Saturday, 28 February 2015

An old friend...


Despite the drizzle and light rain, I decided to try one of my favourite short walks which I haven't completed in ages. So this morning I took a circular walk around Harlestone village and Harlestone Lake which resulted in good numbers of common birds, many of them in full song. Grey Wagtail and Little Owl were perhaps the pick of the species and sadly I didn't detect a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, this venue used to be a traditional site for this diminutive and now very rare woodpecker. The habitat hasn't seemingly changed much over the years but the status of the bird has.

Eleanor was over at Staverton near Daventry this afternoon and noted a pair of very noisy Raven, clearly intent on breeding in tall conifers there.

It was a warm welcome to an old friend today when male Blue Tit X669693 turned up in a mist net in our garden today. He was first ringed as a juvenile in July 2010, caught again in August of that year and re-trapped again in 2011 but not recorded since...  During that time his wing-length had increased by two millimeters and today he was in excellent condition. Blue Tits don't live very long and their work-rate when feeding young is phenomenal to the point that they must be absolutely shattered when they finally let their fledged young wander off on their own. This bird has also endured the two cold, hard winters of 2010/2011 and 2011/12 and no doubt dodged countless attacks from predators. How far has he wandered in that time and what other life experiences can we guess at?


Neil M

Friday, 27 February 2015

Pitsford update...


The three White-fronted Geese were still present at Pitsford Reservoir this morning, just north of the causeway in waterside vegetation towards the Scaldwell Bay.

The wintering female Stonechat has managed to attract a passing male so now a pair again can be found by the water's edge anywhere between the Bird Club Hide and the causeway.

Moderate numbers of passerines remain attracted to the Old Scaldwell Road feeding station, perhaps the main attraction being the Tree Sparrows and bright Yellowhammers.

A pair of Grey Partridge were again noted at Hanging Houghton today.


Neil M

It's not just birds
that are attracted to
the feeding station seed!
Muntjac Deer continue
to habitually pop out
to feed at two of the
Pitsford feeding stations.

Images courtesy of
Neil Hasdell

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Garden birding


Little to report today I'm afraid. Visiting and replenishing the local feed stations in the rain wasn't that much fun this morning, although I managed to avoid most of the really heavy stuff! Still the locals were pleased to see me with Robins singing at me and by my feet at all five locations and a Marsh Tit almost perched on my shoulder he was so impatient to get on to the feeder!

The garden was busy with birds with an impressive eight Lesser Redpolls first thing and six Reed Buntings together in the afternoon. I drew another blank at the gull roost at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon - this roost now has very few large gulls visiting and even the usual wintering adult Med Gull seems to be absent.

Ah well some more garden birding then with a coffee to sup!


Neil M

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Interesting Ringing Recoveries


Chris Payne completed some bird ringing at his busy Bradden site this morning which provided 74 captures including 6 Chaffinches, 4 Robins, 2 Reed Buntings, a control Blue Tit (a bird ringed from elsewhere) and a fine female Sparrowhawk which no doubt produced a little rush of adrenalin!

Chris went on to erect and fix nest boxes at sites in South Northants in preparation of the forth-coming breeding season.

Eleanor spent some time in the NN6 district of the county but was only able to locate birds which have been in situ for much of the winter, namely two Ravens in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and a Barn Owl and two pairs of Stonechat at Blueberry Farm.

In recent days we have received details of recovered ringed birds associated with the county as follows...

1. LE85055 refers to a Starling ringed at Astcote near Towcester on 7th March 2014 and then re-captured by a ringer operating at Six House Bank, Lincolnshire on 29th December 2014, some 297 days later and 89KM in a north-east direction. Presumably very much a nomadic bird and possibly a wintering bird from the continent;

2. J614475 refers to a Great Tit ringed at Pillerton Hersey, Warwickshire on 10th November 2010 and re-captured by ringers operating in Glyn Davies Wood, Northants on 17th December 2014. This female originally hatched in 2010 so is a good age for this species and a distance of 17KM between sites is a reasonable distance too;

3. 1ET23138 refers to a Chaffinch first ringed on 26th August 2012 in Sweden at a place called Inre Fjarden near Gavleborg. It was re-captured at Stortons Gravel Pits on 17th February 2013, some 1452KM from it's ringing site. A clear example of a Scandanavian finch wintering in the warmer climes of the UK;

