On Sunday 11 October 2020, a small group of local bird ringers under the direction of Terry Southall set out their nets to capture and ring a selection of the many birds migrating through Arran at this time of year. Bird ringing in Britain and Ireland is organised and co-ordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology. A network of over 2,400 trained and licensed volunteers currently ring over 800,000 birds every year. The main focus of the ringing scheme today is monitoring bird populations. Ringing allows us to study how many young birds leave the nest and survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather. Changes in survival rates and other aspects of birds’ biology help us to understand the causes of population declines. Each bird ring also has an address, so that anyone finding a ringed bird can help by reporting where and when it was found and what happened to it. Some ringing projects also use colour rings to allow individual birds to be identified without being caught. Please report all sightings of ringed birds to Euring https://euring.org/
On that Sunday morning the ringers were by Cleats Shore from just before first light. Flocks of small birds were passing overhead with some stopping to feed. These included Skylark, Linnet, Twite and Chaffinch. Some were being caught in the nets and, when these were taken from the nets for ringing, one was a Lapland Bunting. This caused some excitement as it was a “first” for Arran. When it was examined in the hand it was a young male that had hatched earlier in the year in one of its northern breeding areas.
Lapland Bunting breed across Alaska, northern most Canada, Greenland, Arctic Europe and the Palearctic. The red area in the map indicates these areas. At this time of year, they are migrating south to their wintering areas, the blue area in the world map. During this migration a few turn up each year in the UK where it is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor. The map of Great Britain and Ireland is taken from the Bird Atlas 2007-11: The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland by D Balmer et al. Most reports are from the east coast. In Scotland from the data on the Scottish Ornithologists Club (SOC) Online Scottish Bird Report (oSBR), it is annually reported on Lothian coasts and also the Western Isles and Argyll. On the Clyde Islands there has only been one previous record and that was in Bute in 2011. The bird on Cleats Shore on 11 October was the first ever report of Lapland Bunting on Arran.
Lapland Buntings are robust birds, slightly larger than the more familiar Reed Bunting. Lapland Bunting has a well-marked head pattern, chestnut nape and chestnut wing panel as shown in the photo taken by the ringers.