Page 6, Akimiski Reports 1-25 August 2008

Below: Six reports from the field that were posted to the Ontbirds and Shorebirds listservs.


James Bay Shorebirds - Akimiski Report # 1
From: Jean Iron <jeaniron AT SYMPATICO.CA>
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2008 08:58:44 -040


Jean Iron called late last night (Aug 2) by satellite phone from
Akimiski Island, Nunavut, in James Bay. She is volunteering again
with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) under the
general direction of Research Scientist Ken Abraham (OMNR) and
Professor Erica Nol of Trent University. There are 6 people including
Jean in camp from OMNR and Trent. I'll report more about their
studies in future posts. James Bay reaches deep into Eastern Canada
between Ontario and Quebec. Hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stage
on the wide tidal flats and coastal marshes in transit between the
Arctic and wintering areas in Central and South America. Aerial
surveys indicate that the north coast of Akimiski Island is
particularly important to southbound shorebirds. Jean will be
recording the shorebird species, numbers, plumages/ages (adults and
juveniles), stages of molt, movements related to tides, and habitats
used for feeding and roosting. She'll also document much of the above
with photographs. Yesterday thousands of distant shorebirds stretched
along the coast, but surveyors were able to identify and count only
birds within 1.5 km of camp. Today they will survey farther from
camp. Recent sightings below.

Semipalmated Plover: 12 on August 1, 7 on August 2. No colour-banded
local birds suggesting migrants.

Greater Yellowlegs: 70 on August 2. Mostly adults.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 150 on August 2. Mostly juveniles.

Hudsonian Godwit: 34 molting adults on August 2.

Marbled Godwit: 2 in flight on August 2. The 5 adult godwits fitted
with transmitters this spring are still on the island. No nests were
found this summer during thorough searches. Jean will be watching
closely for juveniles indicating breeding this year.

Ruddy Turnstone: 12 adults (no signs of molt) on August 2.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 500 mostly adults with a good proportion of
juveniles. Juveniles will soon outnumber adults. Based on previous
colour marking, some Semipalmateds from James Bay go to the tidal
flats at the north end of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. Others
were sighted in Ottawa (Ontario) and at Presqu'ile Provincial Park on
Lake Ontario and elsewhere.

White-rumped Sandpiper: 1000 molting adults on August 2, most common
shorebird. When adult White-rumpeds depart James Bay, most bypass
southern Ontario apparently going east across Quebec to the Gulf of
St. Lawrence and Maritime Provinces.

Pectoral Sandpiper: 64 non-molting adults feeding among the bright
yellow Mastodon Flowers (Senecio congestus) in the marshy inshore.

Dunlin: 3 adults still mainly in worn breeding plumage.

Mammals: 5 Polar Bears were close to camp yesterday, including a
female with a cub. About 50 Polar Bears annually summer on Akimiski
Island waiting for freeze-up in late fall. These are the most
southerly Polar Bears in the world. On Friday's flight from Moosonee
to the island, 13 Belugas (white whales) including a female and calf
were sighted midway between Akimiski and the Ontario coast.

Satellite image of Akimiski Island, largest island in James Bay. The
camp is on the northeast coast.

Note sea ice off Ontario's north coast. This is annually the last
part of Hudson Bay to have sea ice.

Jean will phone me every few days to post updates.

Ron Pittaway
Toronto and Minden



James Bay Shorebirds - Akimiski Report # 2
From: Jean Iron <jeaniron AT SYMPATICO.CA>
Date: Wed, 6 Aug 2008 15:52:16 -0400

This is Jean Iron's report for period 3 - 5 August 2008 via satellite
phone from Akimiski Island in James Bay. Jean is a volunteer
surveying shorebirds to support studies on birds and habitat use by
the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and Trent
University. There are 50 shorebird species on the Ontario Bird
Checklist (Ontario Field Ornithologists 2008) with 35 species
occurring regularly in the province (Ontario Shorebird Conservation
Plan 2003). There are 31 species on the Nunavut Bird Checklist for
the Bay Islands Region (Richards et al. 2002). Aerial surveys by the
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and OMNR indicate that tens of
thousands of shorebirds use Akimiski's north coast in fall migration.
Jean's migration chronology from 1 - 25 August will be the first
extended ground survey for one location on the island.

Shorebird Study: Master's student Lisa Pollock of Trent is studying
the importance of the Akimiski north shore habitats to migrating
shorebirds under the co-supervision of Dr. Erica Nol (Trent) and Dr.
Ken Abraham (MNR/Trent). Her study includes taking core samples to
determine food availability on the tidal flats, quantifying habitat
use by recording birds according to macro and micro-habitat location,
color banding shorebirds to determine how long individuals use the
study area, and monitoring numbers species and age composition of
shorebirds over the migration period. Dr. David Beresford of Trent is
assisting with the identification of invertebrates in the mud samples
and advising Lisa with sampling methodology. In addition to Jean,
summer students Danica Hogan, Andree Daoust-Messier, and Trent M.Sc.
student Ben Walters are all assisting with various aspects of the
study. Recent sightings below.

