Season Summary 2019
The James Bay shorebird project crew has been in the field since 12 July when we opened two remote camps, Longridge Point and Little Piskwamish Point. Crews communicate via inReach SE units (two-way messaging devices) or satellite phone.
In addition to the shorebird and related habitat and resource work, we have for a second season collaborated with biologists across North America, led by a team from Alaska, to understand Lesser Yellowlegs ecology. Understanding the causes for declines in Lesser Yellowlegs is challenging because nothing is known about their over-wintering locations, important stopover sites, and whether birds are genetically distinct among breeding populations. Furthermore, there are no published survival rates for Lesser Yellowlegs, making it difficult to conduct an informed population viability analysis. In this study, we will contribute to addressing each of these knowledge gaps using a combination of tracking devices, genetic analysis, and mark-recapture survival estimation. This is the first study to document genetic variation in Lesser Yellowlegs, and the first to document the migration of this species using GPS tracking devices. This research will help us understand whether unregulated hunting on the wintering grounds is indeed a threat to birds, and will help conservation efforts. This study is a collaborative effort with strong support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, The University of Alaska Anchorage, the Smithsonian Institute, the Atlantic Shorebird Working Group, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Trent University, and The University of Alberta.
Another collaboration this year is with researchers, led by a group from Cornell University, linking genotype to phenotype in Nelson’s Sparrow populations. The idea is to test for causal links among candidate tidal marsh genes and phenotypic traits. We will use an integrative approach via collecting demographic and morphological data from four particularly tractable populations of Nelson’s Sparrow. These populations span different habitat types and have high densities: Grand Forks, North Dakota, James Bay, Ontario (interior populations), Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (coastal freshwater field), and Lubec, Maine (coastal salt water, ~20-foot tidal amplitude).
Our banding crew has been in operation at Longridge Point since 12 July. We plan to affix Lotek pin-point tags to Lesser Yellowlegs, as part of the project described above, and sample Nelson’s Sparrows. In addition, banding and flagging of shorebirds will continue throughout the season in our on-going effort to understand movement patterns of shorebirds staging in James Bay.
Longridge will be lead by Gray Carlin, Ross Wood, and Doug McRae during the season. Gray and Ross led the opening crew, and Doug takes over at the end of July. Gray joined us as a volunteer in 2017 originally for two weeks and decided to stay for the rest! We are happy that Gray has returned again in a lead role with us for the 2019 season; Gray led Northbluff Point in 2018. Ross is one of our most dedicated and reliable crew members. Ross has participated in the project since 2011 in a number of leadership capacities including crew leader and lead bander. Doug is a steadfast participant on the project. He has significant contributions to wildlife studies on the James Bay coast from his time with the Moosonee office of the Ministry of Natural Resources, now the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Among his contributions is work that culminated in the publication Wilson, N.C. and D. McRae. 1993. Seasonal and geographic distribution of birds for selected sites in Ontario’s Hudson Bay Lowland. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. 145pp.
A total of 121 species of bird have been recorded at Longridge Camp for the period. This includes 24 species of shorebird, most of which are encountered daily.
Shorebird numbers are relatively low, but building daily. Season highs for several species were recorded on the last day of the period, including 1,052 White-rumped Sandpipers. Ruddy Turnstones are abundant this year with a high count of 431 on July 28th. “Peep” numbers are still only about 2,000 in the area, with White-rumps currently representing a higher proportion than Semipalmated. Soon, this number should grow quickly with more adults and the arrival of the juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers.
The first morning in camp we were treated to a singing male Scarlet Tanager, a first for the project. A meadowlark was seen on two occasions on July 16th, unfortunately species could not be confirmed. Two family groups of American Coots in a pond close to camp are an interesting breeding record. The young are obviously of two different ages but mixed between two adults and provide a fun challenge to see how many can be spotted each day. There are at least seven young with two adults.
On July 25th surveyors at the tip of Longridge were lucky enough to have a Black Guillemot fly in to join them and provide excellent photo opportunities. Also discovered at the tip of Longridge on this date was a single Common Tern nest with three eggs. Although Common Terns are counted daily, this is our first nest. Arctic Tern has also been observed, but far less frequently than Common.
