Thursday 22 December 2016

Expedition to Netitishi - Days 7 and 8

Weather: 2 to 4 to 2 degrees C, wind WNW to NW 15-25 km/h, mostly overcast, brief patches of sun, no precipitation
37 species

Anticipation was high this morning as we bundled up, ate our bacon and eggs for breakfast and walked out to the coast as the winds blew in from the west-northwest. Fortunately for us, the conditions were ripe for an excellent duck migration, and we were not disappointed!

Todd and I both stayed out by the coast for most of the day, watching the action from our shelter tucked in along the tree line. Occasionally one of us would head back to the cabin to stoke the fire and warm up, but the birding was too good for us to want to stay away for too long. Additionally, the wind direction meant that low tide was retracted in duration, as well as much closer than normal.

Balaclavas are a necessity at Netitishi during a cold northwest wind

Flocks of Brant and Northern Pintail dominated the day and we stayed busy trying to keep track of the numbers. Other species were mixed in and we soon had observed a flock of Snow Geese, some American Wigeons, and a single Surf Scoter - all new birds for the trip.

dabbling duck flock - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Around mid-morning I was peering through my scope when Todd excitedly got my attention and sprinted from his chair. A Gyrfalcon had just flown right over our heads! I ran out to join Todd, looking back over the spruces that we had been sitting under. The brown morph bird hovered, only 30 or 40 meters from us, buoyed in place by the strong winds. I ran back to grab my camera from beside my chair and I was able to crack off several backlit images before the Gyrfalcon continued westward down the coast. This was pretty exciting - it was a lifer for Todd, and a big target for us; James Bay is one of the only places where this huge, Arctic falcon can be found regularly in Ontario.

Gyrfalcon - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

The ducks continued to stream by in large flocks all afternoon - thousands of Northern Pintail and Brant, hundreds of Mallard, and dozens of American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and American Black Duck. At 4:00 PM our second big highlight of the day occurred. A flock containing approximately 400 birds suddenly appeared overhead, much too quickly for us to set up properly and thoroughly scan through each bird with our binoculars and spotting scopes. I resorted to grabbing my camera and firing off a series of photos of all the birds as they passed our location on the coast. Surprisingly, a male Eurasian Wigeon was hidden with a few American Wigeons and Mallards in one sub-flock! Only two frames from my camera show the bird, but the rich chestnut head, flank pattern, and underwing pattern was clearly visible.

Eurasian Wigeon (lower left) with American Wigeon - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Eurasian Wigeon (lower left) with American Wigeon - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

I am only aware of two previous records for Eurasian Wigeon within the Lowlands Review area, including the following:

- One male at Ekwan Point, Kenora District 12-14 June, 1990 (Donald G. Cecile, Alan Wormington)
- One male at Moosonee, Cochrane District 5 May, 1991 (Mark Kubisz)

This was a very exciting find for us, even if it was identified after the fact by looking through the photos! The action kept on strong throughout the afternoon and until well past sunset - it was the most active migration that I had seen at Netitishi in quite some time and we enjoyed every minute of it. 

November 4, 2016
Weather: -2 to 3 to 2 degrees C, wind SW shiftting to WSW 10-20 km/h, mostly overcast with some periods of sun in aft, light hail/snow in aft
32 species

After an excellent day of migration the previous day, the winds shifted back to the southwest through the night and today's waterbird flight was much reduced. As expected, a phenomena that I have observed in the past at Netitishi given these conditions happened again today. Small flocks of Brant were seen "correcting" during the morning by flying west over the flats, along with a single flock of Northern Pintails and other dabbling ducks. Normal migration at Netitishi Point is from west to east and the waterfowl eventually congregate at the Harricana River mouth in Hannah Bay to the east. These west-flying Brant are usually very close to shore (or right over the flats) and without fail seem to show up on the day after a heavy migration, even if no other migrant waterbirds are moving.

flats at Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Feeling bored, I wandered out to the low tide mark by mid-morning, hoping to photograph the Brant as they flew past. None obliged during my hour long vigil though I was able to approach reasonably close to a small group of 11 as they loafed on the rocks.

Brant - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Todd left for a long hike to Little Netitishi Point while I killed time at the cabins, interspersed with sitting by the coast. When the action by the coast is slow and not much of anything around, it is probably still more productive to sit out by the coast than partaking in most other activities as something could always fly past the coast. I lucked out this time when at 2:41 PM I noticed an odd brown lump perched on one of the larger rocks out on the flats as the tide slowly rolled in. A quick check with my scope revealed a Gyrfalcon! Who knows how long it had been sitting out there. I took some photos of the bird through my scope as it rested and preened. It was likely the same bird as yesterday - a brown morph, which is a morph commonly found in the Labrador population (no doubt a main source for the Gyrfalcons on James Bay). Eventually after ten minutes or so the Gyr lifted off across the flats, and in the transfer from my scope to my binoculars I lost the bird and was unable to re-find it again.

Gyrfalcon - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Todd returned from his hike having located and photographed the adult American Golden-Plover, along with some longspurs and a Merlin. The rest of the afternoon was spent manning our positions behind our scopes at the sea-watching shelter but few birds came on by. We called it quits early, however, as the flight had completely shut down. 

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