Sunday, February 13, 2011

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) are one of the two most northerly-breeding passerines in North America.  (The other being the Hoary Redpoll.) They breed on arctic and far northern alpine tundra. In Alberta we see them only as migrants and winter residents, often in flocks numbering anywhere from a few dozen birds to a few hundred.  Typical locations are roadsides, stubble fields and shortgrass prairie.

Though commonly seen (any trip along the farm roads east and north of Edmonton is bound to scare up flocks of them) they are shy and difficult to approach for photography.

A long lens helps. Sometimes the car can serve as a hide. For these pictures I set up my truck as a blind, put up my 500mm lens on a tripod, pulled a chair from the truck and sat down to wait for where I had first seen them and scared them away. An oilfield installation near a railway track. The oilfield facility is regularly plowed to allow service vehicles to approach. The windrows contain clumps of dirt and straw that attract these birds.A thermos full of coffee, a book, and a sunny +5C temperature made the wait comfortable. I knew they would return. They did. Clearly they knew I was there but eventually they came close enough for a reasonably decent set of pictures. These are from a flock of about 200.

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