Snow Buntings by the Shore
In my last post, I waxed sentimental about my 300th, not to mention 301st, addition to my 2006 year list. And yet, I failed to regale you with the gripping tale of year bird #299…
To avoid keeping you in cruel suspense any longer, I’ll reveal that the species in question was Snow Bunting, new not just to my year list, but my life list as well. The New York birding boards have been chatting up the appearance of snow buntings along the southern shore of Long Island with such nonchalance for the last few weeks that it seemed even I could find it. Sure, I’d have to go to Long Island, home of the Core Team’s collective alma mater, but for the right birds, I could bring myself to do it. Snow Bunting packaged with the possibility of Purple Sandpiper, Lapland Longspur, and Black Scoter was apparently enough to do the trick, as I found myself, teeth gritted against the cold, scanning for seafaring species in the frigid waters around the Jones Beach Coast Guard Station.
That Purple Sandpiper I hoped for turned out to be a Black-bellied Plover lording it over a flock of Dunlin and a sole Sanderling. A wayward godwit rumored to be hanging around was nowhere to be found amidst a large group of American Oystercatchers hunkered down against the wind. And though I suspect I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Black Scoter, the one scoter I haven’t seen in a while, winging it on the oceanside, it was too far to ID for sure. But I had no problem making out some spectacular Long-tailed Ducks, as close as I’ve ever seen them, as well as a cool, collected Common Loon. The bay also held Red-breasted Mergansers and American Black Ducks.
The search for buntings brought me first to West End #2 (which might make more sense if you’ve ever gone birding at Jones Beach) to no avail. A cacophony of chirping drew me to a stand of bushes, but all I found were House Sparrows, House Finches, and Northern Mockingbirds. West End #1 worked out much better. There amidst the sand dunes whirled an energetic though timid flock of Snow Buntings. I couldn’t get too close to them, due to their aforementioned timidity, but did get decent views as they flew back and forth across the beach. Didn’t spot any longspur though. I’d say that abundant views of various gull species more than made up for that, but we all know I don’t mean it. This Great Black-backed Gull dining on skate is kind of cool though…