James Bay Shorebird Project
 

Aerial Survey 2018

Christian Friis and Guy Morrison

 
 
 Aerial survey crew. (l-r): Ken Ross, Guy Morrison, Rob Burns. Photo courtesy Rob Burns.

Aerial survey crew. (l-r): Ken Ross, Guy Morrison, Rob Burns. Photo courtesy Rob Burns.

Between 10 and 12 August 2018, Guy Morrison (Environment and Climate Change Canada, Emeritus Research Scientist) and Ken Ross (retired ECCC Canadian Wildlife Service biologist), along with Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) pilot Rob Burns, conducted an aerial survey of the James Bay coast from the Quebec border in the east to Ekwan Point to the northwest, including Akimiski Island. The objective of the survey was to count shorebird species within smaller sectors generally delineated by tributaries or other landforms, allowing comparison with results from previous aerial surveys of the region. Small shorebird species (e.g., Least, Semipalmated, and White-rumped sandpipers) are generally not easily identified from the air, despite flying at low levels. These are grouped into “peeps”. Medium and large shorebird species (e.g., Black-bellied Plover, Red Knot, and Hudsonian Godwit) are generally identifiable from the air; Greater and Lesser yellowlegs are generally counted as yellowlegs species. Surveys are conducted by helicopter at high tide, when birds are concentrated into roost locations. At low tide, birds are spread out across kilometres of exposed sand and mud flats that are characteristic of the James Bay coast. The low profile of the coast generates vast expanses of exposed flats at low tide, making it virtually impossible to get a reliable count at this point in the tidal cycle. In addition to counting shorebirds, we had a VHF receiver hooked up to an antenna at the nose of the helicopter logging locations of nanotagged birds detected along the coast. Personnel stationed at the three field camps located at Northbluff Point, Little Piskwamish Point, and Longridge Point carried out a coordinated ground count. Ground counts can be used to estimate species composition of the aerial counts.


The crew met in Timmins on 10 August 2018, flew to Moosonee in the OMNRF helicopter, and began the survey based on the predicted high tide in the early afternoon. Beginning at the Moose River, the crew flew northwards along the coastline towards Ekwan Point. Between Northbluff and Piskwamish, they recorded over 5,000 Red Knot, among a total of some 12,500 individual shorebirds. The next significant concentration of shorebirds was recorded at Chickney Channel, which is north of the Albany River. The crew recorded over 90,000 shorebirds including 11,500 Hudsonian Godwits and over 78,000 peeps! The survey concluded for the day at Ekwan Point and the crew spent the night at the White Wolf Lodge in Attawapiskat.

The next day, the crew surveyed Akimiski Island in the morning. On the northwest side of the island, over 8,000 Red Knot were recorded! This is a new location for knots based on previous aerial work dating back to the 1970s. In this section of Akimiski, nearly 60,000 individual shorebirds were recorded, including close to 49,000 peeps. The southwestern section of the island had over 29,000 individuals, including over 1,600 Marbled Godwit. Akimiski harboured 98% of the Marbled Godwits recorded on the survey.

From Akimiski, the crew flew south to complete the survey from the Moose River east to the Quebec border. The greatest concentration of birds was in the Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary, where over 26,000 individual shorebirds were recorded, including over 1,000 Hudsonian Godwits.

 Snow Geese in flight near Chickney Channel.

Snow Geese in flight near Chickney Channel.


 Shorebirds in flight. Photo courtesy Karl Bardon.

Shorebirds in flight. Photo courtesy Karl Bardon.

Over 240,000 individual shorebirds were recorded during the survey, easily doubling the totals from 2016 (about 110,000) and 2017 (about 105,600). The 2018 count for small shorebirds totaled over 206,000, which is significantly higher than the 2017 (92,500) and 2016 (77,000) counts. The count for medium shorebirds (over 19,000) was higher in 2018 than in 2017. The count for large shorebirds (over 18,000) was higher in 2018 than in either 2016 or 2017. In 2017, 7,200 medium and 5,900 large shorebirds were counted, while in 2016, 20,400 medium and 11,800 large shorebirds were counted. The Red Knot count of over 13,000 was the highest of the 3 surveys in 2016, 2017 and 2018, although the birds were distributed differently, with a moderate (though still significant) number in the southern part of the bay from approximately Longridge to Northbluff (about 5,000 compared to a maximum of 10,000 in 2016) and a new and very significant concentration of some 8,000 on the northwest coast of Akimiski Island.

Reasons for the significantly higher number of birds in 2018 are currently unclear but are likely connected to the widely reported very poor breeding conditions in the Arctic in 2018 (https://www.audubon.org/news/shorebirds-experience-dismal-breeding-season-due-quirk-climate-change). Late snow melt resulting in high snow cover early in the season may have significantly delayed breeding attempts for many species, with a subsequent delay in the southward migration. For instance. initial reports from Yves Aubry’s (ECCC biologist) studies on the Mingan Island Archipelago on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River suggest that migration of Red Knots was around 10-14 days later than normal. If similar considerations apply to other shorebird species, the large numbers observed in James Bay in 2018 may reflect a later migration, since by the August survey dates in 2018 (consistent over the three years) many birds would have already passed through the area in a more “normal” (previous) year. Alternatively, perhaps the birds were in poorer condition after the difficult summer in the Arctic and needed to stay longer in James Bay to build up stores for migration. Interestingly, in previous years where aerial surveys have been conducted in James Bay (1976 to 2009), the only year with a total autumn count over 200,000 individuals (292,000) was in 2001, which was noted as a seasonably late and relatively poor breeding year in the Arctic (see http://www.arcticbirds.net/). Further analysis of ground counts from James Bay in 2018 should indicate whether the difficult/delayed breeding conditions in the Arctic in 2018 resulted in poor breeding success for many species.

 

Season Summaries 2018

 

 
 

The James Bay shorebird project crew has been in the field since 13 July when we opened three remote camps, Longridge Point, Little Piskwamish Point, and Northbluff 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 collaborated with biologists across North America, lead 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.

Our banding crew has been in operation at Longridge Point since 13 July. We plan to affix Lotek pin-point tags to Lesser Yellowlegs, as part of the project described above. 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.

 View from Piskwachi Point with Longridge in the distance. Photo: C. Friis

View from Piskwachi Point with Longridge in the distance. Photo: C. Friis

Longridge Point

Doug McRae is leading Longridge in 2018. 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. The following reports are from Doug.

13-30 July

Shorebirds (high count, date)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER 41, 30 July.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER 2, 30 July. 1 banded on 29 July.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER 52, 28 July.

KILLDEER 13, 21, Adult with 2 small chicks on 30 July.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER 2, 25 July. First juvenile on 25 July.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER 9, 14 July.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS 133, 30 July. First juvenile on 30 July.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS 338, 17 July. First juvenile on 23 July.

WHIMBREL 166, 16 July.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT 242, 29 July.

RUDDY TURNSTONE 421, 30 July.

RED KNOT 1536, 30 July.

SANDERLING 381, 28 July.

DUNLIN 16, 22 July.

LEAST SANDPIPER 58, 21 July. First juvenile on 20 July.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER 645, 28 July.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER 326, 17 July.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER 2,776, 29 July. First juvenile on 29 July.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER 2, 29 July. 1 on 21, 27, & 28 July – all adults, only sightings for the period.

WILSON’S SNIPE 8, 17 July. Nest with 4 eggs on 15 July.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE 1 adult female, 23 & 29 July the only sightings for the period.


Other bird observations

RING-NECKED DUCK 1, 14 July. 1 male on the Bay on 14 July.

GADWALL 8, 16 July.

REDHEAD 4, 25 July. 1 on 17 & 30 July. 4 on 25 July.

HOODED MERGANSER 4, 21 July. 1 on 18 July. 4 on 21 July.

BLACK SCOTER 1262, 28 July.

PEREGRINE FALCON 1 adult 15 & 19 July; one sub-adult on 23 & 26 July.

SNOWY OWL 1, 19 & 23 July, likely same individual.

small owl species (Boreal/saw-whet) 1 at dawn, 21 July.

BONAPARTE’S GULL 920, 28 July. 98% adult.

LITTLE GULL 2 adults on 28 July only sighting.

NORTHERN SHRIKE 1, 14 July. 1 immature at camp 14, 20, 21, 28 & 30 July.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO 1, 14 July. At camp seen and singing 14-26 July.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING 4, 14 July.

CHIPPING SPARROW 1 singing male at camp 14-21 July.

CLAY-COLORED SPARROW One pair on ridge - fledged young on 22 July.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH 27, 28 July - big uptick from other days.

COMMON GRACKLE, 1, 19 July only sighting for the period.


 Hudsonian Godwits in flight. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

Hudsonian Godwits in flight. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

31 July - 12 august

Shorebirds (high count, date)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER – 154 on 11 August.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER – 7 on 10 August. One banded on 29 July, observed in the area until 10 August.