Semipalmated Plover: several adults.

Killdeer: several, not aged.

Greater Yellowlegs: 23 with a mix of adults and juveniles on 4 Aug.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 91 on 4 Aug, mostly juveniles.

Whimbrel: 1 on 4 Aug, not aged but probable migrating adult at this date.

Hudsonian Godwit: 52 molting adults and 4 juveniles on 5 Aug. World
population estimated at 70,000 birds and probably relatively stable
(Morrison et al. 2006). A small number probably breed on Akimiski
Island at the southern range limit. About 50% of the world's
population stages along the west coast of James Bay (Sutherland and
Peck in Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 2007). Southbound migration is
concentrated in a narrow lane a few km wide along the west coast of
Hudson and James Bays. Most adults reach James Bay in late July and
early August, while at the same time a few hundred over-flying adults
appear in the Madeleine Islands (Quebec) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
and Maritime Provinces. Most adults depart James Bay in the last 10
days of August after fattening for a non-stop flight to South
America. Juveniles gather on the west coast of James Bay and leave
mid-September to early October (Godfrey 1986, The Birds of Canada).
Occasional flocks are seen in southern Ontario including a recent
flock. Dave Martin sent me a photo taken by Don Taylor of 24 adults
photographed near London (ON) on 4 July 2008. These observations are
usually associated with big thunderstorms.

Marbled Godwit: 1 on 3 Aug, not aged.

Ruddy Turnstone: 6 adults on 3 Aug, 1 on 4 Aug.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1600 with 20-30% juveniles.

Least Sandpiper: 4 juveniles on 5 Aug.

White-rumped Sandpiper: 2500 molting adults.

Pectoral Sandpiper: 150 adults. First juveniles not expected until mid August.

Short-billed Dowitcher: 3 juveniles on 5 Aug including 1 banded by
Ben Walters. Most adults have departed the breeding grounds by this date.

Other Birds: Snow Goose, Mallard, American Black Duck (23 on 2 Aug,
more common than Mallard), Northern Pintail (commonest puddle duck),
Common Goldeneye, 3 Sandhill Cranes on 3 Aug, Common Loon 1 worn and
faded year-old Glaucous Gull on 4 Aug, 3 adult and 1 juvenile
Bonaparte's Gulls on 4 Aug, 5 Arctic Terns on 3 Aug, 3 Caspian Terns
on 4 Aug (small numbers breed on James Bay), Boreal Chickadee, Yellow
Warbler with young, Wilson's Warbler, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned
Sparrow feeding young, 12 White-winged Crossbills on 5 Aug.

Mammals: On Sunday at noon a female Polar Bear and cub were swimming
at high tide in front of camp. Seven Polar Bears including 2 females
each with a cub have been keeping researchers close to camp, in
accordance with a well-established safety policy designed for the
purpose of keeping both researchers and bears safe. These bears are
curious and not aggressive. Explosive bangers and other noise-makers
are used to scare them. The camp is protected by a combination of
electric fence and 10 foot enclosure fencing. On Sunday a Lynx ran
onto the mudflat chasing geese, but soon gave up. One Snowshoe Hare
sighted near camp.

Voles: OMNR has done extensive live trapping this summer. Small
mammal numbers are very low, for example, no Meadow Voles have been
caught. Other small mammals are low. This is reflected in the absence
of Short-eared Owls and very few sightings of Northern Harriers.

Selected References: (1) Ontario Shorebird Conservation Plan by K.
Ross, K. Abraham, R. Clay, B. Collins, J. Iron, R. James, D.
McLachlin, and R. Weeber. 2003. Canadian Wildlife Service,
Environment Canada. Hard copies available; email
 with full postal address. (2) Morrison,
R.I.G., B.J. McCaffery, R.E. Gill, S. K. Skagen, S. L. Jones, G.W.
Page, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, and B. A. Andres. 2006.  Population
estimates of North American shorebirds 2006. Wader Study Bulletin.
(3) Richards, J.M., Y.R. Tymstra and A.W. White. 2002. Birds of
Nunavut: A Checklist. Birders Journal, vol 11, no 1.

I thank Ken Abraham for information. Next update in a few days.

Ron Pittaway


James Bay Shorebirds - Akimiski Report # 3
From: Jean Iron <jeaniron AT SYMPATICO.CA>
Date: Sat, 9 Aug 2008 14:50:43 -0400

This is Jean Iron's report for the period 6 - 8 August 2008 from
Akimiski Island, Nunavut, in James Bay. She is a volunteer with the
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and Trent University
under the direction of Research Scientist Ken Abraham. The camp is on
the island's northeast coast (53 deg 06 min N, 80 deg 57 min W).
Nights are cool and day temperatures reach 15C. Morning fog and 9
Polar Bears are restricting surveys. Recent observations below.

"Lesser" Snow Goose: 41 near camp on 6 Aug.

Black-bellied Plover: 25 adults on 8 Aug.

Semipalmated Plover: 92 on 6 Aug.

Greater Yellowlegs: 49 on 7 Aug, 50% juveniles.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 105 on 7 Aug, 90% juveniles.

