I always get my Snow Buntings between Buffalo and Rochester. Call it tradition, or just call it evidence that I don’t spend enough time in grassland habitat; either way, that Christmas trip to the Olde Homestead is where I get my last bird of the year. For some reason, the Snow Buntings do not favor the Olde Homestead itself; its cornfields and meadows are good enough for Harriers and Boblinks, but never for these denizens of winter. It’s on the margins of the road I must find them if I find them at all.

So when I reached the Olde Homestead without seeing so much as one brown and white blob flying rapidly away, I knew that my year list was in dire peril. Well, if by dire peril I meant I would miss one bird that I thought I’d get.

So yeah, DIRE PERIL.

Anyway, I was showing my mom the wonders of Birdingonthe.net‘s online mailing lists, and I noticed that someone had reported a flock of 150 snow buntings from an area that sounded vaguely familiar; a place just fifteen minutes up the road, in fact. Also in the flock were Horned Larks (another bird conspicuously absent from my year list) and Lapland Longspur (which I have never seen.)

So, the day after Christmas, my mom and the Inimitable Todd and I sallied forth to track this flock down.

We saw some crows.

A bit late, we saw some pigeons.

The cornfields stretched away on either side of us, looking for all the world like a perfect bunch of cornfields for a bunch of Snow Buntings. But aside from a single Red-tailed Hawk, only more Crows and Pigeons met my eye, Crows and Pigeons and a small flock of brown and yellow flying-away things that looked tantalizingly, but not countably, like Horned Larks. It was fun spending time with my mom and IT, commenting on the local horse farms and elk farms and wind farms and mud farms, but not a damned bit of good was it doing for my year list.

We cruised up and down the road where the birds were last reported twice; a large manure spreader gave me hope that some birds might be attracted to the recycled grain from the local herds, but the spreader was stuck in the mud and not doing much spreading at all. It was not a long road, and finally we were forced to concede defeat and drive home.

On the way back, we passed a single male Common Pheasant standing by the side of the road, watching us go by. He was my last bird species for 2008.

2008 year list total: 238
BGBY list: 128
New life birds: 80
First life bird of the year: Yellow-breasted Chat in Prospect Park on January 23rd.
Lst life bird of the year: Red-headed Woodpecker at Central Park on December 9.
Biggest Day: June 29, when Charlie showed me all the birds in England, resulting in 31 new life birds including number 300, the aptly-named Little Grebe.

Yeah, it was a good year. But time marches on, and already 2009 is shaping up to be a worthy replacement…

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