January 28th – Dashed Hopes!

Although she’s done a lot of work with Snow Buntings in the Arctic, Becky had not banded a Horned Lark…..until now. -DOL

Same with Sam – lots of Snow Bunting experience but her first Horned Lark. -DOL

The early morning started off with great anticipation: there was a large mixed group of larks and buntings sitting over the used up bait piles and this grew to 80+ birds as soon as we put down the traps and more cut corn. They immediately started milling all around the traps trying to figure out how to get in to take advantage of this bonanza. But 10 minutes later the Merlin swooped in scattering the flock wildly in all directions. For the rest of the morning small groups of from 8-20 birds would fly in intermittently and grab what they could in-between attacks by the Merlin. So we ended up banding only 9 birds: 6 Horned Larks and 3 Snow Buntings. What a disappointment.

Young male Snow Bunting. The first one banded in Saskatchewan with the CSBN. -J. Clarke

[For the first time in the CSBN history there is a group of banders dedicating their Winter efforts to banding Snow Buntings in Western Canada. They’ve been going through the trials and tribulations inherent in establishing a bait/trapping site but it looks like things are starting to pay off…for some banders at least.]
I got one!! Just one, but I got one this morning!

I made two more traps this week so have 3 now. I was out for 2 hours this morning and from the last group to come in right at the end (12ish birds), one made it into the trap. I’m pretty sure another one was in but quickly found it’s way out. At one point I had a flock of 52 bird present around the trap. That’s the most I have seen at the trap this winter! The temperature has really dropped now (-24 this am)

I have a plan to tweak things for tomorrow which will improve my capture rate (I hope) and I will be back out tomorrow.

Wing detail of this male Snow Bunting in its second year (i.e., it was hatched last Summer). -J. Clarke

The bird was a SY male. So cool to have it in the hand. I’ve never handled one before.

And this scoop just in:

One of a pair of Peregrine Falcons found by Karen Petrie in Caledonia. -KMP


January 27th – The Drama Plays Out

First capture of the morning: young male Lapland Longspur. -DOL

Predators pose a threat to most birds, which are often particularly vulnerable or conspicuous during foraging. (TW Sherry in Handbook of Bird Biology, Lovette and Fitzpatrick, editors)
There was a mixed flock of at least 50 birds sitting patiently over the depleted bait piles when I arrived at 7:45, waiting. They flew off a short distance, essentially nonplussed by my presence (by this time I think they’re associating me with food), and as soon as the traps were baited and as I was heading back to the car, they moved in. It was a long cold night and they were hungry. The flock was quickly joined by others , swelling the ranks to 75+ – Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and….the first Lapland Longspur of the season! A group like this, flying, hopping and walking around a small concentrated area in the middle of a white, snow-covered field completely devoid of any vegetation, is quite “conspicuous” to passing predators. I had been surprised that we hadn’t been disturbed so far. But this changed this morning!

One of 2 Merlins and an American Kestrel that kept checking the traps, especially when they contained birds. -DOL

Not more than 20 minutes after setting the traps, I noticed that this very “busy” flock had disappeared. The reason quickly became apparent when a large (probably female) Merlin flew right to the traps and tried to get at the birds inside. I was out of the car quickly to rescue them. Even as I was extracting them, hunkered down over the traps, I could hear the rush of the Merlin’s wings as it made several passes looking for escapees. After this it took half an hour before the birds began to trickle back but they were never in the same numbers as at opening.

Whenever the numbers started to build, a falcon would come dashing in scattering the feeding flock. There were at least 2 Merlins (based on relative size, likely a female and a male) and, toward the end of the morning, an American Kestrel. I was concerned about releasing banded birds as the Merlin had flown off to a treetop about 100 m. away to watch. The first bird of the day was a young male Lapland Longspur. After processing, I let it go out the window. it flew off in level flight; the Merlin responded immediately and gave chase. It made two passes at the longspur which managed to dodge the threat both times. Then the longspur resorted to a behaviour that Nancy and I had observed a number of years ago at a different site: the bird began to climb at about a 45+ degree angle. We had seen that falcons were not able to catch birds during this pursuit as they seemed to stall when trying to bring their feet up. It’s a strategy that works. The longspur continued to climb with the Merlin on its tail (almost) but the latter broke off the chase after about 20 meters and spiraled back to its treetop to watch the traps and the longspur kept flying until I couldn’t see it anymore. Whew! I didn’t see one successful hunt by the Merlins of released birds. Given the wide open habitat larks, buntings, and longspurs forage in, flocking is a good strategy. Many eyes have a greater chance to see approaching danger. And many group members, spread out over a wider expanse when travelling, are more likely to find food sources or see other birds that are feeding.

Two Arctic bird researchers from the university of Windsor: Becky Jardine (left) and Samuelle Simard-Pascal. DOL

I had the pleasure of the company of two Master’s students from the University of Windsor. Both spent last Summer in the Arctic studying Snow Buntings – “Sam” and I worked together in and around Iqaluit for 5 weeks finding nests of the “Big 5”: Snow Buntings, Northern Wheatears, Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks, and American Pipits.

When we’re banding buntings, we’ve noticed how there’s a flow of birds/flocks through a site. They feed for awhile and then take off, their place taken by other birds/flocks. This goes on through the day. When birds leave, where do they go? Do they keep moving or do they return later? How does weather affect this movement? Sam is working on these questions. She and Becky were applying little sound transmitter “backpacks” to some of the birds I was banding. It’s hoped that the array of Motus towers around the province will pick up their signals and inform us as to their movements. I’ll let you know what they find.

