With this being the first opportunity of the year to get out birding I was hoping I could make it a good one. I started the day at Summer Leys Nature Reserve where a Bittern had been reported recently and on a few occasions had showed well to the people lucky enough to be around at the time. This morning wasn't one of those days though unfortunately and despite an hours searching I couldn't locate it. It has apparently moved to a small reed fringed pool but the wind was quite strong and numerous dog walkers were letting their pets run riot in the area so if it was here it would have quite rightly kept its head down. So I decided to abandon the search in order to try and find other Northants birds in the area.
My next stop was Ditchford Gravel Pits which is well know in the winter for producing some very good Gulls. It's the Glaucous and Iceland hotspot of the county mainly due to the local landfill site. A mate of mine, Steve Fisher, has found 1st and 2nd winter Glaucous Gulls over the last few weeks and according to reports they were still in the area. When I parked the car another car pulled up behind mine and it turned out to be another Northants birder John Taylor. As he was also here for the Glaucous Gulls we started walking together up to the ploughed field which had a nice large flock of birds loafing around in the middle. We has only just started scanning through when John picked up a gorgeous adult Glaucous sitting right infront of the crowd. It was a stunning bird and was a good sighting for a few reasons. Firstly it was the first adult I have seen as all my previous records have been 1st year birds and secondly this bird hasn't been reported before so it was a new one - a nice self find for John. Shortly after we had picked it up a Lesser Black Backed Gull spooked it into flying a short distance, I did manage to get it again but it was right in the middle of the crowd this time and was lost from view quite quickly and we never managed to find it again after that. I just wish I had a quicker finger to get a pic of the bird before it cleared off. Despite searching we also couldn't find the other reported 1st and 2nd winter birds but we didn't leave too unhappy as the adult had more than made up for that. Also at the front if the crowd we found a nice contender for adult Caspian Gull. Very plump breast with long bill and a small dark bullet hole shaped eye set forward in the head. We couldn't see the legs unfortunately as it was standing in a rut in the ploughed field so I won't be ticking it but it was a very interesting Gull to see.
The next stop was Pitsford Reservoir mainly to get a few year ticks. Trees sparrows were there in quite large numbers with a flock of at least 50 birds around the feeding station. A few Goosander were kicking around the mouth of Holcot Bay as were 4 Pintail. Also 2 Shellduck were feeding in Walgrave and off the fishing lodge a pair of Smew with a drake and redhead From the feeding station I noticed a Commom Buzzard fly down from a tree and catch something before flying back up again. We located it in the other side and got lovely views of it ripping a rat apart before swallowing the back half down in one. It's quite a sight to see that beak in action as it made quite short work of the poor rat taking quite large chunks off it it one action. After its meal it wiped it's bill clean on the branch it was standing on before starting its vigil again, no doubt looking for more rats.
A visit to Bluebell Farm near Maidwell was next on the agenda to year tick Short Eared Owl. Even from getting out of the car at the farm itself 2 Short Eared Owls could be seen in the field opposite. Me and John walked around the whole site getting fantastic views of owls on posts and in hedgerows. We also bumped into another local guy, Keith Tinworth, and together we worked out there were at least 12 Owls over the complex and as we hadn't counted a couple of fields there were probably more than that. As we stood in the field back where we had parked the cars another chap turned up, Mark Skinner, who's a local birder/photographer. I've been friends with Mark for years on Facebook so it was good to finally meet him. All in all a good day, met up with some people I hadn't seen for a while and some very good birds into the bargain too.
The following day I nipped over to Clifford Hill Gravel Pits to see what was about. 10 Goosander (4 drakes), 2 Goldeneye, c.200 Lapwing, Egyptian Goose and 15 Meadow Pipits. The total count for the weekend was 59 species over 2 days so the Northants year list has started nicely.