Churchill and Vicinity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 5

A final full day in Churchill and it was the day we decided to try to put on a wee blitz. We had made arrangements with Rudolf Koes that his weekly workshop group would share their data with us for that day and we would be able to put together a comprehensive list of everything seen between the two groups.

The IBA group met at Cape Merry at 8am. In total 13 people came along, some had to leave at different points (one was even called into work at the boat yard within a couple of minutes of arriving). Cape Merry is a fabulous for birders but we learnt a lesson that it was probably not the easiest place for beginners to learn about IBA blitzing. However we were able to show off some good species including Red-throated Loons, scoters, eiders, Parasitic Jaegars and a few of the gulls. Unfortunately Black-legged Kittiwake noticed by Bonnie was too far for showing folk, off about a mile in the scope. We also got to look at a few of the plants such as this Lapland Rose Bay, a species of native rhododendron.


Lapland Rose Bay. Copyright Tim Poole

Bonnie and I decided that the Granary Ponds would be a better place for counting birds as a group. There were good numbers of Tundra Swan and Greater Scaup hanging around for the day.


Tundra Swans and Greater Scaup at the Granary Ponds. Copyright Tim Poole

The Sandhill Cranes also put in an appearance. This species in the north breeds in bogs, surrounded by trees and mate for life.


Pair of Sandhill Cranes. Copyright Tim Poole

By this point much of our group were gravitating towards other commitments, including the opening of a new piece of art at the Parks Canada Centre. We had coffee with a couple of potential volunteers, told them of the IBA Program, showing them eBird and then headed out for one final look at the Hydro Road.


A bog along the Hydro Road. This bog had Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail among other species. Copyright Tim Poole

We reached the end of the Hydro Road and CR30 and did another count of the birds on the Churchill River. Given this count is a snapshot of a single spot, the counts of over 100 Tundra Swan moving up river, over 50 Arctic Tern and large groups of scoters would suggest that this area is critically important for all these species. We also got a good close-up of the sandbags protecting the water pump for the Town of Churchill. The sandbagging was apparently a real community effort by members of the public and the authorities.


Sandbags protect the water pump. Copyright Tim Poole

The highlight on the way back was the appearance of two Little Gull among a group of foraging Bonaparte’s Gull.


Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole


Not the best photo but note the dark underwings on this Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole

We also checked a few other areas around the town in the afternoon picking up a calling Sora outside Parks Canada (thanks Wanda for the tip). In the evening Tim gave a talk to around 10 people at the Town Complex. There were a few technical issues, including a complete computer freeze halfway through the talk – but Bonnie saved the day with a great little interlude about the history of Ross’s Gull. And that was that. We still have lots of follow-up to do, people to catch and possibly even an opportunity for Bonnie to head up to Churchill in August to follow-up in person.

The results of the blitz are listed below. 836 Canada Goose makes this the most numerous species which would tally with our own observations. In addition there were 138 Tundra Swan, making one wonder how many actually pass through Churchill on passage to the north (some breed here). Snow Goose appeared thin on the ground contrary to the fact that this species is becoming too numerous in parts of the north. Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Common Eider and Common Goldeneye were also present in good numbers.

Of the shorebirds, 10 species were noted but only Sanderling in migration groups of upwards of 10 individuals. Strange! In June 2016 there are notes from Bruce di Labio published in Manitoba Birds describing groups of White-rumped Sandpiper, 1,750 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 250+ Ruddy Turnstone and 565 Stilt Sandpiper so this year really was unusual.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the blitz, especially Rudolf and Robert Guth who provided the eBird checklists from that group.

Snow Goose 3
Canada Goose 836
Tundra Swan 138
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 25
American Black Duck 4
Mallard 19
Northern Shoveler 10
Northern Pintail 45
Green-winged Teal 25
Greater Scaup 124
Lesser Scaup 14
Common Eider 188
Surf Scoter 96
White-winged Scoter 54
Black Scoter 148
Long-tailed Duck 44
Bufflehead 6
Common Goldeneye 142
Hooded Merganser 3
Common Merganser 30
Red-breasted Merganser 32
Willow Ptarmigan 4
Red-throated Loon 31
Pacific Loon 19
Common Loon 4
American Bittern 1
Osprey 2
Golden Eagle 1
Northern Harrier 4
Bald Eagle 1
Sora 2
Sandhill Crane 15
Semipalmated Plover 5
Whimbrel 3
Hudsonian Godwit 17
Sanderling 42
Dunlin 2
Short-billed Dowitcher 4
Wilson’s Snipe 8
Spotted Sandpiper 16
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 18
Parasitic Jaeger 4
Sabine’s Gull 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 37
Little Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 15
Herring Gull 137
Glaucous Gull 1
Arctic Tern 154
Northern Flicker 2
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
Alder Flycatcher 1
Gray Jay 1
Common Raven 23
Tree Swallow 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11
Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 35
European Starling 11
American Pipit 2
Northern Waterthrush 16
Orange-crowned Warbler 7
Yellow Warbler 36
Blackpoll Warbler 10
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
American Tree Sparrow 15
Fox Sparrow 32
Dark-eyed Junco 8
White-crowned Sparrow 72
Harris’s Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 4
Savannah Sparrow 35
Swamp Sparrow 6
Rusty Blackbird 4
Pine Grosbeak 8
Common Redpoll 10
Hoary Redpoll 4
House Sparrow 36

A brief foray before Tim’s flight the following day and a Caribou appeared – a definite great addition for any trip to the north.


Caribou – all alone. Possibly an individual who has been stranded from its herd. Copyright Tim Poole

But the trip was over and now the real challenge is to create some momentum and support possible new volunteers for the IBA Program in the north.


Adult female Long-tailed Duck with a pair of Red-necked Phalarope. Copyright Tim Poole


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……


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. Copyright Tim Poole