March 31st – Cross-country (SNBU) Checkup

Buntings taking flight.      -B. Maciejko

Buntings taking flight. -B. Maciejko

I attended a joint meeting of the Ontario Bird Banding Association (OBBA) and the Eastern Bird Banding Association (EBBA) – the latter is the American equivalent for the eastern third of the U.S. I did a presentation on the work of our group: the Canadian Snow Bunting Network (CSBN – don’t you just love these acronyms?). What an amazing year! We’re well over 12,000 birds banded….and that total is still climbing as our colleagues in Quebec are NOW sampling large numbers (as the birds have begun to migrate)and banders in Newfoundland are licking their chops (figuratively of course) waiting for the Snowbirds to arrive on their way to the Arctic. More exciting than the number banded though is the very large number of “foreign” retraps we’ve had – that is, the recapture of a bird that has been banded by someone else in another location. (More on this in a future blog.)

It’s a REAL pleasure for me to be the hub and see and disseminate all the reports coming in….from all across the country. Check out Julie’s report (and pictures) from Haines Junction in the Yukon at 60 degrees north!!

But of all the reports in this batch I loved Bill Maciejko’s (Gimli, Manitoba) description of a flock of Snow Buntings quite likely leaving his foraging area and heading north, back to the Arctic. There’s just something visceral in envisioning it – ‘visceral’ in the sense of that feeling I would get in the pit of my stomach just before setting out on a long canoe trip into the wilderness; I had a sense of where I was going but didn’t know what I would encounter along the way. How do they know it’s time to go….and where they’re going?

For us in southern Ontario it’s pretty well over (except for David Lamble….?). We can only sit back and enjoy thoughts of the last couple of months and the descriptions that will (hopefully) continue to come in from banders and birders along the migration route. It’s been a great Winter!!


What an awesome bunting site!!      -J. Bauer

What an awesome bunting site!! -J. Bauer

[March 24th]
Hello Rick, just started to band buntings today, only got 5 but am very excited. unfortunately have to work the next 5 days but after will be off and enjoying retirement again. Has taken time to get organized and be at home to band. Will sent pictures soon. coordinates as well.
Julie Bauer
Haines Junction, YK

   - J. Bauer

– J. Bauer

[March 28th]
Hello Rick, here are the coordinates for my two sites;
1. N60degree46.970’ W137degrees31.136’
2. N60degree46.127’ W137degrees25.313’
only have captured 30 in total. The buntings were first seen March 9 in flocks of 20-30. March 20 we were observing flocks of 150-200 in fields associated with horses.The picture of the lady is Karen Martychuk a volunteer.Sorry I was so late sending pictures. Started to band March 23 only late afternoons as I have been working. As of tomorrow am available all day and will give it a good push.
Julie Bauer
Haines Junction

Something you don't see too often - perched buntings.   -J. Bauer

Something you don’t see too often – perched buntings. -J. Bauer

[March 30th – in response to my request to resize her pictures, Julie responded:]
Yikes Rick, I too am computer challenged, we must be the same decade? Just got a new apple computer and these are my first pictures sent. I live in a small community with 850 people located about 100 kms from Mtn Logan, the highest peak in Canada. We have 2 bird observatories/migration stations in the Yukon, located near Watson Lake and the town of Teslin. Goggle Bird Observatories of the Yukon.
Not having much luck today, very small numbers and nothing in the traps. They might be making a big move North with this warm weather we are having.
Julie Bauer
One of Julie's volunteers - in obviously cold weather.    -J. Bauer

One of Julie’s volunteers – in obviously cold weather. -J. Bauer

[March 25th]
Hey Rick,
SNBU reported March 17th 100km north of Ft. Liard, NT – still nothing for YK. Despite the -30C mornings, spring is on its way.
Rhiannon Leshyk
Jr. Landbird Biologist
Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada
Yellowknife, NT

[March 26th]
A few Snow Buntings have indeed reached the Northwest Territories. The first I know of were 3 sightings (single, pair, then group of four) on the Liard Trail (NWT Hwy #7) on Tuesday 18 March, in the vicinity of Blackstone Territorial Park. Others around that time include six at Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park (Alaska Hwy, BC) on 20 March, and two in Fort Simpson, NT on 23 March. All of these are recorded in eBird, if details are wanted.
Doug Tate

