The bird was near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire and had been there for two days. Instructions were a bit vague but I parked up in the village of Over Norton as the fog was starting to clear into a lovely if sharp morning. I was immediately accosted by a local coming back from the shops with his milk. Expecting a "you can't park here" I was pleasantly surprised as he asked me "so how can you tell a little bunting from a sparrow?". Obviously the story had got out in the village. After showing him a photo and receiving instructions on how to get to the relevant hedgerow I walked the half-mile to the site.
The local farmer is apparently very bird friendly and puts out grain on the field margins to attract birds. This was apparent when I got to where the bird was supposedly showing - a small copse by the fields with feeders hanging off the trees.
For the first 15 minutes I was the only birder, slightly surprising, but eventually two others turned up to help me go through the flock of feeding birds.
They were quite flighty, not helped by having lots of dog walkers coming past regularly and spooking them. Most of the time they were perched up in the hedge.
The question was, where was the little bunting. They are not easy birds to id. Superficially they are very similar to reed buntings, a nondescript little brown job. Size can be useful, but unless next to a reed bunting that's hard. What we are were looking for was a bird with a plain buff cheek patch and a bold chin-stripe but no white eye- or crown-stripes. Eventually we found it, though it seemed quite nervous.
Anyway, I stayed for about an hour then left for a few more year-ticks - hopefully.
First stop was nearby at Stow in the Wold for the blue rock thrush. I saw it before Xmas when it was a media star. It had hung on in the same garden since then but now I was the only birder watching it. Apparently its got very territorial and its beating up the local blackbirds. Is that good or bad for it getting accepted as wild?? Still, he's a very handsome looking chap!
After this, my next stop was half an hour away at a piggery! Two, or sometimes three, cattle egrets have been overwintering at Caulcott at a local farm.
For my last stop I was going to go for an Icelandic gull, but RBA flashed up about 34 waxwings in Potters Bar so I diverted to there. This year is a waxwing year, the berry crop presumably having failed in Russia/ Scandinavia and very large numbers are over here. They have moved gradually south through Scotland and Northern England and are now in the London area. They are very confiding and always attract crowds with their stunning appearance and vocal calling.
This flock was in a housing estate and a small crowd of about 8 people were watching them.
They spent a lot of time in this tall tree, chirruping to each other.
Eventually they would decide to come down to a nearby garden and feed on fallen berries.
Waxwing flock feeding on the fallen berries
I stayed with them, along with 3 or 4 other birders and some passing residents of the estate watching them in the falling light.
About 3.45 the flock all lifted off and left, presumably to roost local so I headed back as well. One lifer and three other year-ticks in the bag, and all really good birds.
So what about the pine bunting I mentioned earlier? After I got home my brother-in-law Martin called. I thought I had been doing well and had almost caught him up on the year-list. He, however, has been up in Leeds on business and "stopped off" to grip me off on the pine bunting. Very jealous of that one, especially as I'd gripped back on the little bunting which he saw last year. Ah well, put it on the list for future trips I suppose, or hope one comes closer as there are a lot in the Netherlands. Weymouth at the weekend so more opportunities to catch him up then.
It starting off as a really good year, possibly a "big year"??