Saturday, 30 March 2019

Birding on a warm, sunny Saturday!


Another bright and sunny and even warm day today although the outlook for the next week looks much cooler.

Some of the local nest box monitoring schemes are underway as the Blue, Coal and Great Tits are preparing their nests early this year, with even a few pairs producing eggs already. They have a little way to go to catch up with the Long-tailed Tits though which paired off some weeks ago now and many have finished their state of the art des res in the standard of nests! These homes are a collection of feathers, spiders webs, moss and a variety of other fine ingredients woven into an elaborate domed nest generally suspended in a thorny bush.

A brief visit to Pitsford Reservoir to fill up the feeders at the feed station was sufficient to note a second summer Mediterranean Gull flying around north of the causeway, an early Common Sandpiper on the causeway and a Little Owl perched in hedging.

The Great Grey Shrike remains in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton, showing rather well on and off all day. It is currently utilising the hedgerow which has a 'Environmental Headlands' notice (on the LHS travelling along the track from HH to Cottesbrooke) and also the field ditch close to the straw/manure heap also on the LHS travelling away from the Brampton Valley Way. This afternoon a Short-eared Owl flew through the area. On the RHS of the track the wild bird crop is still attracting up to a hundred Yellowhammers and much smaller numbers of Reed Buntings and Tree Sparrows. There is also a collection of Chaffinches on the hard standing just in front of the large barn on the RHS travelling from the Brampton Valley Way, this also being a regular venue for Brambling (but not reported today).

The Cattle Egret showed itself on the Delta Pit at Ditchford Pits again today, but did become obscured in the vegetation in the vicinity of the Cormorant colony.

An Osprey was over the A43 near Blatherwycke Lake today, the lake itself hosting a pair of Black Swans and two pairs of Mandarin Duck. Thrapston Pits yielded three Great White Egrets today including one in breeding plumage, three Pink-footed Geese still and the pair of Oystercatchers. Butterflies were darting around in good numbers and included Orange-tips.

Summer Leys NR is likely to receive regular coverage now as we progress into spring and April tends to be a great month for viewing there. Birds there today included two Great White Egrets, an adult Mediterranean Gull, two Little Ringed Plovers, three Black-tailed Godwits and the drake Garganey was reported too.

Eleanor visited the excellent Kentle Wood today on the outskirts of Daventry, an altogether much quieter site for people than nearby Borough Hill Country Park, and the hill offers fantastic scanning opportunities with views for miles. Two Wheatears were present and an Osprey flew over heading north and two Ravens were present too. Undoubtedly the best bird though was a high-up White Stork that was soaring slowly south over the hill at about 3.45pm - it slowly disappeared into the haze that was a feature of the mid and late afternoon.

Single Ravens were seen at Hanging Houghton and Staverton and birds visiting our small garden at Hanging Houghton included a few each of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting and a pair of Nuthatch.


Neil M

White Stork.

Great Crested Grebe
courtesy of Cathy Ryden.

Bittern at RSPB
Lakenheath courtesy
of Cathy Ryden.

Northants Bird Club Indoor Meeting 3rd April


The next meeting of the Northants Bird Club will be on Wednesday 3rd April at the usual venue of the Fishing Lodge at Pitsford Reservoir (just off the road causeway on the road between Holcot and Brixworth) commencing at 7.30pm.

The visiting speaker Alan Peters will provide an illustrated presentation of his expedition to Kazakhstan in search of the special birds of this region and his talk is entitled 'Birding the Steppes and Mountains of Central Asia'.

Refreshments will be available during the evening and both members and non members of the club are welcome to come along!


Neil M

Demoiselle Crane.

Pallas's Sandgrouse.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Late March sunshine


A walk at Harrington Airfield this morning was useful to avoid the fog and mist of the valleys but only provided a sighting of a male Wheatear and little else. The Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton was initially fog-bound this morning but later the Great Grey Shrike came out to play showing well near to the manure heap and nearby hedges. Other birds nearby included a Corn Bunting, three Bramblings, a male Wheatear and a male Peregrine which seems to have taken up residence during the last week.

