Ortolan Bunting

September East Coast Birding

Had a morning at Spurn. 6:30 am – in the Point Dunes and no less than 10 Tree Pipits in a small area. Often silent, given away by with bigger bodied, longer-tailed flight than Meadow Pipits and less flicky ‘bouncy’ flight. Rarely seen on the ground they remained hidden in marram grass until flushed – like this one:

Tree Pipit, Point Dunes, Spurn 8th September 2010 (early!!)

I think I ‘once heard’ Common Rosefinch. No repeat so didn’t feel I nailed it. Other ‘good’ migrants flitted regularly – Redstart (inc. cracking male behind VTS tower) Pied Fly, Spotted Fly, Whinchat, Wheatear, Willow Warbler. Ortolan reported so went back up peninsula to search. It was tricky, but available.

Ortolan Bunting

Thin ‘chick’ call in flight helps know its the right bird when flushed!

Having landed, bright peachy below with streaking most noticeable as pectoral band on breast. Brightness of plumage suggest adult male but not sure. Adult ‘winter’ male, first winter male (bright early moulter? or adult female)?  Don’t really know about aging/sexing Ortolans – any thoughts? (better photo here:http://www.spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk/sightings/september10.html)

Ortolan Bunting. Spurn September 8th 2010. Thanks to Michael Bayldon for letting me digiscope through your optics! Grahame Walbridge commented on the age/sex of the Ortolan photos :

Hi Martin,
I`ve had a look at the image of the Ortolan at Spurn which  I would age it as a 1st-winter; autumn adults are very rare in my experience. Look in particular at the greater coverts which, appear uniform and with narrow (= a little worn) whitish tips. Can`t see any newly moulted adult type feathers. In adults the greater covert`s are all new and with warmer, pale rufous tips. Difficult to make out the precise colour to the tertial edges (which should show similar differences) but on blowing them up  there does appear to be some suggestions of wear.  I also tried to take a closer look at the rectrices but could not make out the precise shape of the tips.  1st-winter Ortolans are pretty  variable and this, rather bright individual, I would guess most likely a male.  However, Svensson states that 1st-winters are not safely sexed, even in the hand.

Check out that emberizatertial pattern (quickly eliminates any thoughts of uber-rare Grey-necked Bunting- which lacks the ‘emberiza‘ tertial pattern). P.S. but see Mick’s comment below.

Little later poodled around at Wire Dump and Kew. More ‘good’ migrants plus Common Rosefinch at Wire Dump ( photos: http://pewit.blogspot.com/2010/09/ortolan-and-rosefinch.html) , where Great Spotted Woodpecker flew north and Spurn’s first Goldcrest of the autumn, called. A rather loud mostly monosyllabic call had me questioning the unseen bird’s identity, even entertaining thoughts of Iberian Chiffchaff, though it was really closest to the ‘swee/ swee-oo call of Common Chiffchaff (see here:  http://birdingfrontiers.com/2010/08/11/chiffchaff/).

Wood Warbler and  Reed Warbler at Cliff Farm (but no Red-breasted Flycatcher).

A Tree Pipit at Westmere fooled some by its particular strident call -into thinking Red-throated Pipit-causing a short -entertaining ‘twitch’. I got recording of the culprits call. Here’s the sonogram.

The understandable cause of confusion is actually represented in the sonogram. Many of the early morning birds in the point area and down the peninsular were calling with quieter, less strident and less harsh call as in the first call recorded here. However one or more of bird at Westmere were particularily loud, longer-sounding call, especially as in the middle and right hand calls. Actually what I’ve named the “makes-u-jump” call.  At least it’s made me jump on more than one occasion when unexpectedly flushing a coastal Tree Pipit in autumn – they often sound rare until you remember… Also as Magnus Rob and Mark Constantine have impressed upon me a number of times – individual species have a lot more variety to their calls than is generally appreciated!

Tree Pipit calls,  Westmere, Spurn 8th September 2010 ( the middle and right ‘makes-u-jump’ calls mis-identified as belonging to Red-Throated Pipit)

Adult (male?) Pied Flycatcher. Spurn 8th September 2010.

Sporting a slightly greyer scruffier look than first winters, the large white block on the tertials, tiny whte mark at primary bases and (not quite visible here) thin, wrap-around white tertial fringe (no step) tell you its an adult. Unlike this bird, adult males have jet black wings and tail (I think!). Or maybe this bird is black -winged enough. See  comments below and more photos of same bird at http://pewit.blogspot.com/2010/09/pied-flycatcher-variations.html (plus an unusually plain 1st w Pied Fly with hardly any white in wings)

Female Redstart, Spurn 8th September 2010. Always a ‘good’ migrant and usually better looking than some of the ‘rares’!

Female Redstart, Spurn 8th September 2010. How you often see them! This shot of the same bird by Richard Vernon.  Enjoyed the company of Richard and Matt in the early afternoon.

9 thoughts on “Ortolan Bunting

  1. Mick Cunningham

    Hi Martin

    enjoying the site very much. Re emberiza ‘thumb pattern’ on tertial. There’s an article in an old Alula somewhere showing grey-necked bunt from (I think) Kazakstan showing an emberiza tertial pattern – tho i guess it must be rare



      1. Mick Cunningham

        Hi again

        had to search the Alula mag out – not much call for it here on’t Pennine tops.

        Alula 2/2006 Vol 12 – Hawk Owl on cover.

        p88 “Concerning the Identification of Grey-Necked Bunting by Pauli Dernjatin.

        photos of Grey necked where one tert only has emberiza thumb print – middle tert. comparison pics with Ortolan.

        the article was prompted by pix from Chokpak in prev issue which showed the bird which I too noticed had ‘wrong’ tert pattern. I’ve seen about 6 in my life but none had aberrant pattern – or were too far away to tell!

  2. Pingback: Updates: Ortolan and Lapland Buntings | Birding Frontiers

  3. Jan Jörgensen (JanJ)

    Hi Martin & Mick.

    Regarding the tertial pattern of Grey-necked I came across this juvenile Grey-necked some time ago.
    Note the Emberiza ‘thumbprint on the only on the middle tertial.
    One more here:
    And an adult bird here:




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