Sunday, 31 May 2015

Indoor meeting Wednesday 3rd June


This is a reminder to members of the Northants Bird Club and an invitation to non-members to attend an indoor meeting at The Fishing Lodge, Pitsford Reservoir, Brixworth Road, Holcot (NN6 9SJ) this coming Wednesday evening (3rd June).

Our speaker for the evening is Chris Ward who will be providing a presentation on the wildlife of Namibia called 'Etosha and the Skeleton Coast. Exciting birds, fantastic and easy to photograph mammals and unique landscapes - Namibia has it all'.

The meeting will commence at 7.30pm and Chris will begin his presentation after the usual notices. Hot drinks and biscuits will be available during the evening and everyone is welcome!


Neil M

Great Bustards and more...


The Northants Bird Club car trip today took us to Wiltshire and to Salisbury Plain, and the home of the Great Bustard reintroduction scheme. Committee member Mark Williams had organised an opportunity to hopefully see adult wild-flying Great Bustards on the plain, and despite the windy and initially wet weather we straightaway found nine birds congregated in a small field.

Here we watched them strut their stuff and nearby a pair of Stone Curlew revealed they had two chicks and we watched as they fed worms to their offspring. A Quail called briefly, a Hobby caught a passerine in front of us and a Stoat showed briefly. Corn Buntings were common as were Skylarks, Linnets and corvids.

We subsequently visited nearby Pewsey Downs Nature Reserve but it was too breezy and dull for interesting insects. The views over the chalk downs were stunning and birds included Redstart, Raven, Hobby and another calling Quail.

Our final venue for the day was a visit to the RSPB reserve at Otmoor near Oxford. Although it remained breezy, there were bright periods and at the end even some proper sunshine! A good selection of interesting birds included an Osprey, a Marsh Harrier, a Hobby, several Red Kites, a couple of showy Turtle Doves, a Ross's Goose and breeding Snipe, Lapwing and Redshank.

Eleanor stayed locally and an excursion up to a wet and windy Harrington Airfield this morning provided views of a Great White Egret flying over the site towards Pitsford Reservoir at about 7.30am. This is believed to be a new species for this location. Other birds included a singing Grasshopper Warbler, two 'purring' Turtle Doves and a calling Quail in a grassy area near the end of the concrete track.

Birds this evening at Blueberry Farm included the Quail calling in Big Lichfields, a singing Grasshopper Warbler in Hill Field and a Hobby.


Neil M

Great Bustards
Salisbury Plain

Pewsey Downs

Cardinal Beetle

Blue Tit

Turtle Dove

Saturday, 30 May 2015

New migrants arrive


This morning I completed a six hour Common Bird Census around the reserve section of Pitsford Reservoir. The conditions were very pleasant and the bird song excellent. Nothing rare was located but two singing Spotted Flycatchers were singing at each other in the Walgrave Bay and a flock of Crossbills were heard but not seen near to the Fishing Lodge. 

Today three singing Sedge Warblers were on-site but the numbers of Reed Warblers present remains very low. Garden Warblers, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers were singing well and Chiffchaffs less so. Marsh Tits were found in a couple of areas and three nests of Great Spotted Woodpecker were located. Breeding Common Terns, the pair of Oystercatcher, two drake Pochard and several loafing Gadwall were all in the Scaldwell Bay.

In the meantime the southerly airflow was clearly influencing new arrivals in the county. Eleanor located a Black Redstart at Harrington Airfield (in the small ploughed area at the very end of the concrete track) and a pair of Grey Partridge, and a singing Quail was audible from the Brampton Valley Way just south of the Kelmarsh tunnels.

This afternoon an adult Peregrine flew over Hanging Houghton carrying prey and a Siskin flew west.

This evening at Blueberry Farm, a Quail was calling very loudly from Big Lichfields and more routine birds included a singing Grasshopper Warbler, a Hobby and two hunting Barn Owls.


