March 5th – Cross-country (SNBU) Checkup

#1651 – the record-setting SNBU at New Liskeard. -JG

The Winter – in southern Ontario anyway – is drawing to a close. And the buntings that had followed the Polar Vortex into our local fields have left. I’m hopeful that they might return if we get another snowfall but I’m not overly hopeful. In parts of Ontario and southwestern Quebec banders have been busy (as you will see below). But most of them are experiencing this same diminution of bunting numbers – the birds are starting to move toward their breeding grounds, slowly at the moment but soon this movement will turn into a surge. Bruce Murphy in northern Ontario, Yann Rochepault in Riviere-St.-Jean on the NE side of the St. Lawrence, Darroch Whittaker in Gros Morne, Newfoundland, Vernon Buckle and his watchers in Labrador, and Julie Bauer in the Yukon are looking forward to their showing up: our loss, their gain.

So below you will find banding results and observations of interested “Snow Bunting people” from across parts of the country. Like I said, it’s been a good year….

Prairie Provinces

Hi Rick,

Thanks for the update on the Blog address.  I was wondering what you were up to and how things are going.

I’m afraid I have nothing for you this winter.  Manitoba birding social media has been almost silent on Snow Buntings, just a few “drive-by” reports of “a few birds” all winter.

I had only one sighting of one small flock, just shy of fifty, who came in, circled low over the field east of my yard a few times, then beelined back to the southwest from whence they came.  This was about two weeks ago.  We haven’t had a lot of snow this winter, but since early December more than enough to meet the “six inch minimum” requirement.  So, at least locally, lack of snow cover does not account for the lack of Snow Buntings..

Things are a lot different from a few years ago, when Snow Buntings were here all day all winter and I considered 500 birds to be a moderately sized flock.

All the best,

Bill Macjieko

Fort Morton, Manitoba

Ontario

Joanne (yellow toque) with some of her young students/bird enthusiasts removing buntings from a trap. -BM

All bagged up and ready to be banded. -BM

Hi Rick

Today was a big day for us as we broke our old record for total buntings banded, passing the old record of 1650 birds set back in 2013. we do not have a lot of snow in the north east so perhaps that is why we have so many buntings around. We are currently at 1670 buntings and March is usually our best month.  Digging into the numbers we continue our trend of mostly males in the north having only banded 56 females or 3.41% which is pretty much the average over the years. The breakdown of age is 867 SY and 827 ASY. To date we have had 40 birds return from previous years and we have enjoyed catching 5 foreign birds 4 from southern Ontario and 1 from Riviere St jean near  Anticosti island [Yann Rochepault] which we celebrated and are most excited about.

We use hay bales now as a wind block. The buntings like to perch on them and they are effective and can easilky be moved to block wind from different directions. -Bruce Murphy

There are quite a few large flocks in the area but recently we have been seeing a large number  smaller flocks as we travel concession roads in farm country, so we are optimistic that we have many more birds to band and we are hoping to see if we can capture any of the many birds banded in Southern Ontario this year. All the best to those still banding and we have high hopes that some of the Quebec banders may encounter some of the birds we banded. Congratulations to all of the Southern Ontario snow bunting banders on an excellent season. Hopefully you gave the bird directions to the North East.

One of two Lapland Longspurs banded in New Liskeard. -JG

All the best,

Bruce Murphy

New Liskeard, ON

Hi Rick,

First off, RODGER TITMAN, e-mail: rodger.titman@mcgill.ca captured one of our SNBU in Chateau, QC in January, a bird banded in 2018. Their site, [Coteau du lac, has long standing relation with King City, they have exchanged birds numerous times!  -Simon Duvall]

Glenn has banded 1368 SNBU since late January.  We had some buntings early December, but they left when it warmed up mid-month, stayed away throughout the Richmond Hill circle Christmas bird count week, so that we dipped on this species this year. They returned later in the month and numbers grew to the point where it was worth beginning to band by late January.  Throughout February there were good size flocks of between 250 and 800 birds.

Nancy Furber and Bruce Murphy each caught one of our birds, both also banded in 2018.

Glenn banded a single HOLA which was, surprisingly, recaptured by someone else a week later.  We haven’t heard who yet.  Now there are several HOLA at the site, but there are open areas of field so they are not going in the traps.

