Snow Bunting Update: Retraps!

Hey folks, here are a few updates I received recently. I’ll start with reports that highlights unclaimed retraps (in bold, below).

From David Hussell – Southern ON:

Andrew trapped on Long Point beach again yesterday and got 3 more recaps. Two of them were banded by David and Martin. One remains unidentified: 2421-83541.

The other unidentified one, reported earlier, is: 2531-18590.


Theresa & Glenn – King Township, ON
Feb 9:

Hi Jeff
Theresa and I have captured a foreign recap 2531-19155 in King City On .


Feb 6:

Hi Jeff

We caught two foreign recaps today. 2571-17121, an ASY F is one of Joanne Goddards from the Kerns school site in Temiskaming, banded Jan 2013 as an SY. The other one, 2661 –34465, an ASY M is not in the banding lab dbase yet. We would love to hear who can claim it.


Theresa & Glenn

Feb 3:

The flock sizes of 80-150 of Dec/early Jan.shrunk to much smaller ones when the previous warm spell hit and did not climb again until today (Feb 3) when the largest flock count for the day was again 80. These birds were hungry, and Glenn banded 60.. We’ve had a heavy snow cover since late Sat.

We have a tiny flock of between 6-15 that appear to be regulars, less flighty around the traps than the larger groups but this small group have also learned that the corn will be available after the traps are removed, and not very inclined to enter. They peck around the edges, seeming to get invisible specks, when we think we have been very careful to make sure the corn is inaccessible without entering. They are waiting for Glenn to arrive with corn the morning after a snowfall. One of these though, an SY M, has become “trap happy”, with multiple recaptures. When you stick your hand in the trap and get an immediate bite, you know it’s #83370 again!

Interestingly, when a slightly larger flock of 50 came in Feb 2, this same bird was with them, and caught twice that day. We think we have him to thank for leading 20 other birds into the traps. This flock was very skittish. Similar to earlier experiences this year, they will come down, then very quickly up, circle the field, return to the baited area, and repeat several times before settling for a while. Once they do settle, several will enter the traps, but as soon as those individuals realize they are trapped, the rest of the flock leaves and often does not return that day. .

On many days we have banded more birds than we counted at any point in time. The overall impression is of a much larger flock that ranges over some larger area, splitting into groups to search for food, (and presumably investigate the status of previously visited food sources), assembling with other subgroups at points with some leading others to what they have found.

Presumably the experienced SNBU banders are aware of this but we have not seen it mentioned. Does everyone see a number of birds with undigested food (in our case cracked corn) stored under the skin of the hindneck? This is not fat, though we also see fat deposits in the same area, but a bulge of clearly visible corn, as in the photo. We’d love to understand more about this, i.e. how they get it in there, and later how they access it to eat/digest. It seems a great adaptation for a wide-ranging bird accessing spotty food sources in the winter to be able to take some along.
To date we have banded 407 SNBU, 78%M, 77% HY/SY, 24 RECAPS, 2 FOREIGN, and 2 LALO

I am also including a photo of the “SNBU jail” . This carrying box is a relief for cold hands when 22 birds are caught at once and the temperature is -20!

Hope everyone is enjoying these fascinating birds as much as we are!

Theresa McKenzie

Crop extending to back of the neck?

SNBU jail

Marie-Pier Laplante – Cookshire-Eaton, Eastern Townships, Qc
Feb 3:

Hi all, the first flock of the season showed up to feed in the orchard at my place in Cookshire-Eaton, Eastern Townships-Qc, on January 27th. The group, whose numbers now fluctuate between 30-50 birds, stayed for 3 days and then left with the warm weather of last week. Yet, this morning, the birds were back again and I banded the 3rd bird for this site today (Feb 3rd). I will try again tomorrow.


Feb 8:

Hello again,
The group of buntings at my place in Cookshire-Eaton is still feeding daily in the orchard. There were 42 birds today (Feb 8th), which is the most I had since the 29th of January.
I’m at 14 birds banded so far (11 males / 3 females).
With a little luck, I can manage to band the whole flock, which would be interesting!
Here is some pictures of the site.




