December 12th – Cross Country (SNBU) Checkup

Showing a Lapland Longspur to a junior grade student - obvious delight!      -J. Goddard

Showing a Lapland Longspur to a junior grade student – obvious delight! -J. Goddard

Last week’s Arctic blast that traversed the country got me thinking about Snow Buntings…and just where they might be. So I put out a call to members of the Canadian Snow Bunting Network to get their observations and here are their responses, which have been trickling in all week. I was particularly struck by Shane Roersma’s comment that his area of Alberta had been the coldest place on the planet for a day or so!

The last couple of days here in southern Ontario have been cold (well….cold for southern Ontario at minus 12) and snow is called for over the weekend. So we just may get lucky…….

Prairie Provinces

Hey Rick,
Up here in Peace River Alberta it has been very cold until today -5c, I have seen a lot of SNBU’s and a few HOLA’s. There is next to no snow cover so I’m having issues attracting birds to come into traps. Wish I had the invasion of SNOW’s this winter like the east, sitting at 10 SNOW’s so far this winter.
Mike Blom
Peace Region Raptor Study

Hi Rick,
We have been hit hard by winter here in southern Alberta – experiencing extreme temperatures, heavy snowfall and windy conditions. We were actually the coldest place on the planet a few days ago! [emphasis by editor] I have yet to spot any flocks of the 3 focal species, but have not had much chance to scout for them. The Christmas break is coming up and we’ll be out looking. Best of luck.
Shane Roersma

Hi Rick,
We have about 18 inches of snow here in east central Saskatchewan. The snow came in late October and has only settled a bit. I am not seeing many SNBU. The small flocks of 20 or less are not consistently in any area so I have not attempted any baiting yet. I will keep you posted if things change. Merry Christmas to all.
Bert Dalziel
Love, Saskatchewan

In Prince Albert, Saskatchewan we have plenty of snow – and bitter cold. There are quite a few SNBUs in the area, but they don’t seem to stay in one place and are just about impossible to lure to a feeding area. This is the 3rd year I’ve tried – still have to capture my first bird.
Harold Fisher
Nisbet Banding Station,
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

53-17-11N, 105-39-15W

Hi Rick.
Snow almost 2 feet deep in most fields. Snow Buntings have been coming to two piles of millet bait 300-500 at a time for several days. Will attempt to attach 60 second video taken Dec. 8/13, 1600h, -23C, strong N wind. Cold temps supposed to last until Christmas. Will try to contact your bander and set something up during the holiday break.
All the best,
Bill Maciejko
Gimli, Manitoba


Hello Rick:
Blowing snowy conditions. Accumulation of about 1 to 2 cm of snow — temperatures between -2 and -7 (wind chill maybe -10). No birds seen at my site since I last reported. Will be going to the site, tomorrow, to lay bait and wander my area looking for birds…………….. take care………….. David ( the lonely Snow Bunting bander, missing his birds)
[David Lamble
Fergus, Ontario

Good morning,
We had our first big snowfall on November 27th (approx. 10 inches) and that snow stayed on the ground for a while; but then the weather got really mild and it almost all melted. Yesterday (Dec. 9), we received about 2-3 inches of snow followed by a brief period of rain. I haven’t seen any Snow Buntings since my first sighting, several weeks ago.
Lise Balthazar
Lanark, Ontario

Hey Rick,
So I have recently moved to Lanark County, west of Ottawa, and am at least an hour from my site I used in past years so I am not currently banding there (just not enough time to get there for regular baiting etc). I have seen a few flocks in the area of Lanark Highlands, but no large numbers. If you guys are aware of anyone in Lanark County that has good flocks of birds but doesn’t band (And is interested in me banding on their property) let me know.
In the meantime I will be searching for flocks and interested parties, and once I get established I expect to be able to focus on the site for many years (since I have no plans on moving in the near future.
Take Care,
Fergus Nicoll

Hello from windy, cold, but practically snowless East Harrow (a Holiday Beach Migration Observatory station).
Currently there is only about 1″ of snow here. No banding has occurred here yet this season. No SNBU, HOLA or LALO around yet (here). Although we did see 1 lone SNBU foraging at the edge of a field about halfway between LaSalle (close to Windsor) and Harrow on Saturday, December 7.
Like everyone else, we are awaiting a good dump of snow which will hopefully bring the birds south to us.
Caroline S., and Bob Hall-Brooks
East Harrow, ON

Hi rick
At Long Point on the weekend, no snow. In Cambridge we got snow on Sunday night possibly 1- 2 inches. It was bare before then. Have not seen any SNBU.
Bill Read

[December 10th]
We had over a foot of snow on the ground before the thunderstorms washed it away last week. Now it is coming back (snow squalls at the moment) but most is in drifts along edges of fields due to high winds.
Thousands of SNBU roving restlessly around the county but never in the same place two days in a row. Corn being harvested has left a lot on the ground everywhere. No LALO or HOLA.
OAT – I have 25 SNBU on my grassland surveys so far, and still have 3 more to do.
Cindy Cartwright

Bruce Region

[December 8th]
hi rick
No buntings this weekend it was super sunny and we find that when it is sunny that the birds seem to find food elsewhere do have any theories on that maybe it is just a northern thing. We banded just under 300 sawhets and 18 boreals and yes last year was a peak in both sawwhet and boreal numbers. I will send some photo’s of joannes kids in another post she is hoping to band at her school tomorrow but i know sometimes you do a sunday updates
Bruce Murphy
Temiskaming Shores

Kerns students putting out the traps to start the season.      -J. Goddard

Kerns students putting out the traps to start the season. -J. Goddard

Next comes the bait - cut corn.    -J. Goddard

Next comes the bait – cut corn. -J. Goddard

[December 9th]
Hi rick
Hopefully we will get the cloud cover and snow predicted for tomorrow and the Kerns kids will have the first buntings of the season. They have a flock of buntings and longspurs that are visiting the corn .The flock seems to be over a hundred but when we went to put out corn the flock was a fraction of that due to the clear sky and bright sun. When we have photo’s of birds we will send them along . All the best to everyone this season.
Bruce Murphy
Temiskaming Shores

