Buntings and Snowies

Northern Wellington County Bird Sightings

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Buntings and Snowies

Postby mustap on Tue Mar 03, 2009 7:21 pm

Went to look for longspurs around Conestogo Lake. Finally found a large flock of snow buntings; unfortunately a Cooper's Hawk cut my observations off. Ended up seeing 6+ Red tail, 2 Rough-legged (1 dark), 1 Kestrel, 1 Coopers, 1 Northern Harrier, 300+ snow buntings with a sprinkle of horned larks and possibly others, 6 snowy owls...including the elusive male i had been looking for. I was able to observe the male snowy hunt successfully around 5:30pm in the failing light.
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby Alex Thomson on Tue Mar 03, 2009 8:21 pm

What are you doing out looking for birds. Don't you have a kid at home to take care of? It's only been a couple of weeks and you're already slacking?
:D
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby Ruth on Tue Mar 03, 2009 9:12 pm

I bet he had the baby in the car. Babies love car rides and he is likely teaching him how to use a camera already. :D
I was in that area on Sunday and saw at least 6 rough legged hawks. They were hunting along the road at Hawkesville from the posts. I saw only one flock of Buntings but lots of Horned Larks. However with the lack of snow on the shoulder of the road, it was hard to see them sometimes as they blended in so well.
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby josh on Tue Mar 03, 2009 9:33 pm

So how many birds can the little guy ID by himself by now? :D

Good to see you out there birding still Peeter. Hope you come across a Longspur soon. I'm still looking for my first as well.
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby mustap on Tue Mar 03, 2009 9:34 pm

You can rest assured that Alex was well taken care of....Alex. Thanks for the vote of confidence Ruth! I dared not take him out in this weather despite his Canadian heritage - though i certainly look forward to doing so in the future...he does love to drive in the car....although he hates red lights.

I think i may have found a strange bird. Several of the snow buntings were already starting to show their breeding plumage, so now might be a nice time for shots if there isn't a cooper's hawk around. Here are a couple shots i managed to snap of the stand out before they were gone....

Of particular interest to me in this bird, is the dark framed cheek, and the strong rufous nape/cap. It also looks like there is some colour on the flank below the wing. Also of note as the bird took flight is that it lacks the black wingtips of the bunting...(i think i managed to catch this same bird in flight...though there appears to be no colour/streaks on the breast unless i simply blew them out with overexposure). Would love any opinions on the ID of this bird. Just a dark snow bunting?...perhaps juvenile?

Bird at rest...
Image

Bird in Flight
Image

Wider view of the cropped shot:
Image

Image
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby georgino on Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:09 pm

Peeter, first of all congratulation to your new family member.
Nice to hear that your better half lets you go out to enjoy your hobby.
Hope to see you around
George

PS: Thanks for the information. Alex “Conestogo lake” this Sunday ?
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby HighDHo on Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:13 am

What a day!!! Where is this magical place called Conestogo Lake?!?! I want to go there!!!

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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby Peter C. on Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:54 am

Peeter:

Really good set of sightings there! Lots of raptors for a single trip!

I want to make some comments about the SNOBs, but only after I have "armed myself" with my Sparrow book, which is not here, i.e. at work (you know me, can't do anything without my books).

Heidi, Conestoga Lake is just off #86, about 15-20 km. (as the Rough-leg flies) from Elmira.

Good luck,
Peter C.
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby mustap on Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:59 pm

Hi Heidi, the farmers all appear to be at work spreading manure...which is good for attracting buntings and their friends...but spotting them in the fields can be quite challenging (even when you are able to observe exactly where the flock of 300 landed!). This largest flock i found was on sideroad 18 between 4th line and 6th line (a road south of 12 not maintained in winter...but quite passable given the recent weather)...my GPS called this sideroad 12 though. This was south of Conestogo lake if you look on Google maps. I have seen flocks in pretty much all rural fields around Waterloo region at different times (north/east/south and west)...if you look for long enough, you should find some.

Thank you Peter, look forward to your opinion. Looking at the image further, the white pattern on the wing certainly seems consistent with the buntings around it....though the back and other features identified previously certainly made it stand out. Wish i had a longer period of time to observe and photograph this bird...sorry for the poor quality!

And finally, thank you George...good to see you posting again!
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby Peter C. on Fri Mar 06, 2009 2:23 pm

Hi Peeter:

I consulted my 'bible' on this group, Sparrows and Buntings (Byers, Curson and Olsson) and I think what makes this one stand out is just that it is a young (2nd-year, basic ["non-breeding"]-plumaged) male.

Their plate, and also the text, point to that plumage as being the closest match to your first bird - the "mottled" brownish rump and mantle (effectively, the upper back) plumage, as well as the strong contrast between the ear coverts and the white supercilium. That said, it could also be an 'older' basic-plumaged female - they don't have a painting of that plumage, but say it's basically the same as the "young" male. In the text, however, they do describe the females as having less white in the wing coverts than males, and that wing bar does look very extensive. But angle is difficult on that shot, so I'm not sure I've interpreted it right.

In any case, the overall reason I think a bird like gets your attention is the "sore thumb"effect. The fact that it is with a large number of older males, makes it something noticeable. (And since a bird is only second-year once, but can be "adult" for many seasons, there are always going to be a lot more adult birds in a given winter flock.)

The flying bird - I have trouble believing that this is the same individual. I know, you were there, and I was not, but: In the close-up of the standing bird, I believe I can see dark primaries crossing the rump, and the colour on the flank; while in the flying individual, I see no colour in the flank facing the camera at all, and the primaries (as you mention) are almost completely lacking in black.
This is a very odd bird, because it does look, otherwise, very much like the standing individual. I have no explanation for the wings, other than to fall back on the old stand-by "part-leucistic individual". Males have nice, sharply-contrasting black primaries, and even in young females (which this isn't anyway, I can tell by the head plumage) the outer primaries at least should be quite a dark brown. I have never seen a SNOB like this.

Cheers,
Peter C.

(There is, as I'm sure you've realized, the alternative explanation - the presence in the flock of an, um, different species of bunting.
I really don't want to go there.
Because if it's true, I will have to cry.
A lot. :(
It would be horrendously unlikely, anyway.)
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby lanner on Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:49 pm

These are really cool shots, I've only seen groups of these guys twice, and I know they are fun to watch them fly around you. These look like little white rockets and snowballs. Good shots Peeter. :D
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Re: Buntings and Snowies

Postby mustap on Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:39 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Peter!

Peter C. wrote: There is, as I'm sure you've realized, the alternative explanation - the presence in the flock of an, um, different species of bunting.
I really don't want to go there.
Because if it's true, I will have to cry.
A lot. :(


I considered Lark Bunting for a moment...but dismissed it based on yellowish beak showing in this image vs. darker bluish on a lark bunting. Also all shots i have seen of the non-breeding lark bunting show a buff supercillium, and a fairly heavily streaked breast....nevermind the fact that i probably shouldn't see them this far north/east. Not sure why this would make you cry though!? I was blessed with some rarities in the past year...so i don't think i am due for another without some solid field time...which won't happen anytime soon. :D
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