December 23rd – Winter Equinox Surprise!

To usher in the new year – Saw-whet Owl #75. MMG

In fitting fashion Marnie and Duncan sat around a raging bonfire on the evening of the 21st – the Winter Equinox. For everyone in northern temperate/low Arctic latitudes this is the most important event of the year: the beginning of the return of the sun as the days get longer and the nights shorter; a new, timeless cycle begins. In olden times this would be an excuse for drinking, eating, perhaps the sacrifice of virgins…But they initiated the new year with a sound system to see if, counterintuitive to all reason, that another Northern Saw-whet Owl might be in the vicinity. Mother Nature smiled upon their efforts and gifted them with #75 for the season! Who woulda thunk it!? It turned out to be a young (HY) female.

Horned Larks moved into the area about 3 weeks ago. There was one (at least) at the bait site this morning.

Today I’m sitting out the storm: fresh snow blown by gusting winds bringing in plunging temperatures (it has gone from +2 at four this morning to -15 twelve hours later). I actually woke at 4:00, aroused by the howling of the wind and when I glanced outside I could see a fresh dusting of snow on the cars and roofs. Confronted by these conditions one right away thinks: I wonder if the Snow Buntings have shown up yet. I headed out early to check; there’s nothing like snow blowing up your pant legs to wake you up and white-outs along the roads to keep you focused. At the bait site at the York (International?) Airport I didn’t see any birds but no sooner had I put out some fresh cut corn than a Horned Lark flew in and began gorging. This is important! I’ve found that Horned Larks, since they arrive earlier than the buntings, clue in to food sources and, if those sources are consistently available, will keep returning to them. Snow Buntings, when they arrive, are pretty quick to observe other feeding birds and move in to take advantage as well. In essence Horned Larks “lead” Snow Buntings to the bait/trap site. So It was good to see this lark. If the snow and cold remain, I might be in luck. What a nice Christmas present that would be!

In my experience, Horned Larks “lead” Snow Buntings to local food sources. -George Hentsch


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