Sunday, 30 June 2019

Linford Lakes ringing


Last night a Barn Owl was very vocal around the village, flying around and calling a great deal. This territorial flying and calling is rarely seen during daytime as they fly around calling a couple of hundred feet up; in some respects this action is similar to a Woodcock. The begging juvenile Tawny Owl was vocal at the same time.

A fairly early morning walk around Harrington Airfield provided a calling Quail, audible from the bunkers but in all probability calling from further west and probably west of the concrete track as well. A couple of Grey Partridge are happily part of the scenery but there was no sign of any early passerine migrants. It was a bit early for butterflies but there were Painted Ladies, Ringlets and Small Heath on the go and Cinnabar and Burnett Companion moths.

A nectar crop is in flower at the moment in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and there was a distinct hum of busy bees of all sorts plus a variety of butterflies and Silver Y Moths taking advantage. Reed Buntings, Common Whitethroats and Skylarks are all holding territories in the crop too. Two Hobby went racing over but otherwise it was just the usual suspects in the valley today.

Birds in the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Reservoir this evening included four Little Egrets and a moulting drake Goldeneye, a regular feature at this site in mid summer.

A busy ringing session at Linford Lakes at Milton Keynes today saw about 150 birds being processed, with two nestling Kestrels being ringed there yesterday. The catch today was made up of 25 Blackcaps, 13 Garden Warblers, 10 Whitethroats, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Sedge Warblers, 8 Reed Warblers, 5 Cetti's Warblers, 15 Chiffchaffs, 2 Treecreepers, 6 Wrens, 4 Dunnocks, 3 Robins, 26 Blue Tits, 16 Great Tits, 5 Long-tailed Tits, a Song Thrush, a Bullfinch, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Kingfishers and a Green Woodpecker.

A bit of drama here at Hanging Houghton today when the regular visiting male Sparrowhawk caught a Starling in the field behind the garden. The hawk was trying to subdue the Starling which was resisting and making quite a noise with mobbing Swallows making the Sparrowhawk duck as it began to pluck the unfortunate prey item. As always the hawk was constantly looking around as it is vulnerable itself in this situation and with the Starling still creating a racket two Carrion Crows came in to investigate. At the same time a Common Buzzard glided in and in the commotion the Sparrowhawk was frightened off and the buzzard grabbed the Starling and flew off with it and presumably killed it shortly afterwards. A very traumatic end of life for the Starling and the Sparrowhawk empty-taloned despite doing all the early hard work!


Neil M

Lesser Whitethroat.

Juvenile male
Green Woodpecker.

Images courtesy of Kenny Cramer.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Hot weather wildlife


Yesterday (Friday) was a quiet day for me wildlife wise. A visit to Welford and Sulby Reservoirs first thing didn't produce anything much of significance and in fact it was still pretty cool and grey by the time I left there. 

The south end of Pitsford Reservoir hosted the usual Yellow-legged Gull but otherwise was quiet and Harrington Airfield mustered a couple of Grey Partridges but not much else. The Common Redstart at Lamport Hall was looked for again but not seen. The last couple of evenings there has been a juvenile Tawny Owl uttering it's distinctive begging calls in trees near to the house; it must be hungry because it was calling during the daytime today!

Bird of the day was undoubtedly a Eurasian Bee-eater heard calling over Byfield village in the evening (but not seen), which reminds me of a similar incident here at Hanging Houghton a couple of years ago. Well done to Gary Pullan for picking up on it!

Today (Saturday) turned into a very hot day and there were plenty of insects on the wing. Sarah Gibbs found some Hornet Clearwing Moths on poplars in Wicksteed Park (Kettering) this morning and Neil Hasdell found Silver-washed Fritillaries on the wing in Castor Hanglands. There were good numbers of Beautiful Demoiselles (and outnumbering the Banded Demoiselles) on the Brampton Brook in the valley below Hanging Houghton. Two pairs of Meadow Pipits are breeding on valley headlands this year, one pair has fledged young already and the other pair appear to be feeding young in the nest. Lesser Whitethroats have been vocal again during the last week or so, signalling an intent on a second brood, and a few pairs of Starling have already second brooded with their recently fledged young noisily in tow.

