October 30, 2013
Weather: between -7 and -2 degrees Celsius, mostly clear, winds WSW 10-20 km/h and calm at dusk.
Ebird checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15559934
This proved to be a fantastic day at Netitishi Point. We observed 45 species of birds, the higher daily count for the trip. There were no really noticeable groups of birds to steal the show - instead, we were able to see most of the expected species. Late shorebirds included two Black-bellied Plovers, two American Golden-plovers, a Greater Yellowlegs, and a Hudsonian Godwit. Two new birds were added to the trip list - a group of three Ruffed Grouse that I found near the camp, and a Red Phalarope an hour later.
I sat down at my scope and was scanning over the calm sea, lit up with late October sunshine. After a few minutes of watching flocks of Dunlin flying by but not much else, I got on a plump gray shorebird with a narrow white wingstripe and white underwing. It was a Red Phalarope and I stayed on it as it for about a minute as it motored on a few hundred meters off shore, heading west. Red Phalaropes are uncommon but regular in the autumn in southern James Bay and I was happy to finally see my first.
Later in the afternoon, Alan returned from a walk down to meadows east of the point. He was within earshot when I noticed a large pale bird of prey coming in off the bay and flying straight at us. "Look up!" I yelled. We watched as the white morph Gyrfalcon came straight at us, curious as to who we were.
It ended up being one of the most memorable wildlife experiences that I have ever had. The lighting was perfect, I happened to have my camera on me, and I was in perfect position with the sun at my back to capture flight photos. The Gyrfalcon was immaculate!
The Gyrfalcon buzzed us not once but four times over the course of several minutes. Twice it perched at the pinnacle of a nearby spruce, allowing us to have prolonged views of this arctic beauty.
Big wing stretch!
Wow. Flying directly at me...what an experience!
This following photograph was certainly my favorite of the bunch. One of my goals of the trip was to get re-acquanted with Gyrfalcons, a species that in Ontario can only be somewhat reliably seen in James Bay in late autumn. I had always dreamed of having a photoshoot with a gyr, but never imagined that it could have gone this well. This is definitely my favorite photo of the bird!
Eventually the Gyrfalcon had enough of us, and after one more flyby, it powered off over the frozen coastline to the west.
Needless to say, after building a fire that evening we broke out the whiskey to celebrate a successful day at Netitishi Point. The Gyrfalcon photoshoot was undoubtedly the main highlight of the trip at this point, but it was only going to get better the next day...