Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sunday February 28

A largely sunny morning with a chilly easterly breeze.

Dave and I walked around the patch for a couple of hours without seeing anything new. Having said that, a wade through the marshy edge of the pool did at least confirm the continued presence of the Jack snipe, plus a mere four Common Snipe.

The three Stonechats were still here, but were at the far end of the chat field. The flash field produced only 10 Teal, the Redshank, three Green sandpipers, and a pair of Shelduck.

The small field at Stapenhill Wood was completely devoid of finches, but we later discovered that there were lots down at the south end.

Dave had not brought his scope so we drove down in my car, and I lent him my scope while I tried to take photographs or look through my bins. There were a lot more Linnets than recently, maybe 50. The rest were Redpolls, probably 80. They eventually flew onto the wires but neither of us was able to pick out anything of note. For a short while they perched in the hedge which allowed better scope/binocular views. Through the camera lens I got onto a bird I half thought was a Chaffinch at first, and I tried to draw Dave's attention to it. Sadly my directions were too vague and he didn't see it.

As you can see the bird was a pink chested male Redpoll. It's apparent large size may be an illusion caused by the birds with it being further away. Lets just call it a Redpoll.

Disappointingly, despite the fact that we never left the car, the whole flock then decided to take off and head north, probably to Stapenhill Wood.

We gave up.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Friday February 26

Cloudy with a light south-easterly breeze.

After yesterday's effort I was keen to try to see some Redpolls in flat light conditions, so this afternoon I decided to take advantage of the gathering cloud by heading back to the patch for an hour's worth of brownie points.

I headed straight for Stapenhill Wood, but after thirty minutes of gathering gloom I had only seen six Lesser Redpolls. The light was getting worse and the birds were somewhere else, so I abandoned the plan and made for the flash field.

There was little change from yesterday, now 46 Teal, one Green Sandpiper, three Snipe, and the Redshank, which was at least now on the nearest flash.

I walked back via the pool, noticing that there had been an arrival of Stonechats, two males and a female.

So not much on offer, but at least the visit didn't cost me anything.

Now where's that ironing?

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Thursday February 25

A bright sunny morning, cold and crisp with a very light breeze.

I decided to walk along the road before heading down to the pool. This tactic was aimed at getting a photograph of the Tawny Owl, which never seems to notice me when I walk down the hedge from Bannams Wood.

Sleeping Tawny Owl
That worked pretty well.

I was pleased to see that, despite the overnight frost, the pool was ice-free. It was also virtually bird-free, but the Flash field was a different story.

To begin with I counted six Snipe, six Lapwings, three Green Sandpipers, and 41 Teal. They were on the furthest flash, and amongst them strode a year-tick in the form of a Redshank. This is a species which turns up every spring, but I don't think I've ever seen one this early in the year.

During the process of trying to get a photo which showed that the Redshank had orange legs (it was mostly wading up to its haunches), I had a look at an oak tree. Sitting in it was another year-tick, a Little Owl. This is the last of the species known to be resident on the patch that I needed to catch up with this year.

Little Owl
So a pretty good morning.

For the rest of this blog I will be wittering on about Redpolls, so those of a nervous disposition should look away now.

In the small field above Stapenhill Wood an explosion of small finches told me that the Redpolls were still present. I thought that rather than tie myself in knots trying to locate a Mealy (or better), I would play devil's advocate by taking the view that they were all Lesser Redpolls and trying to argue the case from photographs.

I should immediately point out that the sun was bright, and the birds were a bit distant. Whenever I try to approach them, they nearly always fly off. This is how far away they were:

Technically, there are Redpolls in this shot.
So to get anything worthwhile I had to crank the camera up to maximum zoom, with all the usual drawbacks of loss of definition etc that brings. Excuses over, here are some images of Lesser Redpolls.

"normal" Lesser Redpoll
Note the buffy flanks and pale buffy head and ear-coverts.

