Country Corner

A snow bunting
A snow bunting

Like windblown snowflakes, snow buntings wander at the behest of winter winds and their arrival here, if at all, is never predictable.

The one in the photograph was one of 10 or so at Belhaven the other day.

Quite probably they were down from Iceland, but the Faroes, Greenland and even Canada can all send us snow buntings on winter northerlies.

Bonny as this wee sprite may appear, it is as hard as hail and actually the northernmost breeding songbird, with a circumpolar breeding range all around the tundra zone.

We do have some remnant tundra in Scotland, right on top of our highest mountains which is where the few Scottish breeding snow buntings choose to nest.

Of course, winters differ from year to year which is why this windblown spirit is so unpredictable.

Some will hang on in Iceland in more open winters but head for Scotland when things take a turn for the worse.

In the Scottish Highlands some will head downhill to the straths, reappearing on the tops during mild spells.

However, widespread snow cover sees widespread southward migrations of snow buntings and give us our best chance of seeing this scarce sight.

Some winters I see none at all, so you can understand why I make the best of every encounter I am lucky enough to experience.

In flight, the spread wings show extensive white, giving a passing flock a flickering 
effect not unlike blowing snow.

On a grey winter day few sights are so eye catching, prompting a quickening of the pulse as you realise this might be your one chance of the year, or possibly two or three years, to try to get a good view of these nomads.

If you are lucky enough to see them settle and get your binoculars on to them, the dramatically black and snow white adult males will always draw the eye first.

What a spectacular bird it is, and one which has faced who knows what conditions over the north Atlantic to visit you.

So by the coast in winter, watch out for that unexpected snow flurry, it may be the spirits of the tundra!

You have plenty time yet. Spring comes very late to their far northern breeding grounds, so you have a chance well into April or even May.