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.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Sunny but restricted Tuesday


Some stunning weather out there today, such a shame that it wasn't possible to properly exploit it with the new restrictions on movement and leaving home.

Eleanor's permitted outdoor exercise regime ensured she went out running with the collies and Tor in tow. The best bird located was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming and calling along the Brampton Valley Way south of the Kelmarsh Tunnels and between the junctions of the respective footpaths to Harrington Airfield and also Maidwell.

My limited excursion today provided me with a north-bound Swallow flying over the road between Pitsford Reservoir causeway and Brixworth village, my first in the UK this year.

Birds in the garden included up to seven Reed Buntings and a few Yellowhammers and a couple of fly-through butterflies included a smart male Brimstone or two.

These are extraordinary times and it is important we all play our part at reducing risks with appropriate social distancing; hopefully we can all see a little of our local wildlife whilst doing so!


Neil M

Black-headed Gull.

Drake Goldeneye.

Above two images courtesy
of John Gamble.

Bearded Tit.

Black-tailed Godwit.

Above two images courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Lock Down!


Yesterday (Sunday) and I picked up a dead Barn Owl between Maidwell and Scotland Wood which appeared to be a road casualty. It seemed to be a male bird and is now retained for toxicology analysis.

Also yesterday Kenny and Sarah completed a short ringing session at Linford Lakes and they processed a Song Thrush, three Redwings, a Wren, two Chiffchaffs, five Blue Tits, a Great Tit, five Long-tailed Tits, a Treecreeper, two Dunnocks, a Goldcrest and a Chaffinch. 

Today and new birds in the county seemed to be sparse - a Hooded Crow was reported near to Elinor Lake at Thrapston Pits but wasn't seen subsequently. At Summer Leys there was a Ruff, several Redshanks, ten plus Common Snipe, a Great White Egret, a Ring-necked Parakeet and a Wheatear nearby at Wollaston Sewer Works.

The two drake Scaup and a Redshank were seen at Clifford Hill Pits and Harrington Airfield hosted a flock of about thirty Golden Plovers and at least one Raven.

Today all Anglian Water sites and associated reserves were closed to the public and permit holders, and this includes Pitsford Reservoir. This is partly in recognition of the huge numbers of people visiting over the weekend and the risks that this potentially creates.

And the latest ministerial direction (this evening) is that we are now to stay at home so I'm afraid the contents of this blog will be rather limited in the days ahead!

Stay safe everyone!

Neil M

'Tis the season for romance!

Great Crested Grebes by
Robin Gossage.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Sunny Sunday!


This morning there were two Barn Owls again hunting the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton with the village again attracting Chiffchaffs and Ravens.

A pleasant walk at Harrington Airfield this morning didn't produce much of any note except an adult Peregrine and plenty of finches and thrushes.

Stanwick Pits provided two Great White Egrets and a female Scaup this morning and Summer Leys produced a Little Ringed Plover, at least four Curlews, a Dunlin and a Great White Egret. Thrapston Pits hosted a Great White Egret and up to seven Curlews and the Ditchford Lane pits west of Ditchford Lane attracted another Great White Egret and six Oystercatchers.

Clifford Hill Pits hung on to at least one Scaup, the Dark-bellied Brent Goose and a Wheatear and the two Black-necked Grebes were reported again. Elsewhere a Willow Warbler was noted at Sixfields Lake, Northampton and the Ravensthorpe Reservoir Firecrest showed well in bushes and hedging at the Coton-end of the causeway.


Neil M

Plenty of Curlews
in the county today!

...and there are still
plenty of Redwings
moving through too!

Both images courtesy of
Robin Gossage.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Blocking wind from the east


A cool and blustery easterly wind has created a bottleneck of migrants trying to move up the UK and the county is full of these migrants which include flocks of gulls, Golden Plovers, thrushes, finches, Meadow Pipits and wagtails and others. Chiffchaffs are numerous and vocal as they push up gently through the spine of Britain.

Clifford Hill Pits held the same birds as the day before with the pair of Black-necked Grebes, two drake Scaup, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose, fifteen Sand Martins and a Wheatear. Summer Leys sounded quieter with the Brambling still at the Feeding Station, three Sand Martins and two Ravens. Thrapston Pits hosted a Great White Egret, a pair of Goosander, a pair of Oystercatchers, Sand Martins and plenty of Chifchaffs and nine Cetti's Warblers.

A Marsh Harrier was reported from Harrington Airfield and a Short-eared Owl and a Wheatear were at Borough Hill Country Park, Daventry. A flock of one hundred and fifty plus Golden Plovers were in fields close to Yardley Gobion this morning.

At Pitsford Reservoir today there was a Great White Egret north of the causeway, a Sand Martin, a pair of Oystercatchers and a Water Rail remains under the bushes at the Old Scaldwell Road Feeding Station. A third calendar year Yellow-legged Gull and a hunting Barn Owl were visible from the Sailing Club this evening.

Further Barn Owls included two in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton and another near Lamport Station.

The best new bird found today was a Firecrest this afternoon at Ravensthorpe Reservoir as found by Jonathan Cook. The bird was present in trees and bushes at the Coton-end of the causeway at the 'T' junction there.


