Sunday, 30 November 2014

Fineshade Wood update...

Hello again everyone

East Northants Council Development Control Committee met to consider the Forest Holidays application on 27th Nov and came within an inch of rejecting it completely. In the end they decided to defer a decision.

It was quite a meeting as councillor after councillor spoke up - referring to the letters, emails and phone calls that they had all received from us all. Thank you so much to everyone who played a part in this over the last week. It really was a most important factor in drawing Councillors' attention to the value of this piece of woodland that is treasured by so many people.

Here's an account of what happened.

Tension was already high as the Committee began to discuss Fineshade - previously they had granted approval to a contentious application for a new supermarket in Rushden and vocal irate protestors in the public gallery had forced the chair to temporally adjourn the meeting. Once our application got under way the Case Officer gave a surprisingly brief introduction - we had expected a long spiel in which he would repeat his view that there was "overwhelming" support for the proposal from planning policy and explain his recommendation to grant planning approval. In fact he said only a few sentences, but did manage to get one key fact wrong: he said that the applicants were proposing a new route from the A43. There was a challenge to this from the public gallery and again the chair adjourned the meeting.

3 minute addresses were next: one from me representing objectors, from Shenagh Hackett representing our parish council and then from the applicants represented by David Williamson, Head of Recreation etc for Forestry Commission (FC) England. Two Forest Holidays planners were in the gallery. Some councillors' body language was already looking encouraging and we could also see them looking through the booklet we had sent them, with pictures showing heavy traffic at the A43 junction. The address from Mr Williamson stressing FC experience and expertise did not go down at all well, and was almost immediately undermined by one Councillor who expressed his distrust and disapproval of the FC.

Before that Councillor Glithero, acting as our Ward Councillor, with carefully judged words, made a strong case against approval. This was quickly followed by two or three others from nearby Wards who had clearly been primed to follow his line. We were still expecting to hear support for the plan from Councillors  further south but this is when the weight of your support really began to come through, as one after another spoke of the volume and quality of letters that they had received. Others stressed how much they were influenced by the detailed lengthy objection from the Wildlife Trust - unique in their experience. Not one Councillor spoke in favour of the the application and by now Mr Williamson's head was often in his hands and the FH guys were stony-faced.  We had been expecting and hoping that Councillors would vote to defer a decision until the ruling by the Secretary of Stately about our legal challenge concerning Environmental Impact Assessments was known, but realisation gradually came that there was a chance they would actually reject the application. A deferral was moved by Councillor Glithero but then there was also a move to reject by Councillor Mercer and there was much nodding of heads and words of support.

There then followed a lengthy debate about the merits of straight refusal now and whether the council might then face a costly appeal from the applicants. Here the road situation was crucial. Northants Highways had previously supplied a wishy-washy "no objection" comment and because of that, the Planning Officers and legal advisor warned that an appeal might be possible. It was decided to press Highways for a clearer statement and defer a decision which would also give more Councillors a chance for a site visit.  A vote on deferral was almost unanimous - though it's not clear at the moment how long that deferral will be. What was quite clear was that, had there been a vote on rejection, Fineshade would have won last night.  My neighbour said it was a case of snatching a draw from the jaws of victory!  Certainly we came away very encouraged indeed and Forest Holidays must have had a nasty long journey home through the fog.

So, we have a reprieve. What will Forest Holidays do now? We still are pretty certain that council officials want the development to go ahead, but now they must realise that elected Councillors, as well as local people, have different ideas.

Once again, thank you so much for your support so far. We'll keep in touch and may well need to ask for your help again.

The battle for Fineshade continues.

Barrie Galpin

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Pitsford stroll

A walk south of the causeway this morning was pleasant without being terribly productive. A single redhead Goosander (my first of the season) flew past heading towards the causeway and presumably onto the reserve half. A large flock of mostly Canada Geese was feeding on a field near the gorse bushes until the crow scarer in the field went off and spooked them.  In flight the long staying Bar-headed Goose was obvious amongst the flock along with a hybrid Canada/Greylag.
Back at the causeway a scan of the reserve side revealed two Great White Egrets, one in the Walgrave Bay and the second near the Lagoon Hide. Two Ruddy Shelduck were resting near the mouth of the Holcot Bay and two drake Red-crested Pochard were sleeping in the mouth of the Walgrave Bay.


