Thursday, 31 January 2019

Cold weather birds


Following a very cold and still night, this morning was very icy, so much so that most of the water north of the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir was frozen. This clearly displaced the wintering waterfowl and six Great White Egrets were standing together on the ice. The drake Ring-necked Duck was reported later from the Pintail Bay again.

The Great Grey Shrike was again in the Brampton Valley between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke, using a variety of hedges as look out for prey. Two or three Corn Buntings and lots of small birds included Tree Sparrows and Bramblings were busy in the wild bird crop and a covey of ten Grey Partridge also presented themselves.

A couple of Bramblings joined the other birds in our garden which included Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers.

A response to hard weather was presumably the reason why two Tundra Bean Geese, a Pink-footed Goose and a White-fronted Goose were discovered at Thrapston Pits today, fraternising with the Greylags near to Lake Elinor.

A pair of Red-crested Pochard were at Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows on Dragonfly Lake and two Short-eared Owls were present at Neville's Lodge, Finedon late this afternoon into dusk. A Common Buzzard was seen feeding on a Golden Plover at Sywell Airfield - and there were also about ten live Golden Plovers there too...


Neil M

Drake American Wigeon.

Jack Snipe.
All above images taken
 recently at Rutland Water
 courtesy of John Gamble.

A rather different image
 of a male Sparrowhawk
courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

East Carlton images


A small team braved the cold this morning and carried out some ringing at Stortons Pits catching an excellent total of 94 birds. These were made up of 31 Blue Tits, 24 Great Tits, a Long-tailed Tit, 8 Greenfinches, 3 Chaffinches, 15 Reed Buntings, 2 Blackbirds, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Treecreeper, a Robin, 2 Wrens and 4 Dunnocks. Other birds seen there included a Snipe and two Jack Snipe.

The Great Grey Shrike was showing again this morning in the Brampton Valley between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke and other birds in the immediate area included a first year male Merlin, a Barn Owl and two Corn Buntings and a small flock of eight Golden Plovers. Several Bramblings continue to visit gardens in Hanging Houghton and also the seed by the barn in the Brampton Valley.

Liam Andrews located a Waxwing at the Plens Nature Reserve at Desborough early this afternoon which then subsequently flew north west. Tom Green saw a Short-eared Owl between Neville's Lodge, Finedon and the nearby now redundant landfill plus two Ravens, 100+ Lapwing and 100+ Golden Plovers.

A visit to East Carlton Country Park this afternoon didn't provide any particular birds of note but some close views of common birds were possible as much of the wildlife there is so used to people, dogs etc.


Neil M


Grey Squirrels.


Drake Mallard.

Common Buzzard.

Blue Tit.


All images taken at East Carlton Country Park
this afternoon.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Before the snow...


Chris Payne conducted a couple of hours ringing at Bradden today catching 49 birds made up of 24 Blue Tits, four Great Tits, a Coal Tit, eight Long-tailed Tits, five Goldfinches, four Greenfinches, two Chaffinches and a Dunnock. One of the re-trapped Goldfinches was a bird ringed at Bradden back in 2016 which then turned up at Greens Norton in 2017 but obviously then re-bounded back to Bradden!

A Peregrine was showing on the steeple of Kettering Parish Church today and Sarah Gibbs and I spent the day at Pitsford Reservoir clearing out the twenty-two owl boxes in preparation for the next breeding season (and evicting Grey Squirrels at the same time)!

The Great Grey Shrike was again present in the Brampton Valley between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke and other birds included a first year male Merlin and two or three Corn Buntings. The bird flocks seem to still be growing in number on this wild bird seed crop which included Bramblings.

A Blackcap was in a garden at Scaldwell, a Nordic Jackdaw was seen at Stanwick Lakes by the main lake and our garden attracted Bramblings, Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings.


Neil M

Monday, 28 January 2019

Pitsford WeBS count


Today was all about trying to count the water birds at Pitsford Reservoir as part of our monthly WeBS count.

Headline birds were made up of the two Great Northern Divers, four or five Great White Egrets, twenty-three Red-crested Pochards, a pair of Pintail, a Redshank, a Green Sandpiper, two Jack Snipe and thirty-seven Snipe. Other birds included a pair of Raven, two Stonechats, six Siskins and two Grey Wagtails. Small groups of large gulls periodically passed over the reservoir heading in a westerly direction and the first encountered group contained a large first year Glaucous Gull.

