February 24th – Cross Country (SNBU) Checkup

A skyful of Snow Buntings has been a rare sight for most banders this Winter. -M. Blom

Kenya was extremely hot, especially as Matangwe, the village I was living in, was less than a degree below the equator. Folks there could not even conceive of snow let alone Snow Buntings. I must say that I truly missed the cold. There is nothing better than being outside on a snow-covered trail at dusk with the sun just having gone down, the first stars twinkling and the temperature dropping. So it was great that on Saturday, on my way to the Ontario Bird Banding Association meeting I drove under a flock of 500+ SNBU’s that were checking out a corn field….and only 5 km’s or so from our bait site. Hope springs eternal in a bander’s heart.

As you will see below, everyone seems to be seeing the same thing: SNBU’s ebb and flow with the weather and, especially, the amount of snow. And there is a distinct feeling that the birds are getting “flighty”, ready to start moving toward the breeding grounds(?). [So you folks along the St. Lawrence and in Newfoundland & Labrador get ready!!]

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is the connection between Bruce Murphy’s site at Timiskaming in northern Ontario and David Lamble’s site just outside Fergus in southern Ontario. Up until this point, we were under the impression that sourhtern Ontario birds just used the St. Lawrence “flyway” and moved between southern Canada and Greenland. Now we’re seeing that there’s a distinct movement of southern Ontario birds through northern Ontario. Are they headed for the eastern Canadian Arctic? So much to learn…so little time. It just keeeps getting better and better.

SNBU trap used by Martin Wernhaart; made of 1″x1″ wire mesh. -B. Murphy

It was hard for me to leave that flock of 500 SNBU’s behind and continue on to the OBBA meeting but one of the good things I got out of it (and there were many “good things”) was a look at Martin Wernhaart’s traps. Everyone complains that buntings go round and round their traps but don’t go in. The baffles that Martin uses lead the birds right into the entrance funnels. This is a design that has proven to be quite useful for shorebirds as well. I’m going to try it. [Note that he uses 1″x 1″ wire mesh rather than 1″x 1/2″. Martin claims that it makes the bait more visible. Of course, this size let’s smaller birds escape….]

Note the “guide” which leads circling birds into the trap mouth. -B. Murphy

Prairies[end of January]

A pile of spilled grain makes for a great feeding area. -M. Blom

Hi Rick,
Peace River is on the map FINALLY with a couple SNBU’s. I have a large grain pile across from our acreage and there is over 1000+ SNBU’s eating at it. The only problem is that they won’t go into ground traps so I used my large bownet and caught a couple adult males this past saturday. A heard of Elk trampled my ground traps as they went into the grain pile to feed, so I am out of ground traps now until I build some new ones. I’m hoping the pile dwindles down so I am able to catch more as they are heading north.
Mike Blom
Peace Region Raptor Study
Peace River, Alberta, Canada

Male SNBU. -M. Blom

Male SNBU. -M. Blom

HI Rick,
Welcome back to winter. I managed to catch and band 2 ASY-M SNBU on February 1st. I am having visits from 2 different Northern Shrikes, 1 Northern Goshawk, and 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk at different times so my flock of SNBU has scattered. I am trying to come up with a new plan, but don’t hold out much hope. [you could try catching them with a bal-chatri trap….]
Bert Dalziel,

Baited flock just NE of Winnipeg appears stationary: counted close to 400 Saturday, Feb.23. Reports of a flock of 65 wintering on a farm at Ste. Anne (SE of Wpg.) with regular sightings of other flocks in the area and to the NNE. A few reports of from 5 to 25 west of Lake Winnipeg/Red River this weekend. Unfortunately, the Camp Morton flock, which had varied between 300-400 has been reduced to a brief, dawn and late day visit by only 30-40. Smaller flocks regularly seen west and SW of here have also been missing for over a week.
Bill Maciejko
Camp Morton, MB

OntarioJanuary 31st:

