This is Jean Iron's first report by satellite phone for the period 30 July
to 5 August 2012 for Longridge Point and Little Piskwamish Point on the
southwestern coast of James Bay in Ontario. Also included are selected
observations from Chickney Channel. See map link below. Surveys are under
the direction of Christian Friis of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and
Mark Peck of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). These surveys are important
because many shorebird species are declining and some such as the rufa
subspecies of the Red Knot are endangered and the East Atlantic population
of the Whimbrel has declined 50% in recent decades. The crew comprises Jean
Iron (lead), Barb Charlton, Deborah Cramer (writing book on knots), Andrew
Keaveney, Ian Sturdee and Josh Vandermeulen. Observations refer to Longridge
except where noted. Usually only the maximum count for each species is
RED KNOT: The estimated spring population in 2012 of eastern rufa Red Knots
was 30,000 birds. About 26,000 stopped (more than recent years) at Delaware
Bay because Horseshoe Crab eggs were abundant this year. Knots departed in
excellent shape for the breeding grounds. However, reports suggest knots had
a poor breeding season because of cold weather. Failed breeders probably
left the Arctic early with perhaps fewer stopping at James Bay this summer.
For example, high counts were 910 molting adults on 2 Aug at Little
Piskwamish and only 598 on 2 Aug at Longridge. No knots recorded on 4 Aug at
Longridge. It will be interesting to see if another wave of adult knots
arrives. The survey at Chickney Channel indicates very little use of that
area by knots. The survey at Longridge continues to 15 September so the
number of juveniles can be assessed.
MARBLED GODWIT: One at Little Piskwamish on 1 Aug. A small isolated breeding
population occurs on the west and south coast of James Bay and on Akimiski
Island (Nunavut). Up to 1200 adult Marbled Godwits were staging in late July
at Chickney Channel (fide Don Sutherland) which is the northern part of the
Albany River estuary. Flocks of 75 - 150 calling birds were seen spiraling
up several 100 metres and then flying southwest, presumably to the wintering
grounds in the Gulf of California where birds from Akimiski Island are known
to winter. The previous high count of Marbled Godwits was a flock of 400 -
500 on the 30 July 2006 at the southeast corner of Akimisiki Island observed
by Ken Ross (CWS) and Ken Abraham (OMNR). Prior to 2006, Ken Abraham's
largest flock was 50 birds. A search of the literature found no historical
high counts suggesting a recent population increase on James Bay, perhaps
due to a warming climate.
PEEPS: Don Sutherland reports a peak of >80,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers in
July at Chickney Channel. Andrew Keaveney, Ian Sturdee and Josh Vandermeulen
had a high of 20,000 peeps, mostly White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpipers,
at Little Piskwamish between 30 July and 3 August.
OTHER SHOREBIRDS: Black-bellied Plover, 59 on 3 Aug; American Golden-Plover,
1 adult on 3 Aug; Semipalmated Plover, 314 adults on 2 Aug; Killdeer, 42 on
3 Aug including several pairs with chicks; Spotted Sandpiper, 1 on 3 Aug;
Solitary Sandpiper, 3 at Little Piskwamish on 2 Aug; Greater Yellowlegs, 212
(70% ad) on 3 Aug; Lesser Yellowlegs, 124 (40% ad) on 3 Aug; Whimbrel, 3 on
3 Aug; Hudsonian Godwit, 327 molting adults (eastern population stages in
James Bay); Ruddy Turnstone, 688 adults on 3 Aug; Sanderling, 230 molting
and fading adults on 2 Aug; Semipalmated Sandpiper, 83 (1 ad) on 2 Aug is a
very low number; Least Sandpiper, 90 mostly juveniles on 31 July;
White-rumped Sandpiper, 2290 molting adults on 3 Aug; Pectoral Sandpiper, 17
non-molting adults 2 Aug; Dunlin, 19 adults on 3 Aug; Stilt Sandpiper, 1 on
31 July at Little Piskwamish; Short-billed Dowitcher, 1 juvenile on 5 Aug;
Wilson's Snipe, 2 on 1 Aug; Red-necked Phalarope, adult male on 2 Aug at
BLACK GUILLEMOT: Best bird was a Black Guillemot in breeding plumage found
by Barb Charlton on 5 August resting on a rock about 8 km north of Longridge
YELLOW RAIL: Yellow Rails along the James Bay coast inhabit grass/sedge
marshes above the normal high tide zone (supratidal) where the substrate is
waterlogged. Yellow Rails were almost absent last summer (2011) because of
dry marshes where they were common in 2010. Marshes this summer are still
relatively dry with only one heard ticking at Longridge on Aug 4 and another
at Little Piskwamish. However, supratidal marshes are wetter at Chickney
Channel (Albany River estuary) where many Yellow Rails were heard in July
fide Don Sutherland. Yellow Rail and Nelson's Sparrow are closely associated
species in southern James Bay marshes.
