I suppose that it must seem strange, unless you are a birder, when a group of people stand around doing nothing in particular, chatting, and vaguely looking at a seemingly empty piece of rough ground at the edge of a golf course.
Then suddenly in response to one alert person, it all becomes very intense. Binoculars are lifted, telescopes pointed and focused and cameras start clicking away. The bird has returned to it's favourite feeding area. This time the bird, a Rustic Bunting had chosen an area next to a popular footpath and near local houses and gardens. Many of the locals stopped ask about the bird, and all seemed quite genuinely interested that this small bird that breeds from Northern Scandinavian all the was east to Siberia had arrived here. It's the sixth record in Kent and the first since 1993, so it doesn't happen very often. Normally the winter in southern Asia, I've seen them in South Korea when they are one of the most common birds in scrubby habitats. Why a few migrate in the wrong direction and end up in western Europe isn't well understood. Many eastern birds have a few that seem to have dis-functional compasses and it has been called reverse migration. It has also been suggested that some mechanism makes a few birds migrate to new regions in a way of slowly finding new areas to breed, rather like human explorers in centuries past.
Most of the time it fed on the ground, but soon after I arrived it flew into a tree just above the foot path.
When it turned it was possible to see some of the identification criteria. The whitish underparts with rusty streaks and blotching on the flanks, the white spot at the back of the chestnut coloured ear-coverts, bordered black, a whitish wing-bar formed be the pale tips to the median coverts and with outer tail feathers. It has a peaked crown with and it raised to crown feathers in a small crest.
The supercilium, which in the summer plumaged male is white was buffish yellow. I wasn't sure about the sex or age of this bird at first, outside the breeding season they are not quite so obvious, but it was quite a bright bird and it male be an adult male in winter plumage. Rustic Buntings are unusual in having two moults each year, a full moult in the autumn and a partial moult of the head and throat in spring.
When it was feeding on the ground it move quickly in low vegetation and I managed a lot of not very sharp pictures. It was very vocal and each time it flew the characteristic tzik call could be heard. Many buntings make similar calls, but with practice and the opportunity to hear other species they are distinguishable. Marc Heath got a nice portrait, Steve Ashton as usual excelled and I really liked this one form Steve Ray. All in all a good twitch, none of the silly stuff as shown on the TV programme about twitchers, and one made more enjoyable by the local people, who where probably a little amused, but were interested in the bird and tolerant towards us, thank you.