Thursday, 4 December 2014

Snow Buntings at Jaywick Beach

24th November 2014

The objective today was to explore Colne Point to assess its potential for bird photography. However, as we wanted to get to the Point at high tide, which today was 1.00pm, we had some spare time so went down to the beach at St Osyth.

I was scanning around with my bins when I noticed a small flock of birds circling over the beach at Jaywick. Although very distant and only silhouettes they were clearly not waders, Starlings, Sky Larks or small finches such as Linnets. The pattern of flight was typical of buntings and, being on a beach, were most likely to be - SNOW BUNTINGS!! Enough said so off we set.

It took us 10-15 minutes to walk along to the martello tower by Jaywick beach and eventually found some steps over the formidable sea defences that have been put in place. I spent a lot of time on this beach as a boy and its character has changed from all recognition since those days. Then it was a glorious sandy beach with a series of wooden breakwaters to calm the sea as it crashed onto the beach. Now the sea, presumably during one of the exceptionally high tides or tidal surges we have been experiencing, has dumped tons of sand right up to the sea wall and, as it no longer gets covered by the sea at high tide, is covered in vegetation. The wooden breakwaters have been replaced with long lines of huge boulders.

It is a very large area to cover but the buntings were more likely to be feeding on the tide wrack by the beach so we started at the western end. As luck would have it we had only just reached the water's edge when the flock of eight Snow Buntings flew past and settled out of sight below the shingle ridge. It was therefore necessary to retrace our steps to get the sun behind us and to make sure that we were visible to the buntings before we approached. In my experience Snow Buntings are more than happy to continue feeding provided that they can see you and you don't get closer than 10 yards. We soon got into position and started clicking away.

What an absolutely brilliant start to the day. Out of interest, when I got home I went on to Google Earth to measure the distance from the St Osyth beach car park to the beach where I had seen the Snow Buntings wheeling around - a staggering 900 yards. Just goes to show what a distinctive flight pattern they have.

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