Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Garden Influx

The drop in temperature has caused an influx in the number of birds visiting our garden and caused a feeding frenzy.  I have filled the bird feeders up three times today. At one point I counted over 40 Goldfinches in the garden, they were feeding on the ground, sitting on the hedge or busy on the sunflower and niger feeders. A surprise visitor today were 2 Lesser Redpolls, birds that I haven't seen in the garden for a while.  

At one point you couldn't see the lawn and garden for birds, Woodpigeons, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, 2 Reed Buntings, 2 Yellowhammers, a Tree Sparrow, Blackcap, Nuthatches, Pied Wagtails and Long tailed Tits all busy feeding.  Even a few Starlings put in an appearance as did a female Sparrowhawk.

The squirrels are also attracted by the free food and they have been quite comical to watch.  At one point 2 of them were playing tug of war with a slice of bread and eventually they both ran off with their prize. 

Again my birding has been limited. I visited Harrington yesterday morning and witnessed a superb acrobatic display by a Peregrine Falcon as she chased and hunted the small flock of Golden Plover. The Goldies gave her a good run for her money and looked stunning against the blue sky as they tried to out maneuver her and I felt quite sad when she managed to catch one.  A Short eared Owl which I assume is the long standing bird was again present near bunker two along with a Woodcock.  A couple of Bramblings and Siskins flew over.   The regular group of 4 Ravens were also in the area.

The other birds of note yesterday were a Great White Egret standing on the flooded field between Holcot and Walgrave and a Barn Owl below Hanging Houghton. Today I had a quick look at Pitsford but didn't see anything of note and late this afternoon I went to Harrington where I saw absolutely nothing !! so typical of Harrington and it was a very bleak place.

Regards Eleanor 

Friday, 24 January 2020

Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend

Another busy few days has meant little time for birding. 
A quick look at Pitsford only produced a Great White Egret.  On my walks around the fields I have seen plenty of Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings busy feeding on the soggy fields and quite a decent sized flock of Tree Sparrows in the hedgerows.  There have been 2 or 3 Woodcock in one of the old field hedges near Blueberry and a Barn Owl hunting below Hanging Houghton.
At Harrington Airfield yesterday afternoon there was a Short Eared Owl. I presume that it is the same bird which has been present for a while but sometimes it can be very elusive and I do not see it on every visit despite the best intentions of my helpers !!.  Also present was a large brown Peregrine, Woodcock and a flock of 50 Golden Plovers flying over.

We still have plenty of birds visiting the garden, infact I think that it is the busiest that it has been for a while.  It is a full time job keeping the feeders topped up.  The male Blackcap continues to visit regularly and feeds on the suet balls and the very excitable Long Tailed Tits are daily visitors.
I think that most of us like to spend time watching the birds which visit our gardens and have no doubt got our own "garden list" and favourite visitors.  Over the years the species of birds visiting has changed. I can remember large numbers of House Sparrows, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes visiting and over the years these have been replaced by Blue Tits, Goldfinches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
This coming weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch which must be one of the easiest surveys to take part in. All you need is a comfy chair by the window, a cup of coffee and a notebook, sheer luxury. And all it takes is an hour of your time.
You might be surprised to discover which birds visit your garden and any sightings will help to build up a clearer picture of our birds.

Taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch couldn't be easier, whether you're using ...

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

A busy few days which has limited my birding to Harrington and the valley below Hanging Houghton.  There is a group of 4 Ravens which I bump into each day along with a few Grey Partridge. The long standing stubble fields are attracting large flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings and there has been a noticable increase in the number of passerines using the hedgerows.
My best birds were found today. This afternoon whilst scanning the hedgerows I picked up a Ring Tailed Hen Harrier heading towards Cottesbrooke. I think that it is highly likely to be the same bird that was seen at Harrington last week.  Then at dusk whilst travelling to Stanwick from the A6 I saw a Short Eared Owl hunting the grass verge/hedge next to the road.

