Monday, 6 April 2020

Mobile Blue Tits


A wander at Harrington Airfield this morning didn't produce much new of interest which was a bit of a surprise as the conditions looked ideal for something. The singing Willow Warblers had increased to three (there is a significant breeding colony here), a Raven was there and three pairs of Grey Partridges on territory is about right for this time of the year. The usual third year Yellow-legged Gull was still at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon and a Raven passed over the garden at Hanging Houghton several times.

Several ringing recoveries of Blue Tits have been received as follows:-

1. A first year male bird was ringed at Hall Farm, Brentingby, Leicestershire on 9th November 2019 and was then caught again at Kelmarsh Hall on 17th March 2020. This is a distance of 38km south with 129 days having passed between the two capture dates;

2. An adult bird was trapped and ringed at Market Harborough on 25th November 2019 and this bird then found a mist net at Hanging Houghton on 22nd March this year, 118 days later and having traveled 15km also in a southerly direction;

3. A first year bird was caught and ringed at Hillesden, Bucks on 16th December 2019 and was next encountered at Scotland Wood, Kelmarsh on 9th March 2020, 84 days later with this bird having traveled 51km in a northerly direction!

Clearly not all Blue Tits remain in their natal area!


Neil M

Blue Tits courtesy
of John Tilly.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Sunny Sunday


As promised today was a pleasant warm day here in sunny Northamptonshire and altogether very spring-like! Plenty of common butterflies on the wing which included a couple of male Orange-tips at Hanging Houghton and with one through the garden.

Eleanor went for a run with Tor, Rouzel and Jaeger and came across a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the belt of trees next to Beck Dairy just outside Cottesbrooke village plus singing Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers in general along the run route. There is a great deal of farming activity at the moment and the fields are busy with tractors. A couple of 'scuffled' fields in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton hosted hundreds of Fieldfares this morning.

My exercise regime took me to New Covert at Kelmarsh where I haven't been for some time. Lots of singing Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs and the usual woodland birds including a singing Marsh Tit. At least one Crossbill was in the wood briefly late morning.

Much of the remainder of the day has been spent in the garden, doing a couple of little jobs but mostly relaxing. The 'birds seen from the garden' list was smaller today as I didn't start until 12 noon and ended up recording 36 species. Four of those species were different to yesterday's effort so a total of 45 species over the weekend. Sadly still no Song or Mistle Thrush though - they must be on the other side of the village this year!


Neil M


Ring-necked Parakeet. A small
population now breeds in Northamptonshire.

There was evidence that some
of our breeding Swallows are already
back on territory at a few sites in
rural locations.

All images courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

More garden stuff


A few late items from yesterday (Friday) including a brief sighting of the Black Redstart at Spratton again just after 5pm and a series of nocturnal records of calling Common Scoters over Wellingborough, Oundle and Brackley. A small flock of Curlew were calling loudly as they flew over Hanging Houghton at about 2220hrs last night.

Today (Saturday) and I tried an hour's birdwatch from a garden chair in the back garden from 10.10am to 11.10am and recorded 29 species of bird and Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies. Following some gardening and playing with the dogs during the next couple of hours the bird list went up to 41 species. Notable absentees included both Mistle and Song Thrush. I think if I had braved the cooler temperatures earlier on my small bird list would have been better! There was nothing unusual or rare in my little list but it was an enjoyable little exercise!

A Garganey has been on the scrape at Summer Leys for the last few days and birds at Stanwick Pits today included a Great White Egret and two Cattle Egrets.

Pitsford Reservoir today hosted a hunting Barn Owl, Sand Martins, a Little Ringed Plover, a pair of Oystercatchers and three Little Egrets. Little Egret has yet to be proven to breed at Pitsford so it would be good if they hung on and did just that!

Harrington Airfield this afternoon provided views of a male Brambling, a Swallow and a singing Willow Warbler. Although the roads are much quieter there are still plenty of avian and mammal road casualties and Ravens were seen at two separate Pheasant road kills today.


Neil M

Pied Wagtail in the garden.

Raven over the garden.

Red Kite over the garden.

Collies in the garden.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Birds passing over


The general lack of wind and occasional peeks of sunshine today provided sufficient warmth to spend time outside. Plenty of insects were on the wing including several species of bee and larger flies.

Peering upwards into the skies above Hanging Houghton and it seemed there was always a Common Buzzard or Red Kite on view. Many will just be local birds but the sheer number passing over in small groups suggests passage birds too. This was perhaps amplified when a group of four Kestrels passed over, albeit that a male in the group broke away to commit to a little flight display.

