Coquette is both a female Snow Bunting and a vamp. First thing this morning she had three males on the go, all breathlessly waiting for their chance. There was Nominal Mate who tried to keep her well-guarded and well-mated but was finding it hard with her antics. Then there was Hopeful Interloper who hung around on the edge of NM’s territory to try to take advantage of Coquette’s fanciful (and might I say flirtatious) flights toward him. And then there was Me, sitting quietly 40 meters away watching all this and hoping against hope that she would go in the trap which was just 15 m in front of her nest. To be frank….she toyed with all of us. After an hour and a half of her approaching but not entering the trap I couldn’t stand it any longer and tried to put my time to better use. Same story for Hopeful Interloper.
I headed out to Sylvia Grinnell Park, which is right at the edge of town, to try to locate and then GPS Snow Bunting nests. It’s a slow, labour-intensive job. At this time of the season, most males are “guarding” a female – they essentially accompany her everywhere she goes in order to prevent copulations with other males. They are quite conspicuous when they do this so when I see a male I look for a female in his proximity. The females are usually all business; they’re either feeding quickly or they’re collecting materials with which to buld a nest. It’s this latter behaviour that I key in on. As soon as I see the female with nesting material, it’s like time stands still and I can’t take my focus off her. Eventually, usually within minutes, she will go to the nest entrance where she enters and deposits her load before heading out for another. It is very important not to lose sight of her…nest entrances can be extremely obscure. I usually wait until she has brought 4 loads before I conclude this is a serious attempt. This is important because females will “prospect”: go in and out of a number of nice looking cavities, checking them out. But if they don’t bring a few loads of nesting material then you likely are wasting your time. Interestingly, Coquette, Big City Girl that she is, brought a mix of traditional rustic grass stems and nouveau fibreglass insulation which she tore off a bat that was lying about.
I found 5 pairs of buntings in the park: 1 definite nest; 1 probable nest; and 3 pairs in which the female just fed. After half an hour of just feeding I move on. If she was incubating she wouldn’t take that much time off the nest; if she was building a nest she would get to it; she might be in the process of laying the first couple of eggs (but she doesn’t start to incubate until the 3rd one is laid); she might just be starting the breeding/nesting process. Bottom line? No nest material within half an hour, go to the next female…..
It was nice to have the time to just walk through the park and take in the changes that have occurred in the 3 days since I was last there. The river is open and at least half of the snow cover has gone. Change happens quickly in the Arctic. And I did get to add a new bird to my season list: a White-rumped Sandpiper.
But back to Coquette….tomorrow she had better be a little more amenable to trapping.