Arran’s first recorded sighting of rare black-headed bunting

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Bird notes by Jim Cassels

On the evening of Saturday June 8, during the interval at the Arran Folk Festival Concert, I received an email asking: ‘Can you identify this bird, please’ with a photo attached. The email finished: ‘It has certainly got me flummoxed’.

When I looked at her photos with the house sparrows there for comparison of size, I felt that this finch like bird with the black hood and the unstreaked red brown upper parts could only be a male black-headed bunting. It was unmistakable. A bit of a heart stopping moment because this is a rare bird here. In recent years there have only been around five records a year in the UK and Ireland and never before on Arran.

Black-headed bunting winter in India and in the spring move to breeding grounds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Israel and south-eastern Europe from Italy and the Balkans east to the Black and Caspian Seas. Perhaps assisted by the weather conditions this bird had over-shot and finished up in a garden in Strathwillan!

Later when I contacted Isla Murchie, who had sent the original email, she gave me this account.  ‘On Thursday June 6 I was in my kitchen looking out at the bird feeders I saw this strange bird feeding on the ground with the house sparrows. My kitchen window is very close to my outside area so I had a really good view of the bird.  I thought wow, who are you? I had never seen a bird like this before and felt quite excited. It was just so different, so yellow and bright.

‘I reached in my bag for my phone hoping it would not disappear before I could get a photo or two which I managed to do. I noticed that on its back the colour was tan.  Maybe it belonged to the finch family. A car passed and suddenly all the birds were gone.  But my luck was in and it reappeared with the others and continued feeding on the ground. I managed to take a video then. I knew I must find out what bird it was so I emailed Jim Cassels on the evening of Saturday June 8. I had not seen it since Thursday.’

When I received the email on the Saturday at the concert I forwarded it to the assistant Clyde recorder who has even more experience than me with my addition ‘Looks like a black-headed bunting. What do you think?’ Her prompt response indicated that it was a black-headed bunting.  She added ‘Apparently one on Gigha today (Saturday) which might be the same bird?’ No point in leaving the concert then if the bird had moved on!

With the permission of the original observer, I shared her photos and video on social media. Very quickly almost 1,400 people viewed the video such was the interest in this bird. The ‘reward’ for finding this rare bird is to complete a form for the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC). A record of a rarity will not be accepted unless the form is completed and the data looked at by the BBRC. It is their decision but with the description including photos and video it should be accepted as the first black-headed bunting on Arran.

What about the bird?  It is lost. There it is in its breeding plumage but it has over-shot its breeding areas and is unlikely to get back. Sad in some ways …

Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or e mail me at jim@arranbirding.co.uk  I look forward to hearing from you.  For more information on birding on Arran purchase the Arran Bird Atlas 2007-2012 as well as the Arran Bird Report 2018 and visit this website www.arranbirding.co.uk

Note: can this go in a box

Grab the last few copies

The Arran Natural History Society no longer has copies of the Arran Bird Atlas. A total of 1,000 copies were printed but each one has been sold.

Some outlets round the island have a few copies. For example the Harbourview in Blackwaterfoot has six copies still for sale, other outlets have are sold out.

My thanks to all who helped with this successful publication.

 

The photograph from Isla Murchie that shows the black-headed bunting among house sparrows. No_B35bunting01

A second photograph from Isla Murchie shows the bright breeding plumage of the rare bird. No_B35bunting02

The features of the bird can clearly be seen in this image by Dennis Morrison in Bulgaria, one of the areas where it should be at this time of year. No_B35bunting03