April 3rd – Snow Buntings On The Move! (But Not Much Here)

Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse - Darroch's banding site. - D. Whitaker

In a recent post, I mentioned that, although Snow Buntings were done here in Ontario (and out West), banders along the St. Lawrence and in western Newfoundland were poised to sample the migration of birds moving back toward their breeding grounds in Greenland. A couple of them were out over the weekend with excellent results.

Yann Rochepault in Moyenne-Cote-Nord sent the following:
[April 2]Hello,
We began work on the snow bunting since Saturday morning. We have already 400 [!] snow bunting ringed.
The snow bunting arrived just a week ago.
Question: We captured snow bunting with ring. Know which ringed these birds and where ?
1841-90786 catch at Rivière-St-Jean the 2 april
1841-90719 catch at Rivière-St-Jean the 2 april
1841-90715 catch at Rivière-St-Jean the 2 pvril
2571-20243 catch at Rivière-St-Jean the 2 april
Thank you
Yann Rochepault

[Yann wrote back a bit later to let us know that these bands belonged to a bander that lives in his area.]

Snow Buntings at the traps in Newfoundland. - D. Whitaker

And then I received amessage from Darroch Whitaker in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland:
[April 2nd]Rick, we had a fairly successful weekend. I spent a fair bit of time
Saturday and Sunday banding at the Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse where a
flock of ~ 70 buntings is coming in to our bait station. I’m lucky in that
by virtue of working for Gros Morne National Park I can use the lighthouse
building as a banding station, which certainly makes for a charming
setting! Tina Leonard hasn’t been getting any buntings at the sites she’s
been checking yet so she also came up for a bit and took over at the
lighthouse while I did a bit of banding at the Bonne Bay Marine Station in
Norris Point, another stunningly beautiful banding site (
http://www.bonnebay.mun.ca/ ). In total we’ve now banded 45 buntings – 37
at the lighthouse and another 8 at the Marine Station – so are off and
running. The first week seemed to be all ASY males, but this weekend we
started seeing a few females and SY males mixed in. I’d say we’re still at
~75% older males though.

Snow Buntings in flight. - D. Whitaker

And then, today, I received this tantalizing email from Darroch:
[April 3] Having lots of fun with the buntings and learning lots too. I went out last
night and banded another half dozen or so and am really struck by how fat
they are. I don’t have any prior experience with them but from what I’ve
read it seems like males normally weigh ~40 g. The ones I’m catching are
typically scoring 4 or 5 on the fat scale and are mostly in the high 45-55
g range. Last night I caught one butterball that scored a 6 weighed in at
61.8 g! I could barely fit the fatso in the weighing tube. I also retrapped
another one that had gone from 49.6 g to 55.4 g in 48 hours so they’re
laying on the lard quickly!

[I found this extremely interesting as the weights of most males that we were catching here in southern Ontario were down around 35 g and often less with fat scores of 2/3. I would hazard a guess that their “fat-free” weight is around 30 g. So a mass of 61.8 g would represent a doubling of their fat-free condition!! That would be enough energy to power them on a VERY long flight. Is it possible that some Snow Buntings take off from Newfoundland and fly straight to Greenland? Can anyone come up with a straight-line distance from the north tip of Newfoundland to the SW corner of Greenland? And the energy required to make that flight?]

Back here at Ruthven Park it has been slow; except for the Pine Warblers on the 1st and 2nd (but not today) we haven’t been getting any “interesting” migrants to speak of. [see Peter Thoem’s write-up on these birds in his interesting blog: www.mybirdoftheday.ca.] In fact, we processed more free-range muffins today than we did new birds! (Not that I’m complaining.) Things just feel “out of sync” – with all the greenery around you start thinking about Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, Common Loons. But the trails (and today we walked every inch of the trails on this side of the highway) are strangely quiet. So while there’s been early sightings of many species, this has involved only a few individuals; the main movement is well behind and still on its way.

Results for April 2nd:
Banded 20:
1 Eastern Bluebird
2 American Robin
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Song Sparrow
4 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
7 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 22:
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
2 American Robins
1 Northern Cardinal
3 American Tree Sparrows
8 Song Sparrows
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-winged Blackbirds

ET’s: 42 spp.

Results for April 3rd:
Banded 20:
3 Mourning Doves
1 Eastern Bluebird
4 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
10 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 33:
2 Downy Woodpeckers (one was banded as a HY on October 1, 2005 – it is approaching 7 years old!)
1 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Northern Cardinal
3 American Tree Sparrows
5 Song Sparrows
7 Dark-eyed Juncos
12 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 39 spp.

1 thought on “April 3rd – Snow Buntings On The Move! (But Not Much Here)

  1. Hey, I’ll see what I can do. Have you only commented on this specific blog post, or did you post somewhere else too? I think I might just delete your comment here to see if that changes things.

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