James Bay Shorebirds 2005 - Reports


Posted on Ontbrids and Shorebirds Listservs


James Bay 3 August 2005 - Report #1

I just talked to Jean who's a member of a crew of eight surveying the birds and vegetation along the south coast of James Bay. The project is headed up by research scientist Ken Abraham of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). They're comparing vegetation changes with studies done 30 years ago. Jean has the lucky job of surveying the shorebirds. The crew is staying at the MNR staff house in Moosonee and flying by helicopter to different points every day along the coast. As I get daily reports, I'll post to Ontbirds.


Today along 1 km of coast 8 km west of Netitishi Point on James Bay:


Black-bellied Plover, 1 adult on tidal flats

Semipalmated Plover, 225 adults on tidal flats

Greater Yellowlegs, 30 adults and juveniles

Lesser Yellowlegs 15 adults and juveniles

Hudsonian Godwit, 50 molting adults on tidal flats, some in almost full alternate plumage and others almost in basic plumage

Ruddy Turnstone, 1 adult

Semipalmated Sandpiper, 200 adults and 10 juveniles

Least Sandpiper, 5 adults and 30 juveniles at edge of vegetation in pools and along muddy creeks

White-rumped Sandpiper, 300 molting adults on tidal flats - 800 yesterday at another location. This is the commonest shorebird.

Pectoral Sandpiper, 50 adults in same habitat as the Leasts


They also had lots of Yellow Rails and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows.


Happy birding,


Ron Pittaway

Minden & Toronto ON

jeaniron at sympatico.ca



James Bay 5 August 2005 - Report #2

This is the second report from Jean Iron (she just phoned me in Toronto from Moosonee) who's surveying shorebirds (as part of a larger study) along the southwest coast of James Bay for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. James Bay is the southern extension of Hudson Bay. It cuts deep into central Canada providing a route for tundra and boreal breeding shorebirds. The west coast of James Bay is in the province of Ontario and the east coast is in the province of Quebec, but the islands of James Bay belong to Nunavut Territory. The Ontario coast of James Bay is very flat. At low tide the feeding areas for shorebirds are immense. James Bay is one of the most important subarctic staging areas for shorebirds in North America. The numbers reported here are tiny considering the extent of the coastline.


Shorebirds seen Friday at Shegogau which is 20 km north of the mouth of the Moose River on James Bay in Ontario - GPS 0533358.


Black-bellied Plover, 1 adult

American Golden-Plover, 1 adult

Semipalmated Plover, 58 adults, 1 juvenile

Greater Yellowlegs, 97 adults and juveniles

Lesser Yellowlegs 75 adults and juveniles

Whimbrel, 3 adults

Hudsonian Godwit, 158 molting adults

Red Knot, 28 molting adults

Sanderling, 70 molting adults

Semipalmated Sandpiper, 2349, less than 5% juveniles

Least Sandpiper, 146 mostly juveniles

White-rumped Sandpiper, 1418 molting adults

Pectoral Sandpiper, 78 adults


Other birds of interest today were 16 Sandhill Cranes, 2 adult Arctic Terns, 8 Yellow Rails (still actively calling), 35 Nelson's Sharp-tailed

Sparrows, 2 Le Conte's Sparrows, and 1 juvenile Northern Shrike.


Ron Pittaway

Minden & Toronto, Ontario, Canada

jeaniron at sympatico.ca



P.S. I was out today at the Cannington Sewage Lagoons and saw my first juvenile Solitary Sandpiper and juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher of the year.


James Bay 6 August 2005 - Report #3

This is the third report from Jean Iron who is surveying shorebirds along the south coast of James Bay in northern Ontario for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). She is part of a crew under the direction of research biologists Ken Abraham and Carrie Sadowski. The OMNR is gathering information on habitat changes along the coast of James Bay. One change is the coastline has moved outward about 150 - 200 metres in places over the past 30 years because of isostatic rebound. The land is still rising gradually after being lowered by the weight of the continental glacier during the last ice age. The land in the James Bay area rises about 1.2 metres per century. This means a dramatic ongoing advance of the coastline because the land is so flat.