Snow Buntings in the Bruce Peninsula of Ontario. -J. Punnett

Greetings bunting banders we have had a couple of very interesting weeks in Timiskaming. I feel very much like Ebenezer sSrooge the morning he wakes up after being visited by the ghosts of buntings past when he realizes that he doesn’t know anything but now he knows he doesn’t know anything. That is how I feel about snow bunting banding . The only thing I do know is that I love it!!! We are having our best season ever and the kids at Kerns public [school] working with bander Joanne Goddard are having an amazing season with two incredible days of 160 and 149 buntings banded in back to back days. I will leave it to them to tell their story. We are all part of the same group and are contributing to the work done by the Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education center.
We have established three distinct sites that we have been able to attract buntings to corn in good numbers. We call the sites Dawson point. LaForest road and Kerns public school. The Kerns site has by far the most birds but the other sites have been very productive. All three sites are situated a 5 to 15 minutes’ drive from the town of New Liskeard which is about 450 km north of Toronto. We have lots of snow and the weather has had a recent impact on our banding .
Including the work we have done with the kerns students we have banded about 1000 birds this winter and just recently banded our first three horned larks ever. We lost almost a week of banding when temperatures dipped to -40 and schools were cancelled. For a number of reasons we cannot band below -20 and I can outline those to banders that are interested who can contact me directly. We also missed two days this week due to snow storms that also resulted in schools being cancelled and us not being able to band birds.
The big news for us has been retrapping several birds from past years . We even managed to recapture a bird that was banded in the first year of banding for us a year we only caught 50 birds. Of greater significance has been the capture of three foreign birds. Each one has been recovered at each of our sites which for me just added to the drama. The amazing part of the story is that every bird was originally banded by David Lamble in southern Ontario. We have also captured one of his birds. I believe this pretty much establishes a direct snow bunting migration pipeline between these two sites. One of the birds was banded Feb 21st 2009 another was Dec 26th 2010 and the last was Feb 16th 2011 so this does not represent the movement of one group of birds.
As we become more efficient at banding and understanding how to be more effective we can hopefully contribute more information and hopefully, no disrespect to David, catch someone else’s bird as well. Of course we are hoping to catch many more of David’s birds and hope this will aid someone who has a clue of what’s going on. I go back to I do not know anything except I love banding buntings.
We were going a little crazy as we had so many birds at the Kerns site but could not band due to the cold when the cold snap finally ended the birds would not go into the traps then suddenly the traps worked like a charm without any modifications. So when I read on the blog that many were experiencing the same thing it was helpful to know. The other thing we found helped was freezing millet and putting it out for them to feed that was suggested by David Okines and really seemed to work. The snow plow just arrived so I have to move frozen complaining cars that do not want to move. How the buntings thrive in these conditions I will never know. I am just glad they do and we are happy to be part of this exciting cooperative and look forward to what lies ahead. I am so excited about the work of the Kerns public kids they are inspiring. Looking forward to more positive reports in the coming weeks good luck may the buntings be with you.
Bruce Murphy

Wild Turkeys have started to invade Line’s bait areas. -L. Perras

[January 24th]
Hi Rick,
I hope you enjoyed your trip. The weather here is really cold (-29) but it`s good for SNBU.
Just to share with you and your friends, since 2 days ago, a group of Wild Turkey comes to my bird feeder. They look like young males but I’m not sure yet. I hope they don’t get at my station of SNBU.
Do you band them also?
Here a picture to show you!
Line Perras

[February 23rd]
Hi Rick,
Welcome back in Canada. I saw your birds from Kenya on the Web site and they are really beautiful. I figure it`s hard for you to identify them.
About my SNBU, well, if it`s not raptors, now, it`s Wild Turkeys give me a problem. I have around 10 Wild Turkeys and they comes at my station of the SNBU everyday to eat the corn. They really terrify me. Me and my husband try to chase them, but sometimes, they are not scared and I’ve heard Wild Turkey can attack people. I have a few SNBU and they don’t stay on my trees because Wild Turkey and raptors around the station.
Here two pictures taken on February 18, 2013.

When the turkeys clear out, the buntings clean things up. -L. Perras

Sitting in treetops must be a strange sensation for these treeless tundra birds. -L. Perras

Hi Rick,
Weird timing, I was about to email you.
Fitzroy Harbor:
I haven’t had a lot of time to get out banding due to work, and weird weather conditions. However, there has been a flock of between 50 and 150 at my bait piles throughout the winter, but I expect this to grow as more SNBU usually arrive in this area in late winter.. To date I have banded 65 birds (mostly males), but will be putting in more effort as the flock (if) increases. I finally have a single HOLA at my bait as well (they are not that common around here in the winter), so I hope to get at least one of them as well,
Sounds like Africa was great, what a cool trip.
Fergus Nicoll

In flight past a transmission tower. -J. Punnett

Hi Rick,
I was just thinking about you this morning! Hope you had a great trip.
The Buntings disappeared for a few weeks but came back this week; there’s only about 20 of them, very far from the numbers we used to get (200+). I don’t know why they disappeared because there’s plenty of food here and winter was far from over; we still had plenty of snow.
My husband also saw about 30 of them this week, about 20 kilometres from our home.
Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids Road

Hello Rick:
I went over the 3 000 new bandings for 2013 today, but it is tough going — the blowing winds and the changes in weather have made many of the birds “trap shy”. It is almost as if they are in that restless state just prior to heading north. We will see…………… David Lamble

Hello Rick:
I am not certain what you would like as an update — a little over 3 000 Snow Buntings banded — 30 Lapland Longspurs and 14 Horned Larks in 2013.