KILLDEER – 16 on 12 August. First juveniles on 12 August. Two grown chicks observed on 4 August.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER – 173 on 3 August. First juvenile on 3 August.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS – 91 on 4 August.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS – 212 on 3 August.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER – 3 on six dates between 3 & 12 August.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER – 5 on 6 & 12 August.

WHIMBREL – 18 on 2 August.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT – 636 on 12 August. First juvenile on 9 August.

MARBLED GODWIT – 3 on 1 August; 1 on 2 August; 4 on 3 August; 5 on 9 August.

RUDDY TURNSTONE – 956 on 12 August.

RED KNOT – 411 on 2 August. First juvenile on 11 August.

SANDERLING – 340 on 12 August.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – 3,338 on 3 August.

LEAST SANDPIPER – 86 on 6 August.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – 4,608 on 12 August.

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – 1 adult on 6 August.

DUNLIN – 35 on 11 August.

STILT SANDPIPER – 2 adult on 6 August.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER – 303 on 3 August. First juvenile on 10 August.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER – 1 adult on 2 August.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – 1 adult on 3 & 4 August. First juvenile on 6 August. 1 juvenile on 7, 9, & 10 August. 2 juveniles on 11 August.

WILSON’S SNIPE – 35 on 11 August. First juvenile on 10 August.

WILSON’S PHALAROPE – 6 juveniles on 7 August. First juvenile on 7 August.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE – 1 adult on 3 August.


Other bird observations

GADWALL – 1 on 11 August.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL – 11 on 10 August, including 1 female with 8 young in the pond near camp.

NORTHERN SHOVELER – 1 female with 6 young in the pond near camp on 7 August.

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER – 13 on 6 August. This species is very scarce this year.

BLACK SCOTER – 945 on 7 August.

HOODED MERGANSER – 1 on 1 August. 3 on 5 August.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT – 31 on 7 August.

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN – 5 on 12 August. The first sighting since late July.

GREAT BLUE HERON – 2 on 11 August.

BALD EAGLE – 3 on 10 August.

ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK – 1 light morph on 11 August.

YELLOW RAIL – 4 on 4 August. 1 banded on 4 August. Calling begins to reduce as of 10 August.

LITTLE GULL – 3 on 4 August. 1 on 7, 9, 10, & 11 August consisting of 2 different adults, 2 second-year and 1 juvenile. 4 on 12 August, consisting of 1 adult, 1 second-year, and 2 juveniles.

RING-BILLED GULL – first juvenile on 10 August.

HERRING GULL – first juvenile on 10 August.

BLACK TERN – 1 immature on 12 August.

COMMON TERN – 64 ON 9 August.

ARCTIC TERN – 2 adult, 1 juvenile on 3 August. 1 adult on 12 August.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO – 1 on 11 August. The first sighting since late July.

GREAT-HORNED OWL – 1 on 2 August.

COMMON NIGHTHAWK – 1 on 9 August.

PEREGRINE FALCON – 1 sub-adult on 1 August. Between 3 & 12 August, 1 adult and 1 sub-adult seen regularly.

OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER – 1 on 4, 8 & 9 August.

NORTHERN SHRIKE – 1 on 3 August.

BANK SWALLOW – 4 on 6 & 8 August.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH – 19 on 7 August. A brief movement was noted over several days around this date.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING – 2 on 3 August. 1 on 10 August.

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER – 2 on 1 August.

CHIPPING SPARROW – 1 adult on 1 to 3 August.

CLAY-COLORED SPARROW – 5 on 8 August.

FOX SPARROW – 1 adult on 4 & 9 August.

DARK-EYED JUNCO – 1 on 8 & 11 August.

RUSTY BLACKBIRD – 1 on 3 & 10 August.

PURPLE FINCH – 1 on 4 &5 August.

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – 6 on 4 August. Observations on 3-5, 7, & 9 August.

COMMON REDPOLL – 1 on 2, 3, 8, & 10 August.

PINE SISKIN – 36 on 4 August. Observations on 2-6, 8, & 10 August.


Mammals

BELUGA – 2 adult and 1 juvenile on 3 August. 1 on 4 & 9 August. 7 on 12 August.


 Flooded banding site at Longridge Point. Photo courtesy of Michel Vorasane

Flooded banding site at Longridge Point. Photo courtesy of Michel Vorasane

13 to 27 august

Shorebirds

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER – 193 on 23 August.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER – 4 on 14 A August. The banded individual was seen up to 14 August. First juvenile on 24 August.

SEMIPLAMATED PLOVER – 167 on 18 August.

KILLDEER – 17 on 17 August.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER – all sightings for the period: 2 on 18 August. 1 on 23 & 24 August.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER – all sightings for the period: 1 on 13, 14, 18, 19, & 21 August.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS – 103 on 20 August.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS – 124 on 20 August.

WHIMBREL – 59 on 13 August. First juvenile on 18 August.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT – 251 on 24 August.

MARBLED GODWIT – all sightings for the period: 5 on 16 August, 2 on 18 August, 8 on 19 August, and 1 on 23 August.

RUDDY TURNSTONE – 248 on 17 August.

RED KNOT – 1,013 on 24 August.

STILT SANDPIPER – 1 juvenile on 26 August.

SANDERLING – 131 on 23 August. First juvenile on 17 August.

DUNLIN – 87 on 18 August. First juvenile on 21 August.

LEAST SANDPIPER – 151 on 18 August.

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – all sightings for the period: 1 juvenile on 14 August. 5 on 16 August. 2 on 17 August. 2 adult & 2 juvenile on 19 August. 6 on 20 August. 4 on 22 & 23 August. 3 on 25 August. 8 juveniles on 26 August.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – 8,654 on 23 August.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER – 1 adult on 14 & 16 August. First juvenile on 26 August.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER – 24 on 19 August.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – 2,953 on 23 August.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – all sightings for the period: 1 juvenile on 16 August. 1 on 19 & 20 August. 2 juvenile on 24 August. 1 on 26 August.

WILSON’S SNIPE – 40 on 13 August.

WILSON’S PHALAROPE – 2 on 16 August. 3 on 19 August. 1 on 21 August.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE – 1 on 18 August. 3 on 19 August. 1 on 21 August. 4 on 23 August. 7 on 24 August. 1 on 25 August.


Other notable bird observations

SNOW GOOSE – 27 on 20 August.

REDHEAD – 1 on 20 August.

LONG-TAILED DUCK – 1 on 19 August.

SURF SCOTER – 11 on 18 August.

BLACK SCOTER – 1,650 on 19 August.

HORNED GREBE – 2 on 25 August.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT – 28 on 26 August.

AMERICAN BITTERN – 6 on 25 August.

GREAT BLUE HERON – 10 on 19 August.

NORTHERN HARRIER – 13 on 22 August.

BALD EAGLE – 3 on 18 August.

SANDHILL CRANE – 2 growing young continue to 22 August.

PARASITIC JAEGER – 1 adult light morph & 1 sub-adult dark morph on 23 August. 1 adult light morph on 24 August. 4 dark morph / immature on 25 August. 2 adult light morph & 1 juvenile on 26 August.

SABINE’S GULL – 1 juvenile on 25 August. 1 adult wing found on 21 August.

LITTLE GULL – 1 second-year on 18 August. 1 adult on 20 August. 1 second-year & 1 adult on 22 August. 1 second-year and 1 juvenile on 25 August. 2 adult & 2 juvenile on 26 August.

CASPIAN TERN – 18 on 26 August.

BLACK TERN – 1 juvenile on 25 August.

COMMON TERN – 70 on 25 August.

COMMON NIGHTHAWK – 2 on 15 August.

MERLIN – 4 on 18, 19, & 23 August.

PEREGRINE FALCON – 1-2 most days, no juveniles yet.

OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER – 1 on 15 August. 1 on 19 August.

TREE SWALLOW – 3 on 16 August. 1 on 19 August.

BARN SWALLOW – 2 on 19 August.

CLIFF SWALLOW – 1 on 19 August.

HERMIT THRUSH – 1 juvenile on 15 August.

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER – 1 on 16 August.

CLAY-COLORED SPARROW – 1 on 15 August. 4 on 16 August. 1 on 21 August.

FOX SPARROW – 1 hatch-year on 18 August.


