[Ontbirds] James Bay Shorebird Report #4

Jean Iron jeaniron at sympatico.ca
Thu Aug 11 18:42:53 EDT 2011

This is Jean Iron’s fourth report by satellite phone for the period 4-10
August 2011 from North Point on the southwestern coast of James Bay,
Ontario. This report also includes sightings from nearby Longridge Point
fide Mark Peck and Little Piskwamish Point fide Don Sutherland. Surveys are
a partnership of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Ontario Ministry of Natural
Resources (OMNR), Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Moose Cree First
Nation (MCFN). Minnie Sutherland from Moose Factory (MCFN) joined the North
Point crew on Sunday 6 August. The Longridge crew is Mark Peck (ROM), Roy
John, Emily Rondel and Antonio Coral. The Little Piskwamish crew is Don
Sutherland (OMNR), Doug McRae, Barb Charlton and Ron Ridout. The North Point
crew is Mike McMurtry (OMNR), Jean Iron, Aus Taverner and Minnie Sutherland

JAMES BAY TO ATLANTIC COAST ROUTE: In spring most arctic shorebirds migrate
north rapidly through the centre of the continent largely west of James Bay.
In fall most shorebirds move more easterly towards the Atlantic Coast. This
results in much larger numbers using James Bay (probably several million
birds) during southbound migration, where the broad tidal flats and
intertidal marshes provide an abundance of small invertebrates.
Colour-marking indicates that most (not all) southbound shorebirds departing
James Bay go east to southeast towards the Atlantic Coast, not  through the
interior of the continent. One notable exception is the James Bay population
of Marbled Godwits whose wintering grounds until recently were speculated to
be the south Atlantic Coast of the United States, which is the closest
wintering area. American researchers Bridget Olson (USFWS) and Adrian Farmer
(USGS) fitted Marbled Godwits with satellite transmitters on Akimiski
Island, Nunavut in 2007 and 2008 and the godwits went southwest to winter at
the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
Quoting Chuck Berry “You Never Can Tell”.

SHOREBIRD OBSERVATIONS: 27 species to date. Turnover from adults to
juveniles of some species (not all) is occurring rapidly. Counts are done at
high tide. Usually only high count day is listed. Location of counts is
North Point unless stated otherwise.
Black-bellied Plover: 7 on 6-7 Aug at North Point and 13 on 7th at Little

American Golden-Plover: 1 adult in full alternate plumage on 5th at North
Point and 1 molting adult on 9th at Little Piskwamish.

Semipalmated Plover: 49 on 6th at North Point and 97 on 3rd at Little
Piskwamish. No juveniles.

Killdeer, 1-2 daily including half grown young at Little Piskwamish.

Spotted Sandpiper, 13 on 4th at Little Piskwamish.

Solitary Sandpiper, 12 on 6th at Little Piskwamish. 

Greater Yellowlegs: 167 on plumage on 7th at North Point (50% juveniles) and
195 on 5th at Little Piskwamish. 

Lesser Yellowlegs: 179 on 5th at North Point (70% juveniles) and 536 mostly
juveniles on 6th at Little Piskwamish.

Yellowlegs Migration: Flocks of both species lift off in the evening with
much calling and form Vs high overhead flying south into the night sky.

Whimbrel: 8 on 5th at North Point.

Hudsonian Godwit: 158 molting adults on 6th at North Point and 322 on 9th at
Little Piskwamish.

Marbled Godwit, 1 adult male defending territory on 9th at North Point, its
behaviour suggested young hidden in grass. 1 on 8th at Little Piskwamish.
Ruddy Turnstone: 37 adults on 5th at North Point and 37 on 7th at Little