Whimbrel: 15 on 8 Aug, not aged because of distance.

Hudsonian Godwit: 50+ on 8 Aug including 10 juveniles. Correction -
the flock of Hudsonian Godwits photographed in London, Ontario,
reported in the previous post # 2 was on 4 August 2008, not 4 July.

Marbled Godwit: Bridget Olson reports that 3 of the 5 godwits fitted
with satellite transmitters in late May 2008 have departed Akimiski.
(1) 75688 that was captured 3 km east of camp on 25 May departed
Akimiski Island sometime after the evening of 31 July. It was in
South Dakota on 2 August and subsequently moved into North Dakota.
(2) 80794 was captured with 80795 at Byer's Creek 7 km west of camp
on the morning of 27 May. It migrated along the north shore of Lake
Superior on 29 July and was in central South Dakota on 31 July, then
also moved into North Dakota. (3) 80795 was last on Akimiski Island
around 6 p.m. on 29 July. On 31 July it transmitted, apparently in
flight, over Nebraska and is currently in southeastern Colorado.
Bridget and Adrian Farmer soon will be working on a publication with
all the details. Until recently the James Bay population was thought
most likely to winter along the southeastern coast of the United
States (Morrison et al. 2006), where counts estimated 2226 birds a
few years ago (Winn et al. 2006). The origins of the southeast
Atlantic wintering birds remain a mystery. Bridget Olson is going to
Georgia in September with 8 transmitters to mark the wintering birds
to resolve that question.

Ruddy Turnstone: 6 adults on 8 Aug.

Sanderling: 21 molting and faded adults on 8 Aug.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1000+ on 6 Aug, 40% juveniles.

White-rumped Sandpiper: 3000+ molting adults on 6 Aug, 1800 on 8 Aug.

Pectoral Sandpiper: 136 adults on 7 Aug.

Short-billed Dowitcher: 12 juveniles on 8 Aug.

1. Shorebird and Waterfowl Breeding Success in 2008: In July, Ken
Abraham (OMNR) was along the northwest coast of Hudson Bay and on
Southampton Island, Nunavut. He reports (fide Jim Leafloor of
Canadian Wildlife Service) that lemming numbers are generally high in
the Eastern Arctic from Churchill, Manitoba, to Bylot Island
(latitude 73 deg), Nunavut. Waterfowl and shorebirds are having a
good breeding season because nest predators (foxes, gulls, jaegers,
hawks, owls, etc.) are preying on lemmings instead of birds. When
lemmings are scarce, nest depredation is much higher on birds and
breeding success is low. Tundra lemmings, Brown and Collared, are not
found south to Akimiski so the situation is different there. This
summer voles and other small mammals are low on Akimiski so nest
depredation was high (OMNR). The above are examples of the
alternative prey hypothesis.

2. Birds whose most southerly breeding range is the James Bay area:
Snow Goose (most southerly breeding is Akimiski), Ross's Goose,
Tundra Swan, King Eider, "Hudson Bay" Common Eider (subspecies
sedentaria), Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, American Golden-Plover,
Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin
(subspecies hudsonia), Purple Sandpiper (subspecies belcheri), Stilt
Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Parasitic
Jaeger, Northern Shrike, American Tree Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow,
Lapland Longspur, Smith's Longspur, and Hoary Redpoll.

3. Diurnal Raptors and Shorebirds: Osprey, Northern Harrier, and an
adult Merlin with juvenile learning to prey on shorebirds. Merlins
breed near camp. Recent studies elsewhere indicate that shorebirds
are flushing more frequently and spending shorter periods of time at
staging areas apparently linked to increasing numbers of Peregrine
Falcons, Merlins, etc. Peregrines do not breed in the James Bay area
because of the flat topography.

Snow and ice map link. Note the last remaining sea ice in Hudson Bay.
This long lasting ice and cold water contribute to subarctic
conditions extending deep into Eastern Canada. The ice persisting
longest at the bottom end of Hudson Bay is due to water circulation
patterns, making that coastline one of the best places for Polar
Bears in summer, and that coast is a major fall staging area for
Polar Bears waiting for freeze-up.

Polar Bear and Climate Change research.

We thank Ken Abraham and Bridget Olsen for information. Next report
in a few days.

Ron Pittaway and Jean Iron


James Bay Shorebirds - Akimiski Report # 4
From: Jean Iron <jeaniron AT SYMPATICO.CA>
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2008 15:13:22 -0400

Jean Iron's report for the period 9 - 13 August 2008 via satellite
phone from Akimiski Island, Nunavut, in James Bay. She is a volunteer
surveying shorebirds for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
(OMNR) and Trent University under the direction of Research Scientist
Ken Abraham. At low tide the mudflats in front of camp extend out
more than 2 km. The flats are a mixture of mud and rocks with
thousands of shallow pools. The high density of tidal pools provides
ideal feeding habitats for shorebirds. Counts are done at or near
high tide when birds are concentrated close to shore. High tide
yesterday was about 7 p.m. This report includes the latest shorebird
population estimates in North America. Observations below.
Shorebird Banding on 12-13 August: Greater Yellowlegs - 1 juvenile
(no molt), Lesser Yellowlegs - 3 juveniles (no molt), Semipalmated
Sandpiper - 61 juveniles (no molt) and 1 molting adult, Least
Sandpiper - 2 juveniles (no molt), White-rumped Sandpiper - 3 molting
adults, Pectoral Sandpiper - 1 adult (no molt), 5 juvenile
Short-billed Dowitchers (no molt). Ben Walters of Trent is doing the
banding. A nearby female Polar Bear and cub are limiting banding activities.

