Corn Bunting – Martin Down, Hampshire

Summer birding continued to be a bit quiet and so I headed to Martin Down for a variety of wildlife and hopefully some Corn Bunting sketches. I arrived at 7am and as soon as I got out of the car the soundtrack for the next three hours started with Skylarks singing overhead.

When the Skylarks weren’t singing Whitethroats filled the temporary silence with their constant scratchy warble. Within a hundred yards a juvenile yellowhammer appeared at the top of a bush begging for food from the female.

The downland starts to take on a purple hue in mid-summer with Knapweed, Scabious and Marjoram all in flower. Pyramidal Orchid were dotted around in the shorter grass and the oversized seed clocks of Goatsbeard and the pretty Dropwort added texture and subtlety.

It was still early and Marbled Whites and Small Skippers were roosting on thistles. The first Dark Green Fritillary of the morning zipped past me, gone in a flash. They were to be a constant burst of colour throughout the morning although only once did an individual pause and nectar briefly, allowing me a closer view. This is one of the best sites in the region for this dashing orange beauty.

A brown bumble bee nectaring on Tufted Vetch proved to be the rare Bombus humilis (Brown-banded Carder Bee). At Martin Down they often outnumber the much commoner, but similar, Bombus pascuorum (Common Carder Bee).

A single Spotted Flycatcher was an unexpected find perching upright in the larger trees near the car park. Stock Doves were cooing from the hedgerows and a pair of Ravens honked overhead. I watched a distant trio of Turtle Doves flying over a far-off grove of shrubs and bushes. I heard a couple of males purring in the same area but couldn’t locate them. The bizarre tern-like calls of nearby Grey Partridges were a regular and welcome interruption.

When I finally found a singing Corn Bunting I managed a few brief sketches before he was flushed by walkers. Yellowhammers were more in evidence than Corn Buntings but both species were singing far less than when I was last here in the early summer. The Corn Bunting song is like jangling keys but it proved difficult to track them down. I could hear them but couldn’t pin point the direction of the song even with my hands cupped to my ears.

I walked on further towards the open areas on the north west part of the reserve. I was hoping for more Corn Buntings on the scattered song posts but it was less sheltered from the north westerly breeze and so I retreated. I managed to re-find the original ventriloquistic Corn Bunting although he was too far away to sketch. It was cold and I was wearing an inappropriately bright blue jacket but despite this I managed to approach him carefully by keeping a large group of bushes in his line of sight. When I slipped out from the shadow of the bushes he was still present and he showed nicely for a minute or two. Eventually he flew away very low to the ground with rapidly fluttering flat wings and with his long tail cocked up at 45 degrees. He disappeared into the long grass.

I’d heard and then seen Quail here this time last year but the wheat fields were silent today. I usually hear Cuckoo but they were also silent, perhaps they have already left for Africa (whereabouts).

As I headed back to the car a medium sized insect buzzed me. It paused for nectar showing off its black and white tail, orange wing bases and remarkable stop and go flight. The first Hummingbird Hawk-moth I’ve seen this year.

Soon afterwards a very battered Adonis Blue settled on Bird’s foot trefoil right in front of me. This is the last of the first brood of Adonis Blue with the second larger brood on the wing from mid-August. In contrast to the tired looking Adonis a smart and fresh Small Copper settled on a nearby thistle and mating in the long grass were a pair of Ringlets, my first of the year.

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