Little Bunting 19.3.2012, S Milton Ley © Bob Burridge

Little Bunting 28.3.2012 S Milton Ley © Alan Doidge

ArticlesLittle Bunting

Two Little Buntings at South Milton Ley March 2012

As their name suggests Little Buntings are a small bunting with a heavily streaked brown back and white underparts with fine dark streaking, dark streaked flanks, a chestnut face and white malar stripe. These features mean they resemble a small female Reed Bunting, but Little Buntings have black crown stripes, a white eye-ring, and a fine dark border to the rear of its chestnut cheeks. Sexes are similar.

A very rare vagrant – some 26 county records, mostly from Lundy; with eleven mainland coastal records and one inland record.  Five of the coastal records are from South Milton Ley as a result of Bob Burridge’s ringing work.

Part of the scientific ringing programme undertaken at this Devon Birds owned reserve includes ringing Reed Buntings at this wintering site favoured by them. To help attract the many Reed Buntings that forage the adjacent arable fields into a defined area seed is liberally strewn.  Such a plentiful handout also attracts for instance Chaffinch and Goldfinch; and in March 2012 two Little Buntings – a Devon ‘A’ rarity.

These are not the first Little Buntings ringed at the Ley, three others have occurred, in widely separate years. The first on 3rd December 1990, another was ringed on 23rd November 1991 and the next was trapped and ringed on 17th January 1997 and remained until 31st March 1997. If there were others between 1997 and 2012 they remained unseen.

The first bird of 2012 was ringed on 19th March. It remained until 16th April before presumably heading off to its far flung breeding grounds.  During its stay it was watched by well over 100 birders, carefully positioned to allow them good views whilst keeping disturbance to a minimum. Patience was often required as it also fed elsewhere, but always showed up at some point in the day. Towards the end of its stay as an added bonus it was even heard to break into song!

Though mostly local birdwatchers visited, birders from much further a field also arrived and all departed with a positive experience of the reserve.

Amazingly, a second bird was trapped on 28th March but this was its only known appearance here and was obviously on very active migration.

Hopefully these special early spring occurrences will not be the last of this attractive bunting’s visits to grace the Ley.

Vic Tucker