Finch numbers were very low for about the first week or so, but have increased dramatically over the last week. White-winged Crossbills were initially the most common finch counted daily, but were recently surpassed by Common Redpolls. Redpolls can be seen, or more often heard, flying in off the bay all day, but particularly in the morning. Our first two Red Crossbills were detected on July 27th, with two more on the 29th. American Goldfinches although common in Moosonee are rarely detected in camps along the coast, so a flock of four being chased and harassed by a family group of young Northern Shrikes was a sight to see. Common Nighthawk, Long-eared Owl, and an adult Northern Goshawk have been nice recent additions around camp in the last few days. Water levels in the marsh are lower than last year, but at least a couple Yellow Rails “sing” us to sleep each night.
Along with the surveying, there is banding taking place. All shorebird caught are measured, banded and leg flagged in hopes they will be re-sighted by birders further south along their migration routes. To date Semipalmated, Least, White-rumped, Solitary, and Pectoral sandpipers have been banded along with Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Lesser Yellowlegs. As well as banding and flagging, some species are receiving Motus nanotags so they can be tracked by a network of towers during their stopover on James Bay and as they head south and then back north in the spring. Wilson’s Phalarope, Short-billed Dowitcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs have been fitted with this technology so far. Adult Lesser Yellowlegs are getting satellite tags to better understand their migration routes and overwintering locations in an effort to better understand threats that may be contributing to their declines.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER– First observed on July 19th. High count of 8 on July 27th.
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER – First observed on the 27th, 2 birds on the 29th.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER – High of 38 adults on the 26th.
KILLDEER– High of 6 on the 29th.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER – a couple local breeders daily.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS – High of 210 adults on July 16th.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS – High of 424 on the 20th. First juv on the 19th.
WHIMBREL– High of 43 on July 24th.
HUDSONIAN GODWIT – High of 109 adults on July 28th.
MARBLED GODWIT – Only one sighting to date of an adult on July 16th.
RUDDY TURNSTONE – High numbers daily with a high of 431 on July 28th.
RED KNOT – High of 495 adults on July 19th, with 44 individual leg flag combinations read that day.
STILT SANDPIPER – Single adults on multiple dates.
SANDERLING– High of 54 adults on July 22nd.
DUNLIN– High of 16 adults on July 25th.
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – single adult seen on July 15th.
LEAST SANDPIPER – High of 105 on July 29th. Juvs now outnumber adults.
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – High of 1,052 adults on July 29th.
PECTORAL SANDPIPER – 183 adults on July 23rd.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – 820 adults on July 19th.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – 5 adult herndersonii on July 21st.
WILSON’S SNIPE – Local breeders heard and seen daily.
WILSON’S PHALAROPE – Single adults on the 21st and 28th.
Although the focus in camp is of course birds and in particular shorebirds, an effort is taken to record other taxa that are encountered.
Viceroy, White Admiral, Red Admiral, Northern Crescent, Western tailed-blue, Silvery Blue, Dreamy Duskywing, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Painted Lady, Hobomok Skipper, Mourning Cloak, Common Ringlet and a Fritillary Sp.
On nights when conditions are good and crew energy levels allow, mothing has taken place as well. Lists of moths encountered will be uploaded to iNaturalist once sorted through.
Lake, Zigzag, Variable and Subarctic Darners, Forcipate and Lake Emerald, Cherry-faced Meadowhawk, Hudsonian Whiteface and Four-spotted Skimmer.
Black Bear, Red Squirrel, Red (cross) Fox, fresh Moose, Wolf, and Otter Tracks as well as jumping mouse and vole sp.
30 July-13 August 2019
As of August 13th a total of 141 species of bird have been recorded by the crew at the Longridge field camp. This includes 26 species of shorebird, of which most are observed daily.
Several of the new species detected by the crew this period are much more common further south, but are very rarely detected on the coast of James Bay. Included on this list was a RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD seen foraging on fireweed on July 30th, a BLUE JAY in camp of August 6th and a CONNECTICUT WARBLER on August 5th.
Shorebird numbers and diversity continued to increase throughout the period. Most species had the first juveniles of their species show up during the period, with the exception of White-rumped Sandpipers, our most abundant shorebird for the period. Juveniles of this species typically arrive in very small numbers in early September. Our high count for WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS was 6,242 birds on August 10th. Our first BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER and RED-NECKED PHALAROPE were detected this period.
The pond close to camp continues to surprise with different family groups of waterfowl that presumably bred nearby and an ever-increasing number of young AMERICAN COOTS. On August 1st an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK was seen flying off with one of these young coots clutched in its talons. On the 13th, there were at least 13 young coots around and the adults seem to have left.
