Wednesday, 20 June 2018

June update...


Eleanor and I have been away for the last twelve days to Iceland with our good friends Wendy and Robin. An excellent trip despite very challenging weather conditions. Anyway our apologies for the lack of blog updates..

Kenny Cramer and team enjoyed a good ringing session at Linford Lakes on Friday 15th June, capturing 87 birds of 16 species, over half of which were recently fledged birds. Highlights were three Kingfishers, a Cetti's Warbler, ten Blackcaps, sixteen Reed Warblers and a Garden Warbler.

John Woollett and team completed a ringing session on the south side of Stortons Pits on Sunday 17th June, assessing over seventy captures of 15 species. Warblers dominated with twenty-five Reed Warblers, fourteen Sedge Warblers, two Whitethroats, three Blackcaps, two Garden Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat.

Many of the Northants Ringing Group have recently returned from a week on the tiny Pembrokeshire island of Skokholm, on what has become an annual pilgrimage to support the wardens out there on monitoring and ringing migrants and sea-birds. In only seven days and nights, they managed to catch and ring impressive numbers of Manx Shearwaters, large gulls and breeding birds such as Oystercatcher. A Cuckoo was a bonus catch!

David Arden has been out and about watching butterflies, including trips in the county and beyond...


Neil M

Puffins on Skokholm.

Cuckoo on Skokholm.

Small Copper.

Pearl bordered and Small Pearl
bordered Fritillaries.

Mother Shipton moth.

Kingfisher image courtesy of Kenny Cramer, moth and butterflies courtesy of David Arden and Skokholm images courtesy of Chris Payne.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Pitsford update


Yesterday (Wednesday) and a check of the tern rafts at Pitsford Reservoir by Dave Francis revealed that so far it's looking a good year for the Common Terns with 49 nests, 125 eggs and 8 recently hatched young all being visible. A Greylag Goose is still sitting on one of the rafts with three eggs (are they ever going to hatch?) but the Oystercatcher breeding attempt (as usual) looks a little futile. Two young and an adult appear to be missing and the surviving youngster was helped to shore with a single attendant adult meeting up with it.

John Showers watched a pair of Willow Tits in the Scaldwell Bay just beyond the Bird Club hide, and just where two of the recent spring CBC sessions plotted a pair. The good news is that they were carrying food, a sure sign that they are feeding young. It seems that these are the only Willow Tits on-site at Pitsford this year.

In the garden here at Hanging Houghton, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and at least one Nuthatch are making constant forays to the suspended feeders, the woodpeckers have a nest full of young not too far away in the grounds of Lamport Hall.


Neil M

Common Tern chick
and egg courtesy of
Lynne Barnett.

Adult Common Tern

Willow Tit

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Not much to report!


Yesterday (Tuesday) I visited Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs for a change but didn't see very much that was different, a Grey Wagtail at Ravensthorpe being about the best. The water levels at both is very high (similar to Pitsford) which might be suitable for breeding waterfowl but is not conducive to passage waders as the first returning birds will be upon us any day now.

Also yesterday, Eric and Ken Spriggs visited Thrapston Pits again and watched a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler, heard a Cuckoo and saw a Kingfisher. Several Scarce Chasers were on the wing too.


Neil M

Hobby courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Collared Dove.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Yellowhammer survey

BOS Yellowhammer Survey 2018

The Banbury Ornithological Society is conducting a survey of Yellowhammers in the first week of July 2018 to determine their population abundance, distribution and breeding status. It will be surveying 1km squares in the BOS survey area (please see the BOS website for the location details which includes areas in the west of Northamptonshire). BOS members and other birdwatchers are invited to assist in this survey, which will only take an hour to complete. We provide full instructions and a simple form to record your results on. We will analyse the results to determine the current status of Yellowhammers and aim to publish the results on the website:-


If you would like to take part, select a 1km square to survey, making a note of the OS grid reference. Then send then an email to the BOS bird recorder (Mike Curnow) with the number of the square you would like to survey (  The recorder will confirm your request and send a survey form for you to complete.  