RED KNOT: Of the three surveys sites to date Little Piskwamish has had the
highest one day count (4990 on 1 Aug) followed by Longridge (1400 on 6 Aug)
with smaller numbers at North Point (220 on 2 Aug). High counts for this
period for Little Piskwamish (2,300 on 7th), Longridge (1400 6 Aug) and
North Point (150 on 7th).  At Delaware Bay, USA, recent spring counts range
from 15,000 to 24,000. This suggests that a high proportion of the
population stages in southwestern James Bay. Concentration areas are being
mapped by GPS. At Longridge as of 9 Aug they have 900 sightings of 230
differently marked birds. Celebrity knot TY was back at Longridge on 5 Aug.
It has been at all three sites since first seen on 26 July at North Point.
First juvenile knot on 9th at Little Piskwamish. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 10,500 on 7th at North Point were almost all adults.
2,975 on 6th at Little Piskwamish. Next wave should be mainly juveniles. 
Least Sandpiper: 251 on 9th at Little Piskwamish. All juveniles. Leasts and
Pectorals are back of the mudflats at ponds in marshes and meadows.
White-rumped Sandpiper: 23,327 on 7th at Little Piskwamish. 12,500 molting
adults on 7th at North Point. This is now the commonest shorebird in
southern James Bay. 

Baird’s Sandpiper: 1 juvenile on 8th at Longridge, 1 juvenile on 9th at
Little Piskwamish.

Roosting Peeps: At North Point the thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers and
White-rumped Sandpipers rest and sleep for about three hours twice daily at
high tide. They gather in tight flocks on grassy and gravel areas just above
the high tide line. Jean describes the scene as very peaceful as the birds
sleep with the chittering of some birds as they run around adjusting
themselves. The roost area is quite distant from the forest edge. Luckily,
the local Merlin hunts closer to the trees. When the peep flocks fly they
swirl and twist in unison with much chittering and the sound of their wings
fills the air.   

Pectoral Sandpiper: 481 non-molting adults on 6th at North Point. 415 on 7th
at Little Piskwamish. Most in marsh ponds back from the coast.

Dunlin (subspecies hudsonia): 368 adults on 6th showing little or no signs
of molting. This is interesting for the date because adult Dunlins undergo a
complete prebasic molt at James Bay before migration. Perhaps they fatten
first before beginning to molt. Other shorebirds such as White-rumped
Sandpipers are actively molting and fattening, but they undergo only a body
molt while delaying molt of their flight feathers (wings/tail) until they
reach the wintering grounds. First juvenile Dunlin on 8 Aug at Longridge.
Juveniles also stage and molt at James Bay.

Short-billed Dowitcher: 1 late adult on 6th at North Point. First juvenile
on 8th at Longridge. 5 juveniles at Little Piskwamish.

Wilson’s Snipe: 13 on 6th at Little Piskwamish.

Wilson’s Phalarope: 1 fresh juvenile on 6th at North Point, 5 juveniles on
7th at Longridge. This phalarope breeds in small numbers in the wide
prairie-like coastal marshes and meadows of southern James Bay.

Red-necked Phalarope: 1 juvenile on 4th at North Point and 1 (age?) on 9th
at Little Piskwamish. 

YELLOW RAIL: 1-2 ticking regularly at Little Piskwamish. Very low number.
None at North Point and Longridge Point.

