Some of you might remember back to the Spring banding season at Ruthven and the saga of Chipping Sparrow 202 (the last 3 digits of its 9-digit band #). This bird was caught in a ground trap every day and sometimes several times a day. It had figured out the system: you go in the trap; chow down on some very wholesome food; the big simian monsters take you out and may or may not take you away to get weighed…..again; and then they let you go – so you can do it all over again.
Well the LApland LOngspurs (LALO’s – the AOU species code) have got it sorted out as well. I got to the trapping area early (~7:45). It was cold (-19 degrees) and the birds were hungry. There was a mixed flock of 200+ Snow Buntings, Longspurs, and Horned Larks waiting patiently for me to put out the traps and provide breakfast – they had cleaned up the bait from yesterday. [We have been putting out bait faithfully every day in the morning and again in the late afternoon to keep the birds coming to the same spot.] It isn’t until I actually begin walking toward them in the field to put out the traps that they fly up. But they don’t go far. Usually, it’s just a wheeling circle around the field – enough time for me to do what I have to do – and then they’re right back to the traps. But here it gets “dicey”. The buntings and larks are tentative: “should I go into that trap to get breakfast or not….?” The longspurs don’t think twice; they’re right in there. Half way through the morning, we had recaptured 23 from previous days and then, when we were getting the same birds back again and again, we made the decision to just release any banded longspurs for the rest of the day. Some of them, upon release, were flying right back to the traps and getting caught again. We were busy enough anyway: we banded 83 Snow Buntings, 13 Lapland Longspurs and 1 Horned Lark.
We would have had a lot more birds banded if it hadn’t been for a pair (at least) of American Kestrels that were keeping the passerines on their toes. Whenever they were in the area, the birds were “trap-shy” – they would walk around them but not in and they would fly up and around with very little provocation. But as soon as the hawk moved off out of sight they were right in there.
[I didn’t get around to writing a blog on Friday the 14th – before I left to go skiing we banded 59 Snow Buntings, 7 Lapland Longspurs, and 1 Horned Lark.]