Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Garden Birds


Cathy Ryden enjoyed a Brambling, a Bullfinch and Reed Bunting in her Guilsborough garden this morning and Jacob Spinks noted about forty Golden Plovers in fields between Holcot and Moulton this afternoon.

No birding opportunities for Eleanor or me today but our rather morose Little Owl continues to call from a neighbouring garden and the field behind our garden. This chap didn't find a mate last year and from the calls it is emitting currently it seems he hasn't managed to find a partner for the 2017 season thus far. Mind you it could be this evening's heavy rain that is making him a touch glum! 

Less than ten years ago we enjoyed three pairs of Little Owls breeding around the village but they have sadly thinned out and I don't think any young were raised last year.


Neil M

Little Owl



Male House Sparrow.

Male Bullfinch.


Images courtesy of
Cathy Ryden.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Monday's birds...


Diane Freeman noted a Barn Owl at Rectory Farm, Old this morning and this afternoon Andrew Tyrrell located a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Salcey Forest, about 100 yards from the old 'Green Woodpecker car park', associating with Long-tailed Tits.

Two Waxwings were perched on our next door neighbour's television aerial (Hanging Houghton) at 8.45am this morning, trilling well before flying off! Two Grey Wagtails were at Brixworth Water Treatment Works today and a Chiffchaff was calling from a hedge there too. Harrington Airfield hosted a flock of about a hundred Golden Plovers plus two or three Brown Hares.

A couple of hours surveying an area near Spratton this morning (before the rain arrived) was productive with sightings of four Ravens, three Goosanders, two Woodcock and a Common Snipe.

A few thousand Starlings were producing a 'murmuration' at Kettering General Hospital this afternoon.

This Wednesday evening is the AGM of the Northants Bird Club at the usual venue of the Fishing Lodge at Pitsford Reservoir. The business of the AGM will not take long, and following presentation of the Graham Soden Trophy, the main part of the evening will be a presentation by Mike Alibone on birding in the Middle East hot spot of Israel. We look forward to seeing you there!


Neil M

Coots (arguing as usual)!

Grey Heron.

Drake Tufted Duck.

Water Rail (and Mallard).

All images courtesy
of Robin Gossage.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Pitsford WeBS count


Three of us committed to the monthly wetland bird count at Pitsford Reservoir today, and incorporating the gull roost it took us ten hours to complete. There was little that was new but we enjoyed the old favourites as we counted the more common fare. The Red-necked Grebe was off the causeway, but for the first time this was on the north side (keeping out of the wind). The Slavonian Grebe was initially in the Pintail Bay but later moved to Yacht Bay.

At least two Great White Egrets were north of the causeway and waders amounted to a Woodcock, a Jack Snipe, ninety Common Snipe, two Green Sandpipers and two Redshanks. A drake Pintail was in the Scaldwell Bay, we noted two Kingfishers and interesting passerines included four Grey Wagtails, two Stonechats, two Marsh Tits and two Willow Tits. The more interesting gulls included a first winter Yellow-legged Gull and a first winter Mediterranean Gull.

A Brambling was in Jacob's Scaldwell garden this morning and birds at Harrington Airfield included four Grey Partridges and four Tree Sparrows on the feed.


Neil M

Great White Egret.

Female Yellowhammer.


Slavonian Grebe.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Another old bird!


Eric Graham and Ken Spriggs were out at Thrapston Gravel Pits today and they again located the Great White Egret plus seven Goosanders, an Egyptian Goose and a singing Cetti's Warbler.

The pair of Stonechat were in the valley below Hanging Houghton again this morning, keeping low in breezy conditions. Eleanor saw her regular pair of Raven at Staverton today and at Ravensthorpe Reservoir watched two Otters playing in the water, at least six drake Mandarin Ducks, two Kingfishers and a Great White Egret following a brief stop on the causeway at 1.30pm.

Jacob Spinks located a Mediterranean Gull at Pitsford Reservoir in the Moulton Grange Bay this afternoon.

Ringing at Sunderland Wood on the Kelmarsh Estate today provided 69 captures of woodland birds made up of a single Blackbird, 25 Blue Tits, 17 Great Tits, 2 Coal Tits, 5 Marsh Tits, 3 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Treecreepers, 2 Goldcrests, 2 Wrens, 2 Dunnocks, 4 Robins, 2 Nuthatches and 2 Chaffinches.

One of the re-trap Blue Tits was a very old bird, being first ringed there on 27th November 2010 and re-trapped in the same wood on 21st November 2011 and 10th April 2013. When first captured in 2010 the bird was already an adult which means it was hatched in 2009 or earlier. On the assumption that this bird will survive to this summer, it will then be at least eight years old. The oldest known British Blue Tit is ten years and three months.

Two or three Woodcock were noted in Sunderland Wood and a Raven was at Kelmarsh village.