An update from the Ruthven group:
Faye Socholotiuk – Southern ON
Feb 11

We did it! Joanne, Jack and I were able to get out this afternoon to try our hand at banding buntings at the dairy farm. We were a little uncertain as to how it would go given all the silage they had around to choose from and their propensity to shun all traps. After not much success around the silage in the driveway (aside from a very amenable horned lark that wandered in) we decided to put the trap up on the berms of food that are in storage. We had put a large pile on top of the tarps where the birds sit in large flocks on Sunday afternoon, and Jack baited it again yesterday. Within minutes we had 5 in the trap. Not long after we pulled them out (like 2 minutes!) there were another 5! Unfortunately by this time we were losing day light so had to call it quits, but we figured 10 SNBU’s and 1 HOLA was pretty good for our first try!

And! To top things off we had a recap! Not only that, but it’s one of the ones with the double bands! We decided we weren’t too sure how useful the extra band was as we had great difficulty reading it. You can see Joanne trying to use the binoculars as a magnifying glass!

Anyway, the recap number is: 266188608

Another interesting side story was that we encountered a merganser hanging out in between the berms (see the black spot in the last picture). Not sure what it was doing… but with some motivation from Jack it flew off.

We’re planning to try again tomorrow to see what we can get. I’m not sure they’ll be here long.



Joanne inspecting the unreadable extra band.

Joanne inspecting the unreadable extra band.



Two Bands!

Two Bands!



Retrap card

Retrap card

Confused Merganser?

Confused Merganser?

Finally, a few pictures shared by Holiday Beach Migration Observatory:

An After-Second-Year (ASY) Male Snow Bunting (Photo by Paul D. Pratt)

An After-Second-Year (ASY) Male Snow Bunting (Photo by Paul D. Pratt)

An After-Second-Year (ASY) Male Snow Bunting (Photo by Paul D. Pratt)

An After-Second-Year (ASY) Male Snow Bunting (Photo by Paul D. Pratt)

Second-year Male Snow Bunting (by HBMO)

Second-year Male Snow Bunting (by HBMO)

SNBU recapture

Hello CSBN members,

I plan to do a “Cross-country checkup” sometime soon, so please send along any updates that should be posted.

I received an email from Caroline S this evening requesting that I share info about a recapture. I don’t have the email list for the CSBN, so here is the information. Hopefully the right people will see it! Please email me using the address Rick shared with you if you want to claim this band, or just provide an update.

Hi Jeff.  I’m part of the CSBN, at the E. Harrow station of Holiday Beach Migration Observatory, in southwestern Ontario.

Today we had our first recap of the year, a band # I do not recognize.  Does anyone claim this band #2571-37426?  It was a SY female.  Please let me know if you find out who banded it and where.

Many thanks,

C.D. S

-Jeff MacLeod

January 19th – On The Move

Scads of Snow Buntings.....don't we all wish we were seeing these kinds of numbers.   -B. Maciejko

Scads of Snow Buntings…..don’t we all wish we were seeing these kinds of numbers. -B. Maciejko

I’m off to Kenya this evening to pick up on the birding/banding project I started there last year. I will try to blog about my experiences while I’m there….if not, when I get back. (Please remember to send your Snow Bunting news and pictures to Jeff MacLeod so we can keep in touch across the country. Jeff’s email:

In the meantime we had some VERY interesting news: two of Bruce Murphy’s birds banded in Timiskaming in northern Ontario were retrapped by Yvan Rochepault along the north shore of the St. Lawrence. Bruce had banded them a couple of months before and then Yvan got them. It would be interesting to know what route these birds are taking! Do they do a big circle coming down from the Arctic through northern Quebec/Ontario and then returning via the St. Lawrence and Labrador coast?
Here’s the scoop from Yvan and you can see that they were quite a long way east along the river:
These two birds were captured along the St Laurent Gulf (Québec – Minganie)
2571-18430 captured the 22 – 04 – 2013 in Rivière-au-Tonnerre
2571-18183 captured the 19 – 04 – 2013 in Magpie
Yann Rochepault

i’m waiting in some anticpation to see how Bill Maciejko is making out in Gimli Manitoba. He gets a LOT of Snow Buntings to his farm/area – probably because he feeds them so well but so far has not been able to trap them. Here’s his letter. YOu can sense his excitement:

Habituating the birds to the traps.        -B. Maciejko

Habituating the birds to the traps. -B. Maciejko

Hi Rick,
Yes indeed, the Camp Morton flock is holding firm. The wind is up and its just beginning to snow (0930h, Jan.15) as another storm arrives. This morning`s feed saw at least 500 SNBU at a time stocking up on calories before the storm really builds up. Although, I have seen these folks flying and feeding in all but the strongest winds and fiercest of snows.
Our first banding day (Jan.11) turned out to be another dry run. BUT WE HAVE PLANS!! Today is a building day. I`m going to copy the round design used by the young folks at Kern School–theft being easier than invention. Josh is also building traps and we`ll try again this weekend.
If on Facebook, I posted a 2 minute video of the Camp Morton Snow Buntings taken January 10th on the Feederwatch Canada page. They are attracting quite a bit of attention, so I included a link to your blog. One participant uploaded pictures taken in Mirabel, some clearly showing bands.
Last week I set out a mesh tunnel, hoping to get some of the birds conditioned to entering an enclosed space to secure food.
I`m including a couple of stills, also taken on the 10th. By this morning, they were marching into the tunnel with no hesitation.
All the best,
Bill Maciejko

Rik Winters’ Snow Bunting aging and sexing article

Hello folks, click on the link below to download an interesting article about aging, sexing, and determining subspecies of Snow Buntings. I’m looking to hear some opinions about the content of the article. You can email me your opinion, or post it in a comment.

Winters 2013 SNBU Aging-Sexing Guide


January 13th – Unsettled Weather & Recaptures

Snow Bunting taking "wild" food.    -G. Berger

Snow Bunting taking “wild” food. -G. Berger

Just last week, Wednesday the 8th in fact, we had nice crisp temperatures and a good layer of snow. Although we weren’t seeing really large flocks of Snow Buntings we were seeing medium to small flocks consistently. They would fly into the baited trap area and then were off again. We managed to tap into some of these birds, getting 84 SNBU’s and 10 HOLA’s (Horned Larks). Over the next two days we (Nancy Furber and I) got a few more pushing our Winter totals to 116 Snow Buntings, 88 Horned Larks and 7 Lapland Longspurs….not outstanding, but respectable totals. Further, we had the feeling that the birds that were going to winter in the area were here and we would be catching for the rest of the Winter. But then it warmed up and the rain came, eating up the snow and now there isn’t a bunting to be seen along any of the rural roads in our community (Haldimand County). And from the sounds of things that has been the case across southern Ontario, Quebec, and into New Brunswick (as the following updates will show). I guess the place to be is in the north with Bruce Murphy and Joanne Goddard in Timiskaming Shores. (Although I’ll bet Bill Maciejko in Gimli Manitoba still has lots too……)

Horned Lark - common in Haldimand County.       -G. Berger

Horned Lark – common in Haldimand County. -G. Berger

This will be a busy post as there’s lots to check out besides updates. Starting off, here’s a link to download the lastest CSBN Newsletter from Christie Macdonald, Newsletter editor:
Rick – in your next CSBN post on the blog, could you include this link to the final version of the newsletter:

The most exciting news has surrounded 4 recaptures of previously banded Snow Buntings. I have clumped the emails involving them below so you can see how things played out. There’s both an east-west component and a north-south one.

[Recapture #1]
Hi Rick,
My partner has just this morning captured a SNBU banded elsewhere: 2661-84151, an ASY male. Could you ask the list if anyone recognizes the number as theirs?
Theresa McKenzie
King City

Hey Rick, Theresa and all,
No need to look further, I’ll claim that bird! This AHY-M was banded by subpermittee Liette Fortier at Mirabel, QC on December 21st, 2013 at 09:30. Awesome recapture of this bird obviously still on the move! Wing of 109mm, fat of 2 and weight of 38.3g
Could you tell me exactly the date of the recapture and also the exact location of your site?
Theresa, you can submit the recapture to the Bird banding Lab, our data for 2013 has been submitted.
Keep up banding,
Simon Duval
Coordinator, McGill Bird Observatory

Thanks Rick, and Hi Simon,
Thanks for the fast response Rick that was the last bird to be processed today . I caught 14 birds in the traps on that check i was very confused because our new bands began with the 2661 prefix i just finished the last 2581 this morning and when i came home i was trying to figure it out if it was one of ours thank god for Theresa. The bird weighted 35.5 and fat 0 ,110 wing ,AHY,M ,Back at it tomorrow.
Regards Glenn (Theresa’s partner)