Birds in the Brampton Valley between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton today included the Great Grey Shrike, two Corn Buntings, several Bramblings and a Barn Owl. The Lapland Bunting was looked for this afternoon but not located.

A 'ringtail' Hen Harrier was again seen at Neville's Lodge, Finedon this afternoon and a Short-eared Owl was there too. Birds noted at Thrapston Pits today were the Whooper Swan still, two Great White Egrets, two male Goosanders and an excellent flock of 278 Pochard. Blatherwycke Lake was visited by Eric Graham today and he saw a pair of Black Swans, eight pairs of Mandarin Duck and a flock of over 200 Greylag Geese. Nearby birds at Deene Lake included another pair of Black Swans, nearly a hundred Teal, six Shelduck, two Snipe and two Green Sandpipers.

The Southfield Estate in South Northants attracted a large flock of finches to a sunflower wildlife plot today made up of 60+ Goldfinches, 20+ Linnets, 30+ Chaffinches, 12 Greenfinches and two Bramblings.


Neil McMahon

Red Kite in the
early morning light...

Cormorants are already
back on their nests at Pitsford!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Wildlife of St Lucia


With overnight rain concluding at dawn, the day started with some pleasant sunshine but the wind increased and made birding a rather cold and challenging affair!

The Great Grey Shrike was present on and off all day between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke, the strong wind ensuring the bird kept a lower profile than usual. It was difficult to properly hear and see the birds visiting the seed bank but there were plenty of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Linnets, Skylarks and smaller numbers of Brambling, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow. Two Corn Buntings were still present and showed occasionally and the adult male Merlin visited the area twice in quick succession this morning. A small covey of Grey Partridge were still present too.

Four or five Bramblings visited our garden today and birds at Pitsford Reservoir were relatively static with two Great Northern Divers, the first year male Scaup and a Yellow-legged Gull visible from the dam and Sailing Club this afternoon with the Ring-necked Duck reported for the Pintail Bay again.

The 'ringtail' Hen Harrier showed again at Neville's Lodge (Finedon) this afternoon and birds at Thrapston Pits included as many as six Great White Egrets plus the wintering Whooper Swan and Summer Leys LNR continued to host two Great White Egrets.

A few images (please see below) from the recent trip to St Lucia...


Neil M

Scaly naped Pigeon.

Zenaida Dove.

Pan tropical Spotted Dolphin.

Sperm Whale.

Purple throated Carib.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Ringing, Waxwings and the shrike still!


A bird ringing session at Scotland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate provided 121 captures made up of a Sparrowhawk, four Blackbirds, three Robins, a Dunnock, three Chaffinches, forty-one Blue Tits, thirty-eight Great Tits, nineteen Coal Tits, four Marsh Tits, two Long-tailed Tits, a Goldcrest, three Treecreepers and a Nuthatch. Other birds on-site included several Siskins, a Redpoll and a Woodcock.

Eleanor's dog agility training at Staverton suffered the distraction of six Waxwings which were flying around and calling and perched up in hedgerows for about thirty minutes. They eventually flew off into the village but weren't relocated after a quick search. The usual two Ravens were also present.

A quick perusal at Ravensthorpe Reservoir from the causeway provided views of a Great White Egret and two Green Sandpipers.

Birds noted at Pitsford Reservoir today included the usual suspects with three Great White Egrets, the mobile drake Ring-necked Duck, at least one first year Scaup, at least seventeen Red-crested Pochard and the two Great Northern Divers. More Great White Egrets included a couple at Wilsons Pits (Ditchford Pits complex) and other birds are now three Short-eared Owls at Neville's Lodge (Finedon) and the first year Hen Harrier was reported there too.

The Great Grey Shrike was again in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and despite reports to the contrary was still showing at dusk. The Barn Owl was also there this morning, four Corn Buntings were seen and there are still small numbers of Bramblings in the immediate area. It is likely that the Lapland Bunting is still present with the Skylark flock but it doesn't seem to have been reported today...


Neil M

Blue Tit.

Great Tit.

Marsh Tit.
Above images courtesy
of John Tilly.

First year female

Friday, 25 January 2019

Quality winter birding continues...!


Eric's birds at Thrapston Pits/Titchmarsh LNR today included up to five Great White Egrets, the first year Whooper Swan still, three Goosanders, three Water Rails, 200+ Pochard, a juvenile Peregrine and four calling Cetti's Warblers.

Helen Franklin and Chris Payne conducted some ringing at Woodford Halse today with 35 captures made up of two Blackbirds, five Dunnocks, twenty Blue Tits, six Great Tits and two Long-tailed Tits.

