Winter Birding: Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings have always been a bird I really enjoyed finding along my local beaches and headlands, as it's only been in the last year that I've noted the 'Icelandic' race of this winter treat.

A flock of 7 Snow buntings turned up in November of last year on my local patch in Co.Wicklow, this is when the 'Icelandic' birds were brought to my attention for the first time. These Snow Bunting in particular showed very well at times and one day I decided to spend a full day watching them to get some good shots of one of the bird which was a dark immature bird. At first all birds in the flock struck me as your average 'nivalis' bird's that we get from Scandinavia, but I was wrong.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), by Cian Cardiff
This is the immature Snow Bunting (above) that I mentioned to you earlier which fits the bill for an 'Icelandic' type; features that I noted were how overly dark the bird was, brownish red to the mantle and wings, small black streaks flowing throughout the bird, rusty red cap which followed down onto the nape and the ear-coverts, its breast band was darker & bolder than most/any 'nivalis' bird's I'd ever seen in Ireland before; then we get to the beautiful light brown running down along the flanks and finally when the bird took off the rump was just stunning, showing that rustic colour again like the rest of the bird's plumage. Simply magnificent.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), by Cian Cardiff
Above is the same bird, grant it's not 100% in focus but it really dose justice in showing the point of how dark this bird really is, it was the breast band as you can see clearly that caught my attention when I originally picked it up. The ear-coverts are also rather eye catching from a distance and the scope views helped greatly to get every little detail on this cracking bird. As I started to look at the other 6 bird's in the flock I noted a lovely female, hard to fully age but it looked like an Adult. This bird also fitted the 'Icelandic' race to a tea!

Key features:
Again just look how there's a colour over most of the bird unlike the much paler  'nivalis' bird's. Earcoverts again are very striking as they can be on 'nivalis' bird's too but not to the extent of the deep rusty colouration on this immature bird; it almost reminded me of a bird that had just been covered in a layer of dust with tones ranging from the mantle to the nape and crown. This bird below which was in the same flock as the immature bird featured above showed almost identical streaking round flank area; yet again when this bird flew it had a dark rump along with all the other features and ticks all the boxes for an 'Icelandic' bird.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), by Cian Cardiff

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), by Cian Cardiff
The image above shows one of two males that was also in the flock and this bird, the more adult like, is much paler than what you would expect of your typical  'Icelandic' type, hence why I put this bird down as being that of a 'nivalis'.

Snow Bunting ( Plectrophenax nivalis), by Elliot Montieth

For some comparison the image above shows all of the features of an Icelandic type bird, like that of the male bird photographed by Cian above. As you can see compared to the others featured the Icelandic race of Snow Bunting are much more paler than those of the 'nivalis' from Scandinavian.

So, hope this helps in Snow Bunting ID for the winter.
Get Finding folks, Regards Cian & Elliot.


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