April 10th – One Sixth Done

This Osprey returned on April 4th and perched in a treetop above the pond (where this photo was taken). Shortly after this shot it flew straight to the bulky nest to the NE across the river. -KMP

And there it is on the nest minutes later. -KMP

Diane Green witnessed this interesting behaviour: one of the Osprey (likely the male) is dropping a fish to its mate – sort of wining and dining her. -DG

That’s right: one sixth of migration watching for small birds is done (April 1-10; 11-20; 21-30; May 1-10; 11-20; 21-31). We’ve been banding out of three sites: Ben Oldfield’s site in Lowville, the Farm site east of Cayuga, and Fern Hill School in Oakville. At none of the sites are we going hard core (nets up before sunrise and run for 6 hours, daily coverage). There’s only so much trained personpower to go around and we want to see what these sites can offer. So far the results have been what you might expect for April….except for the Fern Hill School site. I had an unbelievable 3 days there this week (and my fingers will attest to it)….see below.

The outside of the Farm banding hut. -JDF

…and the inside. -JDF

The Hurkmans Farm site outside of Cayuga is brand new to me/us. It’s situated next to a large pond and extensive wetland next to the Grand River. I don’t know really what we will get here or what the numbers will be like but already there’s some interesting developments. Of the 3 sites it produced the fewest number of birds banded – 67. But the greatest species diversity – 17. Some of the nice surprises are: a bevy of Tree Swallows checking out the nest boxes we just put up; an active Osprey nest across the river; a local pair of Sandhill Cranes (that likely is nesting now); a palette of Painted Turtles in the pond. It will be interesting to see how the Spring migration unfolds at this site.
Banded 67 (April 1-10):
2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers
6 Downy Woodpeckers
2 Eastern Phoebes

Eastern Phoebes were early arrivals. With these temperatures there are lots of insects to maintain them. -KMP

1 Blue Jay
8 Black-capped Chickadees
3 White-breasted Nuthatches
3 Brown Creepers
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
4 American Robins
1 European Starling
15 American Tree Sparrows
10 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco
4 Red-winged Blackbirds

It’s difficult to get an accurate count of Red-winged Blackbirds as there are both resident and migrant birds around. -KMP

2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
1 American Goldfinch

A colourful nestbox (with a chickadee-sized hole) that was donated. We’ll see what we get. -JDF

Painted Turtle in the Farm pond. -KMP

A palette of Painted Turtles at the pond. (Today I counted 24.) -KMP

Eastern Bluebirds (at least 2 pairs) have been checking out the nest boxes at the Farm. We’ve yet to catch one though. -KMP

A pair of Blue-winged Teal have been frequenting the pond at the Farm for the past week. -DG

On Wednesday the census crew spotted this Pied-billed Grebe on the river (and later spotted a second). -MES

This pair of Sandhill Cranes has been around (probably) through the Winter. I’ve seen and heard them regularly – except for the past couple of days; they seen to have become very quiet – possibly nesting. -KMP

Skunk Cabbage. -KMP

Tree Swallows have started to seriously check out the nest boxes we put up on the flats. -KMP

Ben’s Lowville site has shown itself to be an excellent place to band birds. He gets good numbers and interesting diversity. This past Fall season was exceptional and he’s hoping for the same this Spring. Lowville 2nd in both number banded (82) and species (15).
Banded 82:
1 Downy Woodpecker
14 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Red-breasted Nuthatches

These birds are very cute: Red-breasted Nuthatch. -MMG

3 White-breasted Nuthatches

White-breasted Nuthatch. -MMG

3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
4 American Robins
9 Pine Siskins
7 American Goldfinches
1 Field Sparrow
7 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
4 White-throated Sparrows
21 Dark-eyed Juncos

