February 15th – Is This The Beginning of the End?

A brilliant morning! Crystal clear blue skies and bright sunshine that you could feel. The warm weather of the last couple of days has cleared many bare spots and the sun just continued to make these bigger. However, it was cold (-14) and the remaining snow was frozen. When I arrived at 7:20 there were only 3 Snow Buntings checking out the bait area and I could hear a distant Horned Lark. Our experience last year showed that when the snow disappeared so did the buntings so I was beginning to wonder: have the buntings taken off? But no sooner had I set out the traps then a flock of 300 birds descended all around me, anxious to get going. They came in from all directions.

The first half of the morning was busy – 75 birds by 10:00 – but then it got really slow. We were trying to figure it out. Perhaps it was the Rough-legged Hawk hovering in the distance….No, they’ve never been spooked by one of them. Then an American Kestrel appeared out of nowhere and took a bunting that was sitting in a tree right in front of the cars. We figured that was the problem but even when the Kestrel flew off with its meal the buntings still didn’t return. A walk along Mackenzie Road to check out the fields didn’t turn up much. So, at 12:30 we decided to pull the traps. No sooner did we have them in the vehicles then a flock came to the corn. They obviously had been watching for this opportunity. Too bad for them…..

As we were sitting watching, we caught sight of a Merlin coming in fast from the North. It was flying low over the corn stubble field and low enough that it would be hidden from the buntings by the snow bank along the side of the road. It narrowly cleared the road and blew by the front of the car. It was into the bunting flock before they knew it. The flock exploded into the air but one unlucky bird wasn’t fast enough and the Merlin had it. No wonder they had become so cautious – they knew it was around.

Banded 107 Snow Buntings, 6 Lapland Longspurs


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