Ravens were noted at Kelmarsh and Hanging Houghton today and the Cattle Egret again appeared in bushes under the Cormorant colony at Ditchford Pits on the Delta Pit. Two Little Ringed Plovers were on Gull island on the Summer Leys Reserve at Earls Barton and yesterday an excellent photograph was taken of a Hooded Crow in flight along the valley just north of the reserve.

Eric and Ken Spriggs checked Titchmarsh Reserve and Thrapston Pits this morning notching up the usuals in the beautiful spring weather! Their haul included two Great White Egrets, the first year Whooper Swan, the three Pink-footed Geese, two Snipe, two Oystercatchers, a Kingfisher on Harpers Brook and warblers included Cetti's, Blackcap and Chiffchaff.

Two more ringing recoveries relate to a locally ringed Moorhen and Blue Tit:-

A young Moorhen was ringed at Pitsford Reservoir on 16th December 2016 and it's leg (and only the leg) with the ring affixed was found in Shenley, Church End, Milton Keynes on 20th March 2019! It is assumed that this bird moved south to the Milton Keynes area of it's own volition and was subsequently predated or otherwise came unstuck 36km from the original ringing site and 824 days later.

A first year Blue Tit was ringed in Market Harborough on 14th February 2018 by Rich Goswell of the Rockingham Forest Ringing Group. This bird was re-caught at Hanging Houghton on 27th November 2018, for some reason this little blue waif decided to travel south for 14km down the A508, 286 days elapsing between the two captures.


Neil M


Blue Tit.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Pitsford CBC


I completed the first Common Bird Census of the season on the reserve section of Pitsford Reservoir today, a fair bit of it in stunning sunshine!

Perhaps not surprisingly there were plenty of birds in song, and in addition to the usual species today it included a couple of Bramblings and a Cetti's Warbler. Nuthatches were located at a record four different locations around the reserve, a sign that the woods are maturing. Another bird that has been increasing in recent years as the plantations have grown older is the Marsh Tit with sightings in all three of the bays and including singing birds on territory. Sadly there was only one singing Willow Tit which was in the Scaldwell Bay.

A Firecrest was located at the back of the Scaldwell Bay, lingering in a lone spruce and neighbouring Scots Pines near to the vehicle bridge over the brook, well beyond the Ringing Hut. Two Oystercatchers remain and Black-headed Gulls seem to be attracted to the rafts in the Scaldwell Bay, it has been some years since they have nested on these floating 'islands'.

A few Siskins were about and plenty of Common Buzzards, Red Kites and Sparrowhawks were busy in the blue skies. The most frustrating bird was a large lark that overflew the reservoir at 10.25am heading SW over the Scaldwell Bay. I heard the distinctive calls but was slow in picking it up in the blue sky and my visual appreciation was limited as it undulated away from me. Being especially large and sporting black underwings it was clearly an exciting bird but it just kept on flying strongly away...and I suspect will never be seen again!

Five species of butterfly on the wing included Orange-tip and incoming avian summer visitors included plenty of Chiffchaffs and a couple of singing Blackcaps. Some of the Cormorants have young in the nest, the colony now with 41 attended nests with others in preparation. A Great White Egret dropped in to the Walgrave Bay this morning, the first there for a while and two Redwings were in trees at the far end of the bay

Elsewhere and John Woollett ringed a female Brambling in his Astcote garden this morning and the Great Grey Shrike showed well early this morning between Cottesbrooke and Hanging Houghton but couldn't be found this afternoon. Blueberry Farm attracted sightings of twenty fly-over Golden Plovers, twenty Fieldfares and two Redwings.

A White Stork was seen in flight in a couple of locations in the county today after roosting in Warwickshire last night. The last reported sighting was flying west over Higham Ferrers. Mike Alibone saw the Cattle Egret at Ditchford Pits, again in bushes underneath the Cormorant colony of Delta Pit and best accessed from the Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre. Steve Fisher's daily early morning assessment of Stanwick Pits provided him with a flock of 16 Ruff on the Main Lake but unfortunately they seemingly didn't stay.


