March 14th – Explosion!!

Winging their way WSW, this flock of Tundra Swans is likely headed for the Turkey Point marshes (although they may head on to the St. Clair marshes). These birds helped drive up the day’s total swan count to 1,127!! -CAJ

Wow! What a morning….migrating birds everywhere! We started counting as soon as we got there (8 AM) and didn’t finish until early afternoon. During that time we encountered 52 species. What was particularly notable was the number of waterfowl: 18 species! This included: 1,127 Tundra Swans, over 130 Northern Pintails, and 3 species that are new to Ruthven: Long-tailed Duck, Canvasback, and White-winged Scoter.

Long-tailed Ducks, one of three species of duck that are “new” to Ruthven. The other two are White-winged Scoter and Canvasback. -CAJ

As well as waterfowl the usual early migrants were moving in full swing: Killdeer, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and even the first Eastern Phoebe of the year. Surprisingly, though, Sparrows and finches were few and far between.

80% of today’s work/observer crew. The other 20%, having been traumatized by paparazzi in her youth, declined the invitation to join in. -DOL

April 1st and the start of the Spring migration monitoring season (our 24th) isn’t very far away so between observations we began to put up the nets. We completely replaced Net 2 (it was on its last legs due to UV damage) and put up Nets 5 & 7. We hope to get most of the others done on Tuesday.

Just a reminder to volunteers and visitors: a banding lab marches on its stomach. -DOL

Matt with a male Red-bellied Woodpecker that was hatched in 2010. -NRF

Although ice chunks line the banks, the river is running clear of ice and slush. -CAJ


March 7th – March Madness

The bait site on Duxbury Road – wide open to frigid winds and blowing snow. The buntingmobile is in the background -NRF

We don’t often catch Snow Buntings in March. We have averaged 181 per year since 2010 but that is based on 2 big years (2014 & 2015 when we caught 842 and 776 respectively); in five of the nine years we caught none, including the past three. But they’ve been showing up in droves since the start of this late cold snap. Yesterday Nancy Furber (on her own) banded 231!! and today we caught another 107 bringing our March total to 564 (and our season total to 910 – up until now it’s been a slow season). We’ll go out tomorrow morning to see if we can add to it before the warm temperatures return on the weekend.

Interestingly, over 80% of the birds we band are females; of today’s catch 84% were female.

But this can’t continue. The birds have got to start heading back for their distant Arctic breeding areas soon and after the weekend I doubt we’ll see them until next Winter. Still, it sure makes for an exciting March – and a great way to make the most of the cold weather.

March 5th – Missing Out

The 500th Snow Bunting banded this season. -NRF

You have to feel kind of badly for all those folks that are about to head south for Florida and beyond, ostensibly to take in some warmth and sunshine. What a shame! In most years we don’t see many (or any) Snow Buntings by the end of February – they need snow and cold and those conditions are usually gone by then. But this year we’re getting a treat – another cold snap! And with it Snow Buntings.

Actually we were having a pretty mediocre, if not downright poor, Snow Bunting banding season. We started banding them in 2010 and have averaged 1,406 per season. By the end of February we had banded only 346, not our lowest number by any means (we did only 40 in the non-Winter of 2012) but well below the average. We figured that was it. But you can never count Mother Nature (that capricious so and so) out. This cold snap has produced 226 Snow Buntings in March alone, including 77 yesterday and 98 today. And I just got word from Nancy (who was replenishing the bait at the Duxbury Road site) that there was a flock of about 250 feeding there. She will be heading out tomorrow to hopefully add to our total, which now stands at 572! It was a pretty tough go today: bitter cold and strong gusting winds that were blowing snow and filling the traps almost as fast as we could empty them. But, hey, that’s what bunting banding is all about.

So who would want to be heading for Florida and miss this bonanza!?

As an added bonus today we retrapped a Horned Lark that we had originally banded on February 17, 2016 (putting it in at least its 4th year) and a Snow Bunting that we banded on February 11, 2015. At that time it was in at least it’s 3rd year making it 6+ years old. What a tough old bird it must be to have made so many trips back and forth to the Arctic. We also retrapped a Snow Bunting (#1501-59970) that was banded by someone else, somewhere else – it will be interesting to find out this bird’s history.