4. LE85059 refers to a Blackbird first caught and ringed at Stortons GP on 16th March 2014 and then found dead near Shustoke, Warwickshire on 18th January 2015, some 59KM in a westnorthwest direction;

5. LE50561 refers to a Blackbird caught and ringed in our garden at Hanging Houghton on 29th January 2013 and then being found dead on 2nd January this year at Cottingham in the East Riding of Yorkshire north of Hull. Again probably a wintering bird from the continent;

6. 7512659 refers to a Blackbird first ringed on 18th March 2014 at Bardshaugen, Skei, Surnadal, More og Romsdal, Norway and then re-captured by ringers operating at Pitsford Reservoir on 10th November 2014;

7. XP98752 refers to a Great Spotted Woodpecker first ringed on 12th May 2014 in Wormley Wood, Hertfordshire which also had colour rings attached to both legs. Robert Cave saw and photographed this bird visiting garden feeders in Crick, Northants in November 2014. British birds are thought to be sedentary but this female re-located 99KM to rural Northamptonshire - who knows what stimulated her to do this!

Neil Hasdell visited Market Harborough today in an effort to see the Otters on the River Welland but couldn't find them (there was quite a bit of disturbance).


Neil M

Courtesy of Robin Gossage

Female Sparrowhawk
Courtesy of Chris Payne

Monday, 23 February 2015

Pitsford Smew


A visit to Pitsford Reservoir this morning in pleasant sunshine provided views of between 3-5 Smew north of the causeway. Initially there was a drake and two 'redheads' near to the Lagoon Hide and later there was a single 'redhead' and then a single drake in the back of the Holcot Bay. A Nuthatch is holding territory near to the Fishing Lodge and in the Holcot Bay, the first time I think this has ever happened on the reserve.

Blueberry Farm near Maidwell continued to host two pairs of Stonechat and a Barn Owl this afternoon.

Yesterday, Robin and Wendy Gossage espied a Reeve's Pheasant on the roadside at Holdenby village. We are not sure if this is an escapee or a deliberate local release.


Neil M

Tree Sparrow at
Pitsford Reservoir
Courtesy of Lynne Barnett

Displaying Great
Crested Grebes
Courtesy of Robin Gossage

Coot running on water!
Courtesy of Robin Gossage

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Ringing before the rain...


John Finlayson was at Summer Leys Nature Reserve at Earls Barton GP this morning and saw a couple of striking-looking Cormorants in nuptial plumage. He obtained an excellent photo of one (please see below)...

John Woollett and ringing team were at Stortons Gravel Pits today and managed a meaningful session before the wind curtailed mist-netting activities. Seventeen Reed Buntings caught included eleven new birds and a re-trap bird first ringed in 2010. Two Smew were also noted on-site.

At Kelmarsh Hall today an ongoing ringing project on the estate provided 110 captures, half of which were new birds. Eleven species were caught which included Great Spotted Woodpecker (4), a Nuthatch, Goldfinch (17), Chaffinch (4) and plenty of common tits. Other birds noted at this location included singles of Raven and Siskin.


Neil M

Courtesy of John Finlayson

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Birds of the breeze and winter sun


A breezy, cool but often sunny day in the NN6 district of Northants today, and just the odd winter shower thrown in for good measure!

A Raven was cruising about over Kelmarsh village at lunch-time and a flock of about 65 Golden Plovers were flying around over wet fields adjacent to Scotland Wood this afternoon. A male Peregrine caused a little consternation among the local corvids and pigeons as it cruised over the garden here at Hanging Houghton this afternoon and the Common Buzzards have been riding the air currents and calling loudly.

The bright sunny conditions seemed to initiate some overhead movement with flocks of Starlings, winter thrushes and Goldfinches passing in good numbers and the garden here continues to attract at least three Lesser Redpolls plus the usual fare.


Neil M

Friday, 20 February 2015

Ruddy Duck no longer...


On Wednesday the DEFRA-paid personnel returned to Pitsford Reservoir and apparently eradicated the very last male Ruddy Duck on-site. A sad end to an era which might mean we don't see this charismatic species locally in the wild again.

Today at Pitsford Res the three White-fronted Geese were just north of the causeway in waterside vegetation towards the Old Scaldwell Road and a flock of about 65 Golden Plovers were present on the top fields at Harrington Airfield.

Our garden continues to attract interesting birds and today a couple of Lesser Redpoll were on the feeders which also attracted two Nuthatches and a Marsh Tit whilst food sprinkled on the ground brought in a couple of Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer. This is the critical time to provide food for our seed-dependent species and when gardens come in to their own.