OTHER BIRDS: In rough checklist order, if location not stated assume North
Point: Canada Goose, 1300 on 5th appeared to be all subspecies maxima,
presumably molt migrants from farther south summering and molting on James
and Hudson Bays where they often mingle with breeding subspecies interior.
Minnie Sutherland (MCFN) told Jean about the special relationship the Cree
have with the geese. Black Scoter, hundreds daily of mostly molting males
offshore at Little Piskwamish. American White Pelican, 61 on 8th. Northern
Goshawk, 2 at Little Piskwamish included a juvenile on 6th chasing
shorebirds but obviously inexperienced and an adult goshawk on 9th being
mobbed by adult Northern Shrike. American Kestrel, 1 on 7th at Little
Piskwamish. Sandhill Crane, 24 on 5th. Little Gull, 1 adult on 4th at Little
Piskwamish, 1 juvenile on 7th at Longridge. Bonaparte’s Gull, 138 on 6th at
Little Piskwamish and 23 on 7th at North Point were a mix of three age
classes – most were adults, some juveniles and a few second years. Almost
all second year birds summer well south of the breeding grounds. Bonaparte’s
nest in spruce trees adjacent muskeg ponds and lakes. Common Tern, 7 on 4th
at North Point and 5 on 6th at Little Piskwamish. Arctic Tern, 1 on 5th at
North Point. Great Horned Owl (gray subspecies scalariventris in northern
Ontario), two duetting regularly at Little Piskwamish. Northern
Saw-whet-Owl, 1 singing in early morning on 7th at Little Piskwamish is near
northern edge of breeding range, singing in August is very unusual. Common
Nighthawk, 1 on 3rd at Little Piskwamish, 3 on 7th at Longridge. Olive-sided
Flycatcher, 1 on 8th at Little Piskwamish and 1 on 9th at North Point. Gray
Jay, pair with a dark juvenile around camp, usually one young bird stays
with the adults for a year, juveniles are molting now or soon into formative
plumage which is almost identical to the adult. Swallow migration at Little
Piskwamish: Tree Swallow, 101 on 5th, Bank Swallow, 4 on 5th, Cliff Swallow,
1 on 7th, Barn Swallow, 1 on 7th. MARSH WREN, 1 singing in cattail marsh at
Little Piskwamish, Godfrey (1986) in the Birds of Canada shows breeding and
James (ROM 1991) reports “an isolated small colony” near North Point.
European Starling, 80 mostly juveniles on 8th at Little Piskwamish, really
odd to see a large flock at a wilderness location. WARBLERS at North Point
in pre-migration flocks in Balsam Poplars included Tennessee, Orange-crowned
(this species migrates much later than other warblers), female  Cape May
with 4 juveniles, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Palm, Black-and-white, American
Redstart, Yellow-rumped, etc. Magnolia Warbler, 1 on 8th at Little
Piskwamish. Nashville Warbler, 1 on 6th at Little Piskwamish. Connecticut
Warbler on 6th giving partial song at Little Piskwamish, Nancy Wilson and
Doug McRae (OMNR Report 1993) reported that Connecticuts were common in fens
with Tamaracks near Moosonee. Sparrows: Le Conte’s last heard 6th, Nelson’s
(2 heard 10th), Clay-colored and Savannah have stopped singing recently,
White-throated Sparrows still singing. Rusty Blackbird, 1 on 8th. Common
Grackle, 3 on 3rd at Little Piskwamish. Purple Finch, at least 1 daily at
Little Piskwamish. White-winged Crossbill, 24 on 7th at North Point, 150 on
5th at Little Piskwamish, crossbills are moving south daily there even
though White Spruce and Tamarack have excellent cone crops. 

MAMMALS: Belugas, 5 at North Point on 3 Aug. A unidentified bat on 5th at
North Point flying around camp at dusk. Woodland Caribou and Moose tracks at
Little Piskwamish. Large male Black Bear scavenging a Beluga carcass at
Little Piskwamish. Red-backed Voles at Little Piskwamish camp, this is a
forest vole whereas Meadow Vole is a field vole. No reports of Meadow Voles
is reflected in only 2 sightings of Northern Harriers at North Point and
absence of Short-eared Owls at all 3 survey locations.

BUTTERFLIES: Western White (photos) at North Point on 6-8 Aug with high of 6
on 8th is only new butterfly since the last report. Western Whites also at
Little Piskwamish. Bronze Copper, 6 nectaring and included a pair copulating
on Mackenzie’s Water Hemlock (Cicuta virosa/mackenzieana) at North Point.
The host plants (genus Rumex) are found along the coast.

AMPHIBIANS: Frogs and toads were inconspicuous this summer because it was
dry. After a good rain recently the crew at North Point heard Boreal Chorus
Frogs and Spring Peepers and saw American Toads.

FISH: Three-spined Stickleback. Mike McMurtry (OMNR) noted that there was a
high mortality of this Species Of Concern as intertidal ponds dried this

multi-purpose inventory. Don Sutherland and Mike McMurtry are with the
Natural Heritage Information Centre. The NHIC is part of OMNR involved with
the inventory, monitoring and assessment of provincially rare plants and
animals such as Red Knot, Yellow Rail and Short-eared Owl. Link to NHIC.

Map showing location of North Point in red. Little Piskwamish Point (not
shown) is midway between North Point and Longridge Point.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Jean thanks an anonymous donor for financial assistance
allowing her to make satellite calls so reports are available on the

Survey ends on Sunday 14 August. Jean and I will post a final report #5 and
link to photos on her website when she returns home.

Ron Pittaway
Minden, Ontario

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