Wow! That is interesting. My husband and banding partner, Glenn, caught it this morning at 11:34 am, the last bird of the day. We’re lucky he didn’t call it quits a few minutes earlier! Fat was 0 and weight was 35.5 g. He measured the wing as 110 mm. We just started banding at this site on December 21, (the same day you banded this individual). The coordinates are :
Latitude – Longitude:
and the location is King City, ON
Theresa & Glen

[Recapture #2]
Hi Rick,
Just got news that Liette Fortier recaptured SNBU 1841-80160 at Mirabel this morning. Any chance you could circulate that on the list, the BBL doesn’t have any info on it.
Simon Duval
Coordinator, McGill Bird Observatory

Hi Rick and Simon,
How nice! I banded this HY M SNBU at Sainte-Victoire-de-Sorel two weeks ago (banding location 45° 56,655′ 73° 5,491′, december 26th, 2013). Wing of 110mm and fat of 4 (weight NA).
That’s interesting they cross the St.Lawrence. From my site, I thought they would head south along open corridors in the Richelieu valley. Or maybe at this time they just move around the St.Lawrence lowlands not following any particular route.
Thanks for the info. Keep up with the good work!
Dominique Dufault

Salut Dominique,
Good going! The bird was recaptured on rang Ste-Marie, Mirabel by subpermittee Liette Fortier this morning. Bird had 3 fat, 36.1g
Could you check the coordinates of the site, I think you’re missing a number 73 5x,491.
Lâche pas le baguage!
Simon Duval
Coordinator, McGill Bird Observatory

Hi Simon,
The coordinates are ok. The missing number is a zero in front of 5′ (73 05,491). Or if you prefer N45.94425 W73.09152.
Bonne journée!
Dominique Dufault

[Recapture #3]

Hi Rick,
We got another one today at our King City site, an ASY male SNBU banded Jan 2011 as an SY bird in St. George, ON, ( i.e. south of Cambridge). Do you know whose that would be?
Theresa McKenzie

[Probably Bill Read’s but we’re just trying to reconfirm the number……and yes! It was banded by Bill in 2010.]

[Recapture #4]
See Bruce Murphy’s update below.


SNBU close-up.   -C. Staddon

SNBU close-up. -C. Staddon

[January 9th]
We managed to band for 2 hours today as the temperatures finally were bearable! Someone told me today that the temperature reading here, at our local airport, a few days ago, registered -60! which was the coldest spot in all of Canada. Crazy. Anyway we were happy to band 39 SNBU and 1 LALO. So we are back in business!
Talk soon!
Jo Goddard
Kerns Public School
Timiskaming Shores

The Kerns Krew heading for the traps - makes for an interesting school day!   -J. Goddard

The Kerns Krew heading for the traps – makes for an interesting school day! -J. Goddard

[January 11th]
Hi Rick. We had a great week at Kerns. We only managed to band 2 days this week due to a “snow day” and other school happenings, but we were happy to band 115 SNBU and 1 LALO. With our totals from December that brings Kern’s kids to 119 SNBU and 25 LALO. It is raining here today (Saturday) but the kids are hopeful that it will turn to snow by morning and we will get out on Sunday morning. The kids have getting birds out of the traps down to a science now, partners are the way to go when hands get too cold!! and some are beginning to show great skill in aging, sexing and banding.
Jo Goddard
Kerns Public School
Timiskaming Shores

Many hands make light work - an extractor and a bagger. Hey! Isn't that a Ruthven bird bag!?   -J. Goddard

Many hands make light work – an extractor and a bagger. Hey! Isn’t that a Ruthven bird bag!? -J. Goddard

