April 10th – Of Purple Martins & Snow Buntings

The martin houses are active once again - two males checked them out for much of the morning.

Clear first thing this morning but with a cold wind out of the NW billowing many of the nets. Birds seemed few and far between and you can only handle so many American Goldfinches before they start to lose their appeal…..

Matt and I got to chatting about yesterday’s Purple Martin sighting and how long it would be before we saw any again (or even if we would). And then, lo and behold, I spotted a male sitting on one of the nest boxes, causing me to wonder if it had spent the night there. Before too long it was joined by another male and the two of them spent a good part of the morning checking out the various housing options, including the gourds. So, fingers crossed, it looks like wemay have a martin colony again this year.

The only other excitement was the appearance of another (or the same one again) Common Raven.

It seems like we’re stuck in a ‘hurry up and wait’ scenario – anticipating the huge biomass movement that is poised south of us….somewhere. One of the major factors driving the migration will be the wind. Peter Thoem passed on this excellent site showing the wind in the U.S.: http://hint.fm/wind. Take a look and you’ll see that, currently, there’s a pronounced head wind facing any migrants in the east. When that changes so will our catching numbers and the diversity.

Although here, in southern Ontario, Snow Buntings are just a vague memory, they’re still very much at the forefront in Newfoundland. Here’s an email from Darroch Whitaker in western Newfoundland:
I had a pretty good weekend – I don’t have an exact total but banded ~50
new birds this weekend so am now up to 107 buntings banded, and Tina
Leonard has banded 12-15 birds at the same site on a couple days I wasn’t
around. Between us we also have ~15 recaps of birds we had banded on
previous days; these should yield some interesting information because most
have put on a significant amount of weight between captures; I caught two
this weekend that had been banded several days earlier and both had put on
~10 g!

There are some other interesting patterns emerging and all in all it’s
turning out to be a great learning experience about the dynamics of bunting
migration along the west coast of Newfoundland. While I was mostly catching
ASY males during the first week of migration it seems to be pretty evenly
split between SY and ASY males now (week 2), but females are still only at
10-20%. I’m still getting a good number of birds in the 45-50 g range, but
am also catching a lot more in the 35-45 g (fat score 2-3) range than
before and don’t seem to be picking up many of the monster 50-60 g (fat
score 5+) fatso males any more. It has occurred to me that maybe they were
on a different migration program altogether where they loaded up with fat
and blasted off straight up to the Arctic by early April, while the later
migrants are taking it a bit slower and not packing on as much weight. That
or maybe they were the Greenland birds and needed the extra fuel for the
ocean crossing… as usual with science there are more questions than

Another interesting thing seems to be that while most days there are only
20-40 birds at the lighthouse we have banded more than 120 individuals
there and most days only about one in four are banded. Thus there must be a
steady stream of new birds coming through so either lots of passage
migrants or mixing with other groups along our section of coast. You
certainly do see small flocks scattered here and there along the beaches.
Anyway its good for me because there are always new birds to band even
though the flock at the banding site is relatively small.

Still trying to get out most evenings and will see how much longer I can
keep catching birds. It is getting harder though as we’ve lost most of our
snow along the coast so the availability of natural food is high. The
little buggers also seem to take great delight in annoying me by spending
lots of time bathing in puddles and residual patches of snow, messing
around in the tall grass or just plain loafing in the sun while ignoring
all the yummy bird seed I’ve put out for them just a few feet away…

And then Tina added
hi all. further to darroch’s email, of the 10 birds that i caught on saturday at his banding station in gros morne, 8 were SY males and 2 were ASY males and all but 2 had fat scores of 1-3 (like darroch said, a noticeable difference from last week’s fatties that i caught in gros morne).
after seeing a late report of buntings in corner brook mid-week last week, i hunted around for a few hours yesterday. but no birds to be seen. we had some warm and rainy weather this weekend in corner brook so much of the snow is gone and lots of seeds/grasses are now revealed.

Musgrave area. - T. Leonard

a friend reported seeing 100’s of buntings on the northeast coast this past weekend in musgrave harbour (see attached google image), which is close to change islands where i had friends on the lookout last week. based on bird reports from nf.birds website, that part of the island is likely a good one for you lot to target if/when you come next year. very exciting!!
i’m thinking of making ‘Have You Seen This Bird?’ posters asking people to report sightings to bruce, darroch, and me. i’ll send out to all Dept of Environment and Conservation email users, as well as the corner brook and st. john’s local natural history groups. the more eyes the better! might be a bit late for this year, but then again we are waiting for the wave of females.

Back at Ruthven:
Banded 12:
1 Mourning Dove
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
4 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 12:
3 American Tree Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow
2 Song Sparrows
1 Dark-eyed Junco
5 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 44 spp.

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