Sunday, 17 December 2017

Pitsford ringing...


A short ringing session at Pitsford Reservoir today (curtailed by the weather) provided 43 captures which included a Moorhen, a Fieldfare, 8 Blackbirds, 4 Robins, 5 Dunnocks, a Wren, 8 Blue Tits, 4 Great Tits, a Coal Tit, 3 Tree Sparrows, 2 Goldfinches, 3 Chaffinches and 2 Reed Buntings. Interestingly the Moorhen was originally ringed at the same place back in November 2011.

Eleanor visited Harrington Airfield and fed the birds today, 3 Bramblings joining the throng on the concrete track. Two Woodcock were flushed between the first and second bunkers.

Eleanor's purple patch with owls continued when she found two more Long-eared Owls at a private site today, and also saw her usual Barn Owl in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton.


Neil M

This morning's sunrise.
 'Red sky in the morning
shepherds warning', and so
it proved to be with rain
from lunchtime...

Fieldfare in a Dog Rose.

Jaeger, the latest edition
to the family and now 7
months old...will he ever
stop growing?

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Cold winter birding!


A modest ringing session today at Sunderland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate provided 47 captures made up of a Treecreeper, 3 Goldcrests, 4 Dunnocks, 5 Robins, a Blackbird, 7 Great Tits, 22 Blue Tits, a Marsh Tit, a Coal Tit and 2 Nuthatches.

The birding was better quality with a Hawfinch flying north over the wood at 8.50am, a Redpoll, a couple of Siskins, 1-2 Woodcock, a Barn Owl and 2 Tawny Owls. One or two Siskins were noted nearby at Kelmarsh Hall and Scotland Wood.

A third year Caspian Gull showed again in the gull roost at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon, the only other noteworthy bird seen being a Grey Wagtail.

Eleanor saw 6 Ravens and 2 Bramblings at Staverton, the juvenile Whooper Swan, 3 Great White Egrets and 2 Green Sandpipers at Ravensthorpe Reservoir and her daily patch birding in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton successfully located the Long-eared Owl again (flight only), the usual Barn Owl and 2 Woodcock.


Neil M

Blue Tit exhibiting a
significant 'crossbill'
deformity. However this
bird was a normal weight
so is clearly adapting to this
aberrant bill growth.

Male Nuthatch
Sunderland Wood.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Friday's birds


Yesterday (Thursday) and Jacob saw a male Brambling with a large flock of Chaffinches at Moulton College.

I carried out a part-WeBS count at Ditchford Gravel Pits today, checking the pits between the Bailey Bridge and viaduct west of Ditchford Lane. Some of the pits were still affected by ice and the wildfowl numbers were generally low as a result. Highlights included a Peregrine, four Goosanders, a Black Swan, four Snipe, a Raven, two Kingfishers, two Cetti's Warblers and three Stonechats.

Eleanor saw her usual Barn Owl in the Brampton Valley below  Hanging Houghton but also accidentally flushed a Long-eared Owl from a hedge. This species is both sensitive and scarce, it will be interesting to see if this bird settles to winter or as is more usual, never be seen again!

Jacob caught a Tree Sparrow at the Old Scaldwell Road Feeding Station, Pitsford Reservoir back on 2nd December bearing a ring we didn't recognise. It transpires that this bird was ringed as a nestling at Stanford Reservoir on 15th July 2017. This is one of several Tree Sparrows over the years that have moved between the Tree Sparrow colonies at both reservoirs, both populations supported with on-site feeding stations.


Neil M

Male Bullfinch.

Female Bullfinch.

Common Buzzard.

Carrion Crow enjoying
a wash!

All images courtesy of
John Tilly.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A rather grey and wet Wednesday!


Birds north of the causeway this morning at Pitsford Reservoir included two Great White Egrets, a Shelduck, a Redshank, a Siskin and two Stonechats. The gull roost this afternoon attracted a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and a third year Caspian Gull, and there was a Grey Wagtail on the shoreline.

Birds in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton today included a Barn Owl, a Woodcock, six Grey Partridges and a couple of Redpolls.