Neil M

Male Bullfinch
nibbling the buds!

Bank Vole (I think?)

Courting Great Crested Grebes.

Long-tailed Tit. Lots of pairs
 building their fantastic nests
 at Pitsford today!

All images from Pitsford Reservoir today.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Christies Copse ringing


A ringing session took place at Christies Copse in the Walgrave Bay at Pitsford Reservoir this morning, on a cloudy calm day which saw plenty of visible migration during the first couple of hours post dawn. Small numbers of Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls were moving around at tree top height and two or more Crossbills were heard calling overhead for a short while but moved off without being seen. Redwings included a flock of forty which landed in trees in the copse before moving on and four Oystercatchers were flying around in typical noisy fashion!

Great Tits and Blue Tits dominated the ringing session which saw 118 birds being processed but also included four Coal Tits, a Marsh Tit, a Goldfinch, four Chaffinches, a Redwing, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and three resident Blackbirds which have all been around for a few years!

Other birds noted included a Raven, a Woodcock, the singing Cetti's Warbler still and plenty of Chiffchaffs, a singing Blackcap and a small party of Sand Martins.

A/the Cattle Egret was located at Stanwick Pits/Lakes by Steve Fisher this morning, initially on the layby pit and later flying towards the Visitor Centre. The Great Grey Shrike and a Corn Bunting were again in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton today, the shrike on show for much of the day.

A male Brambling was in Hanging Houghton village this morning and later two were on the seed by the big barn in the valley below the village. Another noisy Oystercatcher was heard calling over the village late this afternoon!


Neil M

Blue Tit.

Coal Tit.

Great Tit.

Marsh Tit.

All images courtesy of
John Tilly.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Common Cranes, Tawny Owls and incoming Blackcaps!


The Great Grey Shrike was again present from the track that leads between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke this morning.

Matt Hazleton saw two Great White Egrets at Summer Leys NR this morning plus a Green Sandpiper and a Blackcap.

Pitsford Reservoir hosted at least one Great Northern Diver today with one bird in the Pintail Bay, and a drake Red-crested Pochard was feeding off the Sailing Club. A Grey Wagtail was at Brixworth Treatment Works.

Martin Swannell saw a pair of Common Cranes thermalling over Moulton village at about 10.25am and Eleanor saw presumably the same birds soaring over Holcot village heading towards Pitsford Reservoir at midday.

Harrington Airfield provided views of a male Peregrine, a male Wheatear and four Grey Partridges. Birds at Thrapston Pits today included a Great White Egret, three Pink-footed Geese, the long-staying Whooper Swan, a Green Sandpiper, two Snipe, a Redshank and two Oystercatchers. Five Siskins were also present as were plenty of Chiffchaffs and singing Blackcaps and a Peregrine.

Deene Lake attracted an Osprey, five pairs of Shelduck, a pair of Black Swans, a flock of over a hundred Teal, three Snipe and four Green Sandpipers.

A check of the owl boxes at Pitsford Reservoir today confirmed four boxes occupied by Tawny Owls. One of these was a bird first ringed as an adult on 19th March 2015 and another was ringed as a nestling on 23rd April 2014. Other birds noted included a Raven, a couple of singing Blackcaps, four Marsh Tits on territory and Nuthatches holding territory in two areas. However the rarity for the site was a singing Cetti's Warbler in the Walgrave Bay, the first confirmed record for perhaps eighteen years!


Neil M

Common Cranes.

Tawny Owl
courtesy of
Chris Payne.

Bathing Blackcaps
courtesy of
Robin Gossage.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Ditchford WeBS count


More lovely sunshine today compensated for the cold air and made for a smashing spring day.

The morning was spent at Ditchford Pits completing the March WeBS count. The pits west of Ditchford Lane produced a pair of Egyptian Geese, three Oystercatchers and a Shelduck and there were nine Common Snipe on marshy land east of the lane. Chiffchaffs and Cetti's Warblers were in reasonable numbers but unusually there were no Kingfishers seen and very few Great Crested Grebes in their usual haunts.

