Shorebirds and Tundra Wetlands Studies
Hudson Bay in Polar Bear Provincial Park, Ontario
Below are four reports posted
to Ontbirds and Shorebirds listservs by Ron Pittaway
Burntpoint Report #1
Posted 30 June
This is Jean Iron's
first report by satellite phone for the period 22 - 29 June 2012
from Burntpoint Creek Research Station on the Ontario coast of
Hudson Bay in Polar Bear Provincial Park. Burntpoint is operated by
the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) under the direction
of Ken Abraham, Waterfowl and Wetlands Scientist. The camp is about
1334 km (834 mi) north of Toronto, Ontario and about 74 km (46 mi)
east of Peawanuck and 131 km (81 mi) west of Cape Henrietta Maria.
The base camp is about 3 km from the coast. See map link below. At
this time of year there are almost 2 hours more daylight than in
Toronto. Burntpoint also is situated on the most southerly tundra
zone at sea level in the world. This narrow tundra fringe stretches
east along the coast to Cape Henrietta Maria at the corner of Hudson
and James Bays. Tundra conditions are maintained by continuous
permafrost and sea ice which remains very late off the
Ontario/Manitoba coast until mid-summer preventing the warming of
the waters of Hudson Bay combined with prevailing cold
north/northwest winds. The Burntpoint crew comprises Julie Belliveau
(OMNR), Matt Birarda (OMNR), Jean Iron (OFO volunteer) and Jim Sauer
(volunteer). They stay until July 20.
The following is Ken
Abraham's report for the first crew who departed on June 22. They
recorded 85 species of birds on the 21 square km study area. Canada
Goose, 242 nests. Ken also did an aerial survey of the Lesser Snow
Goose colony at Cape Henrietta Maria, the first since 2007. He
reported that "the colony area appears similar to 2007, but with
lower densities of birds. It was a good breeding year from a
habitat/snow cover point of view, so this might reflect a decline in
colony size. One highlight is a small colony of Ross's Geese within
the larger colony estimated to be a couple of hundred pairs (we have
photos to analyze). We also found a few small groups of breeding
Common Eiders." Good numbers of Caribou were seen on the aerial
survey. Shorebird nests found in the study area include Whimbrel (10
nests), Least Sandpiper (9 nests), Semipalmated Sandpiper (8 nests)
and Dunlin (7 nests). New species added to the study area list were
Wilson's Phalarope (pair on coastal brackish pond) and Nelson's
Sparrow, which arrived rather late (June 17) but began singing
around the camp pond. Brown Thrasher (1) which has become a fairly
regular occurrence at Burntpoint, although only one individual each
year. Other highlights include an American Golden-Plover nest and a
Rusty Blackbird nest, each the first nest of the species found since
studies began in 2001. Voles apparently are at a low point in their
usual 3-4 year cycle, as few were seen, winter nest counts were low,
none were live-trapped and the corresponding predatory birds that
would usually be present in a high year were absent (e.g., we saw no
Short-eared Owls, only 1 Rough-legged Hawk, and few Northern
Harriers). Predation on nests was relatively high but at this point
is only quantified for Canada Goose (which experienced 55% nest
Ken reports that two intensive shorebird plots (400 x 400 m) were
established this June by the first crew for long term monitoring of
shorebirds using the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network protocols.
In connection to the shorebird research, Ken reports that "We also
began monitoring 9 wetlands for aquatic invertebrate species
composition, abundance and biomass over the season. We are also
monitoring terrestrial invertebrates at 15 stations." This data will
help in understanding breeding shorebirds such as Hudsonian Godwit
and Whimbrel. Many Arctic shorebirds are declining according to the
newly released "The State of Canada's Birds". Climate change may be
reducing their breeding success and northern habitats could change
faster than some species can adapt.
