I have been in rural Manitoba trying to catch and band a large flock of Snow Buntings that frequent the farm of Bill Maciejko (and have been coming back year after year to his farm since 1996). In this “game” the buntings are definitely winning.
For three days the flock would start off each morning by sitting on the roof of one of the outbuildings. From there they would survey the area giving special attention to the two traps filled with millet sitting below them. But they were very “skittish”: swooping in to feed on all the seed sitting just outside the traps for several seconds and then swirling up into the air, circling up high and at great speed before swooping in again for another rush at the seed….outside the trap. I have seen this behaviour (which is very similar to that of shorebird flocks) on many occasions and it has been reported by many CSBN members. In this instance I think the proximity of the outbuildings and the nearness of the forest (~70 m away) makes them very nervous – avian predators can use these to get close before being seen. Feeding quickly and then flying up gives them a chance to see what might be coming. The unfortunate part of this behaviour from the bander’s point of view is that they don’t take the time to check out the traps and figure out how to get at the seed within.
After two futile days of trap-watching, I decided to put up a couple of 12-metre mist nets on either side of a sizeable bait pile. (The nets were obtained from Josh Levac from Delta Marsh and University of Manitoba.) The buntings were having none of this. They started off this morning looking at the furled nets from their rooftop and took off for parts unknown and were gone all day returning only when the sun was well on its way down. Then they fed on scattered seed on the wrong side of the nets flying up regularly BUT away from the nets. And then, just as it was getting dark they took off to find a place to spend the night (and I hope it’s a warm place as the temperature is going down to -14). Maybe tomorrow…..
But it was not all for naught. When I picked up the nets from Josh I also got 100 “0” bands. To fill the time (somewhat) productively, Bill and I netted and banded birds going to his many well-supplied feeders. We ended up banding 71 birds: 43 Common Redpolls (one of which was Bill’s first banded bird), 9 Hoary Redpolls (banding 1st for me), 18 Black-capped Chickadees, 1 Pine Grosbeak (another banding first for me). Interestingly, 65 of these 71 birds were caught in just two 6-metre nets set up close to the feeders. We would have used up the whole string if I hadn’t closed these nets early so we’d have some bands left for tomorrow.
While Manitoba is still locked in Winter (from my southern Ontario perspective anyway), warm temperatures were the order of the day in the Ruthven area. Migrants took advantage of these conditions prompting this note from Nancy Furber:
The birds were on the move today!
Home – morning obs.
~1000 TUSW (I love to see and hear these birds each spring as they migrate.)
Flocks of RWBL
1 TUVU (late morning)
Home – evening
Ruthven – For an hour (1 – 2 pm) I walked a part of the River Trail and the grounds.
Obs. – new for the season KILL and 1 RLHA
Throughout my travels in the afternoon, flocks (large and small) of TUSW were observed both near and far.