Saturday, 30 June 2018

Recent images


Not much to report today although Eleanor saw a pair of Grey Partridge and a Barn Owl in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this evening...


Neil M

Drake Garganey
Summer Leys NR
courtesy of Dave Jackson.




All the auk shots are
courtesy of Chris Payne,
images taken on Pembrokeshire
 island of Skokholm during the
recent visit by members of the
Northants Ringing Group.

Juvenile Starlings courtesy
of John Tilly.

Barn Owl Brampton
Valley, courtesy of
Dave Jackson.

Friday, 29 June 2018

The warm weather continues...


As of yesterday, the monitoring of the Common Terns on the rafts at Pitsford Reservoir has confirmed that eighty chicks have been hatched, it's certainly a very good year for them! There are several family parties of Mute Swans on-site and a Common Sandpiper was also present on the reserve yesterday (together with some failed breeding Lapwings).

Today and a lunch-time visit to Harrington Airfield in warm and breezy conditions provided views of at least one pair of Grey Partridge and fledged juveniles of both Willow Warbler and Whitethroat. A constantly singing Lesser Whitethroat is a good sign of a second breeding attempt by the pair near the second bunker. Butterflies seen there today included a couple of Marbled Whites, a good hatch of Small Heaths and smaller numbers of Common Blues. Burnett and Cinnabar Moths were also on the wing.

An unexpected find in the garden here at Hanging Houghton late this afternoon was of a Purple Emperor butterfly! Initially it was on the parched back lawn and then moved to the nearby magnolia. With the nearest known population to us being Fermyn Wood and with strong northerly winds, this nomad is assumed to have come from there. It was a distinctive individual as it's right hind wing was curled back a little. This didn't seem to impede flight and might help track this butterfly if seen elsewhere.

Feeding mixed seed on the lawn also provides a regular feeding haunt for some of the bigger birds which includes local pigeons and doves...


Neil M

Small Heath.

Juvenile Willow Warbler.

Purple Emperor butterfly
at Hanging Houghton.


The handsome Stock Dove.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Purple Emperor!


There were plenty of observers up at Fermyn Wood today enjoying the butterflies. Eleanor together with Tor the hound and Jaeger the collie were among them! 

Despite a great deal of thinning and forestry work on the compartments since last year there were plenty of butterflies on show including White-letter Hairstreaks (in the elms), Silver-washed Fritillaries and Painted Ladies. Even a few Black Hairstreaks were on show in the hawthorn scrub within the Country Park. A big hatch of Marbled Whites also in the Country Park were a real treat, this species becoming more common in the county in recent years.

However it is the enigmatic and showy Purple Emperors that steal the show with particularly good numbers on show along the forestry track that extends into Lady's Wood from the Gliding Club airstrip...


Neil M

Purple Emperors at Fermyn
Wood today, courtesy of Eleanor.

This excellent image was taken by
John Boland yesterday at
Ravensthorpe Reservoir.
It depicts an adult Yellow-
legged Gull tackling a moribund
Rainbow Trout...

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The butterflies are out!


Eric Graham visited the Titchmarsh reserve at Thrapston today and was able to record common warblers and plenty of common butterflies and dragonflies. He went on to Fermyn Wood for the butterflies and encountered eight Purple Emperors, two White Admirals, two Silver-washed Fritillaries, Purple Hairstreak and Painted Lady.

I'm just in from seven days in Norway, with brief explorations of the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands. Cold, very windy and wet up there but we managed just a few brief periods of pleasant weather, a far cry from the temperatures here currently. These Norwegian Islands (north of the Arctic Circle) can probably boast some of the best scenery in the world with truly epic mountains surrounded with low cloud, still plenty of snow, huge vistas and extensive fjords. This is also home to the greatest concentration of White-tailed (Sea) Eagles in the world and I saw them consecutively for seven days (with fifteen in one day)! Hopefully I will have time to process some images later in the week...


