January 10th – Bringing In The Muscle

In Haldimand County, this is Snow Bunting weather: overnight low of -14 degrees and a good covering of snow. No more are the birds skipping about the countryside picking up tidbits now. It’s cold; the ground is covered; and they know where the food is. So I wasn’t too surprised when I got to the trapping area at 8:00 this morning (just in time to catch the rising sun gilding the frost covered trees) to find birds around. There was a mixed flock (Buntings, Longspurs and Horned Larks) of about 20 birds scrabbling around where the bait piles had been. And just 20 m away was another flock of 200+ birds watching them intently (and, maybe, waiting for me to show up with breakfast). When I walked over to put down new bait and the traps they all flew up….but not away. I had only managed 20 steps back toward the car before they were looking for ways in to the food. This was going to be a good day.

Banding out of a Toyota Corolla is….uncomfortable at best. So I was very pleased when Nancy pulled up in her van (the “Buntingmobile”). Lots more room and someone to talk to. And we were catching birds – 8 to 12 at every pass; a very comfortable rate. But we still had a problem: a pair of Northern Harriers was attracted to the birds in the traps, necessitating that we drop everything at short notice and rush out to try to scare them off. We needed some muscle, an enforcer to fend off the hawks while we banded. And right on cue, Peter Thoem arrived. Peter is a retired Burlington municipal politician and he has attitude – especially since the last election. He says he likens himself to Clint Eastwood or John Wayne and wasn’t going to take any nonsense from any raptor……When the big male hawk began to stoop I heard him growl under his breath, “Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy”. He then hurtled out of the Buntingmobile and yelled, “Do you feel lucky….punk!?” It was just what we needed. The hawks moved on and we were able to band undisturbed.
And that’s a good thing because we were busy: by the time I took up the traps at 1:45, we had banded 113 birds (73 Snow Buntings, 28 Lapland Longspurs, and 12 Horned Larks) and had retrapped 8 longspurs and 1 lark caught on previous days. Continuing cold and more snow can only aid our cause.

By the way, you might want to check out some of Peter’s pictures of today’s activities (as well as some other birds he’s done) at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterthoem /

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