January 29th – Snowbirds

A new sign I’m thinking of for the banding lab…… -MAL

We were getting pretty frustrated about the decided lack of Snow Buntings in the area, so Marg and I thought….hmmmm, maybe they’ve gone farther south. So we sacrificed ourselves and headed down to Belize to see if this was, in fact, the case. After two weeks of steady birding I can state with great confidence that they aren’t there.

What we did find though was an assortment of “our” birds. Over time there has been a lot of discussion whether “migrants” are basically northern birds that head south for the Winter or, vice versa, are southern birds that head north to nest during our Spring/Summer. It’s kind of a moot point in my mind: long-distance migrants arrive (and in some cases) pass through Ruthven around the beginning of May; they do what they have to do (nest, raise young, moult) and then 4 months later in early September pass through on their way south. The flight each way takes around one and a half to two months. They spend another 4 months in their wintering area. Thus a pretty even distribution of their presence throughout. So…..let’s go with they’re northern birds that just escape the cold (and find food) by heading south – like a lot of us. Of course the opposite argument would be that they’re southern birds that head north to take advantage of our relative lack of predators and an insect food explosion (black flies and mosquitoes….you gotta love ’em in this context). Pick your poison.

What a wonder to see “our” breeding birds (in this case Baltimore Orioles) in their far southern home. -MAL

I’m not sure why but I get a real rush from seeing local/northern breeders in their Winter habitat. Maybe it’s the contemplation of the enormous journey that they must make through all kinds of difficulties: storms/inclement weather; unfamiliar habitats that may or may not contain food or predators (that they’ve never encountered before – snakes…); in some instances, long over-water crossings (the Gulf of Mexico or, for Blackpoll Warblers, the Atlantic Ocean); tall lighted buildings; vast expanses of light/noise pollution (fly down the eastern seaboard at night to see what I mean). What an amazing feat!! So it was a really cool thing when I saw them in Belize: Killdeer, Yellow-throated Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Gray Catbird, Wood Thrush, Chipping Sparrow, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole (do you recall the record number we banded last Spring!?), Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Black & White Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. In two months these birds will be starting their move north. I wonder when we’ll see them.

…..and so it was.

Odds & Ends:
The Ruthven Banding Community recently expanded with the addition of Diana Lavern Harris, daughter of Chris and Christine who, when not in the field checking the Tree Swallow boxes, are ensconced at the University of Windsor.

Chris telling Diana about the joys of Tree Swallow research. -CM

Diana paying rapt attention to her parents……. -CM

Due to the strange Winter we’ve been having so far – mild with no snow – Snow Buntings have not shown up (except for a small flock of about 20 birds that dropped into the bait site on Duxbury Road for part of a day). Regular volunteer Cody Bassindale went out looking for them but didn’t find any but….did find a Short-eared Owl, a bird that is in sharp decline. He noted that NO Snow Buntings were reported on the Fisherville CBC. [However, Lise Balthazar, regular CSBN observer, notes that a flock has been around her place in Lanark – where, of course, there’s snow and cold…. for the last couple of weeks.]

Cody was out looking for Snow Buntings; he didn’t find any but did find this lovely Short-eared Owl. -CJB

Speaking of owls…..Aliya was on a camera prowl one night in Oakville with her camera and came upon this Eastern Screech Owl – a bird that is adapting fairly readily to urban landscapes.

Aliya (somehow) spotted this Eastern Screech Owl in her Oakville neighbourhood. -AG

We were quite concerned when we learned that regular volunteer, Liam, had had a run-in with a heavy optical device which had a propensity of sticking to his face. Eventually it had to be surgically removed….but he’s ok.

Liam expanded his search capability with this scope. -JET

And here’s an interesting tidbit: a HY male Sharp-shinned Hawk that we banded in October, 2014 was recovered near Petal, Forrest County, Mississippi about two weeks ago.

2 thoughts on “January 29th – Snowbirds

  1. On the subject of Snowbirds. The Red Lake Airport had very view sightings of Snowbirds this past fall and early winter: not like last year when they were a real hazard to aircraft.
    However during the rest of the winter so far we have had a few small flocks around the airport and in the area along roadsides where they are picking up sand and gravel that the roads have been treated with. A lower than normal snowfall until recently means that some wild seed has been available for them.
    Joe Sinkowski
    Airport Wildlife Management
    Red Lake Airport

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