Yellowhammers are one of our common and widespread resident birds of the farmed countryside. Sadly, their numbers have declined over recent decades and they are Red-listed in the latest “Birds of Conservation Concern 4”. We are able to monitor their changing fortunes though our annual surveys (Winter and Summer random square surveys and the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)). However, we are lacking more detailed information on their distribution and density across the BOS study area, therefore we are carrying out a specific Yellowhammer Survey during 2018. In England, Yellowhammers have declined by 26% from 1993 to 2015, and 33% locally, based on a linear trend from the BOS summer breeding surveys. The situation is even worse for the period 1977-2015, with a 62% national and 76% local decline in abundance based on our Winter Random Square Survey. 

Thus, it appears that Yellowhammers in the BOS area have been just as affected by environmental changes as those across England, hence our interest in performing a more detailed study. Male Yellowhammers are easy to locate and identify during the breeding season. Their song – described as “a little bit of bread and no cheese” is easily recognisable with a bit of practise, and their canary yellow head plumage is highly distinctive. They also have a long breeding season, extending from April through to August, during which the male sings quite regularly. This means the Yellowhammer is a bird we can survey relatively late into the breeding season, well after many other birds have completed breeding.

Our SRSS breeding surveys show that Yellowhammers breed right across the BOS (in over 90% of survey squares), so there is a very good chance of finding them on this survey.  Our aim is to obtain the best estimates of the number of breeding pairs of Yellowhammers per square km and a total population count. This is not going to be an exact science but should give a good approximation to the numbers present. We will carry out the survey in the first two weeks of July, each survey will take one hour and cover a 1km x 1km square. The survey should take place within the period 06:00 – 11:00 or 17:00 – 20:00, thus avoiding the “lull” in activity around the middle of the day. Each survey square is chosen randomly from those squares we know have reasonable access for fieldwork and are potentially suitable habitat for Yellowhammers.

You only to survey the square once. Plan to walk a route around your square in advance, making use of rights of way, to determine where the best places are for potential breeding birds. Listen out for the Yellowhammer’s song and scan hedgerows and trees to locate the singing male. You will probably locate most birds by song, but keep using your eyes and ears, and note down all yellowhammers seen.

 All you need to record is the total number of Yellowhammers seen in your given square and counts of the birds categorised by activity: Singing males, adult carrying food or number of adult pairs seen. We will use the numbers in these categories to try and assess the number of potential breeding pairs. We also ask you to make an estimate of the percentage of the square you managed to survey.

Please record on the survey form the following information: • Your Name and the date you performed the survey • The survey square number (OS Grid Reference) • The total number of Yellowhammers you have seen • Number of Singing Males – exclude alarm or other calls. Singing males are usually perched on the top of a tree, bush or hedge. • Number of Adult Pairs seen – e.g. 3 pairs = 6 birds in total • Number of Adults carrying food Please try and avoid double counting, i.e. record a bird in only one of the 3 categories: singing, pair or carrying food.

We do not require you to go hunting for nests and the general advice is to try and not to disturb the birds on your survey. 

Sample Survey Form Results:-  Observer Name Susan Bunting 
                                                   Survey Square Number (4-digit Grid Reference) 4239 
                                                   Date and time of survey 08:30-9:30, 6 July 2018 
                                                   Total number of Yellowhammers seen 17 Number of Singing Males 5 Number of Adult Pairs Seen 3 Number of Adults carrying food 1 
                                                   Estimate of % of square covered 50%

To request a square, please send an email to the BOS recorder (Mike Curnow) at, specifying the square number of your 1st and 2nd preference.

We will then send a confirmation email along with the survey form to complete. Please note that registration closes on 24th June. Thank you for taking part in this survey.

Mike Curnow Bird Recorder for Banbury Ornithological Society Banbury Ornithological Society  

Yellowhammer courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Cetti's Warbler - loud and mobile!


Eric Graham enjoyed his wanderings at Thrapston Pits today, and the quality birding continued with views of a Great White Egret, a large Peregrine, two Hobbies, at least four Cuckoos on-site and still a vocal Nightingale.