Black-bellied Plover: 36 on 9 Aug, 27 molting (blotchy) adults on 13
Aug, a couple in almost full alternate plumage. Juveniles are still
much farther north on the breeding grounds.

American Golden-Plover: 1 adult on 9 Aug, 3 adults (limited molt) on
13 Aug. Juveniles farther north on breeding grounds.

Semipalmated Plover: 40 on 9 Aug, 44 mostly adults on 13 Aug, only 4
juveniles. Ken Abraham remarked that "Akimiski is one of the
southernmost breeding locations for Semipalmated Plovers and the
population has been studied since 2002. It is curious that there are
so few juveniles, if they are from local production, but we have been
worried about high predation rates (much higher than at the Churchill
study area). I wonder if the birds currently there are passage birds
from farther north and whether the local birds have left".

Greater Yellowlegs: 42 on 9 Aug, 23 on 12 Aug, 40 on 13 Aug, 50%
juveniles. Several chasing small fish in shallow water, which is
typical behavior.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 135 on 9 Aug, 27 on 12 Aug. All juveniles.

Whimbrel: 37 on 9 Aug, 19 on 10 Aug, 18 on 11th, 20 on 12th, 18 on
13th. All adults that could be aged. They are around camp (not on
mudflats) eating berries such as Bufflaloberry (Shepherdia
canadensis). Most berries are high in sugar and when eaten, quickly
metabolize to fat.

Hudsonian Godwit: 39 on 9 Aug, 48 on 12 Aug. 10% juveniles.

Marbled Godwit: The big news is the sighting of the first 4 juveniles
on 12 Aug. Eight birds on 10th were not aged, but one was a presumed
adult because it chased a Northern Harrier in apparent territorial
behavior. One flyover on 13th. No nests were found this summer with
extensive searching. Secretive nesting behavior is not surprising
given the high nest depredation on shorebirds by foxes, gulls and
other opportunists. The James Bay Marbled Godwits breed later than
northern prairie birds because of the later onset of summer. This
population occurs mainly in the southern 3/4 of western James Bay.
Marbled Godwits were not detected along the Ontario coast of Hudson
Bay during the second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Abraham 2007).
James Bay birds may be the northern limit of their breeding range due
to climatic conditions or possibly they are excluded from breeding
farther north by competition with Hudsonian Godwits. Todd (1963)
reported that the dissection of 5 birds, collected 24-25 June 1941 at
Hannah Bay (Ontario) at the south end of James Bay, showed that they
were not in breeding condition. This suggests that James Bay birds
may not breed every year, particularly in cold summers, further
limiting the population. Ken Abraham commented that "An alternate
interpretation for Todd's dissection is that perhaps not all Marbled
Godwits breed in their second year."

Ruddy Turnstone: 1 adult on 9 Aug, 3 adults (no molt) on 13 Aug.
First juveniles expected soon.

Red Knot: 4 molting (patchy red/gray) adults on 12 Aug. First
juveniles expected soon.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 3316 on 9 Aug, 1000 on 11 Aug, very few
adults. 1500 almost all juveniles on 12th, 1043 almost all juveniles
on 13 Aug. Ratio about 1 adult to 100 juveniles. Rapid turnover from
mostly adults to juveniles in the last few days.

Least Sandpiper: 12 juveniles on 9 Aug, 1 juvenile on 13 Aug. Adults
now well south of the breeding grounds.

White-rumped Sandpiper: 4693 on 9 Aug, 1500 molting adults on 12 Aug,
1200 on 13 Aug. White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpiper usually fly
and feed together in mixed flocks of 6 - 400 birds. Semipalmateds
feed at edge of pools and White-rumpeds in shallow water.

Pectoral Sandpiper: 124 adults on 9 Aug, 32 adults (no molt) on 13
Aug. First juveniles expected soon.

Dunlin: 3 molting adults with Semipalmateds and White-rumpeds on 9 Aug.

Short-billed Dowitcher: 6 juveniles (no molt) on 13 Aug.

Wilson's Phalarope: 2 juveniles photographed on 13 Aug. First record
for Akimiski Island. Wilson's Phalarope is a rare breeder in the
southern James Bay area. One was starting its first prebasic molt
showing a few new gray scapulars.

Other Birds: A Merlin caught a peep on 9 Aug, 3 juvenile Bonaparte's
Gulls on 9 Aug, and 6 adult Arctic Terns on 9 Aug.

