The intrepid and slightly mad team of Phil, Bob, Jacob and I with support from Helen are a touch weary but still just functioning after the county Bird Race yesterday.
Starting at Midnight at Oundle, a nocturnal singing Sedge Warbler was the first bird but the regular Grasshopper Warbler remained silent! A Lesser Whitethroat also sang for us briefly and was the second species of the day! A drive around near Ashton Wold provided excellent views of a roadside-hunting Barn Owl and a vocal Tawny Owl was the first of several during the early hours. The song of Nightingale was next as three or four songsters banged it out at Polebrook Airfield. Something disturbed roosting Carrion Crows as they called to each other. A drive around the exterior of the old airfield and down to Barnwell was good for Hare and Rabbit but not much else.
A tiny roadside fawn Muntjac and a juvenile Tawny Owl were noted at Lilford and Wadenhoe hosted more singing Sedge Warblers, a singing Cetti's Warbler and singing Woodpigeon but not the hoped-for Curlew. Next it was the small Wildlife Trust car park at Aldwincle and a Grasshopper Warbler reeled continually - a short expedition on to the Titchmarsh Reserve secured a calling Water Rail, more Sedge and Cetti's Warblers and several Reed Warblers. The meadows at Thorpe Waterville were the venue for a calling and over-flying Grey Heron but again no Curlew. However to have secured five species of singing warbler by 2am is definitely a first for the bird race team! The full moon and bright, mild conditions were perhaps the stimuli.
A bit of a drive up to the Corby area resulted in some good views of roadside Fallow Deer and the Welland Valley produced some more quality mammal sightings. First was three tiny Red Fox cubs playing at the side of a minor road, and they remained curious as we stopped the car and watched them with torches. A little further on and a listening session was interrupted when a female Badger and three young came bimbling across the field and started sniffing Bob's wellingtons. They didn't seem to like them much and careered back off from whence they had come! Shortly afterwards, two young Badgers also came very close before they realised the errors of their ways and made off in the opposite direction!
By this time the sky was beginning to lighten and of course Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes began singing. Another Tawny Owl hooted as we made our way towards Fineshade. A roadworks diversion ensured we saw another hunting Barn Owl near Duddington.
At Fineshade Wood birds were awakening and we quickly added the warblers of woodland and scrub, another Tawny Owl, Cuckoo and the first of the tits. We were a little late in getting there for the prime time and consequently failed to connect with a roding Woodcock. However Siskin was a bonus bird and there were brief encounters with Nuthatch and Jay by individuals within the team. However everyone has to see and hear the bird and agree with the identification so these birds didn't count!
We decided to push on and Blatherwycke Lake yielded the hoped-for Mandarin Ducks, Shelduck, Kingfisher and more common fare. Nearby Deene Lake assisted with Grey Wagtail, another Kingfisher and Teal. Scrub and grassland adjoining an industrial estate at Corby produced our only Meadow Pipits all day.
It was time then for the Nene Valley and after a brief stop at Ringstead we moved on to Stanwick Gravel Pits which hosted an Egyptian Goose, but the long-staying Scaup and the waders of the previous day were not to be found! Nearby Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows provided us with a splendid Red-crested Pochard, our first waders in the shape of Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover and our first Sparrowhawk of the day.
The extensive old gravel pits at Earls Barton are critical to the bird race but were generally very quiet but we managed Hobby, Wigeon, Shoveler and Greenshank - none of which were seen anywhere else. A Little Owl near Grendon was much appreciated. The Nene Barrage at Clifford Hill was good enough for a pair of Barnacle Geese but again no hoped-for waders.
A spot of urban birding was called for next as we scoured Abington Park for Mistle Thrush (but failed) but did encounter Ring-necked Parakeet; Nuthatch and Jay were now seen by all the team!
By this time we still hadn't recorded a Green Woodpecker and our wader list was to stick stubbornly on only seven species for the duration.
It was mid-afternoon before we finally tipped up at Pitsford Reservoir and added Great Black-backed Gull to the proceedings as well as a measly three Tree Sparrows at the main feed station. A visit to the reserve's Christies Copse secured Marsh Tit and finally Green Woodpecker but a single Willow Tit was not seen/heard by the whole team and couldn't be included!
Next was Harrington Airfield and a bit of a hike claimed a pair of gorgeous Turtle Doves and three pairs of Grey Partridge. It seemed that the Wheatear from the morning had departed. A local Raven was the next bird to be added and then it was off to Stanford Reservoir where the very low water levels this spring have provided a series of excellent sightings including many waders. Not this time though! However some careful scanning was good in securing Pochard and Common Gull to the stuttering day list. A distant second year gull might have been a Yellow-legged but remained unconfirmed.
A quick scan at Hollowell Reservoir also failed to find any migrant waders and there was no sign of the White-fronted Goose which had been there the day before. A hunting Barn Owl was near Creaton as we progressed towards our last venue - the dam at Pitsford Reservoir. Scanning the Moulton Grange spit suggested no waders there and the large Common Tern flock just didn't contain any Arctic or Black Terns. Very much the last bit of scanning paid off though when we pick out a distant and very unexpected drake Long-tailed Duck, in all probability our best bird of the day!
Collectively we saw or heard 112 species of 'countable' birds. We also came across feral pigeon, Black Swan and Peacock! Our list included seven species of raptor and ten species of warbler but we didn't locate Corn Bunting, Spotted Flycatcher, Woodcock, Snipe or Curlew. Redshanks were only seen at one site and Lapwings at two. Other observers on the day in the county saw Redstart and Marsh Harrier. With more luck it should have been possible to see many more species of wader, a couple more tern species which have provided a strong passage this spring and other sporadic birds such as Garganey and Little Gull. Long-staying individuals of Whooper Swan, White-fronted Goose and Scaup were notably absent on the day in question!
A very big thank-you to the many birders out there who made contact during the day and provided us with information beforehand to help us in our endeavors.
Today (Sunday) and Pitsford was busy with birds again with a mixture of observers seeing a Curlew, a Whimbrel, a Little Stint, a Dunlin, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, two or three Black Terns, a Hobby, a pair of Mandarin Ducks and the Long-tailed Duck (still present this evening)...