Wednesday, 8 February 2017

A quick quiz

With Martin still 5 ahead of me, and the weather set fair, I decided to take a day off and spin down to the south coast to pick up a few year ticks. Nothing dramatically rare around, but I've now got most of the easy birds so anything now before Spring migrants arrive will be a nice bird.
My first pair of targets was at Lytchett Fields. This is a relatively new RSPB reserve on the edge of Poole Harbour. I went last year for a stilt and a glossy ibis so I knew the directions.

It is a very marshy area and was quite wet getting to it. My two targets were a long staying lesser yellowlegs and a green-winged teal. The former is an American wader and although not common it is pretty regular this side of the pond. I think I've got at least one each of the last 6 years. The tide however wasn't helping me. The water that was around was a long way back and all the birds were very distant. Amongst the 100 or so lapwings, 20 dunlin, a few redshank and a blacktailed godwit I did pick out a medium-sized elegant wader. It's legs weren't yellow, or at least the mud covering them made them brown, but the dagger like bill, pale spotty plumage and long legs confirmed the id.
The green-winged teal did not show though. They are also Americans and probably equal on the rarity scale to the yellowlegs. They are told from our teal by a bold vertical white-stripe on their flank. Of the 50 or so teal I could see though none showed this characteristic. A local birder told me it could be very elusive. Still, one year-tick in the bag.
Next stop was further along the coast to Dorchester for a rose-coloured starling. We did try for it two weekends ago coming back from Weymouth but the weather was foul. Today it was much nicer and there were a number of starlings flying around in the housing estate where it has taken up residence. After 10 minutes or so though I couldn't make it out and was thinking it might be a dip. The local postie on this rounds then accosted me with a cheery "have you seen it?". Apparently it is quite a local celebrity and has even made the Dorst Echo!. He pointed me to the best area for it and quickly I got onto a starling with a light-pink mantle. Tick number two. I actually had quite a long chat with the postie who was genuinely interested in it. Apparently even the local primary school had a trip out to try and find it one day - starting them young!
My last stop then was almost back home at Staines reservoir, where I was on Sunday. This time I was after a classic winter bird, the slavonian grebe. This is normally more of a coastal bird, but Staines does have a habit of attracting them. I got there at the same time as another birder and we both scanned the south basin and eventually found 3 small grebes together at the far end of the causeway. Two were the resident black-necked grebes, one in breeding plumage, and the other was the slav grebe.

In this photo the bird on the far right is the breeding plumaged black-necked grebe, with its smart black neck and yellow ear tufts.
These two are the Winter plumaged bn and slav, but which is which?

There are enough id features here to tell them apart. The excellent video from the BTO in the link below gives plenty of detail but what you are looking for are:
generally slav looks more like a small great-crested grebe with a longer, more elegant neck, whereas BN is like a larger little grebe, with a short-neck and dumpier appearance.
Slav is an overall more clean-cut bird. The black crown is sharply demarcated from the neck. The white cheeks stand-out even at a distance but don't quite meet at the back of the neck. The BN has a more smudged appearance with the cheeks looking greyer.You can just about make out from this as well that the head-shape is quite different. The slav is sloping at the front, coming to a peak at the read of the head. The BN is the reverse, a sharp slope at the front of the head over the bill, and then dealing more slowly to the back of the head. This is perhaps easier to see on the breeding plumaged bird.
Both nice birds and quite educational to see them both so close together for comparison purposes.

How to identify Winter grebes

So, a good day with 3 new ticks taking me to 151. I need tow more to catch Martin before he comes back from skiing, unless he fits in a sneaky trip, and 6 more to equal my best ever February total. Crack on then!