*** This thread is under construction! Please bear with me for a couple of days before posting your thoughts!! Thanks! ***
During early 2009, a small flock of up to 20 redpolls visited a nyger feeder in a back garden in south Buckinghamshire. In late February, the owner alerted local birders to the presence of a "larger, white redpoll", and on 1st March we confirmed a smart Common (Mealy) Redpoll (hereafter flammea), a very rare bird in Bucks (Bird 1 below).
However, watching of the rest of the flock over the next week generated many question and observations regarding the field ID of flammea and cabaret, including;
- A lack of clarity of the ID criteria to separate flammea from cabaret. Much recent coverage in journals has focused on separating exilipies, leaving the darker end of the scale less clear. Even amongst experienced and reliable observers, there seems to be much ambiguity and disagreement on this.
- With redpolls only moulting once per year, the impact of wear on cabaret in late winter/early March is potentially confusing the matter; may this partially explain why there seems to be an increase in the number of flammea reported in southern England at this time of year?
- Just how many birds can be identified to form/species with confidence in the field, and how many should be left based on current knowledge as redpoll sp? Which clearly seems a strange result; how many other relatively common British bird groups is that a satisfactory result for?
- A potential lack of consistency in applying ID criteria, potential obscuring the status on flammea away from the Northern Isles and the east coast?
To aid a discussion on these matters, I have loaded a series of photos of these redpolls below. If nothing else, they might provide a useful photo gallery of redpolls in a known location at a known time of year. Thanks to Mike Collard, Rob Andrews, Dave Ferguson, Jim Rose and Mike Wallen for providing the images.
Identification criteria for flammea and cabaret
I've utilised a wide range of sources, plus input from a number of observers, to draw up the following as the current proposed critera
for seperating flammea from cabaret. What do you think? I've tried to test these on the photos below.
* cabaret are distinctly smaller, thinner and more compact; body size/weight, head plus bill length and wing length are all less. Wings are 3.2 to 3.7mm shorter on average, though there is overlap. Male cabaret 68-73.5mm, female 67-71mm. flammea 69-80mm.
* cabaret generally have a brown base colour to their plumage. Upperparts are darker and browner, with slightly broader, blacker and more sharply defined streaking
* cabaret seem to have a brown 'waist-coat' between their flanks and breast. The cheeks, upper breast, flanks and undertail coverts are often buff or warm brown, which contrast with a white(ish) belly. The neck background colour is more yellowish-brown on cabaret
* The flanks on cabaret are also a brown base-colour with black streaks. flammea has a white base-colour with black streaks.
* The mantle 'tramlines' on cabaret are pale, rather than white on flammea. The greater covert bar is more buff on cabaret, with less contrast than on flammea
* The rump on cabaret is said to be heavily streaked on a buff background, usually without any white showing through.
* Does flammea show more feathered tarsi than cabaret?
* In early Spring, cabaret plumage wears heavily and can look surprisingly pale. Worn birds can loose the normal buff tones and look very grey and white. If it hints at cabaret, with a bit too much brown undertones, it shouldn't be claimed as flammea. If it looks larger, has a white base-colour, bright pale wing-bars, then it's a flammea!
* There also said to be vocal differences, though their use in the field is certainly debatable!
It has been suggested, however, that cabaret can show plumage pretty much spot on for flammea, however size and strucutre is key. Many birds in Scandinavia can not be asigned to rase, even in the hand, and are recorded as redpoll sp! In fact, Svensson wrote "plumage differences between cabaret and flammea are generally rather slight and not always diagnostic when holding a single bird in the hand".