A couple of ringing recoveries have been received as follows:-

Z310685 refers to a Blue Tit first ringed at Scotland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate on 18th February 2015. It was aged as a bird hatched in 2014. This bird was caught in a mist net at Stanford Reservoir on 15th November this year, 1001 days later and 14km west of where first encountered, this bird now being over three years old.

GR73927 refers to a drake Mallard that was caught and ringed at Pitsford Reservoir on 1st April 2016. This bird was shot near Lamport on or about 6th December this year. This accords with many of the Mallard which have been ringed at Pitsford over the last fifteen years or so, the majority do not seem to travel far and end up being shot!


Neil M

Blue Tit.

Drake Mallard.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Marsh Tit.


No birds of note seen today so some images of one our scarcer birds to be found in the woodlands of Northamptonshire, the Marsh Tit. This is a species which nationally is on the decline, but not as much as the rapidly vanishing Willow Tit which it closely resembles. However in Northamptonshire the Marsh Tit appears to be holding its own and is still to be found in most mature woodlands and indeed in sub-optimal woodland habitat too. 

Strongly territorial, once birds establish themselves following post-breeding dispersal, these birds will stick to 'their' wood or part of a wood if a large woodland complex. However they regularly visit feeding stations in the winter and will venture away from their preferred habitat to do so (birds were regular visitors to the Summer Leys nature reserve feeding station last winter).

Visually these birds are easy to overlook but audibly they are rarely quiet and like most tits have a significant repertoire of calls and rather less variation in their songs. The biggest Marsh Tits overlap the smallest Blue Tits in size but are generally smaller than the Blue but bigger than the Coal Tit. Like all tits they will use holes in trees and sometimes will take to standard tit boxes to rear their young; they like to partly excavate or physically manipulate a nesting site but generally do not excavate or create a nest site to the extent of the industrious Willow Tit.

Sunflower seeds (with or without husks) are their favourite artificial food and birds quickly tame up where this food is offered. They will also consume bird fat, peanuts, niger seed, mealworms and other seeds too. It is likely that this species is present in all reasonable-sized woods in the county which offer at least some mature deciduous trees, hazel, thorn bushes (with berries) and standing rank vegetation with seed heads or similar.

Precocious, noisy, expeditious and full of bounce, these birds always make me smile when they come bounding along a woodland ride in the winter to see what I have for them, or later in the spring singing their rich if repetitive song from the cover of new buds and  leaves...


Neil M

Marsh Tits at
Scotland Wood,
Kelmarsh Estate.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Snowy landscapes


Well I don't think the snow is going anywhere just yet! So I spent the morning visiting feeding stations on the Kelmarsh Estate, the deep snow making it a much slower process than normal! Many tree branches were lowered to the floor, bearing the weight of the snow, and after tonight they will have the extra burden of ice too! Snow-bound trees look especially beautiful with un-coppiced hazel seemingly taking centre stage.

Bird-wise it seemed quiet, a single flying Woodcock at Sunderland Wood being the only noteworthy bird on my morning saunter. Toiling through the snow and clearing ground for the birds to feed at Harrington Airfield soon had me sweating; the birds were quiet here too with just three Golden Plovers and two Snipe being the only observations of note.

Jacob spent some of the day at Pitsford Reservoir today in iconic wintery weather. His bird tally amounted to two Great White Egrets, eight Pintail, two Goosanders, a Barnacle Goose, two Redshank, six Snipe, two Woodcock, seven Golden Plovers and a Grey Wagtail. The gull roost contained an influx in Common Gulls but a reduction in Black-headed Gulls plus also a first year Mediterranean Gull and a first year Yellow-legged Gull.


Neil M

Scotland Wood,
Kelmarsh Estate.

Pitsford Reservoir, courtesy
of Jacob Spinks.

Harrington Airfield
courtesy of Eleanor McMahon.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

A snowy December day!


Late last night there was a Barn Owl active on the outskirts of Old village, no doubt looking for food before the dump of snow which began a few hours later...

An organised walk at Pitsford Reservoir today had to be cancelled at short notice, such was the amount of snow puthering down. It was almost impossible to birdwatch in any event, such was the amount of snow coming down and the dull murky conditions combining to make it almost a waste of time raising binoculars.