Waterfowl numbers still are quite low, but things started to pick up a bit towards the end of the period. The first 3 SNOW (BLUE) GEESE of the season were seen on August 12th. Large numbers of BLACK SCOTER (mainly moulting adult males) are seen on days when the bay is actually calm and visibility is good. A high count of 2,700 BLACK SCOTERS on August 8th was attributed to calm and clear conditions in the afternoon. Much smaller number of the other two scoters can be seen as well, with 10 SURF and 8 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS seen on August 6th. A high of 23 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS were seen on August 1st, with few seen after this date. Raptor numbers remained low, but were increasing later in the period. Local BALD EAGLES, OSPREY, NORTHERN GOSHAWK and MERLINS were the most common, with the season’s first ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK seen on August 4th. An adult PEREGRINE FALCON was observed cruising over the mudflats, causing quite a disturbance amongst the shorebirds on August 13th.
Breeding birds in the marshes were still quite vocal at the beginning of the period, but had quieted right down by the end. For example, species such as NELSON’S and LE CONTE’S SPARROWS that were heard commonly at the beginning of the period, were silent towards the end. The last detection of YELLOW RAIL was on the night of August 6th when two were still ticking away. Gull numbers really picked up by the end August 11th, when BONAPARTE’S GULLS numbers totalled 1,320 loafing birds. Most of these were adults with about 10% being fresh juveniles. The Bonaparte’s Gulls were picked through daily in hopes of other small gulls lurking amongst them and on August 2nd and 10th different adult LITTLE GULLS were found. A single ARCTIC TERN on August 6th was photographed as it flew in and checked out a survey crew.
LONG-EARED OWLS were detected regularly around camp, but never more than one at a time. A BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER was seen on August 10th south of camp. All expected flycatchers were seen during the period, including higher than average numbers of OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERS, with a high of five seen on August 12th. An EASTERN KINGBIRD made a brief appearance on August 5th. The NORTHERN SHRIKE family continued to harass local birds, including shorebirds. On one occasion, they were observed trying to catch young Killdeer unsuccessfully as the adults chased them off.
Numbers of both WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS and COMMON REDPOLLS were detected moving over daily, while PINE SISKIN, AMERICAN GOLDFINCH and RED CROSSBILL were seen only on a couple of occasions each. A PINE GROSBEAK made an appearance in camp on August 13th, but flew off in a hurry when an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK buzzed through camp.
Along with the surveying, there is banding taking place. All shorebirds caught are measured, banded, and leg flagged in hopes they will be re-sighted by birders further south along their migration routes. To date SEMIPALMATED, LEAST, WHITE-RUMPED, SOLITARY, and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS have been banded along with SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, WILSON’S PHALAROPE, GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, WILSON’S SNIPE, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER and HUDSONIAN GODWIT. As well as banding and flagging, some species are receiving Motus nanotags so they can be tracked by a network of towers during their stopover on James Bay and as they head south and then back north in the spring. WILSON’S PHALAROPE, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, HUDSONIAN GODWIT and juvenile LESSER YELLOWLEGS have been fitted with this technology so far.
Finally, we had a Research Associate with the National Museum of Natural History, Bruce Beehler, join us for this period. He is in the process of writing a book on Hudsonian Godwits, which he plans to publish in 2020 (James Bay is a part of the story). In the meantime, check out his blog documenting his adventures following godwits around.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER – High of 98 adults on August 10th.
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER – High of 3 adults on August 10th. This includes a banded individual returning to the same sight one year and six days after being banded in 2018!
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER – High of 175 and the first juv. on August 9th.
KILLDEER – High of 25 on August 3rd.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER – High of 19 on August 11th.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER – High of 10 on August 5th.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS – High of 190 on August 6th. Still a mix of adult and young birds.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS – High of 265 on August 3rd. At least 95% juvenile by the end of the period.
WHIMBREL – High of 49 on August 3rd.
HUDSONIAN GODWIT – High of 256 adults on August 3rd. The first juvenile arrived on August 9th. This juvenile was banded and tagged with a Motus nanotag that very same day. This will allow us to determine exact length of stay on James Bay and migration routes as it heads south. An adult we leg flagged last year returned to the exact same spot almost exactly one year to the date of being flagged. This bird was re-sighted several times and will help us understand the stopover length of adults.
MARBLED GODWIT – None for the period. Although this species breeds on the coast of James Bay and close by to our other camps, they are typically only seen occasionally passing by the Longridge camp.
RUDDY TURNSTONE – High of 500 on August 7th.
RED KNOT – High of 147 on August 8th. First juv. on August 4th.
STILT SANDPIPER – High of 3 on August 8th.
