Editor’s Note: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Geographic, National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and more than 100 other organizations have declared 2018 the “Year of the Bird.” 2018 Coincides with the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s ratification. Many bird organizations and enthusiasts are pledging to do 1 thing per month to help birds. Ruthven Park National Historic Site has a bird banding station in collaboration with the Haldimand Bird Observatory that is 1 of 27 sites that make up Bird Studies Canada’s Canadian Migration Monitoring Network. Our Bander-in-Charge Rick Ludkin has taken up the task of organizing one blog post per month on different birds to celebrate the Year of the Bird at Ruthven Park! Below, you will find the first installment in this 12-part series.
Article by Rick Ludkin, Ruthven Park National Historic Site Bird Banding Station Bander-in-Charge
What better way to start off a monthly series to commemorate the Year of the Bird than with the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). This bird is “circumpolar”; i.e., it is found around the world, breeding in the Arctic and spending the Winter in more temperate (but still cold!) areas. For example, birds that breed in the Canadian High Arctic spend their Winters in the southern Prairie Provinces and birds from Svalbard (500 N of Norway) winter in Kazakhstan – conditions in these areas can be pretty harsh. One of the intriguing things about the Snow Buntings that we see in southern Ontario is that they quite likely have come from Greenland – there are a number of reports of banded birds exchanged between us and Greenland – one of “our” birds (a bird that we banded), in fact, was recovered there.
I first became really aware of this hardy bird when I was working in a field camp on Devon Island at 78 degrees N. A pair had built a nest under a huge boulder, safe from Arctic Foxes and Polar Bears, but within 10 meters of the open water polyna with its relentless chilling wind. Despite the conditions, these birds raised a family of 8 young ones! And many of the other pairs in the area had large broods.
One of the reasons for their success was that the hatching of their eggs coincided with an enormous emergence of midges in the small ponds at the bottom of the cliffs, nesting habitat for 9,000 Northern Fulmar pairs. Getting food for their young, the parents would snatch up insects at the rate of almost 2 per second; they would then fly off to the nest sporting a black fuzzy moustache. (Interestingly, in Svalbard where insects were very few, the adults fed mainly seeds and plant material to their young…but still seemed to have similar success.)
(tip: click on each photo above to enlarge it for a closer look)
Once the young have fledged both they and the adults go through a moult. They are then ready to head South. Very little is known about the travels of Canadian Snow Buntings. A few birds fitted with geolocators on Southampton Island showed that they flew to the west side of Hudson Bay where they stayed for about a month (probably to fatten up) before heading south to spend the Winter in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Curiously, birds that had lived through the Summer no more than 200 meters from each other, separated by more than several hundred kilometers in the South. They flew the same route in reverse to return. Another bird that David Hussell and I fitted with a geolocator in Iqaluit also headed to the west side of Hudson Bay before wintering in the Prairie Provinces. But it took a big circle route to get back, flying up through the James Bay area and northern Quebec.
The most moving display of their southern migration I witnessed in mid-September going through Davis Strait on a research vessel – the “narrows” between Greenland and Baffin Island.. A strong north wind was pushing up big waves but in the troughs small flocks of Snow Buntings and American Pipits were winging their way West staying low to keep out of that wind. I would suggest that many of these birds likely spent the Winter in our local farm fields. Amazing!
Long distance migratory flights and extreme conditions must have an impact on the longevity of these little birds but…..we just received word from the Banding Office that a bird that we recovered just this January had originally been banded along the north shore of Lake Erie in February 2014. At that time it was at least in its 3rd year, making it 6 or more years old.
Ruthven Park National Historic Site is putting the focus on families for February 2018 by offering two fun events to help Haldimand County get through the last full month of winter. Mark them on your calendar today to make sure you don’t miss out!
Families Go Wild at Ruthven Park on Family Day 2018
Date: Monday, February 19, 2018 (Family Day)
Time: 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Tickets/RSVP: Not required, but you can let us know you’re coming on Facebook
Cost: By donation
Address: 243 Haldimand Highway 54, Cayuga, Ontario, N0A 1E0
Location: Ruthven Park’s grounds and Coach House
Description: Come for a hike and scavenger hunt around the Ruthven Park grounds, then stay for a Wild Ontario bird show in the Coach House! Following the show, there will be a “nose-to-beak” meet and greet with the performers! Timeline: 1:00pm hike and scavenger hunt with light refreshments; 2:00pm Wild Ontario LIVE bird show.