[December 10th]
Hi Rick:
Joanne’s [Goddard] class will be sending you a blog tomorrow sometime; they are going to be banding again tomorrow so i am not sure what time it will arive…..but they started today and were able to band 8 lalo and 5 snbu. Interestingly 4 of the snbu were females suggesting that they do arrive first. We often do not get very many females up here and usually start a little later . While there are some big flocks in our area we have only been able to attract a couple of hundred to feed so hopefully with the fresh snow recently arrived we will have more attention to the corn. Thanks rick and all the best to you and banders across the country. Joanne and the awesome kids form Kerns public will have more news tomorrow. Buntings makes winter fun!!!
Bruce Murphy
Temiskaming Shores

First catches of the year.    -J. Goddard

First catches of the year. -J. Goddard

Kerns Public School students learning about Snow Buntings.     -J. Goddard

Kerns Public School students learning about Snow Buntings. -J. Goddard

[December 10th]
Hi Rick,
I know I was supposed to have a student send you a blog today to go with the pictures Murph sent yesterday, but my day went a little sideways so it didn’t happen. Sorry!
Basically on Friday last week a few of the kids took the traps out to the site so they would be ready to start banding on Monday. We had been watching a flock of birds slowly grow over the past week and a group of about 100 birds seemed to be fairly committed to the corn we had been leaving. We noticed quite a large percentage of the flock were LALO so that was exciting. Over the weekend it was cold and very sunny and the birds seemed very scarce at all our banding locations so I was encouraged when I awoke to a mild snowy Monday morning. We noticed last year that our best banding days were usually the snowy ones.
The class was only able to do a couple of trap checks on Monday morning but in the end we were able to band five snow buntings, four of which were female, and eight HY Lapland longspurs, six males and two females. Today was a much colder day and to quote David, one of my veteran birders, “it was so cold my snot froze in a snotcicle!” Despite the clear -18 morning, we had a decent flock of mostly LALO visit the trap. Unfortunately a Northern Shrike became very interested in our operation and we had to close up for the day after banding only nine LALO, this time all males, and not a one SNBU, although there were lots hanging around. We are hopeful the Shrike will move on so we can resume banding soon. We plan to get out with a group of students on Saturday, hopefully we will have some big numbers for you soon. The Kerns kids were able to band 900 birds last season and although their real goal is to beat David Lamble, they will realistically be happy with banding 1000!
Joanne Goddard and the Kerns Crew
Temiskaming Shores

Extracting from a pretty interesting-looking trap array.       -J. Goddard

Extracting from a pretty interesting-looking trap array. -J. Goddard


Hi Rick,
Two weeks ago here in the Richelieu river valley, 2 flocks of 30-40 SNBU were seen repeatedly at the bait for a couple days. The weather got mild and none have been seen since then. Now, there is a 15-20 snow cover and the temperature will drop below -15C this week-end. I did not have the time to get the pliers out yet, but considering the weather system that is building up, I will probably give it a try on saturday or sunday.
Dominique Dufault

Hi Rick
In the Rimouski area, the first snow almost melted down last week with a rainy period. Now it has been snowing for the last 2 days and the fields are finally getting whiter.
Scattered snow bunting flocks can be seen occasionally around my place.
I still will have the same problem, i.e. having only week-ends to work on SNBU banding during daylight… And it seems I may not be able to retire that soon.
Charles Maisonneuve

At Berthier-sur-Mer, 40 km east of Quebec city on the south shore of St-Lawrence river, I have seen a lots of SNBU during the fall (october and november). When the snow cover appear, the number of SNBU have decreased throughout december. I have seen a few SNBU and HOLA this morning but nothing to put the trap outside. They are localised where they can find food (place without snow cover)
If the SNBU start showing up rapidly at the bait, I will start banding in few days.
à bientôt,
Benoit Gendreau
Biologiste, chargé de projet à la CDEMM

Hi Rick,
Here in southern Quebec we didn’t get much weather. I saw a flock a couple of weeks ago and counted one individual at my feederwatch site the weekend before last. In the meantime, we lost all our snow and then regained a scant couple of centimetres yesterday. I’m keeping my eyes open!
Carl Bromwich
Near the Vermont border, south of Sherbrooke….the beautiful Eastern Townships. Barnston-Ouest to be exact.

Maritime Provinces

[December 10th]
Snow just started today on the shores of the bay of Fundy, no birds of yet.
Stephen Burrows

Hi Rick,
Dorothy Diamond here in NB. We have had a week or more of snow, but then heavy rain took that away, and now it is cold again with a few cm of snow on the ground. The SNBUs are at the local farm in very small numbers, and I have not yet started to band. I think I saw a flock of 10 in my back field about 2 weeks ago, feeding on weed seeds. I’ll let you know when we start banding. Christmas Bird Count in our area is Dec. 14th.
Dorothy Diamond
New Brunswick

I did see a flock of about 10 here in Gros Morne [Natinal Park] on the weekend, but
they’re always pretty hard to come by here until spring migration.
Attaching a nice picture of a Juvenile I took at Cirque Mountain in Torngat
Mountains National Park this summer.
darroch whitaker

A recently fledged juvenile on Cirque Mountain, Torngat Mountains National Park, Labrador.    - D. Whitaker

A recently fledged juvenile on Cirque Mountain, Torngat Mountains National Park, Labrador. – D. Whitaker

Hi Rick:
No Snow buntings here yet, but we just had a lot of snow so hopefully they’ll show up soon.
Thank you,
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

Hi Rick:
Conditions here in Hartland, WI are cold with about 5-6 inches of snow on the ground. The forecast for the upcoming week is continued below average temperatures and snow on most days. So far I haven’t seen any birds, but will continue looking, as these conditions will hopefully bring them in.
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

November 28th – And So It Begins

Two young (HY) female Snow Buntings - the first for this Winter.

