Lightning sometimes strikes twice – Grey-necked Bunting on Helgoland

by Jochen D.

One of the worst birds I ever dipped on Helgoland was the 2009 Grey-necked Bunting – I left the island the day before (as many other birders). With only a handful of records in northwestern Europe the chances of seeing one on Helgoland again seemed rather low.

The morning of June 10th 2013 did not have much to offer birdwise. So I used our noon break at the bird observatory only for a short walk and then wanted to have a short nick. I was lying ca 2 seconds, when my mobile rang – as always. My assistant Klaus has just seen an Ortolan Bunting with an all grey head, but a tourist had flushed it and he could not find it back. Adrenalin was spreading fast – the Cretzschmar’s Bunting in the Netherlands was still in my mind, so I rushed to the football pitch. Still no sign of the bird, but after spreading out I flushed a reddish bunting calling unfamiliar “pit”. That was the bird and it did indeed sound neither like an Ortolan Bunting, nor like a Cretzschmar’s (although I had seen the latter only 20 years ago in Israel). Finally I saw the bird sitting and immediately identified it as a Grey-necked Bunting – the 2nd for Helgoland! Adrenalin had dropped little and now reached its peak …


There were only a handful of birders on the island and all managed to see the bird soon. Also the first two twitchers arrived by plane and managed to connect with the bird. Photographing the bird was rather difficult, as it was rather shy and flew off in ca 20 meters distance. And joggers, walkers, dogs etc made the bird staying at the same place only for a few minutes.


The 2nd day proved even more difficult – the bird was not seen in the morning, but found back around noon on the opposite site of the island. Twitching proved to be difficult as well: The first day only 3 birders arrived and were lucky to arrive in the moment the bird was refound. The last 2 days it was seen only for minutes during the day (usually best in the evening). So far only ca 15 birders came to see the bird, but if it remains until the weekend, more birders probably will arrive.

The habitat was open land with sparse (=steppe) vegetation or edges of tracks. It was usually feeding a bit hidden in the grass, hopping into the open and returning into the vegetation.


The ID of the bird was rather straightforward: Typical Ortolan Bunting head, long-billed, a moltoni-like underpart colouration. The best clue to refind the bird was it’s distinctive flight call. So far I did not manage to obtain a decent recording, but a Bunting calling “pit” should always raise the alarm bells.


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2 Responses to Lightning sometimes strikes twice – Grey-necked Bunting on Helgoland

  1. Pingback: Birding Frontiers + 1 | Birding Frontiers

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