About 90% of the birds are males with 54 % of the males ASY. Since the 15th , the bird numbers have dropped off dramatically with 15, 2 and 10 birds banded on the 16th, 17th and 18th — none on the 19th and 20th and only 33 and 61 banded on the 21st and 22nd. Miserable, blowing conditions have filled in my trap openings and the birds are restless and less willing to enter the trap, despite being all around it. Still have flocks of 50 – 60 birds but just not interested in the corn — although the fat counts are high for most of the birds I do catch ( 4 & 5) — another sign that they are “thinking” anout heading back north.
Take care……………. David Lamble

Hello :
…….I have been getting a number of “odd” fat scores over the year. They have (say) the left-hand side of the furculum totally filled, like a 4 but the right hand side is depressed like a 2. I tend to call such birds a 3. Have you had any like that? I have had a few (very few actually) that have the fat all around the furculum but not in the triangle. I am getting the idea that the “bird king” of Snow Buntings is telling his serfs to go out of their way to drive me mad .

Take care…………. David Lamble

P.S. A reasonable day today — before the winds came up and started filling in the entrance holes — 71 Snow Buntings and 1 Horned Lark. But the birds still tend to be nervous and flighty and jhang around the trap but only a small percentage enter, those sneaky little guys ……. D

The East Harrow station had very little snow and even less Snow Buntings over the past few weeks.
The few times I tried to even look for birds, they were in very short supply (no matter the species).
Even the Cowbirds and MODOs deserted us.
Bob Hall-BrooksSnow Bunting Bander
Holiday Beach Migration Observatory
East Harrow, ON, Canada

Trapped and banded 22 on the beach at Long Point this morning. Released about 15 because we ran out of bags. Thanks to Chris Risley for help with trapping and bagging. Flock of about 60 hanging around.
David Hussell


[January 23rd]
Our MBO SNBU teams are baiting in 3 locations – Mirabel, Eastern Townships and Senneville. We are really pleased about the Senneville location as it is actually on the island of Montreal! A GGOW is also using the Senneville field as a hunting ground (not for SNBU, but rodents). Hopefully the cold temperatures will lure back good numbers of SNBU.
Thanks for your help!
Gay Gruner
Director / Directrice
McGill Bird Observatory / Observatoire d’Oiseaux de McGill

[February 23rd]
Hi Rick,
Mirabel site: only 95 SNBU banded with a lot more effort than last year. We also had 3 recaptures (3 males) from last year and a few recaps from this year. 6 females out of the 95, 4 of which were banded since Feb 19, are they already heading back north? No LALOs around this year.

Senneville site: only a few birds are visiting since the big group (100) left around the beginning of January. We will stop baiting the site for this year and hope for more next year.
Simon Duval

Hi Rick
I just saw your post about Kenya, it looked awesome!! can’t
wait to see the others!
As for SNBU nothing and I mean nothing has happenned here. I have been
working full time for the last month and on every week-end that I had
available for trapping there was either rain, snow storm or no SNBU…

I should try to band tomorrow, however there are not a lot of SBNU
around. Moreover, we are trying to catch 20-25 males for another
project. There is a professor at the University of Québec in Rimouski
who wants to investigate the adaptability to cold temperatures in bird
and will use SNBU as one of his study species.
Alex Anctil

East Coast

Over the past two weeks there has been a small flock of about 15, but today I saw a flock of well over 100
Barb McLaughlin
McKay Siding (between Halifax and Truro)

Nova Scotia

[February 23rd]
Large flock (>200?) settled in a corn field on our road, Stewiacke Nova Scotia.
Barb McLaughlin

We have caught only those few in January. We had a warm spell, & now have more snow, so may get better; but we’re off to tropics ourselves (Belize) next week, for 10 days, so this winter might be a bust for us.
A.W. Diamond
University of New Brunswick

Not much news for Newfoundland… we’re waiting for migration to start in a
month or so and are still getting occasional reports from the southeast
corner of the island, where some buntings do winter.

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