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Observation and Catch of Japanese Yellow Buntings Emberiza Sulphurata at San Mariano, Isabela, Luzon

Date: 10–20 MARCH 2004
Description for WBCP Records Committee

Date of submission: 22 July 2005

General Information

Observer’s name: Marijn Prins
Address: Haarweg 73, 6709 PP, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Co-observers: Wouter Thijs ( only at first observation; Rio Vinoya ( assisted with mist-netting.
Project: Bird diversity research in the San Mariano region for CVPED (

Japanese Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata
Number: up to at least 10
Sex: description based on caught bird, which is a male
Plumage: description based on bird moulting to alternate plumage
Age: description based on (probable) adult

Emberiza Sulphurata
Emberiza Sulphurata

Type of observation:
field observation + mist-net catch. Plumage description based on photographs of caught bird.
Date of first observation: 10 March 2004
Subsequent observations: 18, 19 and 20 March 2004
Date and time of catch: 20 March 2004, ca 18:00h
Place: Pinacanauan River flats at sitio Santa Barbara, barangay Daragutan-East, San Mariano, Isabela prov. (Luzon)
Coordinates: x: 395042, y: 1870389 (GPS UTM51, Luzon Philippines)
Biotope: tall grasses in sandy river bed and adjacent corn fields

Duration of observation: several short sightings in flight, two very short sightings of a bird perched, mainly around sunset, but also heard and seen flying around during the morning
Distance to birds: besides catch, up to ca. 10 m.
Used optical equipment: Vixen Ultima 8 x 42 binoculars
Weather: calm and clear, but some wind and rain on 20 March
Viewing conditions: besides catch, moderate

Discovery by: Marijn Prins and Wouter Thijs
Identification by: Marijn Prins and Wouter Thijs
Experience with this species: none
Other species taken into consideration at identification: none
Photos taken: yes, 2 are attached (emb_sul1.jpg and emb_sul2.jpg, scans of colour negatives)
Photos taken by: Marijn Prins, 20 March 2004
Video recording made: no
Sound recording made: no
Literature used: Kennedy et al. (2000), A guide to the birds of the Philippines; various websites consulted to compare photographs. Special thanks to Steve Pryor for his comments on the gender and age of the caught bird.

NB: The caught bird was not ringed/banded, but only non-permanently colour-marked on the leg.


Size and structure
No measurements were taken, except for the weight, which was 17 g. Size and structure were like Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus, perhaps only a little larger.

Mainly olive green with a grey wash, especially on nape. Throat yellow. Clearly defined black all around base of bill. Lores clearly defined black too. White eye ring, which is broken by lores and very short and faint black eye stripe behind eye.

Mantle light brownish green with clear black strikes. Colouration of back not noted. Rump olive green, uppertail coverts olive grey.

Breast light yellow with olive grey wash, belly light yellow with some faint greyish striking on flanks, vent and undertail coverts white.

Rather colourful appearance. Lesser coverts (and shoulders) olive grey with some black spots. Median coverts black with white tip, forming a conspicuous wing bar. Inner greater coverts, and primaries and secondaries with black centre and coloured fringes. Inner greater coverts with white tip, forming second wing bar, slightly less pronounced than the upper wing bar. Colour of fringes of inner greater coverts fade from olive green to brownish orange towards the white tip. Outer greater coverts (or primary coverts) much duller: more dark brownish instead of black, with only a very narrow lighter fringe and no white tip. Alula like outer greater coverts. Secondaries with rusty brown fringes. Primaries the same, but with narrower fringe and becoming paler towards the outer side. Primary tips hardly fringed. Tertials coloured the same as the secondaries, with typical Emberiza pattern: outer fringe suddenly narrowing towards the proximal end.

Dark brown / blackish, with lighter fringes and clear white sides of outer tail feathers, fading towards brown to the tip of the tail. Outer tail feathers with small, inconspicuous white tip.

Bare parts
Eye: iris dark brown.
Bill: light grey with some pink at the base.
Legs and feet: flesh-coloured. No further remarks noted.

A high-pitched, very short, clear, quite sharp ‘typical bunting’ call: zit. Sometimes repeated, forming a double zit-tit. The birds were heard calling mainly in flight.

About half an hour before sunset on all observation days we saw at least 10 birds quite suddenly falling in from the sky into the tall grasses, calling frequently. They obviously used the tall grasses as a common roost. In the morning of 20 March 2004, 2 birds were seen flying low over a corn field ca 250 m from the roost, so they possibly forage in the quite extensive corn fields near the roost. Banana plantations, shrubby grasslands and some small forest patches were also present in the area.