Rustic Bunting  not just a tick

On Friday 30 March 1990, Arnold Meijer discovered a group of three Little Buntings Emberiza pusilla at Katwijk. Two days later I twitched them – thanks for the ride, mum! Although I was still only 11 years old, I really enjoyed watching the birds. It was not just a tick. Since then, I have always been a fan of Little Bunting – even fortunate enough to find a few myself.

Connecting with Rustic Bunting E rustica, on the other hand, proved more difficult. On Sunday 1 October 2000,  I found a Little Bunting on Vlieland, skulking in marram grass and performing well only in flight. A few minutes later, other birders claimed a Rustic in the exact same area. The sound-recording I made, however, showed that my bird was indeed a Little. A year later, luck was on my side. On Saturday 29 September 2001, Ferdy Hieselaar and I glimpsed a Rustic Bunting at IJmuiden. Again, my sound-recording confirmed the identification. But I had to wait until Friday 5 April 2002, when Hans Groot discovered a singing male Rustic near Bloemendaal, before I had my first proper views of the species.

In the late 1990s, Magnus Robb taught me how to analyse sound-recordings with the use of sonagrams. Bunting calls were a favourite subject of ours during nocturnal sessions behind Magnus’s computer. Over time, we learned how to tell apart the high-pitched tick calls of several species. Compared with Little Bunting, Rustic’s tick shows on a sonagram as a high and neat ‘V’ instead of a slightly lower-pitched ‘✓’. Under good circumstances, the difference is audible in the field too.

With more and more recordings and audio software available on the internet, studying bird sounds is nowadays much easier than before. Interesting subjects to pioneer are still easily found. Obviously, ‘The Sound Approach to Birding’ (Constantine & The Sound Approach 2006) is a must-read for those wanting to explore bird sounds – and I am not just saying that because Magnus made many contributions to it. So do not hesitate and grab your gear. There is a world to discover.


Click here to listen to the sound-recording I made of the Rustic Bunting near Bloemendaal.

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Published 18 April 2018