OTHER BIRDS: Brant, 1 with Canada Geese on 2 Aug at Little Piskwamish;
Canada Goose, 310 on 31 July included a Canada x barnyard hybrid. This
suggests that these geese were molt migrants (subspecies maxima) from
southern Ontario or the northern states. Redhead, 34 molting males on 31
July at Little Piskwamish; Surf Scoter, 2 on 4 Aug; Black Scoter, 50 mostly
molting males on 4 Aug; Common Goldeneye, 100 mostly molting males on 4
Aug; American White Pelican, 38 on 31 July; Osprey, 1 seen regularly
carrying fish inland to a presumed nest with young; Northern Harrier, 2
females seen regularly; Northern Goshawk, 1 adult on 1 Aug briefly chased
shorebirds at Little Piskwamish; American Kestrel, 1 on 5 Aug; Merlin, 1 on
5 Aug; Ruffed Grouse, adult with 3 chicks on 4 Aug; Sora, 1 on 31 July at
Little Piskwamish; Sandhill Crane, 69 on 5 Aug; Little Gull, 2 on 2 Aug at
Little Piskwamish; Bonaparte's Gull, 905 mostly adults and 4-5 juveniles on
3 Aug; Snowy Owl (unusual in summer), 1 on 3 Aug; Great Horned Owl, 1 heard
hooting on 2 and 3 Aug at Little Piskwamish; Belted Kingfisher, 2 on 5 Aug;
Olive-sided Flycatcher, 1 on 5 Aug; Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, 3 on 5 Aug;
Eastern Kingbird, 2 on 5 Aug; Gray Jay, up to 3 around camp; Tree Swallow,
14 on 1 Aug; Boreal Chickadee, every day around camp, 5 (family group) on 5
Aug; Bohemian Waxwing, 1 on 2 Aug at Little Piskwamish; European Starling,
485 on 3 Aug and flocks also seen at Little Pishwamish. Their brownish
coloration suggests dispersing juvenile starlings from unknown locations.
Clay-colored Sparrow, 4 on 5 Aug (breeding population in scrub zone along
coast); Le Conte's Sparrow, 4 on 5 Aug; Nelson's Sparrow, 4 on 5 Aug; Common
Grackle, 4 on 5 Aug; Red Crossbill, 16 on 4 Aug; White-winged Crossbill, 95
on 1 Aug; Common Redpoll, 32 on 1 Aug.
MAMMALS: Polar Bears are very rare in southern James Bay and not expected.
Three Black Bears are regular but by keeping a clean camp the crew hopes to
avoid problems. Northern Flying Squirrel, 1 on 1 Aug at Little Piskwamish;
Bat sp., 1 on 30 July and 2 on 3 Aug. Jumping Mouse sp., 1 on 1 Aug.
BUTTERFLIES: Best butterfly was a BUCKEYE found and photographed on 5 August
by Andrew Keaveney. This may be the most northerly record in Canada. Seven
Bronze Coppers on the 5 August. Orange Sulphur is the commonest butterfly.
Pink-edged Sulphur, Painted Lady and Mourning Cloak also recorded.
Map and photo show Longridge and southern James Bay locations.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The Cree First Nations gratefully rent their hunt camps
for the surveys. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) provides
helicopter transport and staff house accommodation while crews are in
Moosonee. Rod Brook, Kim Bennett and Sarah Hagey of OMNR provide logistical
support. I especially thank Don Sutherland of the Natural Heritage
Information Centre for information about Chickney Channel. Jean thanks an
anonymous donor for financial assistance allowing her to make satellite
phone calls to me so timely reports are available on Ontbirds and Shorebirds
Watch for report #2 in one week.