Almost the ultimate little brown bird

In the UK I have always thought that the archteypal little brown bird is the garden warbler. It has hardly any exceptional physical features at all. The corn bunting is positively elaborate compared to a garden warbler, and yet it would escape most people’s notice even if they were lucky enough to spot one.

Last week I was wildlife cameraman on a series that featured the corn bunting. Sadly the corn bunting is extinct as a breeding bird here at home in Wales, though there are birds just over the border in Shropshire. As always, there is always the chance that unpublicised breeding corn bunting do occur in Wales. The Welsh Assembly’s target of 20 singing ma!es by 2020 under the biodiversity action plan is hardly ambitious. It’s all about getting farming methods right for the corn bunting and production of course. That’s evidently not happening in Wales.

Just as well we were filming in the Cotswolds at a farm that was superb for corn bunting. We had limited time: there were at least 3 singing males, so how to go about it? The farmer, Ian Boyd, himself a keen photographer, suggested that one bird had a favourite song perch. Without time to set up a hide we staked out this perch using natural cover, just standing very still in the hope that the bird would return to its favourite perch. Waiting is what a wildlife cameraman does best. As time was running out the bird did not return ¬†but sang from another perch a little further away, annoyingly far enough to be shrouded in heat haze. There was nothing for it but to try the old ‘disinterested stalk’ idea, whereby you ¬†brazenly approach the subject obliquely while not looking at it but gauging its response to you. This all worked quite well, and despite my negative expectations me and Cheryl (on sound) got close enough for frame filling shots of the corn bunting singing, and Cheryl recorded sync singing too. The song is worth looking up: it is often described as jangling keys and that is not far off.

We pushed our luck a little more and started to get even c!oser, but just as we decided that the bird dropped into the crops to feed and we had to go. I count that as a success and was quite happy with how things went.