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A November Snow in California

Curses for not checking the rare bird alert before leaving work on Friday! A rare California bird, and a lifer, was seen in Half Moon Bay, just about 20 minutes from work. I would have loved a after work lifer, but alas it was not meant to be.

I eventually saw the post when I returned home and the northern visitor was last seen at 4:30 PM before the early winter’s eve turned out the lights. This was a good sign because it meant that the bird might overnight and be re-found on Saturday morning.

Wit this in mind I got up early on Saturday and drove down to Half Moon Bay and walked out to Venice Beach and the Pilarcitos Creek mouth and hoped the snow bunting has overnighted.

Oddly enough there was a snow bunting that was being seen in the Noyo Headlands in Fort Bragg a few weeks ago but had disappeared, presumably flying south. I wondered if this could possibly be the same bird, although it’s very tough to tell.

I arrived at the creek mouth just after 7 AM, and I was the first birder in the area. Below me, on the creek bottoms, were many mallards, killdeer, and Wilson’s snipes. But no bunting.

I continued looking for the next hour, at which point about 15 other birders were scouring the dunes and the beach for the rare visitor. With all these eyes looking for the bird, I figured it was a matter of time before someone would relocate the bird, if it was still in the area.

I decided to head north on Highway 1 to Pillar Point Harbor to look for the northern gannet that had been recently roosting on the breakwater. This is presumedly the same gannet that has been in the area for about eight years. I had first seen it on Alcatraz and it is often seen on the Farallon Islands. In also is seen in Pillar Point,

The snow bunting had not been reported on any birder lists so I headed over the hill to San Mateo to have lunch with my friend. After lunch I checked Sialia and saw a post that the snow bunting had been re-found so I headed back over Highway 92 to the same location I had spent looking for the bird a few hours earlier. But this time I was a lot more successful!

I arrived near the closed down parking lot and restroom and headed down towards the creek. The bunting shown like a white diamond amongst the dark sands.

The snow bunting about to take a bath in the creek.

It also helps that there where three birders already on the bird. I took a seat on the dunes and watched the bunting as it foraged in the creek bottom and then took a bath in the creek.

The bunting did not seem fazed by the attention and was within about ten yards of birders. This was in stark contrast to the Wilson’s snipe that where so skittish that they burst into flight at any provocative.

The shining white diamond was a much sought after lifer. It save me a trip to Alaska!

I took some reference photos which was a challenge because the bunting was in constant motion but after it’s bath, the bunting paused so I could capture the bird’s unblurred likeness.

This was world lifer 1,706!

The bunting post-bathing preening.