Wednesday 16 March 2011

Sunday 13th March 2011 - Stanwick Lakes

It has been another superb day for local patching - in fact one of those days when everything quite unexpectedly comes together and darkness falling brings it to a sad but inevitable conclusion. The weather was supposed to be fairly overcast today but fuelled by yesterdays 1st of the year butterflies and reports of the first summer bird migrants coming in thick and fast from throughout the south, the east and midlands it proved to be too good an opportunity to miss. A local migrant hotspot for me is Stanwick Lakes as habitat wise it has a bit of eveything with wetlands, scrub, woodland,  reedbed, hedgerows and if your willing to put the foot work in some very nice arable land  with old farm buildings which attracts lots of passerines. The walk started for me at the Irthlingborough end and straight away from leaving the car Dunnock, Blackbird and Robins could all be heard singing. Goldfinch were flitting around the tops of the bushes with Great and Blue Tit and Chaffinches were feeing on the ground along with a Pied Wagtail. The bushes in the middle of this area was alive with Dunnocks all starting their spring mating rituals with one particularly feisty bird chasing away a small collection of Song Thrush. As I walked up to the start of the gravel pit complex I was welcomed by 2 Greylag flying overhead and a very vocal Oystercatcher . Reed Buntings were calling from the reedbed while Mallard. Canada Geese, Coot, Mute Swans, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant and Tufted Duck were on the lakes. A wren was singing away from the scrubby areas around the fishing lake and as I appoached Sand Martin bridge a Cetti's Warbler blasted out it's song and a pair of Goosander came into land on the Bird Pit. The lake next to the car park had a few Lesser Black Backed, Black headed and a couple of Great Black Backs on the gravel spits while the main lake produced quite a lot of Common Gull. Just past the childrens play area a Cetti's Warblers song almost exploded into my left ear, the bird was very uncharacteristically sitting almost out in the open and singing it's song in a low down fork in a tree right next to the footpath. It gave incredible views until is disappeared into the undergrowth. A few yards further down the path and I met a birder (and a new friend) by the name of Jim Murray. Jim for those not in the know is an internationally renowned Whisky writer, and someone who's books I had previously sort after as I don't mind a drop myself. After a brief introduction we decided to bird Stanwick together so I could show him the various places around here to see the birds an we have the Cetti's that showed so well for sparking off our initial conversation. The reedbed didn't produce much at all with just a calling Greater Spotted Woodpecker and a singing Skylark over the fields to the north of us. We walked from here along the railway line until we got to the Ringstead car park, the hedgerows full of calling Tits, Dunnocks and Finches all the way. We took the path up to the old farm buildings and was greeted straight away by a field full of Fieldfare, Redwing, Starling and Chaffinch - I'm sure if we had carried on searching a Brambling or 2 could have been discovered but as the vegetation is now starting to grow viewing birds on the ground is getting near impossible. From the path up to the barns we had 2 Red Kite over and a sizeable flock of Linnet feeding in the set aside and with Skylarks singing all around us it was really turning into a great day to be out. We walked around this area and back into the Stanwick Lakes complex and this is where the first really good bird of the day was discovered. After walking around the first lake near to the Raunds entrance we heard a call in the trees which I didn't recognise and appeared to be coming from a tall Silver Birch tree with a Robin sat in it. Jim had a quick look in his bins and put me on to a few Redpoll in the tree next to it, and we noticed that the bird towards the back of the tree was a noticable size larger than the 2 Lesser Redpoll next to it. I got the scope on it and it was unmistakeable as a stunning Mealy Redpoll with its paler plumage, larger size and fairly broad dark ventral strip. We enjoyed a good ten minutes viewing time of the bird as it was joined by another Lesser (making 3 Lessers and 1 Mealy in total) before we decided to head around the corner where we bumped into Steve Fisher. Steve is a prolific birder of this area and I don't think much goes through here without him finding it. He hadn't seen much as he had only just got there so we put him onto the area where we had the Mealy and we made our way back towards the feeding station. One of my favourite sayings is "its far better to have a good view of a common bird, than to have a bad view of a rare one" (mainly because it's true but also because saying it out load at twitches really gets up the noses of listers), and we were absolutely spoilt for choice at the feeders with Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Reed Bunting and Chaffinch all in their stunning breeding refinery were all on show. Its amazing just how Blue a Blue Tit can look, and Chaffinch almost become a different bird with it's exquisite plumage - the winter saying of "it's just a Chaffinch" doesn't seem to apply anymore. We set up my scope so we could get an even closer view of the birds as they came back and forth to feed, and its a technique that not many birders seem to follow. I really can urge anyone out there reading this do not just be content with binocular views of a bird, if it's showing close up get the scope on it to see it even closer. I had no idea that Blue Tits have a band of Cobalt Blue at the base of its nape! Or that Moorhen have a tiny splash of red right at the top of the leg! We wandered to the visitor centre from here as we'd been walking for a fair few hours and the idea of a sit sown with a coffee seemed quite appealing. Naturally we sat outside overlooking the car park lake, this time a 1st winter Lesser Black Backed Gull was standing conveniently right next to a 1st winter Herring Gull so I could bore Jim with the differences in identifying them through the scope. As we started to enjoy a further cup the phone rang and Steve was on the phone - a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was on the main lake. The next 1 minute was spent trying to swallow searingly hot coffee so we could get out there to see the bird. The bird was viewable from the climbing rock side and a quick scan across the spit found it standing there in all it's glory. These are incredible birds - huge but remarkably dainty in its behaviour. It looked very much like it was the bird I had photographed earlier in the year at Ditchford (see previous posting for early Feb).