Neil M



Friday, 24 February 2017

Symonds Yat and Forest of Dean


Just back in from a day out in Gloucestershire and to one of my favourite places, Symonds Yat Rock and the nearby Forest of Dean. Sunshine and breeze is key to success at these sites early in the year so today seemed the best recent opportunity...

We started at Symond's Yat Rock overlooking the River Wye and were the first ones there. Most of the action was over and done by 9.30am with two or three male Goshawks (mostly at long range) careering around high up, displaying and interacting. One did arrive overhead but as usual we still didn't manage nice close views. The Peregrines were on form and came closer as they gained height to attack passing pigeons and as the strength of the breeze grew, battalions of Common Buzzards filled the air with as many as thirty individuals displaying and calling. The Ravens were active too and fly-over finches included Crossbill.

In the Forest of Dean we encountered Mandarin Ducks at two sites, eight Goosanders, another three or four Goshawks, plenty more Buzzards and Ravens, three Hawfinches, the wintering Great Grey Shrike at Crab Tree Hill and the usual supporting cast of woodland birds.


Neil M


Immature male Goshawk

Peregrine, showing considerably
closer than the Goshawks!

Drake Mandarin Duck.

Male Crossbill.

Sadly the only Wild Boar
we saw in the forest
was this dead one
beside the road...

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Storm Doris


Well it was indeed quite a storm, at least in the NN6 district, with power cuts, trees uprooted, walls crashing down and debris everywhere! I thought it was supposed to have stopped by now but it's still raging outside!

A quick look around East Hunsbury (Northampton) at lunch-time succeeded in finding just two stalwart Waxwings stoically feeding on completely wind-blown cotoneaster bushes in Penvale Road just up from the school. They weren't moving for anyone, it was such a shame that the light was dire and that they were partially hidden in the vegetation.

The gull roost at Pitsford Reservoir failed to deliver much of interest this afternoon but the Red-necked Grebe had moved from the causeway and was fishing the still waters in front of the Sailing Club, and a Kingfisher was there too.

Initial ringing details have come through of one of Chris Payne's control Goldfinches. A young male he caught at Greens Norton on 29th January 2017 bearing the ring Z078021 had first been ringed as a juvenile at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire on 9th October 2016. This is a distance of 253km over a period of 112 days.


Neil M

Waxwings at East Hunsbury today...

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Help your buntings!


Mild, still and rather wet before the big blow tomorrow! 

Harrington Airfield hosted up to five Grey Partridges this morning with plenty of common birds such as Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer coming down to the broadcast mixed seed.

A wet and grey Pitsford Reservoir continued to host the Red-necked Grebe today, the bird being visible just south of the causeway at 1.30pm (but seemingly not being visible earlier in the day). Two Redshanks also remain...

The commencement of the 'hunger gap' is about now whereby certain seed-eating birds struggle to find sufficient food to survive and/or remain in suitable condition for breeding. Modern farming practises, minimal and poor quality stubble and spent wild bird cover all add up to no food for birds such as buntings and finches. No new seed has been produced since the early autumn and won't be available again until early summer, so with the exhausted seed bank Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings rely very heavily on feed stations and gardens. Our garden is small and not to the liking of Yellowhammers, but several have been present during the last couple of weeks and are likely to increase in number as they come in for broadcast grain and seed.

If you want to maintain your local Yellowhammer population, why not think about starting your own open air feeding station, which with the permission of the landowner might be the edge of a field, a footpath or somewhere where you know there are already Yellowhammers?

Best of luck!

Neil M

Red-necked Grebe
courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Reed Bunting.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Long-lived Chaffinch


Chris Payne spent a couple of hours ringing at Bradden in South Northants today, processing 47 birds made up of a Siskin, 6 Goldfinches, 4 Chaffinches, 23 Blue Tits, 10 Great Tits, 2 Long-tailed Tits and a Nuthatch.

One of the Chaffinches was a male first ringed at Greens Norton in April 2012 when it was aged as an adult. This bird will be at least seven years old this year, pretty exceptional when you think that this species is currently suffering widespread disease issues which is seriously affecting longevity.


Neil M

Oystercatcher at
Summer Leys.
Courtesy of Robin Gossage.

A nice healthy-looking
male Greenfinch courtesy of
Robin Gossage. This species
is very susceptible to suffering
from a condition called Trichomonosis.
This is a parasite that causes lesions in
the throat of infected birds. They can't feed
or drink and quickly become weak, fluffed
 up and in due course die. One infected bird
 is enough to affect a whole population and
 despite cleaning feeders regularly and below them,
 it is difficult to contain. All finches and sparrows can 
be affected and it occurs in pigeons, doves and
raptors too.

