26th January – south Midlands.   Leave a comment

Most of the rarities that I have chased this year have either been American species that would have arrived in the UK last autumn (Western and Spotted Sandpipers, Dark-eyed Junco etc) or Siberian species that have come far to the west of their usual range to winter in the UK (Lesser white-fronted Goose, Hume’s Leaf-warbler, Richard’s Pipit etc). Another category exists, birds that are regular as either spring or autumn migrants and normally winter well to the south of here but individuals have been found wintering in the UK.

Today Ewan and I chased two such species in Oxfordshire, Temmink’s Stint a diminutive wader that breeds on the Siberian tundra and winters to the south of the Sahara and Grey (or Red) Phalarope, another wader that breeds in the high arctic (Spitsbergen, Novoya Zemla, northern Canada etc) and winters at sea in the Benguela current off Namibia. Both showed well although the stint was out of photo range. The phalarope was on the bitterly cold and windswept Farmoor reservoir where the wind was whipping up bigger waves than we have recently seen on the coast.

Temmink's Stint - photo from the internet

Grey Phalarope at Farmoor reservoir. The old joke 'Farmoor birds elsewhere' doesn't hold true as this inland reservoir has a great track record of rarities.

Grey Phalarope is similar to Red-necked Phalarope in non-breeding plumage but the thicker, laterally compressed bill is a good feature to separate them.

The phalarope was bobbing about and spinning around in the rough water until a particularly large wave convinced it to feed elsewhere.

I often see the introduced Red Kites from the A34 dual carriageway but can’t stop to appreciate or photograph them. Ewan and I decided to go to the core range of this population in the Chilterns and headed for Stokenchurch just off the M40. Unfortunately I took the wrong road and ended up in the centre of Oxford, driving past the lovely colleges and ancient buildings. we eventually reached the M40 and Stokenchurch where up to 50 Red Kites were seen.

This Red Kite population has the highest productivity in the world and is really thriving.....

...which is more than can be said for some parts of the UK where Victorian attitudes to predators leads to them being still getting poisoned.

On our way back we stopped off at the Lower Test Marshes near Southampton to look for a ‘small’ Canada Goose. The status and taxonomy of ‘white-cheeked’ geese is controversial. In the broad sense Canada Geese have the largest size range of any bird, not quite Shetland Pony to Clydesdale but not far off. Recently the group has been split into two species small Cackling and large Canada Goose, but some believe there are many more, an American named Hanson published a book in which he recognised over 70 species!!! Unfortunately the largest race of the smaller species hutchinsii is the same size as the smallest of the large species parvipes. All so-called ‘genuine’ Cackling Geese occur in occur with Pink-feet or Barnacles in the Hebrides (and even so the species has yet to added to the British List) but is it any less likely to reach southern England than the Pale-bellied Brent Geese that breed in the same area and are seen here annually?

Either way, any discussion about its authenticity (either as a wild bird or as to which species it belonged) were academic as we failed to see it, but did find the Greenland race (or perhaps species) of White-fronted Goose, another migrant from the American arctic.

Lower Test Marshes, the White-front is in with all the Canadas but the 'small' Canada must be hiding in the reeds.

Wimborne by-pass at dusk, and no, I didn't take this pic whilst driving, Ewan did!

Posted January 28, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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