After a disastrous year in 2018 the Kingfishers are becoming more numerous now and I saw three different individuals locally (probably all juveniles). Other dispersing juveniles were single Grey Wagtails at Pitsford Reservoir and Brixworth Treatment Works. The Yellow-legged Gull was again off the Sailing Club at Pitsford Reservoir this evening. The nomadic escaped female Bufflehead put in an appearance at Stortons Pits today.


Neil M

Hornet Clearwing Moths
courtesy of Sarah Gibbs.

Little Owl
courtesy of John Tilly.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Northants Bird Club outdoor meeting 3rd July


On the evening of Wednesday 3rd July the Northants Bird Club will be holding an outside meeting at Pitsford Reservoir, this time reconnoitering the Walgrave Bay. We plan to meet and park vehicles at 7pm on a farm barn hard standing at the top of the Old Walgrave Road off the minor road from Holcot to Walgrave. From here we will be transported down the old road to the Walgrave Bay and will walk to the back of the bay (probably as far as some small ponds constructed four years ago). It is hoped to have some hot drinks and refreshments on-site, in all probability in the Walgrave Hide.

Sarah Gibbs, the senior reserve warden will be on hand to explain some of the management plans and techniques utilised on the site for the benefit of wildlife, particularly associated with the blocks of woodland. Currently there is no plan to use the Fishing Lodge (unless it is forecast as a wet night!). Following our walk we will be transported back up the old road to our vehicles. This is an opportunity to see some of the lesser well known areas of the reserve and we will be focusing on the birds, insects and trees. 

Everyone is welcome!

Neil M

Great Crested Grebe
courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Common Tern
courtesy of Dave Jackson.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Here comes summer!


A very pleasant walk around Ravensthorpe Reservoir this morning was overdue, after all many years ago this was very much 'my patch'! Birds included two Oystercatchers, a Lesser Black-backed x ? Gull hybrid (closely resembling a Yellow-legged Gull), at least two juvenile Grey Wagtails and the moulting ducks included Gadwall and a couple of Teal.

I saw a Hobby near Scaldwell today and with the arrival of the sunshine out poured plenty of butterflies with really good numbers of Meadow Brown, Red Admiral and of course lots of Painted Ladies.

A ringing session took place in the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Reservoir today and a little of yesterday evening, netting 79 birds of 20 species made up of 8 Mallard, a Blackbird, a Song Thrush, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Nuthatch, a Marsh Tit, a Coal Tit, 10 Blue Tits, 9 Great Tits, 4 Long-tailed Tits, 11 Wrens, 3 Robins, a Dunnock, 7 Treecreepers, 10 Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Goldcrests and 2 Bullfinches.


Neil M

Mistle Thrush.

Moulting Mallard.

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Common Tern.


All images today from
Ravensthorpe Reservoir.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The power of nest boxes!


Yesterday (Tuesday) was pretty wet in the morning but dryer in the afternoon. Three Ravens were noted in a sheep field near Naseby and birds in the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Reservoir in the evening included the summering Yellow-legged Gull and four Little Egrets.

Today (Wednesday) I took a fairly early morning walk adjacent to Lamport Hall and discovered a singing male Common Redstart in hawthorns close to the footpath which borders the southern edge of the parkland. I assume this is a bird already beginning it's journey south, and probably downed by the recent spell of wet weather. Other birds noted in the county today included a Grey Plover and two Green Sandpipers at Ravensthorpe Reservoir and two Cattle Egrets again at Stanwick Pits with another one reported at Blatherwycke Lake this evening.

The nest box season is over for many birds already this year with perhaps Robins, Wrens, Spotted Flycatchers, owls, sparrows and Stock Doves being the remaining species still using them. In some years Great Tits can second brood and both House and Tree Sparrows can occasionally triple brood! Specialist Swift boxes will be in use for a little while yet and late Starlings and Kestrels will be a similar story. In South Northants Chris Payne's fourteen tit boxes at one site propelled 84 youngsters into the big wild world (all Blue Tits and Great Tits) and over a hundred young tits flew from erected boxes at Greens Norton and Bradden. The tit boxes at Pitsford Reservoir were also well used with over seven hundred nestlings fledging from them!


Neil M

Juvenile Swallows
maturing nicely with
virtually no room left
in the nest!

Incubating adult Robin.

