Thursday, 31 October 2019

Owl boxes


It was cold first thing with a frost and bright horizon at dawn but by this evening the temperature had risen considerably which generally means there is rain and wind around the corner!

An hour's stomp around Harrington Airfield first thing this morning provided views of a female Merlin, several Bramblings and migrant flocks of Woodpigeons, Starlings, Redwings and Fieldfares. Meadow Pipits and 'alba' wagtails continue to move in smaller numbers now and a few Siskins went SW. Neil Underwood later had a Peregrine here.

Today was earmarked for Tawny Owl box erection and three of us spent the latter part of the morning into lunchtime on the Kelmarsh Estate where we put up three new boxes (as constructed by Chris Payne) in three different woodlands. Fingers crossed for next year!

Eleanor's wander around Blueberry Farm and the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton for a good part of the afternoon was pretty uneventful but there are still two pairs of Stonechats remaining and small numbers of Bramblings. A Brambling again visited our garden today and a Raven was nearby.

At Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon an adult Mediterranean Gull was on the Sailing Club pontoon, there was a third winter Yellow-legged Gull and a Rock Pipit seemed to fly away to the south from the dam on the approach of dusk. Other birds included a Kingfisher and at least one Grey Wagtail.

A Marsh Harrier showed several times at Summer Leys today.


Neil M

Tawny Owl.

We hope they like
their new homes!
Image courtesy
of Helen Franklin.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Ringing at Brixworth


A ringing session took place today at Brixworth Treatment Works where a team caught and processed 86 birds of 14 species. Seventy-five of these birds were newly-ringed, the other eleven having been caught on-site during previous sessions. We failed to catch some of the traditional species at this site; the wagtails and magpies evaded capture! However we assessed a male Sparrowhawk, three Blackbirds, a Redwing, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, twenty-five Blue Tits, sixteen Great Tits, five Long-tailed Tits, four Robins, thirteen Wrens, six Dunnocks, a Bullfinch, three Reed Buntings, a Yellowhammer and six Goldcrests.

Other birds noted included at least two Grey Wagtails, nine Snipe and two Water Rails.

Three Bramblings were with the Chaffinch flock by the large barn in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this morning. A Red-crested Pochard and a Stonechat were at Clifford Hill Pits today and a Marsh Harrier flew over the scrape at Summer Leys at about 10.15am...


Neil M


Long-tailed Tit.


Reed Bunting.





All images courtesy
of John Tilly.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Ringing recoveries


A busy ringing session at Bradden in South Northants today netted 107 birds made up of 55 Blue Tits, 34 Great Tits, a Coal Tit, a Long-tailed Tit, a Nuthatch, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Robins, 2 Wrens, 2 Goldcrests, 3 Dunnocks, a Goldfinch and 3 Chaffinches. Two Ravens were present there.

A rather quiet day for birds in the county today but Pitsford Reservoir continues to retain two Great White Egrets, now four Red-crested Pochard, four Pintail and two pairs of Stonechat all courtesy of Angi. A juvenile Whooper Swan was found by the River Tove at Bozenham today (Graham Martin), a Ring-necked Parakeet was visiting a bird table in Grafton Regis and a pair of Stonechat remains at Blueberry Farm.

Bramblings today included one in our garden again and two in the Brampton Valley with the Chaffinch flock below Hanging Houghton. At Harrington Airfield this morning two Woodcock were flushed and other birds included three Bramblings and a covey of four Grey Partridges.

