The Redpoll Stake-out

Before 2016, Lesser Redpolls (Acanthis cabaret) had not been seen in my garden since 2013, when seven would commute between a Quince bush at the back of the garden, some bare ground beneath a large oak tree and our small two-port nyger feeder in January and February. There would be loads of scuffles between the Redpolls as there were seven of them but only two ports. Sadly our nyger feeder got stolen by a Grey Squirrel and we still haven’t found it. We did buy a new nyger feeder though, with four instead of two ports.

It took a while for the Redpolls or the Goldfinches to find the nyger. Both species are very timid, but once they discover a food source they visit very regularly. The first time I saw a Redpoll in our garden for 3 years since 2013 was on New Year’s Day. Tony Davis, my bird ringing trainer, and I were ringing in my garden and by about 10am we had caught a fair amount of tits, Goldcrests and other passerines (perching birds). However, when Tony was extracting birds from the (safe) nets and I was getting my gloves he came back with two species of birds, both finches, that I hadn’t ringed yet this morning. The first was a female Chaffinch. The second was a Lesser Redpoll ! It was a stunning adult male:

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Despite the Redpoll having visited our garden, it was another week before one came to our nyger feeders. Two came one Saturday afternoon, one normal adult male (but not the one I’d caught a week earlier as it had no ring) and one intriguing female with an orange crown. A closer look revealed an almost white rump, very pale wing bars and less streaking on the breast: a Mealy Redpoll (Acanthis flammea flammea), a subspecies of the Common Redpoll, which is uncommon in the UK! Even stranger was the orange crown  which is rarely encountered in Redpolls of any species, let alone a county rarity! The orange colour instead of the red is caused by the bird’s diet: carotenoids are likely to be the cause of the orange colouration and they can be present in some plants. Apparently a third species, the Arctic Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni), has this orange cap more often than Lesser or Mealy Redpolls. Perhaps the plant that causes the increased number of carotenoids in Redpolls is more common up north? Here is a bad photo of it taken with my Camcorder, showing the orange crown. Unfortunately the camcorder makes it look darker than it actually is:

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And here is a photo showing the pale rump:

Common Redpoll Screengrab

This morning I planned to get a better photograph of a Lesser Redpoll. The only photographs I had obtained so far were from my Camcorder, which were really poor quality as it is obviously designed for videos rather than photos. My small camera hadn’t a zoom large enough to get a good photo of the Redpolls either. What I planned to do was sit near the feeder with my camera on a tripod until the very shy Redpolls came down to feed. Unlikely to happen any time soon.

I wrapped up very warmly and settled down just after 8am. It was fifteen minutes until I heard the Redpolls and then spotted them, high up in the huge oak tree the Redpolls fed under 3 years ago. There were six of them at first, but only 3 flew to the Holly bush next to the feeder. After they saw me, however, they flew away again.

It was 8.45 until they returned. 3 of them again, in the Holly bush. 1 was braver than others and came within 30cm of the feeder but then flew away again, irritatingly. The same thing happened five times until eventually, at 9.08, a brave male made its way first to a branch adjacent to the one on which the feeder is hanging, then to one just below it, the finally to the feeder! I was over the moon! Here are a few photos I managed to take:

 

Garden List expansion

Like many other birders, I keep a Garden List as well as a life list. This morning I was hoping to expand my garden list by maybe a species or two by doing a simple Birdwatch for an hour. I set up my binoculars at the windowsill in my bedroom and started watching my garden from 10:30. The first species to arrive was a pair of Robins, foraging in the leaf litter. Then a Blue Tit flew onto the feeder followed by another and another and another until there was about ten on and around the feeder. Just then some action started to happen. A flock of six Redwings flew into our garden then another six and the number of Redwings kept going up and up and up. by ten minutes I had counted just 100 Redwings in our garden. It was a spectacular sight, but not a new species for my garden list. More birds kept on coming, Chaffinches, Carrion Crows, Woodpigeons, even a Buzzard flew overhead. No new garden species though. Suddenly I spotted a small streaky bird at the foot of our giant Oak Tree, it was a little smaller than a chaffinch and probably a type of finch. I looked at it through my binoculars and spotted a patch of red on its forehead. A Redpoll. I had seen a Lesser Redpoll in our garden before, washing in our bird bath, but most of its features seemed to point to a Common Redpoll, such as the fact that going from its head downwards, there was a smaller, thinner white wing bar followed by a larger, wider one. I found out that a Common Redpoll was only seen once in Sussex in 2012 and even experts have difficulty telling them apart. It would also be a new species for my garden list! I couldn’t get very good photos due to the fact that it was so small, it was quite far away for my camera to reach and we were looking at it through a window. After it had flown into a laurel bush on the west side of the garden, I put the sighting into BTO’s birdtrack as a redpoll species. At the end of the birdwatch, I had seen 199 individual birds, a record for my garden. That number included:

7 Robins

20 Blue Tits

20 Common Wood-Pigeons

1 Buzzard

100 Redwings

10 Great Tits

10 Chaffinches

2 Dunnocks

3 Blackbirds

3 Jays

16 Carrion Crows

3 Magpies

1 Bullfinch

1 Redpoll spp.

2 Collared Doves

One of the Redwings