Neil M

Great Crested Grebes
Pitsford Reservoir

Thursday, 28 May 2015

County Breeding Birds


At this time of the year it is busy for the Northants Ringing Group ringers running nest box and nest recording schemes and Constant Effort Sites (CES).

Intensive CES projects are run by Ian Wrisdale over at Stanwick GP, Dave Francis in the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Res and members of the Stanford Reservoir Ringing Group at Stanford Reservoir.

At Pitsford Res yesterday, Dave and Lynne Barnett completed the third CES session which provided captures of 53 birds made up of a Goldcrest, a Treecreeper, 3 Robins, 2 Wrens, 4 Song Thrushes, 6 Blackbirds, a Bullfinch, a Greenfinch, 6 Great Tits, 8 Blue Tits, 5 Long-tailed Tits, 3 Reed Buntings, a Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warblers, 7 Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff. This total is in keeping with similar figures in previous years, suggesting there is a reasonable adult population of birds on-site this year.

A check of the tern rafts revealed 17 active Common Tern nests and the pair of Oystercatcher with a nest too.

Earlier in the week, Chris Payne was busy in the south of the county checking Swallow nests, nest-boxes and the like. He ringed a single Tawny Owl chick too (please see the images below).


Neil M

Tawny Owl chick
courtesy of Chris Payne

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Cattle Egrets!


Eleanor was out and about early as usual this morning and whilst at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell witnessed two Cattle Egrets flying over the complex, disappearing off over the Cottesbrooke Estate towards Hollowell Reservoir. The birds were calling and neither bird appeared to be in full breeding plumage. Other birds at Blueberry included a singing Grasshopper Warbler and a Hobby.

A subsequent check at Hollowell Res failed to locate the egrets, birds noted there included a Dunlin, three Little Ringed Plovers, a drake Wigeon and a Spotted Flycatcher. A further Spotted Flycatcher was recorded at Lamport Hall.

This afternoon and evening saw an excursion out to Stanwick Gravel Pits and eventually the possible Azorean Gull appeared on the main pit. This bird has been present some time and seen most days by the finder and Stanwick guru Steve Fisher. It seems that the hooded streaking is beginning to fade but the dark markings around the eye remains distinctive. It may never be possible to prove this bird to be the distinctive Azorean race of Yellow-legged Gull but well done to Steve for continuing to check through the bewildering medley of gulls at Stanwick and picking out various interesting individuals over the years.

At least four Yellow-legged Gulls were also present this afternoon, plus a very bleached and pale immature Caspian Gull too.

Most of the big gulls visiting Stanwick are non-breeders but a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gull are nesting on the A45 pit island and causing some consternation. The gulls were clearly concerned about a pair of clumsy Canada Geese and their goslings waddling around the island with an adult repeatedly mobbing the geese. No sooner was this over and the pair of Oystercatcher nesting on the same island decided to mob one of the gulls relentlessly. What it must be like to be popular!


Neil M

A Fox walking up the hill meets a Dog
walking down the hill. They both sat
and watched each other for some time
before the Fox decided to exit through the
hedge in a very cool manner!
Images courtesy of Eleanor.

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit

Some lambs in the Northants
countryside are already three
months old, whilst some are still
being born. This little chap was at
Hollowell Res.

Male Reed Bunting
Hollowell Res

Lesser Black-backed Gull
versus Canada Goose. Nationally
it may be something of a surprise to
learn that the LBb Gull is declining
markedly as a breeding species, despite
the fact that they are spreading inland
and breeding in urban areas and retail/
industrial estates on large
flat roofs.

