March 11th – Snow Buntings….At Last! (and Some Updates)

Two of about 200 (male) SNBU's seen this morning.

Two of about 200 (male) SNBU’s seen this morning.

As yesterday’s post would indicate….we were completely out-witted by the Snow Buntings. They were having nothing to do with our traps nor with our nets. They flew over, circled a few times, and then headed off to the SE. Around 5 in the afternoon they returned from the SE (at least 160 of them) and proceeded to forage frenetically on the millet that was outside the nets and traps.
SY male SNBU (left) and ASY male (right).

SY male SNBU (left) and ASY male (right).

Today it looked like it was going to be the same when, MUCH to my surprise, I spotted 2 in one of the nets!! I hadn’t seen them go in but figured these must be two of the not so smart birds – possibly vying for a Darwin Award… No matter, it was good to band them. Both were males (and all the birds I have seen in the flocks have appeared to be males).
Wing detail of an ASY Blue Jay.

Wing detail of an ASY Blue Jay.

Male Pileated Woodpecker working on a telephone pole...with considerable success.

Male Pileated Woodpecker working on a telephone pole…with considerable success.

After this flurry of excitement there wasn’t much to do other than watch the birds that are drawn to Bill’s feeders in large numbers. We finished off the rest of the “0” bands by 11:00 (2-day total: 26 Black-capped Chickadees, 11 Hoary Redpolls, 63 Common Redpolls) and added a Downy Woodpecker. The highlight of the afternoon was a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers that flew back and forth between the suet log and the forest 300 metres away. I guess I should clarify this statement: the female, being smarter, flew to the suet log; the male, not being so smart (is it like that generally in the world? Hmmmm….I’m not sure….), flew to a telephone pole where it drummed vigorously to let the near-by female know he was around.
Female Pileated Woodpecker at the suet log.

Female Pileated Woodpecker at the suet log.

At around 5:00 some Snow Buntings returned (from the SE) but only 60 or so. These fed frenetically (beside the nets) before flying up into the trees, getting ready to bed down in the neighbouring field for the night.
12" spike meets Manitoba frost.

12″ spike meets Manitoba frost.

As Bill was more than happy to point out, things are just tougher in Manitoba (than, say, “soft” Ontario)…like the frost.
Used for guying up the net poles, these spikes were twisted by hammering into the very hard frost.

Used for guying up the net poles, these spikes were twisted by hammering into the very hard frost.

Other Updates:

[March 9th]
Hi Rick,
Me and my cousin (Pierre-alexandre) have banded 56 SNBU (year total: 104) in three hour late this afternoon.
You can follow this link to see a few pictures:!394&authkey=!APtnqg5W-4W1ClY
My new trap is very efficient. 5 bird in the new one for 1 in the traditional!
Today bird where 50% SY male and 50% ASY male and a few female. Before today, bird where more 15% SY and 85% ASY. It interesting to see than difference!
We will band again tomorrow!
Benoit Gendreau
Biologiste, chargé de projet à la CDEMM

[March 9th]
Hi all,
Since March 2, I have been baiting the birds only in traps with the top open and SNBU and HOLA were observed feeding in the area of the traps. We had a 5” snowstorm on March 5 and on March 6, I counted 25 SNBU and 30 HOLA. Both species were feeding inside and outside the opened traps. On March 7, there were no SNBU, 8 -10 HOLA and 2 CAGO feeding in and near the traps. On March 8, there were no SNBU and 10 HOLA. I set the traps and captured and banded 2 HOLA. Today there were no SNBU, 2 CAGO and 10 HOLA near the traps. I set the traps but it started to rain so I had to stop trapping. I noticed two additional flocks of about 30 HOLA in a farm field just east of where the traps are set. I plan to continue baiting in the open traps, as this seems to be a good area for open-country birds. If I band only HOLA are you interested in getting the numbers of the band strings I’m using? In Wisconsin Birdlife by Sam Robbins, he describes March as being the peak migration month for SNBU in Wisconsin. So, maybe if I’m lucky another flock of SNBU will migrate through and find the bait. Although I haven’t captured any Snow buntings so far, I’m learning a lot– good for a pilot year.
Thank you,
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

[March 9th]
Rick: We have been away ourselves, in Belize – just back. No further activity this year – few birds about at our site.
A.W. Diamond,Ph.D.
University of New Brunswick

Hi Rick,

Thank you for sharing your African journey on the blog.
As always, your projects and stories are a great inspiration.

Sorry I got behind in the snow bunting news for my area.
Despite constant efforts since mid-January, I was not able to catch birds this winter so far.

Marie-Pier's "catching area".    -MP LaPlante

Marie-Pier’s “catching area”. -MP LaPlante

Really, even the sightings of large flocks have been rare and sporadic in my part of the eastern townships throughout the winter, based on my surveys and communication with the local bird club. The very few times a large flock was around, it never stayed for more than a morning or two at the baited site in Barnston. The disappearance of course always coincided with constant warm weather. And while I had regular bunting-visits the last 2 winters at my feeders on the farm where I live in Cookshire (60km from Barnston), I have not seen a single one this winter here, despite a daily-filled corn platform.
The little white dot on the fence post in the foreground is a Snowy Owl.   -MP LaPlante

The little white dot on the fence post in the foreground is a Snowy Owl. -MP LaPlante

I saw a small flock of about 8 snow buntings this week end a few kms away from the baited area in Rivière-Ouelle in the bas-st-laurent region and that’s it. No buntings have shown up to that feeding station in the last week. I saw 3 snowy owls though, so that was a nice consolation prize. I joined a picture, and while the owls are quite small in it, it gives an idea of the actual snow cover and of the general area.

I’ll keep you posted on my possible visit at Ruthven in April.
I really hope to find time to fit in a few days of banding, birding, (and eating baked goods) with you all. [hmmmm….I really like the part about “eating baked goods” -Editor’s Note]
Marie-Pier LaPlante

Hawk Owl      -MP LaPlante

Hawk Owl -MP LaPlante

I also saw my first Norther-hawk owl last week in Sherbrooke, which was another great bird treat.
I have also put a picture of it.

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