Tag Archives: Arctic Redpoll

Garden birding

‘Gangmaster’ Garner has been pestering me to write another post. Having been in the office for most of the summer, or at least in Shetland – and not racing around the globe looking at some fancy new spotting scope and some groovy birds – I have been struggling to come up with something. But here’s a quick story of everyday garden birding in the best birding garden in Britain (unless you know better).

Fair Isle Bird Observatory garden – as viewed from room about 2 weeks ago. OK, so I’m biased… At the beginning of March 1996 this was just a piece of close-cropped maritime grassland. Mark Newell, Steve Votier and I got the sheep- and rabbit-proof fencing up that month, and then we started planting. First, we planted pallets – lots of ‘em (for shelter – shelter is the key). And then the shrubs (I hesitate to say trees). Anything tolerant of the salt. You can’t be choosy up here. It’s been a long slog, but at last it looks like a piece of decent cover, one that’s been nurtured by all the staff at the obs since then. It’s a tribute to everyone that’s worked in it, and Dave Okill who first suggested it.

And boy does it work! It’s now the largest patch of cover anywhere on Fair Isle and one of  the best birding spots on the isle. Since the beginning of June this year, the resident garden-watchers have seen:

River Warbler…

Paddyfield Warbler…

This…

Oooooh yes. You didn’t think this was a post sans Carduelis did you? This bird is a cracker, an enormous (wing of 85 mm, tail of 69 mm), ghostly thing and surely most likely a young female hornemannibased on the overall size, ‘perfect’ undertail coverts, the rump and the fine mid/rear flank streaking.

And then this…

Another worn, summertime bird, this one much smaller, with a wing of 73 mm and a diddy bill, it seems to ‘best fit’ an exilipes. The undertail-coverts in particular are more heavily marked than many though still within range I think. Biometrics suggest it’s too small for hornemanni and islandica, while the UTCs alone surely rule out flammea and rostrata – ?

Any comments on the redpolls welcome. And, if you’re fired by birding a garden like this, there are still spaces available at the Obs this October – and what’s more there’s a special cheap rate for visitors arriving after 14th. Call Susannah on 01595 760258 or e-mail fibo@btconnect.com But don’t leave it too long…

Thanks to David and Will for the pics and for sharing the exciting birds.

More on those pesky redpolls

The redpoll complex seems to have been a popular topic for a debut post…  Good feedback on orange-/yellow-/golden-polled redpolls suggests that they are uncommon – but not that unusual – and that was new to me at least. Hugh Insley even commented that among the redpolls he’s catching in northwest Scotland, 10–20% may have golden rather than red polls. Many thanks to Phil Woollen for this pic of a handful of Lessers on Hilbre in late March…

…and to Graham Catley (http://pewit.blogspot.co.uk/) for this cracking pic of Arctic Redpolls at Skalelv Varanger in mid June.

As for working out the differences between Lessers and Mealies, it was interesting to see a range of views of what the Shetland birds were and on what the most helpful features are. I guess I was encouraged to find that it isn’t just me scratching my head. Members of both the Irish and Welsh records committees got in touch to say ‘Welcome to our world’ – redpolls are one of the most difficult groups to assess, even with good photos (check out some of last month’s posts here); while obs wardens Steve Stansfield on Bardsey and Dave Walker at Dunge suggest that they are increasingly struggling to separate some birds – even in the hand!

Comments below the original post suggest that the biggest problem is the variability of Common Redpolls, and the occurrence of small, brown Mealies. Is there an expanding hybrid/intergrade issue out there somewhere? Or maybe it’s just that the current taxonomic arrangement doesn’t serve field birders all that well – ? Whatever it is, there is clearly a problem in spring, when at least some Lessers lose their warm, buffy tones. Maybe vocalisations are a better basis for ID? Maybe I’m going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to do sonograms…