechat is a passage migrant and winter visitor to Northamptonshire, also having bred on a handful of occasions. Although they are popular photographic subjects, the vast majority of these birds vary little in appearance, present no identification problems and rarely attract scrutiny as a result. Some, however, stand out as being obviously different and one such individual, found by Gary Pullan, was present briefly at Daventry Country Park last month. Gary has kindly provided details.

A male Stonechat was extremely obliging on the dam at Daventry CP on the morning of the 12th March. This bird was striking for two reasons, firstly, it is a genuinely scarce bird at this site and secondly, it showed an extensive white rump.

Possible ‘Continental Stonechat’, Daventry CP, 12th March 2018

I suspected it may be a ‘rubicola-type’ bird, sometimes known as ‘Continental Stonechat’, the race which occurs in continental Europe but variabilities within our own race hibernans can blur the picture and make it difficult to be 100% positive.

This individual showed a vivid white, and mostly unstreaked, rump which can be seen in the poor phonescoped images. In flight this was very striking and when first glimpsed at distance, alarm bells rang and the thought of Siberian Stonechat briefly entered my head.

It is clearly not Siberian but supporting features that it may very well be rubicola are the large, white collar patches, the tone of the upperparts which lacked the deep rufescent tones, appearing quite grey-brown and the underwing appearing quite dark grey.

The weather conditions could also be a subjective supporting factor in its occurrence as we had just experienced our first, and most extreme, visit from the so-called ‘Beast from the East’. Unfortunately, the scrub the bird was frequenting was being cleared that very day and for that reason, it didn’t linger. 

The two Stonechat races (or ‘forms’) intergrade on the near-continent (BWP) and it has been suggested that there is a cline of darker plumage to the north-west and brighter plumage to the south-east and that hibernans is possibly invalid.

‘Continental Stonechat’ rubicola is not officially on the British List. However, rubicola-like birds are recorded regularly in south-east England and occasionally elsewhere in Britain and birds with this appearance also form part of the breeding population in the south-east. It is therefore possible that rubicola is frequent in Britain or that the intergrade zone on the near-continent actually includes south-east England as well (BBRC).

This is the second record of a Stonechat ‘showing characteristics’ of rubicola in Northants. The first – also found by Gary – was at Boddington Reservoir on 2nd May 2013.



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Rarity Round-up, 31st March to 6th April 2018

Last week’s downpours morphed into a weekend deluge, creating widespread flooding which was most evident in the Nene Valley. Water levels there rose dramatically, creating additional – though short-lived – marshland habitats and engulfing well established islands at several wetland localities. As the floods drained slowly away, the end of the week saw a return toward normal water levels and temperatures rose as a southerly wind predominated. Summer visitors new in were House Martin and Yellow Wagtail on 3rd and Willow Warbler on 5th.

A Pink-footed Goose was discovered with Greylags at Clifford Hill GP on 31st but it had departed by the following day. The bill pattern and lack of white feathers at the bill base confirmed it was not the bird which has remained throughout the winter in the vicinity of Stanwick GP, where it was seen again on 6th.

Pink-footed Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 31st March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Pink-footed Goose, Clifford Hill GP, 31st March 2018 (Mike Alibone)

Also in the Nene Valley, single Great White Egrets were seen at Earls Barton GP/Summer Leys LNR on 31st, 2nd and 6th, at Ditchford GP on 1st and at Stanwick GP on 6th. Again, a considerable difference in bare part colouration confirmed the presence of at least two different individuals.

Two more Ospreys this week – both on 2nd – included one around Ravensthorpe Res and one over the A43 between Broughton and Cransley. More will surely follow but there was a notable absence of other raptors during the period.

On the wader front, an early Bar-tailed Godwit flew east at Stanwick GP on 2nd and two Black-tailed Godwits visited Summer Leys LNR on 5th, a Greenshank – an uncommon spring migrant – visited Stanford Res on 5th and a Jack Snipe remained at Hollowell Res on 1st.

Greenshank, Stanford Res, 3rd April 2018 (Chris Hubbard)

Eleven Little Gulls flew east through Clifford Hill GP on 2nd but a first-winter Kittiwake, discovered in Pitsford’s Pintail Bay on the same date, was unfortunately found dead there the next day.

First-winter Kittiwake, Pitsford Res, 2nd April 2018 (Richard How)

Last week’s total of Mediterranean Gulls was doubled this week, with two being seen – one at Stanwick GP on 3rd and the other at Daventry CP the following day; both were adults. Larger larids included two Yellow-legged Gulls at Daventry CP on 4th, a second-winter Caspian Gull at Hollowell Res on 1st, followed by a first-winter there, two days later, on 3rd.

Male Northern Wheatear, Clifford Hill GP, 31st March 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Passerine migrants continued this week with two more Northern Wheatears at Clifford Hill GP on 31st and three near Brackley on 2nd, while the same Brackley locality produced two White Wagtails on 2nd-3rd and another was found at Thrapston GP on 6th. Hawfinches lingered into April with two at Dallington Cemetery, Northampton on 31st and four or five still at Thenford Churchyard on the same date, while Polebrook AF produced one on 5th. Last week’s Corn Bunting again visited private feeding stations in Hinton on 2nd and adjacent Woodford Halse on 4th.

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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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