Some recent ringing recoveries are as follows:-

1. A Great Tit which was ringed as a first year bird at Pitsford Reservoir on 23rd August 2019 was then caught again by ringers over at Stanford Reservoir on 8th October 2019, a distance of 20km movement over a 46 day period;

2. A Blue Tit which was ringed as a nestling in a nest box at Pitsford Reservoir on 20th May 2019 also found a mist net at Stanford Reservoir on 15th October 2019,  148 days having elapsed between the two records;

3. A Great Tit was caught and ringed at Laxton in the Welland Valley in north Northants on 21st September 2019 and then caught again at Harrington Airfield on 20th October 2019, this bird travelling 26km in a south westerly direction during a 29 day period;

4. A Tree Sparrow was ringed as a nestling in a nest box at the RSPB reserve of Saltholme, Stockton-on-Tees on 7th June 2019. This bird then appeared in a mist net at Pitsford Reservoir on 23rd October, 138 days later. That is a distance of 253km with this young bird effectively travelling almost directly south. This is not unprecedented as plenty of Tree Sparrows nesting in the north east of the UK migrate south in the autumn and we have recovered birds from the NE coast before.


Neil M

Great Tit
courtesy of Cathy Ryden.

Blue Tit.

Tree Sparrow.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Thrushes and Bramblings


A ringing session at Linford Lakes, Milton Keynes by Kenny Cramer and other members of the Northants Ringing Group yesterday (Sunday) was successful with a great selection of species again and with 90 birds processed, 70 of which were newly ringed. Warblers still persisted with 4 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Cetti's Warbler and also 6 Goldcrests. Three Kingfishers must have been a gaudy affair particularly with a male Bullfinch too! Not surprisingly tits were in reasonable numbers with 23 Blue Tits, 5 Great Tits and 19 Long-tailed Tits and of course at this time of the year we expect thrushes and the team managed 5 Redwings, 2 Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and a handsome Mistle Thrush which is a bird infrequently caught in standard mist nets.

Other birds on-site included Tawny and Barn Owls, a Great White Egret and a party of Whooper Swans.

Today (Monday) and most of the birds reported in Northants were 'As you were!' with little change from the week-end. Pitsford still sported a Great White Egret, three Red-crested Pochard, an adult Yellow-legged Gull, a couple of Stonechats, a Raven and one or two adult Mediterranean Gull(s) in the afternoon roost. Alan Coles saw a Great White Egret at Summer Leys but sadly the Bittern wasn't reported today.

Two male Bramblings, four Ravens and a Barn Owl were in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton today and there were six Bramblings along the Brampton Valley Way by Draughton Crossing.


Neil M

Kingfisher at release.

Mistle Thrush.

Images courtesy of
Kenny Cramer.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Week-end birding


The constant rain yesterday (Saturday) made for a difficult day wildlife-watching. It was surprisingly mild in the morning but the afternoon temperatures dropped and that with the rain produced lots of sodden birds looking in a pitiful state, not least some of the young Woodpigeons not used to such a deluge and feeling so cold.

I visited feeding stations on the Kelmarsh Estate, one was flooded and difficult to gain access to, the other completely empty of food indicating large numbers of birds feeding. An adult Mediterranean Gull was again present in the gull roost at Pitsford Reservoir but sadly it didn't look well. There are always one or two sickly gulls about, possibly suffering from salmonella or similar and I suspect it is suffering the same. These birds tend to become weaker and simply keel over or are finished off by the resident Carrion Crows which are experts at picking out the weaker individuals. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was present too. Adrian saw the three Red-crested Pochard in the Scaldwell Bay and a female Scaup was seen at Summer Leys.

Today (Sunday) and of course the weather has been different again with light winds and all-day sunshine and not surprisingly more birds were found. The day started with a Ring-necked Parakeet near Barnwell and Summer Leys attracted a Bittern, two Great White Egrets, a hundred Golden Plovers, eleven Ravens and a Stonechat. Clifford Hill Pits hosted a Red-crested Pochard and a Stonechat and Thrapston Pits continues to hold on to the Whooper Swan.

Elsewhere a pair of Stonechats were near the Wellingborough Embankment and nearby Neville's Lodge attracted a Yellow-legged Gull, a Stonechat, four Grey Partridges and some Tree Sparrows.
A Great White Egret was at Stanwick Pits and Pitsford Reservoir held two Great White Egrets north of the causeway, three Red-crested Pochard, an adult Yellow-legged Gull, two Pintail and a couple of Stonechats. Eleanor completed a quick walk this afternoon around Borough Hill Country Park (Daventry) and three Short-eared Owls were flying around and making that extraordinary excited barking noise that they produce. At least four Stonechats were present too (a remarkable autumn for them)!


