Arctic blast sets the scene for buntings’ arrival

A snow bunting. Picture by Michael Flowers.
A snow bunting. Picture by Michael Flowers.
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Cold winds straight from the Arctic this week seemed an appropriate time for snow buntings, pictured, to start gathering along the Yorkshire coast with a flock of 40 plus in a ploughed field south of Flamborough lighthouse and other flocks nearby at Buckton and further down the coast at Beacon Ponds,

These tough little birds which can cope with temperatures as low as minus 20F are mainly from Iceland where they nest in rocky crevices or abandoned buildings and are widespread.

Female snow buntings tend to migrate further south than the males so make up the majority in the flocks we see.

They have bright white underparts which make them look almost like drifting snowflakes in flight while on the ground they like short vegetation, feeding on seeds and a flock moving along with birds at the back leapfrogging over the ones at the front. In flight they have a twittering call.

Numbers start to build up this month and tend to reach a peak of between 10,000 to 15,000 individuals in the UK by the middle of January – numbers vary from winter to winter but in general there seems to have been fewer in recent years.

They are also seen inland, especially on high windswept places in the Pennines or on the North York Moors although they can also been seen on lowland areas.

There is a breeding population of up to 100 pairs in the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland, the most southerly site in the world, where the males are almost pure white and the females are easily distinguished from them by being much browner.

Two other uncommon winter visitors from the far north have also been seen with the snow buntings, three shore larks and a Lapland bunting at Flamborough, ten Lapland buntings at Buckton and three shore larks at Beacon Ponds. A rare sight in Yorkshire, a Dartford warbler, was discovered among gorse bushes on the hillside at the St Aidan’s reserve, Leeds on Saturday and, although elusive on occasions, was seen by a good number of birders. A barred warbler was seen at Spurn.

Northerly winds brought some little auks down the Yorkshire coast while other sightings included a Leach’s storm petrel at Filey, great northern and black-throated divers and long tailed ducks. A drake green-winged teal was seen at Blacktoft Sands and a cattle egret at Wykeham Lakes near Scarborough – a red-necked grebe is also there.

Hawfinches have continued to be seen across Yorkshire with 20 still at the Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard this week.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Calendars for 2018, produced by Michael Flowers and costing £9.25 (including p&p) are now available. There are 16 photographs, accompanied by more than 300 suggestions on what to see and where and when you may see it. See www.eybirdwatching.blogspot.com or contact mflowers81@live.co.uk or 07946 625688.