Both images taken by
Chris Payne.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Ringing recoveries...


A batch of recently received ringing recoveries associated with local bird ringing activities are as follows:-

1. A first year Blue Tit was ringed at Scotland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate on 23rd March this year and quite remarkably was then caught and processed by a ringer at a place called Rosedan, Bagillt in Flintshire on 9th June. So much for Blue Tits not wandering far! This bird flew 179km in a WNW direction and presumably from the recovery date was probably trying to breed in Wales. It would be interesting to know where this bird hatched last year, was it a local bird on an extended wander or a bird from Wales wintering in the English Midlands?

2. A Chiffchaff hatched last year was ringed at Stanford Reservoir on 22nd September 2018 and was caught on 19th June this year when assessed as an adult male (probably breeding) at Brixworth Treatment Works. Although it is only 17 km between the two sites, it is most likely that this bird has travelled hundreds of km in the meantime;

3. A first year male Goldfinch was caught and ringed at Bradden, South Northants on 23rd December 2018 and was found dead having hit a window pane at Newcastleton, Cumbria on or about 4th June this year. This small finch had travelled 354km in a NNW direction and was presumably trying to breed in Cumbria. This follows similar patterns of Goldfinches and Siskins ringed in the English Midlands during the winter period and then being located in North England or Scotland during the breeding season;

4. A foot with the metal ring attached was all that was found of a ringed Stock Dove at Pitsford Reservoir today! This bird was originally caught and ringed as an adult bird at Pitsford Reservoir on 18th May 2013 and caught there again on 6th September 2015 before being predated very recently at the same site;

5. A juvenile Reed Warbler was ringed at Marston Sewer Works, Lincolnshire on 8th August 2013 and was caught by ringers at Stortons Pits on 16th June this year when assessed as being an adult female (and presumably breeding on-site). The distance between the two sites is just 84km but of course this bird has made twelve journeys to or from Africa in that time - staggering!

6. A juvenile Reed Warbler was ringed at Marsworth Reservoir, Tring, Hertfordshire on 9th July 2017 and was caught at Linford Lakes, Milton Keynes on 9th June 2019 when assessed as being an adult male. Seven hundred days elapsed between the two records and in that time this bird has travelled to or from Africa on four occasions, albeit that Linford and Marsworth are only 31km away from each other...


Neil M

Blue Tit.

Chiffchaff courtesy
of Kenny Cramer.


Stock Dove.

Reed Warbler.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Painted Ladies and more...


A short wander at Harrington Airfield today following the illegal rave there on Saturday/Sunday night revealed no apparent harm to the wildlife crucial areas which was a relief. A couple of the usual Grey Partridges were still on site and as the sun began to break through there were good numbers of butterflies comprising of Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Heath, Common Blue, Ringlet and migrating Red Admirals and with large numbers of Painted Ladies hurtling through. Day-flying moths included Cinnabar, a Burnet sp and Burnet Companion and the Common Spotted and Bee Orchids were looking pristine.

Spending a little time listening for Quail at a variety of locations today failed miserably but a pair of Spotted Flycatchers feeding young in a nest was a nice find!

In addition to the Barn Owl, the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton held large numbers of more Painted Lady butterflies, perhaps settling down this evening before migrating further after the anticipated rain has passed.


Neil M

Painted Lady.

Common Spotted Orchid.

Bee Orchid.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Stortons Ringing


The weather conditions this morning were ideal for some ringing at Stortons Pits on the outskirts of Northampton. The reserve now boasts an excellent extensive phragmites reed bed and large numbers of Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings and others breed here as well as the scrubby margins. Just a small number of nets provided ninety captures which included nine species of breeding warblers, with perhaps the highlights being a couple of Cetti's Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat. Other captures included a Woodpigeon, several juvenile Goldfinches and Greenfinches and a Bullfinch. Other birds noted included several noisy Water Rails squealing from the reed-beds, a Hobby and a Grey Wagtail.

As usual the Barn Owl persisted in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton today and Spotted Flycatchers were located at two locations on the Kelmarsh Estate this afternoon. Martin Swannell located a couple of Quail near Beckworth Emporium with the birds calling from bean fields off the lane from Mears Ashby.


Neil M

Garden Warbler.

Song Thrush.

Adult male Whitethroat.