               Neil H.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Deja Vu

A strong similarity to last Sundays post today. I visited Market Harborough for a second time in search of otters, with a similar outcome to Sunday. At least it wasn't raining today, well not very much anyway. Instead of otters the supporting cast of Grey wagtail and Kingfisher were on display. The Kingfisher remained perched for long enough to take a very grainy picture in the dismal light, before disappearing off downstream. 

Later this afternoon I made a visit to the feed station at Pitsford to top up the feeders. A few minutes bird watching from the Maytree's Hide revealed the presence of two Great White Egrets, one in the Walgrave Bay and the other in the Scaldwell Bay.


                  Neil H.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Sunny Summer Leys

What a difference a day makes. After the wash out that was Sunday today was bright and sunny, if somewhat cooler.
As it was sunny I decided to try my luck at Summer Leys, in the hope that there may be a Bittern enjoying the warmth. As with yesterday my hopes were not realised. There was a marked absence of waterfowl on the main lake, presumably due to the high water levels caused by the recent rains. The only bird of note was a Peregrine sunning itself on a distant pylon. Approximately 200 Golden Plover periodically filled the air with their calls as they flew around the reserve. 2 Cetti's Warblers were also vocal a little closer to the ground.

Spot the pylon

                                        Spot the Peregrine on the pylon

The pylon the Peregrine was sitting on is somewhere in the middle third of the top picture, I think! Both pictures were taken on my phone, the second one through my telescope.

                 Neil H.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Soggy Sunday

Lacking inspiration on a thoroughly damp Sunday morning I decided to head over to Market Harborough to look for otters.
After 21/2hrs of walking up and down the River Welland in persistent rain I finally admitted defeat and headed for Pitsford. There was some consolation in a smart Grey Wagtail and two sightings of Kingfisher.
I called in at Pitsford for a coffee and a Rocky in the Maytree's hide after topping up the peanut feeder at the feed station. A pleasant 1hr was spent seeing not a great deal. Plenty of common water birds, including a smart drake Goldeneye. For the first time I managed to see 3 Great White Egrets at the same time, one of which was asked to relocate by one of the others.
Chris Payne had a ringing session at Bradden on Friday where he and associates caught a total of 57 birds, mostly Tits and Chaffinches, in approximately 2 hrs.  Star bird was a Nuthatch.


          Neil H.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Starlings and Sparrows

I visited Titchmarsh nature reserve yesterday afternoon to view the starling murmuration. A look over the adjacent pit prior to the arrival of the Starlings revealed a few common ducks in small numbers, as well as a couple of Little Egrets and a single Cetti's Warbler
Returning to the area detailed in a previous post, a short wait ensued before small groups of birds began to congregate at about 3.45pm.  These small groups steadily increased in size until several thousand birds were wheeling above the reed beds, periodically being harassed by two Sparrowhawks intent on acquiring a late supper prior to roosting. 
Groups of Starlings peeled off from the main congregation, diving into the reeds at speed, chattering to one another, before settling down for the night in the warmth of the phragmites beds. Eventually the skies were empty and the spectacle over.

A pair of ringing sessions were conducted yesterday afternoon and again this morning at the feed station at the end of the Old Scaldwell Road at Pitsford Reservoir.
The modest total caught was 36, including 22 new birds as follows:
Goldcrest 1
Wren 1
Tree Sparrow 10
Blue Tit 2
Chaffinch 4
Yellowhammer 1
Starling 1
Blackbird 1
Kestrel 1

During this morning's session the 200th Tree Sparrow of the year was caught, the first time this milestone has been passed at Pitsford.


