More Redpoll News!

The Redpoll numbers in our garden have been stable during the past month, if not increasing. On the 12th, Tony Davis came back to our garden to do some more bird ringing and I was really excited to catch the Redpolls that have been visiting the nyger feeder.

Tony set up the Redpoll tape on the speakers, in order to attract them to the net. The session was slow to begin with, but soon enough we had five Redpolls in the net in one go! It was really great ringing what I think is now my favourite bird and we even ringed another orange-capped individual, sadly definitely a Lesser Redpoll this time rather than a Mealy!

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The next Redpoll was just a bit more exciting! It was caught on its own in the net and when Tony said that it already had a ring on, I wasn’t that happy. However, I had rushed to conclusions! All of the Redpoll-sized rings I have used with Tony start with a ‘T’ followed by the numbers, but this one started with a ‘Y’, which meant it hadn’t been ringed by us!

A number of exciting possibilities went through my head. Maybe it was ringed in Russia? Or Estonia? Unfortunately it had the details of the London Natural History Museum on it which means that it was ringed in the UK.

To get the details of where the bird was ringed originally, Tony had to submit the data to the BTO, who would send back the details. It took just over a week to receive the results, which were very interesting!

The bird was originally ringed at Allerthorpe Common, East Riding of Yorkshire, 312 km away from here in Domewood, on the Sussex-Surrey border! Also, it was ringed with the age code ‘3’ on the 24th November 2011! This means that it hatched in the 2011 breeding season as the code ‘3’ means that it hatched during the calendar year it was ringed in.

To sum up, the Lesser Redpoll ‘Y562211’ was ringed 312km away from Domewood, 1580 days before we caught it and it is coming up to its fifth birthday! Lesser Redpolls usually only live to about 2 years old and the maximum recorded age is 6 years, so hopefully we catch this bird again next year!

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:

 

March Wildlife

The beginning of March has been a very busy one, with some creatures coming out of hibernation and some early wild flowers starting to bloom. One of the most interesting plants that have emerged now are the Dutch Crocuses in our front garden. They are very pretty, with the colours purple, pink, white and one orange one which mysteriously disappeared. They are great for photography and I have taken many photos of them, these are a few of them.

Just today I saw the first blooming daffodil in our garden, one of many that are sure to come!

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Last weekend I had a nice surprise as a male Ring Necked Pheasant strutted into our garden, only the second I’ve seen in our garden! This one was also a very interesting variation, as well as the white neck ring, it had white eyebrows! I’ve never seen a Ring Necked Pheasant with white eyebrows before, so that made it very interesting!

Phasianus colchicus

Phasianus colchicus

The highlight of March so far though has to be the vole that peeped out of the patch of  Hedera near the bird feeder on the first of March, we thought it had just come out of hibernation. From the photo I took of it, we suspected either Bank Vole or Field Vole because of the overall colouration and shape. The one distinguishing feature between the Bank and the Field Voles is the length of their tails, the Bank Vole has a much longer tail than the one of the Field Vole. The thing is, the tail seems to be invisible in the photo!

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One the way back from Ardingly a few days ago when I was driving through the small village, My dad spotted a young Roe Deer on the road. It was trying to jump the fence between the road and the spinney in between two houses, but it was too small. I haven’t seen a Roe Deer in our village for quite a while, the last sighting was probably before Christmas, but that was an injured female with a fawn. This deer was a fawn too and I’m wondering if the female had died, because on the way back from Ardingly today, I saw the leg of a Roe Deer on the road!

The Redpoll action in our back garden has increased for two reasons, one being that I found the place the flock go when they are not on the feeder and two being that there has been numerous visits by the local Goldfinch. I found the place where the Redpolls go when I was lichen hunting (or lichening!) in the back garden. I was checking for lichens on the pile of logs by the bush border when I heard a very unimpressive call coming from the Hedera covered Oak. I looked around and I saw a little brown job hopping from twig to twig. Then I saw another one and another one, until there were a total of seven Redpolls gathering around me! The Goldfinch first visited when I wasn’t at home but at Ardingly, though my dad saw it and told me when I got home. The first time I actually saw it was earlier in February, when it flew to the Nyger feeder briefly, scaring all the Redpolls already there. I have also seen it today, it made a brief occurrence then flew off.

This year I have started to learn about Moss. Yes, Moss. When I found out that there was a key for all the different types of common woodland mosses on iSpot (I will talk more about iSpot later), I immediately went out into the garden to find mosses. These are the different types of mosses I’ve found so far in our garden:

  • Hypnum andoi
  • Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus
  • Pseudoscleropodium purum
  • Polytrichum formosum
  • Polytrichum commune var. commune

Now I would like to advertise iSpot, a brilliant website to share nature or to identify your wildlife observations. iSpot is a great website to post your identifications of wildlife, with photos and descriptions.  When you post an observation other people on iSpot can confirm the identification for you or add a revised identification. Using iSpot has definitely boosted my knowledge of the natural world.

You can also post forum topics on iSpot and there are keys to identifying wildlife there, so I suggest you get on there straight away.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 25-26 January 2014

Loads of people even at this moment are recording birds for the Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the RSPB. Citizens were asked to record the highest number of a species of bird in their garden for one hour, then send in their results on the RSPB’s website or on a paper form. The most interesting sighting of my hour was when a small flock of five Redpolls came and fed from my Goldfinch feeder. The most frequent time that Redpolls come to a garden feeding station like mine is when the damp and rainy conditions force the pine trees to close their cones, therefore prompting finches such as Siskins and Redpolls to come and feed on smaller seeds on our bird tables and in our feeders, such as the nyjer seeds in my Goldfinch feeder. I called my dad over for the Big Garden Birdwatch and I got a good video and he got a good photo. This is his photo:

Redpolls on the Goldfinch Feeder

Redpolls on the Goldfinch Feeder

I hope many of you will take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch and I will be delighted if you shared your results via comment.

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