Clearing snow for birds on the main feed station also proved difficult, no sooner had I cleared an area and the snow covered it again! Hopefully most of them managed something to eat! Six Snipe were the only birds of note I saw.

In the garden here at Hanging Houghton the birds flocked in for food, particularly Blackbirds and finches. A Mistle Thrush and a Redwing were eating the Guelder Rose berries and a Redwing and some Fieldfares came in for some apples.

A visit to Harrington Airfield this afternoon was hard going in the deep snow and flocks of 17 Golden Plovers and 20 Skylarks looked very forlorn in the big 'white-out' of the top fields. A single Snipe was seen in flight and there were still Fieldfares trying to find the very last of the berries. Harrington Airfield is often described as being bleak, it certainly was today!


Neil M

Wintery weather
at Pitsford Reservoir.

Harrington Airfield
in the snow!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Incoming cold weather


Jacob reported that Pitsford Reservoir seemed quiet today but he still found a third year Caspian Gull, a Great White Egret, a Shelduck, eight Pintails, two Redshank, a Green Sandpiper, a Raven and a Grey Wagtail. Eric Graham visited the Titchmarsh Reserve today and saw a Great White Egret there too plus a Redpoll.

I spent some of today topping up bird feeders in anticipation of the severe frost tonight and snow during the early hours of tomorrow. Whilst doing so I heard a Hawfinch calling at Scotland Wood (Kelmarsh Estate) and saw a Siskin and a Woodcock there. Nearby there was a flock of at least twenty Siskins at Kelmarsh Hall.


Neil M

Great White Egret.
Freezing temperatures
and ice may well displace
our wintering GWEs onto
streams and brooks...

Male Siskin on a nyger
feeder. These small finches
can turn up on garden feeders
at any time of the year but
the late winter/early spring
is the period when they flock
to feeding stations.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Friday's sightings


An early morning and rather cool walk at Harrington Airfield failed to find much of interest although a flock of 23 Golden Plovers were flying about.

Eleanor took a walk around Sywell Country Park early this afternoon and noted a Little Egret, a Water Rail, a Kingfisher, three or four Grey Wagtails, a pair of Stonechats, a Cetti's Warbler, thirty Lesser Redpolls and about twenty Siskins.

A Barn Owl was hunting in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton again this afternoon.


Neil M

Some of the grounds at
Lamport Hall.

Lesser Redpoll.
Courtesy of Cathy Ryden.

Courtesy of Steve Bennison.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Some cold weather coming - and maybe snow!


Jacob's efforts at Pitsford Reservoir today provided him with sightings of just one Great White Egret, a Shelduck, 9 Pintail, a Ruff, 3 Redshank, at least 33 Golden Plovers (in flight), a Green Sandpiper, 2 Stonechats, a Grey Wagtail and a mobile adult Caspian Gull around the afternoon gull roost.

A Grey Wagtail and a single Lesser Redpoll were on view at Brixworth Water Treatment Works.

Birds in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this afternoon included two fly-through Curlews, about a hundred Golden Plovers and a Barn Owl.

A couple of ringing recoveries have been reported as follows:-

On 26th November 2017 Kenny and his team caught an adult male Blackbird bearing ring number LC11583 at Linford Lakes on the outskirts of Milton Keynes. It transpires that this bird was first ringed at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory on the Lincolnshire coast way back on 21st October 2011 (2218 days before) when it was aged as a bird hatched that year. All this suggests that this bird originates from the continent and potentially has wintered successfully in the UK during the last six winters. No doubt this is a well-travelled bird and he has a few tales to tell!

On 25th August this year, the usual band of ringers operating at Stortons Pits on the outskirts of Northampton ringed a young female Cetti's Warbler. On 3rd December this bird turned up in a ringer's mist net 34km to the south-east in Bedfordshire at the Forest of Marston Vale. Although not a recognised true migrant, the number of recoveries of Cetti's Warblers emanating from Stortons in recent years indicates that successfully raised offspring from this reserve range widely around suitable sites in the UK.


Neil M

Male Blackbird.

Cetti's Warbler.
Image courtesy of
Chris Payne.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Blustery Wednesday


A calling Snow Bunting flushed up in the Brampton Valley at 7.45am this morning, from a 'scuffed' field between Hanging Houghton and Gamboro' Plantation.

