January 20th – That Magic Moment

Lise in Lanark sent me this lovely picture of a male Snow Bunting in flight. -NB

The night was easing into the gray of dawn when I pulled into the parking area at my banding site by the York Airport. When I got out of my car to lay and bait the traps, I didn’t hear a sound…at first. And then, there it was, the alarm call of a distant Snow Bunting. Magic. I scanned the field but couldn’t see a bird but a bird obviously could see me. The call was repeated by another from a different spot, and then another and another. And then there was a mixed flock of over 100 Snow Buntings and Horned Larks racing for the bait spot. They circled as I put down the cut corn and then surrounded the traps as soon as I turned to head back to the car. They were hungry, ravenous. And no wonder…they’d just spent a long night in -17 degree weather. They were ready for breakfast.

Birds just kept pouring in all morning. The traps would fill; we (Liam, Sam, Ben, Jennifer, and I) would clear them, and no sooner would we start banding in the car then the traps would fill again. The only times there were slowdowns was when Northern Harriers decided to see what all the hubbub was about and dropped by and when a distant Merlin sped by. We thought it might make a pass but it hadn’t seen the feeding frenzy and just kept on going.

Lapland Longspur. -SHL

I pulled the traps around 12:30 and, before leaving, restocked the corn piles so that any birds that wanted/needed to eat could and to reinforce that this was a good place to be – so that tomorrow morning we can do it all over again.
Banded 140:
20 horned Larks
116 Snow Buntings
4 Lapland Longspurs

Wing detail of an “older”, After Second Year male Snow Bunting. -SHL

And there were more than these Arctic-nesting birds around. Other noteworthy species that we encountered: Bald Eagle, 2+ Northern Harriers, Merlin, Common Raven.

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