A or several single Ravens passed over too but flying more purposefully and probably taking food back to chicks in the nest somewhere. A familiar sound caused observers to look up and see fourteen Golden Plovers flying over in a northerly direction and the same sound again a little while later and it was a flock of about 160 birds wheeling around. These latter birds weren't passing through and I suspect had come from one of the regular stop-over fields near Scaldwell. Also a few flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare passed over the village today, the Redwings coming down to feed.

A Blackcap was singing in the village and it or another was caught and ringed. The deposits it left behind suggests it had been eating ivy berries - a really important food item for a variety of birds when there are so few other berries on offer at this time of the year.

A brief stop at Pitsford Reservoir during a prescription run confirmed the continued presence of an Osprey fishing north of the dam and two Swallows.


Neil M

Common Buzzard.

Red Kite.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Black Redstart...and the Sparrowhawk again!


As many as four Barn Owls were circulating around the villages of Hanging Houghton and Lamport this morning - two down in the Brampton Valley as usual, one at Lamport by the crossing and another hunting again in the grass field behind our house!

I couldn't quite work out why the garden was so empty of birds this morning until I noticed that a first year male Sparrowhawk was perched in our low hawthorn hedge. He tried again and again to grab House Sparrows and other birds buried in the depths of the hedge and refused to give up. I assumed it was the bird we had caught and ringed in the garden yesterday and eventually I could see enough of the ring to virtually confirm it. Clearly the fact that he had been caught and ringed the day before didn't put him off coming back and setting up residence in the garden. At one stage I walked out because he seemed to get himself in a bit of a pickle between the fence guard and the hedge but he just glared at me and went on trying to grab a Dunnock. They flew around me but the Dunnock outmaneuvered him and was off! He then flew back and landed in the hedge right next to me and was quite unconcerned at my presence! He continued to crash around in the hedge trying to flush avian prey out but some forty minutes later I saw him leave without a bird in his talons! It took a long time for the buntings and finches to return to the garden.

I think my only other bird of note from the garden today was a 'kronking' Raven but it sounds like this week-end's weather may well provide an opportunity to sit out in the garden and look upwards and pray for one of those wandering White-tailed Eagles to come cruising over! Recent days has seen records of these eagles as close as Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire, with multiple records in SE England...and it seems that at least some of these individuals are not the released birds from the Isle of Wight. With a recent report from Northants (Kings Cliffe) I hope someone else in the county connects soon!

David Arden's garden at Spratton scored again when David found a Black Redstart in his garden and around the house at about 1pm this afternoon...


Neil M

He came back...the first
year male Sparrowhawk.

Black Redstart courtesy of
David Arden. Lots of worn, brown
feathers (particularly the tertials and
 primaries) and abraded remiges
 on this bird.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Garden ringing


Ringing operations during this period of immobility means that it is not possible to ring at sites which requires travelling away from home locations. The last two days has seen the wind slacken and this morning in particular provided ideal mist netting opportunities. As such, local ringers have been active utilising opportunities within their gardens.

Yesterday (Tuesday) and Helen Franklin caught a Dunnock in her garden that will be seven years old this summer (previously ringed bird). Today and Chris Payne completed some ringing in his Greens Norton garden processing 62 birds of nine species. His Blue Tits obviously haven't left him yet because he caught 35 of them including a seven year old bird and another that was initially ringed at Bradden. Other birds included three Goldfinches, two Robins, ten Greenfinches, two Great Tits, two Dunnocks, three Starlings, three Blackbirds and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

I had a go in our garden too and the highlights included nine Reed Buntings, a Goldfinch that was ringed elsewhere and a first year male Sparrowhawk.

A visit to the dam at Pitsford Reservoir between shopping delivery trips this afternoon coincided with another huge hatch of chironomid flies and there were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls and some ducks taking the opportunity to feed up on them. An Osprey was attempting to fish there but was being harassed by big gulls. Two drake Scaup were present and associating with a flock of Tufted Ducks and there were two Yellow-legged Gulls too.

At 6.30pm this evening a Barn Owl was hunting in the grass field behind our garden and then perched on a fence post. Phil Horsnail had a garden tick today with four drake Goosanders flying over his Oundle garden today heading north!


Neil M

First year male Sparrowhawk
courtesy of Eleanor.

Adult female Sparrowhawk with
Starling prey courtesy of Gerry

Tuesday, 31 March 2020


Female Robin on her nest.
Male Robin standing guard!

Images courtesy of Chris Payne.


A softer wind today and some nice periods of sunshine inched us towards some seasonal warmth.

Several early breeding passerines are trying their luck at early broods and some of the tits which have to carefully coordinate their breeding efforts so that their youngsters hatch at the same time caterpillers emerge, are building too.

Still Fieldfares whizzing around today but the first day for me for a long time without a Redwing.