At Blueberry Farm this afternoon Eleanor notched up two Woodcock, two pairs of Stonechat and a Barn Owl.


Neil M

Long-tailed Tit from
the ringing session at
Scotland Wood on
Courtesy of Helen Franklin

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Fineshade Wood post victory


It’s been brilliant to hear from so many of you this morning - as you can imagine there’s been quite a buzz!

I promised more details of yesterday’s meeting but I really can’t do better than direct you to Mark Avery’s account  which is here:

We know this battle has been won because we’ve been able to all pull together, both those of us who live here and the many, many folks who visit Fineshade and value it for what it is.  We all deserve a bit of a celebration!

But what’s next? Will Forest Holidays appeal? Will they come back with another application in a different part of the wood? There are two bits of information that make us wonder today...

1) A black executive car accompanied by a Forestry Commission vehicle was deep in the wood this morning.
2) Forest Holidays have appealed against Eric Pickles' decision refusing their development in Delamere Forest in Cheshire. They don’t like losing.

So there may be more battles to fight ahead of us and, while enjoying this moment, we need to think ahead.

Here’s some things we're thinking we might do on both those counts. What do you think of these ideas?

  •  The next fine weekend we could have a guided walk round the wood. Who knows we may be able to find some souvenirs to take home!

  •  Have a get together/party of some kind at Top Lodge - for supporters and as many of the local FC folks as would like to come.

  •  Form a group (Friends of Fineshade Wood?) using this email list as a basis . If the worst happens, we can be a bit better prepared next time.

Do please let us know what you think of these ideas - but once again….. 

                    …… thank you!

Barrie and Trish Galpin

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

County Bird Ringing


During the afternoon of Tuesday (yesterday) and this morning, some ringing was undertaken at the feed station at Pitsford Reservoir and produced a modest total of 27 birds, 13 of which were new. New birds included a Moorhen, a Starling, four Reed Buntings and a Tree Sparrow.

Chris Payne was active down at Bradden again this morning and quickly caught 44 birds which included a bright male Sparrowhawk (please see below), Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and common tits.

A small group of ringers used just two mist nets at Scotland Wood (Kelmarsh Estate) today to catch 129 birds, 81 of which were new. Species caught and assessed included 39 Blue Tits, 32 Great Tits, 15 Coal Tits, 10 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Marsh Tits, 2 Willow Tits, a Treecreeper, 2 Nuthatches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Goldcrest, 5 Dunnocks, 5 Blackbirds and 14 Chaffinches. Birds of note on-site included a couple of fly-through Siskins and a redpoll sp with a Raven nearby.


Neil M

Male Sparrowhawk at Bradden
Courtesy of Chris Payne

Fineshade - Decision

WE WON!   -  Because of your support Fineshade will remain part of the PUBLIC forest estate

More details to follow.

Barrie and Trish Galpin

In summary, councillors met this evening and rejected the application for the development of Fineshade Wood. There will however be an appeal...

Neil M

Fineshade - the deliberation and the decision


Just one more day to go.  

1)  There’s a bit of a media storm. This is what we’re aware of:

Radio Northampton, live interview (Trish) tomorrow morning 07:40.

ITV Anglia are coming for an interview and to film in the woods tomorrow morning. The Wildlife Trust are also being interviewed.

BBC say they will be at the meeting tomorrow night.

An article on the Guardian website now and published in the paper tomorrow

Also Mark Avery’s blog

Please send comments to Mark’s blog and also the Guardian. Tweet widely etc, etc.

There are now 147 objections on the East Northants website.
Paul Hackett's 38-degrees petition is shooting up as I write. 2362 signatures now.

2) Tomorrow’s meeting

But let’s keep our eye on the ball: - 
what counts is how councillors vote tomorrow night
and how strong their reasons are to make it hard for FH to appeal.

Nothing else really matters much.

Here’s the details...

Meeting starts at 7pm in the council chamber in Thrapston. It’s here...
There is a public gallery which holds 50 with a large overflow room with video link. 
Public entrance to the gallery is via a door from the carpark - councillors enter by another door.

While we want councillors to be aware of the depth of feeling, we don’t want them to be threatened at all. Good humoured encouragement to vote the right way will be fine. We hope that many of them will be supporting us. There will be a supply of A4-sized placards available from about 6pm if you’re a banner waver or last minute lobbier. (e.g. "The Gruffalo says NO to hot tubs in his forest”!). We hope there will be representatives of the press there who may want to hear your views.

