I have never had the chance to go looking for a Black-headed Bunting in Britain as they have always tended to turn up in private gardens, or on remote islands off the west or north coast of Scotland. So, when Craig Thomas found a handsome male BHB along Old Fall hedge at Flamborough on Friday afternoon, I realised I had a chance to finally see one. My old mate Philip was visiting for the weekend and although he had seen dozens in Armenia the week before, he too had never seen one in Britain, so with positive early news on Saturday morning, we headed east for Flamborough.
We joined a small group of birders standing on the road verge scanning down the east side of Old Fall hedge and to our delight, our colourful quarry was happily sitting on a Hawthorn bush about 50 metres away. Great stuff! A chunky bunting, with bright yellow underparts and black head, and a surprisingly bright rufous nape and mantle.
Having missed this species in Cyprus a few years ago, this was a world tick for me and thoroughly appreciated. After enjoying good views and helping arriving birders to see it, the bird suddenly flicked off the bush and disappeared.
A little later and despite some rather selfish and impatient photographers walking down the hedge (which risked flushing the bird) the bunting popped back up, this time much closer and head on, enabling us to enjoy the golden yellow underparts and jet black head. Again, the bird chilled for a minute or two, and then dropped back into the crop field, presumably to feed. He reappeared further along the hedge where for a while he interacted with a male Yellowhammer, seemingly getting the better of the local bird.
News that the Subalpine Warbler had been seen again at the golf course willows prompted our departure and we headed down there, where we bumped into a few of our friends.
Mark P at the left hand end. Also note Craig Thomas having a sit down. It's clearly hard work all this rarity finding!
We hung out and soon saw the little grey Subalp feeding through the rose bushes, Willows and the large Sycamore. It was very actively feeding, alongside Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroat. Try as I might, I couldn't see the white in the tail very well, which would be essential to help with specific identification (Moltoni's vs Western vs Eastern) so thought I'd try and video it with my phone. This was successful, though sadly didn't help matters as it kept it's tail closed most of the time. Nevertheless, the bird showed well every now and again and it was enjoyable birding with good mates in warm June sunshine.
Female (presumed Western) Subalpine Warbler. Other photos by Trev Charlton revealed the tail pattern, making Western the most likely species.
Across the head, the rainclouds were piling up ominously and we noticed many Burnet Moth sp chrysalises in the grassland, along with a few Northern Marsh Orchids. We had a short seawatch, from the new hide, with the most noticeable thing being the large numbers of Painted Lady butterflies moving across the headland, presumably part of a large immigration.
Later on, the family arrived and we headed to North Landing to check out the caves and the intertidal stuff, noting a tiny Bee Orchid in the grassland next to the slipway. Razorbills, my fave auk, gave good views, but Puffins were sparse. Thoroughly soaked - the rain had arrived - we finished the day at the YWT Living Seas Centre, where the kids did some marine-themed activities as part of World Ocean Day.
A great day at the Great White Cape in the Spring that keeps on giving!