Thursday, 27 September 2018

James Bay 2018: Part Three

This past summer I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the James Bay Shorebird Project on the coast of James Bay, north of Moosonee. For two weeks from August 13th to August 27th, I was stationed at Longridge Point, the most northern of the three survey sites in the project.

James Bay 2018:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight


August 16, 2018

"Quinten had a VERY busy day. Explored the marsh and found stuff"

That sentence in our daily log pretty much summed up what I dubbed "The Day of the Dragonfly". It was a nice day. Warm and sunny, just like dragonflies like it. It was also quite windy today, which was nice for us humans as it kept the biting insects away. Typically on warm days like that day there'd be biting insects galore, but this day (at least in the morning) there were next to none! Amazingly, over the two week stay, we barely had any problems with insects. I can recall maybe three or four days where we "complained", but even then, it wasn't horrible. 

Anyway, dragonflies.

Early on in the day, I spotted a red meadowhawk. Up along the coast, the default red meadowhawk is Cherry-faced Meadowhawk. Since I hadn't netted too many of them before, I decided to take a swing. When I took it out of the net, I was quite happy to see a White-faced Meadowhawk staring back at me!

The latitude of Moosonee more or less represents the northern extent of their known range, so it was quite the exciting find. This is a map from Odonata Central, which is one of the leaders in mapping the distribution of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) in North America. My record is the northern most green dot.

After that find, I was feeling good so I grabbed my net and went searching in the marsh. I was just thinking about Black Meadowhawks when all of a sudden, an adult male came out of nowhere! I couldn't catch him, but I managed some "record photos". Woohoo!

I saw many more Black Meadowhawks after that. There seemed to be a mass emergence, as many fresh individuals could be found. Pairs in tandem were everywhere, and it seemed every open bit of water has a couple pairs flying over it. 

Adult males are very attractive looking.

The biggest  surprise of the day came when I took a swing and netted another red type meadowhawk. Before I even took it out of the net, I knew what it was. Saffron-winged Meadowhawk!

I believe there is only one previous record from the James Bay coast, near Attawapiskat, of this species (according to Odonata Central), so I was quite pleased to have found this individual. Although I never saw a female, I think that they are no doubt breeding in the area as the habitat I found it in was spot on for what Saffron-wings like. Just goes to show just how little we really know about what occurs in northern Ontario!

I caught a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk soon after seeing the Saffron-winged, therefore making it a four meadowhawk day. Pretty sweet!

Other than meadowhawks, I saw Sedge Darners, Subarctic Darners, ZigZag Darner, and Lake Darner (all evading capture). I also netted a Sedge Sprite, which again is on the northern end of its range.

Sedge Sprite

Of course, we couldn't just fart around all day in the marsh, so we departed in mid-afternoon to head out on our survey. We were doing the Bear Point survey, which meant we were in for a long afternoon and evening. It would be about a seven kilometer walk out from camp, then a seven kilometer walk back. But hey, we knew what we were signing up for!  

The walk there was long, partially due to the fact my foot was in quite a bit of pain. Once we arrived at the point where we were to start the survey, I checked and found out why it hurt so much. I had a giant blister on the underside of my toe, and to make it worse, the toe with the blister had rubbed the underside of the neighbouring toe raw! I did my best to bandage it up with what supplies I had. I tried not to let it dampen my spirits!

The survey was pretty average, but highlights included Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, Baird's Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher.

Black-bellied Plover

Baird's Sandpiper

Wilson's Phalaropes

Short-billed Dowitcher

It was late by the time we got back, and the mosquitoes were pretty bad (the worst they were pretty much all trip), but hey, at least the scenery was nice.

August 17, 2018

Remember that little foot injury I was talking about? Well, It was bad enough that I stayed back on that day's survey. I spent my time around camp, doing a little bit of birding.

White-throated Sparrow

Red-eyed Vireo

Black-and-white Warbler

Alder Flycatcher

I also went down to the creek, dubbed "Stickleback Creek", where we would get our water each day. However, this time instead of bringing jugs, I brought a net. I managed to catch two species of fish, the Northern Pearl Dace, and Brook Stickleback.

Northern Pearl Dace

Brook Stickleback

It was a pretty relaxing day. I even took a very nice two hour nap :-)

Monday, 17 September 2018

James Bay 2018: Part Two

This past summer I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the James Bay Shorebird Project on the coast of James Bay, north of Moosonee. For two weeks from August 13th to August 27th, I was stationed at Longridge Point, the most northern of the three survey sites in the project.

