I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my local birding of late which may explain the reason why the long staying Little Bunting at Forest Farm has thus far evaded my attention. Last Saturday however found us on the long drive south to Cornwall for a well earned week away, a route which rather handily runs within a stones throw of the aforementioned reserve. It would have been rude not to pop in given such proximity and so it was we found ourselves finally paying respect to Glamorgan’s most recent star attraction and my first lifer of the year.
To say that I’m pleased with the above photos would be something of an understatement! They perfectly capture what turned out to be a super little bird and, given my camera equipment, you can probably get a good sense of quite how close it was. Having seen plenty of frame filling photographs already I’d simply assumed that they’d been taken with long lenses so was completely blown away to find that the Little Bunting was happy to hop right up to the hide, at times far too close even to see. On these occasions it was possible to stand at the larger hide opening, completely on show, and still the bird showed no signs of wariness or concern. In fact on a number of occasions I actually found myself willing it further back so as to capture a few images in a wider setting. Only once or twice did it disappear completely having taken longer flights out beyond the warden centre but these only lasted a few minutes at a time and we were soon back to enjoying crippling views of a true county rarity.
What probably doesn’t come across in these images is quite how small the Little Bunting is compared to the commoner Reed Buntings who were also present in good numbers. Indeed the latter had provided an element of initial confusion as we got our eye in for this unfamiliar species but as soon as you saw the two together there could be no doubt. At around twenty five percent smaller the Little Bunting soon became easily trackable with its white eye ring, chestnut cheeks and heavily streaked back also clearly visible. Truth be told though it was that sheer approachability which really made it stand out from the crowd.
With the Little Bunting suitably photographed despite the dull conditions it was time to turn my attention to a few of the other Forest Farm residents. Having never visited this hide before, or in fact actually know of its existence, I was very impressed with both its design and the range of natural perches surrounding a plethora of well stocked feeders. Throw in a suitably photogenic pond and you have on your hands a superb setting to please even the most fastidious of trigger fingers. First in focus were the Reed Buntings spoken of above. Both well marked males and a curiously coloured female posed very nicely indeed though I could have done with the latter not being quite so mobile. It was continually feeding around the water’s edge but I continued to persevere as those markings really did intrigue me.
Also present were at least two pairs of Dunnocks, both of which gave great views of their courtship behaviour. One male in particular was doing plenty of wing waggling (technical term for holding one wing vertically aloft) whilst his opposite number sat below shaking her rear provocatively. Pretty racy stuff for an early Saturday morning I’m sure you’ll agree and the real reason I didn’t capture it on camera as opposed to simply being too slow. Ahem. Instead here’s one of the Dunnocks in full song.
A male Bullfinch, Coal Tit, two Nuthatches plus all your regular feeder visitors kept us amused during breaks from the Little Bunting (sacrilege I know but there really is only so long you can watch a bird, no matter its credentials) before it was time to call it a day and continue on to Cornwall. Needless to say the rest of the journey failed to live up to such high birding standards but more than made up for it in terms of scenic variety. The hills of Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor looked superb in their soon to be discarded winter coats and reminded me that I should really visit both one day instead of merely passing through. Journey’s end was Praa Sands, a golden stretch of sand just a couple of miles down the coast from Penzance. Building cloud cover meant no sunset opportunities but the diffuse evening light still lent a pleasant glow to proceedings as we walked out to Sydney Cove.
Behind us Praa Green was full of feeding Pied Wagtails with at least fifty individuals present, presumably a flock on migration given their complete absence the next morning. Scanning the sea revealed a distant Great Northern Diver, our first of the year and a great start to our time in Cornwall. We didn’t know it at the time but this was to be just the start of a week in which dry and often clear conditions meant good birding, excellent walking and more photos than I really know what to do with. This week should be a good one on ‘My Life Outside’.