Looks like a big day!    -J. Goddard

Looks like a big day! -J. Goddard

The one in the corner is always tough to get out.       -J. Goddard

The one in the corner is always tough to get out. -J. Goddard

hmmm.....looks cold.      -J. Goddard

hmmm…..looks cold. -J. Goddard

Hi rick:
We had a very exciting week in timiskaming. Joanne and her kids had a fantastic week of banding and had a great one day totlal of 74 snow buntings. I have been able to band at our other site “up on the hill” and together the 2 sites contributed 233 new snow buntings banded and 2 lalo. The big excitement for us was the capture of yet another recovery of a bird banded by David Lamble near Arthur Ontario. I captured it today and the banding lab says it was originally banded Feb 1 2013. I believe this is the 4th Lamble bird that has wandered here, pretty much establishing a corridor of some sorts between us. Who knows where “his” birds spend their summers but they spend some of their winters in timiskaming. Of great interest to me was that in the same “trap check” I recovered a bird we had banded at the same site in 2012 it was only the 34th bird we had banded at this site. As well a Christmas present I sent myself in 2012 a bird I banded Christmas day 2012 came back to the trap. People have to appreciate that the banding site is 3 minutes from our house – I am obsessed but not clinical. So you never know….as Aldo Leopold says: putting a band on a bird is our chance at entering the greatest of all lotteries, the chance to find out more about these wonderful birds. I apologize for the slanderous paraphrase but it is just so amazing that these birds find their way back to the same pile of corn from years past. Including our December totals we are now up to 505 snow buntings and 28 lalo. Best of luck everyone hopefully someone else will win the lottery soon.
Bruce Murphy
Timiskaming Shores

Processing SNBU's in the Buntingmobile.       -J. Goddard

Processing SNBU’s in the Buntingmobile. -J. Goddard

The pleasure of bunting banding is evident.     -J. Goddard

The pleasure of bunting banding is evident. -J. Goddard

Hello Rick:
The birds have left — there have not been any there for the past 3 days and I do not expect any for the rest of the week — hopefully they will return next week. I guess they have headed back north or east, depending the effect warm weather has on them…………………
David Lamble

Feeding flock.     -L. Balthazar

Feeding flock. -L. Balthazar

That’s such exciting news! [the recapture] Over here in Lanark, Ontario, we have a small flock of about 20 Snow Buntings feeding on white millet and deer food made up of corn, oats and barley.
Lise Balthazar
   -L. Balthazar

-L. Balthazar

Salut Marie-Pier,
I`ve got a moment of peace and thought I’d let you know that I haven’t forgotten about you. There are simply NO SNOW BUNTINGS around. I saw one small flock a couple of weeks ago and have seen nothing since….nothing near my place and nothing while riding the roads through prime SNBU country between my place and Sherbrooke. I read somewhere that they “roost” under the snow. I hope not because there would have been huge losses foloowing the ice storm if that is the case. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.
Carl Bromwich
Eastern Townships

Hi Carl,
Thanks for the update.
I got similar news… I am just back in the townships after a bit of traveling around, but observers at two other baited sites in Sawyerville and North Hatley have emptied out of buntings within the few days following the ice storm.
Have a good day,
Marie-Pier LaPlante
Eastern Townships

New banding site.....complete with buntings.     -S. Duval

New banding site…..complete with buntings. -S. Duval

Hi Rick,
Well unfortunately, we were having a really good winter, and then it rained on Saturday! Temperatures are still above zero right now and are now going to get below freezing before Wednesday. Mirabel is shut down until better weather, the birds are just not coming enough to the bait when it’s warm up there. From Jan 7 to Jan 11, 85 SNBU banded pushing our total to 291 SNBU.
We also have a new site up and running in St-Roch-de-l’Achigan. The buntings were there before the warm weather so hopefully they’ll return after. Here is a photo of them at the new bait site.
How’s the weather down south?
Simon Duval

Maritime Provinces
Hi Rick
Yes we have some; Dorothy caught 15 last week in one session. Weather & schedules have been against us since! About 100 or so were around the Wilson farm.
Tony Diamond
(just outside) St. John

December 24th – A White Christmas (and Cross-Country Check-up)

Early morning light at the bait site in Sawyerville.     -M-P LaPlante

Early morning light at the bait site in Sawyerville. -M-P LaPlante

As I write this, snow is falling (and has been falling for the past several hours) outisde my back window. Two inches of fresh snow coats the grass and blankets the trees – it will be a White Christmas. But beyond the yard I can see the Grand River and it is wide open. A week ago it was frozen over, something that hadn’t happened here for a couple of years. Forty years ago when we moved to York, a village between Caledonia and Cayuga, the river would freeze over early and solidly – to the point you could ski safely along it to Cayuga, 9 km downstream. But in more recent times you’d be as likely to be water skiing as snow skiing. So when it froze over I started thinking “old time Winter”.

