Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Highgate Common, Belvide and garden birds

7th to 14th April 2013

Apologies for the long absence.

I managed to get out and about a bit last week to do a spot of bird watching and grabbed some photos along the way.

WARNING! A lot of the photos you are about to see are poor quality record shots so if you were hoping to see magazine quality photos look away now (I'm talking to you Chris Packham).

However, most of the photos are still interesting despite the poor quality and are of some interesting species or interesting features on otherwise common birds. [I would normally pull out the thesaurus at this point but as you can tell I didn't bother].

Our first stop on this digital tour of last week's activities brings us to Highgate Common. Many of you should by now hopefully be familiar with this wonderful piece of Heathland (and woodland) tucked away in the south of Staffordshire.

Highgate Common 7th April

We went for a late afternoon stroll around the northern part of Highgate Common on Sunday hoping to see some solitary bees but the weather was getting a little chilly by late afternoon and we didn't manage to see any. So we took to watching the birds instead and were attracted to the sounds of a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing in the tree tops.

Trying to photograph a bird from below, through twigs and branches, handheld and against an overcast sky with fading light does not a good picture make. However, given my very low expectations I was pleased with how these photos turned out. They show some good ID features and show exactly what one might see in field conditions.

Despite being underexposed (too dark), the following photo does show the contrasting buff upper breast and pale belly on Song Thrush, which might otherwise be less obvious with the correct exposure.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)
This next photo also shows off the dark ear-coverts (cheeks) as well as the same features as the above image.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)
You will not find these features on a Mistle Thrush, but light does play a key role in how visible these features are on Song Thrush.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)

Here the exposure is much better but the ear coverts look less dark and the yellow-buff breast is a little harder to see. However, if you look closely enough you can see the buff running down onto the flanks of the bird as well.

All of the above images show the typical shape of Song Thrush which is fairly short, compact and dumpy, but the next image shows a very different structure to the bird.

Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)
This is the exact same bird in exactly the same tree but notice how it's posture has changed. This more narrow, stretched out and streamlined shape is much more reminiscent of Mistle Thrush but if the birds were next to each other then Mistle Thrush would be bigger, paler and heavier chested (oooh er).

As well as Song Thrush we also saw a (Eurasian) Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). I love these little birds and always enjoy catching glimpses of them in woodland.

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
Again it is not the best photo in the world but it is the first time I have been able to photograph Treecreeper and clearly shows the slender down curved bill, small size and two tone colour. It doesn't show the characteristics that enable you to separate this from Short-toed Treecreeper but seeing as how short-toed is a rare visitor to the UK and I heard it make the distinctive calls of Eurasian Treecreeper I'm quite happy with my ID.  

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
Rebecca found a large number of feathers in the leaf litter but I don't know what bird they came from. Any suggested ID's are most welcome (someone has already suggested pheasant as a possibility).

Mystery feathers found in woodland on Highgate Common

Belvide Reservoir 11th April

A friend of mine who has recently taken up bird watching had returned to the West Midlands to visit friends and family last week. We had planned to do some bird watching on Thursday but the weather wasn't great with misty conditions and the threat of rain.

Despite the weather it was my only opportunity to go bird watching while my friend was visiting that week so we took our chances and went to Belvide.

And very glad we were that we went too.

Things got off to a very good start with Nuthatch in the woods and both Brambling and Great Spotted Woodpecker showing well at the woodland feeding station.

However, wouldn't you know it, I didn't take my camera out of my rucksack until after the Great Spotted Woodpecker had gone!

I soon got my act together though and managed to get some decent photos of Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla).

Female Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
I genuinely love the way that this female brambling is framed by the green branches and tree stump in the photo above. Unfortunately it can only really be appreciated as a much larger image, which is currently set as my desktop wallpaper!

Female Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
The dark markings on the face of the bird below, coupled with the more extensive orange on the breast and make the below bird a male that is still in winter plumage and maybe a young male at that (1st winter)? My knowledge of Brambling is not great.

Male  Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
The following photo is not the sharpest/most in focus you will ever see but it does show off the wing markings and white rump rather well! I also love the way that the greenish-yellow alula show up on the front of the wings like little horns.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

I don't know quite why but this male Brambling strikes me as looking rather sad. Maybe it is getting fed up of eating nothing but seeds or maybe it is tired of the long winter we have endured.

Male Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
In the summer months the head of the male is a lovely black in colour. Notice how this individual has more extensive black markings around the head than the other male.

Male and female Brambling  (Fringilla montifringilla)

Female Brambling  (Fringilla montifringilla)
People often get confused between Brambling, which is a winter visitor, and Chaffinch  (Fringilla coelebs) which is present all year round but can have its population increase in winter due to visitors from other countries. 

Confusion is most likely with the females, although both sexes of each species are quite distinctively different. That old saying of bird watching holds true, "you will know it when you see it". 

Male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Note the completely different head colouration, bill colour and more uniform peachy orange breast/belly of the Chaffinch and the lack of any orange in the wings.

Unfortunately this individual seems to be in the early stages of suffering from that all too common problem for Chaffinches, scaly legs. According to the BTO there are a number of things that can cause scaly legs. The most likely causes here are either mites of the genus Knemidocoptes or the Fringilla papillimavirus which can also afflict Brambling (although there was no sign of infection on the Brambling I photographed). For more information on Scaly legs see BTO website.

Chaffinch  (Fringilla coelebs) in flight
This is another poor flight photo of the same Chaffinch but it does show the green rump to good effect. As noted earlier the rump of Brambling is white not green.

Aside from all the Brambling madness, there was also a male Reed Bunting present.

Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Notice the white outer tail feathers and black inner tail in this very blurry flight photo.

Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Highlight of the visit was undoubtedly a female Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) that came very close to the side of the Scott Hide and proceeded to catch and eat several fish. It was wonderful to see such a pretty bird so close but despite the close views I didn't manage to get any good photos as the bird moved by the time I managed to grab my camera and I was shooting through a dirty window (excuses, excuses).

You can tell that this Kingfisher is a female by the orange lower mandible. ["Hey man give us d' bill... HEY MAN, D' BILL". Probably a line never said to a waiter in the history of people saying things to waiters].   

Female Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) note the orange lower mandible.

Female Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) note the orange lower mandible.

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
There were a number of birds at the Gazebo feeding station including some lovely looking Goldfinches.

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis

We didn't stay to look for the Corn Bunting as we were feeling the cold by this point and decided to leave for a nice pub lunch instead.

Garden 14th April

To finish off, I leave you with some photos that Rebecca took of the Siskins we have recently seen in the garden. They have been around for about a week now and are the first Siskins I have ever had in my garden!  There are two males here and at least one female (top left). I can't tell what bird is bottom right but it might just be another female Siskin.

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

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