BIRDS: The following
paragraphs are Jean's report for the second crew. Mallards outnumber
American Black Ducks (2 on 29th). Lesser Scaup. Common Goldeneye, 10
molting males on bay. Red-breasted Merganser. Common Loon, 1 on bay
on 29th. Red-throated Loon, nest with two eggs near camp. Several
other pairs nearby. Willow Ptarmigan are frequent around camp and
often heard calling in early morning. Several nests found. Two pairs
are almost camp pets. Bald Eagles (2-4/day) are now regular in
summer presumably taking nesting and molting geese. Northern
Harrier, 5 on 26th was a high count considering a low vole year,
however, harriers are adept at taking young birds and this is
hatching time. Arctic Tern. A non-vocal Lesser Yellowlegs on a
tundra pond on 23rd was likely a migrant. Some Least Sandpipers and
Dunlins have just hatched fluffy young. Both adult Dunlins were
attending young chicks. A female Red-necked Phalarope on pond near
coast on 29th may be a local breeder. Parasitic Jaeger regularly
hunt over the tundra including flock of 4 on 27th. Jaegers are
chased by Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits when they fly near their
territories. Tennessee Warbler on 28th. Juvenile Horned Larks are
flying. Smith's Longspur, 10 near coast on 29th, males singing from
rocks and low shrubs. White-crowned Sparrows are common. Rusty
Blackbird, male and female on 28th. White-winged Crossbill, two seen
on 27th picking at last year's brown cones on a white spruce. This
crossbill typically moves at this time of year seeking new cone
crops. Common Redpolls are nesting. A flock of 12 redpolls on 28th
on the ground under spruces was perhaps eating seeds dropped from
last year's abundant cone crop.
MAMMALS: Small mammal
numbers are low this summer which means that predators (foxes,
weasels, jaegers, gulls, ravens, etc.) will take more birds,
especially the young. High vole populations greatly reduce the
predation pressure on birds. Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owl
numbers are very low because vole populations are very low. 15
Caribou (groups of 7 and 8) near camp on June 23. Caribou and the
Reindeer of Eurasia are the same species. Sea ice is currently about
1 km offshore with a south wind. Polar Bears are still on the sea
ice hunting mainly Ringed Seals. They will come ashore over the next
few weeks. Black Bears are rare along the coast. There are no
records of Grizzly Bears in Ontario, but in recent years a few
barren-ground Grizzlies have been seen in northeastern Manitoba
about 300 km from Ontario. The eastward spread of Grizzlies from
mainland Nunavut may be linked to increased food supplies provided
by the now abundant Snow and Canada Goose populations along the
coast. It seems a matter of time until a Grizzly is found in
World Swallowtail (June 26); Painted Lady; Red Admiral (4 very worn
on 28th); Bog Fritillary; Jutta Arctic (20 on 28th); Giant Sulphur
on 27th; Azure species and unidentified skippers.
Prominent species in bloom this week are Lapland Rosebay; Purple
Rattle; Dry-Ground Cranberry (famous lingonberry of Scandinavia) and
White Mountain-Avens (territorial flower of Northwest Territories).
2 maps and 1 photo
show location of Burntpoint
Snow Ice Map - note
extensive ice in Hudson Bay off Ontario coast
Next report will be
posted in about a week.
Ron Pittaway, Minden,
Burntpoint Report #2
Posted 7 July 2012
This is Jean Iron's
second report by satellite phone for the period 30 June to 6 July
2012 from Burntpoint Creek Research Station on the Ontario coast of
Hudson Bay. Burntpoint is operated by the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources (OMNR). See map link below. The Burntpoint crew
comprises Julie Belliveau (OMNR and Trent University), Matt Birarda
(OMNR), Jean Iron (OFO volunteer) and Jim Sauer (volunteer). The
recent daily weather has been variable ranging from 5 to 25 Celsius
affected by wind direction and the camp's close proximity to Hudson
Bay. The coast is 3.5 km from camp and regular visits while
monitoring plots are made to the coast. The sea ice is now not
visible from shore, but there is a lot of floating ice.
STUDY: Julie Belliveau is conducting a Trent undergraduate thesis
research project with assistance from the crew. Ken Abraham reports
that Julie's project title is "Waterbirds and invertebrates of
tundra wetlands in Ontario". It is a baseline study. Her goal is to
determine the aquatic invertebrate species in three different
wetland types and determine waterbird-wetland associations. Specific
objectives include: to determine the species composition of aquatic
invertebrates in tundra wetlands, to determine the relative and
seasonal abundance and biomass of the invertebrate species, and to
determine a preliminary idea of the relative use of different
wetland types by waterbirds. Julie is supervised by Ken Abraham and
David Beresford (Trent).
SHOREBIRDS: Crew is
monitoring nests. American Golden-Plover nest with eggs on July 6.
Presumed migrant shorebirds moving southeast along coast included 20
Dunlin, 3 Least Sandpipers, 5 Greater Yellowlegs, 6 Hudsonian
Godwits and high flying Whimbrel. Some of these birds such as Dunlin
and godwits are likely going to productive staging areas in James
Bay. Whimbrels are probably going directly to the Atlantic Coast or
SOME OTHER BIRDS: 15
Green-winged Teal on July 2. Tundra Swan on July 3. Two Pacific
Loons on July 6. Three Northern Harriers are apparently preying on
young birds because vole numbers are very low. Peregrine Falcon, 1
on 2nd was possibly a wandering introduced bird as most Tundra
Peregrines are now in the High Arctic and Peregrines do not nest in
the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Several broods of Willow Ptarmigan and one
nest still with 8 eggs on July 6 near camp and several dust baths
near camp. Ptarmigan eating the blossoms of White Mountain-Avens.