Not all Lesser Redpolls have streaks on the undertail coverts
The above shot shows a pale Redpoll which appears to have unstreaked undertail coverts, a feature which is associated with Arctic Redpoll. However, you can find sources which say that Lesser Redpolls can also show that feature. Unfortunately the bird is facing me, so it is hard to say whether it looks small-billed. The strong sunlight may be bleaching the flanks and the ear-coverts on the right side of its face. The plumage is not "fluffy" which is a point in favour of our identification of it as a Lesser Redpoll, but to progress things further I need to see its upperparts and rump.

It was sufficiently interesting that I continued scoping on the next occasion that the flock appeared in the hedge, and I have to say that I did see a bird which seemed to show pale down its back which may have continued towards the rump. Unfortunately the bird took flight almost as soon as I had it in the scope so I didn't get a clear view.

Some of the Lesser Redpolls did show their rumps quite well, and these were generally either pink (adult males) or buff coloured. To show how you have to look long and hard at this feature, I am now going to show a series of photos of a bird which you might think has a pale greyish Mealy-like rump.

The bird to look at is the middle one of the three
Same bird, now on left.
Same bird again

Now I think this bird is probably a Lesser Redpoll. It looks the same size as the Lesser Redpolls it is with, and the fluffed up "rump" is actually its lower mantle. The lower rump has a hint of buff in it and it could be that the strong light is making the rump a tad paler than it actually is. The head, nape, and scapulars show no evidence of any frostiness.

The next interesting bird is another pale fronted one. This one appears to have streaked under tail coverts, so it is not the bird in the second photo. However, it is quite hard to argue that it is still a Lesser Redpoll.

Redpoll sp

This really does look pale, so to claim it as a Lesser Redpoll I will need to point out that the strong sun is perhaps making it look too pale and it has a hint of honey-colour on its breast. It may be the bird I thought had whitish in the rump, so it could be a Mealy.  On the other hand it might have a tawny brown mantle. Unfortunately Redpolls tend to sit motionless and then fly off rather than move around allowing a full view of all their features. As usual I failed to see a whitish rump on any of the birds when I saw them fly, and this could be a clincher in my attempt to portray them as all being Lesser Redpolls. However, there were about 80 present so its hard to confirm that I saw every one well enough.

Redpolls eh !

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Sunday February 21

A cloudy start with sunny intervals developing. Very mild but with a strong westerly wind.

Dave and I checked out the shed, no Barn Owl, and then walked along the road before cutting down towards the pool, no Tawny Owl. We did, however, have a great view of a Stoat at the entrance to High Field Farm. A small party of Lesser Redpolls were sheltering from the wind, allowing good views for once.

I photographed the palest bird as usual. Unfortunately it didn't look any larger than the other Redpolls, and although the lower back was pale grey, its rump appeared brownish with a hint of pink.  Presumably just a Lesser Redpoll at the pale end of the spectrum.

The pool contained a drake Tufted Duck and a Mute Swan, neither of which was present in the week. This was an encouraging start, and there was more to see on the Flash field. Most obvious was a drake Shelduck, and we soon added 61 Teal, 22 Lapwings, and an impressive five Green Sandpipers.

Lapwings with Green Sandpipers on the back edge
On the trudge back we located another 40 Redpolls, including one with a paler head than the one photographed earlier. The views were insufficient to say much more than that, and we soon lost them.

As we walked across the ridge field I noticed that two cyclists had hopped over the gate by Bannams Wood and one had climbed onto the stacked logs, ignoring the warning signs. Very dangerous and stupid.

A couple of numpties
They survived the experience.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Thursday February 18

A beautiful sunny morning with a very light westerly breeze.

These benign conditions resulted in a visit which could best be described as quiet. The usual suspects were all still present, but in reduced numbers. A male Stonechat, 26 Lesser Redpolls, 46 Teal, a Green  Sandpiper, and a Tawny Owl were pretty standard fare.

Signs of spring included three Lapwings back on the flash field, and many displaying Buzzards.