Neil M

The autumn has been a
good one for scarce small
birds in the county - it might
be time for some Bearded Tits!

This bird was photographed
at Leighton Moss, Lancs
by John Tilly.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Calm morning, wild afternoon...


With the weather forecast indicating a fine start to the day but rain and wind later, I elected to visit Harrington Airfield first thing and took a wander around the bunkers. The usual suspects were about and there was some visible migration with relatively low numbers of Woodpigeons, Starlings, Redwings, Skylarks, winter thrushes, Meadow Pipits and 'Alba' wagtails on the move. Finches were also moving and a Brambling and a couple of Siskins went over. However the only bird of note was a first year male Peregrine that swept over the fields and headed east.

Eleanor's two visits to the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton pretty much drew a blank today although there are good numbers of common birds in the vicinity of 'shrike hedge'.

Re-stocking the Old Scaldwell Road feeding station at Pitsford Reservoir is a monthly task and after I finished that this morning the rain had begun. Scanning around provided three Red-crested Pochard, an adult Yellow-legged Gull and a Stonechat in the Scaldwell Bay and a Great White Egret in front of Lagoon Hide.

Two male Bramblings visited our garden this morning, joined by a female in the afternoon. A Grey Wagtail and a Redpoll were further garden additions with Ravens nearby.

Two Great White Egrets were at Stanwick Lakes today and a Whooper Swan, a Great White Egret and fourteen Snipe were at Summer Leys. A covey of nine Grey Partridges were seen near Hartwell by Graham Martin, with one perched in a elderberry (not a pear) tree!

A wild and windy gull roost at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon provided views of a/the adult Mediterranean Gull (it has a tendency to spend periods on the pontoon off the Sailing Club, nearest to the dam) plus a third year Yellow-legged Gull.


Neil M

In some autumns Stonechats
are very scarce in the county.
This autumn there seems to
be plenty about.

 Images courtesy
of John Tilly.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Barn Owls, Bramblings and more rain!


I forgot to mention yesterday that a Barn Owl was seen at the roadside between Moulton and Holcot early morning... there is evidence that many of the broods of young are late this year with still some pairs feeding unfledged youngsters.

A short ringing session at Woodford Halse this morning was curtailed when the forecast rain arrived earlier than anticipated. However among the small number of birds processed, highlights were probably a new Marsh Tit and five Goldcrests. Other birds on site which incorporates the upper reaches of the River Cherwell included Kingfisher, several Grey Wagtails and a drake Mandarin Duck (in flight). Decent-sized hedgerows and grazing meadows with plenty of trees and preserved corners makes for pleasant surroundings; a Hawfinch was present there on Sunday.

Eric Graham was at Thrapston Pits today and saw a Great White Egret on Aldwincle Lake and the Whooper Swan and a Yellow-legged Gull on Town Lake. Steve Fisher had two more Great White Egrets at Stanwick Pits plus a Brambling flying over.

Eleanor's morning foray in to the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton provided four Bramblings with the Chaffinch flock at the large barn by Brampton Brook and a pair of Stonechats. This afternoon there was a Corn Bunting, three Siskins and two Bramblings and a Barn Owl in the vicinity of 'shrike hedge'. A Brambling visited our garden at Hanging Houghton this afternoon.

At Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon there was a juvenile Scaup with Tufted Ducks just off the Sailing Club and the only bird of note in the rather small gull roost was just a single Yellow-legged Gull. I haven't seen any Mediterranean Gulls in the roost during the last four visits...


Neil M

Little Stint courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Lapwing courtesy of
John Tilly.

Curlew by
Robin Gossage.

Whinchat by
 Robin Gossage.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Woodlarks, Merlin and more!


Yesterday (Tuesday) and Chris Payne committed to a little ringing at one of his sites at Bradden in South Northants and quickly caught and processed 51 birds made up of the usual tits plus five Goldcrests, two Wrens, two Dunnocks, a Chaffinch and two new Siskins.