In total we have 10 foreign recaps, two from the Montreal area (Hudson and St. Roch), one of M Furber’s, one of yours, and the rest David Lamble’s.

Hope everyone else enjoyed the season.

Best,

Theresa McKenzie and Glenn Reed

King City, ON

2020/2021 Winter Banding Season This was a memorable season, having the snow and the consistent cold to draw the Snow Buntings to the corn to set traps. This banding season, I established two bait sites. One was a new site in a field across the road from where we live on Dry Lake Road, just outside of Cayuga. The second site was in a field on Duxbury Road, near Hagersville, where flocks of Snow Buntings have returned year after year to this same area for the past seven years. The two sites are four kilometres apart and most days I would band only at one site, just feeding the birds at the second site. On other days, I would spend time banding at both sites and I determined birds were going between both sites, so they were always well fed! The polar vortex weather in the month of February kept the flocks in the area, providing beautiful sunny days and one big snowstorm on February 15th brought a blast of winter snow, providing ideal conditions and lots of buntings to band. Using three traps, I banded 1,809: 1,788 Snow Buntings (64% females, 36% males), 19 Horned Larks and 2 Lapland Longspurs. Plus, I handled 13 foreign encounters: 12 Snow Buntings and 1 Horned Lark. Two of the Snow Buntings were birds originally banded in 2017 at the Duxbury Road bait site! I had 13 visitors who stopped and asked about the birds, wondering what they were and giving me the opportunity to talk about my banding project and the Canadian Snow Bunting Network. Thanks to everyone for making this such a successful season!

Oriskany Banding Station, Cayuga, Ontario Mike Furber (Master Bander}

By Nancy Furber

Cayuga, ON

Hi Rick,

My Buntings are still here; we have lots of snow on the ground even though it’s warming up a bit. I still have about 120 birds.

Some of Lise’s SNBU flock. -NC

Lise Balthazar

Lanark County, ON

Hi All,

Male Northern Harrier checking out the traps. -MMG

This Winter has been a treat for me…in a way…as usually I go to Africa during a large part of the SNBU banding period but Covid has kept me in place. Over the past couple of years Marnie Gibson and I toyed with a new site on the outskirts of York (a village on the Grand River between Cayuga and Caledonia) in an extensive and very empty field abutting the “York Airport”. I baited the site regularly when the temperature started to go down in January – the plan being to attract Horned Larks which, I’ve found, lures passing Snow Buntings. SNBU’s are great opportunists. When roving the countryside flock members spread out on a broad front to enhance the search area, and when one sees feeding birds below it drops down to take part, followed by the rest of the flock.

Male HOLA on the left, female on the right. -MMG

We have been fortunate to attract HOLA’s at this site. We banded 100 of them. They seem to be fairly philopatric – we recaptured two that had been banded at the site in December 2017 and another banded in February 2019.

Note the difference in size and colour of the supercilium stripe indicating two different subspecies of Horned Lark: praticola (left), alpestris (right). -MMG

When we finally began to get some “winter” weather toward the end of January they did their job: we banded 44 birds in January, half of them SNBU’s. But it wasn’t until the Polar Vortex arrived that we got into high gear. Between February 6th and 23rd (17 days) we banded 988 SNBU. So our season banding total is:

HOLA – 100
LALO –   2
SNBU – 1010  (Females comprised 58.4% of the buntings banded….which is low for this area.)

Male Lapland Longspur, one of two we banded this season – a banding first for Eila. -DOL

We recaptured a number of birds banded by others: 2 from David Lamble (March 8/’20; Dec. 7/’20). We also caught 11 birds that were banded at Nancy Furber’s  2 sites (which are about 12 km away) this season – illustrating how these birds roam around a large area in search of food. We recovered a SNBU that we had banded at this site on February 12, 2018.

Freshly banded – release from a “bunting-mobile”. DO

Rick Ludkin

York, ON

Hi Rick,

My totals for this winter are
SNBU – 219
HOLA – 16
LALO – 1
SOSP – 1

SNBU Age-Sex breakdown:
SY-M  34
ASY-M  6
SY-F  123
ASY-F  56
[Females: 81.7%]

Forgot to mention, I trapped one bird that was originally banded by Dave Lamble on 18th Feb 2019.

David Okines

Port Rowan, ON

Quebec

Hi Rick,

Things started a bit later than usual for southern Quebec. We have 4 sites operated by on average two banders and they visit a few times/week. Here are the totals as of the end of February.