 Mixed flock. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

Mixed flock. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

28 August to 10 September

Shorebirds

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER - 430 on 28 Aug

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER - 20 on 7 Sep

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - 111 on 2 Sep

KILLDEER - 8 on 29 Aug

SOLITARY SANDPIPER - 3 on 27 Aug

GREATER YELLOWLEGS - 130 on 1 Sep

LESSER YELLOWLEGS - 77 on 8 Sep

WHIMBREL - 2 on 29 Aug

HUDSONIAN GODWIT - 305 on 28 Aug

MARBLED GODWIT - 1 on 6 Sep

RUDDY TURNSTONE - 131 on 29 Aug

RED KNOT - 85 on 7 Sep

STILT SANDPIPER - 4 on 5 Sep

SANDERLING - 163 on 7 Sep

DUNLIN - 195 on 6 Sep

LEAST SANDPIPER - 121 on 7 Sep

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - 3523 on 2 Sep, 1st juvenile 5 Sep

BUFF BREASTED SANDPIPER - 2 on 30 Aug, 6 Sep

PECTORAL SANDPIPER - 113 on 9 Sep

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER - 779 on 2 Sep

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - 1 on 2 Sep

WILSON’S SNIPE - 13 on 4 Sep

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE - 2 on 7 Sep

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER - 7 on 29 Aug


Other notable bird observations

BRANT - first observed 2 Sep

PARASITIC JAEGER - 1 on 31 Aug, 1 Sep

GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH - 1 on 4 Sep


Mammals

Beluga, Wolf, Black bear

 

Little Piskwamish Point

The camp is led by Amie MacDonald, a MSc. candidate in her final year of field work 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 for many years and we are very pleased with preliminary results from the 2017 season and analyses over the winter. Amie’s project proposes to estimate the annual survival of Red Knots using James Bay, and explore the links between survival and environmental conditions throughout their range. She will also use 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. The following reports are from Amie (max count, date).

13-30 July

Shorebirds (high count, date)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER 16, 27 July.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER 116, 29 July, one flag resight (originally banded in Churchill, MB).

KILLDEER 6, 14 July.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER 1, 18 and 30 July (at least one a local juvenile).

SOLITARY SANDPIPER 12, 14 July.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS 188, 28 July.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS 249, 15 July. First juvenile, 24 July. Barely any juveniles from then to the 30th.

WHIMBREL 29, 20 July.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT 399, 28 July.

MARBLED GODWIT 11, 28 July.

RUDDY TURNSTONE 17, 24 & 27 July.

RED KNOT 2,981, 28 July. 280 resights (this includes resights of same flag on multiple days- not number of unique flags). Flags from US, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Canada resighted.

SANDERLING 212, 27 July. One flag resight.

DUNLIN 511, 30 July.

LEAST SANDPIPER 25, 27 July.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER 4,836, 30 July.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER 202, 17 July.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER 14,867, 28 July, first juvenile, 24 July. One flag resight.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER 7, 17 July. 1 juvenile, 29 July.

WILSON’S PHALAROPE 1 juvenile, 30 July.

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER 1, 25 & 26 July.


Other notable observations

5 belugas, wolf hunting Canada Geese, black bears, 2 BLACK GUILLEMOT, 1 BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO.


Mixed flock at Little Piskwamish. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

31 July - 12 August

Shorebirds (high count, date)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER 28 on 12 August.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER 1 on 8 & 9 August.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER 112 on 2 August.

KILLDEER 1 on various days

SPOTTED SANDPIPER 1 on 9 August.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER 2 on 8 August.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS 128 on 2 August.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS 48 on 2 August.

WHIMBREL 5 on 6 August.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT 390 on 10 August.

MARBLED GODWIT 8 on 11 August.

RUDDY TURNSTONE 15 on 2 August.

RED KNOT 3,593 on 10 August. 527 REKN resights during this period, including birds originally banded in the USA, Chile, Argentina, and Canada. Of special note is the resighting of an orange flagged Red Knot, B53. This bird was banded in November 2001 as an immature male in Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina by Patricia Gonzalez’s team! This bird is 18 years old and has flown over 500,000 km — a distance equal to the moon and part way back!

STILT SANDPIPER 1 on 10 August.

DUNLIN 864 on 12 August.

LEAST SANDPIPER 24 on 11 August.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER 9,608 on 6 August.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER 183 on 6 August.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER 8,672 on 6 August.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER 1 on 11 & 12 August.

WILSON’S SNIPE 5 on 3, 4, 10 August.

WILSON’S PHALAROPE 2 on 6, 12 August.


Mammals

Wolf sightings throughout the period.  A cow and calf moose.


 Feeding Red Knots at Piskwamish. Photo courtesy of Kejia Zhang.

Feeding Red Knots at Piskwamish. Photo courtesy of Kejia Zhang.

13 to 27 August

Shorebirds

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER – 67 on 21 August.

AMERICAN-GOLDEN PLOVER – 5 on 18 August.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER – 284 and first juvenile on 15 August.

KILLDEER – 1 on various days throughout the period.

SOSANDPIPER 1 on various days throughout the period

GREATER YELLOWLEGS – 286 on 21 August.

LESSER YELLOW LEGS – 121 on 14 August.

WHIMBREL – 12 on 21 August.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT – 574 on 24 August. First juvenile on 17 August.

MARBLED GODWIT – 12 on 19 August.

RUDDY TURNSTONE – 43 on 25 August. First juvenile on 22 August.

RED KNOT – 3,226 on 20 August. First juvenile 14 August. During the period, there were 663 resights of birds from USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Juvenile proportions were less than 5% early in the period, building to more than 50% by the end of the period. The average proportion of juveniles for the period was 33%.

SANDERLING – 297 on 25 August. First juvenile 19 August.

DUNLIN – 1,550 on 24 August.

LEAST SANDPIPER – 211 on 16 August.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER – 40,787 on 20 August, building from 37,464 on 23 August & 30,711 on 24 August.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER – 2 juvenile on 25 August.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER – 99 on 14 August.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER – 3,817 on 14 August.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER – 11 on 26 August.

WILSON’S SNIPE – 14 on 17 August.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE – 4 on 23 August.

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – 3 on 25 August.


Other notable bird observations

PARASITIC JAEGER – on 24 & 25 August.

BLACK GUILLEMOT – on 14 & 21 August.


Mammals

Otter, black bear


 Surveying Piskwamish. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon

Surveying Piskwamish. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon

28 August to 10 September

Shorebirds

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER - 94 on 28 Aug, 1st juvenile 3 Sep

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER - 119 on 7 Sep

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - 224 on 29 Aug

KILLDEER - 5 on 30 Aug, 3 Sep, 4 Sep

SPOTTED SANDPIPER - 1 on 31 Aug, 4 Sep

SOLITARY SANDPIPER - 1 on 27 Aug, 1 Sep

GREATER YELLOWLEGS - 268 on 4 Sep

LESSER YELLOWLEGS - 111 on 30 Aug

WHIMBREL - 3 on 30 Aug, 31 Aug, 3 Sep

HUDSONIAN GODWIT - 1324 on 28 Aug

MARBLED GODWIT - 4 on 31 Aug

RUDDY TURNSTONE - 103 on 7 Sep

RED KNOT - 1689 on 28 Aug (1% adult for this session)

STILT SANDPIPER - 1 on 30 Aug, 1, 2, and 3 Sep

SANDERLING - 218 on 30 Aug

DUNLIN - 5107 on 7 Sep, 1st juvenile 3 Sep

LEAST SANDPIPER - 205 on 4 Sep

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - 31008 on 2 Sep (going down to <1000 in the last few days of the session), 1st juvenile 7 Sep

BUFF BREASTED SANDPIPER - 15 on 4 Sep (all juveniles)

PECTORAL SANDPIPER - 214 on 7 Sep

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER - 2437 on 29 Aug

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - 9 on 28 Aug, 30 Aug

WILSON’S SNIPE - 12 on 6 Sep

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE - 7 on 3 Sep

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER - 8 on 30 Aug, 4 Sep


Other notable bird observations

NORTHER PARULA - 1 on 27 Aug

BLACK GUILLEMOT - 1 on 29 Aug, 3 Sep, 8 Sep

PARASITIC JAEGER - 1 on 31 Aug, 3 Sep

PINE GROSBEAK - 1 on 31 Aug, 1 Sep

GREY CATBIRD - 1 on 3 Sep

BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD - 1 juvenile on 4 Sep

BRANT - first observed 4 Sep

ROSS’ GOOSE - 1 on 8 Sep


Mammals

Beluga, Black bear, Mink


Butterflies

White Admiral, Hoary Comma, Cabbage White, Monarch, Mourning Cloak, Common Braided Skipper

 
 Little Piskwamish Point, flooded flats. Photo: C. Friis

Little Piskwamish Point, flooded flats. Photo: C. Friis


 Northbluff Point south gravel bar. Photo: C. Friis

Northbluff Point south gravel bar. Photo: C. Friis

Northbluff Point

Gray Carlin leads this camp. 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 in a lead role with us for the 2018 season. The summary from 13-30 July is from Tyler Hoar, who joins us for his inaugural stint in 2018. The other reports are from Gray.