Adult male Lesser Whitethroat.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Garden birding!


Spending the morning at home today provided an opportunity to see a few things that would have normally gone unnoticed! A cacophony of noises in the grass field behind the garden alerted me to the baying Jackdaws and Carrion Crows as they mobbed a Common Buzzard with a just-caught Rabbit. The raptor tried to fly off with it but was besieged by the black mob and dropped it. A little later and both Buzzard and Rabbit had gone so I guess he/she made a successful reclaim. A large shadow in the garden made me look up to see a Grey Heron very low circling the garden and eyeing up our garden ponds. It landed in trees nearby but with no fish in the ponds it may have come no closer. A couple of Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies whizzed through the garden, clearly on their way somewhere and a dark insect by one of the ponds proved to be a male Beautiful Demoiselle.

This afternoon I watched a fishing Osprey in the Walgrave Bay at Pitsford Reservoir and another was seen at Thrapston Pits today. A good sighting in the Nene Valley this morning was of a Spoonbill flying over Summer Leys Reserve, the bird being pushed higher by the gulls there until lost to view. A collection of 'wildfowl' at Clifford Hill Pits today included a Black Swan, a Barnacle Goose, two Bar-headed Geese, an Egyptian Goose and three Red-crested Pochard.

Eleanor saw about half a dozen Ravens at Staverton today and a walk at Kentle Wood near Daventry yielded a calling Quail in a small grass field there. It was only calling intermittently and later efforts to hear it this evening were unsuccessful.


Neil M

courtesy of Martin Swannell.

Common Buzzard and
Carrion Crow escort
courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Grey Heron.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Warm and sunny first day of summer!


Not much in the way of opportunity to be out and about today but a short lunchtime walk at Harrington Airfield provided the usual couple of Grey Partridges. The Common Spotted Orchids are looking much better now since the rain even if they are not in profusion this year. Butterflies included my first Ringlets of the year with still reasonable numbers of Common Blue and Small Heath on the wing. Day-flying moths included Cinnabar and Latticed Heath.

At least one Barn Owl was hunting in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this morning and at Pitsford Reservoir nineteen more Common Terns chicks and two more Black-headed Gull chicks were ringed on the rafts. The summering first year Yellow-legged Gull remains (present since last autumn) and other large larids taking advantage of dead and dying fish are fluctuating numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of summering Great Black-backed Gulls.


Neil M

Great Black-backed Gull.


Common Tern.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Pitsford CBC


I completed another Common Bird Census on the reserve at Pitsford Reservoir today. All the plantations appeared to contain gangs of young tits and it seemed that juvenile Coal Tits in particular were in good numbers. It was more quantity rather than quality though and I failed to find anything rare or unusual!

There was evidence of the start of the usual summer build up of ducks with over fifty Tufted Ducks, thirty-one Pochard and about ninety Gadwall. Thirty-nine active Cormorant nests were visible and other breeders present included Oystercatcher, Black-headed Gull and Common Tern. A Little Egret was seen, plus a first summer Yellow-legged Gull, a day-hunting Tawny Owl, a Nuthatch and two broods of Mute Swans. The Great Crested Grebes are slow off the mark with no successful breeding yet and only a few pairs of Coot have so far produced any young.

However the earlier arriving warblers are now producing fledged young with Blackcaps in very good numbers (and still 47 males singing) with some juvenile Chiffchaffs about too. Reed Warblers are notoriously late breeders at this site as they wait for the 'glyceria' reeds to grow and the only active birds are in the very limited patches of 'phragmites' reeds. Sedge Warblers and Grasshopper Warblers are completely absent this year but the male Cetti's Warbler remains on territory in the Walgrave Bay.

Garden Warbler song tends to peter out from about now but there were still thirteen singing birds and the majority were at regular breeding spots. Very few Willow Warblers breed here now but one bird was still singing and possibly as many as four Whitethroat territories were mapped.

The sunny but breezy conditions corralled the dragonflies to the confinements of the small pools at the back of the Walgrave Bay where there were plenty of Four-spotted Chasers and singles of Broad-bodied Chaser and Blue Emperor. Common Blue Damselflies were in excellent numbers and singles of Large Red Damselfly and Beautiful Demoiselle were seen. Butterflies only amounted to seven species and there were still day-flying Chimney Sweeper moths visible in most of the meadows.