Two young (HY) female Snow Buntings – the first for this Winter.

Maybe I brought ’em with me? I flew in from St. John’s, after spending 2 weeks at sea doing a seabird count, on Tuesday night. That’s when it began to snow and the temperature to drop. By the morning there was a good (for this time of year anyway) covering of snow on the ground – 4 centimetres at least; enough to completely cover all the surrounding fields. Yesterday Nancy Furber, checking out the fields in rural Haldimand County, came upon a flock of ~150 Snow Buntings with a few Horned Larks mixed in with them and gave me a call. I whipped out to set out some cut corn with the hope that the flock would find it. This was in the morning; by the late afternoon Nancy reported that they were on the corn.

And they were back this morning so I grabbed some traps and the banding kit from Ruthven and headed out to the site. We set out more corn and 4 traps. I find that the initial contact at the beginning of the Winter is pretty frustrating. The flocks come in reasonably well fed and there is still some “wild” food in the fields (although, with the proliferation of Round-up Ready crops, wild food isn’t nearly as prevalent as it used to be). So the birds will feed enthusiastically as long as there’s no impediments…like a trap to figure out. When there is they seem skittish: they’ll fly in; check out all around the traps; eat any seed/corn that is outside it; and then fly up and away for awhile before returning. They are very much like shorebirds in this regard – quick to take flight at the slightest scare. Figuring out traps takes time and when they’re flighty like this they usually don’t figuree them out.

But today, finally, after 3 hours of watching them fly in and then away and then in again….over and over…two went into a trap and became our first catches of this Winter. They were two young females – in fact, most of the flock appeared to be females. This fits with other years whereby a large percentage of the Snow Buntings we caught were females. Males tend to Winter further north (or further east along the St. Lawrence River).

After seeing Snow Buntings making the crossing from Greenland to Baffin Island in September (see blog entry for September 22nd) I can’t be but awed by the very fact that they’re here. Amazing birds! I wonder what the rest of the Winter will bring and I say “Winter” because, for me, the return of the Snow Buntings marks the first day.


October 28th – Cross Country (SNBU) Checkup [and Today’s Results]

There was a bite to the wind this morning – coming out of the North; a reminder that Winter is not too far off. And with it will come the Snow Buntings to spend their Winter in the relatively balmy climes of southern Canada. The sighting of the first flock down here in far southern Ontario is always an exciting event. But for me the Snow Bunting migration started much earlier: on September 10th when I was on a ship in Davis Strait between Greenland and Baffin Island. (For a description of that period I would invite you to scroll back in the blog to the entry for September 20th – “Recounting A Sea Voyage“.)

Since then I have been getting emails from various wide-spread members of the Canadian Snow Bunting Network, all of whom share my great interest in this marvellous bird. Here’s a recounting in chronological order:

[September 30th]
I was in Iqaluit from 13 to 27 September. Unfortunately, most of the wheatears left by 17 September, but I spent some time trapping Snow Buntings. From 17th to 23rd I trapped 43 SNBU of which 29 were male and 14 female. To my surprise they were all HY, which perhaps indicates that AHYs left earlier. Are you aware of any data indicating that AHYs arrive earlier in the south? Most winter banders are not operating at the time that SNBU arrive, but TCBO data may be worth looking at. Also the preponderance of males seemed to increase later. On 23rd I trapped 10 SNBU of which only 1 was female and my impression was that overall numbers were considerably reduced by that date. We know that females tend to winter further south and perhaps they start earlier than males.
David Hussell

[October 20th]
Hey Rick,
I was on the Avalon Peninsula in newfoundland last Monday and saw a flock of 200.
Hope all is well
Fergus Nicoll

[October 21st]
Hi Rick,
Quite a few observations now in the NWT. I had a flock of 34 last Thursday and other birders saw a few smaller flocks (15 – 25 individuals) around Yellowknife. There has also been sightings (~12 individuals) in Fort Simpson, NWT.
Rhiannon Leshyk

]October 21si]
There have been a scattering of reports from the Northeast coast of
over the past 2 weeks too, though I haven’t seen any yet
Darroch Whitaker

{October 21st]
LOL….it promises to be a long time before they show up in southern Quebec!
[Carl Bromwich in response to Darroch’s message]

[October 23rd]
Hi Rick
We have had about 2 inches of snow over the last 4 days. With it came the first small flock of 12 SNBU. They were about 25 Km west and 25 Km south of my location at Love Saskatchewan.
Bert Dalziel

[October 26th]
The first few snow flakes were flying here in Ottawa on Friday, and I spotted a flock of 40-50 SNBUs just outside of Ottawa near Wakefield this morning! It was nice to hear their calls again!
Christie Macdonald

[October 28th]
While out looking for Snowy Owls yesterday by Fairview Alberta I came across an adult male Gyrfalcon. I setup to trap this guy and it made 2 quick passes at my pigeon. After that it was game over, I watched as he made an attempt at a large flock of over 500 plus SNBU’s. He failed in the first attempt but the second attempt he caught one. It always amazes me how fast they come off the transformer pole and hug the ground to surprise their prey. It was over in 30 seconds. He then flew to the edge of an aspen bluff where I lost him. Looks like SNBU’s are here to stay for the winter. Good luck everyone!
Mike Blom
Peace River, Alberta

[October 28th]
A few hundreds showed up around Chibougamau, in Northern Québec also.
We already have about 2 inches of snow here. However, we do not have
fields and they don’t come at the feeders yet, so we only see them
along forest roads for now. I might have to figure out a way to catch
them in this kind of habitat.
Alex Anctil