Stortons Pits on the outskirts of Northampton has accumulated plenty of interesting ringing data associated with the Cetti's Warbler population. A few pairs breed successfully there in most years but what is clear is that Stortons very much sits on the Cetti's Warbler migration highway in the UK! 

Over the years birds initially ringed at this site have been re-captured elsewhere and a good number of Cetti's Warblers ringed elsewhere have turned up at Stortons from all points on the compass. By way of example we have been recently notified that ring Z668066 was affixed to an unaged Cetti's Warbler in the West Midlands area on 4th November 2015 and this bird was re-captured at Stortons on 20th May 2018 when assessed to be a female. Given the time of year it is likely she will be trying to breed locally, some 55km ESE of where initially ringed (928 days having passed since first ringed).

It could be that limited habitat availability in the UK means that Welsh and English birds are constantly wandering in an effort to locate suitable spots for wintering and/or breeding but avoiding leaving the UK landmass altogether...


Neil M

Cetti's Warbler.
Image courtesy
of Chris Payne.



Sunday, 3 June 2018

Northants Bird Club Meeting


This coming Wednesday (6th June) is the next indoor meeting of the Northants Bird Club and the presenters are Elis and Rik Simpson of Waderquest. This is the second presentation to the club by the couple that have devoted their life to the celebration and conservation of wading birds and their subject title this time is 'A Plovers Lover's World of Delight'.

As usual the start time for the meeting is 7.30pm and the venue is again the Fishing Lodge at Pitsford Reservoir. Hot drinks and biscuits will be available, there will be the usual raffle and announcements and everyone is welcome!


Neil M

Ringed Plover.

Long-toed Lapwing.

Birds of early June


A singing Willow Warbler around the garden first thing this morning was presumably a late or displaced migrant as I would have thought that a failed breeder would no longer be singing. However we are at about the period when late summer visitors almost meet failed breeders going the other way!

Eleanor went for a long run today, taking in a fair bit of the Brampton Valley Way, Harrington Airfield etc. Birds included a Barn Owl in the valley below Hanging Houghton, a Spotted Flycatcher at Draughton village, a Turtle Dove in bushes off the concrete track at Harrington Airfield and a calling Quail in a large barley field near the pond between the concrete track and the BVW.

Two Hobbies were later hawking insects in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton.

Increasing records on the east coast of the UK suggests we may be about to receive a small invasion of Rose-coloured Starlings, and with one recently in Northants it seems that these smart pink starlings may pay us some further visits soon. Keep checking those starling flocks if you are lucky enough to have them visiting your garden!


Neil M

Willow Warbler.


These summer visitors are waiting
patiently for the young crows to
fledge the nests and they will then take
over the nest for their own breeding efforts.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Linford Ringing


Sarah and Kenny spent some time ringing at Linford Lakes today, successfully capturing, recording and assessing 31 birds. Two Cuckoos evaded capture with one even perching on a net! A Hobby was also about hawking insects.

The processed birds came to 14 Reed Warblers (5 of which were re-traps), 3 Sedge Warblers, 6 Blue Tits, 2 Great Tits, a Dunnock, 4 Reed Buntings and a feisty Magpie!

Eleanor saw a single Raven at Staverton today (it seems they didn't breed this year due to disturbance at the critical time) but despite efforts at visiting Borough Hill Country Park, Ravensthorpe Reservoir, the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and Blueberry Farm all today, nothing unusual was discovered.

All I managed today was a Spotted Flycatcher still at Hanging Houghton and the hybrid Tree x House Sparrow from last year coming for food in the garden.


Neil M

Magpie courtesy
of Kenny Cramer.

Sedge Warbler courtesy
of Kenny Cramer.

Meadow Pipit courtesy
of John Tilly.

Siskin courtesy of
John Tilly.

Coal Tit courtesy of
John Tilly.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Pitsford Reservoir CBC


In murky, still but warm conditions I completed a Common Bird Census of the reserve section of Pitsford Reservoir today, starting at 6am and finishing just before 1pm. By this time it was just about warming up and with even some sunshine peeking through.

