Jan 12 2009
Last weekend we were supposed to be inundated with snow, sleet and freezing rain. (We weren’t.) Meanwhile there were great birds to see in the Pittsburgh area: pine siskins and white-winged crossbills.
I was torn. I didn’t want to miss seeing these birds but I didn’t want to drive in bad weather. I live near several bus lines so why not use mass transit to go birding? Or walk?
I put out a plea on PABIRDS asking for help finding siskins and crossbills near any bus line in Allegheny County. Dan Yagusic came through with pine siskins at the Veterans Medical Center near Shuman. Easy! It’s the 74A bus. But I cheated and drove because it wasn’t sleeting at that point. (They were nice siskins, by the way.)
For Sunday’s trip I vowed I would not cheat. I would walk or take the bus. I gave up on crossbills as their location was hopelessly far from public transit and decided to walk to South Side. If there were no birds at least there would be hot chocolate and I could take the 59U to get home.
As I began my journey many sidewalks were covered in lumpy ice. After a treacherous crossing of the Hot Metal Bridge (thank heaven for Yak Traks) I discovered the downriver side of the bike trail was closed for construction of two new buildings. Dang! I had only seen 10 birds so far – 10 individuals – and there were none on the river. I turned east, found an overlook and sat down to think. It was cold and snowing. I stared across the river. Was this day a loss?
And then a flock of about 30 very white sparrow-sized birds flew in fast and fluttered down to a ridge of exposed dirt at the old LTV site across the river. Very white! All white underneath and very white on top with dark backs. In the gray light they tumbled out of the sky like falling leaves, walked on the snowy dirt, jumped up and circled back. They came down, flew up, down, up, and then they were gone flying fast upriver. The flock was there for maybe 60 seconds. I never saw them again. Snow buntings!
They made my day.
(photo of a pine siskin by Marcy Cunkelman. Click here to see a video of snow buntings in flight – these are in breeding plumage.)
p.s. See my January 14th blog for more transit-accessible birding.