Regards Eleanor

Friday, 17 January 2020

Round Up

It has been a strange few days. My laptop has been playing up and I couldn't access this page !!  Fingers crossed that I've sorted it.
I am seriously beginning to think that I am never going to get rid of my wellies and that I would be better off with webbed feet.  It is hard work trekking around the fields and it is certainly a good work out for my legs and cardio system.
The saturated fields have attracted huge flocks of Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings, their plumage looking quite splendid in the winter sunshine.  Today I happened to be near some grass fields and these were covered in Jackdaws, Crows, Rooks, Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves. I know that these are common birds which many of us barely look at, but perhaps we should take a trip back to basics and enjoy watching these characters as they go about their daily business.
There are many areas of flooded water around and birds have been displaced . The flooded field between Holcot and Walgrave has attracted a Great White Egret and I have seen it numerous times this week as I have driven past.  There is similar flooded area between Brixworth and Pitsford which also has a regular Great White Egret.
Yesterday we were very kindly informed of a Hen Harrier near Draughton.  I spent sometime checking out the area but no luck . I continued the short distance to Harrington Airfield and after feeding the birds spent late afternoon scanning the area from the bunkers.  This was how I spotted a Ring Tailed Hen Harrier flying about just beyond the shooting wall and then seemingly following the main track along. This was the same bird that had been reported earlier in the day.  A Short Eared Owl suddenly appeared over the strip which links the bunkers to the main track.
Today I visited Sywell Reservoir.  I couldn't find anything of note among the ducks etc, but did manage a couple of Grey Wagtails, Water Rail, few Siskins and a Cettis Warbler, always nice birds to watch.
We have lots of birds visiting our garden and I'm feeding them several times a day.  A male Blackcap has been a regular visitor on the fat balls. I happen to glance out of the window and could see some very small "lumps" moving about in an odd way. It took me a few minutes to work out that I was watching a flock of Long Tailed Tits which were feeding on the ground. Initially I couldn't see their tails and all I could see were little round blobs moving about !!
A couple of Ravens are very vocal in a nearby garden and are definitely taking an interest in a very tall conifer. They were going through their full repertoire of calls today and enjoying themselves tumbling about in the breeze.  Who needs TV when you can watch these ?
Other birds seen during the week include Chiffchaff, Grey Partridge, Brambling and a group of 4 Ravens which seem to be frequenting Hanging Houghton area and Harrington.

Regards Eleanor

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Ringing recoveries


The latest set of ringing recoveries have come through following Northants Ringing Group activities as follows:-

1.  An adult female Reed Warbler bearing a Portuguese ring was caught at Stortons Pits, Northampton on 6th July 2019 and was presumably breeding on-site. This bird was originally ringed as an adult at Herdade dos Forninhos which is near Beja in Portugal way back on 26th August 2015. 1410 days has elapsed between the two records and the distance between the two sites is 1722km, although of course this bird will have travelled many thousands of km during it's time!

2.  A juvenile Great Tit was caught and ringed in the village of Astcote, South Northants on 23rd June 2014 and was unfortunately taken by a cat in the same village on 5th January this year. 2022 days had elapsed during this time and no doubt it had produced a number of clutches itself during the last five years. Great Tits regularly forage on the floor and this habit means they are susceptible to attacks by ground predators as well as regularly picking up ticks and other parasites;

3.  A juvenile Blue Tit was ringed at Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire on 21st September 2019 and was caught again and processed at Kelmarsh Hall on 10th January this year. 111 days had elapsed between the two records and this Blue Tit had moved 14km east during that time. Time will tell if Kelmarsh will be it's new home now!

Eleanor went out for a long and muddy run around the Brampton Valley Way and other footpaths this morning and notched up a singing Chiffchaff at Maidwell Sewer Works (next to Draughton Crossing on the BVW) and four Ravens in the valley below Hanging Houghton. I noted Ravens this morning in the village here at Hanging Houghton and over the Sailing Club at Pitsford Reservoir.


Neil M

Reed Warbler.

Great Tit courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Blue Tit.


Monday, 13 January 2020

Pitsford WeBs Count.


