I’m on year five of birding and await the day when I hear a faint twittering nearby and assertively announce, “that’s a Wilson’s Warbler.” Dream on! My ability to recognize birdcall is almost nonexistent.
Still, I am improving. Over the years I’ve noticed a curious thing. Bird sightings often come in clusters, as in “wren week”, or “kinglet month”. This summer, along the dykes of the Allouette River, I saw clusters of birds that previously, I had rarely or never seen, including Fly Catchers and many Eastern Kingbirds.
One day a small dot, high in a bare tree, eluded my sleuthing skills, so I took a photo and later, with ridiculous amounts of cropping, I saw it. A pixilated blue head and neck and fawn-colored chest…. A Lazuli Bunting! Luckily, the next day, he was singing away on the blackberry bushes and I got a photo – my coup of the year! I never saw him again, although I remained on first name terms with my cluster of Flycatchers and Eastern Kingbirds.
Fast forward to November, 2020 and while sitting on a bench at Blackie Spit in White Rock, BC, I spotted three small, brownie, white birds moving through the grass, oblivious to my presence. Snow Buntings! Lovely little birds – like less colorful budgies. I shot many photos as they nibbled their way through the brush.
Lazuli Buntings AND Snow Buntings! Admittedly four months apart, but I consider them to be my “2020 Bunting cluster”. They are birds of the same genus – Emberizae – and they are both seedeaters, but there the similarity ends.
Snow Bunting males are hardy little guys who head up north early in the spring to find a nice, snow-covered, rocky crevasse where they build a cozy, feather-lined, nest. The females show up a few weeks later when they breed, (2 – 7 eggs) and remain until fall. Then they fly south to places like balmy Blackie Spit, for the winter. They can be seen in large flocks up north, going through the low brush.
The Lazuli Buntings are the lotus landers who want nothing to do with that cold nonsense. As soon as things get chilly, off they head to a variety of all-inclusives in the Mexican Caribbean and then further south. In spring, they fly north again to breed, which is when we see them in BC, usually hanging around shrubs, like Oregon Grape, Ninebarks and different berries.
As I progress, the temptation is to join a small elite clique, passing around secrets and racing off to locations on the tip of a rare sighting. I am reminded of Pigmy Owls, whose location remains jealously guarded while a stream of photos appear on Facebook from the “in-crowd” – which, sadly, does not include me!
Well I guess that’s ok but for me it’s the fun of going to cool places, getting exercise while blundering around and, using educated guessing, (some), intuition, (a bit) and random good luck, (mostly) I find my clusters.