Shorebirds observed Saturday (Aug 6) near Shegogau about 20 km north of the mouth of the Moose River. Jean surveyed about 1400 metres of coastline 1 km south of Friday's location. Saturday was very windy and the temperature rose to a warm 28 C. The shorebirds slept for 45 - 60 minutes on grassy mounds at high tide before starting to feed again 30 minutes after the tide began to fall.


Semipalmated Plover, 17 mostly adults

Greater Yellowlegs, 34 mostly juveniles

Lesser Yellowlegs, 65 mostly juveniles

Hudsonian Godwit, 4 molting adults

Red Knot, 10 molting adults

Sanderling, 8 molting adults

Semipalmated Sandpiper, 2263, about 8% juveniles, numbers of juveniles increasing

Least Sandpiper, 12 juveniles

White-rumped Sandpiper, 1732 molting adults

Pectoral Sandpiper, 4 worn adults


Note # 1. Molting shorebirds are in body molt; none in wing molt.


Note # 2. Other birds of interest were 12 Sandhill Cranes, 3 Yellow Rails and 2 Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows.


Ron Pittaway

Minden and Toronto ON

jeaniron at sympatico.ca


James Bay 7 August 2005 - Report #4

This is the fourth report from Jean Iron (she phoned late last night) who is surveying shorebirds along the south coast of James Bay in northern Ontario for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Hudson Bay and James Bay are an extension of the Atlantic Ocean reaching deep into central Canada. The adjacent Hudson Bay Lowland is one of the largest wetlands in the world supporting large breeding populations of Hudsonian Godwits, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipers and Common Snipe (Ross et al. 2003).


Shorebirds seen Sunday (Aug 7) about 20 km north of the mouth of the Moose River near Shegogau on southern James Bay.


Black-bellied Plover, 6 adults.

Semipalmated Plover, 39 adults, 10 juveniles.

Greater Yellowlegs, 63, more than half juveniles.

Lesser Yellowlegs 168, more than half juveniles.

Whimbrel, 22, probably adults.

Hudsonian Godwit, 25 molting adults.

Marbled Godwit, 3, the coastal prairie-like marshes of James Bay support a isolated breeding population of perhaps a "few thousand" Marbled Godwits (Ross et al. 2003).

Red Knot, 203 molting adults, but still mainly in alternate plumage, James Bay is important to the large staging flocks of knots.

Ruddy Turnstone, 3 adults.

Sanderling, 4 worn and molting adults.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, 4852, increasing numbers of juveniles; banded birds from near here in the past were seen at Presqu'ile Provincial Park on Lake Ontario.

Least Sandpiper, 182, mostly juveniles.

White-rumped Sandpiper, 2648 molting adults, most of these adult birds move southeast across Quebec so very few are seen in southern Ontario.

Pectoral Sandpiper, 78 adults.


Note # 1. Other birds of interest today were 7 Yellow Rails including a sighting of 2 dark young.


Note # 2. The Ministry of Natural Resources crew has seen Black Bears using coastal habitats. Jean saw big foot prints in the mud on the tidal flats. Polar Bears are not usually seen in southern James Bay, but one was sighted there this spring. However, there are currently about 50 Polar Bears only 200 km farther north on Akimiski Island (Nunavut). This is the most southerly population of Polar Bears in the world. The Ministry is concerned about the physical condition of these Polar Bears because of the very early spring and warm summer which caused early ice out on Hudson Bay and James Bay forcing the bears to the coast or onto islands. These bears will lose a month or more time to hunt seals and put on weight. The hot weather this summer is stressing them too. They'll be in poor shape this fall if freeze up comes late. The Hudson Bay and James Bay populations of Polar Bears are at risk because of climate change.


Free Shorebird Reference: Ross, K. et al. 2003. Ontario Shorebird Conservation Plan. Canadian Wildlife Service. Cat No. 0-662-33933-9. Hard

copies of this plan are free by e-mailing <wildlife.ontario at eg.gc.ca>. Don't forget to include your full name and postal address.


