Last year I decided that this year should be spent concentrating on local areas again. The Clouded Yellow saga on the wasteland just 10 minutes from my front door taught me that there are things to be found and sometimes it's easy to neglect local areas when out chasing rarities. I started to see what birds are to be found without taking the car anywhere and exploring the wildlife around where I live in Grange Park, Northampton. I ended up with quite a good tally as there is a surprising amount of varying habitat around the estate. The fields around the sheep farm to the east are good for corvids, Gulls and Herons with a surprise of a Little Egret on one day and the Grange Park Country Park is fantastic for winter passerines with plenty of Birches playing host to large charms of Goldfinch with the odd Redpoll thrown in too. The wasteland where I found last years breeding Clouded Yellow is also still coming up with surprises as I walked along the footpath a Raven flew in between the trees near the A45 and began to devour some roadkill in front of me. Two Carrion Crows then came down to mob it and the size difference was very apparent as the huge Raven took off, circled and the headed south with it's meal. In two visits I managed a total of 42 species but more importantly discovered the hot spots for birds around the estate. One of the most abundant places is the small corner of coniferous woodland at the end of the path between the "Woodland" and "Meadow" sections of the estate as the trees here are alive with Tits and Crests. Also surprisingly the small patch of woodland right in the middle of the estate called Grange Spinney is also teeming with small birds with Coal Tit and Goldcrest being very prevalent. I did receive a few funny looks off dog walkers and runners though as I get the impression not a lot of people birdwatch around here. On the 11th January I decided to have a look around the Ecton complex. I have recently took on the WeBS (BTO's Wetland Bird Survey) for the area and thought I'd have a quick look at the access situation around some of the less visited lakes. I always pay a lot of attention to the sewage farm outflow between the lakes after it played host to a couple of Siberian Chiffchaff last year. I wasn't to be disappointed as almost immediately a Chiffchaff could be heard calling. After a short while it became apparent that there was a lot more than one and they could be seen flitting around the undergowth on both sides of the concrete bridge with one a very cold grey looking bird showing distinct signs of being a Siberian. After a while Bob Bullock arrived on the scene and we refound the siberian looking bird but it never called which of course we needed to clinch the id. It was agreed to use playback to see what happened. I know some people will not like this idea but sometimes it helps in identification. I found Siberian Chiffchaff call on the internet and played a short burst. Out of the half a dozen Chiffchaff in the stream only one responded. The cold grey bird flew up into a nearby bush above us allowing Bob to get a few shots and then it called it's week monosyllabic call confirming the identification as a Sibe Chiffchaff. Here is one of Bob's pics of the bird showing the cold grey plumage, all the other Chiffchaff in the area were the normal green and yellow plumages you'd expect them to be.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ecton, Northants - pic by Bob Bullock
The next day following day I met up with John Friendship-Taylor and we had a quick look around the county to see what was on offer. A very cold frosty start saw us standing by the reedbed at Stortons Reserve first thing in the morning to try and see the Bearded Tits. Luckily we didn't have to wait too long before we heard the odd "ping" coming from the reedbed and eventually a pair of Bearded Tit were seen flying across the tops of the reeds. We then left here in order to try and see the Great Northern Diver as John hadn't caught up with it yet (there's a pic of the bird I took last year here). We scanned from the causeway without success so we walked around to the Holly Bush area and found a photographer snapping away at it. It showed incredibly well and I managed to grab a quick video of it snorkeling before it dived under water. It's harder than it looks to digiscope footage of these as they spend so much time underwater so this is the longest vid I achieved.
We left soon after seeing the Diver catching up with a very concealed Great White Egret at the back of Moulton Grange Bay and then headed to a flooded field near Wellingborough for a spot of Gull watching. A Gull expert called Martin Elliot had been visiting Northants to see the Gulls and local birder Steve Fisher had introduced me to him in the past. He had been seeing white winged Gulls in the field all morning and the lure was too much to bear so me and John headed over and arrived just after lunchtime. The site is basically a couple of fields separated by a hedge in a low dip which have flooded with the recent rain and as it's in the shadow of the nearby Sidegate Landfill site it's a mecca for Gulls to take a quick dip between feeding. We scanned for a while and more birders turned up and then Martin picked out a very nice looking Iceland Gull on the flooded area which then frustratingly wandered behind the hedge and out of view. Local birder Adrian Borley had also arrived at this point and said he had seen a Glaucous fly in and land behind one of the bushes too. we spent a bit of time trying from different angle to see the birds behind the undergrowth before they thankfully flew up and landed in the field we were in giving great views. A couple of Caspian Gulls were kicking about with Martin finding a nice looking Caspian Gull at the back of the pack and then John Friendship-Taylor found a nice 2nd winter Caspian too. The Glaucous Gull was showing very well at the front of the pack and just behind it was an interesting looking Glaucous hybrid.
Glaucous Gull, Wellingborough, Northants.
In the video of the bird below you can see the Glaucous Gull and behind it you can see the Glaucous hybrid. As a point of reference if you look at the picture above the 2nd bird above the Glaucous is an adult Herring Gull, the bird behind that preening is the Glaucous hybrid.
The Iceland Gull was also showing well but I didn't that good images but luckily a few days later I did. As I had the Wednesday off work I popped back to the flooded fields near Wellingborough and luckily didn't have to wait for long before white winged Gulls were present. A Glaucous could be seen flying around on the field behind the hedge which then unfortunately flew back towards to landfill site, but then as I scanned around I noticed an Iceland Gull had landed in the field I was in and fortunately it hung around for ages! I managed to get a vid and a few pics as it loafed about.
Iceland Gull, Wellingborough, Northants
I rather begrudgingly left the site, leaving the Iceland Gull asleep in amongst a group of Gulls in the field. I always find it hard to tear myself away from a bird you don't normally get to see, especially when it's showing so well! I then had a wander around Ditchford and after quite a search I managed to catch up with the fairly long staying drake Scaup but apart from a couple of Egyptian Geese in a nearby field nothing else was there of note.
Egyptian Geese, Ditchford GP's, Northants
The following weekend was the WeBS count. I decided to take on Hardingstone Gravel Pit and the Billing Gravel Pit comlex as I tend to walk round here quite a bit anyway so I thought I may aswell do something constructive with my sightings. There were quite a lot of of birds about with large flocks of Tufted Duck and Wigeon. Gadwall numbers were pretty good too. The sight of 4 Grey Partridge running along the bank in an adjacent field provided a very welcome site in these times of struggling farmland birds. Perhaps the biggest surprise though came in the shape of a whooping 33 Moorhens in the Ecton sewage outflow! Also 5 Little Grebe were present but as the outflow isn't surrently counted as part of the WeBS area they can't be counted. The Siberian Chiffchaff was also present along with at least 5 Common Chiffchaff with one in full song. The fluid "chiff, chaff" notes could be heard for quite a distance around and provided a reminder of the relatively mild winter were having. Hardingstone Gravel Pits had a nice tally of 10 Goosander and another indicator of the approaching spring in the shape of a Grey Heron standing in it's nest.
Grey Heron, Hardingstone Gravel Pits, Northampton
As a nice surprise it looks like I'll be heading to Scotland during the first week of February as a birthday present from my wife. The plan is to have a relax rather than a manic birding holiday so we've decided to concentrate on any interesting Gulls we can find on the west coast harbours. Lets hope the Scottish specialities are showing well!