March 17th – Bye Bye Buntings….Hello Harbingers (of Spring)

The Hoary Redpoll (left) was a very pleasant ruprise (and a bnding first for Ruthven).

The Hoary Redpoll (left) was a very pleasant ruprise (and a bnding first for Ruthven).


Outside, as I write this, the temperature is -3 C and there’s a biting wind out of the NW. It’s been cold for several days with several bouts of snow or snow flurries. Never amounting to much but still snow – not enough to keep Snow Buntings or to deter southern migrants from heading north. Early migrants continue to move through no matter the weather. The Big Push is on!! But it has slowed a little. Yesterday a pair of Killdeer scooted about the park in York searching for tidbits in the grass, left over from the receding flood. A mixed flock of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds sought shelter from the wind in a hollow surrounding a small pool – and not overly far from a well-stocked feeder. They alternated their time between the seed dropped on the ground and the shelter. A flock of 10 American Robins hunted a snow-free lawn on the lee side of a house. But I saw a big flock of Canada Geese very high overhead in a long line going WNW. These were migrating geese as opposed to the locals, heading for nesting areas in the far north. An awe-inspiring sight every time I see it.
Hoary Redpolls (left) have unstreaked undertail coverts.

Hoary Redpolls (left) have unstreaked undertail coverts.


But completely oblivious to the conditions (or so it seems) is a nesting Mourning Dove. Just outside my back window is a gnarled old trumpet vine. Its many trunks wrap around an old post that I put in for support years ago. And in the centre of the tangle is a nest with a female stolidly upon it. Yesterday she sat there completely surrounded (and partially covered) by a dusting of snow. Spring is on the move.
Katie with her banded Common Redpoll.

Katie with her banded Common Redpoll.


It was March Break Camp week at Ruthven. It`s always fun to have the kids come to the lab. The reduced number (as opposed to large school groups) allows us to take more time demonstrating what we`re doing and getting some of the kids more integrally involved: `guided` banding and scribing. Over two days we banded 51 birds: 1 Mourning Dove, 4 American Tree Sparrows, 1 Song Sparrow (first…of many….for the year), 1 Dark-eyed Junco, 1 Hoary Redpoll (a banding first for Ruthven), 38 Common Redpolls (bringing our Winter total to 211!), 5 American Goldfinches. As you can see, most of these are Winter residents; Ruthven is their Florida. Soon they will be heading back north to their breeding grounds in the far north (or, in the case of many of the Redpolls, to the Arctic) but they`re not ready to go yet: none of them were carrying fat loads large enough to indicate that a big migratory flight was imminent.
The first (of many) Song Sparrows of the year.

The first (of many) Song Sparrows of the year.


Will with his banded American Tree Sparrow - it won't be long before they start heading north.

Will with his banded American Tree Sparrow – it won’t be long before they start heading north.


And you wonder why parents are reluctant to send their kids to camp.....

And you wonder why parents are reluctant to send their kids to camp…..


Over the next two weeks we will put up the nets in preparation for the coming migration monitoring season which runs daily from April 1st to May 31st. On those days we will probably open the feeder nets to see what`s around and to assess the fat loads of the winter residents to see if they`re ready to go.
Photo Gallery (thanks to Cam Millward):
One of our famous (banded) Eastern Tufted Titmice.    -C. Millward

One of our famous (banded) Eastern Tufted Titmice. -C. Millward


Pine Siskin - like the Redpolls, an irruptive species that comes south in years of poor winter feeding opportunities.     -C. Millward

Pine Siskin – like the Redpolls, an irruptive species that comes south in years of poor winter feeding opportunities. -C. Millward


We won't see flock of Snow Buntings down here (sadly) until next year.    -C. Millward

We won’t see flocks of Snow Buntings down here (sadly) until next year. -C. Millward


Male Snow Bunting. They have pretty well cleared out of far southern Ontario.  - C. Millward

Male Snow Bunting. They have pretty well cleared out of far southern Ontario. – C. Millward


American Tree Sparrow - many call Ruthven their Winter Home.     -C. Millward

American Tree Sparrow – many call Ruthven their Winter Home. -C. Millward


Horned Lark. These birds are "on the move".  -C. Millward

Horned Lark. These birds are “on the move”. -C. Millward


Red-tailed Hawk    -C. Millward

Red-tailed Hawk -C. Millward


Rick

PS my wife Marg insists that she get credit for the catchy alliterative title…..

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