An early Sunday morning drop off at Wakefield train station in order to get the folks down to the Emirates Stadium for Huddersfield Towns FA Cup draw meant I could get a few hours birding in before Miss Piggy would even realise I was missing. Junior had stayed at her Grandparents so unless there was a comet strike it was unlikely Miss Piggy would stir? Given I was half way there; I decided to carry on to Fairburn Ings and have a couple of hours birding around the various hides and viewing screens. My first stop was Lin Dyke, as recent sightings had included a now regular Long Eared Owl roost and a small party of European White Fronted Geese. The latter were still present, grazing amongst a handful of Canada Geese but the Long Eared Owls weren’t showing. Due to the popularity of the owl roost with local birders, which for years has provided the opportunity to catch up with an otherwise elusive species, has meant that the viewing area is basically now a mud bath. So wellies are a must for any would be owl bagger. No owls, but a fly over Peregrine complete with quarry meant all was not lost. What looked to be an unfortunate Feral Pigeon would surely be a valuable catch as far as survival and re population of this once threatened species goes.
The visitor’s centre is a maze of screens and feeders so with all the pools frozen, the bulk were a hive of activity, attracting all the common species along with a growing colony of Tree Sparrows. The stand out sighting though was a Mealy Redpoll, which was amongst a flock of 40 Lesser Redpolls. Redpoll ID has been put under the microscope lately on various websites and forums and plumages scrutinised to the finest of detail. Sifting through photos on various birding websites has given many people, including myself, a far better understanding of these birds but there is no substitute for field skills. A constantly moving treetop flock, coupled with the low winter sun flaring my binoculars meant identifying any of the key features would be tough. And it was. To the point I nearly walked away. My neck was aching from following flitting birds above me back and forth and sometimes it’s as though you’re actually trying to make birds into what they are not. That’s a Mealy! No it’s not it’s a Lesser. That’s a Mealy! No it’s not it’s a Lesser over and over. And that’s without throwing a recent report at Fairburn of Coue’s Arctic Redpoll into the mix! Even though you are confident you know what you are looking for? Its mind games of the modern birder!
A handful of birds eventually ended up on the ice, feeding below over hanging branches and although they weren’t stationary, they gave a far better, uninterrupted opportunity to study each bird individually. A good scan identified one of the birds as a stand out classic ‘frosty’ Mealy Redpoll, and to be fair, there was little deliberation. Luckily it was a stone waller. There may have been others present in the same flock but if you’re not sure, you’re not sure?