James Bay 2018:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

August 14, 2018

That morning we awoke to the sounds of James Bay. Pine Siskins flew over calling. There was a buzz of the many bumblebees as they visited the Fireweed that surrounded the cabins. One could hear the Lesser Yellowlegs calling out over the marshes (those things never shut up!).

The guys (Nathan, Ethan, and Jack) and I went for a walk out on the mudflats, eager to get out first real taste of birding the James Bay coast. 

Not huge numbers of birds (I say that now, but at the time we thought it was a lot!), but we got to get up close and personal with a flock of White-rumped Sandpipers. Or, at least we tried. They are very skittish, and flushed often. Their flight call is very distinctive. After hearing it for two weeks, I doubt I will ever forget it!

There were a few other species out and about as well.

Lesser Yellowlegs

It seemed odd to be seeing seaweed and kelp in Ontario, but there it was. Rockweed (Fucus distichus), a type of bladder wrack, was commonly encountered. I also came across this out on the mudflats, which appears to be of the genus Laminaria. I haven't got a species ID on it.

Rockweed (Fucus distichus)

Laminaria sp.

On our walk back we were met with out first Black Bear of the trip. This was likely the female hanging around with two cubs. They can hunker down well in the Fireweed.

We were almost back to camp when we flushed up this LeConte's Sparrow. This was our first chance to get really good looks at this species.

We went out on our first survey of the crew that afternoon. I didn't take my camera, but we saw many cool things along the way. Lots of Hudwits, Red Knots, and White-rumped Sandpipers. The highlight was an adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a lifer for myself and Jack.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

As stated in my previous post, some details are a bit fuzzy, but if I recall correctly that night was clear. We saw the James Bay stars in all their glory, and were even treated with the northern lights. An awesome finish to our first full day on the coast.

August 15, 2018

Much like the first day, we went out to explore the mudflats in the morning. Again nothing of note, but it was a nice sunny day. Perhaps one of the most interesting sighting was a White-winged Crossbill that seemed to be flying in off the bay.

Semipalmated Plover

I also managed to finally net my first couple adult male Cherry-faced Meadowhawks. Despite the name, this species doesn't always have an obvious Cherry face (although the first male I caught it was very prominent!) It is most similar to Ruby Meadowhawk, but Ruby doesn't occur that far north, so it made for an easy identification.

We did the Longridge Point survey route that afternoon. We didn't find anything too uncommon, but it was a nice walk, and we saw large numbers of shorebirds. We stopped at "The Wrack" (a place where a bunch of seaweed has washed up) on our way back to camp. Since it was the evening, the lighting was pretty decent, so we stopped to take some photos (I brought my camera this time!).

Hudsonian Godwits were the most numerous (and considering their rarity in southern Ontario, they were certainly well loved by our cameras!).

Red Knots are often found in with Hudwit flocks, and that day was no exception.

Can you spot the Red Knots?

There were a few other shorebirds milling around.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Ruddy Turnstone

Semipalmated Plover

The project not only counts shorebirds, but also bands them. As such, it was not unusual to see a few banded and flagged birds feeding around the study site.

Hudsonian Godwit "0H4"

Lesser Yellowlegs "7A2"

It was another clear sky that night, and the northern lights put on a show once again.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

James Bay 2018: Part One

Recently I came back from the coast of James Bay. Why was I in the middle of nowhere you ask? Well, I was a volunteer for the James Bay Shorebird Project, which is a project funded by the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ministry of Natural Resources, Bird Studies Canada, and Trent University, among a few more partners. The purpose of the project is to monitor shorebird presence and numbers on the James Bay coast, which is a major staging area for shorebirds that breed in the arctic. I was positioned at Longridge Point, which is the most northern survey site.

Longridge Point is circled

The study site

I think I will try to to day-by-day write-ups, however I didn't keep a journal, and after a few days things started to kind of blend all together, so some days may lack an interesting or lengthy narrative, but I will try my best. I will look back at my iNaturalist observations and photos to try and jog my memory what went down that day. It'll be fun to relive these moments while writing about them!

Also, I should just note that while out on survey, I neglected to lug around my camera with me most days, so quite a lot of the photos were taken with my phone (digiscoped). Not the highest quality, and I certainly missed a few good photo opportunities, but in the end it was certainly more of an enjoyable walk to not have that extra bulk!

Anyway, I will try to churn out these posts at a decent pace. Hope you enjoy!

