Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Going 'poll to 'poll

This Mealy Redpoll was feeding outside my office window a couple of years ago.

So far its been a great autumn for redpolls. With a trickle of vismig records over the Pinnacle, hopes of a good redpoll winter were raised.

Yesterday lunchtime I thought it was about time I had a look round the Lodge. I haven't regularly birded the Lodge for a long while now, despite working there for the last four years. On my rare walks round the trails there is usually something interesting to look at - the last time the woodland was stuffed with Fly Agarics, it looked like a fantastic pixies playgound! On this particular walk I had redpolls in mind so I headed straight for the Sandy Ridge trail and its profusion of birches. As I walked away from the heath, and under the fizzing powerlines I could hear the 'chit-chit' of redpolls.

I had a handful of birds fly over, then found around ten in the top of a birch. All Lessers - slim, rusty brown coloured, with fawn coloured wing-bars. I moved along the trail a little further and found another flock, this time of around twenty birds. They were close too - perfect viewing, with some just above eye level. I spent a few minutes steadily working my way through the flock until I found a strikingly pale bird. It was only until it moved side-on that I could statify myself I was looking at a Mealy. This bird immediately stood out from the rest - a white basal colour, making the body look almost silvery. There was only a hint of brown in the plumage, with broad white wing-bars, and a large pale rump. Heavy dark flank streaking and a few pencil marks on the undertail coverts ruled out a Coues. It also looked larger and longer - maybe 20% bigger than the accompanying Lessers. All in all, a lovely looking bird. As time was pressing I headed back to work, leaving it happily feeding in the birches.

The next morning, and with further reports of over 100 redpolls in the same area, I got up early and headed for the same spot. This time the redpolls were much more active with perhaps over 50 birds whizzing around. As each flock landed I scoped it, and I gradually amassed at least four different Mealies, including two pink-flushed males. All were stunning silvery jobs with various amounts of flank streaking and pale rumpage. One particular bird, which I only got poor views of, had minimal flank streaks, very little on the undertail coverts and quite white-cheeked - it was definitely one to go back for...

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