2006: Black-bellied Plover 200,000; American Golden-Plover 200,000;
Pacific Golden Plover 35,000 - 50,000; Snowy Plover 15,200; Wilson's
Plover 6,000; Common Ringed Plover 190,000 including 10,000 breeding
in Canada;  Semipalmated Plover 150,000; Piping Plover 5,983;
Killdeer 1,000,000; Mountain Plover 12,500, American Oystercatcher
11,000; Black Oystercatcher 10,000; Black-necked Stilt 176,400;
American Avocet 450,000; Greater Yellowlegs 100,000; Lesser
Yellowlegs 400,000; Solitary Sandpiper 150,000 with an approximate
ratio of 2:1 for subspecies nominate solitaria to cinnamomea; Willet
250,000 includes 90,000 Eastern nominate subspecies semipalmatus and
160,000 interior subspecies inornatus; Wandering Tattler 10,000 to
25,000 with 90% in North America; Spotted Sandpiper 150,000; Upland
Sandpiper 350,000, Eskimo Curlew < 50, "lack of recent reports
suggest designation of possibly extinct"; Whimbrel 66,000 including
40,000 subspecies hudsonicus; Bristle-thighed Curlew 10,000;
Long-billed Curlew 55,000 to 123,500, "it appears that there are
considerably more Long-billed Curlews than previously thought";
Hudsonian Godwit 70,000; Bar-tailed Godwit 90,000; Marbled Godwit
173,500; Ruddy Turnstone 190,000 including 45,000 subspecies
interpres breeding in Canada and winter in Europe and Africa; Black
Turnstone 95,000; Surfbird 70,000; Red Knot 120,000 for all NA
populations, but I may have erred in calculating this number from the
report. This includes (1) 80,000 subspecies islandica, which breeds
in the northeastern Canadian High Arctic and winter in Europe, (2)
20,000 subspecies roselaari breeding in Alaska and wintering along
Pacific Coast, and (3) 20,000 subspecies rufa of eastern and central
North America. The rufa population estimate is out of date. It is now
considerably less than 20,000, but I don't have the latest number;
Sanderling 300,000; Semipalmated Sandpiper 2, 000,000; Western Sandpiper
3,500,000; Least Sandpiper 700,000; White-rumped Sandpiper 1,120,000;
Baird's Sandpiper 300,000; Pectoral Sandpiper 500,000; Sharp-tailed
Sandpiper 30,000 being almost all juveniles migrate through western
Alaska in fall; Purple Sandpiper 15,000; Rock Sandpiper 150,000;
Dunlin 1,525,000; Stilt Sandpiper 820,000; Buff-breasted Sandpiper
30,000; Short-billed Dowitcher 153,000 including combined total of
Eastern nominate subspecies griseus and interior subspecies
hendersoni at 78,000, and western subspecies caurinus at 75,000;
Long-billed Dowitcher 400,000; Wilson's Snipe 2,000,000; American
Woodcock 3,500,000; Wilson's Phalarope 1,500,000; Red-necked
Phalarope 2,500,000; and Red Phalarope 1,250,000.

References: (1) Morrison, R.I.G., B.J. McCaffery, R.E. Gill, S. K.
Skagen, S. L. Jones, G.W. Page, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, and B. A.
Andres. 2006.  Population estimates of North American shorebirds
2006. Wader Study Bulletin. (2) Todd, W.E.C. 1963. Birds of the
Labrador Peninsula and Adjacent Areas. Carnegie Museum and University
of Toronto Press.

We thank Ken Abraham for comments. Next report in a few days.

Ron Pittaway

James Bay Shorebirds - Akimiski Report # 5
From: Jean Iron <jeaniron AT SYMPATICO.CA>
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2008 16:52:28 -0400

Jean Iron's report for the period 14 - 19 August 2008 by satellite
phone from Akimiski Island in James Bay. She is a volunteer surveying
shorebirds for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and
Trent University under the direction of Research Scientist Ken
Abraham. Akimiski is the largest island in James Bay with an area of
3208 sq km based on Landsat imagery (Andrew Jano, retired OMNR, pers.
comm.). Note that this figure is larger than published figures
because it includes coastal mudflats and intertidal marshes, both are
substantial along the north and east shore. Akimiski is Nunavut's
deep south, only other large island in James Bay is Charlton, which
is 105 km farther south. Nunavut's northernmost land is Ellesmere
Island close to the North Pole. Akimiski is part of Nunavut and not
adjacent Ontario because the Act of Parliament establishing Nunavut
(which was part of Northwest Territories until 1999) included in the
new territory all of the islands in Hudson Bay, James Bay and Ungava
Bay. Nunavut is the largest jurisdiction in size and it has the
smallest population of Canada's 10 provinces and 3 northern territories.

This post includes recent information on the probable overall decline
of shorebirds in North America.