13-30 July

Shorebirds (high count, date)

Black-bellied Plover 40, 30 July

Lesser Yellowlegs 503, 19 July.

Hudsonian Godwit 643, 30 July.

Marbled Godwit 24, 29 July; first 3 juveniles, 30 July. Confirmed breeding (T. Hoar).

Red Knot 423, 29 July.

RUFF 1 female (Reeve), 22 July

Sanderling 156, 23 July.

White-rumped Sandpiper 1,428, 30 July.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper 10, 30 July.

Semipalmated Sandpiper 10,009, 26 July.

Wilson's Phalarope 1 adult 29 July, 1 juvenile 28 July.

Red-necked Phalarope 5, 14 July.


Other bird observations (high count, date)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN 16, 25 July.

YELLOW RAIL and SORA heard most days. Took little effort to find one when someone tried.

LITTLE GULL 2 adults, 20 July.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO 1, 14 July.

SNOWY OWL 1, 14 July.

SHORT-EARED OWL 1, 14 July.

AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER 1 behind camp 18 July.

NELSON’S SPARROW 21, 14 July.

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL and PINE SISKIN numbers are low

2 single sightings of 1 COMMON REDPOLL (possibly the same individual).


Mammals

river otter 3, timber wolf 3, black bear 1 cross red fox 1 beluga 8


 Shorebirds in flight. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

Shorebirds in flight. Photo courtesy of Karl Bardon.

31 July - 12 August

During this period, 97 species of bird were detected in the camp census area. This includes 22 species of shorebird. 

Shorebirds (high count, date)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER - 60, August 10.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - 72, August 12.

KILLDEER - Single juvenile bird on August 10 and 12.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER - 2 juvenile, August 4.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER - Single bird on August 3.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS - 205, August 9.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS - 194, August 4.

WHIMBREL - 12, August 2.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT - 710, August 11.

MARBLED GODWIT - 14 - confirmed 2 pairs of local breeders with 3 young each, August 8.

RUDDY TURNSTONE - 90, August 7.

RED KNOT - 437, August 1.

STILT SANDPIPER - 1 juvenile, August 7.

SANDERLING - 102, August 3.

DUNLIN - 144, August 4.

LEAST SANDPIPER - 70, August 11.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - 4,395, August 7.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER - 56, August 10.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER - 4,856, August 1.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - 3 birds (fly-by’s) on August 1 and 11.

WILSON'S SNIPE - regularly seeing between 7 and 9 birds on multiple dates, August 8. Three birds still attempting to nest as of August 4.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE - 4 juveniles, August 11.


Other bird observations

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN - single bird on August 2 and August 9.

LITTLE GULL - 2 birds- 1 adult, 1 juvenile, August 12.

ARCTIC TERN - two adult birds seen on August 12.

NORTHERN GOSHAWK- single bird seen on August 8.

COMMON REDPOLL - 1, August 4.


Mammals

Wolf, Red Squirrel, River Otter, Jumping Mouse, Vole sp.


Odonates

zig zag darner, subarctic darner, meadowhawk sp, bluet sp.


Butterflies

white admiral, Atlantis fritillary, clouded sulphur, mourning cloak.


Amphibians

American toad, wood frog, boreal chorus frog.


 Pectoral Sandpipers in flight. Photo courtesy of Karl Barden.

Pectoral Sandpipers in flight. Photo courtesy of Karl Barden.

13 to 27 August

During the period, 111 species of bird were detected in the camps census area. This includes 25 species of shorebird. Below, species is followed by the high count and date.

Shorebirds

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER - 103, August 24 -still nearly all molting adults with two juveniles.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER - 5, August 26- two juvenile and 3 adults.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - 88, August 14- first juveniles showing up.

KILLDEER - Single birds on August 21.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER - 1 juvenile. August 16.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS - 221, August 21.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS - 73, August 16.

WHIMBREL - 25, August 24.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT - 819, August 14.

MARBLED GODWIT - 12, August 21- all juveniles.

RUDDY TURNSTONE - 68, August 14.

RED KNOT - 1000, August 22 - large flock with approximately 100 juveniles.

STILT SANDPIPER - 5 juveniles, August 18.

SANDERLING - 100, August 14- first juveniles appearing.

DUNLIN - 387, August 24.

LEAST SANDPIPER - 182, August 15.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - 5653, August 16.

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER - 3 juveniles, August 24.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER - single adult on August 16.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER - 75, August 27.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER - 2124, August 20.

SHORT-billed DOWITCHER - 6, August 18.

WILSON'S SNIPE - 5, August 15.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE - 1 on August 14 and 2 on August16- all juveniles.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE - 1 or 2 birds seen on multiple dates.


Other notable bird observations

Along with the shorebirds, waterfowl numbers are slowly starting to build up as they move south as well.

SNOW GOOSE - first flock of 23 seen on August 18, high count of 130 on the 22nd.

CANADA GOOSE - 341, August 19.

NORTHERN PINTAIL - 263, August 25.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL - 139, August 20.

Raptors showed their first real signs of movement on the 18th.

NORTHERN HARRIER - 13, August 22.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK - 1 juvenile, August 18.

RED-TAILED HAWK - 1, August 18.

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, 1- August 15 and August 27. 

LITTLE GULL - 1, August 25-26.

CASPIAN TERN - 3, August 25.

ARCTIC TERN - one or two on several dates. 

BOREAL OWL- one calling in camp August 27.

Finch numbers are particularly low with one flock of 32 PINE SISKIN, on August 21. 


Mammals 

Red squirrel, striped skunk, river otter, beluga.


Lepidopterans

white admiral, Atlantis fritillary, clouded sulphur, mourning cloak, cabbage white, mustard yellow, white-lined sphinx moth


Amphibians 

American toad, wood frog, boreal chorus frog, spring peeper

 Lesser Yellowlegs. Photo courtesy of Gray Carlin

Lesser Yellowlegs. Photo courtesy of Gray Carlin

28 August to 10 September

During the period , 115 species of bird were detected in the camps census area. This includes 25 species of shorebird. Below, species is followed by the high count and date.

Shorebirds
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER - 170, September 2.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER - 87, September 7.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - 86, September 7. (nearly all hatch-year birds now).

KILLDEER - Single bird on August 28.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER - 1 juvenile on August 29 and Sept 7.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER - 2 juveniles on August 3.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS - 375, September 6.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS - 18, September 2.

WHIMBREL - 5, August 28.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT - 370, September 3.

MARBLED GODWIT - 5, September 6.

RUDDY TURNSTONE - 99, September 2.

RED KNOT - 702, September 1. Mostly juveniles - 148 birds in this flock were adults.

SANDERLING - 114, September 8. Mostly juveniles.

DUNLIN - 3277, September 9.

LEAST SANDPIPER - 256, September 7.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - 2958, August 29.

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER - Flocks of 2-5 seen regularly. High count of 20 (including 1 flock of 14 juveniles) observed on September 7.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER - 2 juveniles, September 10.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER - 113, August 29.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER - 1719, August 30.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - 14 juveniles, September 2.

WILSON'S SNIPE - 1 or 2 seen on multiple dates.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE - 1, September 7.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE - 2, Sept 8.


Along with the shorebirds, waterfowl numbers are starting to build up as they move south as well.

SNOW GOOSE - 398, September 7.

CANADA GOOSE - 940, September 8.

BRANT - 1, August 31 and September 1.

NORTHERN PINTAIL - 1094, September 8.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL - 220, September 2.


Other notable bird observations

CASPIAN TERN - 1 or 2 on multiple dates.

BOREAL OWL - 1, August 28.

COMMON NIGHTHAWK - 1 or 2 on multiple dates.

PARASITIC JAEGER - 1 -3 birds seen regularly since the beginning of September.

COMMON REDPOLL - 3, September 4. Small flocks of all the finches showing up regularly.

BELTED KINGFISHER - 1 bird visiting camp on multiple dates.

BOREAL CHICKADEE - 1 flock of 29 birds observed in camp on September 9.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING - 1 bird in camp on multiple dates.


Mammals

Fresh black bear tracks, fresh wolf tracks (almost daily), snowshoe hare, perimysis mouse, jumping mouse, red squirrel, striped skunk, cross fox and kit


Butterflies

white admiral, Atlantis fritillary, clouded sulphur, mourning cloak.


Amphibians

American toad, wood frog, boreal chorus frog, spring peeper


 

Season Summaries 2017

 

 
 

The James Bay shorebird project is in full swing and crews have been in the field since 15 July when we opened two remote camps, Longridge Point and Little Piskwamish Point. Northbluff Point field camp opened on the 30th. Crews communicate via inReach SE units (two-way messaging devices) or satellite phone.

