A few days ago Phil Chantler and I had discussed the "wide open space" look of the fields at the top of Pond Lane (the little road that runs from opposite Wallet's Court to the A258) .It looks a good area for a rarity Phil decided or at least fantasised. Today, at about 4.15 p.m. Phil cycled back from the village to Shepherdswell, via Pond Lane from where he phoned me excitedly. Well it may have been excitement, or just that he'd pedalled up the hill. It wasn't a rarity but it was a pretty good bird.
He said that there was a Snow Bunting standing in the road. This did seem a bit far fetched considering all the acres of fields that it had available to it. Sure enough when I arrived four minutes later there it was standing in the road. A delightful male Snow Bunting in its winter attire.
Unfortunately I didn't see it quickly enough on the ground to avoid flushing it and I watch in horror as it flew off. Don't worry, Phil said, it did that when I car came by before, but it just flies up the road and lands on the tarmac again. He was right and over the next hour we (me and the Bunting) walked up and down the road and it never once walked onto or landed in the field. The banks at the side of the road were high enough to make the road in shadow at that time of day. There is an area that doesn't have a bank about 100 yards down the road from the bit of road most favoured by the Snow Bunting. I tried to slowly walk it down to this area and it trotted along in front of me, always about five yards away. Each time we got with a few yards of the sunlit road it decided that we'd gone far enough, and it took off and flew back to where we started. I never got a picture of it in the sunshine. I did try to get flight shots several times over the next hour, but almost completely failed.
As it walked along it sometimes stopped and picked at the seed heads on the grass. Occasionally it appeared to peck at the grit on the road, although I suspect it was finding small seeds on the road.
When it stopped and looked towards me the dark tipped yellow bill showed up well. You can also see what a long winged species this is. Snow Buntings are much more regularly seen along the coast at places like Pegwell and Sandwich Bay and the North Kent Coast and along the Thames estuary as far as Cliffe. We occasionally see then on the fields near the cliff top, but they seldom stay for long.
The Snow Bunting has two basic calls, a soft twittering "pirrit" and a ringing "peeeu", these are sometimes given consecutively but on the occasion I only heard the "peeeu" call. The males in summer are strikingly black and white, with a completely white head, breast and belly. I gets this plumage by abrasion of the winter feathers that it moulted into after the breeding season.
While I was watching it two cars came by and each time it flew no more that twenty yards before returning to it favoured road. As the sun sank lower it was feeding there and I left it as it contentedly picked at the grass heads.