 At this point the whole reason for coming out to today was remembered with 2 Sand Martins overhead, calling as they went. The first summer migrants on the 13th! Last year I had to wait until the 23rd for my first Sand Martins of 2010. Most ironically though how many people have seen an arctic bird such as a Glaucous Gull on a lake with 2 Sand Martins fresh from Africa overhead I wonder. We left Steve to return to searching for the Mealy Redpoll and Jim and I walked up to the river. By now the sky was perfectly clear and it was a lovely early spring evening, two Kestrel were taking advantage of the extra warmth and were both riding on the same thermal no doubt displaying to one another. A cracking view of a pair of Bullfinch was also to be had along the river as they ate the buds as they bloomed - a superb sight with the male bird at the top of the trees in the sunshine. We then returned to wait at the Gull roost to see if anything interesting would come in. The Glaucous was still present this time swimming on the water so was a little bit harder to locate especially as the sun was going down down at this point.

Steve came and joined us after finding our previous Mealy Redpoll and confirmed to us that it was indeed a Mealy in his opinion. So we then spent the last few minutes of light watching all the Gulls coming in to roost. Despite searching we didn't find anything rare, a Black Headed Gull was an interesting bird though as it was partially albino and the left hand primaries were pure white except for a tiny black dot as they went under the greater coverts, and the right hand side primaries had a black square at around p8 but the rest was white also.
So from here I called it a day and returned to the car as darkness fell, still loads of Gulls kept coming in all away along the valley they could be seen heading in this direction to roast on this one lake.

Jim had very kindly given me a copy of his 2011 Whisky Bible, and it is a book which I can recommend to anyone with an interest in this particular drink. He has an unbiased approach to his reviews and uses language which is comical and easy to understand whilst being very informative at the same time. I'm sure you'll be able to find it in any good bookshop (and no doubt a few dodgy ones too) or you can order a copy at In fact I really do wish that all reviews could be written in his style - at least we'd all know what we was getting!

So what a cracking end to a fantastic day. Some great birds and bird behaviour, a new birding pal in the shape if Jim Murray, and after leafing through his book a glass of Whisky to see the final hours off nicely while I reflect on todays sightings. Good wildlife watching everyone...........and cheers!!! I just need to start saving for that bottle of Ballentine's 17year old now.

1 comment:

  1. Great post David, describing a 'perfect day', to use a Lou Reed song.
    Totally agree about our more 'common' birds; especially the male Chaffinches. Some of them are looking stunning at the moment.


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