In addition to the shorebird and related habitat and resource work, for the first period we were joined by Jay Wright of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group (www.RustyBlackbird.org). Luke Powell of the Group is spearheading the work and he made contact with us in the winter to make arrangements. The Group seeks to collect genetic samples from Rusty Blackbirds from across the species range, then sequence DNA for a “genoscape” analysis of population structure and migratory connectivity. They hope to get 25 birds sampled from James Bay. As a result, Longridge Point includes a number of interesting observations by Jay and his assistant, one rotating member of the shorebird crew, while venturing inland.

Motus: The Motus Wildlife Tracking System (Motus, Latin for ‘movement’) is an international collaborative research network that uses a coordinated automated radio telemetry array to track the movement and behaviour of small flying organisms. Motus tracks animals (birds, bats, and large insects) affixed with digitally-encoded radio transmitters “nano-tags” that broadcast signals several times each minute. These signals are detected by automated radio telemetry stations that scan for signals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When results from many stations are combined, the array can track animals across a diversity of landscapes covering thousands of kilometers. The James Bay shorebird project has seven towers set-up on the southwestern coast of James Bay. In addition, towers have been set-up on the Quebec side. Check out https://motus.org/data/receiversMap.jsp for locations of towers across the network.

Banding crews have been in operation at Longridge Point since 15 July, and began on the 31st at Northbluff Point. We plan to affix over 280 tags to a variety of shorebird species this summer, including Semipalmated Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and Semipalmated, Least, White-rumped, and Pectoral sandpipers.

Invertebrate Sampling: Each field camp has an invertebrate technician who samples at four different sites each day, collecting three 5x10cm (98.18ml) benthic core samples from a shorebird foraging site and a near-by non-foraging site (control) site per field camp (two forage, two control). Replicate cores are taken approximately 1m apart from each other. All samples are conducted within two hours of low tide. The goal is spatial coverage across the flats at different sections of coast at each field camp to better understand resource availability for staging shorebirds using James Bay in the fall.

 Flats at Longridge. Photo: C. Friis

Flats at Longridge. Photo: C. Friis

Longridge Point

The camp was led by Allie Anderson, a PhD. candidate at Trent University also under the direction of Dr. Erica Nol (Trent University) and Dr. Paul Smith (Environment and Climate Change Canada). She moved to open and run Northbluff Point on 30 July. This is Allie’s third field season on James Bay, and we are lucky to have her! Allie’s research focuses on shorebird diet, habitat use, flexibility in migration timing of staging shorebirds, and migratory routes taken. Longridge Point is run by Daniel Froehlich for the remainder of the season. Dan returns to us for his second season with the project. The reports up to 29 August are from Mark Dorriesfield, who is one of Amie’s MacDonald's technicians primarily focused on her objectives (see Piskwamish for details). Mark is a former volunteer with the project and this is his second season with us. The final report, 29 August to 13 September is from Allie Anderson.


15-30 July

Shorebirds

Black-bellied Plover: small numbers throughout the period, all adults, high of 15 on 25th. First on 18th.

American Golden-Plover: couples on 3 dates, adults, first on 21st.

Semipalmated Plover: adults high of 115 on 29th.

Killdeer: high of 8 on 23rd.

Solitary Sandpiper: none on coast, but 10 inland on 19th.

Greater Yellowlegs: high of 102 on 29th.

Spotted Sandpiper: singles on 2 days.

Lesser Yellowlegs: high of 217 on 28th.

Whimbrel: numerous early in period, high of 60 on 18th.

Hudsonian Godwit: adults, high of 94 on the 28th.

Ruddy Turnstone: adults, 245 on 28th. On the 29th the crew resighted one bird originally banded at Longridge Point in 2016.

Marbled Godwit: juvenile on 29th.

Red Knot: adults, highs of 800 on 27th and 1400 on 28th.

Stilt Sandpiper: adult on 21st.

Sanderling: adults, high of 139 on 21st.

Dunlin: adults, high of 55 on 28th.

Least Sandpiper: mostly juveniles by end of the period, high of 58 on 29th.

White-rumped Sandpiper: adults, very few until 21st, high of 1400 on 29th.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: mostly adult, some juveniles showing up second half of the period. High of 1146 on 29th.

Note: 3600+ combined White-rumped and Semipalmated sandpipers on 28th, when a large flock of peeps flew to roost at the tip of Longridge Point with about 1400 Red Knot. Big backlit flocks that passed us in less than a minute, a pain!

Pectoral Sandpiper: adults with a few juveniles, high of 334 on 28th.

Wilson’s Phalarope: 1 adult and 1 juvenile both on 22nd.

Short-billed Dowitcher: around in small numbers, some adult at beginning and more juveniles toward end of the period, high of 8 on 16th. Juvenile captured on 24th.


Other interesting birds

American White Pelican flyover flocks on 4 dates, high of 37 on 23rd. Ammodramus sparrows up to 6 Le Conte’s Sparrow and 10 Nelson’s Sparrow.  Clay-colored Sparrow 3 throughout the period. Arctic Tern 2 on 25th and 1 on 26th. A 1st summer Great Black-backed Gull present throughout the period. The surrounding marshes are dry but a few Yellow Rail are present, high of 7 on 28th (some inland).


Mammals

Sadly, a dead beluga and unborn calf were found on 18th. They had probably been there for a few weeks prior to the arrival of the crew. Two live belugas close to shore on 19th. Only one Black Bear, a young one on 21st. Two River Otters and 1 Beaver on 27th. One Muskrat on 28th. A few wolf and fox tracks but no sightings, yet.


Odonates

Zig-zag, Sedge, Lake, Canada, and Variable darners.


Herpetiles

Eastern Garter Snake (1), and American Toads (Hudson Bay sub-species) are numerous.


Rusty Blackbird work

Jay Wright caught 29 Rusty Blackbirds between the 25th and 29th. Jay and his assistants had some cool stuff: Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, and Solitary Sandpiper still on territory inland. Northern Shrike on 25th, Virginia Rail on 28th, 3 Wood Duck at 2 locations throughout the period, and a possible Great Grey Owl on 18th. The sample Jay was able to acquire is much better than expected! We look forward to learning more about the results of the International Rusty Blackbird Group’s work on this front.


 

31 July – 14 August

Shorebirds

Black-bellied Plover: adults, arrived in numbers on 8 August, highs of 112 on 12 and 13 August.

American Golden-Plover: a few adults through session, highs of 3 on 6 and 7 August.

Semipalmated Plover: high of 133 in 12 August, first juvenile on 4 August, juveniles increasing later in session.

Killdeer: a few around, high of 5 on 2 August.

Solitary Sandpiper: 2 juveniles hanging around the wrack at the base of the point throughout the session.

Greater Yellowlegs: high of 291 on 12 August (including migrating groups), still mostly adult by the end of the session but juveniles increasing.

Lesser Yellowlegs: high of 314 on 5 August, higher proportion of juveniles than Greater Yellowlegs but still more adults.

Whimbrel: high of 40 on 5 August.

Hudsonian Godwit: high of 304 on 12 August, first juvenile on 2 August.

Marbled Godwit: a few throughout session, high of 4 on 3 August.

Ruddy Turnstone: high of 279 on 8 August, first juvenile on 7 August.

Red Knot: high of 279 on 4 August, first juvenile on 3 August, numbers really dropped off after 8 August.

Stilt Sandpiper: one juvenile on 12 August.

Sanderling: adults, high of 146 on 13 August.

Dunlin: high of 209 on 11 August, first juvenile on 11 August.

Least Sandpiper: high of 245 on 11 August, occasional adults seen during the first half of the session, but almost all juveniles.

White-rumped Sandpiper: adults, highs of 7892 on 8 August and 6500 on 9 August.

Baird’s Sandpiper: 1 adult and 1 juvenile on 2 August, single juveniles on 8 and 10 August.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper: singles on 8, 9 and 11 August, one aged as adult.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: high of 5299 on 12 August, large flocks on flats still mostly adult and smaller groups inshore mostly juvenile.

Short-billed Dowitcher: juveniles, high of 13 on 12 August.

Wilson’s Snipe: got quiet early in the session so harder to detect, high of 4 on 10 August.

Wilson’s Phalarope: juveniles, high of 6 on 9 August.

Red-necked Phalarope: juveniles, high of 8 on 10 August


Other birds

American White Pelican: flyover flocks during the first half of the session, high of 82 on 6 August.

Black Scoter: a flock of over 1000 throughout the session. Black Scoter stage in huge rafts on James Bay in the fall.

Northern Goshawk: one over camp on 4 August. A juvenile was mobbed by Common Terns over the bay on 8 August.

Little Gull: juvenile on 8 August, one second-year individual and one adult on 10 August.

Arctic Tern: singles on 10 and 11 August.

Black Guillemot: possible juvenile on 8 August.