Today was the turn of Pitsford Reservoir to be subject of a WeBs count, and with a storm brewing and heavy rain forecast for after dark we were fortunate with the weather holding for us.

With the water level beyond capacity, mild temperatures and minimal marginal habitat the waterfowl numbers were always going to be low. The scarcer birds included two Great White Egrets (on floodwater at the back of the Holcot Bay and in the Moulton Grange Bay), three or four Little Egrets, a Redshank, fifty-five Common Snipe, a Grey Wagtail and five Stonechats (two pairs and a female between the causeway and the Bird Club hide). The female Scaup hybrid remains off the Valve Tower by the dam.

A Little Owl was the only bird of note at Harrington Airfield this afternoon, a Great White Egret and Peregrine showed themselves at Summer Leys and Stanwick hung on to its two Great White Egrets and seven Redshank.


Neil M

Great White Egret
courtesy of John Tilly.

Stonechat courtesy of
John Gamble.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Ditchford WeBs Count


Today I completed the WeBs count which covers a proportion of the Ditchford Pits complex (Chris Green kindly completes the remainder). It took me seven hours toiling in the mud to complete my section, and even the two collies I had with me were tired in the end!

Breezy but with some sunshine too, it was mild out and quite a few insects were active.

Birds today included a Cattle Egret flying west over Ditchford Lane at about 9.30am, and a Little Egret and a Great White Egret were west of Ditchford Lane this afternoon. An adult female Peregrine was on pylons west of Ditchford Lane and thirty-one Snipe and a Jack Snipe were on flooded meadows south of Big Lake. Goosanders numbered thirteen but otherwise it was quiet with a Water Rail, six Egyptian Geese, two Grey Wagtails, no Kingfishers detected, only about four Cetti's Warblers and a pair of Stonechat. Chris recorded twenty Golden Plovers, five hundred Lapwings, a Kingfisher and a Grey Wagtail on his section.

Elsewhere Summer Leys hosted two Great White Egrets and a drake Red-crested Pochard still, a Great White Egret and a pair of Pintail were at Clifford Hill Pits and Pitsford Reservoir sported a female Scaup, a Great White Egret and a Stonechat north of the causeway.

The Siberian Chiffchaff remained at Ecton SF together with seven Chiffchaffs, a fly-over Great White Egret, a Kingfisher and a Peregrine. Two Goosanders and several Ring-necked Parakeets were at Abington Park, Northampton and Thrapston Pits held on to a Great White Egret, a Little Egret and a pair of Stonechat with a Barn Owl hunting there two afternoons ago.


Neil M

Common Gull.

Cormorant. There are birds
on the nest at Ditchford already!

Drake Goosander.

All images courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Ringing at Kelmarsh Hall.


Some nice sunshine today after the heavy rain of last night and the conditions remain on the mild side.

Today there was a ringing session in the Wilderness Orchard at Kelmarsh Hall where a small band of enthusiasts processed 138 birds of twelve species. Eighty four of these birds were previously un-ringed and fifty-four birds were ringed on previous occasions, some of them a few years ago.

The Blue Tit dominated the proceedings with seventy-six individuals and other tits included thirty Great Tits and two each of Coal and Marsh Tit. Other birds included five Blackbirds, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, six Dunnocks, three Robins, a Treecreeper, four Nuthatches, a Goldfinch and seven Chaffinches.

Other birds noted on-site included Raven and a Grey Wagtail.

An immature Peregrine caught something sizable at Harrington Airfield this afternoon and other birds reported in the county included a Barn Owl at Pitsford Reservoir close to Pintail Bay, and a Great White Egret and a Red-crested Pochard at Summer Leys.


Neil M

Great Spotted Woodpecker.


Thursday, 9 January 2020

North-bound Great Tit.


Very little opportunity of any birding for us the last couple of days but a few bits and pieces as follows...