Once the meeting starts another local planning application will be dealt with first. We are told that this is also contentious and we may not be allowed onto the public gallery at first if space is needed for supporters of the other application. When that’s been heard we’ll be able to take their places on the gallery.

During the meeting it really is important that we keep a dignified silence. It really won’t help antagonising the councillors or the Chair.

There will be 3-minute presentations by:
David Williamson, Head of Recreation at the Forestry Commission (last time he was supported on the gallery by two planning guys from Forest Holidays)
Shenagh Hackett, speaking on behalf of our Parish Council
Barrie Galpin, speaking on behalf of protesters.

And then there will be a discussion.
And then there will be a decision.
And after that it will be hard to maintain the dignified silence!

And after that, we’ll be stopping off at the Queen’s Head in Bulwick on the way home.

Barrie and Trish Galpin

Monday, 16 February 2015

Stortons Ringing


John Woollett and team were active at Stortons Gravel Pits yesterday (Sunday) and managed to catch 63 birds for research and monitoring purposes. Twenty-seven of these birds were new birds to be ringed. Ten of these were Reed Buntings and eight further individuals of this species were re-trapped making this the most common species processed.

Reed Buntings, like all British buntings, remain a species of concern and although their status is not too alarming it is another species of farmland and marginal habitat that is continuing to decline. Movements of these birds within the county during the last two winters has been interesting with several birds pitching up at a variety of feeding stations showing their ability and need to seek out fresh feeding opportunities.

A Lesser Redpoll was feeding in birches near to the feed station at Stortons. This species has only been present in the county in low numbers so far this winter but might there may be a small influx of birds starting to occur...?

Today (Monday) and our garden at Hanging Houghton attracted at least three Lesser Redpolls, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Nuthatch, a Marsh Tit and a Reed Bunting.


Neil M

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Murky Sunday


Birds noted at Pitsford Reservoir today included a Great White Egret and three Shelduck north of the causeway and both Marsh Tit and Willow Tit around the feeders in Christies Copse.

Please be aware that a birder's car was broken in to today at Pitsford, the car being parked and unattended at the top of the Old Scaldwell Road. This is a rare event at this site but occurs a couple of times most years.

Birds in the garden here at Hanging Houghton today included up to five Lesser Redpolls, a couple of Reed Buntings, a Yellowhammer and a Nuthatch. 

The afternoon was spent visiting wild bird feeding stations and whilst we were doing so a Woodcock decided to fly a couple of circuits around Scotland Wood (Kelmarsh Estate).


Neil M

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Glyn Davies Wood


This morning a ringing session took place at Glyn Davies Wood, an ancient remnant of woodland in the far west of Northamptonshire. About 120 birds were captured, the majority being common tits but also included a couple of Marsh Tits and a Willow Tit. Other birds processed included a Goldcrest, a handful of Long-tailed Tits and two Nuthatches. Other birds seen/heard in the wood included a redpoll sp, 1-2 Raven and another constantly singing Willow Tit.

Birding in the afternoon was quiet, but we popped in to Boddington Reservoir and saw seven Goosanders and at Ravensthorpe Reservoir we noted a couple of Kingfishers and six Golden Plovers flying over. Despite plenty of searching we couldn't find anything of note at the Pitsford Res gull roost this afternoon but the three White-fronted Geese were again by the Fishing Lodge this morning.

Harrington Airfield provided 15 Golden Plovers and a pair of Grey Partridge, and one of the pairs of Stonechat was visible at Blueberry Farm; a Barn Owl was near Spratton early morning.


Neil M

Carrion Crow

Marsh Tit and Willow Tit are notoriously
difficult to tell from each other, and sometimes
it is not much easier in the hand! For the record
the bird on the left is a Marsh Tit and the bird on the
right is a Willow Tit - honest!

