A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 9 May 2016

A taste of the Orient - Oriental Turtle Dove in Otford, Kent (MEENA!)

When news came out that an Oriental Turtle Dove of the subspecies meena had been visiting a back garden in Kent whilst I was away in Florida at the beginning of April, I was a tad gutted to say the least. Not going down for the Chipping Norton Oriental Turtle Dove back at the beginning of 2011 has always been a bit of a regret, and this was a bird that I had thought I would struggle to get back, with there being just one other previous twitchable mainland bird in Caithness, Scotland in 2003.

It later transpired that the Kent bird had been present in the garden of finder Tony Rose on the 18th February, but with no sign the next day and without an exact location other than the village of Otford, it seemed this particular bird would remain out of grasp and the trail sadly went cold.
Oriental Turtle Dove (Meena) - Kent
An EXTREME record shot of the Meena!
However, this all changed on Thursday 28th April, when a report came through that the bird had been spotted again the previous Sunday. With further sightings on the Friday and with the exact location being expertly nailed down and released on Saturday when the bird showed well during the late afternoon and evening, I was therefore weighing up whether or not to make the long journey down to Kent from Cheshire the next day, especially as Alex, having seen the Chipping Norton bird, wouldn’t even get a lifer from it!

Deciding to wait until the weekend after, photos surfacing of the bird perching obligingly in the tree the next morning swiftly changed my mind – the bird was again present and showing well. Becoming determined to get down and see the beautiful dusky pink tones of the meena for myself, we were soon well on our way along the M6 - Alex in tow having been persuaded to come along for the ride, despite his protests that meenas were just a ‘regular’ bird after the recent individual in Shetland! (Just 5 records ever in Britain would suggest otherwise...)

Arriving at Old Walk Road on the small housing estate just off the A225 some 4 hours later, we turned the corner to be met by a large crowd of birders and scopes stationed on “The Butts”, all staring intently in to the back gardens of the houses while bemused residents and passers stopped to take photos of the assembled gathering.
Oriental Turtle Dove twitch - Kent
The gathered crowd
Luckily, despite the bird not having been seen since that morning, we didn’t have long to wait before it put in an appearance, flying up and in to a large Sycamore tree at the end of the garden. Apparently having established a routine - being seen first thing in the morning for a couple of hours and again in the evening from 4pm onwards - the bird powers in from the south from an unknown location each day before flying in to the trees and perching intermittently on view before dropping down in to the garden out of sight to feed.
Oriental Turtle Dove - Kent
The trees in question the Meena has been favouring during dawn and late evening
Providing good scope views, the Meena remained slightly obscured at times, sadly not perching out in the open in one of the bare leaved trees as so many of the great photos captured depict. Never the less, we were treated to a show of the diagnostic features as the bird moved through the leaves – the smaller darker eye, reduced white on the barred collar and the overall darker, more rufous appearance all apparent. Giving prolonged views for a good 20 minutes or so, the dove eventually dropped down and in to the garden out of sight, not reappearing again for another two hours – we’d timed our arrival perfectly.
Oriental Turtle Dove (Meena) - Kent
The reduced white on the collar is clear to see, as well as the more dusky colour tones
Oriental Turtle Dove (Meena) - Kent
The smaller darker eye and more rufous tones can still be made out despite the horrendousness of the photo!
With two races of Oriental Turtle Dove recorded in Britain (meena and orientalis), the Kent record follows in the footsteps of the recent Shetland bird back in December, making meena the now greater recorded race here in Britain out of the two with 5 records as opposed to 4. With meenas originating from central Asia as opposed to the Far East and Siberian localities of orientalis, there are also slight differences between the two races in appearance (orientalis being larger, with a darker and duller colouration than the brighter pink of the meena, while meenas also have a distinctive large white under patch on the base of the tail). Despite these differences though, there are no immediate plans to split the two.
Oriental Turtle Dove (Meena) - Kent
Oriental Turtle Dove (Meena) - Kent
With 8 out of the 13 records of Oriental Turtle Dove coming after the turn of the century (5 being in the past 5 years), awareness of this species is clearly improving, and with the majority of records originating in gardens, hopefully there will be many more sightings to come in the future of this charming eastern dove.

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