Stuart Munday spotted a Waxwing at Hardwick Road, East Hunsbury, Northampton today but it unfortunately flew off south and wasn't relocated. Jacob saw a Merlin zapping over buildings at Moulton College today, scattering Redwings in it's wake!

Today the Brampton Valley birds between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke included the Great Grey Shrike, a Barn Owl, two Corn Buntings and the rather hard to see Lapland Bunting still. About fifteen Bramblings are scattered and mobile between three sub sites - the bird feed crop, the seed by the large barn near to the brook next to the Brampton Valley Way and visiting gardens in the village at Hanging Houghton.

Due to the mud and potholes it is recommended that any visiting birders to the Brampton Valley to see these birds park cars on the hardcore apron next to the large barn or at the small parking area next to the Brampton Valley Way. It is then half a mile walk along the council-maintained track towards Cottesbrooke, a large traffic cone next to the track indicates a recommended initial viewing area.


Neil M

Water Rail courtesy
of John Tilly.

Corn Bunting.

Lapland Bunting - this image
taken on the Scillies in 2018.
The bird currently in the Brampton
Valley sadly doesn't show like this
bird did! Apart from listening to the
distinctive  'tickety -tic-tic' (much 'dryer' than
 Yellowhammer) and loud musical 'tiu' contact calls,
 watch for a large, 'long' and cold coloured bunting
 flying with the Skylarks with a flight action
and wing shape reminiscent of Snow
Bunting. As far as I know no one
has managed to see this bird perched up
or on the ground (it flies into cover each
time), so a flight view is likely to be the
only view possible in the short term.

Epetition re grouse shooting - an economic appraisal

Hello, an important message from Dr Mark Avery...

A guy called Les Wallace has an epetition that simply calls on Defra to carry out a proper economic appraisal of grouse shooting and the land management on which it depends. If his epetiton reaches 10,000 signatures on 2 February then Defra will have to respond to this epetition.  Now, I suspect that they will respond by saying 'no, we're not going to do anything' but I'd like to make them say something publicly on this subject.

I have no doubt that a proper economic appraisal of grouse shooting would show that it is a drain on the public purse because of its impacts on flood risk, water quality, aquatic biodiversity, peat degradation and wildlife loss.  But let's see!

To support Les Wallace's epetition you simply have to click on this link, sign up and click on the confirmation email that you will receive. 

There are nine days left to amass another 3000 signatures.  I think it will be a close run thing so your help could make all the difference.

Many thanks


Dr Mark Avery

Red Grouse.

Meadow Pipit.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Potholes, frozen reservoir and the odd bird or two!


Eric enjoyed his excursion to Thrapston Pits today with sightings of an Otter, the first year Whooper Swan, three Great White Egrets and a drake Pintail. Eric saw a bird fly across the A6116 at Lowick which appeared to be a shrike, and close to the bridle track where one was present a couple of seasons ago!

Neil Hasdell completed a comprehensive assessment of the birds at Pitsford Reservoir today where much of the water on the reserve north of the causeway was frozen. He was able to confirm that both Great Northern Divers were still present near the Gorse Bushes and he located the drake Ring-necked Duck close to the Pintail Bay. Other birds included two Great White Egrets and twenty-three Red-crested Pochard separated in two flocks.

The Brampton Valley between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke continued to be a magnet for good winter birds today - the Great Grey Shrike was still present as was an adult male Merlin, a Barn Owl, two or three Corn Buntings and a covey of Grey Partridge. This afternoon the Lapland Bunting was twice seen in flight with Skylarks again, this time calling both in flight and later whilst hidden in the bird food crop.

The track along the valley is muddy and with numerous potholes with limited vehicle parking by the cone marking the area where most of these birds show. Many visitors are parking at the Brampton Valley Way or by the large barn which continues to attract small numbers of Bramblings on the seed there. Our garden was busy with at least eight Bramblings, two Bullfinches and a few each of Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer.

A modest ringing session at Brixworth Water Treatment Works this morning netted just 34 birds made up of two Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes, three Robins, five Dunnocks, two Wrens, three Blue Tits, seven Long-tailed Tits, a Goldfinch, four Yellowhammers, three Pied Wagtails, a Grey Wagtail and a Goldcrest. Other birds seen on-site included a couple more Grey Wagtails, two Water Rails, four Snipe, a Cetti's Warbler, about a dozen Siskins and a fly-over Raven.


