When the calendar page turned to mark the beginning of 2015, I had clocked seven and a half months of time spent mostly in bed-- disabled by what had recently been diagnosed as a migraine disorder. 2014 had been an awful year of doctor's visits and misdiagnoses, so I was thrilled to see it go. 2015-- it just felt right! I was armed with a diagnosis, a treatment plan, and an enormous desire to get back to normal.
I woke up feeling good, with a plan of adding Snow Bunting (SNBU) to my life list. I had tried multiple times for this bird in the past, with no luck. A small flock had been previously reported at Fort DuPont State Park along the Delaware River, and Hannah Greenberg and I were determined to see them. The walk from the parking lot to the birds was 0.1 miles, which doesn't sound like much, but I hadn't walked that far in over half a year! For Snow Buntings, the inevitable migraine side effects of ‘strenuous’ exercise were worth it. For Snow Buntings, I could walk 0.1 miles.
When we arrived at Fort DuPont, I was feeling a little uneasy, but simultaneously excited at the prospect of seeing the Snow Buntings. I packed my bag with snacks and water, and we headed off down the trail. Compared to my usual shuffling, I was walking a bit better than normal; I was taking full steps and was even able to look around without feeling too dizzy. The path was completely flat, bordered on the left by Phragmites mixed with shrubs and on the right by woodlands. We didn’t see many birds on the walk, but there were a number of Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls flying overhead. Another nice highlight were two adult Bald Eagles that looked stunning in the blue skies and winter sunlight.
Finally, we reached the SNBU spot, where the trail veered off to the right and the tree line ended. We didn’t see anything in the straw-covered ground—I felt completely deflated. We scanned and scanned, but didn’t see anything. Then suddenly, we spotted them! The buntings were feeding in the middle of the open ground—there were about 12 or so in the flock. I couldn’t believe my eyes! To finally see these birds after years of trying was such a treat. The birds would fly back and forth between the rocks bordering the river’s edge and the straw. As they flew, we could see their half-black half-white wings and hear their buzzy flight calls. I re-counted and re-counted the flock until I was sure of the total: 15. We stood and watched them for as long as my body would let me. Eventually the excitement and physical activity took its toll, and I needed to get back to the car.