[October 28th]
Good morning,
I have also spotted a small flock of about 30 Snow Buntings close to my home. I heard them first and then I spotted them flying around, near a gravel pit. Yes, it’s wonderful to hear them again! Can’t wait until they show up in my back field!
Have a good day everyone,
Lise Balthazar
Lanark, Ontario

[October 28th]

[October 28th]
SNBU have reached Ontario’s south shore i.e. the north shore of Lake Erie. There was a report of a small flock (I think 8 was mentioned) at the tip of Long Point today, with one HY-F cap one HY-F captured. I spread some bait on the beach at the base of the point – I hope to start trapping early this winter.
David Hussell

So….Carl Bromwich in southern Quebec may have to eat his words: one has already been caught (and I assume banded) at Long Point in far southern Ontario.

We had a pretty good late-October day at Ruthven banding 76 birds:
1 Blue Jay
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Brown Creeper
7 Golden-crowned Kinglets
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
13 Hermit Thrushes
10 Cedar Waxwings
2 American Tree Sparrows
1 Fox Sparrow
5 Song Sparrows
3 Swamp Sparrows
4 White-throated Sparrows
1 Eastern White-crowned Sparrow
12 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
9 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 39 spp.


September 20th – Recounting A Sea Voyage

I have been away for 35 days on a research vessel which was studying the bottom of Baffin Bay. My “job” was simply to count seabirds following a strict protocol. Since things have been pretty slow at Ruthven (e.g., we banded only 7 birds today), I’ve decided to give you a glimpse of another migration that I ran into in the far north.
(Photo Gallery below)

[September 10th] – When Things Go Bad
We just started the last leg of the journey. One week to go on a 5-week trip into some of Canada’s most scenic – but least known and appreciated – country: the east side of Baffin Island. I’m on a coast guard/research vessel with scientists intent on studying the deep-water geology and biology of Baffin Bay. I’m just an add-on, an afterthought if you will, whose job is to systematically count seabirds as the ship is underway. I have the best seat in the house: the lefthand side of the bridge with big windows in front and on the portside. Unless spray from pounding waves or sleet and snow cover these windows (and I’ve had my share this trip), I can look out on the sea through a sweeping 180 degrees. Magnificent.

When I got to the bridge at first light this morning, we had already been steaming for 18 hours, heading due south and about 80 nautical miles out from the nearest point of land on east Baffin Island (Cape Dyer which is the west side boundary of Davis Strait). Today it was Northern Fulmars. Everywhere you looked that’s all you could take in. You see…it was windy – 25 to 30 knots howling out of the north – and fulmars are true wind birds. Like their cousins the albatrosses, they ride it effortlessly in their perpetual search for food, their eye trained on the surface for tidbits and on their conspecifics in case one should hit a jackpot that all could get a piece of. And while fulmars are wonderfully interesting (the first thousand anyway), they weren’t what I was on the lookout for.

From banding studies, we know that many Snow Buntings, that spend their Winters in southern Canada, nest in Greenland. Well, the breeding season is well over and these birds should be making their way back to Canada. To do that they have to cross Baffin Bay or the North Atlantic south of Davis Strait. And this is the time, with the temperatures dropping precipitously and snow falling, that they should be on the move. So I was on the lookout.

From my perch on the bridge, looking south, here’s what I was seeing: heavy overcast skies blanketing a sea, also gray, gone wild – 4 meter waves with a 30-knot north wind blowing the spray off the many whitecaps. Shortly before 7:00 I saw my first passerines: a pair of American Pipits; they flew around the front of the ship and, I think, took refuge on it although I couldn’t find them. At this point we were a little more than 80 nautical miles off Cape Murchison. These birds had come from the East! It’s just not Snow Buntings that nest in Greenland and spend their winters in North America! An hour later another 3 passerines went by – couldn’t get my binoculars on them fast enough but I think they were also pipits. And then, in about another hour, two male Snow Buntings and a pipit went by! They paid no attention to the ship but just kept on heading west. Of course with a north wind their actual course would be southwest, making their landfall even further away. At about 11:00 a small flock, made up of 9 Snow Buntings and 2 American Pipits, went winging by. I had picked this flock up early and was able to watch them for awhile. They were moving from the east and headed due west. They were low down to the sea, taking shelter from the wind as they worked their way, powerfully, along the trough, a mere few feet about the surface. By the most optimistic reckoning they still had 200 kilometers to go; they had already come an estimated 500 kilometers!! At 30 km/hour they would have left 16 hours before – around 7:00 PM, just as it was starting to get dark on the rugged, barren Greenland coast.

We continued to push south and as we did something changed…for the worse: the wind backed into the northwest and picked up a couple of knots. Now it would be more in the face of migrants heading west.

I watched a pipit trying to make its way west. It was flying hard but wasn’t making headway to the west; instead it was moving sideways – essentially south – at the same speed as the ship, 13 knots. A fulmar saw its struggles and decided to investigate. Now the bird had two problems. To evade being eaten it swung around the front of the ship and, I think, found shelter somewhere on it.

One of the reasons passerines migrate at night is to avoid avian predators. This would be especially important travelling over water – there’s absolutely nowhere to hide! I saw this played out. Flying seemingly lazily, a young Pomarine Jaeger appeared way off to my left. Usually when I’ve seen these kleptoparasites they’ve been harassing kittiwakes, trying to make them regurgitate a meal that they will drop down and scoop off the sea surface. But there weren’t any kittiwakes around. Suddenly the jaeger reverted from its easy back and forth searching to a focused direct flight picking up speed with each wingbeat. It was on the hunt. But for what? I couldn’t see anything. And then it swooped and, four hundred meters ahead of me, I saw a small flock of passerines, that had been down in a trough, fly up high and scatter with the jaeger giving chase to a particular individual. I never saw the outcome but I don’t think it went well for the passerine. And the others? Probably reassembled, got down in a trough, and kept pushing, pushing….there was no alternative.