New bird for Nunavut: Jim Richards, co-author of the Nunavut bird
checklist, tells me that the 2 juvenile Wilson's Phalaropes
photographed on 13 August on Akimiski Island and reported in previous
report # 4 is the first documented record for Nunavut. Jim is
preparing a major revision to the checklist and hopes to have it
ready to go to press at the end of August. It will be published by
the Canadian Wildlife Service. If you know of unusual or new birds
for Nunavut, please email Jim Richards at jmr DOT naturepix AT

Shorebird Banding and Lice: 8 species of shorebirds banded to date by
a crew led by Ben Walters. Two juvenile Hudsonian Godwits caught
together on 15 Aug showed strong sexual dimorphism in size and bill
length. Males are smaller and have shorter bills. Assistant Professor
David Beresford of Trent is studying the lice found on the
shorebirds. They are not sucking lice; rather they are chewing lice
that eat feathers and dead skin. Recent strong winds with gusts to 70
km/hr and Polar Bears are restricting banding. Forecast for next few
days is sunny and above seasonal temperatures.

Recent Observations: Shorebird are listed in checklist order: Note
turnover from adults to juveniles this past week for several species.
Recent tides have been very high because of strong north winds and a
full moon.

Black-bellied Plover: 9 molting adults on 16 Aug, 17 adults on 17th,
24 adults on 18th. Juveniles still near the breeding grounds.

American Golden-Plover: 4 molting adults on 16 Aug, 17 on 18 Aug.
Juveniles still near the breeding grounds.

Semipalmated Plover: 30 adults and 3 juveniles on 15 Aug, 20 adults
and 7 juveniles on 18th. The low proportion of juveniles is a puzzle.
Most are likely farther north near the breeding grounds. They should
be moving soon.

Greater Yellowlegs: 27 on 18 Aug, molting adults are still more
common, about 60%.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 49 (including 1 molting adult) on 16 Aug, 26
juveniles on 17 and 18th.

Spotted Sandpiper: A juvenile banded on 15 Aug.

Whimbrel: First juvenile on 13 Aug, 9 unaged on 15th, 10 unaged birds
included 1 adult and 2 juveniles on 16th, 11 unaged and 1 adult on
17th, 7 unaged and 1 adult on 18th. Whimbrels are wary and hidden in
low vegetation feeding on berries making them difficult to see and
age before they flush. This is the crossover period when both adults
and juveniles present, but the percentages of the age classes are
difficult to determine. Whimbrel can be aged if seen well. When
comparing worn adults and fresh juveniles, note that adults have
plainer less contrasting wing coverts and tertials; whereas these
feathers on fresh juveniles are heavily and distinctly checkered with white.

Hudsonian Godwit: 44 on 17 Aug, 15 on 18th included 11 juveniles.
Proportion of juveniles is increasing as they move south into James
Bay to fatten for the long, usually non-stop, flight to South America.

Marbled Godwit: 1 juvenile on 16 and 17 Aug. 1 unaged on 18th. Most
adults have now departed James Bay. The first report of a Marbled
Godwit in the James Bay area was one on 29 August 1860 near Moose
Factory east of Moosonee (Todd 1963).

Ruddy Turnstone: 18 (included 3 adults) on Aug 16, 52 mostly
juveniles on 17th, 70 on 18th included 7 adults. They were flipping
small stones and seaweed.

Red Knot: 85 on 18 Aug, most were adults with body molt well
advanced. None had coloured leg flags. Some were either adults in
full basic plumage or juveniles, but could not be aged because of
distance. Most juveniles are still near the breeding grounds.

Sanderling: 1 unaged on 17 Aug, 5 unaged on 18th because of distance.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: Very few adults. 2000 on 16 Aug (< 1%
adults), 2100 on 17th, 1520 on 18th.

Least Sandpiper: 1 juvenile on 16 Aug, 6 juveniles on 17th. Least is
an inshore sandpiper, not a bird Akimiski's broad tidal flats.

White-rumped Sandpiper: First juvenile photographed on 19 Aug, most
juveniles still farther north near breeding grounds. The timing of
juvenile migration and numbers for James Bay not known. 2500 adults
on both 17 and 18 Aug with body molt well advanced. Wing and tail
molt of adults offset until they reach wintering grounds.

Pectoral Sandpiper: 50 on 17 Aug, 28 on 18th, all non-molting adults.
Adult Pectorals undergo their complete annual prebasic molt
(body/wings/tail) after migration on the wintering grounds.

Dunlin: 54 mainly molting adults in various stages of molt on 18 Aug.
Some may have been juveniles, but Jean was not certain because of distance.

Short-billed Dowitcher: 4 juveniles on 17 Aug. Adults are now well
south of breeding grounds.

SHOREBIRD POPULATION TRENDS: Are shorebirds declining? Bart et al.
(2007) discussed shorebird population trends. They analyzed long-term
shorebird data from two survey regions: the North Atlantic and
Midwest USA regions. The North Atlantic region showed an overall
decline of 2.17% per year (P = 0.004). Among 30 species, 73% showed
declines, 9 species declined significantly and none increased
significantly. The Midwest region showed no clear evidence of an
overall decline in 29 species. The authors stated, "The finding that
trends were quite different in the North Atlantic and Midwest regions
makes us reluctant to calculate rangewide trend estimates."