This afternoon Pitsford Reservoir hosted a Great White Egret in the Scaldwell Bay plus a pair of Oystercatcher, a Swallow and forty Golden Plovers flew NW.


Neil M

Spot the Blackbird nest if you can?

Courtesy of Helen Franklin.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Small birds on the move


Another cool spring day but thankfully with less wind today.

Highlights in our neighbourhood was the Barn Owl again hunting in broad daylight at Lamport, plus a pair of Grey Partridge and about five hundred Fieldfares in the Brampton Valley between Hanging Houghton and Blueberry Farm, Maidwell. Birds in our rural garden continue to attract a nice variety of common birds with the buntings and wagtails stealing the show.

A couple of ringing recoveries have been received as follows:-

1. A first year Blue Tit ringed at Scotland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate on 23rd March 2019 was then trapped by ringers at Pytchley Bridge, Springhill, Rugby, Warwickshire on 29th January 2020. This was 312 days later with this young bird displacing 24km in a WSW direction;

2. An adult female Chiffchaff was ringed at Chase Park Farm, Yardley Chase on 2nd July 2019 and seemingly the same bird was then caught again at Sobradiel/Utebo, Zaragoza, Spain - 109 days later on 19th October 2019 and 1163km further south!


Neil M

Blue Tit.


Sunday, 29 March 2020

More windy weather!


Another cold and windy day but at least there were periods of sunshine too.

A Barn Owl was sitting on a fence post near Lamport this morning and a pair of adult Peregrine were hurtling around in the gusts at Harrington Airfield with a single bird again near Hanging Houghton.

Other than that it has been a case of watching over the garden birds again and last night seeing two Badgers rummaging around in the village!

Regards and stay safe!

Neil M

Goldfinch courtesy of John Tilly.
Very much a garden bird that brightens
up the place!

Long-tailed Tit courtesy
of Robin Gossage. Now paired
up or in threes, the Long-tailed
Tits are already building their
amazing domed nests.

More Pied Wagtails! The first
two images relate to a first year
female and the bottom image relates
to a first year male bird which was
ringed recently.  It seems there are four birds
 visiting our garden for the dried mealworms

Saturday, 28 March 2020

More garden images!


Well it has been a great deal windier today than I was expecting, and pretty cool when I did venture out! The predicted couple hours of hours of sunshine didn't really materialise where I was this morning but then we shouldn't complain after such a sunny last week.

David Arden has kindly forwarded some images of creatures in his excellent wildlife garden in Spratton over the last few days which includes wild flowers, mammals and birds.

Living where we do at Hanging Houghton we do catch the wind and although there has been plenty of birds in the garden the powerful gusts upsets them and their feeding bouts tend to be in short snatches. Nevertheless daytime TV doesn't have a patch on a gaudy male Yellowhammer, stunning Reed Bunting and indeed most of the birds that visit regularly.

A venture to Pitsford Reservoir this morning yielded a drake Mandarin Duck in flight over the causeway, two Great White Egrets (in non-breeding plumage) in the Scaldwell Bay and three singing spring Blackcaps, the first I've heard and seen. There were two Yellow-legged Gulls visible from the dam yesterday afternoon.

Eleanor's daily forays into the Brampton Valley between Hanging Houghton and the Blueberry Farm complex has yielded a lingering Peregrine and this afternoon a Barn Owl.


Neil M

Collared Dove courtesy
of John Tilly.

Voles and Blackcaps
love apple!



Wood Anemones.
All images courtesy of
David Arden and his garden!

Friday, 27 March 2020

The tough life of a Chaffinch


Another day of sunshine and another day where most of it has been watching the birds in the garden. However I have to say it does make you appreciate how special those garden birds are and although our house is not configured appropriately to take good images unless pointing a lens though a double-glazed unit I've had a go!

The BTO have identified that the Chaffinch population in the UK and in some parts of Europe has crashed during the last decade. For those of us that feed and watch birds and even more so when you handle birds during the ringing procedures, this comes as no surprise. For every three Chaffinches that I catch I release two of them straightaway without ringing. When holding birds regularly it is possible to determine if a bird is unwell or sick - unwell birds tend to be light, lethargic and the eyes are not bright. They lack vigor and there are often other telling signs such as recent injuries, poor feather quality or parasite infestation. In fact I didn't really appreciate how many of our birds are struggling with such issues until I began ringing. Many adapt very well, particularly the wagtails with missing claws and toes (a common problem), the corvids with distorted and almost arthritic legs and feet and individual birds of many species with extended growth mandibles.

Unfortunately though Chaffinches seem to have a particularly suite of current problems which I suspect is the reason why the population is being undermined. Like many finches they regularly suffer from the disease known as Trichomonosis which is considered the most significant factor in the demise of the once common Greenfinch. This is a parasitic disease which causes legions in the throat of the birds and prevents them from drinking or eating - birds fluff up and become lethargic as they starve and dehydrate - a particularly distressing sight.

