Thursday, April 16, 2015

Snow Buntings on the Walker Bench near Rexburg

Ellen and I spent Christmas with family in Rexburg. With 14 people in my parent’s house, there was just too much excitement for Nora to go to sleep at nap time in the house, so in the interest of helping her get enough rest in the day to be a nice little toddler, I took her for a couple of afternoon drives so she could sleep in the nice, quiet car. This mean’s that even on Christmas day, shortly after finishing up a marathon present unwrapping session, Nora and I took off to enjoy an hour or two of quiet and solitude out in the drifting snowy farmland surrounding Rexburg. While this might not be the most traditional way to spend your afternoon on Christmas Day, I actually quite enjoyed it. A recent storm had blanketed the area in a several inches of fresh snow, which is always good for pushing any birds in the area closer to the road, and we still needed to find our Snow Buntings for the year.

Nora and I focused our time on the dry farms south east of town along Walker Road, known as the Walker Bench. I drove slowly and took my time, keeping an eye out for anything with wings.

Map

Map of our drive on the Walker Bench, Madison County.

This area has a history of hosting huge flocks of Horned Larks and their allies in the winter, including Snow Buntings, and the occasional Lapland Longspur. Whether or not you can find them just depends on whether the winter has been harsh enough to push the birds out into valley, and whether the snow cover is thick enough to push the birds towards the road. On this trip I found a decent number of birds, but nothing really extraordinary. As expected, Horned Larks were quite abundant.

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Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

The first flock of Horned Larks also turned up the first Snow Bunting. I was hoping for more than one, but one is enough to get them on our list for the year, so I was still happy with the find. Not to mention that this was the first time I’d ever been able to sneak up on them carefully enough to get workable photos.

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Snow Bunting and Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

With the strong breeze a lot of the birds struggle to maintain their composure.

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Snow Bunting and Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

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Snow Bunting on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

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Snow Bunting and Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

I also stumbled upon a covey of Gray Partridges along the road, which was fun because this was the first time I’d been able to get this species as well.

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Gray Partridges on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

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Gray Partridges on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

On the day after Christmas we had a repeat of the same drive for another nap. On this trip, Ellen was able to come with me, the birds were concentrated a little more heavily on to the road, and we found quite a few more Snow Buntings. We weren’t able to pick out any Lapland Longspurs, but not for lack of trying.

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Snow Bunting and Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

Our high count for the day was 26 Snow Buntings. Not bad, but not quite as magnificent as the record 700 that Darren Clark found out here a couple years earlier. How many can you spot in the picture below?

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Snow Buntings and Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

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Snow Buntings and Horned Larks on the Walker Bench, Madison County. December 25, 2014.

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