           Neil H.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Otter(s) at Market Harborough


Celia Martin kindly emailed today to state that at least one Otter has been seen on the River Welland at Market Harborough, being seen twice recently by Aldis and Sainsburys. During the last two winters up to four different animals showed very well on the narrow river which passes through the small town of Market Harborough, showing no fear of humans and even dogs on leads. Last winter it was possible to watch these animals from hardcore paths that parallel the river - hopefully it will be the same this time too! We would be grateful if any further sightings could be emailed to us so that we can post details and provide the best opportunity for anyone wishing to see these fabulous mammals up close.


Neil M

Fineshade Wood update...

Hello again everyone

If you were one of the 123 objectors to this planning application you will have had a letter saying that the application is due to be discussed by East Northants Council's (ENC) Development Control Committee on Wednesday 26th November.  ENC's Planning Officer is recommending that permission is granted.

Legal action on wildlife issues
For a third time the Planning Officer issued a Screening Opinion declaring that this is not worthy of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA - a set of procedures that should be carried out with all major planning applications where there will be significant adverse effects on biodiversity.)  The full EIA procedures take time - up to a year - and Forest Holidays and their financial backers are in a hurry and always try to avoid using them. But even their piecemeal surveys have revealed many protected, rare and regionally important species.

Therefore a group of Fineshade Residents took legal advice from lawyers specialising in environmental law. This resulted in a formal request to the National Planning Casework Unit (NPCU, effectively the Secretary of State). We have requested a Screening Directive which may well overturn the council's Screening Opinion and force an EIA. The lawyers believe we have a very strong case. The council have agreed to delay granting actual approval of the application until that ruling comes through.

Lobbying Councillors 

Because the matter is still coming to the Committee on 26 November we feel it is very important for individual Councillors to know at first hand just how strong is the opposition to Forest Holidays' proposals. Could you therefore help to lobby the 17 representatives who will be the ultimate judges of what happens at Fineshade? The attached document contains individual's names and full contact details (all these details are publicly available on the ENC website.)  We think that many of these Councillors will not have read all (or any!) of the objections. On the other hand, they have had a glossy special presentation by Forest Holidays - the planning system really is stacked in favour of the developer. 

If you live in East Northants you may know some of the Coucillors, or have friends who do. If you live further away there is no reason why you shouldn't simply send them your previous objection and ask them to read it carefully. Could you send your objection to some or all of them individually, perhaps by post or by email?  We think some councillors don't really "do" email, and a letter arriving on their doormat could be very powerful. 

We think the road issues really need pushing now. Councillors could, for example, make a planning condition that there should be no development work until the access road and the dangerous A43 junction is upgraded. Could you send them pictures of traffic on the access road? (We can send you a selection).   Some will never have been to Fineshade at all, so could you phone any of them to tell them why you value Fineshade so much? Ask them if they have ever seen the traffic during a busy summer weekend. We are convinced that personal contact like this could be very useful indeed.

Attending the meeting

If you live locally could you come to the Council Chamber in Thrapston for 7pm on Wednesday 26th November?  We expect that Forest Holidays, a representative of the Parish Council and one objector will each be allowed to speak for 3 minutes. A large supportive presence in the public gallery will be most helpful.

Thank you very much indeed for your support so far and we really hope you'll be able to join us in a final push during the coming 9 days.

Barrie and Tricia Galpin
On behalf of Fineshade Residents

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Starlings and Kingfishers

John Finlayson has provided details of a large Starling murmuration presently viewable on the Wildlife Trust Reserve at Titchmarsh near to Thrapston. It can be viewed  by walking from the Aldwincle Car Park, down the track to the reserve. Pass through the gate and turn right. walk past the disused hide to the next hide and view from there. The birds appeared (estimated 15-20,000) at approx 3.40pm today.
A  ringing session was conducted at Storton's nature reserve today by John Woollett and his enthusiastic team.
A total of just over 80 birds were processed including good numbers of Goldfinches and Greenfinches.  A flock in excess of forty Goldfinches was observed feeding on teasels close to the ringing station. The star birds of the session were the two Kingfishers pictured below.

