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!


  1. I love reading about trips up the coast; sounds like an exciting start with great birds. Thanks for volunteering for such an important project and writing about it. (And Le Conte's are awesome little birds, it's always a treat to see one!)

    1. It is my pleasure! LeConte's sure are one of the cutest birds around.

  2. Wow! What an accurate account, who was it again who found the Red-necked Grebe? I've forgotten...