Sunday 17 January 2021

Time With the Buntings

One of my favourite things about birding is the infinite learning curve. Because I've seen so few of them, the West Bex Cirl Bunting really tested me. So I've wanted to spend a bit of time with the bunting flock to try and get my eye in a bit. And that's when you really notice how variable female Yellowhammers can be, for example in the strength of their face pattern. But one thing they all seem to share is an overall yellowish cast, which the Cirl doesn't exhibit at all. I say Cirl, singular, but a few days into the new year Mike and Alan found a second bird in the flock! This weekend I bit the bullet, took a short drive and a long walk, and spent some time with the buntings...

A bit distant, and not as sharp or well-exposed as I'd like, but it is the Cirl Bunting rump shot I was hoping for. Streaky olive-grey, and totally different to the rich russet backside of a Yellowhammer.

Two female Cirl Buntings with a female Yellowhammer (middle bird)

And again. Those bright ear-covert spots are very noticeable in the field.

One of the Cirl Buntings spent a short time alongside a female Yellowhammer, and there was a brief opportunity for some nice comparison shots...

To be fair, the face pattern on this Yellowhammer (left) is quite a weak one

Very different, but subtle...

I recently learned that the nearest breeding Cirls are less than 30 miles away, so although these two are a bit out of range there is reason to be hopeful. But it does make you wonder if there might be a few more birds lurking among Yellowhammers elsewhere along the coast. Certainly the subtle, tricky females would be dead easy to overlook.

In other news, I've been spending work lunchbreaks by the Axe Estuary as usual, but seen nothing bar the odd Med Gull. And on the masochism front I've managed a run of sorts every other day. I usually aim to head out just as it's getting dark, and there aren't many people on the streets at this time. That said, there are even fewer when I walk in the countryside. Today I met a single family of two adults, three kids and a dog. I simply stepped off the track and into a field to let them pass. There may be more people about than during Lockdown 1, but around here it's still noticeably quiet.

A couple of final bunting pics...

West Bex Corn Bunting. Normally this would be the highlight.

Female Cirl Bunting, completely not caring that there's no male.


  1. "Firty miles to see a bird? You're nicked me ol' beauty"

    I think that the Cirl Buntings will come to you Gav, they are doing well just down the coast and are bound to spread... aren't they?

    1. These two at West Bexington are about as local as I could ever expect them to be really, though West Bay would be even better. Apparently West Bex was their last known breeding site in Dorset. The only others I've ever seen (apart from a male in Bucks in 1978) were all the other side of Exeter. However, I know that they now breed just a few miles west of where I used to live in Seaton. Getting closer, for sure... 😊

  2. Those are useful comparison photos! Good to see how they compare to other bunting, and good to know they're starting to spread east. Rather envious of your 3+ species of bunting and the peaceful countryside - enjoy! Amy

    1. Thanks Amy. Just checked my local list for 2021, and yet to see Reed Bunting!