Report # 6 from Jean Iron by satellite phone on 7 June 2006 from Akimiski
Island in James Bay. Akimiski is the largest island between Ontario and
Quebec in James Bay. It is about 100 km long and 50 km wide at widest
point. The island interior has considerable stunted spruce forest, dwarf
birch and interior fens/wetlands. Researchers are working mainly on the
coastal fringe. High temperature today forecasted to be 27C (normal 18C) at
Attawapiskat, nearest Cree community on Ontario mainland. Usually somewhat
cooler on the island. Jean is a volunteer with the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources (OMNR). She's assisting researchers and students doing
long term studies of waterfowl and shorebirds for OMNR and Trent
University. Yesterday, Jean photographed Polar Bear tracks on a tidal flat.
Some OMNR staff are licensed to carry 12 gauge shotguns loaded with rifled
slugs and/or SSGs (12 large lead balls/shell). Jean has explosives to scare
bears. Firearms would be used only to protect human life. Also, the chopper
pilot keeps in radio contact and survey areas are checked from the air for
bears before drop off. Most Polar Bears come ashore after early July when
the sea ice melts. Last year there were about 50 Polar Bears summering on
the island. This is the most southerly population in the world. It was warm
and calm this morning as the crews headed out. A good day for mosquitoes!
Here's a summary of observations for 5 - 6 June.
Canada Goose (subspecies interior): About 50,000 on island. Chris Sharp, a
Master's student at Trent, is studying their breeding biology. Feather
isotope analysis is being done too. About 580 downies in nests have been
web tagged to date. It's a good breeding year. Adults from inland fens are
leading recently hatched young to the near-shore flats where they will grow
to full size while walking along the coast. Adults are "behaviorally
flightless" when tending/guarding young. Herring Gulls and American Crows
frequently prey on very small downies. Females now appear smaller than
expected because they fasted during incubation and are quite thin. Adults
will soon undergo their annual definitive prebasic molt including a
flightless period of several weeks.
Lesser Snow Goose: About 2500 pairs (mainly blue morph) on island. Most
southerly major breeding area for the species. Camp is not close to main
colony so only a small number are being web tagged. The color of the morph
(light or dark, few intermediates) is evident even in downy young and recorded.
Pacific Loon: Two seen on 5 June in open water along north edge of island.
Shorebirds: Many shorebirds are still migrating and going farther north to
breed. Scattered small flocks in the distance (700 m) on the tidal flats
including Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, Dunlin.
Marbled Godwit: Breeding pairs seen daily in hummocky coastal marshes with
small potholes, Festuca grasses and knee high willows. Breeding habitat is
being studied. Nests are extremely difficult to find.
Hudsonian Godwit: Migrant flock of 50 seen on Monday (5 June). Some landed
on distant tidal flats.
Purple Sandpiper: Jean is watching for Purples because some nest on nearby
North Twin Island which is about 50 km east of Akimiski. North Twin is the
southernmost breeding location in the world with an estimated population of
50. North Twin Island also has the most southerly breeding Dunlin
(subspecies hudsonia) with estimated population of 150.
Gray Jay: Three found yesterday (6 June) by Steve Belfry (OMNR) behind camp
in a recent "burn" surrounded by spruce and fens. Jean saw a fully grown
blackish juvenile near camp this morning.
Other Birds: Caspian Tern on 6 June, many singing Yellow Warblers,
Lincoln's Sparrows. This morning Jean heard a strange "shorebird flight
song" from camp which she hopes to check today.
Northern Mockingbird: The mockingbird photographed by Steve Belfry (OMNR)
on 2 June created a lot of interest. In the previous post, I wondered if
this were the first record for Nunavut. Several people e-mailed with
additional information. There are at least 3 earlier records. First
(specimen) on 20 June 1960 from the McConnell River (Birds of Canada,
Godfrey 1966/1986). Second record (sighting) on South Twin Island (near
centre of James Bay about 50 km east of Akimiski) on July 25 in early 1970s
(year not stated clearly) in "Birds of the Twin Islands, James Bay, N.W.T.,
Canada" by T. H. Manning (1981), Syllogeus No. 30, National Museums of
Canada. Third record is from Akimiski Island reported in Provisional
Checklist of the Birds of Akimiski Island by Ken Abraham (2000,
unpublished). Jean and I are grateful to Darrell Parsons, Jim Richards, Roy
Smith, and Alan Wormington for information.
Ice and snow cover map http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/PS/SNOW/DATA/cursnow_usa.gif
Next update in 2 days.
Toronto & Minden