Mirabel

356 SNBU and 2 LALO

Activity only started around Jan 20, since then it’s been pretty steady.

Coteau du lac

971 SNBU, 11 HOLA, 5 LALO and 1 SOSP

More females at this site than usual. One SNBU banded in 2016 (same site) was recaptured this year 3 times, seems he got the COVID message to limit movements between regions!

Sherrington

259 SNBU and 3 HOLA

Activity is similar to last year, just fewer capture days.

St-Roch

344 SNBU and 3 LALO

Seems we’re getting more captures/day at this site than last year, just haven’t been able to get out as much.

So our 4 team total is 1930 SNBU. Hopefully we still have a week or two before they take off!

Simon Duvall

Montreal area, QC

Hi Rick,
You were wondering about SNBU in my neck of the woods. I have been « watching » since we got here in 2005. In general, the counts are well correlated with what I’ve observed casually, away from my count site. The only year between 2006 and 2021 that I didn’t have a single bird (snbu) show up was 2020. That said, the numbers of birds are way off compared to 10 years ago. For example,  I’ve counted 80 or more 17 times since 2006 (once more than 200), but the last time I saw flocks like that was in 2014. Since then, the biggest flock was 50 and that was once in 2017. While March isn’t generally as good as January and February, I often still have birds showing up throughout March and, occasionally, well into April, so I’m not giving up on them yet, though this is the second week without seeing any at my site. As I mentioned on Messenger, I did see a flock on my way to work this weekend, so they are still in the area.

Cheers,
Carl Bromwich

Two more small (10 and 5, respectively) flocks on the way to work today. I neglected to mention that all my observations are made in the area between Sherbrooke, QC and the Border with western VT.

Cheers,

Carl Bromwich

Sherbrooke area, QC

Hi Rick,

At the moment, we are not capturing. SNBUs are coming to us in April. They are migrating.
We will see, with the directives of the Government of Quebec for COVID, if we can do something.
At the moment there is no SNBU. I’ll let you know when we have our first birds.

Yann Rochepault

Riviere-St.-Jean (across from Anticosti Island) QC

Hi Rick!

February 27th, a flock of at least 30 SNBU saw at False River, about 30 km North of Kuujjuaq.
Have a good evening!!
Edith Senechal
Kuujjuaq, QC (on Ungava Bay)

East Coast

Hello Rick,

It has been a few years now since I banded SNBU, and I sure would love to try it again!  I remember the problem I was having that the farm hosting them also had many starlings and bluejays that constantly got in the trap.  That situation probably has not changed.  Tony and I did take a drive to that farm this winter just to count them and they were there but not in their former numbers.  We counted about 50.  No SNBU at our own house here near Stanley.  Tony’s son had 3 at his feeder on the south shore of NS near Prospect.

I look forward to hearing more about them across the country, and about your work.  It has been a challenging year, but good for those who have outdoor interests!

You should see how much snow we have now -just had the heaviest storm of the whole winter today.  Thinking of spring seems ridiculous. [Sounds to me like you should be pulling those traps out of storage…..]

Cheers,

Dorothy and Tony Diamond

Stanley, NB

Hi Rick,

No sign of them in Western Newfoundland yet, but they usually don’t turn up here until the last week of march so this isn’t surprising.

I’m in Gros Morne (Rocky Harbour) on the west coast of Newfoundland and I will try and do some banding if they come through the area this spring. It seems like they often pass over us, but in other years they stay around in good numbers for a couple weeks. My biggest challenge is that I’m working so don’t have piles of time to chase after them.

I’ve also heard reports of good numbers along the northeast coast of Newfoundland in spring, which makes sense as I think many would be staging there to head to Greenland I think. This would be places like St. Anthony, Fogo Island, and Bonavista. Also southern Labrador (Forteau etc).

Cheers

Darroch Whitaker

Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Hi Rick,

I’ve had two encounters with SNBUs in the past few days. Had 12 at L’Anse Amour on Sunday and 5-6 at Forteau on Monday. We’ve had stormy weather since Monday so it will be interesting to see what happens after this passes through. Migration doesn’t really ramp up here until later in March, but this year, who knows.

Vernon Buckle

Forteau, Labrador (near the most southerly tip)

Click here to access the latest Canadian Snow Bunting Network Newsletter (from 2018-2019).

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