But then the sleet storm hit dropping a mass of water, in various forms, all over southern Ontario. (Our power was out for only 8 hours – there’s still thousands of people in the province without it and might be without it until the weekend!) Two days ago my son, Geoff, and I took the dog for a walk along the River Trail at Ruthven. A solid sheet of ice covered the river. I went to the bank to check out the beaver lodge – beavers are making a comeback in southern Ontario and a pair has built a lodge against the bank and, in so doing, have transformed the river flats ecologically, gnawing down well over a hundred Black Walnuts ranging in diameter from a few centimeters to over 25. They had taken many branches and embedded them into the river bottom by their lodge – a readily available food source on cold Winter days. This food cache was quite extensive, extending at least 5 meters out from shore and was frozen into the ice.

And this is what drew my attention. Just before I reached the bank I heard a loud “crack” upstream. Before my eyes and very slowly, the ice-embedded food cache began to move downstream in an open lead of water that had miraculously appeared in a matter of seconds. The River was on the move!

The next hour was simply awesome as the power of water manifested itself right in front of me. The next sign that something was happening was a big push of ice up the far shore – huge plates of ice, 15-20 cm thick were forced against and up the bank, shattering like thin glass – but scouring the shore. Initially this was all in slow motion but with each minute the speed picked up. At first the action was along the shore but soon the whole mass of ice on the river began to move. This was accompanied by a deep, almost frightening sound; Geoff thought it was the wind picking up (but there was no evidence of any wind) while i likened it to the rumble of a passing train. The cause was a huge push of water forcing its way under and around the ice “obstacle”. Several more loud cracks, some upstream, some downstream, marked the increase in speed. And then there was a helter-skelter movement of ice, pushing up on itself and onto the banks, first on one side then on the other, scouring everything in its way. The beaver lodge was eliminated. Hopefully they were safe in a hole dug into the bank.

Suddenly the ice stopped moving but the water began to climb – over a foot in the matter of just a couple of minutes. And then….BANG!….downstream, whatever had stopped the movement (probably a jam against Slink Island) gave way and the train was underway again. Two hours later the river was ice-free from York down to Cayuga; the river had been swept clean.

It’s rare to witness a spectacle like this as it happens. Humbling actually. But it made me think: many years ago, a friend of mine, Terry Witt, and I lead a training canoe tripping course down the Missinabie and Moose Rivers in the second week of June. The river was a torrent, the ice having gone out only a couple of weeks before. There are big islands on the Moose, which carries the outflow of several large rivers – Missinabie, Mattagami, Abitibi – and many smaller ones. Against some of these islands, standing on end, several stories high, were sheets of ice 2-3 feet thick. I can’t even imagine the forces that did that.

The storm cleared out much of the snow in our area…and with it any chance of banding Snow Buntings. (On the plus side, it did bring a forlorn male Red-winged Blackbird to the backyard feeders.) But, as you will see below, there are places in the this big country where there are buntings….and people catching them (or hoping to).

Cross-country Snow Bunting Check-up

    Prairie Provinces

We’re seeing no SNBUs here this last while. Our Christmas bird count also found none in the immediate area. We did see some large flocks earlier in the winter, though.
…no redpolls or Pine Grosbeaks either this year.
Gotta keep hoping for a GGOW irruption to get through winter, I guess!
Harold Fisher
Prince Albert, SK

Hi Rick,
It’s officially sunrise, 0834h, -36.4C and about 250 SNBU are in the field. As every morning, there were over a hundred gleaning in the dark when I restocked the piles at 0715h. Deer clean everything up every night. After the morning feed they will continue to stream in from the woods in groups of 30-150 every few minutes until 1500h when they load up for the night. Conservative counts for this last feed are 600-800 (varies by day). During the day, they come in, grab some food and head back to shelter, then another group comes in, eats and leaves. They completely consume at least 28 quarts of white millet every day (four, almost full 2 1/2 gallon buckets/day). [That’s an amazing investment on your part, Bill!]
Josh is planning to start banding during the dawn feed, January 4th or 5th. I will start conditioning them to the presence of “trap-like” objects tomorrow. Josh will be bringing nets to use if he thinks they will work.
Best of the Season, always,
Bill Maciejko
Gimli, Manitoba

Slow typist: now 350+ feeding Buntings


None around Thunder Bay.
John Woodcock
Program Coordinator, Thunder Cape Bird Observatory