Prairie Provinces

[March 26th]
With all the snow disappearing in mid January SNBU’s have headed elsewhere. Good numbers arrived early in the winter but moved on I’m guessing further south along with the Snowy Owls.
Mike Blom
Peace River, Alberta

[March 27th]
Hey Rick, I haven’t seen any snbu’s for 2 weeks at the very least, which is bizarre because usually I see them as they are on their way north again.
Mike Blom
Peace River

Buntings feeding at Bill Maciejko's bait site.    -B. Maciejko

Buntings feeding at Bill Maciejko’s bait site. -B. Maciejko

[March 29th]
Hi Rick,
Well its March 29th and we still have several feet of snow on the ground. There are fewer, but continued reports of small groups of Snow Buntings in southern Manitoba, but nothing like the 100-150 (varies) still near Camp Morton. We’ve had a strong south wind all day, and even these may be leaving. The 150 here for the morning feed had been reduced to 37 at 1830h. These returned to the roost south of the field, but at about 1630h a hundred or so left toward the north. It had just stopped snowing, and with minor ground drifting continuing, the hundred left the feed ground, circled 2 or 3 times and took off to the north. With each turn, the flock climbed higher and tightened up, becoming more compact, so that as they disappeared in the grey sky to the north it resembled a solid “cloud,” rather than the individual “specks” of a resident flock seen from a distance.
I’m including four pictures, all taken here, west of Camp Morton, MB, March 25th, between 1600h-1800h. I’m curious about the dramatically raised crown showing in one of the birds, and not noticed by me before. I don’t know if its a display directed at the approaching bird, or just a one-off quirk.
This is part of “next-year” country. So next year we’ll get some banded for you.
All the best,
Bill Maciejko
Gimli, Manitoba

   -B. Maciejko

-B. Maciejko

   -B. Maciejko

-B. Maciejko


[March 21st]
Hi Rick,
I know you probably are not ready to do a blog update yet but…… just letting you know we had our best day in weeks today at Kerns. We captured 18 SNBU, 6 were returning birds from previous years, 3 were recaptures from this season, and 9 were new arrivals. All were male. It was a blustery FIRST DAY OF SPRING!! and we all went outside to celebrate by climbing the highest snowbank in the school yard in our new banding shirts! We are still hopeful that we will catch some of your southern birds on their way back north. HAPPY SPRING!
Joanne Goddard
Timiskaming Shores

Kerns Public School grade 7/8 banding team.    -J. Goddard

Kerns Public School grade 7/8 banding team. -J. Goddard

[March 29th]
Hi Everyone, Snow Buntings are still feeding in my field here in Nipissing (just SE of North Bay). Numbers range from 35-70 and birds are feeding throughout the day. We have had some above freezing temperatures lately but there is still a great depth of snow. Will the snow or the Buntings leave first?
Lori Anderson

[March 23rd]
Hi Rick,
I just wanted to send you some pictures of the last 2 Snow Buntings (I think they”re males) which I spotted today on my property. They came very close to the house and I was able to get a few good shots. They also sat on my husband”s truck for a while, as if they were waiting for a ride. At some point, one of them seemed to be looking at his own reflection on the truck!
The numbers had been gradually going down in the last few weeks, and I have a feeling these two little guys are among the last ones in the area.
I hope you enjoy the pictures.
Lise Balthazar
[March 24th]
….very sad! I will miss hearing their call and watching their aerial ballet first thing in the morning, in the bitter cold! It always makes my day. I’ll be watching for their return in December.
Most people are sick of winter…but I’m sad to see it go……although it feels like -25C this morning. It’s hanging on.
Have a good day,
Lise Balthazar

Male SNBU.     -L. Balthazar

Male SNBU. -L. Balthazar

[March 30th]
Hello Rick:
There are still Snow Buntings around my site — I had a flock or about 100 individuals today — only banded 27. It is becoming increasingly difficult to band with the hard crusty snow making the traps unstable as well as the melt causing hidden corn to be exposed. I try covering up the exposed corn and making soft snow around the traps. It is tedious and time consuming for little benefit. But there are increasingly large swatches of exposed ground that the birds are exploiting. I think I have done enough for the year.
The large flock disappeared by 1000 hours and was replaced by transitory small flocks of 20 – 30. There are no Horned Larks going into the traps and I have not seen a Lapland Longspur since February 10. All the Horned Larks appear to be paired and are thus defending territories away from my traps.
One of the interesting things, however is the continued lack of female Snow Buntings — got 24 males today and only 3 females. If these birds are indeed heading north to Nunavut, then I would expect the percentage of females to increase…………..interesting.