Small colony of Arctic Terns on tundra ponds. The Parasitic Jaegers
(all light morph birds) regularly hunting over the tundra are
presumably taking mostly young birds. One Ruby-crowned Kinglet on
July 1. Four Yellow-rumped Warblers on 5th. One Palm Warbler on 5th.
One Tree Swallow on 5th. Two Barn Swallows on 4th. SPARROWS - 8
species in study area are American Tree Sparrow, Savannah, Nelson's
(subspecies alter), 1 singing on July 1 and 2 singing on July 2,
Fox, Lincoln's, Swamp, White-throated and Gambel's White-crowned
Sparrow - although this area is described as the zone of
intergradation between the nominate subspecies leucophrys and
gambelii, all birds seen were like gambelii. 90% of White-crowneds
in Churchill, Manitoba, are gambelii (Jehl 2004 in Birdlife of
Churchill Region). Ten male Smith's Longspurs near the coast were
agitated presumably because females and nests were nearby. Common
Redpolls are frequent including a few whiter probable Hoaries.
Summer redpolls are worn and darker than winter birds making them
more difficult to distinguish. Both Common and exilipes subspecies
Hoary Redpolls breed in northern Ontario (Leckie and Pittaway in
Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 2007).
MAMMALS: Caribou - a
large herd of about 3000 went through camp on July 2. The crew was
surrounded by Caribou on both sides that were visible as far as they
could see. There was a good number of calves in the herd. The
Caribou movement upset Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits as it moved
across their territories. Numbers down to 38 on 3rd and 1 on 6th. A
Gray Wolf seen on July 2 was presumably following the Caribou.
Taxonomically, all Caribou in Ontario are considered Woodland
Caribou comprising two ecotypes: forest and tundra populations.
Elfin is the one new species added since the last report. Jutta
Arctic is the most frequently seen butterfly on the few sunny and
warm days suitable for butterflies.
Maps and photo
showing location of Burntpoint Camp
Snow Ice Cover Map
shows extensive sea ice off the Ontario coast.
Burntpoint camp is under the direction of Ken Abraham, Waterfowl and
Wetlands Scientist (OMNR). Rod Brook (OMNR) and Sarah Hagey (OMNR)
provide logistical support to the station.
Report #3 in about a
Ron Pittaway, Minden,
Burntpoint Report #3
Posted 14 July 2012
This is Jean Iron's
third report by satellite phone for the period 7 - 13 July 2012 from
Burntpoint Creek Research Station on Hudson Bay. Burntpoint is
operated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). The
crew comprises Julie Belliveau (OMNR), Matt Birarda (OMNR), Jean
Iron (OFO volunteer) and Jim Sauer (volunteer).
RESEARCH: Ken Abraham reports that "We started a new program of
research on Ontario Tundra Ecosystems in 2012. The lack of
information on this system and its vulnerability to an accelerated
rate of climate change relative to other Ontario ecosystems have
been highlighted in the Far North Science Panel report (2010) and
the Hudson Plains Ecozone Status and Trends Report (2011). This new,
planned as long term, program aims to fill gaps in knowledge of the
components of the system and their functions and interconnections.
This program builds on the long term work of the OMNR Wildlife
Research and Development Section and the Hudson Bay Project."
Whimbrel observed with young. Hudsonian Godwit, a very early flying
juvenile with two attending adults on July 10. The earliest complete
clutch of godwits is June 5 and the earliest hatching date is June
28 at Churchill, Manitoba (Jehl 2004). Nine Least Sandpipers
territories still occupied. American Golden-Plover, young of the
pair near camp hatched on July 6 and both adults still attending
young on 12th. Jean said that it is easy to understand the breeding
colours of the golden-plover. Its upper part feathers blend
perfectly with tundra mosses and lichens.
Greater Yellowlegs, 74 adults moving east along coast on July 12.
Whimbrel, 26 coastal migrants on July 8 going east while others
still on local territories. Eight Whimbrels flew in from over Hudson
Bay and continued southeast. Hudsonian Godwits are also moving east
along coast while others are on territories. Sanderling, 207 adults
migrating east along coast on July 13. Least and Semipalmated
Sandpipers are also moving east along coast. Short-billed Dowitchers
gathering on coastal pools: 7 on July 8, 25 on July 11 and 11 on
13th. The later flock of 11 dowitchers spiraled up before heading
directly south from the coast. Most of the dowitchers were of the
brightly coloured subspecies hendersoni.