Hi rick snow bunting numbers are down but we have been able to get 100 birds coming to corn and yesterday at the height of the storm i managed to catch 16 which is the first i have banded to date. I am going to try again today once we dig out. We got 20 cm of snow while you folks were getting freezing rain. All of the big flocks we were seeing in November seem to have moved on. i just heard from the banding office that one of our snbu has shown up in quebec but i do not know where as I have not submitted my year en report yet. While trying to catch mouring doves yesterday we banded a song sparrow which is unheard of up here at this late date.
Bruce Murphy
Temiskaming Shores

Hi rick
I was able to band 35 snbu today all but 1 were males this brings our total to 57 snbu and 24 lalo so far. There are very few flocks in the area and none are very big we have not been able to attract many to a site that was very productive last year so we will have to be patient I get to band Christmas day this year which is a great present to me and I have high hopes of banding a fair bit over the holidays. thanks for all of the work you do on your blog and on this network all the best and hopefully a banded bunting arrives as a present for the newyear.
All the best [Bruce] Murph and Jo [Goddard]
Temiskaming Shores

Hi Rick – I was just going to make a report! I observed (through blowing snow) a large flock yesterday morning (Dec. 22), in a hayfield and taking grit from the road. And again this morning – over 100. The location is 46.079482 79.234133 (from google earth) 15 Km east of Powassan. I am going to expand my corn scattering area, and see if they find it.
The gentleman from Eau Claire has not had his usual 50 – 100 which he normally feeds for the winter show up yet, just 1-5 individuals. This is now the first snow cover greater than 2 or 3 inches, so perhaps he will be seeing them soon.
South of Powassan, the South River to Bracebridge area, has had greater depths of snow for some time. I cleared my driveway for the first time on Saturday, and the snow is still under 10 inches deep unless drifted.
Not sure if this large flock came with the snow or fled from the freezing rain in the south
Lori Andersen
North Bay

In our area, rain has washed away the snow and temps are above freezing.
We had none of the ice storm.
We keep hoping…but…
Bob Hall-Brooks Snow Bunting Bander
Holiday Beach Migration Observatory


More than 200 SNBU and 2 LALO are feeding on a daily base at my baiting site. I only have time to catch 14 (total for the winter = 14). I will give it a try tomorow morning. I will let you know what is going on here.
À bientôt,
Benoit Gendreau

[And when I got home tonight this was waiting for me:
I’m situated at Berthier-sur-Mer, 40 km east of Quebec city on south shore of st-lawrence river.
I have banded 34 today in 1.5 hour alone! Total for the year = 48
There is lot more!
Happy holiday,
Benoit Gendreau]

"...a small flock of 30....walked on, around and nearly in the trap all morning."    -M-P LaPlante

“…a small flock of 30….walked on, around and nearly in the trap all morning.” -M-P LaPlante

Hi Rick,
I came close to banding my first buntings today as a small flock of 30 at a baited site in Sawyerville walked on, around and nearly in the trap all morning. No luck. I’ll try again Friday.
Good night,
Marie-Pier LaPlante
Sawyerville QC

[I loved Marie-Pier’s description of bunting “trap shyness”. How often have we seen this frustrating behaviour!?]

    East Coast

I have actually seen a few flocks in Gros Morne over the past week – one of
12 at Cow Head and another of 25-30 at Shallow Bay (just a few kms away) on
the Christmas count on Saturday. These were in beach & dune habitat, which
is about the only place I see them in winter here and they are hard to find
here in winter so this may mean that they are here in higher than usual
numbers this December (?).
Darroch Whitaker

Hi Rick
We haven’t seen any yet, ourselves, but somebody got a flock of ~150 or so nearby on their CBC last weekend, and the farm where we had birds before has a few according to reports (we didn’t see any there on our CBC). However with this bad weather we will likely get more there & will check it out probably next weekend & let you know.
They were 1st reported from the Fredericton area at the beginning of November I believe. Sorry we haven’t been in touch, been crazy-busy indeed. [Tis the season…..]
Tony Diamond
(just outside) St. John NB


Hi Rick,
We’ve had a lot of snow this month—10-12 inches on the ground. (The most we’ve had since Dec. since 2000.) No sightings of SNBU or HOLA so far in any of the farm fields where at least the HOLA are usually seen. Will keep looking and go out searching this weekend. Will also query wisbirdnet for sightings to get an idea if others have been seeing them.
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

December 16th – “These Are The Times…….”

