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Snow Buntings

April 11, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis; Gealóg shneachta) is an enigmatic member of the bunting family that occurs in Ireland in small numbers during the winter months, predominantly along the west, north and east coasts. Since moving to Dublin in 2008, I have had the pleasure and privilege to see Snow Buntings every winter in and around Dun Laoghaire harbour. This year, there was a very tame first winter male Snow Bunting along the seafront of Greystones in Co. Wicklow. Having not been out much with my camera this winter, I ventured down one dreary grey morning in late February to see if I could find the bird. After parking my car, I proceeded to walk from north to south along the seafront. A short time later, in the dark and misty dawn, I could see the bird feeding no more than 50 metres away from me. I crept up on the bird and found a position that gave me some shelter, so I just sat down and waited. A short while later, the bird just started feeding on the grass seeds to my left and purposefully made its way towards me. And it kept walking towards to me until it was no more than 2 metres away. I took down the camera and spent time just watching it feed on the seeds, all the while keeping one on me and one eye to the sky, looking out for predators. It was quite a thrill to be so close to such a beautiful bird.

MC7D1352 SnowMC7D1352 Snow MC7D1152 SnowMC7D1152 Snow MC7D1210 SnowMC7D1210 Snow MC7D1122 SnowMC7D1122 Snow MC7D1242 Bunt TurnstoneMC7D1242 Bunt Turnstone The Snow Bunting kept company with the odd Ruddy Turnstone or two. This is a really good area to get some very close views of Turnstone during the winter months. A strange sight seeing these species together on a typical Irish landscaped grassy verge!! MC7D1437 SnowMC7D1437 Snow MC7D1492 SnowMC7D1492 Snow The light was pretty poor and the rain kept falling, albeit lightly. The conditions meant I could really test the ISO capabilities of the Canon 7DII to see how it fared. It handled the conditions much better than I thought it would, but the images still lack a bit of punch and are quite flat. However, I couldn't really complain. It was a fantastic few hours spent in the company of the Snow Bunting. MC7D1481 SnowMC7D1481 Snow MC7D1558 SnowMC7D1558 Snow MC7D1674 SnowMC7D1674 Snow MC7D1604 SnowMC7D1604 Snow

Another species literally made my heart stop...a fly-by juvenile White-tailed Eagle came up along the coast before it made its way over the Wicklow hills! Amazing to see such a magnificent species flying freely in our country. A couple of Purple Sandpipers were also milling around on the rocks, giving the area a real Nordic feel! Once the area started becoming busy with Sunday morning walkers, joggers and dog walkers, I decided to head back to Dublin and into the office for a few hours after a relaxing morning. 

There was also a Snow Bunting staying in and around the piers of Dun Laoghaire all winter. I had tried (and failed) to see the bird on a two previous occasions but struck lucky on the third attempt. I also bumped into my good friend Shay Connolly down on Trader's Wharf that Sunday morning and both of us enjoyed photographing the confiding Snow Bunting there for a few hours. Mind you, we spent more time chatting and catching up than photographing the bird! 

MC7D1828 Snow BuntMC7D1828 Snow Bunt MC7D1923 Snow BuntMC7D1923 Snow Bunt MC7D1962 Snow BuntMC7D1962 Snow Bunt MC7D1749 TurnstoneMC7D1749 Turnstone MC7D2038 TurnstoneMC7D2038 Turnstone

The Trader's Wharf is also a great place to get photographs of Ruddy Turnstones. They are quite approachable and are also fantastic characters. Seems that Snow Buntings and Turnstones inhabit the same environment in Ireland during the winter! And I am sure they are close neighbours in Iceland and the Arctic region during the breeding season. I never tire of seeing Snow Buntings. They are just brilliant! 


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