Neil M


Courtesy of Robin Gossage.


Friday, 20 March 2020

Wheatears and more!


An early morning foray to the top of Blueberry Hill near Maidwell this morning produced a Wheatear!

Harrington Airfield also hosted a Wheatear plus a Snipe, a gaggle of Tree Sparrows and good numbers of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Linnets and smaller numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Another Wheatear was at Hartwell today and Summer Leys hosted a Mediterranean Gull, seven Black-tailed Godwits, a Kingfisher, a Wheatear, two Grey Wagtails and a Brambling. Stanwick Pits attracted two Great White Egrets, three Redshanks and a Dunlin.

However it was Clifford Hill Pits that provided the most interesting birds with two summer plumage Black-necked Grebes on the Nene Barrage as found by Adrian. The Dark-bellied Brent Goose was also still there plus two drake Scaup, a Raven, sixty Golden Plovers and sixty Sand Martins.

Four Green Sandpipers were at Deene Lake today and Pitsford Reservoir was good for a Great White Egret, a Little Egret, fourteen Sand Martins and another Wheatear. Chiffchaffs are in good numbers throughout the county now.


Neil M

Golden Plovers at
Clifford Hill Pits today
courtesy of Jim Dunkley.


Redwings and Fieldfares are
currently moving through the
county in high numbers.
Image courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Slow steps to spring


Birds at Brixworth Water Treatment Works this morning included a Barn Owl, three Snipe and three Grey Wagtails. Meadow Pipits, Redwings and Fieldfares were moving north in good numbers for the first couple of hours from dawn this morning...

Jim Dunkley noted a large flock of five hundred plus Golden Plovers at and close to Sywell Aerodrome today.

At Earls Barton Pits today the single Knot was still present as was a Little Ringed Plover, two Redshanks, a Wheatear, a Ring-necked Parakeet, a Shelduck, eleven Snipe, and a Sand Martin. Clifford Hill Pits still hosted the Dark-bellied Brent Goose today plus two drake Scaup, a Redshank, a Peregrine and three Sand Martins.

This evening a Short-eared Owl and a Barn Owl were in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton.

A short ringing session took place at Bradden this morning before the drizzle hit and yielded 36 birds made up of Blue, Coal and Great Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Chaffinches. a couple of Robins and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.


Neil M

Part of the Golden Plover
flock at Sywell today, courtesy
of Jim Dunkley.

Eurasian Kestrel
courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Damp birding


Limited opportunities for personal birding but a few bits and pieces seen in the county today despite a rather damp second half of the day...

A Chiffchaff in our Hanging Houghton garden and some noisy Ravens nearby were pleasurable sounds and Eleanor's foray in to the Brampton Valley below this village yielded a Barn Owl this morning and two north-bound vocal Curlews this afternoon. Another Barn Owl was hunting between Holcot village and the A43.

A quick check of the Sailing Club grounds at Pitsford Reservoir this evening provided an excellent view of a hunting Weasel as it sought high and low for a vole which it could obviously smell. The vole broke cover and hid in some waterside detritus but to no avail as the Weasel tracked it down by scent and dispatched it and ran off with it. A sad end for the vole which obviously knew it was being hunted; when you are that small you are a tasty morsel for a broad range of predators. Ten Sand Martins were noted flying around the Pintail Bay.

Summer Leys was still home to the Knot this morning but the count went up to five birds, albeit it sounds like they became elusive later. Also a Redshank, nine Snipe, four Oystercatchers and a Great White Egret were on the reserve today. Other birds for the Nene Valley included an Osprey at Thrapston Pits, perched on a pylon next to Elinor Lake, and the Dark-bellied Brent Goose was still at Clifford Hill Pits together with a Great White Egret and over a hundred Golden Plovers.


Neil M

Common Buzzard
courtesy of John Tilly,

Sparrowhawk courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Nene Valley birding


A bird ringing session took place at Kelmarsh Hall today which resulted in 156 captures of 15 species. The majority of the birds were Blue Tits and Great Tits but other birds included two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Nuthatches, six Dunnocks, two Robins, a Wren, three Coal Tits, three Marsh Tits, two Long-tailed Tits, a Treecreeper, a Goldcrest, three Chiffchaffs, four Chaffinches and six Goldfinches. 

One of the Blue Tits was a ringed bird from elsewhere, we will find out where in due course.

Birds noted on-site included Raven, a Grey Wagtail and singles of Brambling and Siskin. There were a couple of big flocks of Fieldfares swirling around locally today, each flock a minimum of 150 birds.

A Barn Owl was hunting in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton this morning and another was hunting at Brixworth Water Treatment Works this afternoon.

The Nene Valley produced some interesting birds today with Clifford Hill scoring best with a Black Redstart at the west end of the complex near to Hardingstone Dyke, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose and the two drake Scaup still. Summer Leys held on to the Knot plus Redshanks, a Curlew, a Shelduck, five or six Snipe, a Great White Egret and a couple of Sand Martins. A Curlew was seen to fly through at Stanwick Pits this afternoon.


Neil M

Black Redstart.


Blue Tit!
Nearly eighty of these
amazing little birds were
processed at Kelmarsh
 Hall today!