Another interesting thing — I caught a lovely male Horned Lark last week — 2261-22756 — that I banded on March 5, 2008 — 2209 days ago or 6 years 19 days. The oldest Horned lark in the banding record is 7 years old — this guy is in that category. Nice to have him back.

Here are my totals……. Snow Buntings AHY/ASY M = 2021 HY/SY M = 2612 AHY/ASY F = 150 HY/SY F = 303 ………… Grand Total 5 086 from December 14 ‘ till today
………………………………. Horned Larks AHY M = 96 AHY-F = 49 ……………… Grand Total 145
………………………………. Lapland Longspurs SY M = 3 AHY M = 2
………………………………. Mourning Dove = 23
………………………………. European Starling = 2
………………………………. Northern Shrike = 2
Grand Total at my site = 5 263 birds of 6 species.

I think that is correct. I could probably get a few more Snow Buntings but it would be a lot of effort for only a few birds — so unless we get a “Maritimes Snow”, I am done for the season.
Take care……………
David Lamble

[March 30th]
Hi Rick and all,
It was nice to meet and see you all at OBBA meeting this weekend. Great presentation Rick!
We haven’t banded since March 15th. Even though there is still a lot of snow in many areas here, and we have had some well below 0 temperatures for part of the past week, the fields have melted back enough that clods of earth are showing. Spot checks of the banding site showed 5-6 SNBU present last Sunday the 23rd, none observed since. HOLA are at the bait in larger numbers, 20-30 that day, but the last couple of days of banding they would not go near it when the traps were in place, with other food options available. We are no longer baiting, but there is a mound exposed as the snow melts.
Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this fascinating project. We’ll be back at it next year.
Theresa McKenzie
King City

[March 25th]
Here is the latest information (at Long Point Beach) from Andrew today:
David Hussell

The feeder is gone already I though you picked it up but apparently not. My second guess is that the park guys took it down. I have checked daily for SNBU and I haven’t seen any for at least a week so I agree their all gone. The seed can be used in the feeders or ground traps so it won’t go to waste.
Andrew Sawyer

[March 19th]
Hi Rick,
here’s my SNBU banding totals/summary for the SNBU blog.
David Okines

Hello Rick:
I think I’m now done with banding Snow Buntings for the winter unless
we get a big dump of snow 🙁
My banding site is about 2km west of St. Williams near Long Point.
My first date of banding was on the 7th of January and last date was 14
March with 26 days with banding, 2-8 hours effort in a day, and
captures ranged from a low of 4 SNBU in a day to a high of 343 SNBU in
a day.
I ended up with 3028 Snow Buntings, 60 Lapland Longspurs and 286 Horned
Larks plus some other stuff as below.

Snow Buntings : 3028 =
ASY M — 720 ; SY M — 1281 ; ASY F — 637 ; SY F — 390
Horned Lark — total 286
Lapland Longspur — 63
ASY M — 7 ; SY M — 18 ; ASY F — 13 ; SY F — 25
Mourning Dove — 1?
European Starling — 1
American Tree Sparrow – 3
Slate-coloured Junco – 9
Red-winged Blackbird – 3
Common Grackle – 1
My foreign retraps were many and will all be reported to the Banding
Office soon.
I caught 42 of Dave Hussells (Long Point) birds, and 29 from elsewhere
which are listed below as a teaser along with the date of the
Feel free to claim them if they are yours.
2231-80771 – March 13
2231-80798 – March 14
2231-80877 – March 13
2231-80991 – March 13
2421-72063 – Feb 11
2421-80118 – March 4
2421-89517 – Feb 12
2531-18665 – Feb 2
2531-18694 – Feb 13
2531-19696 – March 6
2531-20466 – March 6
2531-20540 – March 5
2571-37362 – Jan 26
2571-37375 – Feb 11
2571-37442 – Feb 13
2571-37497 – Feb 11
2571-37535 – March 6
2571-37548 – March 5
2581-82288 – Feb 5
2661-85365 – March 13
2661-88181 – March 5
2661-88236 – Feb 5
2661-88244 – Feb 13
2661-88578 – Feb 14
2661-88808 – Feb 14
2661-88896 – March 6
2661-88982 – March 13
2661-89744 – March 13
2661-94172 – March 13
David Okines
St. Williams

