Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sunday January 25

A little milder than recently with a very light south-westerly breeze, and a mixture of cloud and sunny intervals. Dave and I set off along the road and soon ran into a flock of 17 Redpolls. We pursued them and eventually got good views. Although they did vary a bit, none was definitely last weekend's bird and we concluded they were all Lessers. I will return to the Redpoll problem later.

We eventually reached the place from where we could see if the Barn Owl was visible, and again it was. I couldn't resist another record shot of it.

Barn Owl still asleep
Eventually we confirmed that the pair of Stonechats were still present, and estimated 40 Yellowhammers and 12 Reed Buntings along the hedge behind the pool. The pool itself contained about 50 Mallard and as we flushed them we spotted a female Wigeon among their number.

Wandering back we discussed last week's Redpoll. I could tell that Dave wasn't convinced. He said things like "not as pale as the one the other year," and "not as pale as the one I saw at Marsh Lane a couple of years ago." After staring at today's Lesser Redpolls I have to say that I am also starting to feel a bit queasy about it.

Here is a reminder.
One of the Lesser Redpolls this week
They are what I would call worryingly similar. True none of this week's Lesser Redpolls had really white flanks, but several did have white wing-bars and also some had substantial pale grey areas in the centres of their mantles.
Last week's bird

We failed to reach a conclusion, but I feel I have to clamber onto the fence which Dave, to his credit, is balancing on, and relegate last week's bird to Redpoll sp.

We are of course crack birders and find it quite impossible to make a mistake. So when we surveyed the ridge field a little later a dark lump immediately excited our attention. Rather Owl shaped isn't it. Could it be a Buzzard? It is a bird isn't it? Oh yes it just moved its head.

I took a picture of what was surely an Asio Owl.

Possible Owl
We marched towards it. It stayed where it was. We walked right up to it.

Definite thistle
There's no doubt about it, we're top drawer expert stringers birders.

Tune in next week to see what else I can get wrong.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Friday January 23

A day off for non-birding reasons nevertheless gave me the chance of a quick gallop round the patch. Overnight there had been an extremely hard frost, and even by 11.00, when I arrived, the temperature had not peeped over 0' C.

Sadly this was not to be a particularly memorable visit. There were plenty of buntings seeking what food they could along the trackways, and I did flush an impressive 12 Song Thrushes from the spindly hedge behind the pool. This species seems particularly attracted to Morton Bagot in winter for some reason. There were slightly more Redwings and Fieldfares around, but you rarely see flocks of Song Thrushes in the Midlands.

Although I didn't walk through the marsh, 16 Common Snipe panicked as I walked passed, so there must have been plenty in there. Virtually no ducks or waders other than Snipe were visible, and the accompaniment of gun shots from the surrounding woodland (and the ice) reminded me why this was.

Back at the car I thought I had better photograph something.

Thank goodness for this obliging Dunnock.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Sunday January 18

A cold but sunny morning. All water courses were frozen. As I waited for Dave to arrive my last "soft" year-tick flew into view. Two Collared Doves appeared and posed on wires. They seem to be a little less common than they used to be here.

Collared Dove
Dave arrived and we started our circuit. Today was to prove a particularly interesting one, but there was no sign that things were to hot up as we scanned the Tawny Owl tree without success. The two Stonechats were still present, the male having lost its tail since last week, but that was the pinnacle of our success until Dave looked behind us, into the sun, and told me he could see the Barn Owl. Sure enough, it was back in the same pollarded willow I had seen it in at the end of last year. We walked up the slope to get a more favourable aspect, and I duly took a record shot.

Barn Owl
 At this point Dave suffered a major blow. His phone rang and he found he was going to have to head to work as the equipment in his lab had fused for the second Sunday running.

So I continued the circuit alone, seeing nothing very much until I returned to where my car was parked. In the birches above it were three small birds. They were Redpolls and two of them were clearly Lesser Redpolls.

Notice anything odd?
The third bird, however, was noticeably paler. Definitely worth a second look. Could it be a Mealy Redpoll? The Mealy Redpoll, boringly renamed Common Redpoll, is definitely not common at all. It used to be the Scandinavian race of Lesser Redpoll until it was "split" a few years ago, giving birders a tick and a headache simultaneously. They are not always easy to ID because both they and Lessers vary in plumage and size according to age, time of year, and sex. They should be a little larger than Lesser, particularly the males.