Two egrets roosting in bushes on Delta Pit underneath the Cormorant colony proved to be a Little Egret and a part summer plumage Cattle Egret. This pit is between the old Skew Bridge pit and the Wilsons Pits complex and the birds were relatively close to a wooden viewing platform on the circular walk that surrounds the old Skew Bridge Pit and is accessible from the Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre.

Butterflies were on show in sheltered areas and included the expected Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells but two Orange-tips seemed early. Nick Parker later located a Little Ringed Plover on the adjacent Irthlingborough Lakes reserve and Bob Bullock saw four Little Ringed Plovers at Clifford Hill Pits on pools by the river footbridge.

Summerleys NR hosted a drake Garganey today as reported by Kim Taylor and later Dave Jackson. Eric's walk at Thrapston Pits today produced records of a Kingfisher, a small flock of House Martins, two Green Sandpipers, three Little Egrets, two Great White Egrets, two Pink-footed Geese still and a pair of Shelduck. Chiffchaffs and Cetti's Warblers were present in numbers and butterflies here included Comma and Small Tortoiseshell.

This afternoon the Great Grey Shrike was on show again from the track between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke and other birds included a Barn Owl, three Bramblings, two Corn Buntings and fifty fly-over Fieldfares.


Neil M

Great Grey Shrike this afternoon
between HH and Cottesbrooke, image
taken by Eleanor.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Sunday's spring weather birds!


A quieter day of bird activity for me today! The garden provided small numbers of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers coming in for broadcast seed (this is a particularly critical time for buntings as they struggle to find sufficient natural seeds), and a walk around the fields nearby was sufficient to find a few lingering Fieldfares and Redwings.

Over the week-end the bird food crop in the valley below the village continues to attract hungry birds which included a hundred Yellowhammers and a flock of 40 - 50 Stock Doves. Broadcast seed by the large barn near to the Brampton Valley Way continues to attract Chaffinches and other birds, and this morning two Bramblings were again with them. Close to this area and on the other side of the track, the Great Grey Shrike was hunting from vegetation in the ditch near to a large straw/manure heap and a Wheatear was nearby.

The sunshine and cool breeze brought out all the Common Buzzards and Red Kites again today, it seemed impossible to scan around today and not see examples of both species riding the air currents.

Yesterday I took photographs of a male Kestrel exhibiting very clean plumage features and sporting blue/grey secondaries which is normally a trait of the much rarer Lesser Kestrel. Analysis of the images today suggests it is just a male Common Kestrel, but interestingly it was this bird's behaviour that aroused my attention as it was feeding just like the rarer species and taking insects on the ground and in flight. Oh well maybe there are some Lesser Kestrel genes in there somewhere!

Harrington Airfield today provided fly-over singles of Redpoll and Siskin but little else and Eleanor saw the usual two Ravens at Green Acres, Staverton today. The Little Owl was vocal in trees near to the Old Scaldwell Road Feeding Station at Pitsford Reservoir again today and now seems to be very much on territory. Perhaps not good news for the local Tree Sparrows though!

Adrian saw the Ring-necked Duck on the Titchmarsh Reserve at Thrapston today plus a Jack Snipe too and Martin Swannel saw a Swallow at Merry Tom Lane near Chapel Brampton!

Kenny Cramer and team completed a stint of ringing at Linford Lakes, Milton Keynes today and caught a good selection of birds. Ninety-one birds were processed of 14 species, 54 of which were newly-ringed birds. Totals were singles of Jay, Carrion Crow, Dunnock, Blackcap and Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus two Goldcrests, two Chiffchaffs, two Reed Buntings, three Wrens, seven Chaffinches, fifteen Goldfinches, ten Greenfinches, sixteen Blue Tits and twenty-nine Great Tits. Two Snipe were seen on-site and non-avian interest included two Common Shrews and two Grass Snakes.


