Well, it has been quite an 'interesting' few days. The whole saga began back on Wednesday, at about 11 o'clock in the morning. Elfyn Lewis and Ieuan Bryn were walking up the main track towards Nant, when a bird dropped down onto the track in front of them. It fed on the rough ground for a minute or more, allowing Elfyn to take some stunning shots, and also take in a variety of features which lead him to think that it was one of the rarer Emberizia buntings. After a little while, the bird dropped over the wall adjacent to the track, and appeared to drop into a nearby field. Elfyn then went immediately to the obs, where he showed Steve Stansfield the images...Steve confirmed that the bird was in fact the rarer of the two possibilities, and that we had a flipping spring male CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING on the island!! The news went straight out on the radio- I was helping with some work in the withies, which is about 200 metres away from where the bunting was seen. We all gathered to the site where it had been seen, but there was no obvious sign. A few glances at Elfyn's images on the back of the camera produced a mix of responses all around, mostly involving expletives.
A search ensued in the next hour, initially focussing on the area around Plas (where it had been found), and then all observers began to split up and cover wider areas: the mountainside, the track, a ploughed field at the North End, and the meadows. It was about an hour later that the call came through on the radio from Steve Hinde (working at the observatory) who had just seen the bird drop onto the track from the garden at Plas- right back where it was initially seen, and where we had all been searching not long before!! Panic-stricken birders all began stumbling towards the site, but literally seconds before arriving, Steve had the bird fly from the track and into the back garden of the observatory! We all spent the rest of the afternoon (from about 1230 onwards) searching for the little beast. We surrounded the obs garden, scoured the hillside, patrolled the track, and desperately searched the coastline...all to no avail. It was to a pretty bleak outlook and depressed state that most of the island's birders and observatory staff went to bed that night.
Fast forward to yesterday (12th June)...after not a single whiff of the bird on the 11th, despite thorough searched, we were in for a big surprise. It was mid-morning, and I had just been out in my rowing boat, and was talking to Steve and Steffan (warden+assistant), when one of the members of the Dyfi osprey group who were on for the week came walking briskly towards us. He told us that Elfyn and a few of them had just had the bird singing on the South End wall!!! Steve and Steffan immediately started running towards the site, whilst I had to speed in the other direction back up to my house to grab my bins and camera. Managing not to run anyone over with the quad bike, I arrived and grabbed my stuff, before speeding back down the track on my bicycle. I was half way down to the South End, when I had to stop to open a gate. As I opened the gate, I suddenly saw the bunting take off from the track ahead of me, fly in a tight circle around me, and then head off towards the observatory over the wetlands!!! I was taken aback a little, by seeing what basically looked like an Ortolan in flight, apart from being blue and orange! I picked up my radio and was relaying the news as it occurred. Steve, Steffan, and the rest of the birding gang who had re-located the bird joined me to try and relocate the bird.
We headed up towards the observatory through the wetlands and up the track, but there was no sign. I was about 200 metres from the obs when I heard the distinctive dry 'glip---glip' call of a bunting coming from a northward direction. I looked up and got onto the bird, which seemed to fly out of the obs garden and then head south-east up the mountainside. It landed briefly on a gorse bush, before dropping out of view. Once again we had to set up a thorough search of all possible areas, starting with the gorse patch on which it alighted. After a fruitless search, myself and Mark Carter were looking around in the small bay of Traeth Ffynnon, when Mark suddenly exclaimed 'I have got the bird!!!'. It was feeding on some dry earth just in front of us. We radioed out the news, and just a few minutes later most of the obs staff and visiting birders were staring at this stunning bird. It fed out in the open for a little while, before flying down onto a small prominent, and then disappeared into thin air, not to be seen again...
Several boat trips were organised for mainland birders to attempt to connect with the bird, including local North Wale birders Steve Culley, Reg Thorpe, Julian Hughes, Simon Hugheston-roberts, Chris Jones and Eddie Urbanski in the evening of the 12th. Unfortunately, several boat loads of unhappy birders had to depart, with no further sign of the bird. Will it turn up again?
What makes this Cretzschmar's Bunting so special
- first ever record for Wales
- sixth record for the UK
- first time the species has been recorded south of Northern Scotland
- the first record for Britain turned up on 10th June 1967 on Shetland
- it should be singing on the rocky outcrops Mediterranean hillsides in countries such as Greece
- IT IS A MALE, and is stunning...
A big congratulations to Elfyn Lewis for this mega find!!