Mealy and Lesser Redpolls
 This one was only fractionally bigger, so perhaps a female. The next feature to look for is the general frostiness of the plumage, and I certainly felt it was the palest of the three. After that you have to zoom in on individual features to build up your case. The best feature should be the rump colour, which is pale grey and streaked black, not fawn brown and streaked as in Lesser. The problem is that they are not keen to show you their rumps. But the tantalising views I got looked promising.

You can just see that the rump is pale and streaked
Other good features are that the flanks are whiter than in Lesser, with dark streaks standing out, and also that the greater covert wing bar is often all white. In Lessers the flanks are usually buff, and the wing bar has some buff in it.

This shot shows the flanks and wing-bar well
Another feature to look at in Redpolls is the undertail covert pattern. These are helpful if you are trying to ID an Arctic Redpoll, but I'm not sure how useful they are for separating Mealy from Lesser.

One streak on the longest undertail covert and single streaks on the next two
The mantle and scapulars were mainly brown with black streaks, but the centre of the mantle contained whitish tramlines. I would have been happier if the mantle had been paler, but Mealies do vary. After all this careful analysis I have convinced myself it is indeed a Mealy Redpoll sp.

Also, was I wearing my lucky socks? Well no I wasn't, so that's that theory up the spout.

Postscript: I have been reading as many articles as I can find hoping to firm up my thoughts, and if anything they raised more concerns. I've spoken to Dave who agreed it looked an interesting bird, but wondered if the mantle was pale enough. I was also thinking about this, and also about whether the head is pale enough. I took loads of photos of it, and am adding one to this post which gives a further impression of its head colour.

The head looks a better fit in this one; i.e. grey.
I still am no longer sure I think it is a Mealy, but if its a Lesser then its a very extreme one.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Sunday January 11

At Christmas Lyn bought me, among other things, a pair of green socks with large white spots on them. Their debut was December 30, the day of the Barn Owl etc. So I immediately dubbed them my lucky socks. Today was their second outing.

Compared to my previous two visits this year, the weather was pretty good. Sunny and clear with a light to moderate westerly. While I waited for Dave I noticed several parties of large Gulls heading south. This was encouraging, and when Dave pulled up, I was chatting to him about this when three Swans appeared to the south-east of us and headed our way. Had the lucky socks just claimed their first birds? Well yes in a way. They were Mute Swans, not quite what I had hoped for, but still a year tick. Then a flock of 27 Greylag Geese flew over, another year-tick. Our Gull total reached 25 Lesser Black-backs and two Herring Gulls, plus several flocks of silhouettes.

We set off and after a while heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker. They all count. Shortly afterwards the lucky socks took a heavy blow. Dave got a call from work (his cultures were cooking, or something). Evidently the equipment failure which had led to this state of affairs required attending to, and it seemed Dave would need to abort. As he pondered this, he drew my attention to another year-tick, a Coal Tit was flitting through the branches of an ornamental conifer.

Just past the wood, while Dave was on the phone trying to persuade his colleagues to get involved, I was scanning the landscape and added distant Grey Heron and Cormorant. We headed for the owl tree, but there was no sign of it. However, Dave did discover that the pair of Stonechats had not departed as I had believed.

We decided to walk through the marsh, in front of which were about 15 Fieldfares, a few Redwings, and 12 Starlings. We sloshed through the marsh and soon kicked out four Teal, 25 Common Snipe, and eventually eight Jack Snipe. This was a personal triumph for two reasons. My best ever count here, and I actually got photos of them which are identifiable.

Jack Snipe
Another one
Long suffering readers will remember that my photo year list from last year contained a very dodgy dot, which I assure you was a Jack Snipe. This time I can prove they are real.

We arrived at the flashes which contained just the four Teal, and Dave decided he would have to leave. I trudged on without adding a great deal other than these Roe Deer.

Pretty cute. Then I got to the dragonfly pools, where I saw a pretty Coot. Sorry about that. I decided to extend the trip a bit, and headed north to the other pond. There was nothing there as usual, but on the way back the puddles by the slurry dump contained my final year-tick of the day. A Grey Wagtail. 

Grey Wagtail
I just had time to snatch a photo before another Wagtail replaced it.

Pied Wagtail
So the verdict on the socks, lucky for me, pants for Dave. The year-list stands at 60 (it took me until February to get that total last year).

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Sunday January 4

So which is worst, rain or fog. After yesterday's deluge, today was sabotaged by thick freezing fog.

Dave rang me to say he couldn't see the bottom of his garden in Kenilworth, but bizarrely it looked OK in Redditch. An hour later I left the house and found that the fog had formed.