[March 27th]
Our banding season ended March 12th (details in March 16 blog post). The only snow left now is in ditches. There are no SNBUs in Essex County that I am aware of.
Caroline S.
East Harrow


[March 25th]
Hi Rick,
Still none to be seen around here.
Here is in Chibougamau (Qc), at 49,5°N latitude, we are in the boreal forest and still in cold winter!
Alex Anctil

[March 19th]
Hi Rick,
Up to 300 SNBU feeding daily at the baiting site.
Monday, I have banded 45 SNBU. Mostly ASY and Sy males. Only one female.
Total for the year: 322 SNBU and 2 LALO
Snow fall is on the way again!
À bientôt,
Benoit Gendreau

[March 25th]
We’ll get that to you on Saturday night, they are invading southern Quebec, our stations are banding record numbers in the last couples days, so much that we’re out of 1B bands, have you banded them with size 1 before? We’ll give it a try on Thursday, banding office putted 1Bs in the mail for us today. I think the size 1 will fit but was wondering if you had experience.
Simon Duval

[March 29th]
Hi Rick,
Here is the update for the southern Quebec teams. Since my last update, we have been invaded by the birds, we still have a good snow cover but we are almost out of bands, more are on the way but they might arrive too late. The good thing is we can now tell you that size 1 and 1A will fit for SNBUs and can be used as alternate 😉

Since the last update, 450 SNBU were banded, more than we’ve ever done in a complete winter!!! The total stands at an incredible 1100 SNBU and 1 LALO. We are not counting the recaptures exchanged between Mirabel and St-Roch. Many birds are going both ways, in as little as 2 days or up to a few weeks. We are also looking for the owner of 2531-20869 and 2571-18085. In the last couple of days, we are getting lots of recaptures from birds banded at Mirabel in late December, early January, but never caught since then, suggesting that these birds where on the move when we banded them, overwintered in Ontario, and are moving through again, move evidence of that lower.

Since the last update, 106 SNBU and 1 HOLA were banded. The total now stands at 489 SNBU and 2 HOLA. Again, many birds from Mirabel, 30km away.

Since the last update, 185 SNBU and 1 HOLA were banded. The total now stands at 432 SNBU, 6 LALO and 4 HOLA. With the increase of birds banded also came 3 FR birds (on the same day), two of them were birds banded in Mirabel in late December, suggesting again that they overwintered somewhere south and are moving through again (same day also that Mirabel saw a lot of their own late December birds). The other FR is 2531-16918, we are looking for the owner of this one.
If we include the 16 SNBU banded by Gay in Rigaud, the southern Quebec teams stand at 2021 SNBU banded.
I don’t know how much longer we can keep up with this, snowstorm today (Sunday), 5-10 cm again but the temperatures are rising fast, we’re having a lot of fun but we will need bands!!
Simon Duval
Coordinator, McGill Bird Observatory

[March 26th]
Hi Rick,
I’ll try to send some photos before the weekend. I`ve got a flock that seems to be growing (? gathering of the troops before the northward migration) and that is constantly at the corn I’ve put out….75-100 birds. Now they’re competing with grackles and turkeys in addition to the usual doves, jays, starlings and tree sparrows. It’s supposed to warm up this weekend, so I don’t imagine they’ll be around much longer.
Carl Bromwich
Eastern Townships

[March 28th]
Hi Rick,
Another update on bunting trapping in Cookshire
It started to get warmer and the size of the flock had decreased to about a hundred (from 150) yesterday… Same today.
We are expecting another snowfall tomorrow (!), they might stick around again for a little while.
I have now banded 356 (+ 47 recaps, no foreign ones).