Lesser Black-backed Gull versus Oystercatcher

Common Tern

Black-headed Gull

Monday, 25 May 2015

On-going monitoring


Yesterday (Sunday), John Woollett and team completed a short ringing session at Stortons Gravel Pits and caught nearly forty birds which included 7 Reed Warblers, 2 Sedge Warblers, 2 Cetti's Warblers, 2 Blackcaps, 3 Garden Warblers, 3 Whitethroats and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Today and it was time for some more nest box monitoring on the Kelmarsh Estate, this time at Rabbithill Spinney and New Covert. Some additional mist-netting at the former site provided us with singles of Treecreeper, Marsh Tit and Blackcap. Six Crossbills flew over the wood flying strongly in a westerly direction at 9.15am and Spotted Flycatchers were present in both woods.

This afternoon visits to Blueberry Farm provided views of one or two pair(s) of Grey Partridge, a Hobby and scarce breeders Lesser Whitethroat and Meadow Pipit.


Neil M


Marsh Tit

Images courtesy of Lynne Barnett

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Scotland Wood


Lynne Barnett and I were checking nest-boxes this morning in Scotland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate. We also had a couple of mist nets in situ which we checked periodically between boxes.

The take-up rate for the boxes this year has been high, suggesting plenty of birds in reasonable condition made it through the winter. Only one box held a surprise inasmuch as it contained a brood of Blue Tits and one Coal Tit nestling! I think that Blue Tits had usurped Coal Tits earlier on in the season but not before the female Coal Tit had laid one egg. This egg presumably had stayed warm and probably hatched before the Blue Tit nestlings. The single youngster was certainly bigger than the nestling Blue Tits and no doubt was receiving more than it's fair share of food! However this is one Coal Tit with an identity crisis as it probably thinks it is a Blue Tit!

The mist nets caught a couple each of Great Tit, Robin and Blackcap and then our second surprise of the day when we found a Jay rolling around in the net. On examination the bird appeared to be an adult female and no doubt breeding in the wood.

Spotted Flycatchers have been much more obvious this week-end, with probably some passage birds on top of our thin scattering of breeders. Certainly most of the villages and woods near to us have calling birds at the moment, but not all will stay to breed.

This evening, Eleanor's daily wander around the Brampton valley below Hanging Houghton paid off with a decent view of a 'cream crown' Marsh Harrier flying south towards Brixworth. Other birds included a Barn Owl in the same area and another one at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell.


Neil M


Blackcap nest and eggs

All images courtesy of
Lynne Barnett

Friday, 22 May 2015

Wood Warbler


A singing Wood Warbler was found at Pitsford Res this morning and was still present and very vocal at 12.10pm. It was spending all of its time in trees between the Fishing Lodge and the main Holcot to Brixworth road, generally high up in the foliage but occasionally showing rather well. Two pairs of Spotted Flycatcher were present in the same trees.

This morning there were two singing Grasshopper Warblers at Blueberry Farm but little else of note.


Neil M

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Breeding birds


News came through today of the original ringing details of a Grey Wagtail bearing a ring and caught at Kelmarsh Hall in March this year. This bird was originally ringed as a nestling in Hallaton, Leicestershire in 2013. When we caught her this year she was aged as an adult female and she was with an unringed singing male. It is likely that this pair are in the process of breeding locally, not breeding far from where she was originally raised - just 18km in fact!

Checks of the nest-boxes at Pitsford Reservoir today by Dave Francis and Lynne Barnett produced some results which were not wholly unexpected but still not welcome. Not only are many of the broods of tit small, five broods have perished due to the wet and cold of the last week. Sadly this included our brood of Marsh Tits. I will be checking nest-boxes on the Kelmarsh Estate this week-end and I predict similar results for the earlier broods. However some early brood Great Tits have already flown the nest so it is not all doom and gloom!

Chris Payne in the south of the county has probably been faring better and his nesting exploits today included finding a Swallow nest with eggs, Blue Tits and Blackbirds with healthy broods and a Wren nest with five young.


Neil M

Blue Tit with young

A nestful of young Blackbirds which
will soon be vacating. Although not ideal
for any species, the cool and wet spring
to date will have provided an opportunity for
Blackbirds and Song Thrushes to produce some
early flush of success to the breeding season.