Today (Wednesday) and ringer John Woollett was surprised to catch and ring a Grey Wagtail in his Astcote garden.

For a few hours yesterday afternoon and again this morning there was some ringing activity at Pitsford Reservoir around the Old Scaldwell Road Feeding Station. One hundred and five birds were caught and processed of seventeen species with half the total being Blue and Great Tits and further proof of an exceptionally good breeding year for these species locally! Other birds included four Redwings, a Song Thrush, a Treecreeper, a Moorhen, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, nine Tree Sparrows, five Meadow Pipits, two Yellowhammers and three Reed Buntings. A return to form of twelve Chaffinches probably includes migrant birds.

Other birds noted from here included at least two Great White Egrets, a Grey Wagtail, two Stonechats, an adult Yellow-legged Gull and a male Brambling. However the best birds were two vocal Woodlarks which flew directly overhead and then around the Scaldwell Bay before being lost to view undulating steadily north. This species remains remarkably scarce in the county but this record is my second sighting at the reservoir this year.

This afternoon and the adult female Merlin was again in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton, and again she was chasing Skylarks which are present in reasonable numbers. With two male Merlins on and off last winter in exactly the same place, hopefully this female will remain in the valley whilst there are plenty of birds for her to pursue. Other birds included a pair of Stonechat and two Bramblings. The Chaffinch flock at the large barn below the village and close to the Brampton Brook is growing nicely and hopefully will attract some of these Bramblings any day now!

Elsewhere today and Nick saw a Great White Egret and at least ten Little Egrets at Thrapston Pits, a Peregrine was noted at Castle Ashby, a Pintail at Lower Barnwell lock floods off the A605 and birds at Stanwick Pits included a Great White Egret, a Ruff and a Pintail.


Neil M

Male and female
Siskins courtesy
of Chris Payne.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Ditchford WeBS count


Today it was the turn of a section of Ditchford Pits to be visited and the wetland birds counted.  Initially the weather was dull but later the sunshine came through and provided an opportunity to enjoy late season insects which included Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies and butterflies made up of Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Large White and Comma.

The pits west of Ditchford Lane hosted four Egyptian Geese, a Water Rail, a Green Sandpiper, two Kingfishers, a Grey Wagtail, six Cetti's Warblers, a male Stonechat and a couple of Siskins. Birds east of Ditchford Lane provided viewings of a Snipe, a Jack Snipe, a Water Rail, six Kingfishers, seven Cetti's Warblers, five Chiffchaffs, three Grey Wagtails, a few Siskins and a Redpoll.

A Clouded Yellow and Red Admiral butterflies were at Harrington Airfield this afternoon and the Pitsford Reservoir gull roost included four Yellow-legged Gulls.


Neil M

Autumn sunshine
at Ditchford Pits.

Little Grebe courtesy
of John Tilly.

The horses on land west
of Ditchford Lane are pretty
feral and left to their own
devices for much of the time.
Their matted manes and tails
 are caused by burdock seed heads
 and they resemble braids.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Developments at Fineshade.


A message from the Friends of Fineshade...

Forestry England (FE) have been drawing up new plans for how they will manage Fineshade's trees over the years to come, and there is a public consultation including an open event from 2 to 7pm on Wednesday afternoon. If you are in the area and able to attend, please try to drop in to the Little Barn, next to the cafe at Top Lodge where key forestry staff will be able to talk about their plans and answer questions. Some of us will be around and about, perhaps in the cafe, during the afternoon, so we may be able to meet up for an informal chat as well.

This page of our website was updated today and gives a few details of the plan and some initial comments from us,  There are also links to where you can download a copy of the plan.

It's quite important to realise that this plan only deals with planting, managing and felling trees, in Wakerley and Southwick Woods, as well as in Fineshade.  There's nothing there describing, for example, future plans to develop (or not) extra leisure facilities, nothing about the management of car-parks (sore point!), no mention of the disused toilet block in Wakerley Wood. Also there's nothing there mentioning the former threat from Forest Holidays, but every indication we have re-inforces the view that this threat no longer exists. Also remember that the field in front of Top Lodge, where static caravans were proposed, does not belong to Forestry England - they, like us, opposed that strongly.