Neil M

Male Blackcap.

Carrion Crow.

Both images courtesy
of Kenny Cramer.

Birds of Friday/Saturday


Yesterday (22nd) and local birds included the Great Grey Shrike and a Corn Bunting again in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton. A few Bramblings and Siskins were at Scotland Wood (Kelmarsh) and there were again nine Common Buzzards in one tilled field near the village. A few Siskins and the pair of Oystercatcher were at Pitsford Reservoir.

Eric's birding at Thrapston Pits provided records of the immature Whooper Swan, three Pink-footed Geese, a pair of Shelduck, two Great White Egrets, two Oystercatchers, three aggressive Kingfishers and several Chiffchaffs and Cetti's Warblers.

Today (23rd) and a ringing session at Scotland Wood provided 69 birds of 14 species, 41 of which were new birds. They were made up of two Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, a Dunnock, two Wrens, four Robins, three Nuthatches, a Treecreeper, a Goldcrest, a Long-tailed Tit, twenty Great Tits, sixteen Blue Tits, ten Coal Tits, six Chaffinches and a Chiffchaff. Other birds seen included a Crossbill, a male Brambling and a Siskin.

The Great Grey Shrike and Corn Bunting showed up in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this morning and again there were two Ravens in the village. This afternoon two crane sps flew from Brixworth towards Pitsford Res, they were viewed distantly from the track that runs along the Brampton Valley towards Cottesbrooke.

Elsewhere two Wheatears were at Borough Hill CP, and a Green Sandpiper and a flock of Sand Martins were at Ravensthorpe Reservoir. Two Avocets graced the Summer Leys Reserve with a Little Ringed Plover also in attendance. Single Short-eared Owls were seen at Neville's Lodge and next to Lilbourne Meadows and Nick Parker again relocated the Ring-necked Duck at Thrapston Pits on the Titchmarsh reserve this afternoon at about 4pm. A male Peregrine was near Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) this afternoon.


Neil M



Song Thrush.

Long-tailed Tit.


Blue Tit with deformed
upper mandible.

All images by John Tilly at
Scotland Wood.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Spring wildlife


For a couple of hours yesterday afternoon and for much of the morning today, a ringing session was undertaken at Pitsford Reservoir around the main feed station at the Old Scaldwell Road. Eighty-eight birds were processed with singles of Mute Swan, Wren, Goldfinch, Robin and a Common Snipe, two Blackbirds, three Meadow Pipits, four Chaffinches, four Blue Tits, six Great Tits, twelve Tree Sparrows, fourteen Reed Buntings and thirty-eight Yellowhammers all being assessed.

A Little Owl paid the ringing site a visit, a drake Red-crested Pochard was again present in the Scaldwell Bay and an Otter was being mobbed by Great Black-backed Gulls near to the causeway.
Later Pete Gilbert saw two Curlews overfly the reservoir and Jacob confirmed the continued presence of the two Great Northern Divers north of the dam this afternoon.

A little further north and Rutland Water apparently now has five Ospreys back at the reservoir!

Nick Parker came up trumps in the county today, locating a drake Ring-necked Duck at Thrapston Pits at 3pm this afternoon, the bird showing on Aldwincle Lake from Kirby Hide. Other birds located in the county today included a Jack Snipe at Stortons Pits, a single Snipe at Harrington Airfield and two Short-eared Owls still at Neville's Lodge, Finedon (courtesy of Tom Green).

Eleanor's daily venture into the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this morning again yielded the Great Grey Shrike plus a Corn Bunting, a Barn Owl and three Bramblings (two cracking males) on seed by the large barn.


Neil M

Barn Owl.


All images courtesy
of John Gamble.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Nice spring weather!


Some birders active very early this morning included Dave Jackson at Pitsford Reservoir where he saw a Great Northern Diver not far from the car park just south of the causeway, and a Merlin and a Curlew.

Eleanor was in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and saw the Great Grey Shrike again (but it went absent again this afternoon), two Corn Buntings, a Brambling and a Wheatear.