The last passerine I saw was a female Snow Bunting. I don’t know where she had come from – I hadn’t seen a flock go by – but there she was taking some shelter from the ship, evading the interest of a fulmar. I never saw what happened, whether she hunkered down on the boat or, when the fulmar had been fooled, headed out again. At this point we were east of Resolution Island, which is between Baffin Island and Cape Chidley, at the north tip of Labrador. For this little bird it would be 220 kilometers to the island and 270 to the cape – 7 to 9 hours yet to go. So many miles, so many predators, such a strong wind….such a cold, unrelenting sea. I could only hope.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a Snow Bunting again without thinking of that little flock, hunkered down in a 4-meter trough, heading west. Everything gambled on the single toss of the dice.

Update from Rick

Some of you may be wondering why Rick hasn’t been making blog posts this season. He is currently on a coast guard vessel in the Arctic, counting sea birds (and the occasional passerine, it seems). He will be back in a few weeks, and, I expect, making blog posts again. He sent this update last night:

Hi All:
Steamed into a stunning sunset on a calm sea – Baffin Bay. Looked out to port and there, winging its way along, faster than the ship, was a male Snow Bunting. On seeing the ship, it headed over to check out the boat and then I lost light of it as it rounded the bow. This bird was heading west. We were at over 67 degrees north and just west of 60 degrees west. The closest land was 85 Nautical miles away, north of Broughton Island on the coast of Baffin Island.

February 24th – Cross Country (SNBU) Checkup

A skyful of Snow Buntings has been a rare sight for most banders this Winter. -M. Blom

Kenya was extremely hot, especially as Matangwe, the village I was living in, was less than a degree below the equator. Folks there could not even conceive of snow let alone Snow Buntings. I must say that I truly missed the cold. There is nothing better than being outside on a snow-covered trail at dusk with the sun just having gone down, the first stars twinkling and the temperature dropping. So it was great that on Saturday, on my way to the Ontario Bird Banding Association meeting I drove under a flock of 500+ SNBU’s that were checking out a corn field….and only 5 km’s or so from our bait site. Hope springs eternal in a bander’s heart.

As you will see below, everyone seems to be seeing the same thing: SNBU’s ebb and flow with the weather and, especially, the amount of snow. And there is a distinct feeling that the birds are getting “flighty”, ready to start moving toward the breeding grounds(?). [So you folks along the St. Lawrence and in Newfoundland & Labrador get ready!!]

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is the connection between Bruce Murphy’s site at Timiskaming in northern Ontario and David Lamble’s site just outside Fergus in southern Ontario. Up until this point, we were under the impression that sourhtern Ontario birds just used the St. Lawrence “flyway” and moved between southern Canada and Greenland. Now we’re seeing that there’s a distinct movement of southern Ontario birds through northern Ontario. Are they headed for the eastern Canadian Arctic? So much to learn…so little time. It just keeeps getting better and better.

SNBU trap used by Martin Wernhaart; made of 1″x1″ wire mesh. -B. Murphy

It was hard for me to leave that flock of 500 SNBU’s behind and continue on to the OBBA meeting but one of the good things I got out of it (and there were many “good things”) was a look at Martin Wernhaart’s traps. Everyone complains that buntings go round and round their traps but don’t go in. The baffles that Martin uses lead the birds right into the entrance funnels. This is a design that has proven to be quite useful for shorebirds as well. I’m going to try it. [Note that he uses 1″x 1″ wire mesh rather than 1″x 1/2″. Martin claims that it makes the bait more visible. Of course, this size let’s smaller birds escape….]

Note the “guide” which leads circling birds into the trap mouth. -B. Murphy

Prairies[end of January]

A pile of spilled grain makes for a great feeding area. -M. Blom

Hi Rick,
Peace River is on the map FINALLY with a couple SNBU’s. I have a large grain pile across from our acreage and there is over 1000+ SNBU’s eating at it. The only problem is that they won’t go into ground traps so I used my large bownet and caught a couple adult males this past saturday. A heard of Elk trampled my ground traps as they went into the grain pile to feed, so I am out of ground traps now until I build some new ones. I’m hoping the pile dwindles down so I am able to catch more as they are heading north.
Mike Blom
Peace Region Raptor Study
Peace River, Alberta, Canada

Male SNBU. -M. Blom

Male SNBU. -M. Blom

HI Rick,
Welcome back to winter. I managed to catch and band 2 ASY-M SNBU on February 1st. I am having visits from 2 different Northern Shrikes, 1 Northern Goshawk, and 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk at different times so my flock of SNBU has scattered. I am trying to come up with a new plan, but don’t hold out much hope. [you could try catching them with a bal-chatri trap….]
Bert Dalziel,

Baited flock just NE of Winnipeg appears stationary: counted close to 400 Saturday, Feb.23. Reports of a flock of 65 wintering on a farm at Ste. Anne (SE of Wpg.) with regular sightings of other flocks in the area and to the NNE. A few reports of from 5 to 25 west of Lake Winnipeg/Red River this weekend. Unfortunately, the Camp Morton flock, which had varied between 300-400 has been reduced to a brief, dawn and late day visit by only 30-40. Smaller flocks regularly seen west and SW of here have also been missing for over a week.
Bill Maciejko
Camp Morton, MB

OntarioJanuary 31st:

