The Magic of Snow Buntings

The Magic of Snow Buntings

Posted by Eric Dempsey, With 0 Comments,

Last week I had a special moment with a bird. It was a male Snow Bunting in its’ pristine winter plumage. It’s not the first time I’ve had such special moments with a Snow Bunting.


I saw my first Snow Buntings on the west pier of Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin in November 1979. I find it hard to believe that it is over 36 years ago. There were two birds shuffling, mouse-like, among the rocks eating seeds that they were somehow able to find. I instantly fell in love with the species.


So what was it that started my love affair with Snow Buntings? I love the subtle plumage of the birds in winter plumage. I saw them in their full summer rig-out in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland in spring last year. Lovely black and white birds…but give me the subtle beiges, browns and whites of their winter plumage any day. And then there’s that yellow bill in winter. It just adds to their wintry beauty.


However, the real magic spell that Snow Buntings cast over me is their tameness. Most of the birds we see in Ireland in winter come from the likes of Iceland (or perhaps even Greenland). They rarely encounter human beings and, as a result, know no fear. It’s not that you can walk right up to them; it’s more that they walk right up to up!


The Ultimate Moment

In a chapter of ‘Don’t Die in Autumn’ (my memoir), I recounted a very special moment I had with a Snow Bunting in Feb 2010. The bird trusted me to such an extent that, when danger threatened in the shape of a hunting Sparrowhawk, the bunting came running to me for shelter. It remained with me until the hawk was well and truly gone. It was the ultimate special Snow Bunting moment.


So, last week, when I learned that a Snow Bunting had been seen near the harbour of Greystones, I went out in search of it. I found it feeding right along a path. I got my camera and slowly approached to where he was feeding. He was aware of my presence but was totally unconcerned. So I set myself up to take some shots but he was having none of it. Instead, he started walking at me…closer and closer so that he was too close for me to take shots with the large lens I had. There he remained feeding within 2m of me.


Like I have done with so many Snow Buntings in the past, I simply put the camera down and sat back to enjoy such a wonderful bird. Sometimes photographers forget to just observe. A passing dog walker broke the magic spell and he was off over the harbour and out of sight. I didn’t follow.


How magical it is that a wild bird trusts a human being to do it no harm. It is a real privilege to be in such company. It is a truly uplifting life experience…the sort that only nature can bring.

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