Yesterday (Wednesday) a Barn Owl was hunting in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton in the morning with another one seen between Rectory Farm and Bridle Road outside the village of Old in the evening. Two Ravens were around Hanging Houghton and ten Golden Plovers were restless at Harrington Airfield.  At Pitsford Reservoir a Great White Egret and a Pintail were north of the causeway and there were probably five different Stonechats between the causeway and the Bird Club hide.

Stanwick Pits retained the seven Redshank, the drake Red-crested Pochard remained at Summer Leys and a Siberian Chiffchaff was with five or so Chiffchaffs and a Green Sandpiper at Bridge K121 at Ecton SF.

Today (Thursday) and the Siberian Chiffchaff was still present and both days the Great Grey Shrike maintained it's presence at DIRFT3, Crick.

An excellent ringing recovery concerns a Great Tit that was ringed as a nestling in a next box at Pitsford Reservoir on 23rd May 2019. Assuming the ring was read correctly, this bird was caught in a mist net at Moorsholm Mill, Redcar and Cleveland on 2nd August 2019, only 71 days later. In that short duration this young bird fledged the nest and then moved 243km directly north! Goodness only knows what stimulated it to do that!


Neil M

Great Tit.

Short-eared Owl.

Great Crested Grebe.

All images courtesy of
Robin Gossage.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020



Today the BOS Short Day Count was in the 10km square SP54, a little further south than SP55 but still fully enclosed in the county of Northamptonshire.

We started in the Thenford area, the more interesting birds being an adult male Peregrine, a few Siskins, a Kingfisher and a covey of 14 or so Grey Partridges. We then zigzagged around the South Northants villages and country roads, stopping and checking areas of interest. The list went up steadily and we saw most of the birds you would normally anticipate in this part of the world. However we only saw some relatively common birds just once in the day e.g. Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Marsh Tit etc.

Wildfowl featured well in the Edgecote/Trafford Bridge area, the best being three Shovelers and two drake Mandarin Ducks, but also a flock of 51 Mute Swans was a high number locally. We failed to find any Tree Sparrows, Willow Tits or Lesser Redpolls but saw some more Siskins, a couple of Bramblings, a few Ravens and far more Red Kites than I have ever seen in this square before. At least one Kingfisher was at Trafford Bridge, we tracked down just a single Grey Wagtail and found three Marsh Tits at Edgecote. No owls were recorded during the eight hour stint and Reed Bunting was the last new species we encountered.


Neil M

House Sparrow.

Coal Tit.


Good numbers of all three
of these species were present
in SP54 today...

Images courtesy of
Robin Gossage.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Bird Club Indoor Meeting


The first indoor meeting of the Northants Bird Club for 2020 is this coming Wednesday 8th Jan when club chairman Bob Gill takes to the stand. Bob will provide a presentation on the Camargue, South France which was the venue for the NBC foreign trip in May 2019.

Several members have provided images of birds, insects, landscapes etc which Bob will present, providing a suitable insight to this wildlife-rich area on the Mediterranean coast of France.

The meeting commences at 7.30pm, the venue is the Fishing Lodge at Pitsford Reservoir and members and non-members are cordially invited to attend! Hot drinks and biscuits will be available and we look forward to seeing you there!

Neil M

Slender-billed Gull.

Greater Flamingos.

Scarce Swallowtail



Today Helen Franklin and I had a go at completing the Banbury Ornithological Society Short Day Count in SP55 to the west of Daventry. This is all about trying to find as many different wild bird species in a specific 10km tetrad between 8am and 4pm as possible, and over the years the changing picture of what is common and what is rare has changed quite a bit! The weather, the climate, the habitat and other factors have ensured that it is now difficult or even impossible to find birds such as Willow Tit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting etc. On the plus side I certainly didn't see Red Kites, Ravens and Yellow-legged Gulls when I first started completing these surveys!

