Tuesday 4 September 2012

James Bay part 4 (August 6 to August 8, 2012)

Introductory Post
July 28 to 30, 2012 - Moosonee, Little Piskwamish Point
July 31 to August 2, 2012 - Little Piskwamish Point
August 3 to 5, 2012 - Longridge Point
August 6 to 8, 2012 - Longridge Point
August 9 to 12, 2012 - Longridge Point
August 12 to 15, 2012 - Longridge Point

August 6, 2012
This was my seventh full day on the coast of James Bay and the time had really started to fly by at this point! On the previous day I had noticed a few Bronze Coppers amongst the sedge meadows, a new species of butterfly for me. This morning, I went out with my camera as it was warm and sunny. It didn't take long before I found a few.

Bronze Copper - Longridge Point

This James Bay population was found a few years ago and is quite isolated from the other populations. Along with Marbled Godwits, Nelson's Sparrows, Le Conte's Sparrows, and Wilson's Pharalopes, they are a relict prairie species which has a disjunct population in the James Bay lowlands. Here, the sedge meadows mimic prairies found farther south and west.

Bronze Copper - Longridge Point

Ian, Andrew and I walked to the end of Longridge Point later in the morning. I was still trying hard to get Arctic Terns and the tip of Longridge was one of the locations I was told was "guaranteed" for them. I figured the more time I spend out there doing a sea-watch, the better!

A highlight from the few hours of seawatching we did was a pair of juvenile Little Gulls which hung out at the very tip. Eventually they flew off as the tide came in. A neat plumage that I don't see enough!

Little Gulls - Longridge Point

The other star attraction at the tip of Longridge was a ratty looking Snowy Owl that was found by the previous group 2 weeks prior. This was my second trip to the tip of Longridge and the first time that I came across the owl.

Snowy Owl - Longridge Point

Snowy Owls breed in the arctic and should be much farther north then the James Bay lowlands in early August. This appeared to be a young bird, probably one that wouldn't breed this year anyways. It appeared wary and healthy the whole time we were there (we ended up seeing it regularly for the entire 12 days), and was probably dining on shorebirds, gulls, or even ducks.

Snowy Owl - Longridge Point

After a few hours of lakewatching our tern count was about 4 Caspian, 16 Common, and 0 Arctic. I was starting to become more worried as another day had passed without Arctic Terns.

We did see some other interesting birds for the day. In my notes, I mention several species which were new for me for the James Bay lowlands (Greater Scaup, Green-winged Teal, Bank Swallow, American Redstart, and Yellow-rumped Warbler). We also had a few more Red Crossbills plus the usual medley of Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees and White-winged Crossbills. A single Whimbrel was nice to see and we had a flock of 40+ Red Knots which didn't hang around. This bear was sniffing around and eating berries on the walk back to camp!

Black Bear - Longridge Point

Over the last couple of days we had seen warm south winds and we found some interesting "vagrant" insects from the south. On the 6th we had both Wandering and Spot-winged Gliders, and on the 5th I found this pretty worn Great Spangled Fritillary near camp. We ended up seeing another one later in the trip.

Great Spangled Fritillary - Longridge Point

August 7, 2012
The story of the day today - Arctic Tern!!! Unfortunately though, I wasn't lucky enough to see it.

The day started unexpectedly early. Barb and Deborah had decided to wake up extra early to try to be at the farthest southern point we census, Beluga Point, by high tide. They were up at 5:30 AM and by 6:00 AM I heard the news - Arctic Tern at the river mouth!

I was out the door in 30 seconds and raced down to the river mouth. They had seen it sitting on a rock near some Bonaparte's Gulls, though it was last seen flying out to the bay. I searched for several hours but came up empty, so I headed back to camp to get ready for the day. Another miss, but at least I now knew that Arctic Tern(s) were around! I did see my first Clay-colored Sparrow for the James Bay lowlands while I was searching for the tern.

This cute little Hudson Bay Toad was hanging around camp so I had to take a photo. Its incredible how variable they are.