This picture of a male Chaffinch
courtesy of Cathy Ryden shows the early
onset of a crumbly leg disease which
will probably be 'fringilla papillomavirus'
or could be a result of avian pox and/or mite
infestation. Locally up to half of our
Chaffinches suffer from this and in general
the birds learn to cope and can be affected for
years. However the condition will
undoubtedly worsen and it is not uncommon
to see abscesses or 'bumblefoot' take hold.
Toes and claws are lost and it is possible
to see affected birds with just stumps for legs.
However, generally these birds remain healthy
even if towards the end they cannot perch or
hop about! Bullfinches and Yellowhammers can
exhibit similar features, although it is thought they
don't suffer the papillomavirus itself.

A pair of healthy-looking Bullfinches
courtesy of Robin Gossage!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Phew it's warm!


Sarah and Kenny Kramer tried some more ringing at the Milton Keynes Community Orchard today and netted 18 birds of 8 species which included five Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes and two Redwings. One of the Blackbirds was already bearing a ring which originated in Sweden, so we await details of the initial ringing details with anticipation! Such were the MK day temperatures today, Sarah and Kenny enjoyed Comma and Brimstone butterflies flying around them!

This mild period and relatively high night temperatures ensures that moths are active with local moth(er)s reporting plenty of individuals being attracted to nocturnal moth traps.

Two Great White Egrets were visible in the Scaldwell Bay at Pitsford Reservoir this afternoon and the Kelmarsh Estate woodlands were full of subsonging Redwings. A small party of Siskins were also vocal in Scotland Wood and the damp fields in the Brampton Valley below Hanging Houghton were alive with Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings...


Neil M

Courtesy of Cathy Ryden.

Song Thrush.
Courtesy of Cathy Ryden.

Courtesy of Jacob Spinks.

Short-eared Owl.
Courtesy of Robin Gossage.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Woodford Starling murmuration


The following account, images and information has kindly been submitted by Annie Ford who has discovered and photographed a Starling murmuration in the village of Woodford...

'I first spotted that Woodford had more starlings than other villages in the area when I drove through the village one sunny afternoon in September last year and took some photos. Later on in the year someone showed me a few photos of a murmuration over the streets of Woodford. I went to look for the starlings a couple of times without success. In January this year I noticed them again flying over the houses in Mill Road, but was too late to photograph them because they were just settling. So I made it my mission to find out the best spot and best time to catch them. 

I realised that like us humans the starlings prefer good weather for outdoor activities. When it's dull they just settle down to roost, but when the weather is clear, they will provide a really good spectacle. The better the weather, the more starlings arrive and the bigger the spread of the murmuration. 

I have been to Titchmarsh Lakes and to Summer Leys, where murmurations occurred before, but the weather turned dull on me so I cannot comment if they still happen or not. 

I attach a few photos for you from the various days I have been in pursuit of the little darlings. 

The brightest day was 13th February, when I was watching the murmuration from the field adjacent to Mill Road. The starlings flew right across the village down to Thrapston Road and up to the playing field. Friday wasn't quite so bright, but the sun kept coming out so I decided to try my luck near the playing field again. At first I thought they were just settling straight away in a piece of scrub near Mill Road, but just as I thought of going home, I realised a lot of starlings had arrived and were settling in a field to the left of the playing field. The noise was quite considerable. All of a sudden, they started taking off from that field and flew towards Mill Road in a vast stream of birds. They flew just over the hedge of the playing field. I did take a short video of that because it was quite spectacular. They assembled into a murmuration over Mill Road and beyond and then settled in their place near Mill Road, although I did hear some on the other side of the playing field. 

The action currently happens between 5 - 5.30 pm It's difficult to say, where the best place is to see the murmuration, as they often break up into smaller flocks and then combine again. Sometimes the best vantage point is at the edge of the village in Mill Road, sometimes in or near the playing field near the working men's club. 

I attach a map for you which I prepared for one of the members of my photoclub. Where I wrote murmuration is the scrub where they settle. The field below the hedge, where I wrote park here is the one where the starlings had settled en masse before the murmuration yesterday. (the google map is incorrect, as the working men's club is in the same place as the community sports complex - which is where you can park the car)

I presume the murmurations will stop soon, as the starlings will start pairing up and nesting, but you might catch some if we have reasonable weather before then.

I came back from shopping Thrapston yesterday (Saturday) and the afternoon had brightened up. I saw a few  starlings arrive  at about 5 pm, so I rushed home to dump the shopping and get my Nikon D300 (I only had my  little Nikon S9000 compact in my handbag) and drove back up to Woodford. I just pulled in a few hundred yards  before getting to the Village on Mill Road.

The murmurations started in the usual way with a few starlings, then more and more came and they split and  joined together flying over the whole village and the fields to the left and the right of me. Then finally they started  painting spectacular pictures in the sky. I was stunned. I think there must have been more starlings than ever...'

Annie Ford

Images courtesy
of Annie Ford

Female Starling
courtesy of Cathy Ryden.