         Neil H.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Birds of the murk


Chris Payne continued with his committed ringing in the south of the county today, this time ringing in his Greens Norton garden. The results illustrate what garden feeding can achieve in terms of the number of birds attracted to appropriate food, and this is at a time when it is still unseasonably mild and there is still plenty of autumn bounty out there. Chris captured 94 birds which were made up of 44 Blue Tits, 11 Great Tits, 5 Coal Tits, 24 Goldfinches, 2 Greenfinches, 4 House Sparrows and singles of Wren, Starling, Chaffinch and Blackbird.

Birds at Pitsford Res today in murky conditions included a Great White Egret, several Little Egrets, a Black Swan and a Green Sandpiper (all in the Scaldwell Bay). A check of the gull roost by the dam provided views of a fine adult Caspian Gull and two Yellow-legged Gulls.

Eleanor noticed two Ravens over Brankley Farm between Haselbech and Naseby.


Neil M

Friday, 14 November 2014

Ring-necked Duck still present


Eleanor managed to find time to pop in to Wicksteed Park at Kettering at lunch-time and confirmed the continued presence of the female Ring-necked Duck on the main lake. It was associating with Tufted Duck and Pochard.

A female Merlin was present at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell at about 3.30pm this afternoon.

My poor contribution was a Grey Wagtail at Brixworth Sewer Works, an adult Yellow-legged Gull by the dam at Pitsford Res and a Black Swan was present in the Scaldwell Bay.


Neil M

Thursday, 13 November 2014

County Bird Ringing


At a site in the south of the county, local naturalists and ringers Chris Payne, John Woollett, Kim Robinson and Mike Tubb spent some time this morning catching and ringing over seventy birds. Highlights included a Jay, a Sparrowhawk, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Bullfinch, four Coal Tits and a couple of Nuthatch. We are fortunate in Northamptonshire inasmuch there are ringers operating at sites in most parts of the county, but it is remarkably rare for birds that we have ringed locally to be re-captured by colleagues who on some occasions are only a matter of a few miles down the road!

This year looks to be a record year for the number of individual birds caught and ringed in this fair county of ours, reflecting the stunning successes of the Stanford Res Ringing Group and determined efforts by other students of migration as well as generally good summer breeding conditions which has resulted in a positive output of freshly fledged youngsters.


Neil M

Great Spotted Woodpecker


Images courtesy of Chris Payne.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Pitsford WeBS count


Another rain-affected WeBS count was attempted today, this time at Pitsford Reservoir. Noteworthy birds included two Great White Egrets, at least a dozen Little Egrets, the two Ruddy Shelduck still, 19 Red-crested Pochard, a drake hybrid 'aythea' duck (Tufted Duck x ?), 59 Snipe, about 10 Pintail, a female Merlin over at 10.38am, a Kingfisher, a Chiffchaff and a couple of Siskins.

Should anyone hear of a Canon 50D camera and lens being found locally, please contact me.


Neil M

Little Grebe
Courtesy of Clive Bowley

Monday, 10 November 2014

Visitors from the east


A ringing session around the Old Scaldwell Road Feeding Station at Pitsford Res this morning was all about quality as opposed to quantity. Seven Common Snipe caught and ringed was a good result as this species is particularly difficult to catch. No more Redwings hit the nets today but we did catch a Song Thrush, a couple of new Blackbirds and another Blackbird bearing a Norwegian ring! Further evidence that this current influx of Blackbirds are coming from far afield indeed.

We caught a handful of Tree Sparrows, four new birds ensuring we have now caught and ringed over 190 on-site this year, a record for Pitsford and presumably a good indication that the warm and moist summer was good for this species locally. An adult male Green Woodpecker was another welcome catching addition.

Birds seen included two Great White Egrets, a dozen Red-crested Pochard, a Black Swan and a Barn Owl dozing in the willows at the back of the Scaldwell Bay.

Birds at Harrington Airfield today included two Short-eared Owls, a male Peregrine and about 50 Golden Plovers.


