Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Second for Britain

A chestnut-eared bunting has been found at Pool of Virkie, Shetland. The bird was found on 23rd October but was initially identified as a little bunting. The bird has been showing well for much of the 24th and 25th October but was not seen after. If accepted this will be the second for Britain after the first from 15th to 20th October 2004 on Fair Isle. This is a stunning image of the bird taken on 24th October by Jim Woods:

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Jim Woods
Chestnut-eared Bunting - Virkie, Shetland
(Photo by Jim Woods - see more of Jim's stunning photographs here:

Additional photos can be seen here

The chestnut-eared bunting is perhaps a surprising candidate to turn up in the UK being a relatively short distance migrant from its breeding grounds in northern Afghanistan patchily eastwards to Japan and wintering in the southern parts of its range in Korea, southern Japan and northern Indochina. The nominate subspecies fucata has a breeding range located entirely east of Lake Baikal, this is a migratory race and the most likely to occur in the UK. Other than the 2004 Fair Isle record the only other record from the Western Palearctic that I am aware of was in October 2011 at Uppland, Sweden, photos here:

To my eyes chestnut-eared bunting appears somewhere between a little bunting and reed bunting in both plumage and structure. The key differences between it and little bunting are:

  • Larger size, chestnut eared bunting is in fact marginally larger than reed bunting;
  • Little bunting has more marked dark lateral crown stripes compared to the browner streaked lateral crown stripes of chestnut-eared bunting;
  • Supercilia more brightly washed chestnut in little bunting, grey in chestnut-eared bunting;
  • The well marked gorget of breast streaks on chestnut-eared bunting compared to the finer breast streaking of little bunting;
  • The rufous tinged scapulars and rump of chestnut-eared bunting compared to the browner or greyer tones of little bunting;
  • The convex rather than straight to slightly concave upper culmen of little bunting;
  • The shorter primary projection of chestnut-eared bunting which, when the wing is close, is virtually non-existent.
Excellent comparative photographs of little bunting can be found on Steve Arlow's site:

Also, on 23rd a Siberian rubythroat was on Fair Isle but this bird was not seen again, this would be the 9th British record if accepted and assuming last years bird on Shetland is accepted.