Ben noted two Ravens over Lamport, Phil Jackman saw a Green Sandpiper and seven Redshank on the main lake at Stanwick and John Moon located a Black-tailed Godwit and a Great White Egret at Summer Leys NR.

Over at Thrapston Pits, Eric located all three Pink-footed Geese, three Great White Egrets, a female Goosander, plenty of Chiffchaffs and Cetti's Warblers and Peacock and Brimstone butterflies.

Gary Pullen noted a hybrid gull (Glaucous x Herring) at Daventry Reservoir this morning, these birds sometimes being called 'Nelson's Gull' or 'Viking Gull' - unfortunately the bird didn't linger.

A Jack Snipe and forty plus Snipe were north of the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon and there were a couple of Sand Martins buzzing about too.


Neil M

Great Northern Diver
at Pitsford Reservoir courtesy
of Dave Jackson.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Siskins, Reed Warblers and buntings.


The Great Grey Shrike was again visible from the track that connects the villages of Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke, initially this morning and still present late this afternoon. It's new favoured area appears to be a small plantation on top of the hill, off to the left hand side travelling from Hanging Houghton. In addition two Bramblings were on seed by the large barn near to the Brampton Valley Way below HH, a Barn Owl was ranging widely and two Corn Buntings joined the Yellowhammers again at the wild bird feed crop.

A heavy passage of Meadow Pipits was evident today, still with good numbers moving this afternoon over Harrington Airfield where there was also a pair of Grey Partridge.

Alan Coles saw the two Great Northern Divers at Pitsford Reservoir today, again close to the causeway car park and Steve Fisher saw a Black-tailed Godwit and nine Redshanks at Stanwick Pits this morning.

A few Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers visited seed in our garden today and two Siskins spent a short time on the niger feeder.

Some ringing recoveries have been received of two juvenile Reed Warblers ringed at Stanwick Pits. S214415 relates to a bird ringed on 5th August 2016 and was again recorded on 6th May 2018 when caught by a ringer operating at Laguna de Negrillos, Leon, Spain (639 days later and 1186km from Stanwick). S750867 refers to a bird ringed on 16th July 2017 and assessed as an adult when caught again by a ringer working at Lagunas de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain on 2nd September 2018 (413 days later and 1127km from Stanwick).


Neil M


Reed Warbler.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Pitsford WeBS and the one that got away!


Much of today was spent completing the March WeBS count at Pitsford Reservoir, the last such count of the season.

The two Great Northern Divers were between the dam and the causeway and by early afternoon were close in to the Brixworth bank by the car park. A drake Red-crested Pochard was in the Scaldwell Bay and waders included a Jack Snipe, forty-eight Snipe and a pair of Oystercatcher. A big hatch of flies in pleasant, warmer conditions provided plenty of food for a variety of birds including many small gulls hawking over the water.

Summer migrants included ten Sand Martins and about sixteen Chiffchaffs on-site, a Wheatear near to the Pintail Bay and an overflying north-bound Osprey which flew over the adjacent Brixworth Country Park. An interesting kite also flew north which resembled a Black Kite, the bird was pretty tatty and missing primary feathers on both wings and unfortunately flew over north without being identified for certain.

Other birds included in excess of a dozen Siskins, three Kingfishers and nearly a hundred Cormorants (with about 39 occupied nests in the Walgrave Bay).

Lots of aircraft airborne over the reservoir today included three giant B52s, a Hercules, a Spitfire, the Blades Aerobatics team and an unidentified WW2 American fighter (maybe a Grumman Hellcat?)!

This afternoon the Great Grey Shrike between Hanging Houghton and Cottesbrooke was located in a hilltop plantation visible from the track and was still present up to about 5.50pm. In the same area birds included a Barn Owl, eleven Golden Plovers flying west, a Brambling and a decent flock of Yellowhammers (but one less due to a marauding Sparrowhawk).


Neil M


Furtive Fox!



The Blades and friend!

Carrion Crow.

All images taken at
Pitsford Reservoir today.