Friday, 13 November 2009

Common Rosefinch

The most unexpected bird of this autumn was a Common Rosefinch caught during a routine mist netting session at Thornton. Thanks to Dave Wright (in hand) and Matthew Berriman (after release) for permission to use their images. Andy Smith has kindly posted the following account:-

On the evening of Friday 25 September I had put up four mist nets on land adjoining my garden with the intention of an early morning ringing session. The forecast was good with calm weather, ideal for mist netting. Hauling my body out of bed at 8 am, ( a miserably late hour to start ringing) I regretted the extra pint and heavy rock band who had entertained us at the Thornton beer festival the previous night!
I opened the nets and commenced ringing. I was immediately catching good numbers of birds, including Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. The calm but overcast conditions were ideal and it was good to catch migrant birds. One net had been positioned with the intention of catching finches that were coming to my neighbours feeder (they own the land I ring on and have taken to wildlife gardening). Target birds here were Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch.
At about 9 am I made a catch of six birds. The first bird I extracted was a strange looking finch, which on first glance I had presumed was going to be a juvenile Greenfinch. As I examined the bird I noted that there was no yellow on the wing and the bill and head structure were unusual. I put the bird in a bag and completed my net round. I quickly processed the other birds leaving the strange finch to last.
Removing the bird I immediately knew that it was something special. Before a bird can be rung you have to be able to identify it. It is not a situation that you are often in. I considered the obvious species such as Greenfinch and Bullfinch, but the plumage and structure were wrong. I had already wondered about Common,( I prefer the old name Scarlet) Rosefinch) but I needed to reacquaint myself with the species. As I looked at page 359 of the Collins guide it was immediately obvious that it was a first winter Common Rosefinch. At this time I was not aware that it was a county first. It was certainly a ringing and Thornton tick for me, although not a British tick as I had seen one in Norfolk.
I also looked up Common Rosefinch in Svensson, where it is still referred to as Scarlet Rosefinch. On page 309 a sketch of the head shows the well curved culmen and black beady eye. These features confirmed my identification. I measured the wing at 82 mm and then checked Svensson which gives a range of 79-86. I also measured the bill at just over 9mm. Svensson gives a range of 9.5-11mm. The plumage was fresh and tinged olive, with two pale buff wing bars. The tail was wet from being in the bag and stained from droppings which indicated that it had been feeding on Elder berries.
I now needed a second opinion and someone to take some in the hand photos for future reference. My vision of releasing the bird and it towering off high into the stratosphere, never to be seen again was making me collect as much evidence as possible. I phoned Dave Wright and asked him to come round as I had trapped an interesting bird. I quickly closed the nets processed the other birds so I could give the situation my full attention.
Dave arrived and inspected the bird. I had already let it slip that I thought I had caught a Common Rosefinch. Dave very calmly suggested that we should first rule out any other species such as Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting and Reed Bunting, but I think we both knew what we had. The bird was ringed and Dave took a selection of in the hand photos . It was now that I had the chance to check the Leicestershire Avifauna and realised that we had a county first. It was time to release the bird. On release it flew to a nearby Elder and started to preen. Much to our relief it looked like it would stick around. Dave and I considered the implications of releasing the news. How many birders could we expect? I had previously considered what I might do if I was to trap or find a rarity on the land behind my house and I was now faced with this predicament. I decided that it would be good P.R. for ringing if I allowed people to view the bird and access was easy.
We contacted Andy Mckay and made the arrangements to release the news I also asked for £1 donations to the Charnwood ringing group. It was not long before the first birders were arriving and the terrace was covered in scopes. The Rosefinch performed admirably for the weekend and approximately 250 birders visited. The majority enjoyed good views of the bird with only an unlucky few missing out late on the Sunday. The bird was last seen at about 3.15 when it flew off with Greenfinches.

Many people gained a lifer without adding much to their carbon foot print, and all a county first. Jim Graham has already made a request that I catch another rarity next week, perhaps a Red Flanked Bluetail! (It was not as it says in the Avifauna the Charnwood R.G. That caught the last one) I would like to take this opportunity to stress the importance of ringing and the vital information that can only be gained from mark and recapture methods. I know that there are conflicts between the various factions but ultimately we are all fascinated by the same things.
For me it was wonderful to share this experience with so many likeminded people and friends. People were wonderfully well behaved and extremely generous. We raised £200 for the Ringing group, oh as well as two bottles of beer and a jar of damson jam! (Thanks I.M). At the height of the twitch 40 people were crammed on my terrace and due to queuing I had to put people on the terrace next door. Common Rosefinch has a complete winter moult starting in November. Perhaps this bird will stick around and I can invite you all back to scope a handsome male. How smart would that be!

Andy Smith. Thornton 29/9/2009.
The closest breeding for Common Rosefinch is in Denmark. Common Rosefinch winters in Pakistan and India. The range has expanded recently and 4 pairs bred on Flamborough Head in 1992. More than 60% of records are in the northern isles. The only ringing recoveries are of birds rung in Norway, presumably on passage and then retrapped on North Ronaldsay. There is still much that we do not know about the migration routes of this species.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely little bird! I just put out our thistle feeders yesterday and can't wait to see who comes to visit!