February 2nd – Riding Out the Storm

Groundhog Day: there’s no way any prescient rodent saw its shadow today! Get ready for Spring!!!!

All night I could hear the wind howling and feel buffeting gusts hitting the house. When it got light enough, I found it difficult to discriminate between fresh snow falling and fallen snow blowing. I had to drive slowly as there were whiteouts and drifts along the way.

7:45 AM: I arrived at the banding site. Fortunately, we had had the foresight to erect a small flag to indicate where the bait area was. Although we didn’t really need the flag as the birds were sitting in the exact area and picking up the remains of yesterday’s corn, windstrewn around a 5 m area. Also, the spot we’ve chosen seems to be “windblown”; i.e., snow doesn’t tend to accumulate at the spot but gets blown away….except, of course, if there’s a trap in place. Traps act like snow fences and the snow accumulates around and in them. I wasn’t there to set traps, just to replenish the bait so that the birds will have a predictable food source which will help them through the storm and will ensure that they will remain in the area so we can continue banding tomorrow.

The birds (and there were about 150) flew up when I approached them but didn’t fly far. As soon as I turned to leave, after uncovering some of yesterday’s corn and putting down some new stuff, they were back on it. I sat for awhile in the car to watch. Although the spot is only 50 m from the road, blowing snow at times obscured them. Some of the birds that were flying in were coming in at a pronounced angle, hit by the gusts – like a sailboat quartering the wind. But always they landed into the wind and all the birds on the ground were feeding facing into the wind. When they had finished feeding they would fly up and over to the relative shelter of the hedge row along Concession Road 1; there was a regular interchange between the two areas – some going to feed; others returning to shelter. In total, the mixed flock (buntings, longspurs and horned larks) must have totalled at least 200 birds.

12:30 PM: The wind dropped and the snow stopped late morning. But then the snow started again; a heavy fall with big flakes. When I arrived at the trapping site, a big flock of Snow Buntings was perched in the top of a bordering tree. They flew over to join the main body that was giving the finishing touches to this morning’s corn. In total there were around 120 birds – almost all of them buntings. They flew off about 20 m while I cleared a couple of spots and put down more corn. And then, as soon as I turned my back, they were on it.

4:00 PM: Snow has been falling steadily all afternoon but the wind has dropped. The resident flock has swollen to well over 200 birds – joined by a large group of Horned Larks. I touched up the corn piles and the birds were on it immediately. Nancy is planning on arriving early tomorrow morning. She should have a very good day…..


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