Sunday, 25 October 2015

Winter is coming..

It's starting to feel and look a lot like Winter. Frost on the ground, Geese honking overhead and Redwings hopping about feeding in the trees. Winter is the time when the ducks, geese and swans take over the birding world and to me personally, the better-looking birds grace the British waters with their presence. There are many things that you can look for this Winter, starting with:

Bewick and Whooper Swans crash land in British waters with their very catchy-call. These two do look similar, but there are ways to tell them apart in the field.
©Jonathan Scragg
Whooper swans are larger than Bewick's with a triangular shaped head instead of the rounded shape of a Bewick. Bewicks are smaller (4ft), shorter necked, and a rounder head compared to a Whooper who is bigger (5ft), bulging breast, and longer necked.
© Drew Lyness
Whoopers will have longer bill, yellow will continue for 3/4 of the way to the bill tip so generally looks yellow-like at a distance. Bewick's on the other hand, have a smaller bill with the yellow only covering the basal half of the bill. The yellow patterns on each bird do vary.

Geese & Ducks!

©Amy Schwartz
Winter is the time to visit the coast, especially the WWT reserves, to witness thousands of geese 
©Drew Lyness
taking off and making an amazing noise! Pink-footed Geese and White-fronts are two species that arrive in great numbers and can often be seen. Things get a little more interesting with Geese such as Black Brants, Snow Geese, Bean Geese and Cackling Geese all possible things to rock up in Britain. My absolute favourite duck arrives in huge numbers in the Winter: Wigeon! Teal, Pintail, Wigeon are all common ducks that will be around this Winter. The more interesting and brain-fuzzling, if you haven't been on the birding scene for all that long, are three very similar species: (Great) Scaup, Lesser Scaup and Ring-Necked Duck. Winter sees me checking every Tuftie duck on Patch in the hope of one of the three. Great Scaup tend to have a green sheen to their glossy black heads, whereas Lesser Scaups have a purpleish sheen to the black and a small peak on its hind crown. Bill-wise: the Great Scaup will have a larger black nail on the end of its bill than Lesser (although not as large as that of Tufted Duck). Ring-necked Ducks will have light grey or brown flanks with a white spot towards the front, a peaked hint-crown and the banded bill is a general giveaway.
Ring-Necked Duck © Jonathan Scragg

© Gideon Knight
Early Winter is when the gull roosts really start to build up in numbers. Along with the usual Black-headed, Med, LBBG, GBBG, Herring and Common, there are usually one or two interesting gulls thrown in; Yellow-legged Gulls are one such species. Their backs are almost in the middle of Herring and LBBG in shape, more black in the wing with smaller mirrors, the beak is yellow, as are the legs, and the bill will have a large red spot on it. There is also a red eye-ring if you can manage to see it! Be aware of yellow-legged Herring Gulls!

©Gideon Knight
Caspian Gulls are similar to Herring and YLG but look longer-winged and longer, in general, with a mid-grey mantle, long black primaries, small dark eye a softer expression and long, pink legs. In 1w plumage, they have plain edged tertials unlike Herring's oak leaf pattern (a feature they share with YLG). They are the best looking out of all the 1w gulls. Little Gulls are also a regular sight during the Winter, these birds are easily picked out of a roost since they are truly tiny and in flight the wings will create a black 'W', adults have white wings. Other birds you may have the pleasure of seeing, although uncommon, are Ivory and Ross's Gulls. Next up are the white-wingers: Iceland and Glaucous... you can eliminate one easily: does it look like it wants to kill you? Yes? It's a Glauc. These birds are bigger and bulkier than a Herring Gull, have a stern look and the bill is bigger. A similar looking gull in some respects is the Iceland Gull. This bird also has a creamy-coloured plumage in 1W birds or a pale colour in adults. Icelands can be smaller than Herrings but are generally roughly the same size, the head is more round, the beak is smaller and they have a 'kinder' expression.
©Sam Viles
Returning Visitors!
©Jonathan Scragg
Winter is the time when your berry trees are filled with birds. Fieldfare and Redwing arrive back in the UK, both of these birds are fairly straight forward to ID, due to their distinctive plumages. One sight, which people will often travel to see, is that of a Starling murmuration. Watching these at dusk is a sight that every birder should witness at least once in their life; watching the birds create patterns in the sky is just mesmerising. Siskin, Brambling, Redpoll and Crossbills can be heard flying overhead, at feeders or in the bushes with other finches, and the brilliant sound of a Firecrest lurking in the bushes are all things to look forward to.  But not forgetting one of the most awaited arrivals to the Rowan trees of Britain: Waxwings. These perfect looking birds arrive annually along the East coast with some venturing further inland. The iconic look is unforgettable and seeing a flock of these is the highlight of the Winter for me. Another iconic bird of winter is the Bittern; that boom coming from the reed bed kickstarts winter. There is nothing like remembering how frustrated you were last winter, sitting in a hide for hours, wrapped up in every layer you could find, just to see a Bittern slowly move across the reeds for less than a minute, and then having to wait hours for another brief glimpse. One bird that is already pouring into the UK, is the Snow Bunting. These charismatic little birds visit our coastline for the Winter, although we don't get to see them in their sleek white plumage, they still look amazing in their Winter plumage and are just a delight to see.
©Jake Gearty
©Sam Viles

Rough-Legged Buzzard!
Ephraim Perfect has created a help guide to identifying Rough-Legged Buzzards from Common Buzzards. The reports for this species has already been seen on Birdguides and Rare Bird Alert with the reports coming from the east coast.

- Dan Rouse
Dan is an Environmental Educator for WWT Llanelli which is also her local patch. Currently conducting WeBS and NEWS counts for the BTO. When not in freezing in the field, Dan is a Trainee ringer with the Gower Ringing Group in South Wales.

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