Neil M

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A bird in the hand...


Birding at Harrington Airfield this morning was eventful with a male Ring Ouzel around the bunkers with many Fieldfares and Redwings. A female Merlin was dashing about and Bramblings were passing over constantly in small numbers, including a couple coming down to feed on seed on the concrete track at the main entrance. A couple of redpoll sp also flew over and other birds present included 15 Golden Plovers and a pair of Grey Partridge.

Ringing at Stortons Gravel Pits this morning was productive with some 117 birds caught and assessed by a number of ringers as led by John Woollett. This included half a dozen Redwings, four Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Blackcaps, Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrests and plenty of Goldfinches and Greenfinches.

Similar ringing for much of the day took place at Pitsford Reservoir and provided about a hundred birds which included a couple of Mallard, 9 Goldcrests, a Song Thrush, 8 Redwings, 13 Blackbirds, 4 Kingfishers, 2 Jays, 4 Bullfinches and a Willow Tit.


Neil M

Jay at Pitsford Res
Courtesy of Jacob Spinks

Redwing at Stortons GP
Courtesy of Chris Payne

Kingfishers at Pitsford Res
Courtesy of Craig Freestone

Kingfishers at Pitsford Res
Female above and male below
Courtesy of Jacob Spinks

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Ditchford WeBS count


Today we completed a rain-affected WeBS count at Ditchford Gravel Pits. We struggled to find much of note, the best birds west of Ditchford Lane being an Egyptian Goose, a 'redhead' Goosander and a first year female Peregrine. Other birds noted throughout the whole complex included a single Little Egret, an impressive roost of 75 Cormorants, in excess of a thousand Herring Gulls, a couple of Water Rails, 12 Kingfishers, 9 Cetti's Warblers, 3 Grey Wagtails and a Chiffchaff.


Neil M

Friday, 7 November 2014

Wet and windy!


An excursion in to the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res this morning provided views of a single Great White Egret, 10 Pintail, a Black Swan, a pair of Red-crested Pochard and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. 

Three pairs of Stonechat remain at Blueberry Farm near Maidwell but they didn't seem to enjoy the wet and windy conditions!


Neil M

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wednesday ringing


Chris Payne conducted some ringing down at Bradden today and ended up catching 108 birds in four hours during good ringing conditions. The catch was mostly common birds and included Goldcrest and Nuthatch and typical woodland species.

In the meantime a small gang of us were operating some nets this morning at Harrington Airfield in a further effort at targeting thrushes. Nineteen new Redwings made it all worthwhile and thrushes dominated the catch which included Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. However we weren't the only ones on the look out for thrushes - a female Sparrowhawk was hunting the bushes for Redwings but we managed to catch her too (please see image below). Small numbers of Golden Plover were mobile all morning, about a thousand Woodpigeons flew over moving south/south-west and Fieldfares were conspicuous as they swirled around in the murky conditions initially. Other birds included a male Peregrine and singles of Siskin and redpoll sp.

This afternoon there were still at least two pairs of Stonechat at Blueberry Farm plus a Short-eared Owl and a Barn Owl.


Neil M

Male Sparrowhawk captured yesterday

Five years of ringing and Helen
Franklin was never there to ring
and process a Sparrowhawk. Now
she has ringed two in two days!

Juvenile female Sparrowhawk

All images courtesy of  Neil Hasdell.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Tuesday ringing


A split ringing session today with the morning spent at Harrington Airfield and a couple of hours ringing at Hanging Houghton this afternoon.

Many of the common birds have moved off from Harrington during the last couple of days so it was very much down to the migrant thrushes to perform. Not a single Fieldfare was seen all morning, but we were fortunate to catch and ring 19 passage thrushes in the form of 9 Redwings, 6 Song Thrushes and 4 Blackbirds. Other birds caught and ringed include two each of Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer and a re-trap Green Woodpecker added a splash of colour! 

Visible migration included small flocks of Woodpigeons and Starlings heading south plus a few more thrushes and common finches including a Brambling, and still small numbers of Meadow Pipits.

