December 14th – And So It Begins!

Horned Lark (left), Lapland Longspur (centre), and Snow Bunting – 3 species that we often catch together.

For some people a steep drop in temperature down into the freezing range and snow marks the beginning of a long Winter which they will have to wait out and endure or escape with jaunts to the sunny south. But to Snow Bunting aficionados these conditions mark the beginning of a challenging and very enjoyable season as they bring Snow Buntings (and their travelling companions – Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs) into the area.

What excitement: birds around the traps! -K. Petrie

As soon as it got cold and snow was forecast, Nancy and I began to bait 2 sites: the one on Duxbury Road that we’ve used very successfully for the past couple of years and one on Stony Creek Road that we use with some success a few years ago. “Baiting” simply means putting down piles of cut corn in the hope that birds will find them. Birds began to show up at both sites yesterday and we headed out this morning (with Karen Petri and Marnie Gibson) to try and catch them in our ground traps so we could band them.

Karen and Marnie with the first catches of the season. They helped us get off to an early (and very good) start.

Usually when the buntings show up they frustratingly swirl around the trap area, land briefly, and then take off again to resume their flight. (In this regard they are very much like flocks of shorebirds.) First thing this morning we saw a couple of pretty large flocks but none in the traps. But then some Lapland Longspurs showed up and before you knew it we were in business. We’ve noticed this before on numerous occasions – longspurs seem to act as the catalyst: they are the first to find their way into the traps but are then quickly followed by the other species.

Male Lapland Longspur. -K. Petrie

After about 4 hours we packed it in and replenished the bait piles so that the birds would be able to get the nourishment they would need to get through the night and, in doing so, become regular customers as long as there was food there.

The “horns” on this male lark are very obvious. -K. Petrie

We ended up banding 37 birds:
17 Horned Larks
10 Lapland Longspurs
10 Snow Buntings

We also saw a variety of raptors: immature Bald Eagle, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 Northern Harriers, 2 American Kestrels, and, just as we were getting ready to leave, a Snowy Owl.

An American Kestrel – a real party pooper. Birds checking out the traps disappear when this small avian predator shows up. -K. Petrie

Female Horned Lark. -K. Petrie

Female Lapland Longspur. -K. Petrie

The first Snow Buntings of the season descend on the traps. They may have come all the way from Greenland! -K. Petrie

A Horned Lark checking out his surroundings from a “lookout” on top of a dirt clod. -K. Petrie

Wing detail of an older female Snow Bunting. -K. Petrie

Just as we were getting set to leave this Snowy Owl showed up and landed about 300 metres away before flying off again. -K. Petrie

Marnie getting a crash course on buntings, larks and longspurs in the back of the Buntingmobile. -K. Petrie


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