I don’t know what surprised me most: the fact that a Little Bunting was unearthed wintering in Oxfordshire or that I took the decision to actually go and see it. Having no other pressing plans on Monday morning and a few hours free before work, I made the short trip to Over Norton. For some reason I assumed that a cold dull January morning at the beginning of the working week would dampen down interest in this bird. I was wrong – virtually everyone I knew was there! It was amazing how many people could free themselves up at short notice if required. As such, it was a much more sociable and pleasant experience than I had expected. The bird itself would periodically drop down to feed on seed on the path and looked fantastic in the ‘scope. It was too distant and too dark for my camera, though you can get an impression of the small size from comparison with a nearby Chaffinch…
Those who were digiscoping got some fantastic footage – see here. Little Buntings have a cracking head pattern, two dark tramlines on the head separated by a greyish median crown stripe, lovely chestnut ear coverts and face and a neat white eye-ring. But strangely, the feature that most caught my eye was the breast pattern. When the bird was standing and alert, with neck stretched up, the malar patches and the horseshoe like patch on the central breast framed a pure white throat with a distinctive pattern:
Well, something like that. All in all, a very pleasant morning with some good people and a great local bird.
I was just leaving the house to take the girls to the park, when news arrived that the pink wave had finally broken in Oxford: there were Waxwings on the Marston Road. It was entirely expected, Waxwings had been reported from as nearby as Crowmarsh Gifford and Banbury in the last few days. But they had taken their time this year, holding back in the north and east, waiting until the days were just about increasing in length before penetrating into central England. I threw the optics and camera into the car and explained to my children that we were going to see Waxwings on the way to the park, without really working out how I would look after and 5 and 7 year old, whilst trying to see Waxwings, a habit that often seems to involve some hanging about. As it turned out, the 6 Waxwings were feeding on the berry tree opposite number 285 Marston Road as we pulled up, enabling the girls to see these lovely birds and me to attempt to murder some photographs in the late afternoon gloom:
Then, after all of 30 seconds of viewing, a jogger ran past the tree, flushing the flock, just as Pete and Mrs Roby and John Reynolds turned up. My girls then suggested that we should hold up berries to attract the Waxwings, a tactic that has worked for them with flowers and butterflies, but one that I gently suggested probably would not work with Waxwings: you have to be on Fair Isle for that level of approachability.
Despite their efforts, the birds remained in the area, perching in tree tops in Haberton Mead and Jack Straws Lane, but only made a couple of brief visits back to their berry tree. I last saw the flock flying up the hill towards Jack Straws Lane at about 15:30, so still in the vicinity. I would expect more birds to turn up in Oxford over the next few weeks as the pink hordes continue moving south and west. Which means that every single trip to the shops becomes an opportunity to find a good local bird. That is the beauty of a Waxwing winter.