White-winged Scoter, 44 molting males along coast on July 11. Black
Scoter, 70 molting males along coast on 11th. Long-tailed Duck,
female with 8 young on tundra pond on July 12. Pacific Loon nest
observed from a distance on July 9 and 12th. Red-throated Loon
nesting on pond 300 metres from camp. A Red-throated Loon flew over
while I was talking to Jean giving its loud kwuk-kwuk-kwuk flight
call which I could hear clearly over the phone. Willow Ptarmigan are
frequent around camp using dust baths. Adult Herring Gulls in wing
molt since late June. Mourning Dove, 1 on July 11. Smith's
Longspurs, 32 on July 8 with most on dry ridges near the coast.
Males still singing.
freighter canoes moving along the coast were presumably from the
Peawanuk First Nation (Cree) community about 74 km (46 mi) to the
west. A Gray Wolf was seen on the July 8 and 12th near the coast in
the vicinity of Caribou. Two Bald Eagles and Common Ravens were near
the wolf suggesting that they were scavenging a kill. No Polar Bears
yet. The bears are apparently hunting seals on the remaining sea ice
which stays the latest off Ontario because of currents. See snow/ice
map link below. Marine mammals in Hudson Bay are changing. In recent
summers a few pods of Killer Whales (Orcas) have been entering
Hudson Bay because the sea ice is melting earlier and freeze up is
coming later. Killer Whales are presumably hunting Belugas (White
Whales) which were previously free of Orca predation in most of
Hudson Bay. The Orca's tall dorsal fin restricts it to areas with
little or no ice cover, but ice conditions are changing on Hudson
Frogs are frequent. Western Chorus Frogs last heard singing on July
5. One sighting only of an American Toad on July 13.
BUTTERFLIES: No new
species added since the last report but Jean has photos of blues and
sulphurs which she can't identify. She'll send photos out for
Currently the coast and dry tundra ridges are glowing a purplish red
with a spectacular blooming of Northern Hedysarum.
Maps and photo
showing location of Burntpoint Camp
Snow Ice Cover Map
shows extensive sea ice still off Ontario coast.
JAMES BAY SHOREBIRD
SURVEY and Red Knots: Three survey camps on the Ontario coast of
James Bay begin operation on July 15 (tomorrow) under the direction
of Christian Friis of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Mark
Peck of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). This is a continuation and
expansion of surveys of knots and other shorebirds over the past few
years. This summer regular invertebrate sampling will be done to
quantify and better understand the foods being eaten by shorebirds.
Jean will be joining this survey on July 30 and we will post weekly
updates from the field.
Burntpoint camp is under direction of Ken Abraham (OMNR), Waterfowl
and Wetlands Scientist. Rod Brook (OMNR), Kim Bennett (OMNR) and
Sarah Hagey (OMNR) provide logistical support to the station.
finish on July 18 and Jean returns to Toronto next Friday. We'll
post report #4 and she'll put photos on her website before going to
James Bay in late July.
Ron Pittaway, Minden,
Burntpoint Report #4
Posted 23 July 2012
This is the fourth and summary report
for Burntpoint Creek Research Station on Hudson Bay operated by the
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR).
The camp closed on 18 July. The first
Polar Bear arrived on the 16th as the sea ice was rapidly
disappearing from Hudson Bay. New birds since the last report were 3
Caspian Terns (first record) and a juvenile Northern Shrike.
Commonest shorebird was the Sanderling
with 407 adults migrating east along the coast on 16 July. Total
species for the period 22 June - 18 July 2012 was 70 including 16
species of shorebirds.
See links below to my website photos and
5 pages of website photos
Video of Caribou herd
Video of male Willow Ptarmigan dusting
Video of female Willow Ptarmigan dusting
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank Ken Abraham (OMNR)
for the opportunity to do fieldwork at Burntpoint. Rod Brook (OMNR),
Kim Bennett (OMNR) and Sarah Hagey (OMNR) provided logistical
support. I particularly thank Ron Pittaway for posting my reports. I
owe my love of shorebirds and the north to Ron who has encouraged me
to volunteer with OMNR.
JAMES BAY REPORTS UPCOMING: As a
continuation of previous summers, I begin surveying Red Knots and
other shorebirds on 30 July for the Canadian Wildlife Service and
Royal Ontario Museum. Watch for weekly updates in August.
Jean Iron, Toronto, Ontario
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