Sunday, 6 March 2011

Winter buntings

Bird of the day on Sunday was a male Snow Bunting that was bombing around Musselburgh first thing in the morning. As soon as I heard the repeated 'teu' flight call I knew it was one of the winter buntings. As soon as I clapped eyes on its pied wings there was little doubt over which species this was.

On its second flypast the Snow Bunting added its second flight call - a 'trilidididid'. This call is quite different from the dry buzzy version of the call given by the Lapland Bunting. I was disappointed not to be able to nail the identification on the first call alone, especially given the ample opportunities for committing both to memory last autumn. Next time I'll be ready though as both of the calls of the Snow Bunting are more musical and pleasing to the ear.

Nov '11: Looking carefully at the above flight pic, it looks as if this individual is of the nivalis subspecies, given the extent of white in the wing.

I have now photographed both species in flight at Musselburgh this winter. Most shots end up looking like these two - as both species have a bounding flight pattern with the wings held in tightly against the body for most of the time. Snow Bunting on the left here and Lapland Bunting on the right.

 Maybe these shots do not show the species off to their best advantage, so here are a few more...

Here are Snow Buntings photographed at Barn's Ness in September and November 2010. This first photo is of the November bird and this appears to be one of the paler rumped Scandinavian subspecies nivalis, which although regular is apparently less common than the Icelandic insulae. Both subspecies breed in Scotland. Nov'11: The second bird is difficult to classify - probably insulae.

Finally, here is a Lapland Bunting photographed on Fair Isle in October. What a great autumn 2010 was for this species across much of Britain. I wonder whether there might be a surge of spring records this year as they move North(-West?). It is quite a few years since I found a male in breeding plumage on my old patch at Nercwys Mountain in North Wales, now that would be something to repeat.

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