In the North Atlantic Region, three possible causes for the decline
in total numbers were evaluated: 1. Movement hypothesis: that the
timing of migration changed and caused the decline was not supported
by the data; another aspect of the movements hypothesis is that
shorebirds moved through faster in recent years, but this could not
be evaluated with existing data. 2. Change in detection hypothesis:
no evidence was found for a net shift of shorebirds from surveyed to
non-surveyed sites. 3. Population change hypothesis: this hypothesis
says that "the reduction in total numbers recorded is due to a
reduction in size of the breeding population." The authors state,
"While results are mixed for some species, the overall picture
indicates a disproportionate number of declines across many shorebird
species in North America...particularly in eastern Canada and the
northeastern United States". They say that a decline in shorebird
numbers is supported by surveys in other areas such as the Ontario
Shorebird Survey, checklist programs in Quebec, Breeding Bird Surveys
in the USA and Canada, aerial surveys in North and South America, and
counts during research projects in western Canada and surveys on the
Arctic breeding grounds.
        Conclusion: The shorebird decline in the North Atlantic region
appears to be caused by declines in population size, but the authors
cannot exclude the hypothesis that declines were due to a changes in
movements during migration, such as passing through the region more
quickly. They state that, "An urgent need exists for more long-term
data sets, especially from northern breeding grounds and from western
North America...".

Other Birds: Canada Geese and Whimbrels actively eating
Bufflaloberries (Shepherdia canadensis), adult Parasitic Jaeger on 19
Aug, Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Tree Swallow on 19 Aug, 3
Gray Jays behind camp on 19 Aug, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped
Warbler, "Western" Palm Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Lincoln's
Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, 3 Common
Redpolls on 19 Aug, White-winged Crossbill.

Polar Bears: A big male and a female with 3 cubs are interrupting
surveyors, banding and Trent Masters student Lisa Pollock's important
shorebird study. Polar Bears are also eating the abundant
Bufflaloberries based on remains in their droppings.

Wildflowers: Jean loves Akimiski's subarctic remoteness and beauty.
It is now bright with an abundance of Arctic Daisy (Chrysanthermum
arcticum), Marsh Ragwort (Senecio congestus), Northern Grass of
Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), pinkish purple Beach Pea (Lathyrus
japonicus), and pale purple Northern Gentians (Gentianella amarella).
Scientific and common plant names from the "Flora of the Hudson Bay
Lowland and its Postglacial Origins" by John L. Riley, published in
2003 by the National Research Council of Canada, 236 pages.

Note last remaining sea ice in Hudson Bay close to Manitoba and Ontario.

Literature Cited: Bart, J., Brown, S., Harrington, B., and R.I.G.
Morrison. 2007. Survey Trends of North American Shorebirds: Declines
or Shifting Populations? Journal of Avian Biology 38(1): 73-82.

We thank Ken Abraham and Andrew Jano for helpful comments and
information. Next report in a few days.

Ron Pittaway (for Jean Iron)


James Bay Shorebirds - Akimiski Report # 6
From: Jean Iron <jeaniron AT SYMPATICO.CA>
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 15:30:13 -0400

This is Jean Iron's last report from Akimiski Island for the period
20 - 25 August 2008. She was a volunteer surveying shorebirds for the
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and Trent University.
Note increasing proportions of juveniles for many species listed below.

Black-bellied Plover: 7 on 21 Aug, 6 on 22nd, 9 on 23rd, 7 on 24th.
All molting adults, a couple in almost full alternate plumage.

American Golden-Plover: 4 on 21 Aug, 1 on 22nd, 2 on 23rd, 1 on 24th.
All molting adults.

Semipalmated Plover: 14 on 21 Aug, 10 on 22nd, 4 on 23rd (mostly
juveniles), 35 all juveniles on 24th.

Killdeer: 1 or 2 per day, usually heard. 1 juvenile on 25 Aug.

Greater Yellowlegs: 26 on 21 Aug, 13 on 22nd, 12 on 23rd, 51 on 24th.
Mostly juveniles with a few molting adults. One adult on 25 Aug in
wing molt with gap in flight feathers. Greater Yellowlegs is one the
few shorebirds that undergoes wing molt at staging areas. Most
shorebirds delay wing and tail molt until reaching the wintering grounds.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 30 on 21 Aug, 19 on 22nd, 27 on 23rd, 65 on 24th.
All juveniles.

Whimbrel: 7 including 1 adult and 1 juvenile eating berries on 20
Aug, 9 mostly juveniles on 21st, 4 on 22nd, 2 on 23rd, 33 flyovers
and 2 juveniles on ground on 24th. There are likely still good
numbers of juveniles eating berries on the coastal barrens of
southwestern Hudson and western James Bay. Wilson and McRae (1993)
reported 225 on 7 September and 20 on 11 September at Longridge
Point, 57 km north of Moosonee, indicating that some stay well into September.

Hudsonian Godwit: 7 on 21 Aug, 5 on 23rd, 29 mostly juveniles on
24th, 40 on 25th. Most adults depart James Bay during the last 10
days of Aug. Juveniles leave later after fattening.