Neil M

Purple Emperor.

Silver-washed Fritillary.

Painted Lady.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Sunday Snippets

Following our return from a cold, wet and windy Iceland it has been rather nice to feel the warmth of the sun and wear a t shirt rather than layers of thermals, mind you the birds haven't been quite as exciting.
I have visited my usual haunts of Harrington, Blueberry and the valley below Hanging Houghton and have caught up with Turtle Dove, Barn Owl, Hobby and Grey Partridge.  Pitsford seemed very quiet when I ran round the big side and checked the small side from the causeway.   There is quite a nice show of Common Spotted Orchid and a handful of Bee Orchids at Harrington.
Eric Graham has visited his regular haunt of Titchmarsh Reserve where there are plenty of singing and visible warblers including Willow, Sedge, Garden, Reed and Cettis. Also Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat.  Other birds of note, 2 Cuckoo, 2 Little Egret and an Osprey over Aldwincle Lake.   It is not only birds which are on the wing as there were Brown Hawkers, Scarce Chasers, Emperor Dragonfly, Darters and Black Tailed Skimmers.
A visit to Fermyn Wood/Country park produced 16 White Admiral butterfly and White Letter Hairstreak but no Purple Emperor yet.

John Woollett and his team of ringers have been at Stortons Gravel Pit today :
Another grand day with 70 birds caught 40 new and 29 retraps and one control Reed warbler. Chris was eagerly spotting Reed Buntings feeding young and located the nest they were ready for ringing. Then later on did the same and found a reed Warblers nest which were duly ringed. The young Great Tits were nearly all from the same nest.
Details are as follows
Wren    4
Chiff    1
Dunno            (2)
Greti    1        (6)
Robin    2        (1)
Reewa    11      (11)
Sedwa    1        (4)
Goldfi       1
Bullf        1        (1)
Bluti        5        (1)
Garwa    1
Blaca        5
White        1        (1)
Leswh        1

Cetwa                    (2)

Blabi        2            (1)

Regards Eleanor

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

June update...


Eleanor and I have been away for the last twelve days to Iceland with our good friends Wendy and Robin. An excellent trip despite very challenging weather conditions. Anyway our apologies for the lack of blog updates..

Kenny Cramer and team enjoyed a good ringing session at Linford Lakes on Friday 15th June, capturing 87 birds of 16 species, over half of which were recently fledged birds. Highlights were three Kingfishers, a Cetti's Warbler, ten Blackcaps, sixteen Reed Warblers and a Garden Warbler.

John Woollett and team completed a ringing session on the south side of Stortons Pits on Sunday 17th June, assessing over seventy captures of 15 species. Warblers dominated with twenty-five Reed Warblers, fourteen Sedge Warblers, two Whitethroats, three Blackcaps, two Garden Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat.

Many of the Northants Ringing Group have recently returned from a week on the tiny Pembrokeshire island of Skokholm, on what has become an annual pilgrimage to support the wardens out there on monitoring and ringing migrants and sea-birds. In only seven days and nights, they managed to catch and ring impressive numbers of Manx Shearwaters, large gulls and breeding birds such as Oystercatcher. A Cuckoo was a bonus catch!

David Arden has been out and about watching butterflies, including trips in the county and beyond...


Neil M

Puffins on Skokholm.

Cuckoo on Skokholm.

Small Copper.

Pearl bordered and Small Pearl
bordered Fritillaries.

Mother Shipton moth.

Kingfisher image courtesy of Kenny Cramer, moth and butterflies courtesy of David Arden and Skokholm images courtesy of Chris Payne.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Pitsford update


Yesterday (Wednesday) and a check of the tern rafts at Pitsford Reservoir by Dave Francis revealed that so far it's looking a good year for the Common Terns with 49 nests, 125 eggs and 8 recently hatched young all being visible. A Greylag Goose is still sitting on one of the rafts with three eggs (are they ever going to hatch?) but the Oystercatcher breeding attempt (as usual) looks a little futile. Two young and an adult appear to be missing and the surviving youngster was helped to shore with a single attendant adult meeting up with it.