   - Marie-Pier LaPlante

– Marie-Pier LaPlante

I don’t have anything to compare it with or if this is a common thing, but I would not have expected to have as many recaps of my own birds throughout the winter, especially at rather large time intervals (between 1 and 8 weeks). For some individuals I ended up gathering quite a lot of data (up to 6 recaps over a 2 week period for one), which shows they have stayed relatively close to my place during that period. Some examples:

14 March banded
16 March recap
21 March recap
22 March recap
23 March recap
25 March recap
28 March recap
(* #54 really loves to hang out in the trap (or with me, perhaps) on some days, I caught him 2 or 3 times a day).

# 75747
14 March banded
16 March recap
24 March recap
28 March recap

# 91820
21 March banded
24 March recap
26 March recap
27 March recap

# 75837
19 February banded
16 March recap
21 March recap
24 March recap

I can’t wait to have a look at other bander’s recapture data. Simon was saying they have had quite a lot of interesting recaptures at and in between their 3 sites as well…

P.S. When I visited my parents at the end of February in the bas-st-laurent, I had tried a new site and banded 3 birds in Rivière-Ouelle. My dad photographed a banded one this week at that site! I wonder if this is one of the 3 I did or one from another bander.
Marie-Pier LaPlante

[March 30th – I had asked M-P if these recaps were showing differences in fat scores/weights and she replied:]
Well.. it’s interesting to see that most of these individuals show a kind of gradual downard trend in time as far as weight and fat loads are concerned… For example :

91820 :
March 21 : 3 fat / 39.5
March 24 : 2 fat / 37.3
March 26 : 2 fat / 36.1
March 27 / 1 fat / 35.1

Again, still a gradual downward trend in time with the following individuals, but on the last day they were recaptured, they tend to show an increase in fat loads and weight (only compared to the previous recap), which could be suggesting they were getting ready to leave. For example :

75754 :
March 14 : 4 fat / 41.7
March 16 : 4 fat / 40.1
March 21 : 4 fat / 39.6
March 22 : 2 fat / 39.5
March 23 : 4 fat / 38.7
March 25 : 3 fat / 36.8
March 26 : 3 fat / 36.6
March 28 : 4 fat / 38.1

75747 :
March 14 : 4 fat / 40.3
March 16 : 3 fat / 39.5
March 24 : 4 fat / 37.9
March 28 : 4 fat / 39.5

It’s getting much more quiet today…
Only 50 birds around; 5 banded.
Marie-Pier LaPlante

Maritime Provinces

[March 27th – just before the big blizzard]
Ok, I have had no confirmed sightings since Christmas, but Maybe I saw 4 birds about 3 weeks back, 65% sure ?
From The Shore of the Bay of Fundy (Digby).
Stephen Burrows

[March 30th]
Rick, here is a little update from central rural NB. I banded 58 SNBU this year, of which 14 were females. No birds had previous bands, and I did not see any with bands in the flock. The flock at the farm was about 150 strong at times, but then it seemed to break up into smaller groups and other groups I saw further along the road to the farm, getting grit from the road, or even further away at other houses.
We were away in Belize for three weeks, with Mathieu Charette at T.R.E.E.S.
At home, we have had flocks at our feeders occasionally, but today we saw about 50 birds here, possibly migrating through, no bands noticed. SNBU are getting onto our records for Feeder Watch with increasing frequency. We are having terrible weather, freezing rain and snow squalls on top of mounds of snow piled so high around the house that we cannot see out of 7 of our 10 windows.
Snow bunting weather!
Dorothy Diamond
Rural St. John area, NB


[March 28th]
Hi Rick,
No SNBU and only two HOLA observed in the area since my last update (3/14). We had two Sandhill cranes feeding on the leftover bait. [Presumably she didn’t have a band big enough, otherwise…..]
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

1 thought on “March 31st – Cross-country (SNBU) Checkup

  1. hilliardton marsh research and education site banded 2571-18085 it was banded on December 23rd near the shores of lake timiskaming . This is the third bird we have banded that has made its way to quebec so bravo felicitation Simon . Congratulations on such a great season!

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