SANDERLING – High of 49 on August 7th, with the first juvenile on Aug 9th.
DUNLIN – High of 16 adults on August 4th.
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – 1 adult seen on August 7th.
LEAST SANDPIPER – High of 69 on August 6th. Mainly young birds by the end of the period but a bit surprisingly there were still a number of adults around right until the end of the period.
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – High of 6,242 adults on August 10th.
BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER – 1 adult observed on August 2nd.
PECTORAL SANDPIPER – High of 96 adults on August 8th.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – The first wave of adults appears to have all but missed us. An average daily count of about 200 birds eventually began to grow by the end of the period, with a high of 1,572 on August 10th. First juvenile on August 4th and by the end of the period juveniles made up as much as 25% of the birds.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – High of 3 on August 8th.
WILSON’S SNIPE – High count of 60 on August 12th.
WILSON’S PHALAROPE – High of 15 on August 11th. This species was much more regular than most years.
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE – High of 5 on August 8th.
Viceroy, White Admiral, Common Ringlet, Western-tailed Blue, Northern Crescent, Painted Lady, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Atlantis Fritillary.
Lake, Zigzag, Sub-Arctic and Variable Darner, Cherry-faced and Black Meadowhawk and Four-spotted Skimmer.
Little Piskwamish Point
The camp is led by Amie MacDonald, a MSc. candidate at Trent University under the direction of Dr. Erica Nol (Trent U) and Dr. Paul Smith (Environment and Climate Change Canada). Amie has been a key member of our crew since 2014 and started her MSc. work in 2017. Amie’s work has estimated the annual survival of Red Knots using James Bay, and explores the links between survival and environmental conditions throughout their range. She also used spring and fall data from more southerly staging sites to determine when in the annual cycle mortality occurs. Understanding the importance of James Bay as a stopover site, particularly for endangered rufa Red Knots on their southward migration, is crucial to developing effective conservation strategies.
A total of 96 bird species were recorded at Piskwamish Camp for the period. This includes 20 species of shorebird, most of which are encountered daily. With the exception of yellowlegs, shorebird counts were on the low side, possibly a sign of a good breeding year. Conditions are wetter than in the previous two seasons at Piskwamish. Despite this, there are surprisingly few Yellow Rails in the marsh.
Shorebirds (max count, date)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER – 11 on 27 July
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER – 1 on 25 July
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER – 114 on 24 July
KILLDEER– 4 on 14 July
SPOTTED SANDPIPER – 1 on 26 July
SOLITARY SANDPIPER – 4 on 27 July
GREATER YELLOWLEGS – 262 on 25 July (first juvenile 26 July)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS – 331 on 26 July (first juvenile 20 July)
WHIMBREL– 21 on 17 July
HUDSONIAN GODWIT – 238 on 25 July
MARBLED GODWIT – 6 on 21 (juvenile 26 July, probably local), 31 on 24 July
RED KNOT – 691 on 24 July. Red Knot numbers are lower than usual but starting to pick up. Resights of flagged birds banded in US, Canada, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.
SANDERLING – 40 on 28 July
DUNLIN – 82 on 28 July
LEAST SANDPIPER – 87 on 16 July (first juvenile 23 July)
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – 5,163 on 28 July
PECTORAL SANDPIPER – 218 on 26 July
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – 6,144 on 26 July. Semipalmated Sandpiper numbers have been low over the end of the period with White-rumped Sandpipers surprisingly outnumbered Semipalmated 29 July, but we expect influx of juvenile Semipalmated soon will soon bring up their numbers.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – 5 on 23 and 28 July
WILSON’S SNIPE – 27 on 21 July
Other notable bird sightings
Great Black-backed Gull
Boreal Owl (heard only)
There is a good cone crop this year, which brings in good numbers of White-winged Crossbills.
Common Redpoll is frequently observed over the flats.
Black bear regularly on north ridge.
30 July to 13 August 2019
112 species seen for the were recorded at Piskwamish Camp over the period. This includes 24 species of shorebird, most of which are encountered daily.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER – 102 on August 11th, 54 Aug. 10th and 53 Aug 3rd.
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER – 3 on August 10th, 2 on August 11th.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER – 373 on August 10th along with the first juvenile.
MARBLED GODWIT – 9 on August 1st, including 5 juveniles. 6 on August 12th. Two pairs appeared to nest locally, producing a combined 5 juveniles.
HUDSONIAN GODWIT – 441 on August 6th, 303 on August 10th, 426 on August 9th, and 351 on August 12th. First juveniles on August 10th.