Snowy the snow.

Snowy Owl… the snow.

Thomas Paine penned it many years ago and for a completely different context but…if the shoe fits….

“These are the times that try men’s souls”. What times are these you wonder?….why the early Snow Bunting times of course! We got a heavy snow fall (25 cm) a couple of days ago and the temperatures have been in the minus teens for close to a week. Snow Bunting conditions for sure. Nancy Furber has been baiting a couple of sites that have been succesful for us in the last two years. Yesterday, one of them was attracting a mixed flock of of about 125 Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. Great! But as I watched them I could already sense the frustration that was to come – they would swoop in to the site, scrabble about quickly, and then take off only to alight 100 meters away. Ten minutes later they’d repeat the same thing. This is what is so frustrating – what tries your soul as it were. At this point in the migration the birds seem to be very “jumpy” – ready to take off at the least threat, real or imagined (hmmm….do birds imagine?). Later in the year this isn’t the case nearly as much. Unless there’s a nearby predator, they fly in and go right to the baited traps. Is obtaining food more of an issue then? Are they currently carrying sufficient fat reserves that they can afford to be “picky”? I don’t know but I can say that it’s much easier to catch Snow Buntings later in the season than at the beginning of it. So, I’ll just have to wait….patiently. But it brings to mind the latter part of Paine’s quote: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value”. Hmmmmm….I guess I should be happy that I’m not catching any Snow Buntings……I’ll value them more next month.

For the past two days (as I’ve said) Nancy has been baiting some sites. So, based on yesterday’s observations we decided to give it a go today. At site #1 there were 25 Horned Larks feeding away. They stopped and disappeared as soon as the traps were put out. Oh sure, they returned a couple of times but only to thumb their noses at the banders freezing in the Buntingmobile before taking off again. Site #2 had another 25 Horned Larks. These birds checked out the traps and fed around them but that was it. At one point a small flock of Snow Buntings (~8) flew by but paid no attention as they headed southwest.

Lapland Longspurs seem to have it figured out......

Lapland Longspurs seem to have it figured out……

But Lapland Longspurs have got it figured out. When the larks at site 2 flew up, low and behold there was a male Lapland Longspur in one of the traps. I hadn’t seen it arrive….but there it was. I’ve mentioned this in past posts: longspurs will get at the corn in the traps well before buntings have even a clue of how to go about it. Are their brains wired differently somehow so that figuring out a trap isn’t difficult. I would have thought that Snow Buntings, which nest in deep holes and tunnels in rock piles and scree fields, would have managed the trap tunnels easliy. But longspurs have them beat by a long shot. This is the first longspur of the season.
The beige tips to this male longspur's throat/chest feathers will wear away resulting in the characteristic black neck of the breeding plumage.

The beige tips to this male longspur’s throat/chest feathers will wear away resulting in the characteristic black neck of the breeding plumage.

Buffy tips of the neck feathers will also wear off producing the wonderful rusty nape of the breeding plumage.

Buffy tips of the neck feathers will also wear off producing the wonderful rusty nape of the breeding plumage.

One of the hundreda of Snowy Owls that have flooded Eastern North America.

One of the hundreda of Snowy Owls that have flooded Eastern North America.

I take great interest in the terms “by-catch” and “collateral damage”. Euphimisms, usually, to cover up gross mistakes or transgressions. By-catch can refer to all those albatrosses or sharks that get hauled in by long-liners fishing tuna; collateral damage passes over (and plays down) the human carnage when drones (owned by the “good guys) blow up innocents in the pursuit of “bad guys”. Pretty words covering up ugly acts. But yesterday we had a positive by-catch: while looking for Snow Buntings, in the midst of a snow storm, Nancy came upon a Snowy Owl studying the fields from a convenient post along a fence row (the owl that is). This would be one of the hundreds of Snowies that have “irrupted” from their Arctic breeding grounds. Irruptions occur when the food supply (usually lemmings) can’t sustain the population and the birds are forced south to find something to eat. It has been a huge southward movement this Winter with owls showing up throughout southern Canada and the northern U.S. – one even made it to Bermuda! I went back to look for it today (Duxbury Road and Town Line outside Hagersville) but couldn’t find it.