Note: This event is appropriate for all ages – fun for the whole family!
CANCELLED – Big Foot Trivia Night
This event was cancelled as of 4:00pm on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Date: Friday, February 23, 2018
Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Tickets/RSVP: Register by calling 905-772-0560 (ask for Education Coordinator Natalie) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost: $10.00 per person
Address: 243 Haldimand Highway 54, Cayuga, Ontario, N0A 1E0
Location: Ruthven Park’s Coach House
Description: Edinburgh Square (one of Haldimand County’s museums) and Ruthven Park invite you to gather your family and friends together to test your wits and general knowledge at this always-entertaining evening in the pursuit of Haldimand County’s Trivia Champion!
Note: The ticket price includes a prize and light refreshments!
With sprawling grounds, unique historic buildings, a picturesque position on the Grand River, over 150 years of history, and diverse historic and environmental projects, Ruthven Park National Historic Site offers a one-of-a-kind summer employment experience to university and college students.
Do you want to work at Haldimand County’s only National Historic Site this summer?
Ruthven Park is seeking three (3) students for the 2018 season:
- Youth Engagement Assistant – Youth Engagement Assistant Job Posting 2018
- Audience Development Assistant – Audience Development Assistant Job Posting 2018
- Public Relations Assistant – Public Relations Assistant Job Posting 2018
Please click on the link beside each position to download their respective job descriptions. If you have any issues, please call 905-772-0560 or email email@example.com with the subject line: “Send summer student job postings.” Thank you.
Please note that these positions are contingent upon the receipt of funding.
Deadline for all positions is Friday, April 20, 2018 at 5:00pm.
Only applicants who are selected for an interview will be contacted. We appreciate your interest in employment at Ruthven Park National Historic Site.
Ruthven Park National Historic Site staff are pleased to announce that the site is open again following the 2017 Holiday Closure. We hope you enjoyed the holiday season with family and friends and that you have had an excellent start to 2018!
Please note our Winter Hours of Operation:
The Gate House: office open Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm
The Grounds: open Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm
The Mansion: tours by appointment Monday to Friday for 6+ people
Are you planning to visit in the coming weeks? Here are some suggestions to make the best of your trip here:
10 Things to Do at Ruthven Park in Winter
- Do your Valentine’s Day shopping in the Hollyhock Gift Shop
- Bundle up to explore our 5 km of trails
- Book an event in the Coach House
- See ice form on the Canadian Heritage Grand River
- Visit the Indiana and Thompson Family Cemeteries
- Book a tour of the Mansion for 6+ people
- Attend Trivia Night on Friday, February 23 at 7:00pm in the Coach House
- Take an animal tracks book with you while exploring the grounds to identify prints in the snow
- Enjoy “Families Go Wild” with Wild Ontario on Family Day Monday February 19, 2018
- See winter birds visiting the well-stocked feeders at the Bird Banding Station
To our members and visitors,
This holiday season, Ruthven Park National Historic Site’s Gate House office, grounds, and Thompson Family Mansion will be closed to the public for two weeks.
The closure will be in effect Friday, December 22, 2017 at 9:00 am until Monday, January 8, 2018 at 9:00 am.
You may call to leave messages at 905-772-0560 or email firstname.lastname@example.org during the closure, but we cannot guarantee that we will be able to reply to you until the site reopens.
Thank you for an excellent 2017. We are excited to see you here in 2018 for what we hope will be our best year yet.
The staff of Ruthven Park National Historic Site wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year. Have a safe, healthy, and memorable holiday!
~ Marilynn Havelka, Natalie Campbell, Madeline Smolarz, and Joel Weaver
The Welcome Centre and Grounds: Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm – By change Saturday and Sunday (Oct 14 – Nov 3)
The Mansion: Tours by appointment only, groups of 15 people or more. Call for more information 905-772-0560
Christmas Tours: Public tours begin December 4 – 20th, Wednesday – Friday only; guided tours at 12:30 pm, 2 pm and 3:30 pm.
Bird Banding: Banding lab is open September 1 – November 7 for the fall migration. Sunrise until 12 noon, weather dependent.
Give us a call today or check out our website for more information 905.772.0560 or www.ruthvenpark.ca
Phone: (905) 772-0560
243 Haldimand Hwy. #54,
Cayuga, ON N0A 1E0