For me the undoubted best site in SP55 is Fawsley Park which incorporates lakes fringed with reeds, mature trees, broken woodland and grass fields. And so it was here that we started our day and our best birds were really at the start of the day when we encountered a Little Owl, several Water Rails, two Woodcock, a Kingfisher and a Grey Wagtail. Gulls were prominent with small flocks arriving and leaving, some washing in the lakes and others feeding on worms in fields. Local birding guru Ian Dobson found a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls in the flock which included plenty of Lesser Black-backs and Herrings. A pair of Pochard was a good find and the finch flock in the alders contained plenty of Goldfinches as well as about fifty Siskins. Several Ravens were vocal and the first of a remarkable number of Red Kites during the day popped up there too.

With about fifty species logged we reluctantly left Fawsley and trundled around this rural tetrad in search of other birds. Ten Red Kites at Everdon Hill Farm was unprecedented. Some farmed Red Deer near Mantles Heath didn't used to be there! Some scanning over open fields in the Cannons Ashby and Woodford Halse area provided plenty of repeats with more big gulls worming in stubble fields, on territory Ravens and common raptors. West Farndon hosted a flock of Greylags, not frequently encountered in this square, but Byfield Pool was quiet with Water Rail and Kingfisher as highlights. A Stonechat was at Catesby yesterday but we didn't see it today and other birds included a Kingfisher, plenty of Ravens and a Barn Owl.

Eleanor's efforts more locally provided four Ravens in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and the Short-eared Owl again at Harrington Airfield (between Bunkers 2 and 3).

Seven Whooper Swans flew in to Summer Leys yesterday afternoon but couldn't be seen today. A Great White Egret was present still. Stanwick today was busy with four Great White Egrets, nineteen Goosanders and seven Redshanks. Nearby Ditchford Pits had three Cattle Egrets west of Ditchford Lane and Thrapston Pits still hosts two Great White Egrets, a Shelduck and a Stonechat. The good-looking Great Grey Shrike continued to entertain on rough land on the DIRFT3 site near Crick.

A ringing session at Stortons Pits this morning caught a small number of birds but included another new Water Rail!


Neil M

Great Grey Shrike courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Water Rail courtesy
of Chris Payne.

Red Deer.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Samples of Saturday


Some wandering around the Kelmarsh Estate today in some of the rarely visited areas provided some additional Marsh Tit territories, perhaps more proof that this species seems to be doing well in Northants. A vegetated pond west of Arthingworth provided singles of Woodcock and Common Snipe. Two more Woodcock were in the bottom of their usual hedge haunt at Blueberry Farm (Maidwell) this morning.

I spent much of the day filling up bird feeders and at Pitsford Reservoir the only birds of note I saw were three Stonechats in the Scaldwell Bay and one or two Kingfisher(s) and the third winter Yellow-legged Gull by the dam. At least one Grey Wagtail was at Brixworth Water Treatment Works and Eleanor spent some time working the rough fields between Kings Heath and Harlestone Heath this afternoon, finding a pair of Stonechat and a Barn Owl. However this area looks very good for 'asio' owls and other interesting species.

Other observers active in the county included Debbie and Eric at Thrapston Pits where the best birds were a Great White Egret and a drake Goosander.  Birds at Stanwick Pits included the Scaup still plus two Great White Egrets and a Cattle Egret. A Great White Egret was again at Ditchford Pits and a flock of about two hundred Golden Plovers were near the A45 at Earls Barton. There was no sign of the interesting geese at Clifford Hills Pits today but there were six Goosanders and two Ring-necked Parakeets there.

A couple of ringing recoveries have come through the system as follows...

A drake Mallard was caught and ringed at Pitsford Reservoir on 1st December 2018 and was shot near Lamport on 23rd December 2019. A Mallard duckling was ringed at Pitsford Reservoir on 21st July 2018 and similarly shot near Lamport on 23rd December 2019. These records continue a catalogue of Mallard ringed at Pitsford Reservoir which have then been shot locally within a year or two.

A male Siskin was ringed at an unspecified site in the Highlands, Scotland on 30th March 2017 (aged as a first year bird). This bird turned up in a mist net with two un-ringed Siskins at Scotland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate on 11th December 2019 - 986 days had elapsed between the two records and the distance between the two sites is 622km. The Siskin is potentially a very mobile finch and this individual has probably covered thousands of kilometres during it's three and a half years of life.