Neil M

Female Siskin caught
and ringed at Bradden
yesterday, image courtesy
of Chris Payne.

Drake Ring-necked Duck
at Pitsford Reservoir today
 courtesy of Neil Hasdell.

Winter Starlings courtesy
of Cathy Ryden.

Griff the springer spaniel
puppy becoming a little
bored with his owner's continual
scanning at Pitsford Reservoir...!
Image courtesy of Neil Hasdell.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Brampton Valley birds


At least six Bramblings were by the barn in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton at lunch-time and three paid us a visit to our garden earlier.

The valley continued to provide good birds, initially with the Great Grey Shrike appearing close to where it was yesterday. During the course of the day it became very far-ranging and was not seen for periods but this afternoon it was again in hedgerows north of the track between Brampton Valley Way and Gamboro' Plantation, and was even in hedges bordering the east side of Blueberry Farm. At one stage it briefly pursued a Great Tit! Interestingly it seems that this bird could have been in the general area since mid December 2018 when a GGS was seen and photographed near Scaldwell village, only a matter of a few miles away (please see images below). Personally I think they are different birds, the Hanging Houghton bird appears to have broader white and cleaner tertial tips, a darker and cleaner mask and less abraded tail than the Scaldwell bird. The white area above the mask of the Scaldwell bird seems to be more extensive and the plumage is overall less contrasting, the flank barring seems more obvious than the HH bird...

Large numbers of passerines coming to feed in the wild bird seed crop (the favoured haunt of the shrike) in the Brampton Valley today included plenty of Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers, Linnets and Skylarks and a Corn Bunting was noted early this morning. By mid-morning there were at least two Corn Buntings and a suspicious-looking bunting seen for the second time flying with Skylarks was clinched as a Lapland Bunting, the first in the county for quite a number of years. This bird then flew up again and flew around for a couple of minutes before dropping down in to the crop. Typically Skylarks seems to be the carrier species for this bird. Please note that there is no access in to this field but the crop can be watched from the tracks bordering the field - it is a case of being patient and carefully watching the Skylark flocks when they periodically fly up. If you approach too close the Skylark flock is likely to go up and disperse elsewhere.

With the number of birders present on-site not surprisingly other birds were seen, the best being a lunch-time Merlin, two Ravens and an afternoon hunting Barn Owl.

Elsewhere birds at nearby Brixworth Water Treatment Works included four Snipe, a Grey Wagtail and a Water Rail and there was at least one Great White Egret and a Redshank north of the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir.


Neil M

Great Grey Shrike
near Scaldwell Dec 2018
courtesy of Bill Draper.

Barn Owl
Eldernell, Cambs
recently, courtesy
of John Gamble.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Great Grey Shrike and other birds!


Both yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday) it was great to see flocks of thrushes combing fields and pastures in search of worms. With most of the berries having being consumed, Redwings and Fieldfares are on the look out for invertebrate food and are prepared to hop around in flocks in open areas. Starlings, Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds were joining them, clearly feeling braver in their company despite being rather exposed to raptor attacks.

Yesterday I noted a female Brambling in our garden and Eleanor saw eight by the barn in the valley below the village and of course the hunting Barn Owl was there too.

Also yesterday Ruth Ward relocated the Earls Barton drake Ring-necked Duck, this time on the western pit called Grendon Lake. Johnl Hunt saw the female Scaup on Dragonfly Lake at Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows, two Short-eared Owls were again at Neville's Lodge, Finedon and birds at Hollowell Reservoir included two Shelduck and two Green Sandpipers.

Today and Eleanor's daily visits to the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton paid off with the discovery of a newly-arrived cracking Great Grey Shrike. This bird coincided with a big influx of passerines into the valley which included Skylarks, Tree Sparrows and finches and buntings. These in turn attracted a male Merlin which paid a fleeting visit and there were Bramblings by the barn again.

The shrike was watched on and off all day, enjoying brambles and hedgerows about half way between the Brampton Valley Way and Gamboro' Plantation, a traffic cone placed along the track indicates the best place to stand! Although active this bird wasn't reportedly seen to feed so we will have to wait and see if this area provides sufficient food for this bird. Three Ravens and a Barn Owl were also in the valley and nearby a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was calling well in Cottesbrooke village. Eight Bramblings were counted in our garden today and a male Blackcap was seen in a Moulton garden.