Ron Pittaway

Minden and Toronto ON

jeaniron at sympatico.ca



James Bay 8 August 2005 - Report #5

This is the fifth report from Jean Iron who is surveying shorebirds along the south coast of James Bay in northern Ontario for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Below is a list of the shorebirds observed on Monday (Aug 8) about 20 km north of the mouth of the Moose River near Shegogau on southern James Bay. The survey was done at low tide so the birds were spread out. At low tide the flats extend 1 - 2 km or more. Over the next two weeks of August there will be a rapid shift in numbers from adults to juveniles in many (not all) species of shorebirds. This turnover applies to southern Ontario around the lower Great Lakes as well.


Black-bellied Plover, 3 adults in different stages of body molt.

Semipalmated Plover, 22,  75% juveniles.

Greater Yellowlegs, 49, mostly juveniles.

Lesser Yellowlegs 56, mostly juveniles.

Whimbrel, 3, age unknown.

Hudsonian Godwit, 15 molting adults. Thousands of this species stage and fatten along the west coast of James Bay before flying non-stop to South America. Most adults leave during the last 10 days of August. Juveniles begin to gather along the coast in early September and depart from mid-September to early October.

Marbled Godwit, 2, age unknown.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, 1412, 50% juveniles.

Least Sandpiper, 301, all juveniles.

White-rumped Sandpiper, 790 molting adults.

Pectoral Sandpiper, 350 adults, first juveniles should arrive this week or next.

Dunlin, 1 adult still mainly in very worn alternate plumage. See # 1 below.


Note # 1. Molt Strategies: Almost all adult Dunlins of the subspecies hudsonia (only subspecies breeding in Canada) will remain farther north

to undergo a complete definitive prebasic molt before migrating south after mid-September. Juvenile Dunlins also remain in the north to undergo a partial first prebasic body molt of body feathers before migrating south. Purple Sandpipers follow this molt strategy too. However, most adult shorebirds undergo varying degrees of body molt before migration (very slight in a few to none in many species) and during migration at staging areas where there is considerable body molt in many species. Most adult shorebirds delay molting flight feathers until reaching the wintering grounds. Most juvenile shorebirds depart the nesting areas in full juvenal plumage. Depending on the species, there are varying amounts of body molt at rest stops and staging areas as in adults.


Note # 2. Reports from Hudson Bay and from farther north indicate that most shorebirds had a good breeding season in 2005.


Note # 3. I had a question about Red Knots. How are numbers doing this year versus past years? It is difficult to say based on Jean's one survey location. The coastline extends for hundreds of kilometres. The Hudson Bay and James Bay coasts of Ontario are of "hemispheric significance to staging flocks" of southbound Red Knots (Ross et al. 2003), probably being the fall equivalent to Delaware Bay. The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) does aerial surveys along the coast of James Bay, but I have not heard of recent numbers of knots. The CWS also does aerial surveys of Red Knots and other shorebirds during the winter in Central and South America.


Note # 4. Other birds of interest on Monday were 3 juvenile Bonaparte's Gulls, 2 adult Arctic Terns, 3 Yellow Rails, 22 migrating Bank Swallows, 3 Rusty Blackbirds, 2 Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows (still actively singing), 4 Le Conte's Sparrows (actively singing). The Ministry survey crew also saw many young American Toads of the colourful Hudson Bay subspecies, Bufo americanus copei, and a Painted Lady (butterfly).


Literature Cited: Ross, K., K. Abraham, B. Clay, B. Collins, J. Iron, R. James, D. McLachlin, and R. Weeber. 2003. Ontario Shorebird Conservation Plan. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada. Cat No. 0-662-33933-9.