Great Horned Owl: first heard in camp on 7 August, then occasionally after.


Other fauna

Dead Beluga: now clearly showing head of unborn calf, likely died during birthing.

Harbor Seal: 1 on 31 July.

American Marten: chased young Snowshoe Hare in camp then showed well on evening of 30 July, seen briefly later in session.

Snowshoe Hare: a couple seen in camp during the first half of the session.

Striped Skunk: first seen in camp on 2 August, seen occasionally after.

Black Bear: mother and 2 cubs seen on 3 August, 2 different individuals seen closer to camp on 9 and 13 August.

Caribou: old tracks found back in West Bay (bay immediately to the west of Longridge Point).

Bronze Coppers: a few seen throughout session.


Anne Blondin is the invertebrate technician at Longridge Point. Here is her summary:

Samples collected from 18 forage sites and 18 control sites. 317 dead ecrobia; 107 live ecrobia; 17 dead unknown Gastropoda; 43 adult macoma; 298 juv macoma; 72 naididae; 3 chironomid; 35 polychaetes; 9 unknown depteran larvae; 1 adult coleoptera, 1 sipunculid; 1 arachnid; 2 amphipods; 4 ceratopogonids.


 

14 – 29 august

Things have gotten really quiet here the last few days. It appears most birds left 31 August. There were consistent north winds up to this night.

Shorebirds

Black-bellied Plover - almost all adult, high of 95 on 23rd, first juvenile on 16th.

American Golden-Plover - mix of adult and juvenile highs of 7 on 24th and 25th, first juvenile 24th

Semipalmated Plover - most juvenile, high 138 on 25th.

Killdeer - high of 7 on 18th.

Solitary Sandpiper - single birds sporadically throughout.

Greater Yellowlegs - high of 94 on 21st.

Lesser Yellowlegs - high of 110 on 21st.

Whimbrel - most juveniles, single digits, high of 6 on 16th.

Hudsonian Godwit - high 163 on 20th, few juvenile.

Marbled Godwit - highs 2 on 16th and 25th.

Ruddy Turnstone - most juvenile, high 142 on 23rd.

Red Knot - very few, most juveniles. Most days 0 or single digits, high of 30 on 26th.

Stilt Sandpiper - 3 juveniles around from 16th-20th, high of 5 on 17th.

Sanderling - juveniles increasing to dominant by session end. High of 117 of 23rd.

Dunlin - high 302 on 26th.

Baird’s Sandpiper - 1 on 18th, 3 juvenile on 19th.

Least Sandpiper - juveniles high 84 on 17th.

White-rumped Sandpiper - adults, 2172 on 17th.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - singles 15th, 25th, and 27th, 2 on 28th.

Pectoral Sandpiper - most juveniles, high 320 on 25th. Leucistic bird seen 24th and 27th.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - almost all juvenile, high 1625 on 25th.

Short-billed Dowitcher - juveniles, high 10 on 20th.

Wilson’s Snipe - high 6 on 26th.

Red-necked Phalarope - juveniles 5 on 17th.


Other birds

Mallard X American Black Duck Hybrid - 1 on 17th.

Long-tailed Duck - adult female seen 19th and 23rd.

Black Scoter - large flock still around, high of 1100 on 16th.

Parasitic Jaeger - subadult light morph on 17th and 19th.

Little Gull - seen on 5 dates, high of 3 on 18th.

Thayer’s Gull - one 2nd cycle found ill on 25th, found dead next morning.

Arctic Tern - 1 on 19th.

Common Nighthawk - singles 19th and 28th.


Other wildlife

Shrew sp. - a few live and dead ones found.

Striped Skunk - in camp 15th, 19th, and 28th.

American Marten - 1 in camp 24th.

Ermine 1 - in camp 28th.

Beluga - seen on five days, high of 4 on 28th. Dead Beluga - very high tides on the 23rd moved the carcass off the point to the beach on the mainland 4.6km away.


Anne Blondin is the invertebrate technician at Longridge Point. Here is her summary:

Amphipoda 2; chironomid 19; dead ecrobia 187; live ecrobia 66; dead unknown Gastropoda 15; live unknown Gastropoda 3; dolichopopidae 4; juvenile macoma 286, Adult macoma 28; naididae 3; oligochaetes 3906; polychaete 41; sipunculid 1; mites 3; ephydridae 2; unknown Diptera 6; Scathopogidae larvae 5; Scathopogidae pupae 42; Scathopogidae adult 10. Oligochaetes were all in one wrack site!


 

29 AUGUST – 13 SEPTEMBER

Shorebirds

August 30th was a peak day for shorebird counts for many species.

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER- high 64, 6 September.

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER- high 30, 30 August.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER-high 255, 30 August.

KILLDEER- single birds, high 3 on several days.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER- 1 only (first in two weeks), 30 August.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS- high 70, 3 September.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS- high 92, 30 August.

WHIMBREL- high 13, 30 August otherwise single birds throughout.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT- high 762, 6 September.

MARBLED GODWIT- only 1 observed, 1 September.

RUDDY TURNSTONE- high 180, 6 September.

RED KNOT- high 100, 6 September.

SANDERLING-high 305, 31 August.

DUNL-high 542, 9 September.

BAIRD’S SANDPIPER- only 1 (first observed in two weeks), 3 September.

LEAST SANDPIPER- high 91, 30 August. Numbers down to single digits after that day.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER- high 689, 30 August.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER- high 3, 10 September.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER- high 437, 30 August.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER- high 3, 30 August 30. None observed after 31 August.

WILSON’S SNIPE- high 12, 5 September.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- single birds observed 8 and 9 September.


Other birds

Large numbers of waterfowl continued to migrate over during the period.

SNOWGOOSE- high 540, on 30 August.

CANADA GOOSE- high 3,018, 30 August. 

CACKLING GOOSE- single birds (first and only of the season), 7 and September. 

Small numbers of Mallards, American Black Ducks, Blue-Winged Teal, and American Widgeon throughout.

NOTHERN PINTAIL- high 599, 9 September. 

GREEN-WINGED TEAL- high 417, 10 September.

BLACK SCOTER- high 820, 1 September.

COMMON GOLDENEYE- high 92, 9 September.  

HORNED GREBE- 1 (first and only of the season), 1 September. 

Small Raptor flight, 2 September: 14 NORTHERN HARRIER, 2 SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, 2 BROAD-WINGED HAWK, 2 RED-TAILED HAWK.  Few or single birds most other days.

SANDHILL CRANE-high 64, 6 September.

BONAPARTE’S GULL- high 433, 1 September.

BLACK TERN- 2 on 30 August, and 1 on 3 September.

MOURNING DOVE- single individual (first of season) observed, 5-7 September.

SHORT-EARED OWL- single individual (first of season) observed, 12 September.

NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL- 2 heard, 7 September.

COMMON NIGHTHAWK- single individuals observed, 1 and 3 September.

PEREGRINE FALCON- increased this session with birds seen almost every day (high 3 on 6 September).

HORNED LARK- large numbers increasing to 550 on 8 September.

AMERICAN PIPIT- increasing to high 102, 7 September.

*YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD- 1 observed at camp, 6 September.

LONG-TAILED DUCK- 1 observed of east side of Longridge 1 September.

*NORTHERN PARULA-1 observed 10 September.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH- 6 observed, 12 September.


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 for many years and we are very excited that she will continue to work with us in a research capacity. Amie’s project proposes to estimate the annual survival of Red Knots using James Bay, and explore the links between survival and environmental conditions throughout their range. She will also use 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. The following reports are from Amie.


15-30 July

Hudsonian Godwit average 80, maximum count 254 (20 July)

Red Knot average 446, maximum 1375 (23 July).

Dunlin average 116, maximum 434 (23 July)

White-rumped Sandpiper average 1195, maximum 4803 (29 July)

Semipalmated Sandpiper average 3010, maximum 8019 (27 July)

Other shorebirds encountered in the period include Black-bellied Plover, Least Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Solitary Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Snipe.

Spoiler alert: Juveniles have arrived! First Red Knot juveniles observed 3 August; first juvenile Semipalmated Plover and Ruddy Turnstone on 4 August. The crew observed a high proportion of juvenile Red Knot on 5 August, which could indicate a good breeding year. Interestingly, all camps observed their first juvenile Red Knot on 3 August.


31 July – 14 August 2017

Conditions are cold and dry on the coast. New shorebird species observed during this session: Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, and American Golden-Plover. First juveniles of Red Knot, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Wilson’s Phalarope, Stilt Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover. Juveniles of Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpiper continue.

Most numerous species: White-rumped Sandpiper, >9000 on 6 August.

Red Knot: high count of about 3000 on 10 August. Highest number of flags read in a day: 88 on 3 August. Flag colours (countries) observed: green (USA), orange (Argentina), red (Chile), white (Canada), blue (Brazil). Finally, a high proportion juvenile Red Knot have been observed – over 50% juvenile in a few flocks, maybe a sign of a good breeding year?

