Needle in a haystack

This morning I headed east along the coast to Weybourne beach. This is where the saltmarsh and shingle of further west rises to become the cliffs that run around the corner of the Norfolk coast and beyond Cromer.

Weybourne beach at the point the cliffs start

I’ve been here once or twice before as it seems to be a good spot for birds during migration periods, but today I was looking for a winter visitor that I’ve never seen before – a Lapland bunting. There have been two or three around for most of the winter, so I thought that today would be a good opportunity to try to see one. There’s a problem though! They tend to be in among flocks of other finches and buntings, and I hadn’t quite realised three important points: The ploughed fields they are in are very large, they are little brown birds against a brown background, and there are an awful lot of birds in the fields!

Frankly I was surprised at just how many birds there were – probably at least five hundred in the area of field I was looking at. These were mostly linnets, but closely followed in numbers by reed buntings, then yellowhammers (lovely to see so many) and skylarks. There were also rooks and both grey and red-legged partridges. As my title for today suggests, this was going to be a difficult spot!

In this field are several hundred linnets, yellowhammers and reed buntings, plus at least one Lapland bunting…..honest!

I took the view that I was better staying in one place. There must have been about 20 birdwatchers around, but I stuck with a group of about four scanning the large area of field east of us. Every few minutes a group of birds would fly up and then land in slightly different positions, and we would have to start scanning through them again as they appeared and disappeared behind the many clods of cultivated earth. I got a good chance to look well at linnets and yellowhammers in particular…but no Lapland bunting.

After probably about 45 minutes one of our group spotted what he thought was a possible candidate for Lapland bunting: That focused our attention, but trying to describe where the bird is in a tilled field with almost no landmarks is tricky to say the least. I followed the direction of his telescope, and the fact that the bird was slightly behind the main flock, and then I found it! It’s often the case, with a species one has never seen before, that you don’t really know exactly what to look for, despite having scoured the field guide, until you actually see it. There’s something about seeing it in the field (in this case literally!) that shows what the features are that stand out, and brings home the differences between in this case a Lapland bunting and a lot of linnets. This bird, which I was able to watch for a couple of minutes, was most definitely a Lapland buntiong, and lovely to see my sixth life list species for 2023!

New species for February 26th:
Birds: Lapland bunting

Birds = 131
Moths = 5
Wildflowers = 19