Yesterday was a bit of a blur. Laid low by my feeble intestines once again I was astonished to see a message from Nick about a juvvy Corn Bunting on the Flats. I was not amazed that Nick had found an immense bird, that happens frequently. Rather it was that just the previous day I had been thinking of what might turn up on the patch next and had decided that Corn Bunting was a strong possibility.
To cut what might otherwise be a long story short, I refound it after about 20 minutes. Bob and I high-fived after what had been an arduous slog, congratulating ourselves on a new bird for the patch. Then we started to think about what we had seen and if it really was a Corn Bunting. You might think that we possibly got the order wrong there, and to a certain extent we did, but then again all other possible Buntings were ticks too and this is a numbers game at the end of the day.
The key questions were a) is it big enough, and b) why is it calling strangely? I didn't think it was big enough, as it appeared to be similar to Whinchat in size when the two perched up together, and as for the call it was more a "chup" that a "zit". My thoughts immediately turned to Ortolan, which would exhibit the same head pattern and pale bill, but would be smaller and less robust. The call still didn't seem to fit that either though.. Wandering on, we met Nick coming back onto the Flats, and Tony Hoy who had just caned it from Woodford on his bike and was thus unable to speak for a while, and explained what we had seen. Bob had to hurry home to domestic slavery, and was unable to show us the photos on the back of the camera. Or more accurately, he was unable to show us the photos on the back of the camera and had to hurry home to domestic slavery. ;-)
Anyhow, I outlined my concerns and we trotted off to see if we could refind it. I wasn't that hopeful as it had been being a total arse, but my some miracle we hadn't been looking more than a minute when it sailed over Tony and I chupping. Following in the bins it did look chunky, and Corn began to feature more heavily in our thinking. We lost it in the trees and so continued to talk about it walking back down the main path. Then multi-tasking Bob sent his photos over and everything changed. Pink bill, narrower than Corn, and straight. Nice white eye-ring, streaky breast...... the magic of Google suggested Ortolan was looking more than a distinct possibility but it took a call to Hawky for a second opinion. It took him about five seconds to call me back.
You idiot he didn't say, but all I can say is sometimes these things take time and you have to be careful, and Ortolan Bunting is so rare in a London context that it's not the first bird that you think of. Whereas Corn is, as there are birds relatively nearby that could be dispersing. There have been just 30 or so records in London, the last in 2010. I seem to have seen three of the last four, and needless to say it is new for the patch and is my 146th species here. I once marvelled at various London patch lists - for instance Vince at Dagenham - and I never thought I would see that many, but little by little you creep up. This is the product of 12 years of living here, over a quarter of my life. There is no denying that it is hard work and that there is no instant satisfaction, but gradually you build up and have something to look back on and say "well I never", or something like that. New arrivals to the patch must read back and wonder how on earth these things arrived here. Talking of which, James managed to get out of work and scored late on, but sadly for a number of twitchers from further afield who magically appeared early this morning, it had departed overnight. For a couple of Bob's photos, see here.