Since the Forest Holidays threat was withdrawn, relations with local FE staff have been steadily improving and there has been some excellent work going on in the wood (ride management for butterflies, pond restoration, carefully sympathetic thinning of plantations, open areas are to be created for reptiles, encouraging what we're doing with Elms and Wild Service tree, etc). This consultation is an opportunity to praise and encourage all this good work, as well as to make our opinions clear if we disapprove and disagree.

Even if you cannot attend on Wednesday, please do consider responding to FE's online consultation before the closing date of 8th November. Forest Plans like this often receive little attention, but it would be great if there was a large number of submissions to this consultation, showing that lots of people really care about the future of Fineshade Wood (and Wakerley and Southwick too)!

One other piece of news to share with you. We heard last Friday that Augean, the owners of the hazardous and low-level-nuclear waste disposal site to the east of Fineshade Wood, are intending to apply for a 90-acre extension to their site which would bring it right to the boundary of the wood. No doubt this will be getting a lot of our attention in the years ahead.

Hoping to see some of you on Wednesday afternoon

Best wishes
Friends of Fineshade

Pitsford WeBS count


Today a small team completed the monthly WeBS count at Pitsford Reservoir which is all about counting birds using this important wetland. The mild conditions, increased water levels and muddy water probably accounts for the relatively low numbers of wildfowl on-site. Still present though were the two Great White Egrets (in the Scaldwell and Holcot Bays), about nineteen Little Egrets, four Pintail, a Green Sandpiper, a Snipe, four Stonechats, several Grey Wagtails, two Ravens, four Siskins, four Bramblings and about 1200 Tufted Ducks. Four adult Whooper Swans flew over north at about 11.40am and there were at least three Yellow-legged Gulls present. Fungi was very prominent around the reservoir today and also Dog Vomit Slime-mould!

Two pairs of Stonechats were still present in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this afternoon, Neil Underwood saw two Bramblings at Harrington Airfield and there were two Grey Wagtails at Brixworth Water Treatment Works.

Nick Parker saw a Great White Egret and a Whooper Swan at Thrapston Pits, and Stanwick Pits hosted an interesting Lesser Whitethroat (possibly an eastern race), a Great White Egret, six Cattle Egrets, a Pintail, four Bramblings, twenty-seven Siskins, a Redpoll, two hundred and forty Fieldfares and four hundred and thirty Redwings.


Neil M

Lapwing Pitsford causeway.

Pitsford fungi - courtesy
of Eleanor.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Harrington ringing.


A second consecutive day's bird ringing at Harrington Airfield provided the ringers with 134 captures of 18 species; 102 of these birds were new, 31 were re-traps and one (a Great Tit) appears to be from elsewhere... The final haul was made up of two Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes, thirty-one Redwings, a juvenile male Sparrowhawk, a Goldcrest, a Wren, twelve Great Tits, twenty-three Blue Tits, a Coal Tit, two Long-tailed Tits, two Meadow Pipits, eleven Greenfinches, thirty-two Goldfinches, a Chaffinch, a Lesser Redpoll, six Reed Buntings, four Yellowhammers and a Dunnock.

Migrants were on the move all day, Redwings continually and from late morning we watched flocks of Fieldfares moving over south. Woodpigeons flew over high up, Meadow Pipits dribbled over all day as did a few 'alba' wagtails. Migrant Starlings were mostly in small flocks and a few Siskins and Redpolls undulated over. A vocal and low-flying Water Pipit was well-watched as it went over north-west this afternoon and a Painted Lady butterfly was on the wing. Tawny and Little Owls were vocal before daylight and a Short-eared Owl was hunting alongside the concrete track just before dawn. Barn Owls today were seen at Hanging Houghton, Lamport and Creaton.