John Showers watched a pair of Willow Tits in the Scaldwell Bay just beyond the Bird Club hide, and just where two of the recent spring CBC sessions plotted a pair. The good news is that they were carrying food, a sure sign that they are feeding young. It seems that these are the only Willow Tits on-site at Pitsford this year.

In the garden here at Hanging Houghton, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and at least one Nuthatch are making constant forays to the suspended feeders, the woodpeckers have a nest full of young not too far away in the grounds of Lamport Hall.


Neil M

Common Tern chick
and egg courtesy of
Lynne Barnett.

Adult Common Tern

Willow Tit

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Not much to report!


Yesterday (Tuesday) I visited Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs for a change but didn't see very much that was different, a Grey Wagtail at Ravensthorpe being about the best. The water levels at both is very high (similar to Pitsford) which might be suitable for breeding waterfowl but is not conducive to passage waders as the first returning birds will be upon us any day now.

Also yesterday, Eric and Ken Spriggs visited Thrapston Pits again and watched a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler, heard a Cuckoo and saw a Kingfisher. Several Scarce Chasers were on the wing too.


Neil M

Hobby courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Collared Dove.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Yellowhammer survey

BOS Yellowhammer Survey 2018

The Banbury Ornithological Society is conducting a survey of Yellowhammers in the first week of July 2018 to determine their population abundance, distribution and breeding status. It will be surveying 1km squares in the BOS survey area (please see the BOS website for the location details which includes areas in the west of Northamptonshire). BOS members and other birdwatchers are invited to assist in this survey, which will only take an hour to complete. We provide full instructions and a simple form to record your results on. We will analyse the results to determine the current status of Yellowhammers and aim to publish the results on the website:-


If you would like to take part, select a 1km square to survey, making a note of the OS grid reference. Then send then an email to the BOS bird recorder (Mike Curnow) with the number of the square you would like to survey (  The recorder will confirm your request and send a survey form for you to complete.  

Yellowhammers are one of our common and widespread resident birds of the farmed countryside. Sadly, their numbers have declined over recent decades and they are Red-listed in the latest “Birds of Conservation Concern 4”. We are able to monitor their changing fortunes though our annual surveys (Winter and Summer random square surveys and the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)). However, we are lacking more detailed information on their distribution and density across the BOS study area, therefore we are carrying out a specific Yellowhammer Survey during 2018. In England, Yellowhammers have declined by 26% from 1993 to 2015, and 33% locally, based on a linear trend from the BOS summer breeding surveys. The situation is even worse for the period 1977-2015, with a 62% national and 76% local decline in abundance based on our Winter Random Square Survey. 

Thus, it appears that Yellowhammers in the BOS area have been just as affected by environmental changes as those across England, hence our interest in performing a more detailed study. Male Yellowhammers are easy to locate and identify during the breeding season. Their song – described as “a little bit of bread and no cheese” is easily recognisable with a bit of practise, and their canary yellow head plumage is highly distinctive. They also have a long breeding season, extending from April through to August, during which the male sings quite regularly. This means the Yellowhammer is a bird we can survey relatively late into the breeding season, well after many other birds have completed breeding.

Our SRSS breeding surveys show that Yellowhammers breed right across the BOS (in over 90% of survey squares), so there is a very good chance of finding them on this survey.  Our aim is to obtain the best estimates of the number of breeding pairs of Yellowhammers per square km and a total population count. This is not going to be an exact science but should give a good approximation to the numbers present. We will carry out the survey in the first two weeks of July, each survey will take one hour and cover a 1km x 1km square. The survey should take place within the period 06:00 – 11:00 or 17:00 – 20:00, thus avoiding the “lull” in activity around the middle of the day. Each survey square is chosen randomly from those squares we know have reasonable access for fieldwork and are potentially suitable habitat for Yellowhammers.

