As we approached the gate to leave the site, three Snow Buntings and one darker bird flew past. We tallied the SNBU's but had to leave the fourth bird unidentified. We figured it was either a Horned Lark or a Lapland Longspur - common associates of Snow Buntings. Indeed, during the 2008 CBC, we found one of each species only a few metres from this spot.
Today as I passed the landfill site on Penn Lake Rd, I again watched three Snow Buntings and a darker associate fly alongside the road. Fortunately, the flock landed and began feeding on the seed heads of grasses in a low-lying spot. I pulled over and approached on foot. The fourth bird was very dark indeed. I was able to get close enough to see clearly that this was neither a Lapland Longspur nor a Horned Lark...
And so I'm left wondering if this was the same dark little bird we didn't ID during the CBC, a month and a half ago.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches do occasionally stray from the Rockies into Ontario, although infrequently enough that the species is on the rare birds review list for northern Ontario.
Those interested in seeing this bird should know that the landfill site is out-of-bounds to the public - unconsolidated fill presents a serious risk to trespassers. Fortunately the southwest-facing slope can be scanned from the shoulder of Penn Lake Road. I recommend bringing a spotting scope. The vacant lot on the south side of Penn Lake Rd, across from the dump, holds decent looking field habitat that can be more thoroughly searched on foot. Those contemplating a trip from out-of-town should bear in mind that this particular Rosy-Finch is not visiting a feeder and thus its whereabouts are unpredictable.
Range map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Update - March 8, 2010
After checking the open areas on both sides of Penn Lake Rd. on most days since the bird was first sighted on Feb 12, I relocated the three Snow Buntings and the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch this evening at around 5:30 pm in the weedy vacant lot across the road from the landfill site. The spot (48.72429, -86.37399) is about 150 metres west of where the birds were seen on Feb 12. As before, the birds were actively feeding on the seed heads of grasses and evening primrose.