January 30th – Slow But (Fairly) Sure

Wolf Moon (also, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, known as the Freeze Moon, Frost Exploding Moon – I like that one – or Cold Moon). -NC

As I’ve been preaching for some time now: if you want to get Snow Buntings down here you need 2 elements – cold temperatures and snow. Well we’ve got both, albeit the snow cover doesn’t amount to much more than 3 inches; but it still seems to be enough. I’ve also been preaching that if you want Snow Buntings it’s a really good idea to attract Horned Larks first because the feeding larks, by their behaviour, will signal to the buntings that there’s food around. So while these 4 days have not resulted in prolific numbers they have produced…numbers…and proven me right.

I’ve banded 40 birds over these past 4 days: 21 Horned Larks, 19 Snow Buntings. Initially I got almost all Horned Larks; today 12 of the 13 banded were Snow Buntings. Plus, I caught a “foreign retrap” – a bunting banded somewhere else. It had to have been banded this Winter as it is only a young bird. It will be interesting to see where and by whom it was banded – I’ll let you know.

A “foreign” retrap – this Snow Bunting was banded somewhere else. It will be interesting to learn where and by whom. -MMG

Wing detail of the Second Year (SY) male we retrapped this morning. I’m waiting to see who banded it and where. Note the “dirty” look to the tips of the primary coverts and a few of the greater secondary coverts. -MMG

Note the “clean” look to the wing of this Older male bunting; no black/brown in the primary and secondary coverts. -DOL

For comparison: the wing of a SY female. -DOL

It’s unfortunate that I can’t track the birds that I’m seeing at the bait site to figure out where they go during the day. I arrived at 7:45, at the same time as a mixed flock of about 35 larks and buntings, which began to pick over the bait piles. They flew off when I got out of the car to place the traps but soon returned. For much of the morning birds would fly in, feed around (and sometimes in) the traps for 10-15 seconds and then fly off again. Every once and awhile though they would get serious and explore the traps….and go into them. Now, are these birds all from the same group? Or are they coming and going? Toward the end of the morning I watched a group of 12 come in and fly off; they were soon joined by a group of 8; and then another 2 showed up. When they flew off they would sit about 50 m. away contemplating the meaning of life and then one would fly over again for a snack and the others, not wanting to miss out, would quickly join him. This is the usual pattern for both larks and buntings although quite often the birds will fly off a considerable distance so you’re not sure, when they return, that you’re looking at the same birds….

American Kestrel – a real show stopper. As soon as one enters the vicinity, all activity at the bait site disappears. -MMG

One thing for sure though is that if you’re getting birds cycling through and then you don’t see any for 15 minutes there VERY likely is a predator in the area; you may not see it but it’s there. This kestrel swooped in and bounced around on the top of a trap until I could run out and chase it off and relieve the lark that was cowering inside (it probably thought it had gone from the frying pan into the fire….). The kestrel flew to a treetop about 100 m. away and then to a tower by the barn of the closest farm 400 m. away. All this time NO birds ventured to the bait area; in fact, a scan of the fields didn’t turn any up. But as soon as the kestrel left (after 35 minutes) the birds were back. They keep a close eye on these avian predators!

Horned Larks cleaning up the scraps….outside….the traps. -MMG

A couple of days ago I was doing a count along the Rotary Riverside Trail that runs along the Grand River from Caledonia to York. At one point I came upon a flock of ~75 Common Redpolls. Redpolls have been reported commonly this Winter; in fact, over the last 3 days, five people have notified me that they were seeing them. When there’s a poor food crop in the far north these hardy little birds head south….and we both benefit: they find sustenance at people’s feeders and we get to see them.

Common Redpoll – one of this Winter’s treats; usually they stay in the North but when food supplies run low up there they head south. -WF

Common Redpolls at a niger feeder. -NC


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