It was a pretty unremarkable census - already quite a few less singing birds than in April and most of May. There were exceptions with Song Thrushes and Blackbirds being particularly vocal in the often dank conditions which is of course to their liking. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers seem to be present in good numbers but there were no Lesser Whitethroats or Sedge Warblers detected and only one Whitethroat and three singing Reed Warblers. Also of concern, it seems that we only have a single Willow Warbler territory, an inconceivable position when this used to be one of the most common warblers on site less than two decades ago!

The warming air coincided with a big hatch of Chimney Sweeper moths and some of the damselflies over the water were the large Red-eyed Damselfly. Four Spotted Chaser was the only dragonfly noted and the best of the few butterflies on the wing was a Small Heath.


Neil M

Common Tern.

Great Crested Grebe.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Thursday's notes


Eric and Nick Parker were at Thrapston Pits today, where the Nightingale was still singing by the river footbridge. Other birds noted included a Great White Egret, two Egyptian Geese and three Hobbies. A Scarce Chaser dragonfly was also on the wing.

Birding opportunities were minimal for us today but I have noticed a few Spotted Flycatchers the last couple of days with singing birds at Ravensthorpe Reservoir and Hanging Houghton. Even though its late, these could still just be passage birds...


Neil M

Spotted Flycatcher courtesy
of Jacob Spinks.

Tit nest boxes and
their contents courtesy
of Chris Payne.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Terns, nest-boxes and butterflies!


Eric Graham was again patch-working at Thrapston Pits this morning and enjoyed an excellent haul of birds which included a Great White Egret (set to summer here?), an Osprey fishing on Aldwincle Lake, two or three Black Terns, three Cuckoos and still the singing Nightingale by the bridge over the river between Town Lake and the Titchmarsh Reserve.

There is plenty of tit nest-box monitoring going on in the county these days with many recorders finding some large clutches and subsequent broods of chicks this year. The many nest-boxes on the reserve at Pitsford Reservoir take up at least one day's monitoring of each week in the spring and this year there is a pair of Marsh Tits using a box (with young) and a pair of Nuthatch in another box with their seven nestlings!

Today the tern rafts at Pitsford Reservoir were checked for occupancy and 40 Common Tern nests were counted containing 97 eggs. Four of these nests were on a brand new raft only constructed, launched and moored on 22nd May! In addition the pair of Oystercatcher have hatched their three eggs. A Little Tern was busy fishing in the Scaldwell Bay this afternoon, close to the Bird Club Hide.

A modest ringing session at Brixworth Water Treatment Works today provided 31 captures amounting to four Magpies, twenty Starlings, three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Blackbird, a Dunnock, a Great Tit and a Yellowhammer. A pair of Gadwall there was a new species for the site and other birds included a Hobby, a Yellow Wagtail and singing singles of Sedge and Reed Warbler.

Details of a ringing recovery of a Sedge Warbler came through today - a juvenile bird was caught and ringed at Pitsford Reservoir on 30th July 2016 and captured again on Alderney, the Channel Isles on 19th April this year as an early returning summer visitor. It is very likely that this bird has wintered south of the Sahara during the two interim winters, I wonder where it is now?

David Arden has been out and about with his camera again, this time photographing butterflies in the region...


Neil M

Duke of Burgundy butterfly. 

Grizzled Skipper.

Large Skipper.

Common Blue.

All images courtesy
of David Arden.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Wildlife of the Ardnamurchan Peninsular


Two weeks on the beautiful Ardnamurchan Peninsular in Western Scotland were mostly rain-free and with sunny conditions and a cool breeze the midges didn't come out to play much! I've added some images of some of the formatted photos of the trip which hopefully do justice to the wildlife of this special area and the immediate surround...


Neil M

Otter with fish.

Black Redstart.

American Black Duck.

Pine Marten.

Cat sp. Scottish Wildcat or
just a domestic moggie??

Bottle-nosed Dolphin.

White-tailed Eagle.


Juvenile Stonechat.