Snow Buntings in the Bruce Peninsula of Ontario. -J. Punnett

Greetings bunting banders we have had a couple of very interesting weeks in Timiskaming. I feel very much like Ebenezer sSrooge the morning he wakes up after being visited by the ghosts of buntings past when he realizes that he doesn’t know anything but now he knows he doesn’t know anything. That is how I feel about snow bunting banding . The only thing I do know is that I love it!!! We are having our best season ever and the kids at Kerns public [school] working with bander Joanne Goddard are having an amazing season with two incredible days of 160 and 149 buntings banded in back to back days. I will leave it to them to tell their story. We are all part of the same group and are contributing to the work done by the Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education center.
We have established three distinct sites that we have been able to attract buntings to corn in good numbers. We call the sites Dawson point. LaForest road and Kerns public school. The Kerns site has by far the most birds but the other sites have been very productive. All three sites are situated a 5 to 15 minutes’ drive from the town of New Liskeard which is about 450 km north of Toronto. We have lots of snow and the weather has had a recent impact on our banding .
Including the work we have done with the kerns students we have banded about 1000 birds this winter and just recently banded our first three horned larks ever. We lost almost a week of banding when temperatures dipped to -40 and schools were cancelled. For a number of reasons we cannot band below -20 and I can outline those to banders that are interested who can contact me directly. We also missed two days this week due to snow storms that also resulted in schools being cancelled and us not being able to band birds.
The big news for us has been retrapping several birds from past years . We even managed to recapture a bird that was banded in the first year of banding for us a year we only caught 50 birds. Of greater significance has been the capture of three foreign birds. Each one has been recovered at each of our sites which for me just added to the drama. The amazing part of the story is that every bird was originally banded by David Lamble in southern Ontario. We have also captured one of his birds. I believe this pretty much establishes a direct snow bunting migration pipeline between these two sites. One of the birds was banded Feb 21st 2009 another was Dec 26th 2010 and the last was Feb 16th 2011 so this does not represent the movement of one group of birds.
As we become more efficient at banding and understanding how to be more effective we can hopefully contribute more information and hopefully, no disrespect to David, catch someone else’s bird as well. Of course we are hoping to catch many more of David’s birds and hope this will aid someone who has a clue of what’s going on. I go back to I do not know anything except I love banding buntings.
We were going a little crazy as we had so many birds at the Kerns site but could not band due to the cold when the cold snap finally ended the birds would not go into the traps then suddenly the traps worked like a charm without any modifications. So when I read on the blog that many were experiencing the same thing it was helpful to know. The other thing we found helped was freezing millet and putting it out for them to feed that was suggested by David Okines and really seemed to work. The snow plow just arrived so I have to move frozen complaining cars that do not want to move. How the buntings thrive in these conditions I will never know. I am just glad they do and we are happy to be part of this exciting cooperative and look forward to what lies ahead. I am so excited about the work of the Kerns public kids they are inspiring. Looking forward to more positive reports in the coming weeks good luck may the buntings be with you.
Bruce Murphy

Wild Turkeys have started to invade Line’s bait areas. -L. Perras

[January 24th]
Hi Rick,
I hope you enjoyed your trip. The weather here is really cold (-29) but it`s good for SNBU.
Just to share with you and your friends, since 2 days ago, a group of Wild Turkey comes to my bird feeder. They look like young males but I’m not sure yet. I hope they don’t get at my station of SNBU.
Do you band them also?
Here a picture to show you!
Line Perras

[February 23rd]
Hi Rick,
Welcome back in Canada. I saw your birds from Kenya on the Web site and they are really beautiful. I figure it`s hard for you to identify them.
About my SNBU, well, if it`s not raptors, now, it`s Wild Turkeys give me a problem. I have around 10 Wild Turkeys and they comes at my station of the SNBU everyday to eat the corn. They really terrify me. Me and my husband try to chase them, but sometimes, they are not scared and I’ve heard Wild Turkey can attack people. I have a few SNBU and they don’t stay on my trees because Wild Turkey and raptors around the station.
Here two pictures taken on February 18, 2013.

When the turkeys clear out, the buntings clean things up. -L. Perras

Sitting in treetops must be a strange sensation for these treeless tundra birds. -L. Perras

Hi Rick,
Weird timing, I was about to email you.
Fitzroy Harbor:
I haven’t had a lot of time to get out banding due to work, and weird weather conditions. However, there has been a flock of between 50 and 150 at my bait piles throughout the winter, but I expect this to grow as more SNBU usually arrive in this area in late winter.. To date I have banded 65 birds (mostly males), but will be putting in more effort as the flock (if) increases. I finally have a single HOLA at my bait as well (they are not that common around here in the winter), so I hope to get at least one of them as well,
Sounds like Africa was great, what a cool trip.
Fergus Nicoll

In flight past a transmission tower. -J. Punnett

Hi Rick,
I was just thinking about you this morning! Hope you had a great trip.
The Buntings disappeared for a few weeks but came back this week; there’s only about 20 of them, very far from the numbers we used to get (200+). I don’t know why they disappeared because there’s plenty of food here and winter was far from over; we still had plenty of snow.
My husband also saw about 30 of them this week, about 20 kilometres from our home.
Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids Road

Hello Rick:
I went over the 3 000 new bandings for 2013 today, but it is tough going — the blowing winds and the changes in weather have made many of the birds “trap shy”. It is almost as if they are in that restless state just prior to heading north. We will see…………… David Lamble

Hello Rick:
I am not certain what you would like as an update — a little over 3 000 Snow Buntings banded — 30 Lapland Longspurs and 14 Horned Larks in 2013.

About 90% of the birds are males with 54 % of the males ASY. Since the 15th , the bird numbers have dropped off dramatically with 15, 2 and 10 birds banded on the 16th, 17th and 18th — none on the 19th and 20th and only 33 and 61 banded on the 21st and 22nd. Miserable, blowing conditions have filled in my trap openings and the birds are restless and less willing to enter the trap, despite being all around it. Still have flocks of 50 – 60 birds but just not interested in the corn — although the fat counts are high for most of the birds I do catch ( 4 & 5) — another sign that they are “thinking” anout heading back north.
Take care……………. David Lamble

Hello :
…….I have been getting a number of “odd” fat scores over the year. They have (say) the left-hand side of the furculum totally filled, like a 4 but the right hand side is depressed like a 2. I tend to call such birds a 3. Have you had any like that? I have had a few (very few actually) that have the fat all around the furculum but not in the triangle. I am getting the idea that the “bird king” of Snow Buntings is telling his serfs to go out of their way to drive me mad .

