Churchill and Vicnity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 1

Due to a grant from Nature Canada, and thanks to the generosity of the Gosling Foundation, the Manitoba IBA Program were able to deliver programs in the Churchill and Vicinity IBA this June. Coordinator Tim Poole and Committee member Bonnie Chartier who hails from Churchill and is steeped in the history of birding in this part of Manitoba.

Our aim was to raise awareness of the IBAs along this whole stretch of coastline and recruit some local volunteers along the way. To begin with it was apparent that our first trip should be to the local coffee shop, the place to meet with local people. We were not in fact meeting with a local per se but with an American academic, Dr Kit Schnaars who takes up residence in Churchill each summer and is running a citizen science based Tree Swallow monitoring program. Kit is likely to be a useful contact for the IBA Program over the coming months as someone who spends time in the community and is passionate about bird conservation, although she doesn’t know her CAGO from her CANG……

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Pair of Tree Swallows outside the local restaurant on day 1. Tree Swallows were always a visitor to Churchill but only recorded breeding following a bird house program from Kit. Photo copyright Tim Poole

We were due to give a bird walk in the evening, posters were plastered all over the place and so it was a good time to see a few of the important sites for monitoring birds in the area. Bonnie drove us up to Cape Merry, a place for Belugas, seals and large congregations of scoters, gulls and other birds feeding in the estuary of the Churchill River. It is also according to some folk the ‘most miserable plac (sic)’, although this was written a long time ago – and I would suggest not true for anyone interested in both history and/or natural history for which this area is fascinating.

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I would respectfully disagree with the person who scratched this on a rock at Cape Merry over a hundred years ago. Copyright Tim Poole

There is still a large amount of pack ice on the sea – good if you are keen to avoid polar bears – and this also helped to funnel birds into the wider estuary area. A count of 43 Sabine’s Gulls was probably the highlight of this trip up to the cape along with at least 132 Black Scoter.

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Cape Merry on a blustery afternoon. Still not miserable though. Copyright Tim Poole

During the afternoon we took a trip down the Hydro Road to see what state it would be in for any future birding activities. This area has been flooded badly this spring in floods which have knocked out the railway for the foreseeable future. At the top of the road the IBA Program has helped the town purchase a new bird sightings board which will eventually include an IBA sign at this location.

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The new rare bird board. Copyright Tim Poole

The Hydro Road was one of the better places for migratory shorebirds this year. According to Bonnie and a few other folk we chatted to, the numbers of shorebirds were very few this spring in comparison with other years. Given Ruddy Turnstones have been recorded in migratory groups totaling 6,000 birds before and Red Knot in around 3,400 individuals, albeit back in 1974, the low numbers were very surprising. There is always an explanation and maybe a detour due to loss of stopover sites due to flooding upstream is the most logical.

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Short-billed Dowitchers were present in small numbers along the Hydro Road, although notably even breeding shorebirds were not easy to locate in early June. Copyright Tim Poole

We also took a few videos of the wildlife available to see on our Youtube page.

According to the IBA Canada website this IBA was designated for among others, Rusty Blackbird, Black Scoter and Red-throated Loon, all spotted on this first day. Indeed, a day watching the Red-throated Loon moving up the Churchill River to Cape Merry would likely have got us close to the previous total of 440 individuals, more than 1% of the North American breeding population of this species.

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Rusty Blackbird in the boreal edges along the Hydro Road. Copyright Tim Poole

In the afternoon we met briefly with some of the staff at the town complex and then in the early evening led an evening bird walk for 30 people at the Granary Ponds. We were able to show them good views of Red-necked Phalarope – the first of many opportunities to talk about polyandry, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper and Arctic Tern as well as a plethora of ducks and other waterbirds and an overhead Bald Eagle. We also had a huge group back indoors to demonstrate the use of eBird for the IBA Program and advertise the events to come later in the week.

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Part of the large group of people attending our first bird walk at the Granary Ponds. Copyright Tim Poole

Day 1 over and the full list of eBirded birds is available to read through below.

Snow Goose 3
Canada Goose 32
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 16
Northern Shoveler 2
Northern Pintail 15
Green-winged Teal 23
Greater Scaup 29
Common Eider 62
Surf Scoter 22
White-winged Scoter 10
Black Scoter 148
Long-tailed Duck 9
Common Goldeneye 1
Common Merganser 130
Red-breasted Merganser 19
Red-throated Loon 20
Pacific Loon 17
Common Loon 1
Osprey 2
Bald Eagle 1
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Hudsonian Godwit 2
Sanderling 2
Baird’s Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 8
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Red-necked Phalarope 14
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 12
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Sabine’s Gull 43
Bonaparte’s Gull 10
Ring-billed Gull 20
Herring Gull 14
Arctic Tern 34
Alder Flycatcher 1
Common Raven 2
Horned Lark 2
Tree Swallow 9
American Robin 7
European Starling 1
Northern Waterthrush 10
Yellow Warbler 57
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
American Tree Sparrow 5
Fox Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 2
White-crowned Sparrow 30
Savannah Sparrow 34
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 5
Rusty Blackbird 8
House Sparrow 6
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Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. Copyright Tim Poole

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