Where we are in far southern Ontario we tend to get mostly female Snow Buntings. The males, so the theory goes, tend to stay further north, closer to the breeding ground so they can get back in time to set up territories before the females arrive. This reality is playing out again this year: of the 572 buntings banded only 105 (18.4%) have been males.

February 25th – Cross-Country (Snow Bunting) Checkup

-B. Maciejko

Ironically, as I got ready to put this all together today, the first early migrants appeared at my feeder: 5 male Red-winged Blackbirds and 3 male/1 female Brown-headed Cowbirds. Normally we would be in the thick of Snow Bunting banding at this point but it’s been an “odd” year. Not many Snow Buntings around and you’ll see from the comments below that this seemed to be the case throughout the country:

Maritime Provinces:
(February 22, 2019)
I have seen about a dozen twice in the last month, in Brookfield, NS.
Barb McLaughlin

(February 23, 2019)
There have been small, scattered flocks of Snow Buntings through January/February, mostly in coastal/beach areas.
Durlan Ingersoll
Grand Manan Island, NB


Hi Rick,
Here’s our numbers so far, we have a new bander working from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and it seems to be a hotspot for buntings! For the amount of snow we have, it’s a quiet winter here for Mirabel and Coteau.

Mirabel: 278 SNBU banded

Coteau-du-lac: 384 SNBU, 12 LALO and 1 HOLA

St-Jean-sur-Richelieu: 888 SNBU, 5 LALO and 1 HOLA

Simon Duval
Montreal, QC


(February 24, 2019)
HI Rick
Hope all is well. Thanks for reaching out to get a picture of snbu across the country; we are very curious about what has been happening . We have banded about 250 snow buntings and 2 Lapland longspurs this winter. We have three discrete sites that have buntings coming to food in the area. One is at Kerns Public [School] which is 15 km from New Liskeard Ontario where the majority of the birds have been banded. One is at our house near Hilliardton Marsh and the other is near Englehart. We hardly ever see birds as we are traveling the countryside and when we observe the flocks at the sites I mentioned the flocks seem to max out at about 100 birds; typically we see between 20-60 birds at a time. Of interest to banders is that until 2 days ago all of the birds banded at Kerns Public had been males; on Thursday we banded 3 females and Friday we banded another . On Sunday the flock near Englehart has grown to 250 birds and the flock by Hilliardton has grown to 60 birds, perhaps some of the southern buntings are arriving. This is our first winter feeding and banding near Hilliardton and we have high hopes of doing well here in March as the birds migrate back north. We have had an incredible winter of snow so I suspect we will have snow well into April on the fields allowing us to stretch our season as long as possible. Perhaps this year we will band snow buntings right up until the warblers arrive. Looking forward to finding some birds banded by someone else in March.

Bruce Murphy
New Liskeard, ON
Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education coordinator
Hilliardton Marsh Stewardship Youth Ranger team lead

(February 22, 2019)
Hello Rick,
I thought the Snow Buntings must be all down your way this winter! I was wrong – where are they?
I usually have 100 – 150 coming for feed as early as November, and continuing all winter, here at the farm, just SE of North Bay. This past fall ( and it was a wintery one) did not bring Buntings at all. Finally, just in time for Christmas, two arrived! By mid January the flock had expanded to 25 and has now grown to 50. Sure is nice to have them back, but a little worrisome that the group is so small.
I am curious to learn where they are, and where they are not.
Lori Anderson
North Bay, ON

Like snow flakes settling on a field. -B.Banks

(January 31, 2019)
Rick: Hi. I’m not sure any snow bunting sighting is of interest, but just fyi, I am assuming those are the birds I saw this afternoon in a big flock travelling across several windswept, cut cornfields near my house outside Roseneath, just below Rice Lake. I only moved here in the fall, from Toronto, and I’ve never seen snow buntings before. And hadn’t seen them up here either until today. Was a big flock. At least 200 birds, maybe 250-300. They moved in such a strange way when I first saw them. A tightly packed group, some barely leaving the ground, the rest in a couple of low swirling, swooping murmurations moving laterally across the field, landing and rising repeatedly. At first I wasn’t sure if I was seeing birds or a pile of leaves being driven along in the wind. Once I looked a bit longer and saw a couple of tight packs moving to and fro and could pick out the individuals, then I was sure they were birds. They were mainly white, especially on the undersides and didn’t seem very big. Sounds like snow buntings?

