Sunday, January 31, 2016

Redpoll...week 4.

You will all be getting sick of me chuntering on about the Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Birling / Warkworth by now, but today we managed some great views and this time I even had the camera instead of the scope.

I've jumped the gun a bit though so first things first. I met John at Warkworth at 7.30 this morning just as it was getting light. It was nice and calm for a change, overcast and cold. To start things we walked down towards the beach and along to view the salt marsh, to check the local Twite flock for the first time this year. As expected, about 15 Twite showed well, in less than good light, but with them were 2 Redpolls, one a sure fire Mealy, the other more ambiguous. I dont recall ever seeing redpolls in this habitat before...

While here, a Barn Owl hunted the car park banks and a host of waders roosted along the edge, where Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Egret were both new for the year.  

Twite in the gloaming at first light.
From here we walked back up and followed the field north along the golf course to view the redpolls. Today numbers were up to 34 birds and the Arctic was easily picked out as they came in and sat, obligingly, along the fence line.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll showing well, sticking out like a sore thumb. This shot shows its bull-head and necked appearance well.
We stood back from the fence a few yards and the birds came in every so often. Here the Arctic is showing its typical puffed up pose, complete with huge, unstreaked white rump.
In this shot, the Arctic has not had time to fluff up, giving an altogether different appearance. It appears to be a first winter male as there are odd reddish feathers in the upper chest / cheek area. 
 This is my fourth audience with exilipes and he never fails to impress. What a little cracker!
As we watched, John and I met with John Richardson and Sasha Elliott who also got some nice photo's. Pleased to meet you Sasha....

From here, we returned to the car for a refill of tea, pasty and cake ( no....) then off down to the harbour and estuary. Highlights here were a nice male Goosander, 3 Purple Sandpipers and the adult Mediterranean Gull has finally returned, albeit a little bit late....

So, a nice winter morning out with some excellent birds. If only all weekends were like this....

Mediterranean Gull with Black headed Gulls, Little Shore, Amble.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lovely Aconites....

Every year at this time Denwick Church lights up with the golden glow of winter aconites. For me, these and Snowdrops raise the chequered flag to get ready for spring just a few long weeks away...

No doubt I will add more pics of these beauties as the snowdrops emerge between them. This year there seems to be a lot at Denwick, possibly due to increased light after the removal of a large dying tree last spring. All the trampling hasn't done the flowers any harm.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Time flies...

I've just noticed on my blog hit counter that its just passed the half a million page views mark! I would never have thought that back in July 2006 when I started....

I wonder if it will make the million? Here's hoping....

Sunday, January 24, 2016

And more Redpolls....

This morning was spent down at Warkworth with John.

We started in the gloaming with a nice Barn Owl hunting the car park. I had seen a second bird up the road near Hipsburn on my way too.

If only I could get the redpoll to sit for me!
While there, it would have been rude not to have a third look at the Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Birling ( which is just one field from Warkworth Golf Club). How pleased am I that John wanted to give it another go, because today it gave us some great views. Early on, we were the first ones looking, and sure enough the little flock of Redpolls were feeding in the usual spot down at the SE corner of the field. Using a little field craft, we stood on the field edge near the fence, with the light behind us. I took my scope but didnt think the light was any good for photos, a mistake I won't be making again in a hurry.

As we stood quietly, the birds arrived from the south just over our heads chattering away to themselves before dropping in to feed only a few yards from us! Despite quartering the ground with the scope we could only find three birds, a Mealy and 2 Lesser Redpolls. As is their way, they got up again, danced around a bit and dropped back in. On one occasion though, when they got up, they all landed on the fence line only about 30 feet away where they could be seen very well indeed through the scope.

A rapid count gave us about 26 birds - 1 Arctic, 2 Mealies and 23 Lesser Redpolls, but they dont sit around and off they went across the field into the hawthorns, where we could clearly seen the Arctic and 3 Mealies! So a finally best guess gives us 1 Arctic, 3 Mealies and 22 Lessers. A while later we managed to get more good views in the beach car park as they flew in for a wash and brush up. This time I suspect there were even more Mealies, but an accurate count was impossible as they hopped through thick thorn cover.

I think John got some shots of the flock on the fence, so when he sends me one I'll add it to the post ....

On our way back to the car, a male Merlin hunted a Skylark over head, frightening the poor thing into song, though I didnt see any kill right till both were out of sight high over the sea.

Back home, a second Chiffchaff was feeding in the ditch along the lane, while the first one was still in the garden....

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Winter Warbler....

As it was quite dry today for a change, I had an hour having a garden tidy up, prelim to spring. All I did was clear away from dead nettle and dock stalks so that the bulbs can see through more easily. While I was carting away a couple of barrow loads, I noticed the wintering Chiffchaff flicking around right next to me. Its a pity I didnt have the camera out I thought. The bird kept disappearing and reappearing where ever I seemed to go, so after I finished I popped back outside, armed. I managed to get 5 pics as it was flycatching along the drive. This one is the best of the bunch....

Down on the pond, a drake Tufted Duck and a lone Coot were new list additions, while 2+ Brambling were in the finch flock and a Buzzard soared overhead. Stock Doves are, unusually, being quite visible this year in small parties of up to seven birds.

