Friday, 19 October 2018

James Bay 2018: Part Seven

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

August 24, 2018

After all the excitement from the day prior, we were excited to head out and see what may have changed in the high winds. The day's survey was West Bay. It was to be our last survey of West Bay during our time at Longridge. 

The Wood Frogs look a bit different up on the coast than they do further south. One of the big differences is that the northern frogs have much more spotting on their sides.

We spotted this bear feeding near the start of the West Bay survey route.

Over the past few days, Snow Geese became a regular sight in West Bay, as they hung out with the large (usually 80-120 individuals) flock of Canada Geese. Most of the birds we saw where "blue morphs", but on this day we saw a decent number of the regular "white morphs" mixed in.

There was a little bit of Marsh Felwort growing around the grassy areas of the flats.

Grey Wolf tracks are a common sight on the mudflats.

I usual shorebirds were seen on survey. Highlights include both phalaropes and a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers. 

Least Sandpiper

The really big highlight was another (or the same?) Parasitic Jaeger seemingly hunting shorebirds over the mudflats. I managed a digiscoped photo (somehow). 

We got back late in the afternoon, and pretty much just hung around the rest of the day. I took a few photos of the camp.

The view from our porch

Main/kitchen cabin on the left

Our water filtration system. We would haul water from the creek, then hand filter it through coffee filters, before putting it in this device to filter it again. We couldn't afford to get sick!

Our bear defense, powered by a car battery. I never volunteered to test it, but I am told it was a "good shock".

August 25, 2018

We spent days hoping that James Bay would give us a "good bird". Today was that day.

We started our day at Paskwatchi, where we planned to spend a little bit of time before starting the survey. Off in the distance, a Parasitic Jaeger (another!) was found.

Looking at a jaeger!

It was my turn to be primary observer (basically the person that calls the species name, age, activity (flying, loafing, feeding, or a combo of any of those three) and the number of individuals.) Not too long after I started my survey, we heard the crackling over the radio from one of our crew mates who had stayed back at the point. 

"Sabine's Gull flying out over the north point over the Bonaparte's"

We were close to 500 meters away from the described location. We all turned our scopes to the area and scanned frantically. Finally, after what seemed like forever, I saw the very distinct wing patterning of a juvenile Sabine's Gull come into view! Awesome!

The guys ended up turning around and staying at Paskwatchi, but we had a survey to complete so myself and one other continued on our way. When we were about three kilometers the radio came to life again.

"We have a Black Tern as well"

We tried to finish up the survey as fast (and efficiently) as we could, before making the long dash back (about four kilometers) back to Paskwatchi, in hopes of getting better looks at the Sabine's, and to see the Black Tern. Unfortunately, the tern had left by the time we got there (the tern and Stilt Sandpiper, seen the next day, are my only two "painful" misses of the trip). The Sabine's, however, was still there, and giving great looks. I could only digiscope, as my DSLR was sitting on my bed several kilometers away, but at least I managed identifiable photos...

Sabine's Gull - the dark on in the middle

This photo, although you can't really "tell", has three species in it: Sabine's Gull, Little Gull, and Bonaparte's Gull. Not a trio you'd typically expect to be sitting all next to each other!

Speaking of Little Gulls, I saw my first juvenile pluamged Little Gull that day. Sticks out like a sore thumb!

I think that the Sabine's Gull wing we found a few days earlier brought us good luck!

It was very nice evening, and our last evening all out together as a crew. This young Whimbrel put on a good show on the walk back.

All of us went to bed happy that night.

Monday, 15 October 2018

James Bay 2018: Part Six

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

August 22, 2018

Another Paskwatchi survey day! I went out a bit earlier than the rest of the crew, with intentions of waiting for them at the point, then surveying our way back. Just as I was about to cross the creek, I came across two young Sandhill Cranes and their parents. A nice surprise! 

Flocks of Snow Geese were now regular. A couple flocks went over on the walk to the point.

Paskwatchi Point.

It is a favourite place for gulls and cormorants to sit when the tide is out. Hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls were there that day. I also managed to pick out a couple Little Gulls, an adult with a full hood (my first in this plumage) and a second summer bird.

The "flats" near Paskwatchi are a favourite place for many shorebirds, in particular Hudwits and Red Knots. You can see Fantasy Island off in the distance.

I was the recorder for this survey, and since I had brought my scope, it made the walk feel like the longest walk ever. No matter how many different strategies I tried for carrying that thing, nothing felt right! 

We got back to camp mid-afternoon, and I went straight out to the marsh to catch some odes, as it was a very nice sunny day. Not too much flying around, but I caught some more meadowhawks. 