Snow Buntings well-camouflaged in the stubble. -B.Banks

I tried to snap a photo with my phone camera but they were so far away that I couldn’t get any focus or zoom. I’ve attached only to show that I saw what I’m saying I saw.

Brian Banks
Rice Lake area, ON

(February 22, 2019)
Hi! Rick
I saw ~ 150 on the road near Lindsay Ontario earlier this week, ~Feb 19.
First I have observed all winter.
Norm North
Lindsay, ON


(February 21, 2019)
Hi everyone,
Over here in Lanark Highlands, the Snow Buntings showed up late, around January 20th -but that is also right around the time we started getting winter, with lots of snow and cold.

Feeding frenzy. -N.Capitanio

Right now, I have about 30-40 individuals (pictures enclosed by Nat Capitanio).


Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids
Lanark, Ontario

(February 22, 2019)

Hi Rick
I did not catch many SNBU this year , I banded 180 ,3 LALO, 4 HOLA, and that was mostly in the last two weeks with 100 of those in a 24 hr period . Between the rain and the wind blowing and melting the snow cover all the time they were not around . I did see some large flocks of 500 plus a couple of time hit the traps but they did not stay or come back . Last week had a large flock 500 fly over me walking back to the traps and some came to ground and then a Merlin hit the traps and all the birds were gone as fast as they showed up and i have not seen any since. I have taken the traps out of the field as of yesterday and i think i am done for this season.

On another note i had a interesting recapture of a bird at our backyard feeder in January. I was watching the feeder birds for weeks and i noticed a ATSP that was banded and for weeks i assumed it was just one of the ones i banded last year . So when the weather got warmer I put up a net caught him and he was banded two yrs prior by Bruce Murphy up in Hillardton Marsh , I just thought it was cool he found our backyard bird feeder.
That is about it
Regards Glenn Reed
King City, ON

One of the few males buntings banded at our site. -N.Furber

(February 24, 2019)
Hi Rick:
The Snow Bunting season for the Ruthven Park Banding Station has been slow. It was a late start to the banding season, waiting for the snow and cold to bring the flocks to the bait site. Once the winter weather came though, the first Snow Bunting was banded on January 21st. In total, there were only 11 days between the months of January and February where the weather was suitable to set traps with enough snow cover and cold temperatures. Near the end of January, when the extreme cold set in with the Polar Vortex there was a good three days of banding. The best day was on January 31st when a total of 131 birds were handled – banding 121 Snow Buntings, 2 Horned Larks and 8 Snow Bunting retraps. The cold weather didn’t last, with temperatures soaring into the double digits and banding being put on hold … again.
To date, the overall banding total for the season is low with only 334 Snow Buntings, 2 Horned Larks, and 1 Lapland Longspur.
[PS Nancy banded another 8 today, braving the gales and driving snow.]

Nancy Furber…..and friend. -NRF

Nancy Furber
Ruthven Park Banding Station
Cayuga, ON

(February 22, 2019)
Hi Rick,
Martin has had the same problem, just a few loose flocks here and there, but he keeps feeding with fingers crossed.
Terri Groh
Nature’s Advantage Inc
On the shore of Long Point Bay – between St Williams and Port Rowan – Southern Ontario

Hi Rick
I have seen a couple of good sized flocks in Norfolk County (Houghton Township) over the past few days. Photos attached. Details below:
– Feb 15, 2019: Flock of 500 (conservative estimate) flew in from the lake and began feeding in a corn field on the north side of Lakeshore Road, just west of CR 23
– Feb 18, 2019: Flock of 600 (counted by 20s from photos) were feeding in a corn field on the north side of Lakeshore Road, just west of 1st Concession. Hundreds landed in the skeleton of a Maple tree and appeared as blossoms. Quite lovely.