Juncos were the most banded bird so far in Lowville. -NC

4 Northern Cardinals

Fern Hill School Oakville has been a complete surprise. It produced the least diversity (13) but by far the largest number of birds banded – 171 (over just 3 days)! This total was driven by Black-capped Chickadees – we banded 110 (33, 43, 34)! These birds were obviously migrants – they all were carrying good fat loads. Local chickadees that are residents and that we were recapturing at the same time were showing NO fat deposition. Interestingly the birds were quiet. If you went by ear alone you would have concluded that there were just a few around (and these were probably local birds letting everybody know they had territories) but they were streaming through the canopy, moving along the hedge-tree line that separates the campus from the cemetery next door until they could jump across a gap of 50 meters to a forest where they enjoyed feeding in the poplar catkins.
Banded 171:
2 Mourning Doves
110 Black-capped Chickadees
3 White-breasted Nuthatches
1 Brown Creeper
3 American Robins
1 House Finch
4 American Tree Sparrows
1 Chipping Sparrow
4 Song Sparrows
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
32 Red-winged Blackbirds

For comparison: older (ASY) male Red-winged Blackbird on the left; younger (HY) male on the right. -CL

3 Common Grackles
5 Brown-headed Cowbirds


April 1st – And So It Begins…..

A first for the new site: Thick-billed Murre, quite likely blown in by the gusting, frigid NW winds. An unusual species…true….but you can never tell at this time of year. Might have been looking for its compatriots – the Snow Buntings, which are long gone. -DOL

The unseasonably warm conditions that we enjoyed just a few days ago were gone today. Instead we were met with a gusting, cold NW wind that seemed to go right through you. But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good and I was fortunate to see the above Thick-billed Murre winging its way along the river. A long way from home but these are times when birds are on the move and maybe this one was just looking for something outside the box.

Bill Hurkmans (right) oversees the putting up of the outhouse he designed and built for the banding program at the Farm. I’m sure this will ease the minds of many participants. -DOL

Another highlight for the day was the erection of a designer outhouse, constructed by Bill Hurkmans. It’s really a wonderful bit of work and should inspire anyone needing to use it.

Demonstrating how to generate data for the new Farm Outhouse Bird List. -DOL

I would like to carry on a tradition I encountered when doing Arctic field work: the development of an “outhouse bird inventory”. I will provide a recording sheet that you can add to. I have tastefully aimed the door away from the banding hut and from the road so you can feel at ease while trying to add to it.

Kristy holds the first bird banded at the Farm banding site – a Black-capped Chickadee. -DOL

The third highlight of the day was the banding of the very FIRST bird at the Farm site: a Black-capped Chickadee. Due to the wind and cold
(and construction) we opened only 3 nets for 3 hours but still managed to band 15 birds:
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
4 Downy Woodpeckers
5 Black-capped Chickadees
3 American Tree Sparrows
2 Song Sparrows

ET’s: 28 spp.

March 24th – SNBU’s On The Move

I banded/saw my last Snow Bunting on February 23rd. We had had 3 weeks of Winter – cold temperatures and enough snow to cover the fields. But then Winter disappeared; the snow melted and the air warmed up and the Snow Buntings….were on their way home. (Although studies have shown that they spend over half their lives in their southern homes, so maybe they were going to the cottage….)
We’re not seeing them here now but they’re beginning to show up at sites on their route north. Birds in Ontario seem to migrate out the St. Lawrence until they get to Labrador and then head north, many of them making the trek all the way to Greenland. Interestingly though, well over half of Canadian Snow Buntings (something like 65%) spend the Winter on the southern Prairies. Sadly, no one seems to be banding them there so not a lot is known about their travel routes. As you will see from Bill Maciejko’s post below we are really missing the boat with this population. There seems to be a divide: if you draw a line south through Hudson Bay you will find that eastern Arctic/Greenland birds winter in Ontario/Quebec and they migrate using the St. Lawrence/Labrador route. The other Arctic Snow Buntings winter west of this imaginary line and travel more north-south to get to their breeding grounds but west of Hudson Bay. It would be interesting to know where Julie Bauer’s birds in the Yukon come from (see below).

The breath-taking back-drop to Julie’s banding area in Haines Junction. -JB

(Yes Rick, please use the picture, community is Haines Junction.  We do live in a gorgeous area.) Busy with buntings now but catching quite a few we have banded in the last couple of days, waiting for an influx of new birds. Getting some recaps from last year and two from 2018, some 5 yr olds. We still have tons of snow.

Julie Bauer
Haines Junction, Yukon
Hello, Well, I started in 2014 but was still working as a nurse and now retired. Basically it is myself and my husband that do all the banding. In busy times  I have asked for help from migration station staff but they all live in Whitehorse, 11/2 hrs away. All banding done in the community of Haines Junction. Am the only  SNBU bander in the Yukon and unfortunately none others in Alberta or BC. Have attached one picture of a busy site when we have both of us working. Usually we work alone at 2 different locations and love it when we have a scribe. We do involve the local community and youth in the project.
Have attached a list of birds banded. We have quite a few recaptures of our own birds. Had had two foreign recaps of our birds.
I have sent you our data over the years, did I send 2020?Are there any specific pictures you would like??
All for now. Busy day banding and have about 3 weeks to go depending on the weather of course.
Julie Bauer
Haines Junction, Yukon


2014                   32
2015                  136
2016                  239
2017                1173
2018                1643
TOTAL TO END OF 2018=3222
2019 No birds banded
2020                2338
2016 first recap of 2015 banded bird
2017 two recaps( 1 from 2015, 1 from 2016)

2018 7 recaps (5 from 2017,1 from 2016,1 from 2015) 1F

2019 2 other recap (1Barrow,1 Dawson Creek, both 2018 banded)

2020 14 recaps (4 from 2017,10 from 2018) 1F

(Only 2 females recaps)

 Year to year recaps: total 24 at Haines Junction, 2(1recovery, 1 released)= 26

March 21st:

Hi Rick,

Funny you should ask….[in response to a request for SNBU sightings…]

Still no sightings at my location (west of Camp Morton, MB), but this morning I received the following message from Dan Good, a birder of several years experience:

“I was on the Stead Flats yesterday [March 20] and saw four large flocks of snow buntings each between 10 and 50 acres in size. 100’s of thousands of them.”

Stead is at the south end of Lake Winnipeg, on the east side. Area is a mix of agricultural fields/pastures and areas of marsh/swamp, a good place to stop and refuel.

All the best,

Bill Maciejko

Camp Morton, Manitoba

[When I read something like the above I just can’t get over the lost opportunity…… and I’d never heard of birds being measured by the acre before.]

March 23rd:

Hi Rick we lost our buntings 2 weeks ago and March is usually our best month – so disappointed. It was plus 18 today.

We are still getting redpolls and evening grosbeaks and redwings and a few other migrants are starting to arrive . Hopefully u catch one of our rwbl in your j trap; we usually band close to 200 a year.

Bruce Murphy

New Liskeard, ON

March 14th:

It appears the Snow Buntings have gone; I haven’t seen them since
Thursday. I will miss them, their sweet chatter and their beautiful
maneuvers in the bright blue winter sky.

From this – Snow Bunting flocks busily feeding below the feeders…… -NC

And as usual, this is the time of year where the bright white birds are
replaced by the stark black ones; I have about 150 to 160 Red Winged
Blackbirds right now.

To this: Red-winged blackbirds busily feeding beneath the feeders…… -NC

I thought the Redpolls were starting to go too, but this blustery, cold
weather had brought them back to the feeders.

A flurry of male Red-winged Blackbirds. -NC

Lise Balthazar
Lanark Co. ON

March 22
Hi Rick,
We are done with SNBU banding here, I haven’t tallied the results yet. I could do so this week but definitely not get to the sex ratios haha, so much data to enter!

Simon Duvall

Montreal Area, QC

[Yann Rochepault bands at Riviere-St.-Jean on the north shore of the St. Lawrence across from Anticosti Island. He usually doesn’t start to see Snow Buntings until April…..although with this weather he may be in for a surprise…]

As I mentioned earlier, it appears that Snow Buntings from Ontario/Quebec head out the St. Lawrence River and then north through Labrador. Since the birds have left the southern part of their Winter range they must be heading in that direction. I was hoping that Yann had started to pick them up. But they are just starting to show up in Labrador. Last year I chanced into a Facebook group that I found fascinating: “The Snow Bunting Project – 2020”. On it bird observers posted their sightings – where and how many. This initiative was spear-headed by Cheryl Davis and Vernon Buckle. At the end of the season Cheryl sent me a spreadsheet detailing the sightings. The 2nd week of April was the time to be there!

They have continued the project this year: “The Snow Bunting Project – 2021”. I would encourage you to look it up and follow it. You get a good picture of where the birds are, when they arrive and a great lesson in geography when you look up the places mentioned. (A favourite of mine is St. Lewis at the SE end of Labrador. One of the first foreign recoveries of one of “my” birds was in St. Lewis.)

Below Cheryl lists the early (March) sightings from 2020. 

“Thought the group might be interested in these numbers from 2020:}

Jan 26 – 18 SB – Double Mer

  • Seen sometime between March 1-15 – 2 flocks of 6-10 each


  • Seen sometime between March 1-15 –15 SB – Kauk

March 17 – 2 SB – Carter Basin (Kenemich)

March 19 – 24 SB – Northwest River Pitts

March 20 – 6 SB – Cartwright

March 20 – 3 SB – Nain

March 21 – 2 SB – Nain

March 22 – 1 SB – English Point

March 23 – 12 SB – North River

March 23 – 1 SB – Cartwright

March 23 – 6 SB – St. Lewis

March 24 – 4 SB – Nain

March 24 – 1 SB – St. Lewis

March 25 – 2 SB – Cartwright

March 25 – 2 SB – Northwest River

March 25 – 1 SB – Muscrat Falls

March 25 – 30 SB – Happy Valley / Goose Bay

March 25 – 1 SB – St. Lewis

And here’s how things are shaping up so far this year (taken from the current Facebook page):

Eva Luther makes these reports from St. Lewis: March 12 – 3; March 20 – 16; March 21 – 30.

Snow Buntings taking in the evening sun in St. Lewis, Labrador. -Eva Luther

March 18 – Cheryl posted this comment from some New Brunswick birders: “Sometimes it is about what we don’t see while birding. Snow Buntings noticeably absent in Cap Lumiere and Chochpish, Kent Co., NB” [Are they now in Labrador?}

March 19 – “…first snowbird in Makkovik”  [Mary Andersen]

March 21 – “had 2 all weekend in Anaktalak Bay” [Garnet Blake]

One of two buntings that spent the weekend in Anaktalak Bay, Labrador. Garnet Blake

March 21 – “Confirmed sighting of 2 buntings in Ivujivik; most northerly village in Nunavik.”  [Allen Gordon]

March 21 – ~90 in Goose Bay North Side [Norma Knight]

March 23 – 25-30 in Wabush [Carissa Bagnell]

March 24 – 25 – 30 just outside North West River [Joseph Townley]

So follow The Snow Bunting Project – 2021. If it’s anything like last year you will see that the “explosion” will take place in about another 2 weeks. The birds making up this explosion are somewhere between Montreal and St. Lewis…..


March 21st – Getting Ready

A guide for those that don’t know…… -DOL

A thoughtful gift (and sentiment) from the Lewis family. -DOL

There is an upside to Daylight Savings Time. When it’s 5 AM “real”/bird time, it’s 6 AM Daylight Savings Time. So I can trick myself into thinking that I get to sleep in an hour more….. This becomes a big factor when you have to get nets open half an hour before sunrise.

Dave Brewer trying out a Jay trap he’s erecting at the Lowville site. -CM

We’re going to run two sites this Spring: Ben’s Lowville banding station and a new site at a wetland on the Hurkman’s farm on River Road South (9.5 km outside of Cayuga). We’ve been busy getting things ready. Yesterday we put up some of the nets in Lowville and got David Brewer’s Jay-trap half built in readiness for an April 5 start.

At the wetland site, we’ve pretty well finished making the banding “lab” serviceable (if not downright homey), put up some WODU nesting boxes, a couple of feeders (that already have attracted a busy traffic of resident BCCH’s, WBNU’s and DOWO’s) and cleared the 8 (or so) net lanes in preparation….. It will be interesting to see what this site turns up in terms of resident migrants and how it is used by long-distance migrants.

The new banding “lab” at the wetland site. -DOL

While volunteers are encouraged, due to Covid constraints and cautions, attendance has to be on a scheduled basis in order to keep everyone safe. You can contact me if you’re interested: rludkin@hotmail.com