Sunday, 10 January 2016

A new species of bird! But is it a Hedge Tit, Dunfinch or summat else?

The Safari was gazing out of a rain sodden kitchen window yesterday while making Wifey's breakfast. The feeders were lively and we quickly added several species to our garden year list; Great Tit (Garden #10), Dunnock (Garden #11), Greenfinch (65, Garden 13), Long Tailed Tit (Garden #14) and fly over Feral Pigeons (Garden #15). What a difference being at home when it's light makes!
While wrangling with Wifey's marmitey crumpets we saw a strange thing clinging onto the wire sunflower feeder which required a dash to the sitting room for the camera, fortunately the crumpets hadn't burnt and the bird was still there.
Not the best of pics hastily snapped through a very wet window but what is it? Maybe a Hedge Tit or perhaps a Dunfinch, even Hedge Bunting has been suggested. 
Has anyone else observed this behaviour? It's odd in that only inches away there is a standard feeder with the ports and perches filled with dried mealworms that it might be expected to favour over seeds but that one is being regularly ravaged by a Woodpigeon - shouldn't they be eating seeds rather than insects? Is this change in behaviour 'learning', the starts of 'evolution' or just fluke?
Our main reason for looking out of the window was to do the weekly Goldfinch survey for the BTO, once again the appointed random hour came round and as usual not a single Goldfinch was seen all morning.
After breakfast Wifey asked to be dropped in town to attack the January sales and we were allowed a good couple of hours at the nature reserve while she rummaged out the best bargains, so arrangements made off we went meeting up with CR again who was already snapping away at the ducks at Ice Station Zebra (sorry - Dragonfly Hide). We had a look at the Feeding Station where we met the youngest birding expert we've ever come across - young JC; how many six year olds do you know who know what a Nightjar is? But he's never been able to spot any of the reserve's famous Long Eared Owls, time to change that! 
We'd heard that one was 'showing well' in a former favoured location so that one was the one to show young J. On the walk round we saw a Greenfinch (MMLNR #53) sat high in the topmost twigs of a Poplar tree but as is to be expected in the middle of the day there wasn't much else moving around on view. We soon reached the owl's tree and putting our bins up found it in about 10 seconds flat but it wasn't showing as well as we'd hoped it was quite far back in the tree and obscured by twigs and dead vegetation even getting the two adults on to it proved tricky with CR failing all together.
Little JC couldn't see it either so we knelt down in the mud to get to his height, sadly it was even more obscured from only three feet off the ground. Even if we'd had the scope for him to look through we don't think he'd have been able to see the owl, even as low as the tripod would go it may well have been too tall for him; that's the trouble with six year olds - they're just too short!. 
All was not lost as there are some others to have a look at, off we went to find them and hopefully they'd be easier for JC to see. 
At the place to look from we found a Goldcrest flitting around close to the path and soon found another quite well hidden Long Eared Owl, once again JC proved to be too short to be able to see it - it's hard when your not as tall as the fence. This time CR was able to get a few photo's off and show them to young JC but it's not the same as seeing the bird in the flesh (or feather) for yourself.
By chance we were stood in exactly the right place to see another extremely well hidden deep in the bush - sadly there was no way JC was going to be able to see this one but somehow we managed to get a pic of it and remarkably despite shooting through hundreds of twigs it's almost in focus!
Retracing our steps we returned to the reserve and continued on the full circuit passing a large flock of mixed corvids in the fields. Stopping to admire them we saw another flock of small birds with them, about a dozen or so Linnets (66, MMLNR #54). Listening out JC heard (and identified!) Cetti's Warblers and a Water Rail - no way we could have done that when we were six!!! We were still struggling to ID House Sparrows from Starlings taking Sunday lunch scraps off the lawn at that age. We pointed out two Snipe that had risen from the cover of the reedbed and were flying around over the water to him.
We left JC and his dad enjoying the plastic fantastic Bar Headed Goose that has appeared in the last couple of days and aimed back towards the car to await Wifey's call to say she was ready to be collected from town with her ill-gotten gains.
Back at ICZ we hoped to get some pics of the large number of Tufted Ducks that are present but they must have got wind of our intentions as they'd all sailed out of range or out of sight. The light was poor by now anyway. There were plenty of other species to enjoy but again out of range of our lens, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard making up the bulk of the numbers.
Time was running out, CR left to get his chores done and we trotted quickly off to the car stopping at the wetland to see if we could find the Stonechat, we'd not seen it on the walk in but not spent too long looking to be fair. Inside info from PE was that he'd seen it not long since so we were quite hopeful. It took a few stops and scans but there it was sat atop a Typha head half way down the 'field', Stonechat (67, MMLNR #55) on the list after a few dips.
This morning we were on breakfast duty again but today there was a big change at the feeders - Goldfinches (Garden #16), four of them! Later, after we'd been down to a very stormy and more or less birdless Chat Alley for an hour, there were nine of the little rotters on the feeders - do they know when survey day is and deliberately stay away? No sign of the Dunfinch/Hedge Tit today. Well you can't have everything all the time can you.
Where to next? Exciting times tomorrow, LCV is coming to visit and take us out for two whole days dawn til dusk birding/twitching - he's a good lad.
In the meantime let us know who's behaving like they shouldn't be in your outback.


Tom Moodie said...

Funnily enough we had a Dunnock on the very same type of feeder this morning in Fife. First time i've seen that.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Thanks Tom - what a bizarre coincidence



cliff said...

We've had a few sightings of a Dunnock on our feeders this autumn/winter, they never look comfortable, flapping like mad as they grab some sunflower hearts. I wonder if all the wet weather has softened the seeds up making them more palatable for the Dunnocks?
Glad you got your Stonechat on the return journey.