Saturday 30 October 2021

A Redpoll

Since the last NQS post there have been precious few birdy thrills to write about. Until today...

Honestly, recent efforts have produced almost nothing of note, and I was reduced to the prospect of a questionable 'opinion piece' or something. So imagine my delight when this afternoon's walk at Cogden produced this...

Meadow Pipit. Result!

That Meadow Pipit was just one of SIXTEEN! Amazing!

Seriously though, it was a pleasure to enjoy a bit of sunshine, to have the wind dialled a couple of notches down from 'hoolie', and to find a few things to point the camera at. My target bird recently - a modest and realistic hope I think - is Snow Bunting. There seem to be a few around, and to me the beach here always looks perfect for them. So I walked the length of it. Well, from Cogden to the end of the West Bex Mere field. Naturally it was a Snow Bunting fail. But resting on the shingle was a little flock of gulls, maybe 15 birds. Five were Med Gulls, and eventually I was close enough to see that one wore a white ring. A bit closer...and I tried a photo at full zoom. Would it be readable? It was...

Adult Med Gull - white 3HAP

With binoculars I could see the ring, but absolutely no way could I read it. When the gulls eventually flew I paced out the range. It was 85 yards away. Before they flew I approached as close as I could. They let me get to 45 yards. Still impossible to read through bins. Too much shake. Once again the camera proves its worth. It's indispensable really.

From 45 yards at full 2000mm (equivalent) zoom

However, the star of this afternoon's show was yet to appear. Walking back along the coast path I flushed a small bird from almost beneath my feet. It flitted up into a sallow and looked at me. A Redpoll. Ah. I knew about this bird. It was first seen yesterday, and featured in a few pics on Twitter. Redpolls are far from common down here, and mostly encountered as fly-overs. Birds on the deck are very unusual. I probably don't need more than two hands to count the number of times I've seen Redpoll at close quarters since I've lived in the South West. So I backed off, waited, and enjoyed the performance...

Right, I'll say this now, before the many photos that follow. Probably this was because it was so ridiculously close, but it felt bigger than I would have expected for a Lesser Redpoll. Not that I ever see Lesser Redpolls up close, but still, it didn't strike me as a diddy little thing. There was nothing to compare it to of course, but I was almost tempted to retrieve a stalk it perched on for later measurement. Almost.

Also, it looked rather dark too, especially on the flanks. More so than I would normally associate with Lesser Redpoll. Not that I ever see Lesser Redpolls up close, etc...

Anyway, here are many photos. At times it was so close I could almost have reached out and touched it. And tweaked out a feather or squeezed out a little poo for a nice DNA test. I didn't though...

This amazingly tame Redpoll was easily the highlight of my afternoon. Recent birdy challenges have involved many tricky gulls, the tristis Chiff conundrum, and identifying a White Wagtail in winter. I am now pleased to welcome this Redpoll to the club. I sent these photos to an up-country birder who sees (and rings) a lot of Redpolls. I was told that if it was in Shetland, birders would not think twice about calling it a Northwestern type. I assume that probably means rostrata, or Greenland Redpoll? But it's in West Dorset, and I'm sure Greenland Redpolls don't come to West Dorset.

Ah well, whatever its identity, it was a lot of fun. And after all that, maybe it is just a Lesser Redpoll. But what do I know? Because I never see Lesser Redpolls up close, etc...


  1. Fascinating bird, Gavin. I agree it does not look like a Lesser. The head in particular has a much more Mealy look to it - the frosty tones on nape and cheeks, and the dark crescent on the back of the ear coverts. But the rump shows no frostiness, like a nominate Mealy should, and the flanks are darker than usual for that one too. But you know all this anyway. A Northwestern type is the logical* conclusion. There was a wintering Greenland type at Blashford Lakes a few years ago, so clearly it can happen this far south occasionally. (As an aside, we don't get Northern Bullfinches this far south usually either, but that didn't stop two of us in Somerset recording presumably Russian ones with toy-trumpet-like calls a few years further back.) So I would not be surprised at all if it was a rostrata/islandica type - proving it is a different matter.

    *'Logic, my dear, merely allows one to be wrong with authority' - Dr Who

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Julian, much appreciated. It's good to hear others expressing not-a-Lesser type opinions. Glad I wasn't just imagining it. As you say though, probably can't do anything with it...

      Love the Dr Who quote! 😄

  2. It's what we here call a frustrata Redpoll. Sadly, common as muck...

    1. Ha ha! Brilliant name! 😄 Probably just another indication that when it comes to Redpolls there should be a lot more lumping than splitting. Or is that just me?