Monday, December 5, 2011

You can't always get what you want..But...

Posted by Lillian Stokes
Snow Bunting

As I sat down to write this post about our recent birding adventure, the words to the Rolling Stones song, "You can't always get what you want…" came into my head.

We started out birding on Saturday, full of hope and expectations. We wanted to see, and I wanted to photograph, a Snowy Owl. We headed to the coast, where there had been recent sightings of Snowy Owls in NH and MA. This is shaping up to be a Snowy Owl irruption year, although not for the usual reason of their food source, lemmings, having a population crash. There were an abundance of lemmings during this breeding season, leading to now an abundance of young Snowy Owls who cannot compete with adults for food on their wintering grounds, so these owls head south.

We searched the coastal marshes of Hampton, NH, and Salisbury, MA. Where owls had recently been seen, now duck hunters in camo stalked across the marshes. With each passing moment my fantasy of a nice Snowy Owl cooperatively perched in some marsh, within camera range from the car, began to vanish. This is when birding is NOT FUN (am I allowed to say that on the Birding Is Fun website?)

We went back to Hampton Beach State Park, which has a large grassy parking area, usually full of gulls and sometimes other cool birds. Instead we found horse trailers and multiple people, horses, and dogs, about to go on a beach ride!

Don suggested we walk to the edge of the lot, which overlooks an ocean inlet. There we saw some seals, Common Loons and many Red-throated Loons. Birding was beginning to be a weensy more fun. We turned to walk back to the car and there, in the middle of the grassy parking lot, not far from 4 horses, 3 people and a German Shepard, were 2 Snow Buntings near a puddle.

Usually you can' t get near these buntings unless you're using a car as a blind. I had my camera (Canon 1D Mark IV, 300mm lens plus 1.4 teleconverter) in my hand. Oh, great, I thought, they're sitting quietly near a menagerie, but they'll take one look at me and vanish.

I nonchalantly began to move diagonally closer, pausing frequently, to see if they gave any sign of alertness and readiness to fly, in which case I would have stopped. Amazingly, they did not. I got a little closer, gradually knelt down, and had a wonderful moment with the Snow Buntings, seeing the photo in my eye and capturing their poses as they quietly drank. For me it was the highlight of our trip.

The lyrics to the song are...

"You can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need."

and I did.


  1. very nice post - i have recently had similar experiences trying to find the snowy at hammonasset and stratford, CT. found other nice birds but no snowy :)

  2. I know there have beem many times when I go looking for a particular bird to photograph and instead find other birds that amaze me. It's a bird photographers Serendipity! Love the Snow Bunting photos.

  3. Wonderful post Lillian. I think you captured a lot of the common emotions known to birders when bird quests seem to fail. I'm glad you found the positive and fun to focus on in the end! I just love that photo with the snow bunting reflection in the puddle.

  4. Beautiful photos of those snow buntings. Wonderful details. Don't give up on the Snowy Owls though.

  5. Lovely light on the buntings! Isn't serendipity a blast!

  6. P.s. I hope you get your snowy owl soon though!