Seth Ausubel, Rich Kelly, and I were getting out of Seth’s car at Breezy Point, Queens, on Sunday, when I declared that the only bird I cared about seeing on our outing was a Lapland Longspur. There had been flocks of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks regularly reported from the dunes at Breezy Point and I figured that with the absurd amounts of snow that the northeast had received this winter it was only a matter of time before a Lapland Longspur was driven from the snow-covered interior to the beach. I was hopeful about finally checking it off my Queens list but not overly so. After all, I have lived in Queens since 2008 without any luck finding one here so why should 16 February be any different?

As we carefully made our way out to the beach on the four-wheel-drive road that was nicely and icily rutted by fisherman’s vehicles, we complained about the cold, the snow, the wind, and winter in general. We were all bundled up to an absurd degree and looked more like we were on a polar expedition than on a birding outing in Queens. Though the amount of species we saw on our walk out made it seem more like a polar expedition with only a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and pair of Song Sparrows showing themselves on the long walk.

Then, when we were nearly to the beach proper, Snow Buntings, a large flock, came straight at us. Most of them actually landed within twenty yards and started foraging directly in front of us, occasionally flying up briefly before settling back down again.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings at Breezy Point

Snow Bunting

Then, as we all three scanned the flock, Rich said, “I have a darker bird walking along on the left.”

Seth and I immediately got on Rich’s bird and, sure enough, it was a Lapland Longspur! Bird number 303 for me in Queens! It was about time!

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur hiding behind a Snow Bunting

But that wasn’t we would see for the day. Once we got out onto the beach we spotted a Snowy Owl which, this year, is completely unexpected. We also noticed large numbers of gulls feeding on lots of dead clams so we walked east towards the gulls hoping to find something good in the large feeding flock. We had no luck with the gulls but did notice lots more passerines feeding in the dune line. In short order we added lots of Horned Larks, at least four more Lapland Longspurs, and four Ipswich Sparrows, to say nothing of a large flock of House Finch.

Ipswich Sparrow stretching

Ipswich Sparrow stretching for some seeds

Ipswich Sparrow

Ipswich Sparrow jumping through the snow

Then the Snow Bunting flock that we had seen earlier flew back in and this time we found two Lapland Longspurs with them! We were unsure whether or not one of the four that we had just spotted had joined the buntings though, so we decided that we couldn’t be sure of a total count of more than five. Still, though, to go from zero Lapland Longspurs in Queens to five in one morning was pretty great!

Lapland Longspurs

two Lapland Longspurs

Sadly, in my last set of predictions for my next ten birds in Queens I left off Lapland Longspur. Oh-for-one so far. Oh well, at least I get to check it off the checklist. On to 304!

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.