Neil M

Drake Mallard.

Male Siskin.

Friday, 3 January 2020

New Year birds


Yesterday (Thursday) and a visit to Harrington Airfield produced a pair of Raven and a flock of twelve partridges which were probably the usual Grey covey wintering on-site.

Pitsford Reservoir yielded a couple of Great White Egrets and the two drake Red-crested Pochard were seen again. Stanwick Pits retained the Scaup, two early Shelducks, seven Redshank and nine Golden Plovers with four Cattle Egrets later on the layby pit. A Great White Egret was at Ditchford Pits and seven Little Egrets on the River Ise at Burton Latimer provides an indication where the food is at this time of the year. Two White-fronted Geese at Clifford Hill Pits was a good find with a Great White Egret there too.

Today (Friday) and Harrington Airfield hosted a flock of about 150 Golden Plovers plus an attendant Peregrine and two Bramblings.

The two White-fronted Geese were still at Clifford Hill Pits as was a Barnacle Goose and a drake Goosander. The DIRFT3 site near Crick continues to weave it's magic on the Great Grey Shrike (that relatively small area must be rich in rodents) plus a pair of Stonechat. A Green Sandpiper was on the dam at Stanford Reservoir and a Woodcock was seen in flight near Whilton Locks.

Other birds today included a Great White Egret in the Holcot Bay at Pitsford Reservoir, four Cattle Egrets at Ditchford Pits to the west of Ditchford Lane and later five Cattle Egrets were back at the layby pit at Stanwick Lakes, with the Scaup and two Great White Egrets on the Main Lake.

Finally Eleanor enjoyed watching a stunning adult male Hen Harrier in the Brampton Valley this afternoon, flying from Hanging Houghton towards Blueberry Farm.


Neil M



Images from Abington Park, Northampton
courtesy of Dave Jackson.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

New Year's Day.


2020 began still. mild and a little grey here in Hanging Houghton, Northamptonshire. Three Tawny Owls and a Little Owl were calling well just before a late dawn. The first obvious birds in the garden were Blackbirds coming in for early morning treats in the shape of suet pellets and dried mealworms. Despite the mild conditions we still have a couple of Pied Wagtails visiting and a Siskin was flying around the garden for a short duration. Two Reed Buntings will probably become more regular as the winter season pushes on towards spring.

However the most common visitor to the garden today were Goldfinches, which can't resist the sunflower hearts (but eating black sunflower and nyger too). Cheerful charms of these birds dominated the feeders, but sometimes gave way to a feisty Greenfinch.

I was fortunate to spend eight days in Portugal over the festive period as part of my tour-leading for Naturetrek. As usual we spent much of our time in the sunny Algarve looking for the typical birds of southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. We were fortunate to enjoy eight days of sunshine, no rain and warm temperatures which of course were ideal conditions to find the birds we were looking for. Unusually we saw some good mammals too, including Wild Boar with piglets, Otter and Egyptian Mongoose. Some of the more topical birds of the region included Great and Little Bustards, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra Lark, Audouin's Gull, Western Swamphen, Little Bittern, Bonelli's Eagle and many others. A separate tab or page is on this blog designed to feature images from this trip.

Locally today a number of birders were out and about and Steve Fisher's efforts at Stanwick Pits provided two Great White Egrets, seven Redshanks, twenty-one Goosanders and a female Scaup. Earls Barton Pits hosted one or two Great White Egret(s) and Thrapston Pits held a Great White Egret, three Goosanders and a pair of Raven. Hollowell Reservoir was good for two Great White Egrets and a drake Goosander and Pitsford Reservoir attracted two drake Red-crested Pochard in the Scaldwell Bay, a Great White Egret in the Walgrave Bay and the usual third winter Yellow-legged Gull off the dam. In addition the wintering Great Grey Shrike was still at the DIRFT3 site near Crick and a Short-eared Owl was reported too.


Neil M

Goosanders courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Great White Egret.

Goldfinch courtesy
of John Tilly.