Marbled Godwit: 6 on 21 Aug, 3 on 22nd, 4 on 23rd, 2 on 24th. All
juveniles. Jean remarked that these juveniles had noticeably shorter
bills than adults in May, based on her photos of both age classes.

Ruddy Turnstone: Mostly juveniles. 37 on 21 Aug, 29 on 22nd, 30 (3 ad
& 27 juv) on 23rd, 7 on 24th, 35 (3 ad & 32 juv) on 24th, +20 (1 ad)
on 25th. Turnstones molt very little before reaching the wintering
grounds so the two age classes easy to distinguish in fall migration.

Red Knot: Flocks flying south. 15 on 21 Aug, 9 on 22nd, 100 on 24th,
they landed for about 5 minutes and then moved north with about 40
birds splitting off and continuing north. The others landed for 5
minutes. A few fed and some slept briefly before taking flight. 3 of
these birds had traces of alternate plumage, but considering the date
most may have been juveniles.

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 660 (a few molting ad) non-molting juveniles
on 21 Aug, 615 (a few ad) on 22nd, 297 on 23rd, 400 (2 ad) on 24th.
Note sharp reduction in numbers with most juveniles now much farther
south. Most will depart before September.

Least Sandpiper: 3 non-molting juveniles on 21 Aug. Most Leasts leave
before September.

White-rumped Sandpiper: First juvenile banded on 19 Aug, 1300 adults
and 2 juveniles on 20th, 1730 adults and 2 juveniles on 21st, 1600
adults and 2 juveniles on 22nd, 1500 adults on 23rd, 1700 including 2
juveniles on 24th. Most juveniles still farther north. Timing of
juvenile migration and their numbers in James Bay not known.

Pectoral Sandpiper: 7 adults on 21 Aug, 4 adults on 22nd, 6 including
first 2 juveniles on 24th.

Dunlin: 1 molting adult still with a good black belly patch. Most
Dunlins of the subspecies hudsonia stage along west coasts of Hudson
and James Bays in August and September, where adults and juveniles
molt to basic (winter) plumage before departing in late September and
October. This is the reason we do not see molting adults and full
juveniles with rare exceptions south of James Bay.

Banding: 10 species of shorebirds banded in August.

arctic shorebirds migrate north rapidly through the centre of the
continent largely bypassing James Bay. In fall most shorebirds move
more easterly towards the Atlantic Coast. This results in much larger
numbers using James Bay (probably several million birds) during
southbound migration, where wide tidal flats and intertidal marshes
provide an abundance of bivalves, gastropods, crustaceans, worms and
dipteran (fly) larvae (Ross et al 2003).

Other Birds: Juvenile Northern Goshawk on 21 and 22 Aug, adult
Sharp-shinned Hawk on 20 - 23 Aug, 2 juvenile Northern Harriers on 25
Aug, 2 juvenile Bonaparte's Gulls on 24 Aug, 8 Caspian Terns on 24
Aug and 4 (2 adults each with dependent juvenile) on 25th, 2 juvenile
Arctic Terns on 25 Aug, adult Parasitic Jaeger on 24 Aug, Bank
Swallow, 3 on 22 Aug, 1 on 23 and 24th, Boreal Chickadee, 2 Le
Conte's Sparrows on 22 Aug, White-winged Crossbill, 4 on 20 and 21
Aug, 5 on 22nd, Common Redpoll, 8 on 21 Aug, 4 on 22nd. Migration of
American Pipits with 30 on 21 Aug, 20 on 22nd and 23rd.

Butterflies: The 20 - 23 August very warm with above normal
temperatures. List from David Beresford and Ben Walters: Common
Ringlet, Aphrodite Fritillary, possible Clouded Sulphur, Palaeno
Sulphur, Giant Sulphur, Pink-edged Sulphur, White Admiral, and
Cabbage White. Ben and David also had another (different species) of
unidentified Fritillary.

Polar Bears: Female with 3 cubs on 21 and 23 Aug, one with 2 cubs, 2
with 1 cub, and several singles.

Last sea ice in Hudson Bay disappeared 24 August.

Literature Cited: (1) Ross, K., and K. Abraham, R. Clay, B. Collins,
J. Iron, R. James, D. McLachlin, R. Weeber. 2003. Ontario Shorebird
Conservation Plan. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada.
Hard copies available by email from Wildlife DOT Ontario AT
with name and postal address. (2) Wilson, N.C. and D. McRae. 1993.
Seasonal and Geographical Distribution of Birds for Selected Sites in
Ontario's Hudson Bay Lowland. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 145 pages.

This is Jean's final report. The camp closed yesterday and crew flew
out by Ontario Government Twin Otter to Moosonee and Timmins. From
plane they saw 7 Polar Bears on Akimiski. South of island were 3
Belugas. Ben Walters spotted 20 seals on Longridge Point north of
Moosonee. Jean is grateful to Ken Abraham (OMNR) and Erica Nol of
Trent University for the opportunity to survey shorebirds and assist

Ron Pittaway