Take care…………. David Lamble

P.S. A reasonable day today — before the winds came up and started filling in the entrance holes — 71 Snow Buntings and 1 Horned Lark. But the birds still tend to be nervous and flighty and jhang around the trap but only a small percentage enter, those sneaky little guys ……. D

The East Harrow station had very little snow and even less Snow Buntings over the past few weeks.
The few times I tried to even look for birds, they were in very short supply (no matter the species).
Even the Cowbirds and MODOs deserted us.
Bob Hall-BrooksSnow Bunting Bander
Holiday Beach Migration Observatory
East Harrow, ON, Canada

Trapped and banded 22 on the beach at Long Point this morning. Released about 15 because we ran out of bags. Thanks to Chris Risley for help with trapping and bagging. Flock of about 60 hanging around.
David Hussell


[January 23rd]
Our MBO SNBU teams are baiting in 3 locations – Mirabel, Eastern Townships and Senneville. We are really pleased about the Senneville location as it is actually on the island of Montreal! A GGOW is also using the Senneville field as a hunting ground (not for SNBU, but rodents). Hopefully the cold temperatures will lure back good numbers of SNBU.
Thanks for your help!
Gay Gruner
Director / Directrice
McGill Bird Observatory / Observatoire d’Oiseaux de McGill

[February 23rd]
Hi Rick,
Mirabel site: only 95 SNBU banded with a lot more effort than last year. We also had 3 recaptures (3 males) from last year and a few recaps from this year. 6 females out of the 95, 4 of which were banded since Feb 19, are they already heading back north? No LALOs around this year.

Senneville site: only a few birds are visiting since the big group (100) left around the beginning of January. We will stop baiting the site for this year and hope for more next year.
Simon Duval

Hi Rick
I just saw your post about Kenya, it looked awesome!! can’t
wait to see the others!
As for SNBU nothing and I mean nothing has happenned here. I have been
working full time for the last month and on every week-end that I had
available for trapping there was either rain, snow storm or no SNBU…

I should try to band tomorrow, however there are not a lot of SBNU
around. Moreover, we are trying to catch 20-25 males for another
project. There is a professor at the University of Québec in Rimouski
who wants to investigate the adaptability to cold temperatures in bird
and will use SNBU as one of his study species.
Alex Anctil

East Coast

Over the past two weeks there has been a small flock of about 15, but today I saw a flock of well over 100
Barb McLaughlin
McKay Siding (between Halifax and Truro)

Nova Scotia

[February 23rd]
Large flock (>200?) settled in a corn field on our road, Stewiacke Nova Scotia.
Barb McLaughlin

We have caught only those few in January. We had a warm spell, & now have more snow, so may get better; but we’re off to tropics ourselves (Belize) next week, for 10 days, so this winter might be a bust for us.
A.W. Diamond
University of New Brunswick

Not much news for Newfoundland… we’re waiting for migration to start in a
month or so and are still getting occasional reports from the southeast
corner of the island, where some buntings do winter.

January 13th – Cross Country (SNBU) Checkup

Backyard pond made up of rain water and melted snow. Grand River is in the background.

Sunday morning and I’m suffering from a bad case of Snow Bunting Blues. It has been raining hard all night and I’m looking out from my sun room window onto a big pond of snow melt and rain runoff. In the distance, the Grand River, which is usually frozen over by this time in January, is full open and running high. There isn’t a patch of snow to be seen anywhere. And for us in far southern Ontario, that means that Snow Buntings will not be around. That, my friends, is depressing……And I gather from the following letters that many of you are experiencing the same weather conditions with a concomitant lack of Snow Buntings. And I detect just a hint of the blahs as well. I’m wondering if this is a sign of what is to come – that Snow Buntings in the south will become just a distant memory: “Remember back when we used to get snow and the buntings that would come with it?” Silent Springs and Buntingless Winters….what are we doing to this planet!? [Of course, David Lamble would still be catching them even if it were the tropics….]


In southern Alberta snow has been ephemeral to say the least – fairly mild winter so far with a lot of wind. Hence no SNBU sightings as of yet. Received a good amount of snow over the last day and a half – hoping to find some birds this weekend.
Shane Roersma

No buntings here yet – still hoping for birds to gather around local stock operations, but that usually happens a little later in the winter.
Harold Fisher
Nisbet Banding Station,
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

53-17-11N, 105-39-15W


[January 10]
Hi Rick:
I had Joanne double check this for me but what are the chances of us catching one of Dave Lambles birds then he turned around and count one of our birds . We banded that snow bunting on dec 13th this past December so not sure what date it showed up in daves trap. I guess we have established a corridor between our two sites. Joanne has started to band with her grade 6 7 8 class and has had instant success with 84 buntings being banded and 11 lapland longspurs. Her grade 8’s are doing the lion share of the work and will soon be passing on their skills to the keener grade 7’s who will take their place next year. It is wonderful to see the real research they are helping out with and I was bale to spend the day with a future bander named josh as he scribed for the entire day as we banded 10 longspurs and many buntings and hoped to be the first to band a horned lark in the area. We are lucky to live where buntings do and we are seeing a few very big flocks and many flocks that seem to vary in size from day to day. We have high hopes of finally catching a horned lark which after looking at southern success has us very envious. All the best to banders across the country.
Bruce Murphy

