Saturday, 6 March 2010

A walk in the woods

From top: a poor record shot of the male Mealy Redpoll at Trent Park and accompanying female, plus a pair of Mandarin Ducks and a female Goosander at the same site.

Off this afternoon to Trent Park, searching for the long-staying Firecrest while the weather is sunny. I headed for Williams Wood, but while walking near the Long Garden car park was stopped in my tracks by a familiar yet odd song. It was surely a redpoll, but the tone was strangely coarse and buzzy. I searched the hedgerow and found the songster sitting deep within the branches about 8 ft up – a spanking male Mealy! It recalled an exilipes Arctic Redpoll in general appearance, with a pale frosty-grey ground colour and bold white wing-bar, but was visibly ‘beefy’ with a good-sized horn-coloured bill, thick dark flank streaking and a beautiful rose-pink flush on the breast.

I took my camera out of the bag but with all the branches in the way couldn’t get the focus to lock on; instead, I am now the proud owner of the world’s worst Mealy Redpoll images. As I was about to try another shot, a female redpoll suddenly dropped in and distracted me – it was quite large-billed too, but much more buffish-brown in tone compared to the male and thus more Lesser-like. I couldn’t see the upperparts clearly to check for a wing-bar or a rump, and then the birds decided to depart. I followed them a short distance but they were soon gone.

I called Rare Bird Alert and a few friends with the news, then headed down towards Williams Woods for the Firecrest, hoping to relocate the Mealy on the way. Neither bird showed, though I did have a mixed party of at least six Lesser Redpolls, five Siskins and two Goldfinches in the woods.

Three Mandarin Ducks were also notable on a nearby pond, and while watching them I spotted the familiar figure of Pete ‘Shiny’ Lowman on his way up the slope – long time no see! Tempted by my call, he had joined me in to look for the Firecrest, but there was not trace of the bird. Much bigger consolation, at least locally, came in the form of a Marsh Tit, which showed briefly but well and called several times, while Goosander (thanks Shiny) and Treecreeper were also new London year birds.

We headed back and met up with Jono Lethbridge and Tom from Dagenham, both of whom had also been looking for the Mealy, and also without luck. We called it a day and Jono and I headed back to the car park, where we were treated to the spectacle of one of the local hoodies in a BMW misjudging his stopping distance and reshaping the front end of his motor on a concrete post. It must be hard to look like you’re not bothered when you’ve just mashed your Beemer, but he did quite a good job.

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