What a treat this Snow Bunting recapture was!! I originally banded it (a young female) on February 7, 2021! in the meantime this hardy bird has flown (and nested) to the Arctic – or Greenland – twice! That’s what goes through my head when I’m holding such a traveler: what have they seen and experienced during the intervening 2 years?

Banding Results:
Yesterday: 46 Horned Larks, 19 Snow Buntings
Today: 25 Horned Larks, 15 Snow Buntings, 1 Lapland Longspur


January 25th – At Last!

It started with just a few. -DOL

Grew into a bunch. -DOL

And turned into a horde. -DOL

January has been a pretty frustrating “winter” month: relatively mild and no snow. And this has resulted in no Snow Buntings. The bunting season started off in a promising way I thought when we got that cold snap around Christmas. I had Horned Larks coming to my bait site and these help to draw Snow Buntings when they arrive. But after that brief cold period they all but disappeared. And this concerned me. During this most recent prolonged warm spell I didn’t see any Horned Larks period and I was worried that they had possibly moved on, so when better conditions did occur they wouldn’t be around to draw in the buntings.

Today was crunch time. It wasn’t particularly cold (-2 C) but snow began to fall sometime between 6 and 7 AM; by the time I looked out there was already a couple of centimeters of accumulation. I got to the bait site around 7:45. And what a delightful sight: 30 Horned Larks, 4 Snow Buntings, and 2 Common Ravens(!) were scratching at the snow cover directly above the bait piles (even though they were invisible – to my eye anyway). I wasn’t going to try to band at first, just let the birds experience the corn. So I went home…..That didn’t last long. By 8:30 I was back, the traps were deployed and baited. None too soon. A mixed flock of about 50 birds swirled in and 20 minutes later this grew to 100+ birds that vacillated between flying around, getting grit from the road, and feeding at and in the traps.

Female Horned Lark -DOL

I closed up after about 2 hours even though the birds were around as the traps were filling with snow and covering the corn. During that time I managed to band 14 Horned Larks and 23 Snow Buntings. Two thirds of the latter were females and the males were all young birds (i.e., they had been hatched last Summer).

A jaunty male Horned Lark. -DOL

I went back later in the afternoon to top up the bait piles, which by this time were covered by about 5 cm. of snow. There were a dozen Horned Larks trying to find them and, after, I cleared the snow and touched them up, a larger mixed flock flew in. Tomorrow should be promising.
Just a reminder about HBO’s AGM:

Agenda – Haldimand Bird Observatory’s AGM

Date: February 11th, 2023

Location: Cayuga Library & Heritage Centre
(19 Talbot St. West – fully accessible)

Start time: 10:00 AM (sharp…please….there’s a lot to do.)

1/ Welcome and introductory remarks

2/ Business section:
• Minutes from previous AGM (move/seconder)
• Treasurer’s Report (move/seconder) [move to maintain current accountant]
• Confirmation of slate of board members with (3) requests for suggestions from the floor (mover/seconder)

3/ Overview summary of banding results at Lowville and Hurkmans Farm

4/ How I Spent My Summer With Birds – Liam Thorne and Eila O’Neil

5/ Birds and Mammals of the sub-Antarctic; a trip through the the South Atlantic Ocean – David Brewer
LUNCH BREAK (FREE pizza will be available)

6/ Youth Panel: Approaching Concerns About the Future – Aliya Gill, Sam Lewis, Sarah Sharp, Maggie Mileski, Renessa Visser and Nola O’Neil

8/ 2022: Ezra’s Big Year – Ezra Campanelli

December 24th – And So It Begins

A poor picture…but you get the idea: my SNBU banding site at the York Airport. -DOL

I’m sorry about the poor quality of the above picture, taken through the windshield of my car, but….this is my Snow Bunting banding site near the York Airport. This past year it grew corn, which was cut quite low leaving a short stubble. In the foreground is a gravel pad which the farmer uses as a loading area for the corn that is taken off. If you look carefully at the far end of the pad you will see two dark patches: one just left of centre and the other right. Now, if this was a good photo you would see that these two “patches” are, in fact, Horned Larks. At least that’s what I first thought. but a closer examination showed that one of them held the first Snow Bunting of the season mixed in with some larks!! A female. I love it when theory and practice come together: I’ve been preaching that Horned Larks draw buntings. And that’s exactly what has happened. There has been a flock of larks at the bait for the past 3 weeks and first thing this morning there was a group of 25. The bunting showed up about 2 hours later.

Looking at this picture you wouldn’t get the impression that we’d just been through a major Winter storm. Since Thursday the temperature has plunged about 20 degrees; the wind picked up to the point it was blowing steadily at 40 km/hr with gusts to 80; and we got about 20-30 cm of snow. You can clearly see that the wind has blown the snow away from the field – and most fields in the area. However, there are considerably drifts behind any sheltering obstacles – cars, houses, shrubs, etc. I gave some thought to putting out some traps and trying to band but the traps, despite their open mesh, act as snow fences and they soon fill up with snow, covering the corn and filling in the entrances. So…maybe tomorrow….as a Christmas present to myself.

Snow Buntings also showed up at Lise Balthazar’s place in Lanark County. -LB

Snow Buntings showed up all around. Lise Balthazar in Lanark County is a keen observer and she reported her first bunting on the 21st and a flock of 20 today. She feeds much larger groupings – they’re still on their way. [Instead, she’s entertaining a flock of >100 Evening Grosbeaks.]


Evening Grosbeaks -Lise Balthazar

Locally, Marnie reported a flock of 15 Snow Buntings at her site on Irish Line and Karen spotted a flock of ~20 on Onondaga Town Line @ Green’s Road.
If this “good” bunting weather holds, it could be a very interesting Winter season1