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Yorkshire coast icons: The Snow Bunting

January 22, 2014

This article was originally published here by Yorkshire Coast Nature in January 2014

In the first of an occasional series profiling iconic species on the Yorkshire coastline, YCN’s Mark James Pearson looks at Snow Buntings, nomadic winter visitors with added sparkle.

Winter birding here on the coast is almost entirely directed towards those more productive areas during the darkest months, the shore and the sea. Back on terra firma, formerly fertile habitats become ever more barren and increasingly exposed to worsening elements; as a consequence, the vast majority of birds retreat to more hospitable areas inland, waiting for the spring to breathe life back into coastal countryside. There are a few species, however, whose feathers are barely ruffled by our unpredictable and often harsh maritime conditions, arguably the most exotic and uplifting of which is the Snow Bunting.

Deceptively hardy for a such a small, delicate passerine, Snow Buntings are true northerners, hailing from the boulder-strewn wastes and tundra of the Arctic. Their resilience is enviable in any given season or environment, and even in the harshest depths of winter I’ve had the privilege of keeping their company, in blizzard conditions and sub-zero temperatures, on the peaks of the Scottish Highlands (where a small breeding population also exists).



Adding further to their inherently magical nature, Snow Buntings are essentially nomadic, and their presence is unpredictable; individuals and flocks wander far and wide, and in some years, very few will grace the Yorkshire coast. Happily, however, that’s far from the case this year, and after major influxes into the Northern Isles and Scotland this autumn, groups have filtered south, seeking out their favoured habitats of coastal stubbles and sandy shorelines.

Large gatherings have occurred in favoured spots, most notably here at Filey, where I’ve been lucky enough to keep track of a fabulous flock of up to 75 over recent weeks.

Their choice of environment isn’t the only reason their name fits so well. Flashes of white adorn the plumage of each, adding a collective sparkle to dancing flocks, flickering and shimmering in the milky winter sunshine; if the collective noun isn’t a flurry, then it certainly should be. There are pockets of suitable habitat up and down the Yorkshire coast, many of which are underwatched; as an excuse to wander windswept clifftops or low-lying dunes from Saltburn to Spurn in the dead of winter, what better could there be?

Words & pictures copyright Mark James Pearson 2014



























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