22 March 2013

Snow Buntings on the move

We recently heard of some fascinating results from a French project colour-ringing wintering Snow Buntings. 'A5' was ringed on 29th December in Calais and was then seen further north at Dunkerque on 28th January before returning to Calais from 5th-25th February. It was then that it headed off, seen at Shingle Street (Suffolk) on 10th March (and still present yesterday - 21st March), becoming the first French-ringed Snow Bunting ever to be reported in the UK (shown in red on the map below).

View Snow Buntings in a larger map

This was also the first sighting for the project outside of France, but the second wasn't too far behind, when 'E0' was reported from South Shields (South Tyneside) on 16th March (shown in blue on the map). Interestingly though, when this bird was caught at Calais on 9th February (where it remained until 18th February), it was already wearing a Belgian ring! Presumably linked to greater ringing effort, there are seven previous records of Belgian-ringed Snow Buntings in the UK, with previous movements all to the north of this: the map below shows all Snow Buntings movements, from the BTO's Online Ringing Report.

There are two races of Snow Bunting wintering in western Europe: nivalis (long-distance migrants breeding in northern Europe and Greenland) and insulae (short-distance migrants breeding in Iceland and Scotland). Nivalis from western Greenland winter in north America, whilst those from eastern Greenland winter from northern Scandinavian to western Russia and we don't really know much about those from southern Greenland. It is likely that they winter in western Europe and most birds caught in winter in France are nivalis and are thought to mostly be from here. So the fact that these two colour-ringed birds both headed northwest from France in spring is perhaps the first evidence of this.

Thanks to Quentin Dupriez for the details here, John Richardson for the photos of the bird in Suffolk and Mike Marsh for originally letting us know about the Suffolk bird.

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