James Lowen 

There have been mixed views on the age of the bunting. With such an odd state of moult, with worn primaries and tertials, yet fresh median coverts, there were thoughts that it could be an adult - and, if so, a female. But a photo emerged during the day which purported to show reddish tones to the face, which would make the bird a male. In which case it was a first-winter... Said photo also 'confirmed' the identification as Red-headed. Now I haven't yet fully digested Paul French's views as to why it is a Red-head (he also explains why it is a juvenile, mainly due to it having juvenile median coverts, and a white fringe to the inner tertial), and readily admit that I've only seen one Black-head and no previous Red-heads, but I'm a little unconvinced at present (much as I would love it to be a Red-headed, which would be a world tick).

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So where do I sit? I genuinely don't know. I'm personally not (yet) confident enough to call it Red-headed, because I don't know the species well enough and haven't done enough research. I can understand why it has been called Red-headed, but the unabridged positivity makes me nervous. Like everyone else, I'll be hoping that the DNA comes back as a Red-head. But until then, I'm popping inverted commas round the name, at best...

The killer photo that nailed the ID showed a reddish hue to the face and a yellow tone to the rump. Yet it also showed odd blueish tones to the wing feathers. To me, it looks a little oversaturated. Try as I might, I can't see particular reddish tones to the face on any of my photos (perhaps aq hint of brick below??), nor was that feature apparent to my eyes in the field. The same applies to the rump: in the field, I could see olive tones on the rump, but not yellow; the same applies to my photo.(At least there are no reddish tones to the rump, as Black-headed!) Helpfully, the mantle does look fairly cold toned (though it is hardly contrastingly grey as in the Out Skerries bird), and has thick black streaks, with continuous streaking from the crown to the mantle (the latter a feature of RH, I understand, though I haven't checked that against photos). 


22 October 2023 'Redhead'

After a day out birding the north Norfolk coast with Mike Buckland (thoroughly enjoyable, despite the paucity of fresh-in passerine migrants; the highlight was a strong passage of Little Gulls, including inland), it became apparent that there was a ground swell of support for a bunting discovered at Flamborough Head being Red-headed rather than Black-headed. Features cited included the greyish cast to the buff-brown mantle, a short primary projection and reddish hues to the face. Dave Andrews and I had already been talking of a day birding the Yorkshire coast, and with David Bradnum also keen (and eager to test out his EV on a relatively long-distance twitch), early Sunday saw us wandering to Northcliff marsh and waiting for a species yet to make category A of the British list, so a proper mega. After a tense wait, it did so, on and off, for an hour or two (with an Eastern Stonechat - looked like maurus - in the background, and a Lapland Bunting overhead). 

My flicking through photos of Red- and Black-headed Bunting on Macaulay Library is incomplete. But even so, two things grate. First, the pics I can see suggest that the Flamborough bird has a head-and-bill structure closer to Black-headed than Red-headed (long bill and longer angular head). Second, all the photos I can find of autumn (non-adult male) Red-headed seem to show an eye-ring. Black-headed, on the other hands, regularly shows no eye-ring. I cannot see an eye-ring on the Flamborough bird. 

Then there's the breast. There were a couple of streaks at the top of the breast, but it was otherwise rather plain (as Black-headed). There was a decent yellowish wash to the vent (apparent in the second image below, of the bird flying away).