Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A delicacy on the Cliff Top

This afternoon I received news that an Ortolan Bunting had been seen at Langdon this morning. Several hours had passed and I thought the likelihood of finding it again small.
I arrived around 3.30 pm and after tramping around the area for  while  I was lucky enough to bump into Nigel Jarman who was armed with a bit more information. It had been seen with a small group of Yellowhammers in the Harbour Field. We continued to look for the bunting but after walking from one end of the field to the other we still hadn't encountered any encouraging feeding groups. As I searched a stubble field I flushed a single Yellowhammer, but a couple of hundred yards away Nigel was signalling. He'd found a small group of Yellowhammers and with them was the Ortolan. It was a generous beast that gave itself up easily. It was a Kent tick for me, although a second for Nigel.

As we watched the birds the Ortolan helpfully remained in full view showing off the distinctive submoustachial and malar stripes.

From behind it looked very much like most buntings, however the pattern on the tertials is quite interesting. I think that the bird is probably a first winter bird, and the pattern of the median coverts and tertials may be definitive.
The Ortolan was for a long time an expensive delicacy served in French restaurants. Ortolan hunting was banned in France in 1999, but the law was poorly enforced and it is thought that up to 50,000 ortolans were killed each year. In 2007, the pressure from France's League for Protection of Birds and from the European Union resulted in the French government promising to enforce the EU directive protecting the ortolan.

The Guardian, yesterday reported that top Parisian chefs were again lobbying their government to allow Ortolans to be served one day or one weekend a year. Although hunting doe have an adverse affect on the population the main reason for the decline in numbers of this species is probably due to agricultural changes from small mixed farms to greater intensification. This is parallelled in the UK with the decline of the Corn Bunting. No wonder this beautiful bunting has become harder and harder to see in to UK.

The group of buntings did drop to the ground to feed,  where the grass was long they remained difficult to see, but when they were in more open areas were were able to watch the Ortolan sifting through the grass seeds.

Back on one of the bushes it seemed rather startled when it was joined by two Yellowhammers.

with the Yellowhammer for comparison the Ortolan looked marginally smaller, and the buffish-pink bill is rather longer.

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