Friday, 24 January 2014

Berry burglars

I've been spending a lot of my spare time in recent months working on a new book on Western Palearctic birds, hence the paucity of recent posts on this blog. At home today focusing on vagrant shrikes in the WP, I was distracted by constantly calling Redwings in the hedge outside the window. Finally, my concentration broken, I slowly closed the curtains, eased the window open, grabbed my camera and settled down for an impromptu photography session. I'm glad I did - rarely have I seen Redwings so well.

As is often the case with such prolonged close-up views, you start to notice plumage characters so easily glossed over on a quick view. The creamy hairline streaks on the ear coverts, the blackish throat streaking which so quickly tones to brown on the upper breast, the white tips to retained juvenile coverts and tertials on some birds - even the chatter calls and occasional sub-song while they fed.

Typically for Redwings in my garden, they were nervous and flighty. Blackbirds are used to such suburban habitats, but winter thrushes usually find their way into my small north London garden when they're looking for food. In low temperatures and especially during snow cover I expect Redwings and the occasional Fieldfare (none of the latter so far this winter), but when it's as mild as it has been recently the odd fly-over Redwing is the norm.

These birds were feeding on the last of our cotoneaster berries, which have been lingering on into January because of the mild weather, and had no interest in the copious amounts of seed I'd put out a day ahead of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. But as a trial run, and starting at lunchtime, I made a note of all the species I saw or heard in, over or from the garden, and ended with the excellent total of 22 species (recorded twice before and bettered only once by the total of 27 species during colder weather). Aside from the Redwings the highlight was a fly-over Lesser Redpoll, a great bird locally at any time, but Long-tailed and Coal Tits and the locally scarce Greenfinch were also notable. The weather forecast is not great for the weekend, but I'll do the hour-long survey at some point and see what else comes within range of the camera. In the meantime, it's back to research on Western Palearctic shrike records.


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