Icelandic Redpoll ssp. islandica

a pale one!

Just an excellent day on Wed 28th Sept. We headed south to Mainland Shetland in the particular hope of seeing a Lesser Grey Shrike. We saw that and so much more. Ian Lewington rang to say the ‘Arctic Redpoll type’ was showing really well at Ronas Voe. A smart bird and well worth seeing. Only 20 minutes away and we were soon there, but it took some seeing. First views of it flying off the moors and disappearing into cover (when  it looked bigger). 2 hours later, 2nd views I picked it up, feeding in and returning to, a patch of grass (when it looked smaller). After half an hour and a no-show, I think the assembled 20+ folk thought I was imagining things. The group dispersed, I walked into the field and it flew up! Then sat out in the open for over 20 minutes. Great views! So what was it?

I was really keen to see this bird- and see it well. It had been reported mostly as a Coues’s Arctic Redpoll (‘exilipes’) since the 25th Sept. However it seemed really early for a Scandinavian Arctic, and was the forerunner for several ‘Northwest Redpolls’ in Shetland.

Bottom line? I think it’s a pale Icelandic Redpoll. A fascinating bird. Potentially a discrete taxon (separate from darker ‘rostrata’ from Iceland and Greenland), which is probably rarer than exilipes Arctic in Britain and certainly less well known. As those with  a Birding Frontiers Memory stick can see; one or more has reached Norfolk. Thanks to some great folk there is an excellent set of informative pics. Have a look for yourself:
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Couple hand-held digipics by me showing how white and fluffy it could look.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder). The rump could vary from looking huge and white (fluffed up), to (in reality) a rather narrow strip of white.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder). Rather long-bodied when sleeked down, I learnt (again) that it’s very difficult to estimate Redpoll size on a lone bird. The rear flank steaking is bit much for exilipes Arctic.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. David Bradnum (Bradders Birding Blog).
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Roger Wyatt. Undertail coverts could like as if all white. Close views revealed blackish arrow-head on central feather and thin dark acolyte streaks.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Roger Wyatt. Something that bothered me early on. Multiple line of streaks across the breast that almost met in the middle.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. David Bradnum (Bradders Birding Blog). As in life, it could often look white/ pale etc, then a turn of the head, or change of light and brownish tones appeared especially over the scapulars. The fringes of the flight feathers also looked a little too brownish washed for an exilipes Arctic.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder). In this photo and the one above the flank streaking, across the breast but especially in the rearmost flanks, just a bit much for an exilipes Arctic.

and just for fun. An Arctic Redpoll (exilipes) on left with Mealy Redpoll from Varanger in May.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Martin Garner. It still looked pretty impressive doing a very fine ‘snowball impression’. This is  what I wrote for the memory stick:

Added August 2011

 “However you can add in that we seem to be getting birds from Iceland.

Icelandic Redpoll Carduelis flammea islandica.

Somewhat confusingly included in ‘islandica’ are dark streaky birds, slightly smaller versions of Greenland rostrata and pale streaky birds which appear quite different and can be confused with Arctic Redpolls. Pale islandica has occurred almost certainly in Shetland and in Norfolk (and maybe elsewhere!).”

Ian Lewington concurred with the bird being an Icelander. He also heard the single note call (perhaps one the BEST characters for identification) which, frustratingly I failed to hear or record despite attempts. This (per Stoddart’s law) is closer to birds heard in Iceland than the familiar calls of Mealy/ Arctic in Scandinavia.

Thanks very much for lively discussion, especially with Andy Soddart and Ian, Martin and the Wyatt gang and Jonathan, David, Roger and Gavin for the amazing pics.

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About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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One Response to Icelandic Redpoll ssp. islandica

  1. Hannes Hafsteinsson says:

    Hello Martin,
    Thanks for nice photos. My name is Hannes Hafsteinsson and I m a bird watcher in Iceland. I have been wacthing birds for more than 30 years. After wacthing redpolls very closely in my garden for some time I found out that in Iceland are two species of redpolls. Birds that I call gray and brown make two groups late in the winter and fight against each other. Brown birds breeds together, often in colonies and gray birds breeds together. Trough the breeding season gray birds stands together and fight with brown birds. Gray birds get gray youngs and brown birds brown youngs. When you see both groups feeding together at birdstables in winter time it is easy to see what birds are gray and what birds are brown. But few birds can be hardier to tell, maybe hybrids.

    Hannes Hafsteinsson
    gulfinka@simnet.is
    gulfinka is the icelandic name for serin.

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