Saturday, 25 December 2010

What A Load of Bull !

Following on from the post several days ago I have now got some pics, audio and revelations to share about 'unusual' Bullfinches....or perhaps just 'Bullfinches'. Might be worth reading Mark Lewis' recent post on his 'funny' Bullfinch as well.

It is worth re-iterating here that not ALL Northern Bullfinches give trumpet calls - there is another type that sounds very like our British sub-species pileata.

Okay, here goes, lots of pics, sonograms and audio ( a first for Loxia Fantastica) !

Wednesday 22 December 2010

We managed to find 3 Bullfinches feeding on nettles at the same location a the previous day. They were all males, including this 1st Winter bird:

The photograph shows it has only replaced an innermost greater covert ( grey-white tipped contrasting with buffy tipped ones). Interestingly, like the bird yesterday ( most likey an adult following reappraisal) this specimen also has a white edge to P9 (outermost large) and the other adjacent PP are edged white below the emarginations. Notice that is has the 'stuck on' beak rather than the 'howker' that Northern birds would have ( however, the bird is puffed up which could diminish the proporations of the mandibles). There is a pale line beneath the eye.

Also present was this larger, bright male:

The alula looks like it might have grey-white edging so possibly and adult. The outer-most greater coverts, although not extensive in their white-grey tips, nevertheless appear more adult than short, buff  juvenile ones ? Like the juvenile above, this specimen also has the white edging (quite extensive) to P9 and the adjacent inner PP are also white edged on the emarginations:

And here too:

That outer greater covert looks a bit dodgy in this pic ( but still too extensively grey-white tipped - possibly a retained adult feather ?). Alula looks very brown here as well - again adult retained or possibly juvenile ? If it is a 1st winter bird it has undergone an extensive post-juvenile moult (unlike the first bird above). Based on this and these other features I'm sticking with adult. Pale line under the eye with this one too - is this as a result of the feather tracts being displaced by the bird puffing up ? Mark's last post mentions primary projections - not sure how consistent that would be in the field but possibly useful enough to distiguish between pileata and pyrrhula combined when with other factors. On that basis, these two have short primary projections consistent with pileata.

The birds were not very vocal but I did manage to get some recordings (with Sennheiser ME67 and Fostex FR2). This recording has "tip" contact calls ( often given in flight or pre-flight), some "pee-u" calls and near the end a "buzzy" toot call ( not like Northern, but similarish):

A14h18m30s22dec2010y by Loxiafan

A sonogram of the muted contact calls and a typical (?) pileata "pee-u" (timings don't necessarily match the events on the recordings):

Notice the strange component under the main descending note ?

From the same recording here is the muted contact call followed by a single buzzy whistle note ( appearing as a horizontal line on the sonogram below):

The other decent recording I got had pileata type contact calls:

A14h32m15s22dec2010y by Loxiafan

On the sonogram these appeared to be two elements super-imposed over each other, but nevertheless giving the pileata descending structure:

So, a summary of birds seen this day (3 males):

All three had white edged primaries.
All had "stuck on" bills.
None had white on tail.
None gave 'trumpet' calls, or it seems the other 'Northern' type call ( which is similar to pileata but lower piched and more 'mournful' sounding - think Chaffinch v. Willow Warbler).

= none were pyrrhula !

The Pennington/Meek BB article is quite right to highlight some of these shared traits between pileata and pyrrhula, and what might otherwise on first reading seem like a conservative possibly non-commital paper actually turns out to be a very well researched, useful and accurate essay on the type. Get it if you don't already have it.

The big question is: was one of these birds from today the big 'tooting' male we saw on Tuesday ? Well, read on...

Thursday 23rd December

This started off with good intentions by taking the Remembird (except it switched itself off, without me knowing so no recordings - amatuerish, I know). Found 3 males at a different location and was able to ID the juvenile male as the same one as yesterday ( due to a plumage feature on the flank). These birds allowed me to get withing 4 feet of them feeding on nettles - very confiding, or just very cold and hungry to otherwise give a damn ?

Friday 24th December

After yesterday's er... equipment failure time for the nuclear option: Telinga Stereo DAT and FR2LE, the major crossbill gear. We found three birds at the same location I had them yesterday, but this time there was a juv female in tow with two males, so not the same 3 but possibly two of them.

Things started of promisingly, the juv begging for food and then these "sotto voce" toot calls (at 6 seconds on recording):

B14h52m37s24dec2010a by Loxiafan

On the sonogram these appear as horizontal flat lines, have harmonics but unfortunately don't sound like Northern trumpet calls, being higher pitched and different in timbre:

Could these be the same sotto voce tooty "honking" calls we heard from the bird on Tuesday ? Possibly. Are these calls being heard by other observers and being confused for Northern trumpeters ? I don't know, but possibly.

However, the big male then called and this was pileata-like, but didn't sound quite right - on the sonogram directly underneath you can see the component under the main element, and again this call has harmonics un-like those presented and described in the Sound Approach for 'British':

B14h52m37s24dec2010b by Loxiafan

Notice that the first call (on sonagram) sounds slightly nore 'mournful' but the other two are shorter and deeper in pitch.

The group also gave "tip" flight calls:

B14h54m09s24dec2010 by Loxiafan

Also some pileata type calls, softer in timbre:

B15h08m24s24dec2010 by Loxiafan

Nice of a passer-by to let me know I was recording Bullfinches....I'd never have known. Thanks !

And this (also from above recording) a more exagerated call, and check those mini harmonic structures within the call (click to enlarge) :

One of the males gave this call:

B15h10m39s24dec2010 by Loxiafan

Notice that these are again double element calls, and have very strong harmonics. Is this normal in pileata ?

The adult male gave these same calls:

B15h13m32s24dec2010 by Loxiafan

Again, these have double elements (which make the call sound flutey) and the harmonics also give it a hollow timbre. These do not sound like any of the various Bullfinch calls I have been listening to on-line and on the CD's I have. I am not claiming it is a new type, merely commenting on the apparent variation that seems evident here.

So, where does this leave us all ? Well, for me, wishing I was out recording some crossbills ! Funnily enough I was surprised by how many of the Bullfinch calls were crossbill-like !There seems a lot of variation in Bullfinch calls considering I am recording a very small population within a stones throw of my house.  I am >95% certain the Bullfinches I have observed and recorded over the last few days are British pileata types. The large male on Tuesday gave a call similar to those B1452 above - it was the only call we heard it give and it was very different from the bird "pee-u" ing next to it. With no recording of it to reference it is not a leap of imagination to deduce that on recall (from memory) it could be confused with those Northern trumpet calls, as it appeared to "toot" - I initially thought our bird on Tuesday sounded like the second type on CD2 track 95 of Sound Approach. Listening to a recording these sotto voce toot calls, assuming they are the same as the ones we heard (and didn't record), sound closer to the "second type" calls on the SA CD2 - track 98 but are quite different in timbre and pitch.

To sum up "All that glitters is not gold" and "All that 'toots' is not (necessarily) Northern" !

Would definitely appreciate feedback and comments and if anyone has heard British Bullfinch give these sotto voce toots or double-element variations to the main call. The former call seems intermittent though the bird above today gave several repetitions of the call. Could this call be being confused by other birders at trumpeters ? Given the 'overlap' of other features this may be a concern. Are they normal calls for pileata ?
It seems getting good field audio recordings may become a requirement for rarities commitees when considering Northern Bullfinch.......

.....I am glad I was conservative in my diagnosis on Tuesday !

Meantime, I think I'll stick to Crossbill vocalizations !

Merry Christmas to Everyone, hope it's a good one !

© Lindsay Cargill 2010

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