Away from Pitsford and at least one Barn Owl was on show in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and Eric's visit to Thrapston Pits yielded common warblers, two Cuckoos, a pair of Oystercatchers and five Painted Lady butterflies.


Neil M

Swallow nest with eggs
and another nest with very
young Swallows!

Images courtesy of
Chris Payne.

Juvenile Pied Wagtails
courtesy of John Tilly.

A very young 'Cootling'
courtesy of John Tilly.

Barn Owl courtesy
of John Tilly.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Brixworth ringing


A ringing session took place at the Anglian Water Treatment Works at Brixworth today where it was hoped that the forecast rain would attract local Swallows and House Martins to the site. As it happens there was only a splash of rain and the hirundines mostly didn't appear! Nevertheless we managed to catch 59 birds of sixteen species, again typical local breeders.

Instead of Swallows the 'bird of the day' was Pied Wagtail, no less than 17 different juveniles were caught and ringed today, suggesting that the local breeding productivity has been good. Other birds amounted to five Swallows, a House Martin, a Jackdaw, a Magpie, three Starlings, a Reed Warbler, four Blackcaps (including a bird first ringed there as an adult in May 2017), eight Chiffchaffs (including a bird previously ringed elsewhere), a Wren, a Treecreeper, a Dunnock, two Robins, a Reed Bunting, nine Long-tailed Tits and three Blue Tits. Birds of note on-site included a Hobby which whizzed through a few times and a Grey Wagtail.

Barn Owls continue to be seen at Summer Leys LNR and in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton. A long-staying Ruddy Shelduck remains at Hollowell Reservoir and this site is a firm favourite fishing spot for Ospreys at the moment.

Eric Graham paid Blatherwycke Lake a visit today and saw eight Mandarin Ducks, Gadwall with ducklings and six Little Egrets.


Neil M

WW2 fighters over
Pitsford Reservoir
two days ago...

Drake Red-crested Pochard
Pitsford Reservoir, also two
days ago...

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Ringing at Pitsford Reservoir


Today's weather provided near perfect bird ringing conditions and with the rain of previous weeks and it seems with yet more to come, efforts were made to conduct some ringing at Pitsford Reservoir. Setting up and some initial ringing began yesterday (Monday) evening, but the majority of the action was this morning and into the early afternoon. Five ringers managed to process over 220 birds of 24 species, all being locally breeding birds or their offspring. It was good to see so many young birds after the low temperatures and rain of this month.

This total was made up of nine Mallard, twenty Common Terns, a Kingfisher, three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, six Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, four Dunnocks, nine Robins, ten Wrens, six Treecreepers, thirty-nine Blue Tits, forty-six Great Tits, a Marsh Tit, twenty-one Blackcaps, two Whitethroats, four Garden Warblers, a Reed Warbler, seven Chiffchaffs, twenty-three Tree Sparrows, a Bullfinch, two Chaffinches, two Goldfinches, four Yellowhammers and a Reed Bunting.

Damselflies were emerging in large numbers, some using mist net poles and nets as their metamorphic staging posts! Meadow Brown butterflies were on the wing plus a few Small Tortoiseshell and a Painted Lady.

Eric was at Thrapston Pits today, noting a Hobby, an Osprey, lots of common warblers, a Kingfisher, four Oystercatchers, three Cuckoos and a Little Egret. Plenty of common butterflies and odonata were on show too including the localised Scarce Chaser dragonfly.

Harrington Airfield held two Turtle Doves today, a Grasshopper Warbler and an adult male Peregrine and nearby there was a singing Grasshopper Warbler near to Blueberry Farm and a Barn Owl in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton.


Neil M

Meadow Brown butterfly.

Pitsford rainbow.

Tree Sparrow.

Monday, 17 June 2019

The Camargue


Locally not a great deal to write about currently, the drake Red-crested Pochard was showing well off the Old Scaldwell Road at Pitsford Reservoir today and a couple of hunting Barn Owls were still around Hanging Houghton again today.

A few classic images from the Camargue in France during a couple of short trips in May this year...


Neil M

Grey Heron.

Greater Flamingo.


Great Spotted Cuckoo.

Scarlet Darter.

Black-winged Stilt.

Cattle Egret.