The birds processed at Hanging Houghton were standard fare but a new male Sparrowhawk was a real treat!


Neil M

Monday, 3 November 2014

Blueberry update...


A second visit by Eleanor to Blueberry Farm this afternoon provided views of three pairs of Stonechat, and two Short-eared Owls in Big Lichfields...


Neil M

Harrington Airfield - restricted access


Please note that on Tuesday and Wednesday this week there will be restricted access along the old airstrip and bunkers at Harrington Airfield. Access via the concrete track and footpaths remains unaffected.

Neil Hasdell has kindly produced two more maps of local birding areas which can be found on the Birdwatching Sites Maps Tab at the top of the Home Page. The two new maps are for Harrington Airfield and the Blueberry Farm complex.

At Pitsford Res this morning, two Great White Egrets were in the Scaldwell Bay as were a couple of Little Egrets, the Black Swan and at least six Pintail plus an increase in winter thrushes and a redpoll sp.

Birds seen at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell this morning included two pairs of Stonechat and two Ravens.


Neil M

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Northants Bird Club Indoor Meeting


This is a reminder to members and an invitation to non-members to attend the NBC Indoor Meeting this coming Wednesday (5th November) at the Fishing Lodge, Pitsford Reservoir, Brixworth Road just outside Holcot village (post code NN6 9SJ).

The main part of the evening will be an illustrated presentation of the birds and other wildlife of Argentina, as portrayed by our own Bob Bullock. Bob is well-known locally in birding circles and in recent years has proved to be an excellent wildlife photographer. This presentation follows an expedition to Argentina about a year ago and stunning images are assured!

There is ample parking on-site and tea and coffee and biscuits will be available during the evening.

Please try to be there and seated by 7.30pm.

Come along and be entertained!

Neil M

Magellanic Penguin
Bob Bullock

Grey Fox
Bob Bullock

Pitsford between the showers


Some pretty hefty showers out there today but still mild and bright between the periods of rain.

Time spent at Pitsford Res today failed to find much different amongst the high numbers of water-birds. Three Great White Egrets remain (two in the Scaldwell Bay and a single in the Walgrave Bay), the Red-crested Pochard flock increased to thirty (Scaldwell Bay), and there were fifteen Pintail and several Goldeneye. At least five Little Egrets fished the Scaldwell Bay.

The usual adult Yellow-legged Gull lingered in the Scaldwell Bay and other birds there included a Grey Wagtail and a pair of Stonechat still. The gull roost by the dam included an adult Yellow-legged Gull with another Grey Wagtail by the yacht club and two Woodcock were flushed from field hedges between the reservoir and Walgrave village.

A Grey Wagtail and a Chiffchaff were noted at Brixworth Sewer Works.


Neil M

Little Egrets may be standard
fare these days at Pitsford but they
are interesting to watch as they
adopt a range of different fishing
strategies. This bird was 'foot-trembling'
in the shallows, flushing out mobile
prey in the silt but probably also attracting
nearby fish themselves looking for
food in the substrate.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A Walk in the Woods...


A walk in the woods courtesy of Gary Burrows...

Sunny 1st Nov


An early morning wander in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton provided views of a flying Grey Plover, which surely must be the same bird seen nearby a couple of days ago. Presumably it is feeding on a damp field somewhere? About 10 Siskins were present in much the same area and later in the day there were several Golden Plovers and a Raven.

The amazing late autumn sunshine was sufficiently strong to bring a multitude of insects to the fore including plenty of Hornets and Red Admirals on my wander around the Kelmarsh Estate woodlands this morning.

Harrington Airfield was still attracting good numbers of common birds this morning, the only birds of note however being a male Peregrine and a Woodcock.

At Pitsford Res today there were three Great White Egrets on show north of the causeway plus two Little Egrets, a Ruff, a pair of Stonechat and a Raven flew over the Fishing Lodge. A first winter Mediterranean Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull were present in the gull roost as visible from the dam.


Neil M