Soaring Common Buzzard
A pair of Buzzards displaying
The nearest I came to a highlight was a distant view of a Peregrine being mobbed on a pylon by a Raven.

The big dot is the Raven and the little one is the Peregrine

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Tuesday February 16

Sunny with a moderate southerly breeze after a hard frost last night.

I delayed my arrival after convincing myself that the Redpolls only appear in their favourite field from late morning onwards. However, after 15 minutes sitting in the car without a sniff, I decided to change the plan.

A Pheasant had at least made an easy target, and I was soon able to add a Kestrel to the list of birds photographed this morning.

As I was heading across the Dragonfly Pool field intent on finding the Redpolls at their other favoured spot, I got a call from Sue. She had seen a Barn Owl this morning and thought it had gone into a shed by the barns. I back-tracked and checked out the shed I thought she had meant, but there was no sign.

I resumed my original course and arrived at the small field by Stapenhill Wood. Sure enough, the Redpoll flock was present, and just as surely they gave me a couple of brief opportunities to look at them before they disappeared into the scrub in front of the wood. I estimated about 80 birds. Eventually I gave up waiting for them to return and returned to the car via the frozen pool.

Back at the barns it occurred to me that I had overlooked one of the sheds. I went to have a look, and immediately noticed a trickle of white excrement down one of the walls. Camera at the ready, I edged forward and was in place to get a couple of rubbish record shots as the Barn Owl flew out.

Barn Owl
Cheers Sue.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Sunday February 14

A sunny morning with a rather sharp north-easterly breeze.

I joined Dave for our now customary Redpoll hunt. This produced only about 40 birds, all Lessers, by 10.30am. We decided on a quick march around the patch, which produced very little.

There were 55 Teal and two Green Sandpipers at the flash field and a charm of about 20 Goldfinches.

However, by Stapenhill Wood we found the rest of the Redpoll flock, about 60 birds, but accidentally flushed them while trying to get into a position where the sun would be behind us.

I had to leave Dave in order to get back to Lyn, but returned 40 minutes later to find he had followed the flock back down to the usual field, only to see half of them head back north. We looked at the remainder, eventually scoping one fairly interesting bird, but we eventually consigned it to being probably just a pale Lesser.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Friday February 12

A sunny morning with a light easterly breeze. Still constrained by time, I rather meandered to the Flash field after seeing about 30 Lesser Redpolls in hedges by the dragonfly pond and later again as they left the other small pool after presumably having a drink. None of them looked like anything other than a Lesser.

I had a poor view of the Tawny Owl, and a different male Stonechat (this one had a tail) before reaching the flash field. This only contained 33 Teal, 70 Greylag Geese and a Green Sandpiper. The nearest I got to a notable sighting was a record count of five Roe Deer (plus another by the dragonfly Pools).

The Roe Deer
I returned home, but by mid afternoon decided to go back to see if there were any more Redpolls in the field at the south end. On arrival I immediately saw about 30 in the hedge. I then went into the field and waited. After a while I spotted a distant finch on its own in the hedge which appeared
through binoculars to have a white rump. I tried to find it in the scope, but couldn't see any bird at all.

Then a pile of about 100 Redpolls flew out of the crop and into the hedge. Among them was a strikingly pale/white Redpoll. I stared at it through the scope. The bill did not look particularly small but it had to be at least a very pale Mealy. They all flew into the crop, but soon returned to the hedge and I easily found the bird again, it stood out like a beacon among the other finches. Still it wouldn't turn and show its rump. They flew back into the field.

I waited, and then disaster, they flew out and scattered all over the place. Many landed on the wires but their position was towards the low sun, and I couldn't see the bird. Then they all flew again and headed off high. After 20 minutes only a handful had returned so I headed north to try to locate the flock again, but was unsuccessful.

So frustrating, but I am getting a little excited now. I think today's bird was paler than yesterday's.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Wednesday February 10

I had just over an hour to kill before the latest visit from a physiotherapist for Lyn, so I went for a quick dash around the patch.

