Churchill and Vicinity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 4

Day 4 of the IBA Churchill trip and again we kick off with a trip to Cape Merry for a sweep of the birds along the coastline. Bonnie worked her way across the shore and Tim abandoned her for an opportunity to watch the Belugas in the water below. It was quite a sight! There were good numbers of white adults and grey juveniles (sorry Raffi, you’re wrong) in moving with the tide in front of us. Also in attendance was a large raft of Black Scoter, good numbers of Red-throated Loon and the usual mix of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoter.

Beluga photos above all copyright Tim Poole

There were also Tundra Swans present in large numbers throughout the day.

Cape Merry is a place full of wildlife. For example, look below and you will see from the video below the scattering of loons, eiders, scoters and mergansers around the pods of Beluga.

From Cape Merry we headed eventually down towards CR30 on the Hydro Road in the hope of finding some interesting gulls. As the Hydro Road turns into the road at Goose Creek we checked the swallows and were pleasantly surprised to find a Barn Swallow and a couple of Bank Swallows feeding with the Tree Swallows. These species are rare in the north and even the Tree Swallow is only becoming more abundant thanks to Dr Kit’s bird house program.


Tree Swallow searching for bugs in the loose dirt created by the tire tracks. Copyright Tim Poole

One of the most vivid and stunning ducks one could expect to encounter is the Surf Scoter. This is a sea duck which breeds in boreal ponds and lakes. Crossing Goose Creek we noted there were two males and a single female, a situation which would never end well. Unsurprisingly, the two males were in the midst of a battle over the single female, bad for one of the males, great for those of us fortunate to watch them.


Surf Scoter female (left) and two males. The video below highlights the aggressive interaction between these two males. Copyright Tim Poole

Our primary hope was to find Little Gull. Just past the bridge we had not found Little Gulls but the Bonaparte’s were still showing up well.


Couple of Bonaparte’s Gull. We would search the feeding Bonaparte’s for Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole

Driving through what should have been small wetlands which were no been enveloped in the Churchill River we eventually spotted our target species. A Little Gull looks much like a Bonaparte’s but lacks the white eye ring, has a more extensive hood, is smaller and most noticeable, is dark underwing. Two Little Gull were feeding in a small wetland behind some trees feeding with Bonaparte’s Gulls. In total we would find six that day, a not too shabby number given there are only around 200 breeding in North America.

A count at CR30 put up good numbers of scoters (all three species), loon and another Little Gull. At this juncture the weather was beginning to turn and we were forced to drive back as the rain began to come down.

We were able to see the Surf Scoters one more time and in the same area there was even a pair of Black Scoter.

Further north as the rain really began to come down we also found a couple of feeding Short-billed Dowitcher. For anyone unfamiliar with this species, it has a very distinct ‘sewing machine’ feeding motion, its head probing in and out of the water at a steady tempo. Almost metronomic one might say!


Short-billed Dowitcher feeding in the rain. Copyright Tim Poole

The weather deteriorated to the extent that we were forced to cancel our evening bird walk. The wind and rain making it almost impossible to see let alone watch and talk about birds. This was a shame as our walks had thus been very well attended. However, we had a good day with a good bird walk and we did get to meet some folks at Parks Canada. The daily bird list saw counts of over 1,000 birds and 55 species with Little Gull certainly being the highlight.

Canada Goose 468
Tundra Swan 56
American Wigeon 15
American Black Duck 6
Mallard 6
Northern Shoveler 7
Northern Pintail 12
Green-winged Teal 18
Greater Scaup 56
Lesser Scaup 1
Common Eider 109
Surf Scoter 73
White-winged Scoter 31
Black Scoter 193
Common Goldeneye 120
Common Merganser 4
Red-breasted Merganser 2
Red-throated Loon 43
Pacific Loon 2
Osprey 3
Golden Eagle 1
Bald Eagle 1
Sandhill Crane 3
Short-billed Dowitcher 2
Wilson’s Snipe 2
Red-necked Phalarope 1
Spotted Sandpiper 22
Lesser Yellowlegs 13
Parasitic Jaeger 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 36
Little Gull 6
Ring-billed Gull 13
Herring Gull 15
Arctic Tern 143
Common Raven 8
Tree Swallow 26
Bank Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin 8
American Pipit 3
Northern Waterthrush 9
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 4
American Tree Sparrow 3
Fox Sparrow 28
Dark-eyed Junco 4
White-crowned Sparrow 22
Savannah Sparrow 12
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
Rusty Blackbird 2
Common Redpoll 12

Churchill and Vicnity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 3

Day 3 of our trip to Churchill was always going to be the busiest. In the morning we were due to give a talk and lead a birding walk with students mainly from the Duke of Marlborough High School in Churchill but also from Gillam. In the evening we were also due to give a presentation to people at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.

