Ortolan Bunting: May 2nd 2000, Gageo Island
Nial Moores

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

At least 2 records: 1 adult male, May 2nd 2000, Gageo Island, Jeollanam Province; 1 adult female or first winter male, November 9th 2000, Gageo Island.

On May 2nd 2000 a moderate Northwest wind (Beaufort 3-5) with clear skies led to a general departure of most migrants from Gageo Island. However, at Hang Ri headland NM heard a very strong and clear, even plover-like, "teu" note, followed by a quiet sparrow-like chattering sound. The call was repeated about 3 times, and then a large looking bunting flew up from some low bushes up on to some telegraph wires, and perched there for about 15 seconds at about 25 m range. It was immediately identified as an adult male Ortolan Bunting, as NM has some experience of Ortolan from Europe, and has also observed the species in both eastern China and Japan. The bird was (1) large looking for a bunting, with (2) a greeny-blue-grey head (more blue grey than any seen in Europe) and (3) similar colored breast; (4) brown upperparts heavily streaked with black, with two weak wingbars. It also had (5) bright orangey-brown underparts. (6) The head was clearly marked, with a prominent white eye-ring, and (7) a striking yellow throat and submoustachial stripe. The bird flew strongly from the wires and could not be relocated.

Potential confusion species such as Grey-necked Bunting Emberiza buchanani could be ruled out on the basis of breast colour; and the even less likely Cretzchmar’s Bunting Emberiza caesia on the basis of head and throat colour.

On November 11th, also at Hang Ri on Gageo Island, an Ortolan Bunting was flushed by NM from an extensive area of open grass onto an area of bare rock, where it crouched for over 1 minute at about 60-70 m range. Identification and suggested ageing as a first year male was based on (1) its greeny-colored head (lacking obvious streaking) with clear eye-ring, (2) contrasting yellow submoustachial stripes and yellow throat; (3) the strong black "tramlines" on the grey-brown upperparts; and (4) the black streaking on the breast. (5) The underparts coloration was a rich warm rusty brown, much less bright than in the adult male seen in May.

The Ortolan Bunting is a long-range migrant, with a fairly extensive breeding range spanning much of Europe east into northwest Mongolia and wintering grounds believed to be entirely in sub-Saharan Africa (Byers, Olsson and Curson, 1995). Eastern breeders are believed to migrate on a southwest-northeast axis, which would lead to occasional vagrancy in Far East Asia through overshooting in spring and through the phenomenon of reverse migration in autumn. There are consequently at least two or three records for Japan (with one referenced in Brazil 1991), and at least one at Beidiahe, coastal Hebei in 1992 (pers obs). A further 2 birds observed by NM in 2000 on Gageo Island (on April 30th and October 24th) were either this species or Grey-necked Bunting.