The WeBS count at Ditchford Pits today started in cold but bright and sunny conditions but this afternoon the conditions deteriorated with falling snow and sleet. Three Great White Egrets were present, two west of Ditchford Lane with another at Wilsons Pits. At least ten Little Egrets were also present as were eight Snipe, a Jack Snipe, a pair of Egyptian Geese, two/four Goosanders, a first year female Peregrine, two female Stonechats, a Grey Wagtail, four Cetti's Warblers and a Chiffchaff.

I also found a keep net immersed in the water containing live and dead fish. This appeared to be a deliberate act to trap and kill Otters following a previous net find at Ditchford containing fish and a dead animal. Please be aware that with an increase in Otters there is sometimes conflict with fishing interests and it seems that leaving keep nets or similar in water baited with fish is a deliberate effort to dispose of Otters. I removed the net today and released the fish.

Other birds reported today included a hybrid drake Tufted Duck x Pochard on Grendon Lake at Earls Barton Pits and two Short-eared Owls were near to bunker one at Harrington Airfield this afternoon.


Neil M

The Hanging Houghton
Great Grey Shrike. Images
courtesy of Martin Swannell
(top two) and Robin Gossage
(bottom three)

Monday, 21 January 2019

Back from the Brink 'Roots of Rockingham' project.


A message from Susannah O' Riordan...

We’re looking for help to survey and monitor some of our threatened bird species across Rockingham Forest as part of the Back from the Brink ‘Roots of Rockingham’ Project.

Species that we are focusing on are Willow Tit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Lesser Redpoll and Spotted Flycatcher.

We have some free training workshops coming up for WT & LSW in conjunction with RSPB (more details below), and will be running workshops for surveying remaining species later in March.  It’s also possible for people to get involved in looking out for these species if they aren’t able to come along  
to a workshop.

Upcoming workshops:
Thursday January 31st 10.30am-3.30pm  - Top Lodge, Fineshade, nr Corby,  
NN17 3BB

Wednesday February 6th 10.30am-3.30pm  - Benefield Village Hall, Main  
Street, Lower Benefield, PE8 5AF

Help monitor two of the UK’s rarest species!
We’re looking for willing surveyors with birding experience to help survey and monitor Willow Tits and/or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker across woodlands within the Rockingham Forest area. The training will involve learning survey methods, including the playback method for Willow Tits, and habitat evaluation before choosing a site to survey.

The workshop is running on two dates at different locations (you only need to come along to one of these). If anyone would like to book on a workshop, or find out more information about getting involved, please contact me Susannah O’Riordan,  Tel: 01780 444067

Thank you

Susannah O'Riordan |

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Birds of a cold Sunday


Kenny and team targeted thrushes for their ringing session in an orchard in Milton Keynes today and despite the cold conditions affecting the mist nets they caught a very good 47 birds made up of an amazing total of 29 Blackbirds! It is likely that a high proportion of these birds will be from other countries 'enjoying' the relatively mild UK winter and hopefully we will have confirmation of this if and when we next hear of them! Other birds included 11 Redwings, 3 Woodpigeons, 3 Robins and a Chaffinch.

Birds at Hanging Houghton included a pair of Bullfinches and about six Bramblings in the garden plus a hunting Barn Owl in the Brampton Valley below the village.

Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows again hosted the female Scaup, a pair of Red-crested Pochard, a Shelduck and a Great White Egret.

Nearby at Stanwick Lakes/Pits the ringing demonstration processed 53 birds which included two Redwings, a Song Thrush, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Goldcrests. Some birding on-site produced sightings of a Kingfisher, two Little Egrets, three Snipe, four Goosanders, a Chiffchaff, a Grey Wagtail and a Pink-footed Goose which was at the east end of the complex with Greylag Geese.

Some scanning late afternoon looking over towards Neville's Lodge from the A6 south of Finedon produced good views of a 'ringtail' Hen Harrier hunting the fields close to the road (it looked like a first year male), and a more distant Short-eared Owl that was hunting the area towards the base of the old landfill site. Both birds occasionally perched up on the low hedges.

Other birds noted today included a Great Northern Diver at Pitsford Reservoir (near to the Gorse Bushes this afternoon) and nine Mandarin Ducks and a Black Swan at Blatherwycke Lake. John Friendship-Taylor's efforts in the under watched south of the county located a/the adult Caspian Gull in cattle fields by a farm between Chacombe and the A361 and about ten Tree Sparrows in a hedgerow near there.


Neil M

Blackbird courtesy
of Cathy Ryden.

Tree Sparrow courtesy
of Dave Jackson.

Adult Caspian Gull
courtesy of Jacob Spinks.