You only to survey the square once. Plan to walk a route around your square in advance, making use of rights of way, to determine where the best places are for potential breeding birds. Listen out for the Yellowhammer’s song and scan hedgerows and trees to locate the singing male. You will probably locate most birds by song, but keep using your eyes and ears, and note down all yellowhammers seen.

 All you need to record is the total number of Yellowhammers seen in your given square and counts of the birds categorised by activity: Singing males, adult carrying food or number of adult pairs seen. We will use the numbers in these categories to try and assess the number of potential breeding pairs. We also ask you to make an estimate of the percentage of the square you managed to survey.

Please record on the survey form the following information: • Your Name and the date you performed the survey • The survey square number (OS Grid Reference) • The total number of Yellowhammers you have seen • Number of Singing Males – exclude alarm or other calls. Singing males are usually perched on the top of a tree, bush or hedge. • Number of Adult Pairs seen – e.g. 3 pairs = 6 birds in total • Number of Adults carrying food Please try and avoid double counting, i.e. record a bird in only one of the 3 categories: singing, pair or carrying food.

We do not require you to go hunting for nests and the general advice is to try and not to disturb the birds on your survey. 

Sample Survey Form Results:-  Observer Name Susan Bunting 
                                                   Survey Square Number (4-digit Grid Reference) 4239 
                                                   Date and time of survey 08:30-9:30, 6 July 2018 
                                                   Total number of Yellowhammers seen 17 Number of Singing Males 5 Number of Adult Pairs Seen 3 Number of Adults carrying food 1 
                                                   Estimate of % of square covered 50%

To request a square, please send an email to the BOS recorder (Mike Curnow) at, specifying the square number of your 1st and 2nd preference.

We will then send a confirmation email along with the survey form to complete. Please note that registration closes on 24th June. Thank you for taking part in this survey.

Mike Curnow Bird Recorder for Banbury Ornithological Society Banbury Ornithological Society  

Yellowhammer courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Cetti's Warbler - loud and mobile!


Eric Graham enjoyed his wanderings at Thrapston Pits today, and the quality birding continued with views of a Great White Egret, a large Peregrine, two Hobbies, at least four Cuckoos on-site and still a vocal Nightingale.

Stortons Pits on the outskirts of Northampton has accumulated plenty of interesting ringing data associated with the Cetti's Warbler population. A few pairs breed successfully there in most years but what is clear is that Stortons very much sits on the Cetti's Warbler migration highway in the UK! 

Over the years birds initially ringed at this site have been re-captured elsewhere and a good number of Cetti's Warblers ringed elsewhere have turned up at Stortons from all points on the compass. By way of example we have been recently notified that ring Z668066 was affixed to an unaged Cetti's Warbler in the West Midlands area on 4th November 2015 and this bird was re-captured at Stortons on 20th May 2018 when assessed to be a female. Given the time of year it is likely she will be trying to breed locally, some 55km ESE of where initially ringed (928 days having passed since first ringed).

It could be that limited habitat availability in the UK means that Welsh and English birds are constantly wandering in an effort to locate suitable spots for wintering and/or breeding but avoiding leaving the UK landmass altogether...


Neil M

Cetti's Warbler.
Image courtesy
of Chris Payne.



Sunday, 3 June 2018

Northants Bird Club Meeting


This coming Wednesday (6th June) is the next indoor meeting of the Northants Bird Club and the presenters are Elis and Rik Simpson of Waderquest. This is the second presentation to the club by the couple that have devoted their life to the celebration and conservation of wading birds and their subject title this time is 'A Plovers Lover's World of Delight'.

As usual the start time for the meeting is 7.30pm and the venue is again the Fishing Lodge at Pitsford Reservoir. Hot drinks and biscuits will be available, there will be the usual raffle and announcements and everyone is welcome!


Neil M

Ringed Plover.

Long-toed Lapwing.