James Bay 2018:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

August 11, 2018

Today was the day we departed from Toronto and drove to Cochrane. I met up with fellow young naturalists Ethan, Nathan, and Jack. Us four were to spend the better part of the next three weeks together at Longridge. A lot of driving and birding from the car was done that day. We stopped into Hilliardton Marsh briefly on the way there. We also stopped at the sign which marks the "start"of the Arctic Watershed, meaning pretty much all water north of that sign drains into the Arctic Ocean, whereas all water south drains into the Great Lakes.

While enjoying the sign, we heard an odd tapping sound. Black-backed Woodpecker crossed by mind, but I just dismissed it as some trees rubbing to together or something. The tapping continued, and eventually we went to take a look, after all better be safe than sorry, and as it turned out, there was a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers!

We arrived in Cochrane later that afternoon, where we found this Red Fox running around.

We also looked at a few of the insects the lights had attracted.

Northeastern Pine Sawyer

We then took our last shower for a couple weeks, then went to bed, knowing we'd be up bright and early the next day.

August 12, 2018

Today was the day we were going to be leaving southern Ontario (yep, that's right, I now classify Cochrane as "southern Ontario"). The train was leaving at 9am, so we had a little bit of time to kill. Birding around the motel revealed birds such as Alder Flycatcher, Pine Siskins, Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Purple Finch.

Sunrise over the motel

We arrived at the train station early to load up all our gear.

After loading our gear into the box car, we got our tickets then boarded the train. Soon, we started to make our way towards Moosonee, where we would stay the night before flying out to the field camps the next morning. There was no turning back!

Birding from the train was pretty boring. Lots of waxwings and Merlins, as well as a couple Sandhill Cranes and Osprey. I also saw a Wood Duck swimming in a creek just before we reached Moosonee.

Five or so hours later, we arrived in Moosonee. In less than 24 hours we would be on the coast.

The helicopter that would be taking us to the camps tomorrow flew over. We later learned they were returning from doing aerial shorebird surveys.

We went to the MNR house and dropped off our gear before heading out to check the Moose River, which is right in front of the house. The first bird we looked at on the river was none other than a Red-necked Grebe! Any grebe really is pretty good in the James Bay area, so we were very happy to find this one!

We spent the rest of the day just looking at whatever we could find...birds, plants, butterflies. We made a quick trip to the sewage lagoons, where we saw the first of many shorebirds.

Clouded Sulphur

Yellow Rattle

Least Sandpiper (juvenile)

After a very informative "Staying Safe in Bear Country" video, we called it a night. We set the alarm and went to sleep. Nathan, Ethan, and I were to be the first ones on the helicopter the next day.

August 13, 2018

I can't remember the exact time our alarm went off, but I knew that it going off signaled that we'd be at the airport in about an hour. After some last minute preparations, we loaded up the truck and drove to the airport. And there she was, our helicopter sitting out on the tarmac.

Unloading seats to fit gear

After a briefing on helicopter safety, we loaded up and got buckled up.

The last time I saw tarmac and my feet simultaneously!

The rotors began to spin, and before we knew it, we were off!

This was my second time ever flying, so I found the scenery from the air to be breathtaking. I spend so much of my time looking at birds, so it was nice to sort of be a bird myself for that short while!

About 30 minutes later we saw Longridge Point come into view.

We soon made our descent towards the ground, which conveniently was right in front of the camp. For a different perspective of us coming in, check out this video (thanks Jean!)

We unloaded our gear, and loaded up the gear of the crew heading out. The helicopter took off, taking the old crew with it. Finally, there we were, alone on the James Bay coast!

Of course we needed to start off with a bang, so we went out and almost immediately found a LeConte's Sparrow, which was my first lifer of the trip. LeConte's Sparrow was probably my favourite bird out of everything I saw over those two weeks.

Over the next couple hours, the rest of our crew arrived from Moosonee. As we watched the helicopter fly off after dropping off our last crew member, we knew that (hopefully) that would be the last link with civilization we'd see for the next two weeks.

We did a lot of "housekeeping" stuff for the rest of the day, though we did manage to get out for a couple walks. Birds of note (for me at least, common daily occurrences there!) include Red Knot and Hudsonian Godwit (if I ever say "Hudwit" I am referring to this species). The Hudsonians were another lifer for me....and we saw something like 100 that day!

Hudsonian Godwit

We also came across this "Hudson Bay" toad. They are amazingly coloured up there, and over the next couple weeks we saw many interesting variations. This one was one of the most striking we saw.

All in all, it was a great first day on the coast. We went to bed that night knowing that we were going to have an absolute blast over the next couple weeks!