Average Birding

Rustic Bunting

Two further weeks pass; trips to fall migration hotspots are turned down in favour of a quiet life; again I am grateful to have picked (and reached!) 200 already. A nearby twitch beckons, though - the gang over at Wanstead have found a Rustic Bunting, and that's really too near to ignore.

Nearby, but not that near.

Of course, too near doesn't necessarily mean too convenient - Wanstead is three or four public transport hops from Golders, but I've a decent book on the go so this is no great hardship. I do like the flats; there's something quite brilliant about such a forsaken feeling place (there's always a burnt out car somewhere on the flats - where do they come from?) being so well birded, and yet also being so heavily used (visit on a weekend and BE AMAZED by the amount of football occurring).

I stumble out of a train in Leytonstone and walk, very determinedly, towards the flats; there's enthusiasm in them there legs. I veritably stomp my way across the two sections of the park that I have deemed unlikely to contain a Rustic Bunting (by cunningly asking someone who looked more birdy than footbally; top radar, that).

Three's a crowd, and there's maybe a hundred birders here

There are crowds of people on the edge of where the bird has previously been seen - easily fifty plus, with more arriving by the minute. This is a bit weird. There is a lot of WhatsApp happening between folks who have split into separate groups to encircle the area of trees the bird's been seen in.

I make my way around to where the last sighting was - lots of hopeful folks with scopes hanging around. There's some movement in the bushes nearby, with a bird or two dropping out of cover to poke around on the ground. This is definitely bunting behaviour, but the bunting in question is Reed, and, on one occasion, Dunnock (i.e not a bunting). There are claims of sightings from a few folks ("It's on a twig just behind that leaaargh it went down again sorry" variety) but not a lot else. Much jostling for position - this is like being at a gig. AB2 would detest this; she has done well to bail.

I spend a bit of time fiddling with a camera. Separating Rustic from Reed is not a task I expect to be up to on my own, so I want some documentary evidence that I can review later for confirmation. I take a couple of test shots of a Dunnock (perching very beautifully at the summit of a nearby bush) and am pleased with the results - the bridge camera has a phenomenal zoom, but can have trouble if the light isn't perfect, having set it up for what seems to be average light conditions I should at least have a chance.

A good test shot of a Dunnock.
A good test shot of a Dunnock.

Rustic Bunting?

A sudden tide in the crowd picks up, and we're off, circling around the enclosure in a clockwise direction. This bird better like an audience! We've perhaps traversed pi/2 radians around when we come to a barrage of birders that's already two deep and twenty wide. We surround them, widening and deepening the twitch. Between two pairs of shoulders I can just about make out a bird foraging on the ground. Is that it?

Thankfully there is commentary being provided: "It really likes this area; I think someone put down food for it"; "There is just a hint of pink in the bill, no?"; "That's definitely it then? Yep, that's it". Ok then; I'd best try to convince myself I can tell the difference.

Rustic Bunting

A long couple of minutes follow. Some absolute oik decides to stand about a foot in front of me. There is limited etiquette in twitching, but if you move into a position and I can lick the back of your head, I think we can both agree that you're not thinking about your surroundings. I wait for them to fidget, and manage a few decent frames of the suspected Rustic in the camera before suddenly it's off, up over our heads and towards the broom field behind us. And so is the twitch, walking/jogging/proceeding in its wake, a crocodile of optic laden anoraks. These are my people.

The bird alights in the top of a young oak tree. It does like an audience after all; such a pose can only be deliberate. The fans go wild; the air is filled with the roar of shutter clicks, oohs, aahs, "are we sure that's it? Yes, yes". It's all I can do to not collapse in a fit of giggles. After completing this part of its display, the bird promptly sods off back towards the enclosure and disappears. The twitch dissapates, reverting to its state as I found it - several collections of lost looking individuals glaring at trees.

Rustic colour less clear here, but pink culmen? Tick.
Rustic colour less clear here, but pink culmen? Tick.

I return home to view my photographs on a reasonably sized screen. There are, miraculously, signs of the diagnostics the bird book suggests - a lovely red brown (rustic, even) patch on the nape, the hint of pink in the beak. Definitely enough for a tick; and what an experience to be in such a big group!