What’s French for ‘Snow Bunting’?

As followers of the latest sightings page will know, we’ve been fortunate to host an impressive flock of wintering Snow Buntings in the set-aside / sacrificial crop strip which runs parallel to the path along the North Cliff over recent months. After exceptional numbers flooded into the north and east of the British Isles last autumn, numbers soon dwindled, and very few sites around the UK continued to hold substantial flocks – a notable exception being Filey, however.

After reaching an impressive peak of 73 in early January, counts dropped steadily in recent weeks, with about fifteen present by mid-March (and seemingly none remaining now at the end of the month). On the 13th, my wife Amity and I made the most of a beautiful sunny day, and as usual checked in on the flock. Allowing wonderfully close approach with a bit of patience, the birds settled down to feed, and it was then that we noticed one bird was colour-ringed.

Firing off a few shots and noting down the code (a white ring with black Z3), it took just a matter of hours to find the source of ‘our’ bird online, and the results came as something of a surprise. Expecting perhaps a location elsewhere along the East coast, or perhaps further north, it turns out the bird was trapped and ringed near Calais, France, just over a fortnight previously.

Colour-ringed Snow Bunting, 13th Mar 2014

Colour-ringed Snow Bunting, 13th Mar 2014

Finding out the histories of colour-ringed birds is always fascinating, but what is particularly interesting about this case is the disproving of any assumption that our flock here at Filey was a static presence, in situ for the duration of the season. Evidently not, and who knows how many birds added and subtracted themselves from it over the winter months. Equally interesting is the fact that two further birds from the same French flock have been resighted – in Northumberland and Kent, respectively – clearly showing an East coast orientated northbound return movement of those birds.

Words and pictures by Mark James Pearson