A visit to Harrington Airfield at lunchtime provided only a handful of thrushes but three Hawfinches were in bushes by the third bunker and a Woodcock flushed up from between the second and third bunkers.

The reserve section of Pitsford Reservoir continued to provide a haven for two Great White Egrets and a 'redhead' Smew, these Pitsford sightings courtesy of Neil Hasdell.

Finally a Barn Owl was in roadside hedging this evening between Brixworth and Scaldwell villages.


Neil M

'Redhead' Smew.

Snow Bunting.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Ringing at Bradden


Chris Payne and Sam Betts spent much of the day ringing birds at Bradden today, processing 113 birds of 11 species made up of 50 Blue Tits, a Coal Tit, 15 Great Tits, a Blackbird, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 6 Dunnocks, a Wren, a Siskin, a Greenfinch, 8 Chaffinches and 28 Goldfinches. Birds in the immediate area included Raven.


Neil M

Male Siskin.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Portrait of a Woodcock.


Yesterday (Sunday) and John Woollett caught and ringed a female Blackcap in his Astcote garden. The bird was heavy and carrying fat so was presumably still on migration.

Today (Monday) and a solitary south-bound Hawfinch was the only bird of note at Harrington Airfield; the bushes were pretty-much devoid of the usual thrushes. A flock of (presumed migrant) Chaffinches on the outskirts of Old village numbered about a hundred birds and included a female Brambling.

A relatively short ringing session at Christies Copse in the Walgrave Bay at Pitsford Reservoir this morning provided 75 captures which included a Goldcrest, 5 Long-tailed Tits, 35 Blue Tits, 6 Coal Tits, 16 Great Tits, a Willow Tit, 2 Robins, 5 Chaffinches and 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. However star of the show was a stunning Woodcock flushed into a mist net, providing an excellent opportunity to study this sensational bird. At least seven of these birds were present on-site.

Birds noted included a Great White Egret and a pair of Ravens and a second Willow Tit was around the copse too. However there was some significant migration on-going all morning over the Walgrave Bay with a good passage of Bramblings heading west and constant flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares, a Siskin and a couple of Redpolls doing much the same thing. A single Hawfinch was going the same way at 10am but then pitched down in trees and bushes near to the copse (but wasn't seen again). At 1.40pm, as we were walking away, a vocal Snow Bunting flew over us heading south west but also dropping and may have landed in nearby fields.


Neil M

Adult male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The Woodcock. A bird generally seen
in flight at dawn or dusk or flushed from
undergrowth during the day. It isn't often
you see one well enough to truly appreciate
these very special birds. Superbly camouflaged,
fast and strong flyers, and an amazing head shape
with the eyes high on the side of the head
provide for excellent all-round vision. Now a very
scarce breeding bird in the county, the vast
majority of the ones we see in the winter months
are from Russia and eastern and northern Europe.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Ringing at Kelmarsh Hall


Today was the first ringing session of the season at Kelmarsh Hall and a rise in the temperature made being out and about more comfortable than a couple of days ago! A small team of ringers managed to catch and process some 173 birds of 18 species. A Kingfisher is always a bonus bird and other birds included 7 Blackbirds some of which provided biometrics suggesting they were not local birds.

We also managed to catch and ring 2 Redwings and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and monitored 33 Great Tits, 69 Blue Tits, 4 Coal Tits, 3 Marsh Tits, 5 Nuthatches, 3 Dunnocks, 5 Robins, 3 Wrens, a single Goldcrest, 3 Greenfinches, 25 Goldfinches, a Siskin, 6 Chaffinches and a Grey Wagtail.

The Goldcrest was interesting, an adult male bird which was first ringed there in February 2015 when it was also aged as an adult male. Goldcrests rarely live longer than two years (the oldest known bird was only five years old), but this bird is at least four years old.

Other birds seen included a couple of Ravens, at least one other Grey Wagtail and thirty or so Siskins.

Three Little Egrets and a Barn Owl were in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton today and the Pitsford Reservoir gull roost provided views of an adult Mediterranean Gull and a third year Caspian Gull. A Barn Owl was also present at Staverton early this morning.


Neil M

Always a privilege!

Female Blackbird.

Female Siskin.