KILLDEER – 2 birds seen several days throughout the period.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER – 3 local juveniles seen on August 10th.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER – All juveniles. 5 on August 10th and 8 on August 5th.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS – Juveniles present at start of session. 263 on August 1st, 223 on August 3rd, 235 on August 6th, and 232 August 9th.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS – Juveniles present at start of session. One individual banded at Longridge on August 8th was seen here on August 10th. 397 on August 1st, 302 on August 10th, 214 on August 9th, and 165 on August 3rd.
WHIMBREL – 19 on August 11th, first juveniles seen on August 10th.
RUDDY TURNSTONE – 136 on August 3rd.
RED KNOT – Over 1,500 seen on most days. 4,436 on August 6th, 3,021 on August 9th. First juvenile on August 11th. Flagged birds detected from U.S., Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Canada, including one banded by the project in 2015 at Northbluff Point.
SANDERLING – 5 on August 1st, 5 on August 8th.
DUNLIN – 60 on August 2nd, 69 August 6th, 71 August 9th.
LEAST SANDPIPER – Juveniles widespread at the start of the session. 134 on August 1st, 143 on August 9th, and 146 on August 12th.
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – The most numerous shorebird throughout the period. 15,891 on August 2nd, 16,102 on August 8th, 18,939 on August 9th, 18,150 on August 10th, and 16,100 on August 11th.
BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – 1 adult on August 3rd.
PECTORAL SANDPIPER – No juveniles yet. 245 on August 1st.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – first juveniles on August 1st, whole flocks of juveniles by August 10th. 1,709 on August 6th, 2,854 on August 9th, and 1,889 on August 10th.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – 7 on August 1st, 9 on August 3rd.
WILSON’S SNIPE – 13 on August 12th, 12 on August 10th, 10 on August 11th, and 9 August 8th.
WILSON’S PHALAROPE – All juveniles. 2 on August 3rd. Single birds observed over several days during the period.
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE – 5 birds on August 6th and 10th, with the first juvenile on the 10th.
Other bird observations
PACIFIC LOON – Fly-by on August 10th.
BLACK SCOTER – 1,400 on August 1st, 1,144 on August 10th.
NORTHERN PINTAIL – 239 on August 12th.
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK – 2 distinct individual dark morphs, one in wing moult and one not. Seen on August 7th, 9th and 12th.
BUTEO SP. - Distant looks at a Swainson’s-like bird, but lost before it could be confirmed.
NORTHERN GOSHAWK – A pair seen as individual birds, either in camp or hunting shorebirds. Seen several times during the period.
BALD EAGLE – High of 6 on August 9th.
OSPREY – High of 6 on Aug 10th. One nest located on snag in tamarack bog behind camp, near the power line.
BONAPARTE’S GULL – 846 August 10th, 432 August 4th, first juveniles on August 6th.
LITTLE GULL – 1 adult on August 10th and 2 adults on August 4th.
BLACK TERN – 1 on August 9th.
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN – Seen several days this period. High counts of 25 on August 4th and 20 on August 2nd.
YELLOW RAIL – Generally quiet, singles on August 5th and 6th.
COMMON NIGHTHAWK – 1 heard most evenings, calling.
BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER – 1 male near winter road.
EASTERN KINGBIRD – Single birds August 1st, 7th, and 10th.
SWALLOWS – Tree, Bank, Barn, and Cliff seen several times during the period.
BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS – 3 on August 11th.
WARBLERS – 7 species seen. Tennessee, Yellow and Common Yellowthroat were the most common.
NELSON’S SPARROW – Still singing daily. 23 on August 3rd, and 24 on August 5th.
LE CONTE’S SPARROW – as many as 10 singing birds in the study area.
BLUE JAY – 1 in camp on August 11th and 12th.
SAVANNAH SPARROW – 417 on August 12th.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – 100’s daily, moving though the region. On August 11th many seen in forest behind camp singing on territory. Many juveniles seen in flocks. High count of 822 on August 8th.
RED CROSSBILL – 5 on August 8th. Making up less than 1% of the crossbill observed in flight that day.
COMMON REDPOLL – 30-150 seen daily.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD – 100-300 seen daily.
RUSTY BLACKBIRD – Up to 90 seen on Aug. 2nd. Birds observed on territory behind camp in tamarack/spruce bog/willow swamp birch swale Aug 11th.
COMMON GRACKLE – 4 on Aug. 10th, 1 on August 7th.