85. Tufted Duck
86. Coot

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Wednesday wander...

A day off on holiday today. The weather was meant to be sunny, but thick cloud was the order of the day. At least it didn't rain or blow a gale.

A bit of a wander around the village and coast added a few to the patch list with the highlight being 2 Grey Plovers at Rumbling Kern along with a few Razorbill, a Purple Sandpiper, a Stonechat and a Kingfisher.

Unfortunately there was no photos taken of today's birds due to the light conditions, but here is the Shag from Craster Harbour on Sunday....

Patch Challenge 2016  - 84 species.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Redpoll update...

What a lovely weekend that was, sunny cold and crisp, just the job after weeks of clarts* and rain.

A few walks around the homelands added another 10 species to the 2016 Patch List, mainly very common stuff like Greylag, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer, but also 2 Willow Tits fighting and buzzing around at Craster soon to be joined by an equally tricky patch bird, a Treecreeper. Rock Pipits and a Shag were in Craster Harbour too, so its slowly coming along.

I might have seen more, If I hadn't been tempted back down to Johns patch at Birling to see what our Redpoll looked like in the sunshine.

After a full week of debate that had the emotions churning, at last, young Jonathan Farooqi has caught a photo, capturing the bird's very essence. Forget the Garner Redpoll Code for just a moment and wallow in this image for me.... in particular image number 8 from the top.

Now take yourself back 30 years, if you were birding then, and just think what your reaction would have been if you had found this in a hedge with a load of brown birds. All of us, to a man, would have shouted ARCTIC REDPOLL! 

I posted my own redpoll CV in the last episode, so you know that I have watched a lot of Mealy Redpolls over the years, but have never known one in the wild or in captivity to show that amount of whiteness or, more importantly, feather bulk and posture ( fluff, to you and I). Martin Garner suggests using 'jizz' before going into the minutiae. This bird, as soon as it settles, puffs itself into a round cotton wool ball, Every time. Only when coming in to feed does it take on a different persona, becoming all tight feathers and slimmer, like a fat bloke breathing in on the beach.( Not a word from you lot either).

So, on Sunday we managed some good views of the redpoll in both of its forms, both slim and fluffed, but mainly at a bit of a distance. The scope gave good views though. At one point it was on the ground scuffling for seed where it could be compared to Lesser Redpoll and Linnet.  This flock also has probably 2 Mealies in there, and one bird it associated with in particular was a big brown Mealy.

The bird still has a few problems that dont seem to fit with our current understanding of redpolls. That bill for instance gives it a Mealy look about it.  But I think thats the problem, we just dont know all there is. These birds are very difficult and may even merge in some areas though studies in Canada didn't think they interbred. Maybe Coues's Redpoll is more 'flexible' that we think....

*mud for those south of the Tyne....

Notes from yesterday done in the car after my fingers had thawed out, hence scribbled writing. Colour added later back home.

Good enough for the Handbook....

Sunday, January 10, 2016

White out....

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!!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Wetter late than never....

Craster Harbour the other day...
Happy New Year all, long time no see. There is a reason for this though. We have been without internet since 28th December, it only coming back on today as if by magic, without an engineer or anything, just a manifestation in blue light on the router.

No more ado, my blood boils just thinking about the customer service given by BT, so lets not mention them again.

Much better to start with a finish to 2015. I was going to do the bloggers standard summary of the last years highlights but that candle has fizzled now so here's an update.

For the Patchwork Challenge and my friendly competition with Mr Gale of Banstead the end total is a respectable 151 species for 191 points, nicely clinching back a forgotten Sibe Chiff (oh that's only a PWC rule, so for you Steve the year closed on 150) from November.

Time for it all to start over for 2016. This coming year I have a couple of plans to look forward to - continuing with the patch birding, I am enjoying it more than ever since I am taking it casually. Accompanying my friend John on his first dip into the PWC down at the Coquet Estuary where I can enjoy a new set of species that can be tricky on my own patch ie waders and lastly, later in the spring John and myself will be making our first foray across the Atlantic with another 5 friends to catch up with some Nearctic warbler migration.

In between these main features there will be more ventures into moths and butterflies, plants and mammals or anything else that takes the fancy. I will be keeping my notebook tidy with a few more sketches and trying to get some better photographs.

And that's me really, a man of simple pleasures!

What, may you ask, has 2016 given me so far? Well, I have to say, rain. And gales, and even more rain. New Years day was ok, but every day since has been grim, dark, wet and windy to a backing track of booming, pounding, headache inducing waves against the cliffs.

The Howick bird list is a bit lower than at this stage last year, but it is early days. My first highlight of the year came as a surprise on the 1st when a lovely adult Little Gull fed in a village field with black headed gulls. It did a short circular flight low over our heads to show of the pale rounded wing tips against the sooty wing linings. This is a scarce bird here with only a few occurrences maybe every other year always on seawatches. It was nice to get a land bound one.

Speaking of seawatching, I have dabbled against the elements seeing very little except up to 3 more Little Gulls together at Craster and 2 Little Auks blasted North with a wind up their tail.

PWC 2016 61 sp.

I dont fancy a dip in there....