It was cloudy, but calmer than on Sunday, the wind direction being just north of west. Initially I drove down the the Redpoll field, but after 10 minutes without a finch of any description I decided to cut my losses and head for the flash field.

At the pool I noticed that several pairs of Coots had arrived, and I ended up with a whole patch total of nine without visiting all of the small pools. A sign of spring for sure, as was my next good bird, a Shelduck. This flew over as I reached the flash field, and I suspect it had been on the furthest flash.

The Shelduck
As well as the usual Stonechat, I also logged 66 Teal, two Green Sandpipers, and 14 Canada Geese. On the walk back I counted seven Bullfinches.

Back at the car I decided to give the Redpoll field another go. However, after 15 minutes without seeing any I decided to give up. Fortunately, as I was about to change my footwear, I looked round to see about 20 small finches on the wires. After a while they appeared in the hedgerow and were confirmed to be Lesser Redpolls. But one of them wasn't. It was too big, about 10% larger than a Lesser Redpoll sitting in front of it, the brown on the scapulars looked rather earth-brown, and the head and ear-coverts were strikingly pale, the flanks were white with grey streaks. I had finally found a Mealy Redpoll which I was happy with.

The distance from the bird was quite great, and the branches of the hedgerow would prove a distraction, so I was doubtful whether I would have time to get a photograph. As I was pondering this conundrum the birds all flew into the field. I was already on borrowed time, so decided to leave.

This sketch tries to convey what I saw.

Mealy Redpoll with Lesser for size comparison

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Sunday February 7

With Lyn still requiring plenty of hands-on care, I only managed a couple of hours this morning. Dave arrived before me, and as agreed, had gone on a circuit of the patch on his own.

Last night I received an interesting email from a birder called Dan Watson. He had evidently read my recent blogs about Redpolls and also Neil Duggan's blog "Out 4 a duck" which also shows images of them, and was interested in a pale Redpoll shown in both blogs. He felt that the bird showed several of the features of Coues's Arctic Redpoll, and was wondering whether I had any notes or additional photographs. One point he made was that Coues's can be pretty small, something I hadn't realised.

Unfortunately my note-taking was non-existent because I was concentrating on recording it with photographs. This is pretty bad birding, but in my defence I would say that without any photos I would probably not have recorded sufficient detail to identify the bird anyway. I sent him what I could.

Realising that in order to stand any chance of providing a convincing record of the Redpoll I would need to see its rump well, I decided to concentrate my efforts on the Redpoll flock once more. There were about 80 birds present but neither I nor Dave, when he joined me, was able to see a white rump on the birds in the field.

On his circuit Dave had seen a flock of at least 500 Starlings, plus two Shovelers and 45 Teal.

I suspect the mystery Redpoll has gone, but I will keep looking just in case.

The one that got away ?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Friday February 5

A cloudy morning with a fresh south-westerly wind and a few light showers.

Houston, we have a problem! On Monday morning poor Lyn did something nasty to her back, which has meant that she is now completely housebound and I am unable to go to work as I need to be around all the time to assist her. Obviously this has also clipped my birding wings.

We have, however, worked out that I can spend up to two hours in the field at a stretch, and this morning I headed to the patch for a quick look round.

I parked at Church Farm and headed straight for the flash field. The recent gales have brought down a small tree in the hedge by the footpath gate, and as a result I had to crawl under it to get through the gate. The shooting season is now over, and so it was nice to count 62 Teal, most of which were on the nearest flash.

Part of the Teal flock
Also present were two Lapwings, a Green Sandpiper, and 37 Mallard. Surprises were in short supply this morning, and the best I could come up with was a summer plumage adult Cormorant. I am more used to seeing dull immature birds.

At least there was a bit of a spring-like feel to the visit, with Skylarks and Great Tits now in full song, and a few Hawthorns starting to produce leaves.