[Ontbirds]Far North Still in Winter's Icy Grip

Lori Humphrey lori.h at sympatico.ca
Tue Jun 15 17:47:36 EDT 2004


While the breeding season may be progressing well here in southern Ontario,
atlassers may be interested to learn that this has not been the case
elsewhere in the province. In the far north along Ontario's Hudson Bay
coast, for example, it may be one of the latest spring thaws in recent
memory, comparable to the frigid June and early summer of 1992.

According to MNR Waterfowl Biologist Ken Abraham, initial surveys suggest
that the number of breeding pairs of both the Southern James Bay and
Mississippi Valley populations of Canada Goose may be down by as much as 25%
and ground searches have turned up far fewer nests than is usual for date. A
full day of searching on the tundra near Burntpoint Creek east of Winisk
resulted in the discovery of only 10 nests, when 50 is more typical. Further
up the Hudson Bay coast, just short of the Manitoba boundary in the vicinity
of the Pen Islands, the situation is the same or worse: very few Canadas and
the Snow Goose colony is in a holding pattern. Lyle Walton, MNR's Northeast
Region Waterfowl Population Specialist, reported that as of late last week
the birds hadn't yet initiated nesting and were just standing around; not
surprising as the ground was still 60-85% snow-covered!  Further up the
coast at Churchill, MB, the situation has been described as "a mess". Most
lakes and ponds there are still ice and snow-covered and locally breeding
shorebirds only arrived around June 9th.

Back down around Burntpoint Creek, MNR's Andrew Jano reported that despite
the late spring all or most of the species have arrived, but at least as of
late last week hadn't yet initiated nesting. All the usual suspects were
there: Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, American Pipit, Smith's and Lapland
Longspur, White-crowned and Lincoln's Sparrow, redpolls, and Yellow Warbler
were all there and singing. Pacific Loons were already present on some
ponds, but no sign yet of locally breeding Red-throateds. Perhaps most
indicative of the late spring were the Willow Ptarmigan, many or most still
with substantial amounts of their winter-white plumage.

Atlas crews that have already headed north to Winisk, the vicinity of the
Brant River and Cape Henrietta-Maria may be in for a bit of a surprise.
Parkas, hats, mitts and long woolen underwear will certainly be in order.
But things change quickly. Andrew Jano reported that 2C temps and a bitter
north wind the day they arrived at Burntpoint gave way to two or three
successive days of calm, clear blue skies and 15C shirtsleeve-weather.
Sheets of meltwater flowed over the frozen tundra making hip waders a
necessity. One benefit of the late spring will surely be the initial absence
of bugs, but atlassers will also witness the start of the breeding season
with the aerial display of a half dozen or more shorebird species, wailing
loons of three species, and all the other subarctic specialties which breed
along Ontario's tundra strip.

Not all the crews have departed, however, the team of six headed for the Pen
Islands has opted to hold off and will head for their camp 5 or 6km inland
from the coast a week later than originally planned. Given the reports of
the MNR biologists and the luxury of some degree of flexibility, they have
decided not to rush things and will instead depart a week today for two
weeks of atlassing at Ontario's north-westernmost point.

To get some idea of how late the season is, visit the U.S. National Oceanic
and Atmomospheric Administration's Snow and Ice Products page
(http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/PS/SNOW/) to view satellite analysis of the latest
snow and ice conditions on Ontario's Hudson Bay coast. To watch the progress
of the spring melt, click on the 31-day animation.


Don Sutherland
Peterborough, ON




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