Wednesday 4 January 2017

Netitishi Point - Days 15 and 16

Weather: -2 to 0 to -2, wind NW 40 gusting to 55 km/h, shifting to W 20-30 km/h, mostly overcast with brief periods of sun, snowsqualls throughout morning, none in aft
24 species

Today was certainly a day to remember! I could hardly sleep through the night as I kept waking up every hour or so to keep an eye on the wind conditions, and by dawn it was still blasting out of the northwest. We were so eager that we could barely see through our scopes initially as we waited for the morning light to improve.

The day ended up being quite eventful, though identifying the birds as they disappeared in wave troughs and as we fought through snow squalls was not always an easy task! I tucked myself into the back corner of the sea-watching shelter by trimming some spruce boughs, and while my angle of view was a bit narrower it was well worth it due to the additional shelter from the wind that the trees provided. Brant and dabbling duck numbers were much reduced even given the perfect conditions - we only had one flock of Brant, one flock of Mallards/American Black Ducks, and not a single Northern Pintail for the day. I guess they have all cleared out! Scoter numbers were much increased and we had good views of two Surf Scoters, the least common of the three species on James Bay at this time of year. The big story of the day however was the number of King Eiders. We finished with exactly 25 for the day, including a pure flock of 10 birds.

Panorama of the sea-watching shelter and the coast - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Gulls also took advantage of the excellent migration weather and we picked out occasional white-winged gulls here and there. At mid-morning I spotted an adult Thayer's Gull traveling over the waterline with a juvenile Iceland Gull, my first of the year. Closer to noon I spotted an interesting small loon that looked pretty good for Pacific Loon - unfortunately the distance was too great to confirm the identification and it remains one of the bigger holes on my southern James Bay list.

Black-capped Chickadee using the Motus tower - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

The winds began to shift more westerly in the afternoon, slowing down from ~50 km/h to ~30 km/h. The snow squalls ended soon afterwards, a welcome relief with the increased viewing opportunities that were now afforded. Our two best birds of the day happened within minutes of each other as the action began to slow down in the early afternoon. Scanning to the west, I was surprised to lock onto a small gull, arcing through the waves. It was very difficult to stay on, frequently disappearing in a wave trough and popping out several dozen meters away, but it was unmistakable - a Sabine's Gull! I frantically tried to get Todd on the bird but it was a tall order given the waves and the bird soon disappeared in one particularly deep trough. The Sabine's Gull appeared to have a gray mantle as well, indicating that it was likely an adult bird.

While scanning the bay hoping to re-find the Sabine's Gull in the ensuing minutes, I picked up a close grebe in flight, heading east while straight out in front of us. I called it out as a Red-necked Grebe and tried to get Todd on it, before it clicked - this bird was very dark, with black on top and white underneath, and with a broad white wing stripe while lacking white on the leading wing edge. It was a bird I was not expecting in the least, especially to see in flight. An Aechmophorus grebe! I corrected my initial ID to Todd, calling it out as a Western Grebe, and stayed on the bird as it continued on to the east. Todd frantically scanned for it but in his haste skipped over the bird; it was soon past us to the east. We ran out so that we could scan further down the coast, but it was no use. Perhaps the bird had landed in the water (Western Grebes rarely fly during the day) and was not visible due to the high waves, or maybe it had continued on down the coast.

Unfortunately I was not confident enough in my looks of the bird to definitely say it was a Western Grebe and not a Clark's Grebe. While Western is far more likely (there are no records of Clark's in Ontario) it can be a difficult ID, especially on a moving target such as this one.

Needless to say I was pretty excited, but also felt terrible for Todd as he missed both the grebe and the Sabine's Gull. It is a sickening feeling that all birders experience at some time or another. A small consolation for Todd was that neither birds would have been new for his Ontario list - better to miss a Sabine's Gull than, say, a Dovekie or a Northern Fulmar.

Not long afterwards as I was leaning back in my chair, I noticed movement above me as a dark shape appeared. It was a Gyrfalcon, hovering only a few meters above us! We watched the young gray morph bird as it watched us, before it powered past us to the flats. It landed among the beach grasses for a few minutes before taking flight again and continuing to the west. This put a smile back on Todd's face - Gyrfalcons make everything better!

Gyrfalcon - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

The rest of the day slowed down in a hurry as the winds kept shifting to the west, then west-southwest by dusk. The tide receded quickly as well since the water was no longer being pushed down the bay towards us by the winds. It was a great day on the coast, and an excellent way of closing out the trip, if no more "good" weather days are in store for us. 

November 12, 2016
Weather: -4 to 7 to 5 degrees C, wind SW to W 20-30 km/h, mostly overcast, some sunny patches in aft, clear by dusk, light rain in late morning but otherwise no precip
20 species

At dawn, the flats were covered by a thin layer of ice/snow for the first time all trip, after a cold night that saw the temperature drop to -4 degrees Celsius or so. We sat in the shelter waiting for high tide (11:00 AM) and watched as occasional scoters, mergansers and gulls flew past in the light west winds. I picked out a King Eider along the water line, then later spotted a Snowy Owl peeking out from behind a rock far out on the flats.

Occasional periods of light rain did not help the waterbird flight and Todd and I had difficulty staying focused throughout the afternoon. We have both reached that point in the trip where we are more then ready to head back to reality, a feeling that has increased gradually over the last number of days, though a feeling that was put on hold during yesterday's strong winds and great birding. We decided today that we will drive through the night when arriving back in Fraserdale in the evening on November 14, to get home by 8:00 AM or so as opposed to 10 PM. It will be great to have a day to relax at home before going into work the following day.

Gray Jay - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Gray Jay - Netitishi Point, Cochrane District

Feeling bored in the afternoon we took the shotgun to the coast to use up most of the remaining ammo, then to kill time in the evening we made a glorious garbage fire in one of the barrels, cleaning up around the cabins as well. The moon is full tonight and the clouds are almost non-existent, creating a nice backdrop as I sit here on the porch and write my journal entry while keeping an eye on the fire. It is hard to believe that the trip is almost over, but home beckons.


Allen Woodliffe said...

Certainly a nice account of an entertaining couple of weeks in a fabulous location! Thanks for posting all of this.

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks, Allen!