Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Last bird of the year

Smog-veiled Suncheon Bay
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos
   It's December 31st again, and I've managed to sneak in a cheeky birding session this morning, which is becoming something of a personal tradition for this date.  After a hairy pre-dawn motorcycle ride out to the bay (frozen fingers, frosty visor, and terrifying black ice), I shuffled around a hazy landscape in which no sounds resounded except for the glorious complaints of Hooded Cranes.    
  After a couple of quiet hours, and just as I muttered "What a slow bloody bird day!" to myself, I spotted three LBJs perched immobile at the top of the 'Long-eared Owl' tree.  On the large side for buntings and strangely perched in a tree (as opposed to skulking restlessly in the scrub) they had me confounded until I was able to creep in closer.  The warm chest had me thinking Meadow Bunting, but a glimpse of a Tree Sparrow-like white cheek clinched it...Pine Bunting!  PINE BUNTING!  A very long-awaited life bird for me, and one that I had long since given up all reasonable hopes of seeing.  I spent a few glorious minutes watching them in the gloomy light before they flew off, seemingly towards the very horizon.  Happy New Year indeed!

Here's what I wrote last year on this date:

"There are no suitable adjectives.  Snowy *#@%ing Owl.  
  A perfect way to end the year.  Interestingly, my birding buds in Korea, JP and Subs, also ended out their years with owlifers.  Situational symmetry.  I just realized that for the last few years, I've been birding hard on December 31st.  In 2013 I was in Seoul searching unsuccessfully for Hazel Grouse, and the last day of 2012 saw Dr. Moores and I freezing in the name of a Long-tailed Shrike at Igidae.  Here's hoping that 2015 will bring us all more awesome birds, and hopefully less bad news about bird habitat, as well as every other damn thing."

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