Saturday, 3 April 2021

Subtleties...

Recent nocmig has been interesting if not spectacular, but this morning I had a pleasing moment. Normally you get a few hours of nice, relatively clean background against which to spot birdy utterences, and then around 03:00 the first Robin gets going. From that point on it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out the nocmig birds from the dawn chorus. But I've been persevering with it, in the belief that constantly exposing my poor eyes to the background dross should enable them to effectively tune it out, allowing the nocmig gold to stick out like the proverbial. So, at 04:43-ish, this...

Straight off my laptop screen. Tucked away in there is a little gem. A pint on me if you can find it.

To be honest I was pretty gobsmacked to spot it, but I think the fact I did supports my theory at least. Mind you, I probably still miss lots too! I did have to check Xeno Canto to confirm the ID though. Anyway, all is revealed later in this post.

Meanwhile...

In January last year I found a wagtail at Kilmington which I quite happily called a White Wagtail, a rare thing in the UK in winter. The relevant NQS post is HERE. Having boasted about it, I was then quickly brought down to earth when someone tactfully pointed me towards the definitive Dutch Birding identification paper on White and Pied Wags. I had never come across it before, but anyone can access and read it via THIS link. Thankfully my bird still made the grade, but the paper makes it clear that Pied and White Wagtails are not always straightforward to identify, and that some birds are best left unassigned. I mention all this for a reason...

When it comes to spring White Wagtails I have always been quite confident about identifying them, so felt no qualms about posting recent photos on here and on Twitter. However, one or two comments have made it apparent that even at this time of year these birds have the potential to provoke a bit of head-scratching. Early this morning I photographed another at West Bexington. In the field it looked a nailed-on White Wag to me, but I was curious to see if anyone felt differently, so posted it on Twitter for discussion.

This is the bird...

Pied, White or indeterminate?



I was pleased to get a few responses; they all reckoned White, and a couple said why. The rather clean flanks (just a dusting of grey) and extensively grey rump are clinchers. Also, to me the mantle looks too pale for Pied - it did in the field anyway. The lack of black crown and nape theoretically makes it a female (though I guess it's probably still moulting, and more black feathers may yet appear) and the moult contrast in the greater coverts (old, worn, brownish outers versus fresh, white-fringed inners) makes it a first-summer I think. None of the foregoing is down to my genius - I can read an ID paper like any other person!

So far this spring I haven't seen any White/Pied Wagtails which have had me struggling, and as far as I can recall I've yet to see a spring bird that hasn't been fairly obvious one way or the other. Maybe it's just me? Or maybe I'm a bit too slapdash? Ah well...

So, back to the nocmig puzzler. Here's the solution...

There it is. A Water Rail's 'pip...pip...pip' among the Robin and Great Tit mess

And this is what it sounds like, after a bit of high-pass filter and gain boost...


I know it's only a Water Rail, but I am highly chuffed to have visually picked it out from the dawn chorus. Hopefully any early-morning megas will be a lot less subtle than that though!

A few posts back I mentioned a certain microphone upgrade. I've been running the old and the new mics side by side for a few nights now, and slowly compiling a post of comparisons. Soon...

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