March 28th – Labrador Diary #1 – Polar Bears!

Polar Bear directing traffic a couple of days ago in St. Lewis. -J. Holley-Chubbs

Heads up, a polar bear was spotted in Blanc-Sablon yesterday so be aware of your surroundings everyone. -Sara…Labrador Wildlife Biologist
I started banding Snow Buntings in a serious way around 2010. Initially I though “my” birds just headed north in the Spring to the Canadian Arctic. So I was surprised to find that not only did they tend to migrate NE along the St. Lawrence but they then turned north to move along the Labrador coast and, thence, to Greenland! We think….at least that’s what the banding recoveries would suggest. One of the first recoveries of a bird I banded was by Eva Luther from St. Lewis, a little town at the SE corner of Labrador. Well….actually the whole bird wasn’t recovered, rather it was a leg with a band on it, predator unknown. Another of my birds was recovered (whole – a fellow was able to photograph the leg of a bird at his feeder enough times to ascertain the number) just outside of Nuuk Greenland. And then Cheryl Davis came up with the great idea of starting a Facebook page – Canadian Snow Bunting Project – for people in Labrador to announce birds in their area (and give them something constructive to do during the Covid years). Over time this has become a wonderful source of information on the movement of Snow Buntings through the province.

With this background information I developed a strong desire to head to Labrador to try to recapture banded birds from southern Canada, band new ones moving through, and, most importantly, teach local interested people how to band them so that the birds could be consistently monitored along the way in years to come. Well, the opportunity has finally come and I flew into Happy Valley-Goose Bay last night with a small team from the University of Windsor to start the project.

8 traps that Vernon whipped up lickety-split. -DOL

Along the south coast Vernon Buckle, in Forteau, a wonderful birder and photographer, is VERY keen to learn. He’s built 8 traps so far (in just a couple of days) and started putting down cut corn bait about a week ago. Almost right away he had Snow Buntings coming to the piles – tantalizingly, one of them was banded. Today we’re going to head down to Blanc-Sablon, just west of Forteau, and will spend the next week or so banding and teaching – WISH US LUCK!.

[I also contacted Eva to see if she was getting any buntings in her area yet. She replied that they hadn’t shown up yet but….they had seen plenty of polar bears; in fact 22 have been sighted so far this Winter. And as the above quote from Sara indicates, it’s possible to see them all along the south coast of Labrador. This will add a whole new dimension to bunting banding that we don’t get in southern Ontario!]

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