Belfast Telegraph

Invasion of the Lapland Buntings

By Andrew Crory

You might not have noticed it but over the last few weeks Ulstrt has been invaded.

At hotspots around our coasts, and even as far inland as Fermanagh, there has been an influx of invading interlopers amongst us.

Well, that is stretching it a little bit far but we’ve definitely been invaded – by Lapland Buntings!

It happens when the cold weather forces these tiny birds (a slightly larger, more russet-toned version of our native Reed Bunting) out of their northerly haunts south in search of food. They feed on seeds and the best place to find them is in stubble fields near the coast or on headlands that attract migrants just in off the sea.

They are quite a rare bird in Northern Ireland with only around 15 previous records - however autumn 2010 is exceptional for this species with more records you can shake a stick at.

Up to 9 were present at Ramore Head on 25th September, Co. Antrim, Fermanagh had its very first record of the species and there was even one found 650m above sea level in the Mourne Mountains yesterday! In Irish birding circles this could very well be known as ‘The Year of the Lapper’ as there have been exceptionally high counts at Malin Head in Co. Donegal (62) and Annagh Head, Co. Mayo (59).

This is nothing compared to the flocks of over 350 birds that graced the rare bird paradise (for the birdwatchers not the birds) of the Shetland Isles when the first phalanx pushed through in early September but at least we got some - many is the year that Northern Irish birdwatchers stand on the sidelines and watch the rest of the British Isles ‘lap’ it up (sorry couldn’t resist).

Now as with most things bird-related nothing is ever straightforward – there is some evidence to suggest that these birds could be from the North American population via Iceland. In this sense they wouldn’t be called Lapland Buntings but Lapland Longspurs (they have quite a long hind claw or ‘spur’) but they still wouldn’t come from Lapland (which is called Sápmi by the indigenous Lapps who prefer to be called Sami) - confusing? You bet!

So get out there and start looking and add a Lapland Bunting to your Northern Ireland bird list – I haven’t found one yet this year which is just typical, someday my luck is bound to change!

If you would like to report a sighting or would some wildlife information or advice visit the premier bird and wildlife website in Northern Ireland.

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