January 12th – Winter News!

[About 23+ years ago, when Haldimand Bird Observatory got going, I was approached by a young PhD student at McMaster. She was working on connectivity in Yellow Warblers and wanted to learn how to use mist nets and to band Yellow Warblers….and other passerines as well. Marylene Boulet, now Dr. Marylene Boulet (I was kindly invited to sit in on her oral exam) became my first banding subpermittee, #10622B. It was through Marylene that Dr. Pat Chow-Fraser’s classes at Mac began to come out – a yearly event – to learn about how to study birds in a hands-on way. It’s also how Darryl Edwards got wind of the station. Darryl, now a prof at Cambrian College, became #10622C and it was through Darryl that I started my sojourns into the Arctic. Funny how small connections lead to bigger ones!

Marylene has gone on to become the Senior Labs Instructor at Bishop’s University, close to Sherbrooke Quebec. Now, here’s an irony: last Summer she emailed to say that she hadn’t been doing any banding, in fact didn’t think any was going to happen in her area, and did I want her to return the bands I had forwarded to her many years ago. Within the week I received another email from her saying that the university was interested in developing a bird studies program that would involve banding. Fantastic! No need now to return the bands! She became quite interested in the possibility of banding Snow Buntings and contributing to the Canadian Snow Bunting Network database. And as luck would have it, a graduate student, Chelsey Paquette, was VERY interested in the same thing. It’s a rags to riches sort of story. Chelsey is now working for the Granby Zoo as Conservation Coordinator for research and conservation projects occurring in natural habitats. “We have lots of projects, turtles, birds, mammals etc. We are actually interested in bringing on the CSBN as one of our permanent projects…” Here’s a report of their first days banding Snow Buntings:]

Snow Bunting country – a large, wind-swept field. You can just feel the cold…. -a. Hobbs

Day 1: We banded 15 birds in Saint-François-Xavier de Brompton, near Sherbrooke. It was a little cold. We got a nice flow of captures that allowed us to get comfortable again with winter bird banding. We are banding with a small team this year, comprised of Chelsey Paquette, conservation coordinator at the Zoo de Granby, Marylene Boulet, Senior Lab Instructor at Bishop’s University, Eric Phendler, graduating student in biology at Bishop’s University, and Alexi Hobbs, photographer and member of the local birding club. The best round of captures was just before noon! The property owner’s daughter was great help today, and showed awesome potential to be an avid birder in the near future.

I love this shot! The property owner’s daughter helping out. Evidently she has great potential to be another “bird person”! There’s nothing like a bird close up to turn people onto the world around them. -A. Hobbs.

Day 2. We banded 10 birds, all at the same time, about 10-15 min after setting up the cages in the morning. The birds taunted us a bit today, at instances, they showed some interest for the corn… but eventually left. Wind picked up and we removed the cages. To quote the movie “Don’t look up”, we tried!

Eric Phendler checking out a SNBU.. – A. Hobbs

It’s in the bag! -A. Hobbs

Next capture day will be soon. We have snow buntings feeding at two other sites, so we have 3 options for our next adventure. Stay tuned!
[Photos by Alexi Hobbs alexihobbs.com]

A young male Snow Bunting. -A. Hobbs

[Of the 25 Snow Buntings that they have banded so far, 20 were males resulting in a male:female ratio of 4:1. Down here the ratio is about 2:1 the other way. This makes sense when you consider that males tend to spend the Winter closer to the breeding area than females so they can return earlier and establish territories before the females show up.]

More SNBU News:
I received a text last night from Bruce Murphy, who runs the Hilliardton Marsh program near New Liskeard in northern Ontario, saying that they were now getting lots of Snow Buntings, especially as the temperatures were so cold. They banded 69 that day! They also got two recaptures of birds banded elsewhere in other years: one by Glen Reed in King City, just north of Toronto and….#2981-03572 which Marnie banded February 20, 2021 at our York Airport site. Then it was a young (hatched in the Summer of 2021) female with a wing length of 98 mm. and weighing 30.7 g. [Interestingly, that date happened to be Marnie’s birthday…so this bird was a gift that has kept on giving!]

I’m intrigued by these recaptures. A lot of the birds that we band down here, if they’re recaptured, are caught along the St. Lawrence-Labrador-Greenland route; so an East then Northeast routing in the Spring. In many instances they retrace this route in the Fall/Winter. So where are these birds that Bruce is catching in northern Ontario coming from? Is he getting birds from Baffin Island that have worked their way down the east side of Hudson’s Bay? Do they return the same way? Or head out along the St. Lawrence following a circle route back to the Arctic? When birds make the crossing across Davis Strait from Greenland to Baffin Island do they head due south along the Labrador coast or SW until they reach Hudson’s Bay or ??? So many questions….too little time.

And in the meantime….while we wait for a combination of cold temperatures AND snow on the ground here in southern Ontario, there isn’t much for some people to do except run around and chase rarities. Young birding aficionado Liam Thorne has been doing just that. Here are some of his photos:

Golden-crowned Sparrow near Bannister Lake, Cambridge. -LT

It would be difficult to make a definitive identification of this bird from this photo. So Liam asked me if I could find other pics to make it clearer. In this way he is hoping to put pressure on his folks to invest in a bigger lens to further his career… So I contacted Colleen Reilly who takes marvelous photos of wildlife:

Golden-crowned Sparrow -CR

Another shot: Golden-crowned Sparrow. -CR

Bayfront Park in Hamilton has been a great place to find waterfowl. Liam again:

Common Golden-eye. -LT

Canvasback. -LT

Cackling Goose. Bayfront Park. Note the short, thick neck. -LT

Trumpeter Swan. -LT

American Coot – Bayfront Park. -LT

Male Bufflehead – Bayfront Park. -LT

Glaucous Gull – Bayfront Park. This large gull (Greater Black-backed Size) is one of the mail predators in the Arctic. -LT

And elsewhere:

Mountain Bluebird – Guelph area. -LT

Always a nice bird to see in the Winter – Northern Shrike (or “Butcher Bird”). Look for them sitting in a treetop…like this one. -LT

Always an elusive bird to find…Long-eared Owl. -LT

Over-wintering in the area: Northern Saw-whet Owl. You can just see some “old” primary feathers mixed with some new, fresh ones indicating that this owl is an older or “After Second Year” (ASY) bird. -LT


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