Our group consisted of 10 students anf their teacher, Programming Coordinator Stephanie Puleo, her summer assistant Adele and a centre volunteer. We began in the classroom, Tim giving an introduction to birds and birding, how to identify birds, how to count birds and the importance of the Churchill area for birds.

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Tim looking contemplative. Photo copyright Bonnie Chartier

Next we stepped out into the grounds and bussed to different birding locations. We were able to show the students a number of interesting species in the scopes, including Pacific Loon, Long-tailed Duck, Parasitic Jaegar and a passing Whimbrel. Willow Ptarmigan were also abundant along this area and showed up well for the students.


A pair of Pacific Loons, another specialty of Northern Manitoba. Copyright Tim Poole

The key thing was to give the students an experience of how we monitor birds, how we might identify the species and how to count them. Fortunately mother nature has a way of obliging at these moments and a passing flock of Canada Geese gave students an opportunity to practice their counting. There were only around 65 geese in the flock but it was still impressive how close the students were to this figure – most people underestimate even small flocks by around half.


Watching birds in the water. Copyright Tim Poole

Following lunch we went back into the classroom. Over lunch we had a discussion with the teacher about what all this really meant and how it was important and he led a group discussion with students about this. Conclusions included the fact that good monitoring information was important as it would inform scientists about climate change (Tim added the story about the canary in the mine at this point). The students also talked about the critical role Churchill and the surrounding area has for large groups of migrating birds. Before all that, they set up their own eBird account and were given a crash course in how to use it by the team. Hopefully we will see some entries from the school group and individual students in the future.

Later in the afternoon, we had a break and headed out to find some American Golden Plovers which were becoming a wee bit of a nemesis. Bonnie decided this would be a good opportunity to introduce Tim to the Tundra Buggies from the outside – Bonnie still hosts groups in the fall with Natural Habitat (there are of course other companies delivering Polar Bear tour experiences in Churchill each fall).


Tundra Buggy equipment including the fuel tank (left). The roof was designed to prevent Polar Bears climbing on top of the cylinder and then making their way onto the Tundra Buggy. To the right was the kitchen buggy. Copyright Tim Poole

A drive down Launch Road eventually yielded a single plover on the dry tundra. The bird was too distant for photos but the views were decent enough in the binoculars. American Golden Plovers similar to their Eurasian counterparts avoid habitats with trees because, in simple terms, trees means something that might eat them, acting as either a perch for a raptor or cover for something like a fox. They are often found on migration in short grasslands, either pasture or even sod fields as at Oak Hammock. They breed on well-drained rocky slopes, common in the Churchill area, and knolls with sparse vegetation and lichen, again a fairly abundant habitat in the north.


Possible breeding habitat for an American Golden Plover. Short vegetation, rocky knolls and lichens with no trees. Copyright Tim Poole

A second lone plover was picked up just outside Camp Nanuq along with a pair of Tundra Swans, Yellow-rumped Warbler and our friend the Merlin from day 2. This would be a Taiga Merlin which is darker than the Prairie Merlin’s found in urban areas in southern Manitoba.



Yellow-rumped Warbler singing his heart out from the top of a tree. Copyright Tim Poole

Returning to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Tim gave a talk to around 40 people in the evening including folk from the centre and the town and also did a short eBird introduction for IBA. This well attended talk will hopefully open up more opportunities in the future. Leaving the centre, we stopped off just outside to view a pair of Horned Grebe.


Horned Grebe just west of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Copyright Tim Poole

Along the road as the sun began dipping, the views were simply beautiful.


Copyright Tim Poole


Treeline spruce along the main Churchill road. Copyright Tim Poole

Another day highlight along the road was an Arctic Hare mid moult sitting in the dry tundra.


Arctic Hare. Copyright Tim Poole

So another day ended. No bird checklist this time as we did not have sufficient time to do one justice but the highlight of the day has to be the American Golden Plovers.