Three pairs of Stonechats were scattered in the Brampton Valley/Blueberry Farm area today, the respective pairs being at 'shrike hedge', near to Blueberry Farm and the Hill Field.


Neil M

Female Reed Bunting.

Lesser Redpoll.

Juvenile male

First year male
Blackbird, probably
of continental origin.

Redwing courtesy
of Lynne Barnett.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Raptors and more...


A ringing session took place at Harrington Airfield this morning and provided 84 birds of 14 species. Perhaps not surprisingly with the efforts at this site recently, 21 of the birds were re-traps and included a young Robin that was originally ringed at Pitsford Reservoir in the summer and now seems to have adopted a territory at Harrington. The birds were made up of a Blackbird, a Song Thrush, ten Redwings, two Wrens, a Chiffchaff, six Yellowhammers, seven Great Tits, twenty Blue Tits, a Long-tailed Tit, five Meadow Pipits, two Robins, two Chaffinches, sixteen Goldfinches and ten Reed Buntings.

Other birds noted here included a Rock Pipit flying over west, ten Golden Plovers, a few each of Siskin and Redpoll and visible migration migrants included flocks of Woodpigeons, Starlings, Redwings, 'alba' wagtails and Meadow Pipits. Raptors were very high profile over the old airfield with lots of Common Buzzards and Red Kites and with Kestrels visible most of the time. They were joined by a Peregrine and a hunting Merlin.

The Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton was busy with good numbers of finches and buntings, now two pairs of Stonechats, a female Merlin which was on show this morning and again this afternoon (targeting Skylarks) and a Marsh Harrier which could well be the same lingering individual since August. Two 'wild swans' (Whooper or Bewick's) flew over heading towards Pitsford and other birds in the valley included a Barn Owl, a Brambling, four Siskins and a Redpoll.

Other birds reported today included 3-4 Stonechats and a Short-eared Owl at Borough Hill Country Park and the Ruddy Shelduck was seen again at Ravensthorpe Reservoir. Birds north of the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon included an adult Yellow-legged Gull, three Pintails and a female Stonechat.


Neil M

Adult male Reed Bunting.

Adult Redwing.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Merlin, Mediterranean Gulls and Grey Wagtails.


There were still plenty of birds today in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton but nothing of note except the lingering pair of Stonechats and a Barn Owl.

A breezy and grey Harrington Airfield hung on to a few Redwings and rather more finches, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and a young male Merlin was hunting the fields on the north side of the complex.

A late afternoon visit to the dam at Pitsford Reservoir provided a view of an adult Mediterranean Gull and later a first winter bird arrived. Four Yellow-legged Gulls were present too and a lingering Common Sandpiper was between the dam and Moulton Grange Bay (presumably the same bird that has been spending quite some time in the Scaldwell Bay).

Ravens were noted at Hanging Houghton and Grey Wagtails at several locations as they move through the county. It is hoped to manage ringing sessions at Harrington Airfield tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday when access to the bunkers and old airstrip will be restricted. Footpaths and the concrete track remain accessible.


Neil M

Spotted Redshank
courtesy of John Tilly.

Greylag Geese.

Common Sandpiper courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

October ringing


A ringing session at Pitsford Reservoir in the Scaldwell Bay provided 105 birds of twenty species (60 new and 45 re-traps). Highlights were a juvenile female Sparrowhawk, a Kingfisher, two Moorhens, three Song Thrushes, three Redwings, seven Blackbirds, ten Goldcrests, two Marsh Tits and a Willow Tit.

Chris Payne committed to a little ringing in his garden at Greens Norton today, quickly catching and processing 67 birds made up of 25 Blue Tits, 10 Great Tits, a Coal Tit, 24 Goldfinches, six Greenfinches and a Stock Dove.

Eleanor saw the pair of Stonechats in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton again today and at least two Barn Owls were close to the village late this afternoon.

It is anticipated that there will be ringing operations at Harrington Airfield this coming week-end which ensures that the area around the bunkers and the old airstrip will have restricted access. Anyone who would like to attend to observe is asked to make contact.


Neil M