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Thorny topics

Part of a flock of 10 Barnacle Goose hybrids at EBR this morning

In rather gloomy conditions at EBR this morning I was surprised to see a flock of 10 Barnacle x canada hybrids. I have seen small numbers of similar hybrids previously (for example one on Islay below), but never anything like this number. Unlike birds on Islay which are assumed to be wild, the EBR birds are likely to be feral. Normally hybrid geese are seen with at least one of the parent species, but in this case the whole flock was made up of hybrids. It would be interesting to know which taxon of ‘canada goose’ was involved.

If anyone has any information about their possible origin, please let me know.

Barnacle x canada hybrid (left), Islay

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Juvenile Black-winged Stilts (with Lapwing), Ouse Washes

Over the years I have seen some notable birds at the Ouse Washes, including Blue-winged Teal, Greater Yellowlegs, multiple Red-footed Falcons and Northern Harrier. More importantly, the site invariably hosts an impressive number and variety of birds.

Yesterday was no exception. In addition to the family of Black-winged Stilts, amongst other waders there were Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruffs and a migrant Wood Sandpiper. A Whooper Swan seemed unseasonal this far south, whilst a fresh juvenile Cuckoo ‘hiding’ on the track seemed unsure of its environment.

Amongst the butterflies, it was pleasing to see a small colony of Wall near the pumping station: we lost this species from Rutland over a decade ago.

Wall, Ouse Washes

Fallow Deer, Rutland

Fallow Deer, Rutland

This morning the temperature rose to 12 degrees, so we visited Pickworth Great Wood in the hope of finding an early butterfly. The butterflies knew better; the first flowering blackthorn is actually six weeks behind last year.

As with other Rutland woods which I have visited recently, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were active but there was no sign of Lesser Spotted.

Hazel flowers, Rutland

Hazel flowers, Rutland

Bluethroat, Lincolnshire

Bluethroat, Lincolnshire

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. (Thucydides)

For those who believe in democracy, this is one of the worst things which can happen. Normal communication is undermined, along with trust in the institutions upon which we rely. Yet this is precisely what we face in both Britain and America: academic endeavour and the pursuit of truth are being replaced by wilful misrepresentation. Those who oppose the abuse of power are accused of the very actions which they condemn. The next logical step will be to replace a free press with state-run media.

On a slightly lighter note, here is some real news. There really is a Bluethroat wintering in south Lincolnshire, because the climate really is changing.

Blue Rock Thrush, Stow, January 2016

Blue Rock Thrush, Stow, January 2017

Stow-on-the-Wold on a freezing January day is not the first place one might associate with Blue Rock Thrush (which I normally see on warm rocky slopes). Nor is a suburban back garden typical habitat, even allowing for the known use of olive groves by wintering birds. Yet these are precisely the circumstances in which I saw the much-discussed Stow (Gloucs) bird yesterday.

During the period of observation (a good hour) it spent most of its time sitting quite still in small trees. Occasionally it dropped out of sight into the garden, possibly to feed. Compared with local resident birds around the garden it was noticeably less active.

Whist on the subject of Blue Rock Thrush records, here’s a reminder of the 1996 bird (from BW 9: 298). For individual observers, decisions about whether or not to list birds of questionable origin are of relatively minor importance. For county and national committees, however, a cautious approach is desirable.

Blue Rock Thrush, Greece

Blue Rock Thrush, Greece

BRT, Herts, August 1996

Blue Rock Thrush, Herts, August 1996

Chiffchaff, Rutland

Chiffchaff, Rutland

This winter at least four Chiffchaffs are wintering at Geeston STW, where a Siberian Chiffchaff (tristis) was present last winter (see https://rutlandbutterflies.wordpress.com/tag/siberian-chiffchaff/ ).

Three of them look like typical collybita (below), but one is different and either confusing or interesting depending on your point of view (left). Its upperparts are noticeably more grey/brown, the yellowish tones in the supercilium are much more subtle, and the underparts are whiter with pale yellow undertail-coverts.

Its appearance does not correspond with our understanding of tristis, yet it is sufficiently different from typical collybita to command attention. I have seen a few birds like this previously, but remain unsure what they are. They might be intergrades, or they might be Scandinavian Chiffchaffs (abietinus), the status of which needs re-evaluation.

Any informed comments will be welcome.

Chiffchaff, Rutland

Chiffchaff, Rutland 

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle - how often have you seen the pale yellow outer axillaries?

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle – how often have you seen the pale yellow outer axillaries?

During my stay on Fair Isle this autumn I was fortunate to see no fewer than seven species of pipit. The most numerous, and perhaps for that reason the least appreciated by some birders, was Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipits are quite variable, to the extent that there were misidentifications as both Red-throated and Pechora by visitors on Fair Isle. Although the 8th edition of the British List recognised whistleri, its validity (in common with that of some other currently recognised endemic British taxa) should be re-assessed. There may well be a good case for treating Meadow Pipit as a variable monotypic species.

Migrant Meadow Pipits include birds from Iceland and Scandinavia, and many British breeders migrate to the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Peninsula. In L&R, three-figure counts in autumn are not unusual and 1,125 flew south over Deans Lane on 21 September 2003.

Time spent watching Meadow Pipits is time spent well.

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle