On the 4th my flight to Goose Bay from Blanc-Sablon didn’t leave until around noon giving me a chance to to do a little more banding with Vernon in the morning. We weren’t overwhelmed with numbers but did manage to catch 18 Snow Buntings (all males) and 1 Common Redpoll. But we got news that the buntings were on the move: Eva Luther reported 6 or 7 in St. Lewis (at the SE corner of Labrador) and then another 20 the next day showing signs that they had been feasting on berries; and folks in Happy Valley-Goose Bay reported sightings of up to a hundred.
Although we are getting into April there is still a lot of ice in the Strait of Belle Isla (as you can see in the photo below). In this photo the view is to the WSW, the direction that buntings would travel from on their journey to the Arctic following the St. Lawrence River route. Pretty barren, inhospitable looking country at this time of year. Causes me to wonder what they would find to eat along the way. Perhaps this is the reason that they are associated with river banks/coastlines – more chance of food.
The flight north to Happy Valley- Goose Bay (HVGB) was straightforward (except for the kid yelling in the seat behind me). The view was spectacular: frozen lakes and rivers with the ground still blanketed with snow.
As my main task was to band as many Snow Buntings as possible and to get other Labradorites(?) involved in the activity, I had to hit the road running in Goose Bay. Regina Wells picked me up and took me to one site that had recently been reporting Snow Buntings. There were only two there so we concentrated the cut corn bait that was somewhat scattered in preparation for putting traps down tomorrow and moved on to the next site, Carl and Elsie Olford’s backyard. There we found a group of about 60 birds sitting in a tree above the yard anxious to descend onto several bait piles that Carl had laid out. We put out 3 traps and left them opened; Carl said that he would set them first thing in the morning.
When I got going this morning, around 6:30, the air temperature was -12 C. This engendered high hopes. We got to Carl’s around 7 and found that a) true to his word he had set the traps at 6:30 and b) they were filled with hungry Snow Buntings and a couple of Common Redpolls. Eureka! I love it when theory and practice come together.
About this time Vernon Buckle showed up. He had to come to HVGB to have a toothache dealt with. He brought a couple of traps with him (which he set out at the first site) and joined us for the banding. We were also joined by a couple of other ministry people (Sara – who had also been in Forteau – and Kathleen, whose real specialty is mammals at risk (caribou and polar bears) but has seen the beauty of Snow Buntings…and it gets her out of the office.
I must say that it was one of the most pleasant banding experiences I’ve been part of. A good number of birds, keen kindred spirits, and the Olfords’ unstinting and very warm hospitality. In order to keep the birds from overheating we banded outside on the front porch but between batches we lounged inside drinking coffee, watching out the window and generally shooting the breeze about anything you could think of. But there was a looming problem: I was slated to do an interview for CBC radio with Heidi Atter, host of “Labrador Today” – CBC’s morning show. And we had run out of birds. Yikes! Now, without word of a lie (and it was too perfect to make up), at the exact moment that Heidi walked into the kitchen, a big bunch of birds walked into the traps!! Perfect. It’s always better to talk about Snow Buntings and banding with birds in the hand. It was an extensive interview. Her big job will be to edit it down to fit the available time slot. It will likely be aired on Tuesday. Show starts at 6:30 AM Atlantic time.
Then, of course, it was lunch time – Elsie’s delicious home-made chicken noodle soup. Again we had run out of birds but needed a couple to demonstrate banding for a couple of students that were coming after school. And, again, they now sooner walked through the door than birds walked into the traps. We whipped those off, finishing the day with 33 Snow Buntings banded (all males) and 8 Common Redpolls. For the day there were a couple of interesting firsts: Regina banded her first Snow Bunting and Carl lays claim to the heaviest Snow Bunting banded in Labrador this year (and the heaviest I’ve ever experienced) – it weighed in at 54 grams!! With no fat these birds weigh less than 30 grams. That’s an increase in body weight of about 80%. Amazing!! Making a migratory flight has sometimes been likened to a person running a marathon…for hours and hours on end. Can you imagine running at all with an increase of 80% in your body weight let alone running for hours?!
In total, we banded 314 birds – 310 males and 4 females for a male to female ratio of 77.5:1. Of the 310 males banded, 240 were ASY (After Second Year or “older”) birds and 70 were in their Second Year (SY) having been hatched last Summer for a ratio of 3.4:1 ASY:SY.
It was a whirlwind week for me – new beautiful territory, fresh birds, and wonderful people. I’d come back any time. Thanks to everyone that made it such a wonderful experience!!!