Black Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

I also saw a Bronze Copper (horrible pic)

While I was out, I came across a very vocal LeConte's Sparrow. I only had my 55mm lens on, so I went back to camp for my other lens, and hope that the sparrow would still be there.

I saw this Gray, I mean Canada, Jay on the path on my way back out. Canada Jays hung around camp. We saw at least three or four family groups throughout our stay.

Coming up to the creek, I decided to pish a little. Up popped a Nelson's Sparrow! You'll notice that she is banded, meaning that it was the same one from the day before!

Lucky for me, the same LeConte's was still in the same area. I came away with some of my favourite photos of birds that I have ever taken. I think LeConte's Sparrow may be my new favourite bird!

Plenty of other sparrows were also present. Many Swamps and Lincoln's, as well as about a gazillion Savannah Sparrows (I had a day where stood in a single spot for about 5 minutes and had 50 or 60 stream by me)

Swamp Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

A few other birds were making use of the marsh.

Wilson's Snipe

Sandhill Cranes

Harriers were a daily occurence. One day I saw around nine of them in one "swarm". It was the oddest thing!

Common Ringlets are sometimes seen up there. They look at tad darker than the ones down south.

I spotted this skunk while photographing the LeConte's.

This Greater Yellowlegs was feeding in the creek. 

I didn't anticipate such a great evening for photography, so I didn't charge my battery (yes, we had electricity...sort of). My battery died.

That night I got a text via satellite texting from my friend in the south. It simply read "Guess what showed up today?"

So yep. That is how I found out about the Reddish Egret.

August 23, 2018

We woke up to a very calm morning. Almost too calm. Off on the horizon we could see some dark clouds, but it was somewhat sunny and warm where were were, so we weren't worried. We had a Longridge Point survey that day. Our plan was to leave early, walk to the tip (doing the survey along the way) then have lunch while we waited for the tide to be low enough for us to walk back (there are several places that become gravel "islands" when the tide comes in). 

We got to out starting point right on schedule, and then began the survey. Soon after we started, the banders radioed us to say they had a jaeger! Not too long after that, we were looking at a beautiful adult light-morph Parasitic Jaeger with full tail streamers (longer than one would think!). We were ecstatic, we knew it was going to be a good day!

We walked another couple kilometers, seeing things such as White-winged Crossbill and Marbled Godwit along the way. We came across a group of birds, so we stopped to scope them. As we where looking through them, my hat blew off. I turned around to pick it up, and then I heard a "thump", I turned back around to see my scope laying in the ground. And that's when it hit us...a huge gust of wind! We decided to hunker down for a couple minutes to wait it out before we continued on our way. James Bay, however, had different plans for us. The tide came up faster than we had expected, and it was high. Before we knew it, we were stuck. 

Over the next 10 minutes, it must have dropped something like 10 or 15 degrees. Lucky for me, I had grabbed my jacket and gloves and stuffed it in my bag just before we left (I almost forgot it!).

All was not lost however, as there were lots of birds to be seen. We had around eight, nine, or even ten thousand shorebirds stream by the "island" over the course of a couple hours, as the mudflats were they would normally feed (in this case West Bay) flooded. The majority of the birds were White-rumped Sands, but there were also a large numbers of Semipalmated Sands. Hudwits, Red Knots, Baird's Sands, and plovers (mostly Semipalamted) were mixed in as well. We even had a few Red-necked Phalaropes (perhaps not unexpected, but my first time seeing them "on the move" like that!).

We set up a nice little seawatch station to watch the action.

I was curious to see where all the peeps from West Bay were going (the majority where roosting on the gravel, some even touched down on our island) so I got up from the "blind" and fought my way through the wind. Not long into my "journey to the far side of the island" (in reality like 40 or 50 meters), I looked up and was shocked to see a dark morph subadult Parasitic Jaeger directly overhead! It was gone as soon as it arrived it seemed, within seconds it had soared over the rest of the crew and shot out over the bay, headed south.

In short, we were stuck out there for four hours. In an effort to boost morale (and warm up, it was might cold) we built a fire. The brisk wind certainly fueled it with the needed source of oxygen!

Just before I burned it, I found this piece of White Cedar. Like the White Birch, it doesn't grow in the area, so it would have come from farther south.

I got hungry after awhile.

Eventually the tide was low enough (normally the tide goes down in a couple hours, so it stuck around awhile!) for us to "island hop" on some of the grassy islands back to "safety". 

We made it home about an hour later, and were pleased to be met with a nice warm supper (thanks banders!). 

It was certainly an experience, and quite frankly I had a fun time being "stranded". We slept well that night.