Sunday, 25 November 2012

A family day out to Soldier's Point

After I got a text off Ken at lunchtime today (about the Snowbs) whilst on our way to see the Christmassy things at Holland arms Garden Centre, I thought what would be more festive than taking the family to see some Snow Bunts! On arrival I briefly worked the usual patch of stony ground to the left when walking towards the breakwater. Suffering from ADS I phoned Ken for details, but halfway through the phone conversation the dog (me) saw the rabbit (Snowbs), told Ken I'ld phone him back and I worked my way towards the birds. There were 5 birds including a bright male and a dull/young female, with 3 inbetween. They were phenominally approachable. A skinhead walking his Staffy went through them, but just flushed them towards me with one landing just feet away. After I had got some pics I brought the family out of the car and let the kids get right upto them, it was brilliant! Showing kids birds can be difficult as they like things they can hold and get close to like moths. So this was a great chance for them to get up close and personal with some quite unusual and beautiful looking birds.It was funny hearing them say "Here's the male over here" as they headed closer for a better naked eye view, wonderful!


  1. ......and I did phone Ken back to thank him!

  2. Nice pics Steve. These look super frosty birds. What is the chance of these being 'nivalis' Snow Bunts?

  3. I thought the same about pix 2 and 7 but I'll ask C.Carter and let you know.

  4. 2 and 7 are obviosuly males, but if some of the others are females then they have surely got a good chance of being nivalis. Look forward to hearing opinions Rob.

  5. Colin Carter has kindly replied and provided some very useful info and comments including this:

    “To separate nivalis from insulae apply these tests;

    Nivalis has frosty back , insulae has warm brown back, both streaked. Nivalis has white base-colour to rump, insulae has blackish.

    In the hand nivalis has 9th primary more than 60% white, insulae usually much less. In the field the folded primaries thus tend to show a larger white wing-panel in nivalis.

    Racing, ageing and sexing from a series of photos is fraught with hazards as the same bird may appear in successive images, often in different lights or with different characteristics showing or not showing at all, but here goes.

    To age both races, apply these tests:

    PCs in 1W are all-black but with whitish edges particularly in nivalis. Adult Females have more white in the pcs, and these feathers tend to be rounded.

    1W birds very often have a moult-limit in the tertials - also always check the gcs for limit.

    Tails in juveniles birds are narrow and pointed, but all buntings spend most of their time on the ground and the tail tends to wear and feathers are often dropped and replaced (as broad and rounded adult-type). So winter birds can have "mixed" tails or even adult-type tails in their first-winter especially by February. So take care with this test.

    To sex both races the main test is in the hand. Look at the underwing. Males have the outer part black - "dipped in ink". In Females the outer part is grey and ill-defined. This does not help in the field.

    Adult Male nivalis have all-white pcs. 1W nivalis have white tipped-black pcs. Females tend to have black pcs, slightly edged white in 1W, more so in Ad.

    So here are my thoughts

    I think all 1-7 are nivalis, since all the images show the features set out above.

    1 & 2. ? same bird. 1W M
    4. 1WF
    5. 1WM
    6. 1WF
    7. 1WF. Not sure about this one but it seems to have all-black pcs which would make it F"

    So I'm currently trying to find whether nivalis has been assigned in Wales and I guess it would be useful to see one of the birds in the hand. My previous thread might also be useful:

    Cheers Rob