I just want to post some info on the Redpoll John found at Birling Carrs today. John had noted a redpoll flock last week and fancied he glimpsed a paler bird in with the lessers. They are feeding in a rotting game crop full of seed right next to the golf course at Warkworth.
This morning we had a wander around and sure enough the flock of about 20 birds came dancing into the tall stands of seeding crop. The birds perched for a minute then dropped to the ground and were mainly invisible. As we approached up they would go and fly off some distance only to come back 10 minutes later. This was the pattern for the next hour before we had to leave.
So what did we observe. We have posted snippets of info and two pics that John took on social media but it doesn't explain the story.
Our bird was the only pale individual in an otherwise brown flock, so no two bird theory here.
At first sight against a dull, damp, dark background a white flash of rump like a Brambling was very exciting. Once our eye was in, the bird could even be picked out in flight against the sky let alone a dark background.
Once, it landed close to us where the distant white snowball looked very much greyer and Mealy-like, but only a back view was had before they dropped out of sight.
At long range the bird looked even better, a very whitish bird like a beacon amongst the little buff lessers.
Looking at Johns photo's below it is easy to cry Arctic, but lets be very critical first.The bird looks like a first winter with pointed tail feathers? The colour of the tail seems odd with those white streaks, this is due to the wetness of the habitat soaking the feather so maybe the tail tips are wider and rounded when dry, its hard to tell.
This wetness might be having an effect upon the extent of white rump showing too, smoothing feathers down and exposing a more pale, basal area.
The mantle is quite dark and dirty looking, but again is this a weather related illusion?
Dark solid looking ear coverts with greyish surround and large red 'poll' do fit a Mealy and lack the buffiness of Arctic ( Coues Arctic). The bill didnt appear stubby and can easily be seen in flight.
Now this second image for me gives more info, but is a bit contradictory.
The under tail coverts first seem to have only one fine streak but look at that errant streaked feather sticking out to the side. That is quite obvious.This is a second thicker streaked undertail feather. I think.
The flanks have nice dark tramlines drawn down them but are partially obscured.
Its such a shame the face is hidden because this does look different and very creamy buff, under and around the black chin and the supercillium.
These comments still leave us hanging really. I dont think a 100% certain i.d can be made so far. The bird needs further observation and, hopefully more photos taken.
On social media quite a few comments have been made shouting Arctic, even saying definitely, but let me say, how can we be sure from these two images. I have consulted Garner's Winter Guide, and Birdling World 1996 as well as online images and nothing really helps.
Personally, I have a good Redpoll 'CV'.
Myself and John are experienced observers. I have kept them in captivity as a child, helped a Mealy captive breeder, used to be a ringer and have caught, ringed and handled a good few, I have seen lots of Mealies in Northumberland, uncountable Lessers since childhood,indeed this was the first flight call I could identify when aged about 9 or 10 yrs old. I have found and watched the nests and display of Lessers in the wild, watched Iceland Redpolls in Iceland and have found 2 Arctic Redpolls in Northumberland ( Alnmouth and Druridge Bay Country Park) accepted by BBRC.
I just want to put it out there that we kind of know what we are talking about.
So why can we not be sure of this bird after watching it in snippets for an hour, yet people online can name it from two images that took 1/600th of a second?
Lets hope its publicity gets other birders onsite to check it out and hopefully get some clinching shots. You never know it might be our third self found Arctic Redpoll!!