Sunday, February 3, 2013

Redpoll confusion

‘Confusing’ Redpoll – note the light pink wash on breast and potentially smaller bill 
‘Confusing’ Redpoll – slightly lighter mantle (?) and relatively clean vent
Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea – note the thicker flank streaks
Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea – darker pink on the breast of the male on the left
Common Redpolls Acanthis flammea – note the dark rump on the right, extensive streaking on flanks and vent (centre bird), and dark mantle (left)
  A few weeks ago, I finally saw my first Common Redpolls, at the Morgan Arboretum.  They’ve been quite abundant in Quebec this year, and it turns out that it’s worth having a good look at Common Redpoll flocks, as many flocks have the odd Hoary Redpoll mixed in to make things interesting.
 Separating Common Redpolls Carduelis flammea from Hoary Redpolls Carduelis hornemanni in the field can be pretty tough.  After picking though the literature, the most important Hoary Redpoll field marks to look for are: paler overall colour, noticeably paler mantle, stubbier bill, unstreaked rump (best visible in flight), vent and undertail coverts that are white or unstreaked, much finer streaking on the flanks, and a lot less pink on the breast.
  The ‘pale Redpoll’ Dan and I spotted amidst a group of about 20 Common Redpolls today seems to have some or all of these characteristics.  But, are we seeing these traits because we want to see them?  Does our bird look ‘hoarier’ because it’s younger, or has it got fresher or more worn plumage than the others?  Does it fall within the range of normal plumage variation of a Common Redpoll?
  We stared at it for about 10 minutes, but it was moving though a mixed flock at the feeders, so it was tricky in the field.  Looking at pictures in three different field guides, I’m a bit dismayed but unsurprised to find that the illustrations look quite different in each book!  
  I'm trying to use some pics I took today to contrast the features of the Hoary vs. Common, in spite of the knowledge that trying to 'bird' from photos is not really the way to do things!  I feel like I need another few hours of observation to get more comfortable with redpolls.
  I’m stumped and lack experience with redpolls, so any helpful comments (especially those leading to a lazy armchair tick!) are most welcome.  I'm worried I'm bird-lucinating again!  Am I seeing what I want to see?

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