Some of the features are not obvious in these images but
the shape and colour of the cheeks and crown, the shape
and markings of the bills and the extent of the chin spot
all help. The wing length of these two birds was identical
but in British birds the Marsh Tit generally has the longer
wing and although it's not obvious in these images the
Marsh Tit in the British race is colder-toned that the creamy
and warm tones of the British race Willow Tit. Both species
are much colder-toned in North Europe and the Willow Tit on the
continent is the colder-toned bird. The secondary feathers
of Willow Tits tend to show pale edging which produces a
panelling effect but this can also be exhibited to a lesser
extent by the Marsh Tit. Other features are more subtle or
only possible to see in the hand and without doubt a calling
or singing bird is the easiest way to identify this tricky duo!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Pitsford WeBS Count


The WeBS count for Pitsford Reservoir was completed today, and although wildfowl numbers were very low, interesting birds were about and visible. The three White-fronted Geese were generally showing well in the area of the causeway and on the shoreline by the Fishing Lodge, 3-4 Smew (one drake) were present, a first winter Mediterranean Gull was on the water in the Holcot Bay, an adult male Peregrine was in hunting mode and waders included an Oystercatcher, two Jack Snipe, 59 Snipe and three fly-over Golden Plovers.

In addition the female Stonechat was in the Scaldwell Bay, a large passerine flock near the Old Walgrave Road in a stubble field included well over a hundred Chaffinches and two Ravens were around the Walgrave Bay.

Birds in the garden here at Hanging Houghton in the early afternoon included two Lesser Redpolls on feeders, two Reed Buntings and a Nuthatch.

Eleanor's visit to Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) this afternoon provided views of two Ravens, a Barn Owl and two pairs of Stonechat.

A visit to Market Harborough this afternoon failed to locate any Otters on the River Welland, but a Kingfisher and 2-3 Grey Wagtails were still present.


Neil M

White-fronted Geese
Courtesy of Pete Gilbert

White-fronted Goose
Courtesy of  Pete Gilbert

Courtesy of Pete Gilbert

Courtesy of Pete Gilbert

White-fronted Geese
Courtesy of Helen Franklin

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Mist net surprises!


Chris Payne and Kim Robinson were ringing at Bradden again today and witnessed a Great Tit inspecting a nest-box erected only a few days ago. They caught about thirty birds which included a Blue Tit first ringed at Astcote in December 2013. A male Goldcrest was the highlight of the session but it would have been the Common Buzzard that was found in a 60' net, but unfortunately the raptor flapped it's way to freedom prior to the ringers reaching it.

News came through today of a Goldfinch first ringed at Astcote in February 2014, which was then found dead in October 2014 as far north as Cumbria. There is a general acceptance that many Goldfinches that breed in north England and Scotland then winter no further south than the southern half of England where there are now plenty of supplementary garden feeders, and this recovery may well help to support this theory.


Neil M

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Little to report!


Very little to report today. I spent a short time ringing common birds in the garden and out and about maintaining feed stations but didn't manage to find anything of note.

Eleanor paid a visit to Harrington Airfield and located a flock of about sixty Skylarks on the top fields, a pair of Grey Partridge and good numbers of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches etc coming down to the feed.


Neil M

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Otters by torchlight!


Chris Payne was active this morning down in the Bradden area in South Northants. Plenty of nest-boxes going up in preparation for the new season and some ringing too with nearly 40 birds captured which included a 'new' flock of 10 Long-tailed Tits, 4 Robins and a couple of Dunnocks. One Blue Tit was a 'Control' which means it was already ringed and from another area as yet to be ascertained. Chris reports that the Nuthatches were very vocal and the Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming well. I'm sure we'll have some cold weather to come, but there is plenty of evidence that the new season is not too far away now!

On Sunday evening Jim Dunkley again tried for the Otters at Market Harborough and this time he had considerable success with an active romp of a female and three pups on the River Welland not far from the railway station. Jim has been speaking with the locals and although the Otters can show at any time, and anywhere along the river, the early morning and evening seems to be their particularly active periods. Watching them by torchlight in the evening apparently doesn't put them off! The Harborough Mail newspaper is also reporting regular sightings too during the last week or so...

Eleanor was out and about at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell this evening and saw two pairs of Stonechat and a hunting Barn Owl. Yesterday evening saw a roadside Barn Owl near Spratton too.


Neil M

Rook with deformed bill.
A species that seems particularly
susceptible to bill and feet deformities.

A hand-fed Robin.
Meal-worms can make
 such birds very tame!

Grey Wagtail
River Welland
Market Harborough

All images courtesy of
Jim Dunkley.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Birds in winter sunshine


John Woollett and team committed to some ringing at Stortons Gravel Pits yesterday (Sunday) and caught a good number of birds, some attracted to the feeders there. Reed Bunting was the most common bird caught, with plenty of new birds, some re-traps from previous years and a bird bearing a ring from elsewhere (not sure where yet). A marauding Sparrowhawk hit the nets but bounced out and wasn't captured.