Hudson Bay Toad - Longridge Point

I decided to volunteer to census Longridge Point with Andrew today, with hopes that the Arctic Tern might make a flyby at some point. The rain picked up but eventually it died down and we were able to walk to the tip. I walked along the low tide line the whole way as there were some terns and gulls concentrated there. Several Caspians, a group of Commons hunting the shore, but of course, no Arctic!

We did have some good birds at the tip, highlighted by our first Baird's Sandpiper of the trip (a year bird for Andrew). We identified it by call and eventually found it up on the ridge.

The other highlight was an adult Red-necked Grebe which hung out on the south side of the tip for a bit of time. Crappy shot, but identifiable! Red-necked Grebes are rare in southern James Bay.

Red-necked Grebe - Longridge Point

This underwing moth was flying around amongst the pebbles and driftwood of the long spit out to the point. I have tentatively identified it as Semirelict Underwing.

Semirelict Underwing - Longridge Point

Other birds seen for the day include building numbers of Whimbrels and the Snowy Owl again. At this point I decided to change my stategy for the remaining week on the coast. Instead of trying to get my Arctic Tern by lakewatching at the tip of Longridge (a strategy which clearly hadn't worked so far), I was going to focus on the inner bay and the rivermouth. Barb and Deborah had theirs there, so maybe this was a preferred spot for Arctic Terns.

August 8, 2012
The first three words scribbled in my journal for this date are: "ARCTIC F****** TERN!!!!" I finally got it, the number one target for the trip!

The day started out like most of the others...up by 7:00 or so, a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, almonds, and apples, and hot coffee. I spent some time in the morning looking for butterflies with Andrew before looking for birds along the coast. It was a hot and sunny day and butterflies were everywhere! Of course, I didn't turn down very many oppurtunities to photograph the numerous Bronze Coppers.

Bronze Copper - Longridge Point

The drier areas with low bushes seemed ideal for both Clay-colored Sparrows and Le Conte's Sparrows. I was more interested in the latter and spent a bit of time trying to get good looks at them. They are a very secretive sparrow, but they don't flush easily, allowing one to get great, close-up looks at them if one has a bit of patience. A highlight for me was having scope views of a fresh juvenile from only 15 feet away! Here is an adult, below.

Le Conte's Sparrow - Longridge Point

As I was walking along the edge of a creek I flushed a large white butterfly with black blotches and knew immediately what it was. Western White! This was a new butterfly for both Andy and I so we took a lot of photos!

Western White - Longridge Point

Western White - Longridge Point

Western White - Longridge Point

Eventually I made my way to the coast, south of the camp but not far enough to be at Beluga Point. I did a count as all the shorebirds and gulls flew by to roost at the river mouth as the tide was coming in. Hopefully, an Arctic Tern would be with them!

Little and Bonaparte's Gulls - Longridge Point

Lots of terns, about 1400 Bonaparte's Gulls, some Little Gulls, but no Arctic Terns yet again. Little Gulls were relatively common - I think we saw them just about every day! Several nice flocks of Hudsonian Godwits went by, but I didn't see a single knot.

That evening I decided to stay in and cook dinner while the rest of the crew went to check the river mouth at high tide. Just as I was boiling the water, I heard a crackling on the radio - Barb was saying "Arctic Tern at the river mouth"!

In the sudden rush of adrenaline I couldn't remember where I had put my binoculars or scope, so I just grabbed my camera (fortunately it was nearby) and sprinted! I think I covered the 1.5 kms in about 5 minutes, just in time to see a small white tern fly over as I made it to where the group was standing!

Arctic Tern - Longridge Point

It called several times, eventually flying back to the river and settling in on a rock. Success!!!! Deborah and Barb graciously let me use their optics and I could study the long tail, small head and short legs and bill of the Arctic Tern - features that separate it from the Common Tern. What a relief it was! Andy and I were both ecstatic to add this to our year-list!

Parts five and six to come.

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