Other notable birds: juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owl in camp, Red Crossbill. 


Michelle McKay is the invertebrate technician at Piskwamish; here is her summary:

168 cores taken, foraging species - sample site combinations are 11 White-rumped Sandpiper, 10 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 3 Red Knot, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Hudsonian Godwit. Totals of invertebrates collected within these cores: 3 ceratopogonidae, 98 chironomid, 2 Coleoptera, 1266 ecrobia, 46 Gastropods, 403 macoma, 3 mussels, 6 naididae, 16 syrphidae, & 102 unknown.


14 – 29 August

First Buff-breasted Sandpiper, first juvenile Black-bellied Plover, a shift to majority juvenile Red Knot compared with majority adult in crew 2, and resights of green, blue, orange, and white flags from the US, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada, respectively. Also resighted two Hudsonian Godwit flags - red (Chile) and green (US).

On August 23 (highest high tide) we had 7700 White-rumped Sandpiper and 818 Red Knot. Red Knot numbers have definitely gone down from crew 2. Very high tides Aug 23-25, flocks of >3000 White-rumped Sandpiper and Dunlin (combined). First sightings of other birds include Snow Goose, Peregrine Falcon, Cedar Waxwing, and American Pipit.

Other exciting sightings include grey wolf, beluga, and the northern lights.


29 AUGUST – 13 SEPTEMBER

Shorebirds

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER - high count of 43 on 6 September.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER - high count of 26 on 6 September.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - high count 137 on 31 August.

KILLDEER - high count 7 on 4 September.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER - observations of 1 on multiple days.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS - high count of 105 on 31 August.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS - high count 16 on 6 September.

WHIMBREL - 1 on 10 September.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT - high count 382 on 6 September (migrating out - didn't see them after this).

MARBLED GODWIT - 1 on 30 August, 2 on 1 September.

RUDDY TURNSTONE - high count 37 on 31 August.

RED KNOT - high count 560 on 3 September (98% juvenile this session).

SANDERLING - high count 191 on 7 September.

DUNLIN - high count 4959 on 6 September.

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER - 1 on 2 September.

LEAST SANDPIPER - high count 13 on 3 September.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER - first juvenile 31 August, high count 4332 on 30 August (numbers declined after this and Dunlin became most abundant shorebird).

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER - 1 on 30 August and 1 on 3 September.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER - high count 161 on 1 September.

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER - high count 1233 on 4 September.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - 1 on 30 August, 2 on 31 August, 1 on 12 September.

WILSON'S SNIPE - high count 5 on 6 September.


Other bird observations

SNOW GOOSE - high count 464 on 30 August.

BRANT - first observed 3 September, high count 80 on 6 September.

CACKLING GOOSE - first observed 31 August, high count 16 on 8 September.

CANADA GOOSE - high count 4266 on 6 September.

NORTHERN PINTAIL - high count 8108 on 8 September.

MALLARD x AMERICAN BLACK DUCK hybrid - 1 observed on 7 September, 8 September.

PARASITIC JAEGER - 1 on 7 September.

BLACK TERN - 10 on 30 August.

NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL - high count 5 on 11 September.

BELTED KINGFISHER - 1 on 2 September.

HORNED LARK - first observed 31 August, high count 518 on 10 September.

LAPLAND LONGSPUR - first observed 6 September, high count of 20 same day.


Other wildlife observations

MAMMALS: Harbour seal, ringed seal, meadow jumping mouse, red squirrel.

REPTILES and AMPHIBIANS: Eastern garter snake, American toad, spring peeper, boreal chorus frog, wood frog.

BUTTERFLIES: Mourning cloak, painted lady, white admiral.

 Flats of Piskwamish. Photo: C. Friis

Flats of Piskwamish. Photo: C. Friis


 Mixed flock at Northbluff made up of Hudsonian Godwit, Semipalmated, White-rumped and Pectoral sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstone. Photo: C. Friis.

Mixed flock at Northbluff made up of Hudsonian Godwit, Semipalmated, White-rumped and Pectoral sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstone. Photo: C. Friis.

Northbluff Point

The camp is led by Allie Anderson, a PhD. candidate at Trent University also under the direction of Dr. Erica Nol (Trent U) and Dr. Paul Smith (Environment and Climate Change Canada). This is Allie’s third field season on James Bay, and we are lucky to have her! Allie’s research focusses on shorebird diet, habitat use, flexibility in migration timing of staging shorebirds, and migratory routes taken. The 31 July to 14 August report is from Allie. The remaining reports are from Ross Wood, one of our most dedicated and reliable crew members. Ross has participated in the project since 2011.


31 July - 14 August

Session two had two large bursts of shorebirds. On August 2nd, 377 Hudsonian Godwit, 5539 White-rumped Sandpiper, 2124 Semipalmated Sandpiper and the first juvenile Red Knot were observed.  On 8 August, we had the busiest day with 6,767 White-rumped Sandpiper, 4,545 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 523 Ruddy Turnstone, and 368 Hudsonian Godwit. We also had 611 Red Knot (mostly adult) which is 500 more than our typical daily count.

Other observations: a headless dead seal only present for two days and eventually washed out during a high tide, and two wolf pups with one adult wolf.

Banding highlights: 61 shorebirds banded on 11 August, including a juvenile Red-neck Phalarope and deploying nanotags on 15 Semipalmated Plover.

Other interesting things: we continue to measure shorebird wings to address change in size and shape. We are interested to see if refueling rates and shorebird scat samples show similar results as last year and to see how much overlap in diet there are among species.


Allie is also the invertebrate technician at Northbluff, here is her summary: seeing similar species abundances though not sure many of the dipterans were accessible as the near high areas [inland intertidal zone] were dry from drought. Ecrobia truncata (mud snails) continue to present in high numbers (100s per 5x10 cm core). With habitat distribution surveys we have begun to notice adult Semipalmated Sandpipers out near the low tide line, similar to what Dr. Guy Morrison noticed when working at this site in the 1970s and 1980s. It may coincide with adults shifting to feeding on macoma balthica spat. Wracks have not been as productive this year.


14-29 August

During the period, 116 species of bird were detected in the camps census area. This includes 25 species of shorebird. Below, species is followed by the high count and date.

Shorebirds

Black-bellied Plover - 69, August 23 (still nearly all molting adults).

American Golden-Plover - 3, August 20.

Semipalmated Plover - 137, August 23 (nearly all hatch-year birds now).

Killdeer - Single birds on multiple dates.

Spotted Sandpiper - 1 juvenile. August 20.

Greater Yellowlegs - 162, August 26.

Lesser Yellowlegs - 62, August 26.

Whimbrel - 25, August 22.

Hudsonian Godwit - 315, August 22.

Marbled Godwit - 9, August 22.

Ruddy Turnstone - 81, August 22.

Red Knot - 151, August 22.

Stilt Sandpiper - 1 juvenile, August 25.

Sanderling - 186, August 22.

Dunlin - 438, August 22.

Least Sandpiper - 85, August 15.

White-rumped Sandpiper - 10,502, August 22. First juvenile on August 28.

Baird's Sandpiper - 11 juveniles, August 21.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - singles on several days.

Pectoral Sandpiper - 136, August 25.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - 4001, August 25.

Short-billed Dowitcher - 8 juveniles, August 22 .

Wilson's Snipe - 2 seen on several dates.

Wilson's Phalarope - 1 seen on several dates.

Red-necked Phalarope - 6 juveniles, August 17.


Other birds

Along with the shorebirds, waterfowl numbers are starting to build up as they move south as well.

Snow Goose - first 5 were seen on August 18, high count of 370 on the 24th.

Canada Goose - 1850, August 24.

Brant - 2, August 24.

Northern Pintail - 720, August 28.

Green-winged Teal - 140, August 24.

Raptors showed their first real signs of movement on the 25th.

Northern Harrier - 9, August 25.

Northern Goshawk - singles young birds on several dates.

Broad-winged Hawk - 1 juvenile, August 24-25.

Red-tailed Hawk - 1, August 25.


Other notable species

Black Guillemot - 1, August 23.

Little Gull - 1, August 23-24.

Caspian Tern - 2, August 23.

Arctic Tern - one or two on several days.

Black Tern - 1, August 27.

Northern Saw-whet Owl - 1, August 23.

Common Nighthawk - 5, August 21.

Parasitic Jaeger - 1 adult 23-25 August and 1 juvenile August 26.

Mute Swan - 1 adult, first seen flying south along the coast and later seen flying north. August 19.

Red Crossbill - 2, August 22 (only ones for the period).

Common Redpoll - 2, August 26 (only ones for the period). Finch numbers are particularly low.