John Gamble was up at Deenethorpe yesterday afternoon and captured some fine shots of a/the wintering Great Grey Shrike present there (please see images below).

Some ringing around the main feeding station at Pitsford Reservoir yesterday afternoon and this morning provided 49 captures which included 31 new birds. These were made up of 9 Yellowhammers, 2 Reed Buntings, 6 Tree Sparrows, 3 Chaffinches, 6 Greenfinches, 3 Goldfinches and 2 Starlings. The female Stonechat is still present in the Scaldwell Bay (the male disappeared in late December), and a singing Willow Tit was again present around the Fishing Lodge.


Neil M

Great Grey Shrike
at Deenethorpe

Courtesy of John Gamble

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A sunny day in February


An improvement in the weather today with plenty of long sunny spells bringing forth plenty of bird song. Two Ravens were noted at Haselbech Hill this morning.

A visit to Brixworth Water Treatment Works provided at least a couple of Grey Wagtails and a Chiffchaff and the filter beds were busy with plenty of Pied Wagtails.

Birds noted at Pitsford Reservoir today included the three White-fronted Geese and two Ruddy Shelduck in the Pintail Bay (about 11am), a Willow Tit in trees next to the Fishing Lodge and a Woodcock at Christies Copse in the Walgrave Bay.

The day finished with a fabulous sunset and a calling Grey Partridge in a hillside field at Hanging Houghton.


Neil M

A selection of Pied Wagtail images from today

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Ringing at Kelmarsh


Today a period of bird ringing took place at Kelmarsh Hall in slightly milder conditions of late. A total of 98 birds were captured which included plenty of typical woodland birds, perhaps highlighted by a male Sparrowhawk, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Nuthatch and a sprightly male Goldcrest. A pair of Raven were very vocal.

This afternoon a wander around in Sunderland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate provided a selection of common woodland birds including three Woodcock.


Neil M

Male Sparrowhawk at Kelmarsh Hall
today, judged to be a bird now in its
third calendar year.

Images courtesy of Jacob Spinks
 and Neil Hasdell.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Ditchford WeBS Count


This morning people representing DEFRA were again at Pitsford Reservoir, hellbent on destroying the very last male Ruddy Duck on site. So with boats and shooters all south of the causeway and access prevented to the reserve for visitors, yet again all the local wildlife was disturbed to execute what I consider a completely misguided policy. I guess they killed the innocent duck and it and I will never understand the justification when there are far more important environmental issues to tackle. I rarely enter the political world to make my comments publicly, but this whole process has made my blood boil and I know I'm not alone.

Much of the day was taken up completing the February WeBS count at Ditchford Gravel Pits. Plenty of ice on the pits but very, very muddy around the edges! In pleasant weather, the birding was quiet with the highlights being two Great White Egrets (one west of Ditchford Lane and another on the main pit between Higham Ferrers and Irthlingborough), 16 Egyptian Geese (on and around the Watersport Pit west of Ditchford Lane) and a couple of mobile Goosander. Other birds included four Kingfishers, a Little Egret, just one Chiffchaff, three Cetti's Warblers and a Water Rail.


Neil M

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Fineshade Wood update and request...

Hello again

Last Friday we had some disappointing news: our legal request to Eric Pickle’s department to enforce an Environmental Impact Assessment was rejected. This means that there is now nothing to hold East Northants Council back from making a decision.  This will be on 18thFebruary.

We have also learned that members of the council’s Development Control Committee, the councillors who actually decide Fineshade’s future, have paid a visit to Forest Holiday’s existing site at Sherwood Pines and some of them were impressed by it. On the same day they were brought here and shown parts of the Fineshade site. It was an unpleasant January day, they were not taken to key positions to see, for example, the proximity of the proposed Retreat complex to the walking track. The Forestry Commission hosted this, no local residents were allowed anywhere near them.

All this may mean that the councillors who spoke strongly against the development at the previous meeting in November may well feel differently now.