Wren nest

All images courtesy
of  Chris Payne. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Pitsford Common Bird Census


This morning I walked the reserve section of Pitsford Reservoir to complete the regular Common Bird Census. It was remarkably cold first thing this morning, to the point that I suspect some of the usual early morning activity/singing was suppressed. Although a little showery it was reasonably bright and the usual species eventually appeared!

Single Spotted Flycatchers were located in each of the main bays, but Reed Warblers were in very short supply and only one pair of Sedge Warbler was located. Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were present in good numbers but the Garden Warblers weren't very vocal.

A Little Egret was in the Holcot Bay, a female Shoveler was looking a little maternal in the Scaldwell Bay and the pair of Oystercatcher were high profile all morning. Small numbers of Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls are clearly attracted to the rafts in the Scaldwell Bay.

A single Willow Tit was found in the Scaldwell Bay and two Marsh Tit territories were confirmed. A singing Yellow Wagtail was holding territory near the Willow Hide and quite a number of fledglings were out and about the reserve, including Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit.

A Hobby was at Harrington Airfield this morning and a singing Grasshopper Warbler was again heard in the southern-most field at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell.


Neil M

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Spotlight on Titchmarsh LNR


Titchmarsh Local Nature Reserve is a Wildlife Trust managed reserve within the Thrapston Gravel pits complex along the Nene Valley between Thrapston and Thorpe Waterville. This area has long been visited by birdwatchers and other naturalists but is perhaps less-visited that some other sites in our extensive river valley system.

The Spring is perhaps one of the more interesting seasons at this site with all the summer visitors active and noisy. Positive management provides opportunities for breeding wildfowl and colonies of Black-headed Gull and Common Tern. Grey Herons nest in reasonable numbers, with the potential for Little Egret too, and other breeders include Kingfisher, birds of prey and Sand Martins making use of a specially provided construction.

Most years there are a few Nightingales and Cuckoos and often ten species of warbler breeding too. In fact it is the singing warblers in the scrub, light woodland and reed-beds that provide much of the action, and provides a great opportunity to learn the songs of these busy migrants.

Overhead there are always House Martins, Swallows and Swifts and often Hobby too.

As the season progresses, insects such as dragonflies become more prominent, and of course the acrobatic Hobby takes full advantage!

A well-marked circular walk provides appropriate access to the reserve and with several waterside hides to permit even closer views. Other pits adjacent to the reserve include Town Lake and the Elinor Trout Lake providing further diversity of habitat, and it takes a day or half a day to bird the whole complex thoroughly.

Access is possible from a number of points including a small car park on the outskirts of Aldwincle village and also a track off the A605 opposite the turning for Titchmarsh village.

A regular group of amateur naturalists are often on-site and delight in pointing out the wildlife highlights.

News has now come through of one of the Common Cranes photographed over the reserve last Friday. The colour-ring sequence apparently confirms that this bird, known as Beatrice, is a captive-bred bird from the Crane project. She was hatched on 28th April 2011 and released in to the wild on 22nd August 2011. Since then she has spent much of her time on the Somerset Levels, sometimes wandering over to Slimbridge (Gloucestershire) for short periods. More recently she has been seen with an unringed and unknown bird to the project. It has also been reported that Beatrice and an unringed bird were on the Ouse Washes on Monday this week! My thanks to local birder John Finlayson for his research and liaison.


Neil M


Cetti's Warbler


Garden Warbler

Reed Warbler

Willow Warbler

Sedge Warbler

All images courtesy of
John Finlayson

Monday, 18 May 2015



Out and about in a variety of weather today but didn't really see much out of the ordinary. Eleanor managed a Barn Owl in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this evening but spent some of her time trying to capture the below stunning rainbow...


Neil M

Sun-blanched Yellow Wagtail

Rainbow in the Brampton Valley
below Hanging Houghton this evening.

All images courtesy of Eleanor