Personally I prefer anything to the dispiriting effect of heavy rain. Fog is frustrating, but at least there is the optimistic thought that it usually lifts. Also, it gives the landscape a wild but strangely beautiful, bleak aspect.

There could be anything out there
 The downside of course is that you can't see the birds, and they even seem to call less. As is the custom at this time of the year, mini highlights are ten to the dozen, even in fog, as the year-listing starts all over again. I noted Nuthatch, Greenfinch, and House Sparrow before Dave got out of his car.

We quickly formed a plan which involved walking along the road to target small woodland birds which should at least be close enough to see. By the time we reached the far edge of Bannam's Wood I had added Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Jay, and Red-legged Partridge to my year-list, and had also seen a Marsh Tit (recorded yesterday).

Heading back to the fields felt like leaving all hope of further birds behind, as the fog was showing signs that it intended to stay. The Yellowhammer flock at the back of the pool was reasonably co-operative, and there was just enough visibility to identify nine Teal which took off shortly after we had flushed some Mallards.

The return journey did add a flock of 25 Skylarks, and the distant calls of Rooks and Green Woodpecker, but we arrived back at our starting point resigned to the fact the fog was not going to shift.

Gorillas Fieldfares in the mist
The above picture sums up the difficulties nicely.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

January 3 2015

My first visit to the patch this year was a bit of a damp squib..very damp. It rained all morning and was also cold. Occasionally the rain faded away only to pep up once I had left whatever shelter I had sought.

I spent nearly an hour under the eaves of the stable, emerging briefly to count 75 Chaffinches in the set aside, and then to go through the thrushes in the horse paddocks. This contained more Song Thrushes than anything else (10), and with the Redwings Fieldfares and Blackbirds was a Mistle Thrush.

I next drove down to the south end to scan the Linnets on the telegraph wires.

This flock totalled 238 Linnets and nothing else.

After a brief trip into Studley I returned and parked by the church with the intention of scanning the flash. I flushed a male Sparrowhawk, and could see there were some Teals down there so I trudged down the hill in worsening conditions and counted 15 Teal, c 60 Mallard and two Lapwings. On the return journey I was aware that there were some Meadow Pipits in the pasture and about 20 Redwings, but I could barely see them because of the sodden condition of my optics.

My year has thus got off to a slow start, and a total of 37 species.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Roman Lakes Leisure Park

Happy New Year everyone.

As is traditional for me and Lyn, we spent New Year with friends away from home. This year it was Glossop again, and for the first day of 2015 I was taken to a nearby locality which I was assured contained a lake and lots of birds.

This turned out to be Roman Lakes Leisure Park near Marple in either Derbyshire or Cheshire (I'm not sure which). Our friends headed off on their New Year ramble while I was left to explore my new environs. The habitat consisted of the steep sided wooded valley of the fast flowing river Goyt. Prime habitat, I decided, for Dippers.

Near the top of the walk I came across the lakes, which were small but jam-packed with at least 90 Coots. Also of interest from a "no chance of seeing one at Morton Bagot" point of view was a Great Crested Grebe, and arguably better, a pair of Goosander.

The drake Goosander
In fact Goosander is the one diving duck other than Tufted Duck which I have seen at Morton Bagot, but it may be a long wait for the next one.

At the pools I bumped into another birder. We traded birds as he told me he had seen the Goosanders and also a Dipper "up by the Roman bridge". All I could offer him was Siskin and Lesser Redpoll which I had seen dangling from alders with a small party of Goldfinches.

As the drizzle intensified I headed past the lakes in the direction he had indicated, and soon heard a call which I was pretty sure had been made by a Dipper. I scanned the river in vain from the bank, and then from the roman bridge, then the bank again. At this point our friends appeared and after a brief chat headed onwards telling me to meet them by the cars by 2.00pm at the latest.

I kept on looking. Another call, and another. Finally I spotted it and got pretty good views of a species I very much doubt I'll see again this year.

It actually started singing after a while. I have heard them on Dowles Brook in Worcs before, but it was good to be reminded of what they sound like. The song sounds a bit like a Reed Warbler's but one in which the singer forgets his lines and ends with a higher pitched anxiety attack. I'll leave it to your imagination.

There isn't much else to report. I saw a Grey Wagtail, photographed a Grey Heron, and saw a cloud of about 100 Jackdaws above Marple before our intrepid group, who I had managed to catch up,  headed for the pub.

Normal service will be resumed on Jan 3rd.