Mammals

Black bear, red squirrel, striped skunk, red fox and shrew sp.


Dragonflies

variable darner, lake darner, zig zag darner, subarctic darner, cherry-faced and black meadowhawks, northern spreadwing, forcipate emerald and common whitetail.


Butterflies

white admiral, Atlantis fritillary, painted lady, clouded sulphur, common branded skipper, hoary comma, mourning cloak.


Amphibians

American toad, wood frog, boreal chorus frog.


29 AUGUST – 13 SEPTEMBER

During the period, 121 species of bird were detected in the camp’s census area, which includes 22 species of shorebird.  Species followed by the high count and date below.

Shorebirds

Black-bellied Plover - 65, 7 September.

American Golden-Plover - 18, 4 September.

Semipalmated Plover - 59 all hatch year birds, 30 August.

Killdeer - 1, 30 August.

Greater Yellowlegs - 173, 2 September.

Lesser Yellowlegs - 23, 2 September.

Whimbrel - 1, 30 August.

Hudsonian Godwit - 594, 30 August.  *Never over 100 after this date.

Marbled Godwit - 3, on several dates in the period.

Ruddy Turnstone - 53, 4 September.

Red Knot - 313, 6 September.  Only 3 adults observed on this date.  Very few Red Knot observed on most other days.

Stilt Sandpiper - 2 juveniles, 4 September.

Sanderling - 268, 8 September.

Dunlin - 5000+ from 7 September onwards.

Least Sandpiper - 25, 5 September.

White-rumped Sandpiper - Numbers dropped off sharply this period with a high count of 964 on 8 September.

Baird's Sandpiper - 2, several dates this period.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - 2, 11 September.

Pectoral Sandpiper - 315, 7 September.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - 1986, 8 September.

Wilson's Snipe - 12, 11 September.

Red-necked Phalarope - 1, 5 September.


Other birds and highlights

Goose numbers continued to increase throughout the period.

Snow Goose - 803, 9 September.

Canada Goose - 4236, 10 September.

Brant - 4, 8 September.

Cackling Goose - 1 seen on 2 dates.

Tundra Swan - First two seen on 10 September.

*SWAINSON'S HAWK - A light morph juvenile was seen moving south on 9 September.

Long-tailed Jaeger - 3 birds were seen together chasing Bonaparte's Gulls on 1 September.

Parasitic Jaeger - At least 1 bird adult bird seen regularly chasing terns.

Little Gull - 2, 4 September.

Mourning Dove - 1, 31 August, and 2 and 4 September.

Short-eared Owl – 1, 10 September.

Boreal Owl - Heard regularly around camp with 3 (one seen) on 8 September.

Northern Saw-whet Owl - At least 2 birds heard and seen regularly around camp.

At this time of year the shorebirds are joined on the mudflats by Horned Larks in good numbers with a high count of 620 on 20 September.  Mixed in with the larks and shorebirds were smaller numbers of American Pipits and Lapland Longspurs.  On the morning of 12 September good movements of Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes were noted coming in off of James Bay at first light, some even landing on the flats with the shorebirds before continuing inland.


Mammals

Black bear, gray wolf, snowshoe hare, woodland caribou (tracks through camp), red squirrel, striped skunk, red fox and shrew sp.


Dragonflies

variable darner, lake darner, zig zag darner, subarctic darner, cherry-faced and black meadowhawks, northern spreadwing, and common whitetail.


Butterflies

Atlantis fritillary, painted lady, clouded sulphur, hoary comma, mourning cloak.


Amphibians

American toad, wood frog, boreal chorus frog

Aerial Survey 2017

 
 James Bay flats north of the Albany River. Photo: C. Friis

James Bay flats north of the Albany River. Photo: C. Friis

 Longridge Point, with a view of what we call West Bay. Photo: C. Friis

Longridge Point, with a view of what we call West Bay. Photo: C. Friis

Survey Summary

On 8 and 9 August 2017, Dr. Guy Morrison (Environment and Climate Change Canada Emeritus Research Scientist), Christian Friis (ECCC’s Canadian Wildlife Service), and Allie Anderson (PhD. candidate at Trent University), along with Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry pilot Dan Kennedy, flew a survey of the James Bay coastline from the Quebec border in the east to Ekwan Point in the northwest, including around Akimiski Island. The objective of the survey is to count shorebird species within smaller sectors generally delineated by tributaries or other land forms, allowing comparison to previous aerial surveys of the region. Small shorebird species (e.g., Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and White-rumped Sandpiper) are generally not easily identified from the air, despite flying at low levels. These are grouped into peeps. Medium and large shorebird species (e.g., Black-bellied Plover, Red Knot, and Hudsonian Godwit) are generally identifiable from the air; yellowlegs are generally counted as yellowlegs species. Surveys are conducted by helicopter at high tide, when birds are concentrated into roost locations. At low tide, birds are spread out across kilometres of exposed sandflats that are characteristic of the James Bay coast. The low profile of the coast generates vast expanses of exposed flats at low tide, making it virtually impossible to get a reliable count at this point in the tidal cycle. In addition to counting shorebirds, we had a VHF receiver hooked up to an antenna at the nose of the helicopter logging locations of nanotagged birds detected along the coast. A coordinated ground count was carried out by personnel stationed at the three field camps located at Northbluff Point, Little Piskwamish Point, and Longridge Point. Ground counts can be used to estimate species composition of the aerial counts.

 Aerial survey team (L-R): Guy Morrison, Dan Kennedy, Christian Friis.

Aerial survey team (L-R): Guy Morrison, Dan Kennedy, Christian Friis.

Guy and Christian met Dan in Timmins on 8 August and flew north to Moosonee. From here, we began the survey at the estimated high tide for the Sand Head station. From the mouth of the Moose River and flying west and north, we stopped at the field camp at Northbluff Point and picked up Allie and continued on the survey. We concluded the day once we reached Ekwan Point in the north. At this area, there is a complete tidal switch, whereby when looking north there are kilometres of exposed flats; low tide. Looking south, the tide water is right up into the intertidal zone; high tide. From the air it’s an interesting sight!

We flew to Attawapiskat, where we spent the night at the White Wolf Inn. High tide on the north coast of Akimiski was estimated to occur in the morning. We set out around 0900h and flew Akimiski Island. Survey conditions were not ideal for this portion of the work, but they were passable. We refuelled in Attawapiskat and flew south to Moosonee to catch the high tide in the afternoon and survey the section from the Moose River and east to the Quebec border.

The area between Northbluff Point and Longridge Point harboured significant concentrations of shorebirds, along with the bulk of the Red Knots. Chickney Channel is far and away an area with significant concentrations of shorebirds and waterfowl. The bulk of godwits observed was at Chickney. East Point in Hannah Bay is another area with high concentrations of godwits, primarily Hudsonian Godwit. The southwestern section of Akimiski Island to Houston Point had the highest concentration of shorebirds around the island; although, as noted, the tide for this portion of the survey was not optimal.

Our initial impression from the flight was that numbers of birds were quite low, perhaps as a result of seeing fewer medium-sized and large shorebird species than the previous year. In 2016 Guy and Ken Ross flew the same survey route during the same period (9-12 August). The overall total in 2017 (about 105,600) was slightly lower than in 2016 (about 110,000). The total for small species was larger in 2017 (92,500 vs 77,000), though fewer medium-sized (7,200 vs 20,400) and large (5,900 vs 11,800) species were recorded. Most concerning is the low number of Red Knot observed. In 2016, over 10,000 individuals were observed. In 2017 about 3,000 were observed; 70% lower in 2017. Reasons for the low count are not well understood at this point, but the counts and conditions during spring migration at Delaware Bay were the worst in years, due in part to a late crab spawn in the bay. The poor conditions in Delaware Bay could affect the birds’ ability to gain enough resources to migrate successfully to Arctic breeding grounds. Dr. Larry Niles, who along with Dr. Amanda Dey head up the spring migrant shorebird research on the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay, estimates 30% of the Red Knot population reached the optimal weight (estimated at 180g) this spring in Delaware.

Conditions on the James Bay coast are very dry, which could affect resource availability for the birds. For example, a number of small tributaries that normally run and provide drinking water for the field crews at our study sites are dry, along with dry marsh conditions. A number of wells dug for drinking water at Northbluff Point are not replenishing, and rainfall amounts are extremely low so far.

 Flats at Northbluff Point looking south. Photo. C. Friis

Flats at Northbluff Point looking south. Photo. C. Friis

In summary, the total count of all shorebirds in 2017 was close to the total observed in 2016 (109,190 in 2016; 105,605 in 2017). The reduced number of medium and large shorebirds included in the total were made up for in an increased number of small shorebirds observed this year. The large concentrations of shorebirds and significant numbers of Red Knots and Hudsonian Godwits clearly identify James Bay as a significantly important area for staging migrant shorebirds!