Thursday 16 February 2012

Life is a cabaret...

After successfully twitching the Lesser White-fronted Goose in Norfolk this morning, next stop was Kelling on the North Norfolk coast. Here a very accommodating resident birder was feeding truckloads of niger seed to a small flock of Redpoll, including one, possibly two, much rarer Coues's Arctic Redpoll, enabling all and sundry to peer over his garden wall, marvel at, and get confused by the plumage variation in this complex family.
Coues's Arctic Redpoll. And, yes, if I had Photoshop, I would get rid of that twig.
After a short wait, Redpolls started to appear and picking out the Arctic among them was pretty straightforward - a real snowball, much more obvious than the Coues's I had seen at Titchwell a few years ago. Most of the other Redpolls appeared to be cabaret (Lesser Redpoll) but one or two looked larger, paler and good candidates for Mealy.
Coues's - 'dolphin-necked' is a good description. Note also the small bill.

Lesser Redpoll - to show the contrast with the Coues's
I've always struggled with the finer points of Redpoll identification, and it was pretty quiet on site so I had to try and work it out for myself (where are the know-alls when you actually want one?). Even with the help of several photo-ID articles I remain slightly confused - but my best guesses are below, and comments or corrections would be welcome!
Rich brown face and upperparts, heavy and messy flank streaking and narrow wing bars make this a Lesser 

More prominent bill, frosty greyish face, dark surround to the ear coverts, colder upperparts, broader wingbar and streaking confined to the rear flanks - all features pointing to Mealy?

Similar (possibly the same) bird from a different angle - whitish flanks with 'organised' streaking confined to rear flanks - another Mealy?

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