The double whammy for Chaffinches is the fact that they are also particularly susceptible to diseases affecting the legs, feet and claws. Infected birds can show a variety of sores, calcified lumps, crumbling skin and other manifestations. The birds themselves often remain healthy and although their legs and feet are almost grotesque, because it is a gradual process the birds adapt their feeding techniques and often exhibit normal weights and vigor until the disease eats away at their claws, feet and legs to the point where they are left with stumps or a congealed mass of ulcers.

When watching Chaffinches feeding on the ground the healthy birds hop about as normal. Birds with minor leg issues do much the same. As the conditions worsens though birds are unable to perch properly and when feeding on the ground balance on their sternum or breast bone. They then feed in a more ponderous manner and are often the last to fly up and as such are more likely to be predated. Some of these issues are believed to be as a result of a mite infestation.

However the main culprit is believed to be a disease called Fringilla Papillomavirus and it seems to be on the increase. Finches by nature tend to be gregarious and for much of the year different populations from around Europe move and mix freely. Bullfinches are now regularly exhibiting similar infections and occasionally it is possible to see it on Goldfinches and Yellowhammers too. Whether this is the same infestation is difficult to say but it is currently the Chaffinch which suffers most.

Certainly when I first started birding the Chaffinch was considered one of the most common birds in the UK and in the top three with Wren and Blackbird. Sadly that is no longer the case - lets hope this charismatic finch can bounce back and not suffer the same fate as our Greenfinch which now operates at a much lower population level.


Neil M

Male Greenfinch.

Male Yellowhammer.

Pied Wagtail on our garden pond. Apart from
adult males and juvenile females at either end of the
 spectrum, Pied Wagtails are notoriously difficult to
gender and age. However despite two different ages of tertial
 feathers I would stick my neck out and say this bird is an
 adult female. Note the tick above it's right eye.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Spring insects and woodpeckers!


Sunny Northamptonshire lived up to it's reputation again today with almost wall to wall sunshine albeit with a cool breeze! Great weather for lifting the spirits and despite the cool air temperatures there were plenty of insects on the wing including spring butterflies like Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. However it is also possible to see Small and Large White, Red Admiral, Comma and even Orange-tip and these have all been sighted in the county during the last few days, often in gardens. South of us even the majestic and rare Camberwell Beauty has been spotted, with several Large Tortoiseshells on the south coast too.

Bees are active, the first hoverflies are out, as are Bee-Flies and today was one of those days when Pitsford Reservoir was alive with millions of chironomid flies!

Eleanor revisited the Brampton Valley Way just south of the Kelmarsh Tunnels and found the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in exactly the same position, still calling and drumming. Graham Martin heard his Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming again in Salcey Forest at 7.30am this morning.

My period of exercise this afternoon took me to Pitsford Reservoir where it is still possible to scan the reservoir from the dam and causeway even though the site is officially closed. At the dam end, five gorgeous adult Little Gulls were flying around catching the flies and they were my highlight of the day.

Back in the garden and all the usual birds turned up with quite a gathering of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers and a few Pied Wagtails too. The wagtails and the Starlings look for the dried mealworms, the buntings are more interested in seed. The Yellowhammers seem to prefer cereal grain and larger seeds and the Reed Buntings the smaller seed, probably especially the millet.


Neil M

Male Reed Bunting courtesy
of John Gamble.

Female Starling courtesy
of John Tilly.

Jay courtesy of
Robin Gossage,

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Garden birds


Another beautiful and sunny day, this time with a very gentle south easterly breeze would have been ideal birding conditions to be out and about and watch spring unfurl.

Instead I conducted a little bird ringing in the garden for a couple of hours this morning, processing a very modest 23 birds of eleven species, the highlight perhaps being a Redwing.

Other birds seen in the garden today included a Treecreeper and because we broadcast mixed seed on the ground which is perfect for the buntings it is always a privilege to watch quite a collection of Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings feeding on the back lawn with the Chaffinches.

Overhead and Fieldfares moved over in smaller flocks now, a few Redwings and Meadow Pipits filtered north and we were entertained by a couple of Ravens, a Sparrowhawk and of course plenty of Red Kites and Common Buzzards! Enforced garden birding but not bad under the circumstances!

A short excursion to Harrington Airfield yielded little else with at least one and maybe two pairs of Grey Partridge on-site.

Elsewhere and Graham Martin's excursion to Salcey Forest was good for locating a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker near to the Old Pits. This is the time of the year and the weather to go looking for them!


Neil M

Smeagol the spaniel
loves water, any water!

Male Reed Bunting.

Male Yellowhammer.