So please could we have your strong support again in a final attempt to save Fineshade Wood from this exploitation?  There is no doubt that last time councillors had been very influenced by the number and quality of the individual communications that they had received through the post. Some spoke of “all the lovely letters” they had received, which had made them aware of just how strongly Fineshade is valued by local visitors and those from further afield, as well as local residents.  Councillors know that it is much easier to fire off an email than it is to write a letter so they tend to be more influenced by things that drop onto their doormat. Could you please spare the time to write to three, five, more (or all!) members of the planning committee now?
Timing is very important! Letters need to be sent so that they arrive ideally between Friday 13th and Tuesday 17th  February. There are suggestions as to what you could say below.  We believe it is best to keep to one issue and develop that strongly in your own words (even though you may feel strongly about many of the issues). Names and addresses of councillors are in the attached file. Some councillors do not often check their council email accounts.
Please help us to send some more “lovely letters”. We’ll be in touch again nearer the time advising about emails you could send later.  Thanks so much for your support.
On behalf of Fineshade Residents

!! STOP PRESS !! We have just heard that local labour MP Andy Sawford will be coming to visit on Friday 13th February between 10 and 11 am. We hope local press and television will be here. If you live locally please can you come along to help make clear the depth of local opposition to this development. More details later.

Ideas for letters
Address the councillor by name. Refer to planning application 14/01704/FUL, 70 Holiday cabins in Fineshade Wood. Give your name, address and perhaps phone number. Say that you have already filed a formal objection but want to bring a particular issue to their attention.

Possible issues: Choose one to develop with passion!  Don’t forget to use different words from these!

a) Loss of your amenity.  You visit Fineshade for its tranquillity  (see point d below), because it’s a great place to come with the family/walk the dog/cycle and that you value it as it is now. (It won’t help to say that you preferred it as it was a few years ago!). Make it as personal and touching as possible. The new development will turn a large part of Fineshade into effectively a holiday camp, you’ll be able to see the buildings through the trees, there will be cars moving through the woodland night and day, noise of children playing, noise from heat source pumps, hundreds of people (352 bed-spaces)

b) Wildlife. There are very special, but elusive, species such as Dormice, Great-crested Newts, Nightjars, Adders and other reptiles, rare butterflies, that have retreated away from the visitors into the large undisturbed area that is now to be changed into what’s effectively a housing estate. All the expert wildlife agencies agree this should not happen. The Council’s own ecology advisors (the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants) have produced the very strongest possible objection to the scheme. You do not believe that Forest Holidays will keep to their own wildlife surveyor’s very restrictive statements in their planning application e.g  She says: “Where access tracks and buildings are positioned in woodland areas unsuitable for reptiles, a fingertip search must be carried out for Amphibians prior to the commencement of works” and “Tree felling works must avoid the Crossbill and other bird nesting seasons (January through to end August).” Will East Northants be able to enforce that these necessary restrictions are carried out by this predatory applicant, who is in such a hurry? They will not.

c) Road issues. Despite the wishy-washy, non committal comment from Northants Highways, you know that the A43 junction is really dangerous (because….), that the single track lane up to the Visitor Centre is already at full capacity at peak times (because….), that the junction in front of the visitor centre is already confusing and dangerous, that running a new access route through the existing FC car park is foolhardy in the extreme, that there is an alternative access route around the Forest Road to the north of the site, that the proposed emergency access route using Duddington Lane has not been properly assessed or surveyed. (More details? see objection by Barrie Galpin on behalf of Fineshade residents.)

d) Planning policy is against this development. Refer to the detailed objection by Louise Duggan on behalf of Fineshade residents which uses the NPPF and existing local policy documents CSS, RNOTP etc.) Then point out that the new policy document which is currently out for consultation, the Joint Core Strategy 2011-2031 opposes the development. Policy 3 states that the development should preserve tranquillity within the newly recognised King’s Cliffe Hills and Valleys Landscape Character Area of which Fineshade is a part. National planning policy says there must be a presumption in favour of sustainable development… but this is not sustainable (For more detail see objection from Paul Hackett)

e) Comparison with FH Sherwood. Point out that, although they might have been impressed by Sherwood Pines, it is in old-style FC conifer woodland (the clue is in the name!). Fineshade is a mix of Ancient Woodland with naturally regenerating broadleaved woodland of very high landscape and biodiversity values. It’s a Local Wildlife Site which Sherwood certainly was not. There may be a place for such developments in low-grade plantation woodland but not here in East Northants’ wildlife gem. Also point out that once the initial Sherwood site was approved (60 cabins) there was a succession of further application and many more cabins squeezed in (now 86). Councillors will have seen that there are a lot of vehicles at the Sherwood site! You might also like to point to severe environmental problems at some of Forest Holidays other sites such as their most recent one in Norfolk. (see point f)

f) Sewage (and hot tub) problems. Refer to the way in which FH have slipped in a plan to install a Package Treatment Plant for sewage. Make a reference to the recent objection on website from Shirley Martin and in particular the photo showing industrial-scale excavation when one was installed at another FH site, the stench, the flies etc. At Fineshade the plans show that this will go in a currently unsurveyed area of coppiced woodland, thick with hazel, brambles and thick vegetation – the very best area for dormice but nobody knows if there are any there, as its almost impenetrable.  See also Mrs Martin’s most recent objection re discharge of chlorinated water from over 60 Hot tubs!

