Thank-you for having a go at our Mix ‘n Match Bird Quiz. The first completely correct entry came from Sue. Susie was on the right lines with the yellow-legged gull. John, you were so nearly right with everything that I suspect you simply pressed the wrong key a couple of times…!
The dot-com officer has cleverly re-arranged all the bits and pieces so that we can now present you with two tables: first, the original one, with the pieces all muddled together…
… and now, a new one with the snippets of bird arranged in the appropriate columns.
|White Wagtail||Audouin’s Gull||Black-Necked
The yellow-legged gull (Larus cachinnans) is a close cousin of the herring gull (Larus argentatus). The principal difference between them is, of course, the colour of their legs and feet. In Spain the yellow-legged gull is called yellow-footed – or patiamarilla. The admiral has been known to trip over her tongue and call it a patatas amarillas – or yellow-potatoes… hence the bracketed name in Sue’s winning entry.
The bird in this photograph may have been young; his feet were not as yellow as most of the other gulls. In fact, I’d hoped that we might be able to fool some of you into mistaking him for his northern cousin…
The white wagtail (Motacilla alba alba) is a sub-species of the motacilla alba clan and a very close cousin of the pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii). Whereas the pied wagtail is exclusively black and white, the white wagtail has a grey back. He also has a rather smaller bib, so that although we did not include the back of the bird in our quiz it is probably possible for experts like Sue and John to spot that this specimen is alba rather than yarrellii.
Mind you, the fact that the pied / yarrellii is exclusive to the UK could also have given them a bit of a clue!
There are lots of white wagtails around at the moment and they are as bold as the British robin. They come aboard the boat; they even come into the cockpit; if the hatch is open they even take a peek below decks!
The Audouin’s gull (Larus audounii) is one of the rarest gulls in the world (according to the Collins Bird Guide) and it is our local celebrity. For an account of its breeding habits and breeding difficulties, take a look at Part 2 of Roxanne’s Life in the Mar Menor series. In fact, that same article has photographs of the Audouin’s, the yellow-legs, and little-trotty wagtail… so, you see, the answers to the first part of our quiz were here, all along, on this very website!
The Audouin’s most distinctive feature is its wonderful multi-coloured bill. According to the bird books, its feet are grey-green. They look grey-grey in my photos…
We think that Sue and John did very well to distinguish between the plumage of the yellow-legs and the Audouin, as there is really not a lot of difference. The Audouin’s plumage is perhaps a little bit more sleek.
The bird in these photographs had spent a week at a rescue centre recovering from an encounter with a fishing hook.
One has the impression that the Audouin’s gull is a rather nicer person than his big, bossy relation. This might be because he is the down-trodden one, or it might be because he is a fisherman whereas old yellow-legs is an opportunistic scavenger. Then again, I think that it could also have something to do with our semi-subconscious notion that the eye is the mirror of the soul. The Audouin’s eye is dark and betrays no sentiment, but take another look at the eye of the yellow-legged gull. To me, it looks positively malicious!
Our black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) is wearing his winter coat and looks rather drab. He could easily be mistaken for a little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) if it weren’t for that stunning, fiery eye. (Don’t ask me what that eye reveals about this little fellow’s soul; it looks almost other-worldly!)
The black-necked grebe’s summer plumage is completely different – both the males and the females then sport rust coloured flanks, a jet black back and head, and impressive yellow tufts behind each eye. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to see any black-necked grebes on the Mar Menor in the summer, so we haven’t seen them in this snazzy outfit, but there are quite a few around at the moment. One was fishing in the marina today, diving amongst the boats to catch the mullet sprat.
The bird in these photographs was sick; it’s feathers were no longer waterproof, and so it could not dive.
And finally, we come to the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Troglodyte means cave dweller, and this particular bird was doing something quite like that. He is the only bird in the quiz who was not photographed in Spain; we do get wrens here, but this one was photographed in my parents’ garden in England. As John observes, he is a youngster.
The first time that the wrens nested under the back porch at my parents house I was almost too small to watch them from the window in the back door. I had to stand on tip-toe. Every year since then the current alpha male wren has constructed at least one delightful detached residence under the roof of the porch, although his brides have not always been satisfied with these offerings. Sometimes they have preferred to nest elsewhere.
The wren in this photo was probably the great great descendant of the chap who first built a nest under our back porch. He had a difficult start in life. Firstly, he had the misfortune to be born at the start of the particular week when my Dad dug up the floor of the porch. Since the porch floor is made of concrete this was an incredibly noisy, dusty job. The noise of the electric drills resonated through the house – and Mr and Mrs Wren fled to the far end of the garden, where they flustered about in distress. Wrens are polygamous and Mr Wren eventually decided to devote his energies to his other broods. Thus, I thought that the Back Porch family were doomed.
Happily, I underestimated the determination and devotion of the parents. Whenever the builders took a break from their work Mrs Wren would dart in, immediately above their heads, and tend to her brood. And in the evening, when the builders laid down their noisy tools, both parents promptly set about the business of providing a huge supper. Moths and green caterpillars were the favoured food, and both birds would spend the evening zipping to and fro at tremendous speed. Small of stature they may be, but these birds are great in almost every other way; they move at great speed, they sing – or shout – at an unbelievably great volume, and they have great self-confidence: one of the wrens once came hurtling around the corner of the house at knee height, very nearly flew into me, and then abused me at full volume for my crass stupidity in standing in his flight path!
After about ten days the infant wrens decided that they could no longer endure the noise and dust and, one by one, they began to leave the place of their birth. Our friend was the last to leave. He shot out of the nest, above my father’s head – and flew straight into the garage. No amount of calling from his mum and dad could persuade him to come out of the cave, and no amount of calling from their infant could persuade the parents to go to his rescue. I eventually found him in the furthest, darkest corner of the garage. He had tumbled down behind a pile of wood and was caught in a spider’s web. If you have another look at the photo of the wren’s foot you will notice the strands of silken cobweb.
After I rescued him from this corner the little wren flew across the garage and settled on a paint tin. So I carried him out of the garage perched atop the tin. When I put the tin down on the ground the bird flew off to sit on a trellis-work archway, and he stayed there for half an hour – half an hour without either moving or calling – before he suddenly recovered his wits and rushed off to join the rest of the family in the hedge.
Presumably it was the shape of the beak which told you that this was a young bird, John? I can easily see why Greg thought that the feathers were from a kestrel. But the eye is, once again, the thing that appeals to me most. Click on the photo, to enlarge it, and just look at that delicate ring of feathers which rims the eye.
Thanks to all of you for taking part. The next quiz will be… different!