Hi Rick,
The flock at my site near Fitzroy has slowly grown to about 130. But now with the annoying warm front and rains coming, I am not sure what will happen. I will keep you informed.
Fergus Nicoll

Good morning,
Here in Lanark, we have about 30 to 35 Snow Buntings, which is a lot less than previous years; we used to get around 150 of them. I’ve been feeding them millet and they come on a daily basis.
Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids Road

Hi everyone,
I just wanted to add some details to my report.
Here in Lanark, Ontario (south-east of Ottawa), the Buntings showed up on Dec. 21 after our first big snowfall (30 cm). They have slightly increased in numbers gradually since that date and today I’m counting about 40 of them. We still have lots of snow but it now fairly mild. We’re getting some freezing rain today and temperatures are supposed to climb tomorrow. But the Buntings are still very active in the field, feeding and flying around.
Lise Balthazar

Hello from the Fenelon Falls in the Kawarthas ( north of Lindsay, Ontario):
Things here are much the same here in Fenelon Falls as Charles Maisonneuve describes from St-Fabien/Rimouski. SNBU at the feeder are down from other years ( previous years often over 200, this year a high of 50) and today, with rain and melting snow cover, no snbu at all.
Dan Bone

Hello Rick:
Like everyone else, the Snow Buntings have disappeared around my site near Arthur — did fairly well up until yesterday, when the birds left altogether. Summary so far this year

January 1 — 15 birds
January 2 — 207 birds + 4 Horned Larks
January 3 — 257 birds + 3 Mourning Doves
January 4 — 178 birds
January 5 — 28 birds ( trouble with a female Kestrel — one I banded in 2010, at that site)
January 6 — 39 birds + 2 Mourning Doves + 2 Lapland Longspurs
Jnauary 7 — 239 birds + 1 Horned Lark
January 8 — 50 birds
January 9 — 43 birds

The total of 1,056 Snow Buntings is the shortest time taken to reach 1 000 birds ever at my site — even the year I banded 3 900 birds in January. However, this thaw will certainly preclude any hope of reaching those numbers, I suspect. Also never captured Horned Larks in January at any of my sites.
Also, for the first time, I am getting birds back from 2009, 2010 and 2011 (as well as the expected 2012 birds). They tend to show small changes in wing chord but remarkably similar masses and fat scores — quite interesting. I seldom get birds back to my site that had been banded more than 12 months previously.
Take care……………….. David Lamble

Hungry buntings at the traps. -N. Furber

The Ruthven Park Snow Bunting Team has been put on hold. As of January 9th, the weather had changed and everything was gone- the Snow Buntings, the cold/wintery weather and the snow cover. The fields lay barren with puddles of water, and a few drifts of snow; all that remains of our banding endeavors are the small piles of corn, and a few Horned Larks. All we can do is wait for the return of cold temperatures, and dream about snow storms in hope of seeing the return of the Snow Buntings.
Nancy Furber
Ruthven Park Banding Station
Cayuga, Ontario

Hey Rick,
I’m hoping to get back out to my parent’s area by the end of the month if the snow returns. There were some buntings out that way mixed in with larger groups of HOLA’s. I tried baiting but didn’t get enough to put traps out in the time that I was there. Hopefully with some more snow I can get my dad to bait some spots for me so that when I head back there I’m ready to go.
Faye Socholotiuk
Lawrence Station (20 minutes west of London


Still have flocks of 100-200 coming to the corn in my driveway, however, we’re expecting rain and +8 in Barnston-Ouest this weekend, so I won’t be surprised if they disappear until there is good snow cover again. No banders here yet.
Carl Bromwich

In St-Fabien (near Rimouski) in the Lower St.Lawrence region in eastern Quebec, we have about 30 snow buntings at our feeder almost every day. We have had greater numbers in previous years. And we are expecting warm weather this week-end that could lead to open patches of agricultural fields. If this happens, buntings will be harder to attract.
Charles Maisonneuve

Hi everybody,
Here in the Richelieu River valley (Sainte-Victoire-de-Sorel, Québec), we started baiting on January 1st and 4-5 SNBU began to show up the next day every 4-5 hours or so. A couple days later, the groups increased to 30-50 birds showing up at about the same rate. A this time of the year, this is about the same traffic as last year but my expectations are similar to Charles Maisonneuve’s and visit rate should drop slightly this week-end with mild weather. So far, I did not have time to set the traps but as soon as winter weather returns I’ll give it a try.
Dominique Dufault

 I have baited a new site in Le Bic (in Between St-Fabien and Rimouski
2 days ago and already yesterday there was about 200 SNBU in it. I 
tried trapping them but it was so windy that the snow drift would 
accumulate on the cages and block the entrances in a minute or 2. I 
still managed to catch 2 before I gave up and decided I would try 
again when it’s not so windy instead. So we’ll see what happens!
Alex Anctil

Male Lapland Longspur. -A. Anctil

Hi Rick,
 So I went to try my spot today as there was almost no wind. The flock 
has increased to around 350. I spent 3 hours trapping and got 21 SNBU 
and 1 LALO. I think the weather was too nice today, plus they still 
find food in the field. Anyways, I have good hopes for this site!
 Alex Anctil

East Coast

Thank you for the updates on Ontario/Quebec successful viewings of the Snow Bunting; but here on PEI I have only been fortunate enough to enjoy a one day visit 3 years ago. In the middle of a 2 day storm.

Here in Stanley New Brunswick we have caught about 12 in two trap sessions and 0 in yesterday’s; it’s too warm right now & set to stay that way for a few days.
Tony (& Dorothy)
A.W. Diamond,Ph.D.
University of New Brunswick

Rick, in Perth-Andover (Carlingford) NB yesterday and there was a flock of aprox 30 in the field across from my parents. They said they have been there for a couple weeks.

None yet home in Stewiacke Nova Scotia
Barb McLaughlin