Best regards. Kathryn
Kathryn Boothby
Fairnorth Farm

(February 22, 2019)
Heard one a couple of days ago over our place, other than that I think they’re extinct.

Haven’t banded any this winter (yet), we need snow – 6″ to 8″ worth please, and also need it to hang around long enough for the SNBU to come south and find the corn
Dave Okines
Port Reyerse, ON

(February 22, 2019)
Hi Rick,
Snow Buntings have been very scarce in our local area of Essex and Chatham-Kent. I haven’t seen a single one nor has HBMO has banded any this winter.

Paul Pratt & Caroline Staddon
Wheatley, ON

Prairie Provinces:

-B. Maciejko

Hi Rick,
I hope your banders are doing well elsewhere, because I have little to offer them here. I’ve had 100+ on a few occasions, but usually more like 30-70, and those for only brief stops morning and late day. They’re eager enough for the millet while here, but not desparate. The mere sight of the traps sends them off. Its looking so bad that I haven’t even tried to entice your bander to come out this year. Her resources could (I hope) be better used somewhere else. This is yet another year with low numbers and uncooperative birds. I fear the winters of starting and ending my days with hundreds of noisy, hungry Snow Buntings filling the trees at the wood’s edge are gone for good. I’m ever hopeful, but not optimistic, that things will change and I’ll have better news in a later report.

-B. Maciejko

{Later same day] I’m busy dealing with a deeply drifted in driveway and yard, after a “white-out” storm last night and this morning, so haven’t time to look for any better [pictures]. I wanted, for whatever reason, to include some SY males, even though they make up only 5% or less of the entire flock. I originally thought the “dark” bird in the last photo was the one and only female in the flock, but its not too unlike the “confusing SY male” you included in a post a few years back. Thoughts?

Males in flight. -B.Maciejko

(Even the storm couldn’t convince the twenty-seven Snow Buntings present to stay longer than one hour after sunrise today. Now 1430h and no further sightings.)
All the best,
Bill Maciejko
2 1/2 miles west of Camp Morton, MB

(February 24, 2019)
Hi Rick,
I took a 600 km trip at highway speeds on Feb 24th and saw 4 groups of over 80 SNBU and 20+ flocks of less than 50. We are not seeing many in my area near the boreal forest. There is 1 flock of about 20 that I am aware of. The weather has been brutally cold for the last month and I haven’t banded any birds even at my home banding station. Lots of CORE around and some EVGR and PIGR which I hope to catch when the weather warms.

Bert Dalziel
Love, Saskatchewan

A nice alternative to Snow Buntings – Bohemian Waxwing. -M. Blom

(February 22, 2019)
Good afternoon from frigid Peace River Alberta! It’s been very cold here for the past two weeks, we thought the bait piles would have attracted SNBU’s but all we have coming to them are Ravens and Magpies. The SNBU’s are foraging in hay bales spread out by a farmer feeding cattle. We have concentrated our efforts trapping BOWA’s, 2018 brought our highest totals banding 354 waxwings since starting the project back in 2014, so far we are sitting at 132 Bohemian Waxwings since Jan.1/19. Will keep baiting our fields in hopes to get any new SNBU’s on their journey back to the arctic.

Mike Blom
Peace River, Alberta, Canada

Northwest Territories

(February 22, 2019)
Hey Rick,
Nice to hear from you! No bunting up here yet but that’s not surprising, I don’t think we will see them for another month at least, likely early April.
Only spring activity we’ve had is the ravens starting to pair. With warmer temps I’ve been hearing more songbirds and there have been sightings of BOWA and PIGR (winter residents but infrequently seen) but other than that, we are still very much in winter. Thankfully, we seem to be out of the deep freeze. This winter has been a cold one, January was essentially -30C the entire month with a few -42C days in there (without the windchill). I’m always astonished when I see HOSP at those temperatures. I know they are a non-native invasive but I can’t help but appreciate their tenacity.

Rhiannon Pankratz
Yellowknife, NWT