Buntings and finches


I went for the Snow Buntings, but stayed for the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches.

Often we go for a delightful walk along the shore or in the woods, but see little that prompts a blog posting. Now and then, we are pleasantly surprised. The only occasionally seen Snow Buntings were welcome, but the Rosy Finches were exceptional.

Saturday morning started with the Snow Buntings. First observed by Paul Prappas on Nelson’s dog walk, Cynthia found some there later and took shots. Then, three of us went out to Kokanee Creek Park in the afternoon to see if the Snow Buntings were also there and saw three. Good fun, for I have only seen these migrants every few years.

The prize was seen about 60 meters outside the Park. Although the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches were so uncommon at these low altitudes that at first, while interesting, they went unrecognized. These birds breed at the highest altitudes of any bird and rarely descend to the valley bottoms. It is even rarer to see a flock in the valley.

Let’s start with buntings.

A Snow Bunting on Nelson’s dog walk. Photo by Cynthia Fraser.

Two of the three Snow Buntings seen in Kokanee Creek Park.

Following this there were a large number of birds seen just outside the Park. They were alternately eating on the ground and flying to the next feeding place. This group contains less than a third of them. They took a while to identify. Photo by Cynthia.

There were more than sixty of these birds, and much of their time was spent on the ground finding things to eat. This small slice of them shows both the interior variety and the coastal variety. Photo by Cynthia.

Here is a closer view of the two subspecies. The interior variety is seen on the left (colour to below the eye), and the coastal variety on right (grey on the cheek). The coastal variety was most of the crowd, but clearly not all.

The Gray-crowned Rosy Finch is one of those birds that saves energy by alternating between flapping and gliding. Here it is gliding.

I don’t often get a chance to see a large flock of birds in close flight. So, it is fun to comment on something I have witnessed in a flock before: collisions. Now there are a number of web pages from reputable sources that will assure you that birds in a flock never collide. Alas, these sites are promoting nonsense. There are at least three collisions in this one picture. Birds collide in a flock all the time, but they recover quickly.


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9 Responses to Buntings and finches

  1. Karen Pidcock says:

    Wow…what a bird treat you had all at once…thanks, Alistair!

  2. Paul P. says:

    How cool that you and Cynthia got to see and photograph these wonderful birds.

  3. Stu Heard says:

    Snow buntings in Kaslo also. Finches a real treat! Often see them high elevation backcountry skiing.

  4. Mary J Williams says:

    Thank you so much! First off, I have never heard of either of these birds. I live in Missouri so…doubt they are around anywhere.
    I also agree with your statement. The people who “know” sometimes don’t know and say what they think they know! LOL!
    Love the pictures, particularly the bird that is gliding! That is really awesome!

  5. Fantastic pix, Alistair! Both species make me wistful for the Yukon, particularly the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, which sparkles up the high alpine tundra with its flashing pink belly and cheerful twittering. Tempted to caption your gliding image, “Gray-crowned Rosy rocket.”

  6. Allan Hobden says:

    OH boy!!..great narrative and picaroos!! Collisions…neat to see and have noted…and a big extra to see the bird gliding pic!

    Hi from Victoria….Allan

  7. Ruth Parfeniuk says:

    Wonderful photos!

  8. cynthia fraser says:

    Interestingly, my father Alistair’s last saw a large flock of Gray-crowned Rosy Finches in late October 2017 at Kokanee Creek Park! So, very very close to where we saw them this time!

  9. Stephen Wells says:

    Gorgeous! What a great way to spend a morning. I had a large flock of little birds in the trees along the lake, but try as I might I couldn’t get a good look as they were backlit, and I didn’t have my phone to try a sound ID. I wonder if it was these little beauties. Thanks for sharing!

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