g) Fineshade Site Visit.  Point out the deficiency of their official Fineshade site visit and suggest they come to visit the site with you and/or residents. They are allowed to make "informal site visits" to properly see for themselves the problems.

h) Site of retreat. This will be immediately adjacent to one of the most used walking areas - now that there are no leaves on the hedgerows you can see its site and that of the adjacent large carpark and play area very easily indeed. Many large oaks will be felled. Prime butterfly habitat lost, close to houses etc. (More details, see objection from Tricia Galpin on behalf of Fineshade Residents)


Barrie Galpin

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Dog-walking birds


Some incidental birding while I was out maintaining feed stations this morning provided a Raven in Kelmarsh village and a Willow Tit singing briefly at Scotland Wood (Kelmarsh Estate).

Exercising the dogs and jogging around Pitsford Reservoir south of the causeway late morning provided views of the pair of Ruddy Shelduck with Canada Geese in a grass field near to Pintail Bay. Two Snipe and two Jack Snipe were flushed and a Grey Wagtail noted.

More dog walking around Harlestone Heath this afternoon provided views of a Raven but little else of note.


Neil M

Harlestone Heath

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Smew Portrait


Robin Gossage has kindly forwarded some images of three Smew at Pitsford Reservoir today (of four present). 

Pitsford is a regular winter venue for this striking 'sawbill' duck but regular birds are currently being reported at nearby Ravensthorpe Reservoir and Stanwick Lakes with a single bird at Stortons GP and a few being seen at Sywell Country Park too.

Relatively small numbers of Smew winter in the UK and Northamptonshire is an important area with both Pitsford and Ravensthorpe being ranked as nationally important for this scarce species.

Adult drakes sport the white elongated crest and are effectively known as 'white nuns' with their plumage combination and patterns of white, black and silver. The females and young males are known as 'redheads' and they display a rich chestnut crown and nape which dulls and is replaced in males as they moult in to nuptial plumage. 

Smew do not breed in the UK, probably the closest breeding area being Belarus, and occupy similar breeding habitat as the Goldeneye.


Neil M

Smew at Pitsford Reservoir
Courtesy of Robin Gossage.



Yesterday Eleanor saw two Bramblings flying around at Harrington Airfield and 38 Blackbirds emerged from the bushes to feast on the distributed seed and other offerings!  This morning there was a female Brambling down on the seed by the concrete track entrance.

This morning a female Brambling visited us in the front garden here at Hanging Houghton, so it seems that small numbers of this species may be moving in response to some cold weather further to the north and east.


Neil M

Monday, 2 February 2015

The value of ringing re-traps


A ringing session took place at Brixworth Water Treatment Works today which resulted in a relatively modest catch of birds. This included six new Pied Wagtails, four Meadow Pipits and a re-trap Grey Wagtail.

Other birds noted on-site included 1-2 Chiffchaff, up to 3/4 Grey Wagtails, 2 Snipe and a Golden Plover flew over.

The ringed Grey Wagtail was first ringed there as a juvenile male on 26th August 2013 and a re-trap Long-tailed Tit was first ringed here at Hanging Houghton on 5th November 2011. 

Most Meadow Pipits that we notice moving through the county in the autumn seem to linger for a few days and then move on. An adult re-trapped today was first ringed at the same place in October 2014 and re-trapped again in December 2014. Clearly this bird is wintering successfully in and around the treatment works!

We have been fortunate to catch and ring good numbers of Pied Wagtails at this site during the winter months and await with interest any recoveries from these efforts. It is generally accepted that the southern half of the UK provides wintering quarters for Pied Wagtails that breed in northern England and Scotland.  The turn-over of birds is clearly significant to the degree that we have yet to re-trap a single individual.

Eleanor enjoyed a spectacle in the garden this afternoon when two Red Kites were attracted to some food put out for the local Jackdaws. A second helping including raw chicken ensured that one of the kites actually landed in our small enclosed garden, the first time we have actually seen one 'on the deck'!


Neil M