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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Along the road as the sun began dipping, the views were simply beautiful.
Another day highlight along the road was an Arctic Hare mid moult sitting in the dry tundra.
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.