Ron Pittaway

Minden and Toronto, ON

jeaniron at sympatico.ca



James Bay 9 August 2005 - Report #6

This is the sixth and final report from Jean Iron who was surveying shorebirds along the south coast of James Bay in northern Ontario for the

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The survey ended yesterday. Jean noted that water temperatures are very warm in the coastal pools where shorebirds such as yellowlegs, Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits were feeding. The Leasts and Pectorals were around pool edges and along muddy creeks, whereas the Semipalmated Sandpipers and White-rumped Sandpiper were feeding mainly at the edge of the ebbing tide. The shallow tidal water is also warmer this summer because of many hot sunny days. Most of the juvenile Greater Yellowlegs were catching tiny fish in tidal pools and along the tide line. Below is a list of the shorebirds observed on Tuesday (Aug 9) about 20 km north of the mouth of the Moose River near Shegogau on southern James Bay.


Black-bellied Plover, 1 heard in flight.

Semipalmated Plover, 23, mostly juveniles.

Greater Yellowlegs, 283, 75% juveniles.

Lesser Yellowlegs, 95, mostly juveniles.

Hudsonian Godwit, 62 molting adults and 3 juveniles.

Marbled Godwit, 5 juveniles, most adults may have left James Bay.

Red Knot, 11, most with much alternate plumage. More on knots see # 1 below.

Sanderling, 5 worn and molting adults, first juveniles expected soon.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, 4374, 60% juveniles.

Least Sandpiper, 248 juveniles, 1 adult.

White-rumped Sandpiper, 7162 adults, no two birds alike because of different degrees of body molt.

Pectoral Sandpiper, 117 adults, first juveniles expected soon.

Dunlin, 1 adult


Note # 1. More on Red Knots: Yesterday I talked to Mark Peck of the Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto. Mark is part of an international group from Canada, United States, Brazil, Argentina and Chile who is studying the Red Knot. They are doing field work on the breeding grounds at Southampton Island (Nunavut) north of Hudson Bay. They are locating nests and monitoring nest success, but their sample sizes are low ranging from 6 to 12 nests per year. Knot nests are difficult to find because they have large territories and incubating birds sit tight in cryptic habitat. They also are studying predation rates during high and low lemming years. When lemmings are low, predators such as jaegers and gulls prey more on birds. The group is taking blood samples for DNA work (genetic diversity) and feather samples for isotope analysis to determine the geographical areas used by this population.  Anyone seeing Red Knots with coloured leg bands and flags can report sightings including numbers of adults and juveniles to Mark Peck (peckm at rom.on.ca). As well, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has contracted Guy Morrison, Research Scientist - Shorebirds, Canadian Wildlife Service to prepare a status report on the Red Knot. This report will guide COSEWIC in designating the Red Knot as Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern, or Not At Risk.


Note # 2. Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas: This is the final year 5 of the breeding bird atlas. Atlas crews surveyed many blocks in northern Ontario

and along the coast of Hudson and James Bay, will add much valuable information to our knowledge of breeding shorebirds in Ontario. Publication of the Atlas is scheduled for September 2007. To view preliminary maps http://www.birdsontario.org/atlas/map.jsp


Note # 3. Other birds of interest on Tuesday (Aug 9) were 7 Sandhill Cranes, a light morph Rough-legged Hawk at the Moosonee airport, 1 Yellow Rail, 35 Rusty Blackbirds, and Savannah Sparrows were common along the coast. Three Belugas (white whales) were seen from the helicopter at the mouth of the Moose River.


Acknowledgements: Jean would like to thank the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) for the opportunity to survey shorebirds during its study of coastal habitats on James Bay. Jean will be submitting a report to the OMNR.


After yesterday's survey, Jean flew by helicopter from Moosonee to Timmins. They saw two small forest fires which OMNR crews were working on to put out before they got out of control. With the hot weather and thunderstorms, the fire hazard is high. The helicopter used for the James Bay surveys is now assigned to fighting forest fires north of Thunder Bay (Lake Superior) where the fire hazard is extreme. Today Jean is making the long 10 hour drive from Timmins to Toronto. She'll be stopping every 75 km to assess cone crops, birch catkins and mountain-ash berries. Tomorrow she'll put shorebird photos from James Bay on her website: http://www.jeaniron.ca/Shorebirds/2005/JamesBay/index.htm


We hope that you have enjoyed the reports.


Ron Pittaway and Jean Iron

Minden and Toronto, ON

jeaniron at sympatico.ca