March 18th   Leave a comment

I’ve been out a couple of days trying to catch corn buntings to start colour-ringing them. Then I can map how individuals use territories and move around the East Neuk. The flock of over 100 corn buntings still at Kingsbarns, for example. Where are all these birds from? Last year’s local birds or from further afield? With a proportion of corn buntings marked with different ring combinations then we will be able to follow individuals. Easier said than done. It’s been windy and I have mostly been watching corn buntings flying over or bouncing off my nets. But this morning, I caught my first bird at Kingsbarns. All long journeys start with a single step and this is an important one. I have been working on chats for the last few years – wheatears and whinchats – and corn buntings seem huge in comparison. The bird I caught this morning weighed 46 grams! I know this is not a lot really but compared to a 14 gram Cyprus wheatear, a corn bunting is a much chunkier bird. Males are bigger and heavier than females so I should be able to tell the sex of my bird, but this one was bang in the middle with its mass, with a female wing length and a male length tarsus. More experience needed I think. Today’s corn bunting was not only the first corn bunting of my new research study, it was the first corn bunting I have ever caught. Anyway, there is now a colour-ringed corn bunting at large in the East Neuk – WMRY – left leg, right leg, top to bottom, so white over metal on the left leg and red over yellow on the right leg. Finding it again will be a needle in a haystack but with a few tens more then we should start finding out much more about why the corn buntings are doing so well locally, but are only expanding out to the rest of Fife very slowly.

MWRY – my first colour-ringed corn bunting at Kingsbarns today

Some bonuses of following around corn buntings in the few remaining stubble fields: a snow bunting and a Lapland bunting. Both single birds and just in the same fields as the corn buntings but not really associating with them. I was really pleased because I identified both correctly by the pitch of their “truup” call as they flew by me, before I saw them: it has been a good season’s worth of experience this winter. The Lapland bunting obligingly landed in the top of a tree and even started a little singing – not the melodic song I know from Arctic Alaska but a more scratchy sub-song. Still, great to hear, and nice to be able to see a Lapland bunting well, rather than just a dashing shape in a windswept sky.  

Lapland bunting – note the amazingly long primary projection (really long winged compared to corn buntings) and also the very long hind claw (hence the American name of “Lapland longspur”)

Posted March 18, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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