Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Snow Bunting at Startop's End Reservoir (14th December)

Great news from Tring Res on the Hertfordshire birding website when news came in of a Snow Bunting at Marsworth Reservoir.  It was relocated the following day at Startop's End Reservoir at the NW corner so I decided to make the trip this afternoon.  Transport was a particular issue, especially carrying the bike on the train at peak hour but the effort was definitely worth it when I arrived at Startop's end Res. at about 14:20pm.  Having no idea on which Reservoir it would choose to feed I scanned the perimeter of Marsworth first, were a Goosander was my first at the reservoirs this winter and Wildfowl numbers, including Pochard, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Mallard have increased significantly since my last visit and most astonishingly, the water level has plummeted to reveal a muddy bar through the center of Startop's End Res. running parallel to the causeway, which I have never seen before.  Next, I moved on to Startop's walking around in a clockwise direction, were at the northern end a group of three observers had clearly picked up on the bird.  For the rest of my stay the first-winter SNOW BUNTING gave crippling views, behaving particularly tamely, coming to within 3 meters (thankfully my scope has close focus!) and allowing a detailed description to be made.

1st-win. Snow Bunting, Startop's End Reservoir


Head- all white except for pale orange/brown cap extending down to the lower nape and towards the forecrown, were it became darker brown.  A small patch in the ear coverts, behind the beed-like black eye, was also orange/brown as was an unconnected chest band (rather linear) extending from the side of the upper mantle to near the centre of the chest.  The beak was fully yellow, with no black tip, indicating a first winter bird.

Body- a dark brown widely streaked mantle extending down to the back, behind a faint pale dirty grey brown washed back.  Pale white/buff brown bordering the nape and the vent at both ends (not streaked).  The vent and uppertail coverts were a rusty red/orange/brown and forked at the lower end bordering the tail.  The scapulars were dark brown/black centered and had ginger, rust red/brown edges (like the rump).  The lower body was largely white with only a few areas being an orange brown wash, mainly on the flanks.  The tarsus were entirely black and white trousers hid all the tibia.

Wing- Rather complex with several tones and variation.  The median and lesser coverts were black as were the first few greater coverts, only just visible behind the overlaping scapulars, the rest being white.  All the primary coverts were white and contrasted with the obvious black alula feathers.  The secondaries were all largely white, except for a few inner most secondaries that had dark grey black centers at the base, also indicating a 1st winter bird.  The tertials were similar to the scapulars, having dark brown/black centers with a rusty red/brown edge, although the inner most tertial (the longest ones) had a thinner white edge.  The primary feathers were all black with pale dirty white edges which widened towards the inner wing.

Tail- Also similar pattern to tertials and scapulars with dark brown/black centers but thinner white edges instead of a rufous brown.  The triangular pointed rectrices were also distinct of an immature plumage, concluding an immature or 1st winter plumage Snow Bunting.

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