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In search of a Firecrest
And what we found instead!
My Birding this week
Over the last few weeks we have tried to increase the number of species we have seen in 2022, by checking eBird to see what species have been seen in Hampshire (our home county) and planning our birding trips accordingly. On the whole we have been pretty successful in finding our target species, and have added birds to both our life and year lists.
But one little bird has eluded us - the Firecrest.
A tiny bird, the Firecrest spends its time in the canopy of tall trees, constantly moving between branches as it gleans insects from the leaves.
A few breed in England and may be found in my region all year, but the winter is the best time to see them - especially as there are fewer leaves to hide their small shape.
This dumpy little bird shares a lot of characteristics with the Goldcrest, a bird much that is much more frequently seen: a high pitched call and song, thin bill and fiery-coloured feathers on the crown. Unlike the Goldcrest, the Firecrest has a strong white supercilium bordered with black and a bronze-coloured patch on the sides of its neck.
Spending most of its time in the tops of trees, silhouetted against bright skies, makes finding this bird a real challenge, and can lead to an aching neck while staring up into the canopies.
Learning the call is probably one of the best ways of identifying this bird, but as we age the higher-pitched calls can be lost to our hearing. Also, having enough exposure to the call to be able to discern the difference from Goldcrest or Long-tailed Tits is another challenge.
We have been using the Merlin Bird ID app to listen for calls to help us. Merlin matches the calls it ‘hears’ against a database of over 1 million birds, and I have found it to be mostly reliable in identifying birds.
Several times recently Merlin has identified Firecrest when we have been out birding, but despite looking and listening intently we just cannot find them.
Last weekend at Titchfield Haven (where I had a lovely close view of the Whinchat pictured at the head of this newsletter) we got a tip from the Warden Doug that Firecrests had been seen for several of the past days at Crofton churchyard in a nearby village.
It was late afternoon when we arrived. Doug had specifically mentioned the old Yew tree as you enter the churchyard, so we spent some time standing there, listening. We identified some Goldcrest-sized birds almost immediately and tried to follow them as they moved through the branches, in case one was a Firecrest, but just couldn’t get a clear view.
We walked around the paths of the old cemetery, looking into the Oak, Holly and Yew trees. I was delighted to see a Spotted Flycatcher land first on a gravestone, then fly to a bare branch from which it flew out several times to catch insects. The air was quite still and I could hear its bill snapping as it caught the insects!
As the sun started setting, two Mistle Thrushes noisily called to each other from the tops of tall conifers - my first Mistle Thrushes of the season.
The light was fading so we gave up our search and decided to drive back down to this churchyard the next morning in the hopes of better luck.
While the next morning was indeed beautiful and sunny, and we saw 16 species while wandering the churchyard, the Firecrest, sadly, was not among them.
Our search continues.
Bird news - fundraising for BirdLife International
The Global Bird Weekend will soon be upon us.
The Casual Birder podcast team is thrilled to be taking part, and once again we are fundraising for BirdLife International
By donating to our team's fundraising you will be directly helping to save the vital coastal wetlands that threatened migratory birds rely on for the food and rest that provides them with the energy they need to complete their amazing journeys.
It would be wonderful if you would share our link with your followers on social media to allow as many people to contribute as possible.
Latest podcast episode
Following a birding weekend at Keyhaven on the Hampshire coast, join Suzy and John, as they review the waders and other birds that they saw.
Suzy also talks about the BTO course on wader ID that she took, and we hear from past guest Natasha about the benefits she has found using the Merlin Bird ID.
And there are shout-outs to all the wonderful birders Suzy has shared sightings with over the past few weeks.
As we reached the Autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, I invited members of the show’s Facebook group to join me for 15 minutes of birding, to share the birds around us at this time of year.
We have held this event each quarter of the past year. For some it is a reminder to focus on birds again after being distracted by day-to-day demands. For others, 15 minutes is just too short, and the birding session lasts hours.
Depending on what has been happening I can fall at either end of this scale.
My garden has been pretty quiet of late, and for my own 15 minutes only 4 species turned up: 3 Woodpigeons, Robin, Dunnock, and a Long-tailed Tit calling in the neighbourhood somewhere.
Others taking part have had much longer lists to report. In Karin’s garden in Finland, a 15 minute session brought 10 Tree Sparrows and 40 Brambling at her feeder, along with Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Blue and Great Tits.
Natasha, on vacation in Majorca, logged 15 species including Blue Rock Thrush, 11 Sardinian Warblers and an Eleanora’s Falcon.
Rob and Alison were birding at Gibraltar Point on the east coast of England and reported 54 species, including the first Brambling and Redwing of the season, and 18 Pink-footed Geese. The changing of the seasons is certainly being felt in the movement of birds.
This was echoed in Paul’s checklists submitted from California. Among the 70 species were Vaux’s Swift, a variety of singing birds (including Tennessee, Nashville, Hermit, and Orange-crowned Warblers) and several raptors.
I’m looking forward to spending a day birding at the coast on Sunday - the last day of this event.
Keep in touch
I love hearing about your bird experiences or your recommendations for places to go birding.
Tell me about them here:
Video of the Week
This week we revisit an episode about Nightingales.
Mike Drew, biodiversity advisor for Anglian Water and licensed bird ringer, tells us about this iconic bird and the management of their nesting sites in the East of England.
The edited audio of this conversation was released as episode 101 of The Casual Birder Podcast.
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Until next week, happy birding!
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