Friday, June 26, 2009

Birding Churchill Manitoba; June 8-12, 2009: Northern Section of the tour and extra days, June 13-17,2009

Distant aerial view of Churchill, June 8, 2009

Aerial view of Landing Lake on June 8, 2009

A late spring at Churchill, Manitoba

Arrived in Churchill late this morning, June 8th and was amazed at the amount of snow and ice still present but the birding was great and we recorded 73 species. There was lots of activity along Goose Creek/Hydro Road with a number of Ross’, Gr. White-fronted and a few Cackling Geese. Numerous land birds were observed including Yellow, Palm, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Waterthrush and Rusty Blackbird. At The Weir we observed 14 Red Phalarope, 2 adult Little Gull and 24 Red-necked Phalarope. At The Pumphouse, end of Hydro Road, there was a good concentration of water birds including 1 adult Sabine’s Gull, 1 Long-tailed Jaeger, Pacific, Common and Red-throated Loons and all 3 scoters. Along Launch Road 1 Short-eared Owl was seen hunting behind the old Churchill Dump. Around the Grain Elevators and Granary Ponds there were 1200+ Snow Bunting, 350+ Lapland Longspur, and lots of Horned Lark. A nice day birding!

Waterfowl activity along Goose Creek Road

Black Scoters were numerous along Goose Creek/Hydro Road due to the ice conditions.

Male Black Scoter landing.

The Churchill Grain Elevator can be seen from a great distance.

Road to Cape Merry was still snow covered on our arrival!

The diversity of birds continues to change by the day in Churchill. On June 9th, at 5:30 am, we started at the Grain Elevators and had a male Harris’ Sparrow singing and feeding along the railway tracks, 1 male Red-winged Blackbird flying over calling and still plenty of Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark. Along Goose Creek Road/Hydro Road there was a noticeable increase in the number of waterfowl, shorebirds, and land birds. There were more Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Flicker, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. In The Weir area there were still 4 Red Phalaropes feeding close to the road. At The Pumphouse there was lots of activity including 11 Little Gull, 3 Sabine’s Gull, 2 Redhead, and 1 Parasitic Jaeger. There is still plenty of snow cover and Cape Merry and Twin Lakes is impassable. The Churchill River is frozen except for The Weir area and The Pumphouse but this is changing quickly with more sunshine over the past few days. There are now a few large open leads on Hudson Bay. Best of all, no mosquitoes!

An Arctic Hare enjoying a early morning breakfast.

A male Harris' Sparrow feeding along the railway tracks at the Grain Elevator.

With plenty of ice on the Churchill River, The Weir area was a hot spot for birding.

Adult Little Gull feeding at The Weir.

Small flock of Red Phalaropes at The Weir.

Red Phalaropes lingered due to late spring conditions.

Adult Sabine's Gull at The Weir was a great sight.

Snow conditions at The Pumphouse, Hydro Road.

On June 10th we observed a Clay-coloured Sparrow near Cape Merry, a female Red-winged Blackbird near The Weir entrance, 2 Harris’s Sparrow and 2 Bohemian Waxwing along Goose Creek Road and 2 Trumpeter Swans along Launch Road.

Scanning the frozen Churchill River.

Today, June 11th, the beautiful sunny weather continues in Churchill. Snow is melting quickly, and there is more open water on Hudson Bay and the Churchill River at The Weir and The Pumphouse. There has been a noticeable increase in land birds including, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow. Along Goose Creek/Hydro Road, we observed 3 adult Little Gulls at The Pumphouse, 1 adult Sabine’s Gull at the Marina, 15+ Red Phalarope (various locations), 2 Ring-necked Duck near the bridge and an increase in both Pacific and Re-throated Loons and Arctic Terns. The large concentration of Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspur at the Grain Elevator has dispersed now but flocks are being seen along Launch Road, Cape Merry area, and Goose Creek Road. Raptors seen include Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Short-eared Owl, a number of Rough-legged Hawk, Merlin, and Osprey.

Pacific Loon taking off along Launch Road.

A roller coaster ride along the spur line.

Snowshoe Hare along Launch Road.

Group of Long-tailed ducks resting on an ice floe.

A drastic change in weather today, June 12, (typical in Churchill) with overcast skies, snow flurries and a -4c wind chill. The birding was good with Goose Creek/Hydro Road being the best area. Unfortunately due to the high water levels the access to The Weir by car is difficult as a section of the road has been washed out but we walked from the entrance to the south. The Marina Road was also flooded. Highlights for June 12th included 2 Ring-necked Duck , 2 Bufflehead, 1 Red-tailed Hawk, 2 Little Gull all along GC/H Rd. Due to the flooding along Goose Creek/Hydro Rd. there is no shorebird habitat but we did observe 2 Red Phalarope swimming at the bridge.

There was a gray/brown morph Gyrfalcon near the old Churchill Dump, 2 Glaucous and 1 Thayer’s Gull and 3 Ross’ and 3 Greater White-fronted Geese.

Today, June 13th, the weather was sunny and +10c. A section of Hydro Road is under water. Not sure if we can drive to The Pumphouse. We managed to checked The Pumphouse early in the morning before flooding and observed 4 Little Gull and 100+ Arctic Tern. I’ve never witnessed this amount of flooding along the road before- resembles two large lake on either sides of the road. Land birds continue to increase in numbers with all regular warblers in. A surprise was a Black and White Warbler along Scrap Metal Dump Road. We walked to The Weir from Goose Creek Road and there were still 11 Red Phalarope. Twin Lake Road is still blocked by a two foot snow drift. The Cape Merry Road still has a few snow drifts so we had to walk in. Along Launch Road a few male Smith’s Longspurs are now on territory.

Rising water levels along Goose Creek/Hydro Road.

A tour group searching for the Ross's Gull at The Weir. Unfortunately none were found so far this season. At one time Churchill was the easiest location to observe Ross's Gull in June but the local population has declined over the past two decades.

The Twin Lakes Road east of Churchill was blocked by snow drifts and wasn't accessible during the tour and finally open by June 22nd.

A male Smith's Longspur along Launch Road.

The unmistakable male Smith's Longspur is always a crowd pleaser!

The White-crowned Sparrow is one of the more common land birds in Churchill.

A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers at The Weir.

Usually hard to find in mid-June, the late spring delayed many species from migrating. We were lucky to get a chance to view the Ross' Goose.

The birds and birding continue to change each day. This morning, June 14th, we headed down Goose Creek/Hydro Road only to find that it was closed just passed the Marina due to flooding. Later in the morning, a culvert was pushed up and blocked the road along the Goose Creek Road section but has since been repaired. Despite these challenges the birding continues to be great. The Black and White Warbler, found by Jeri Langhan (VENT), was still present along Scrap Metal Dump Road and Goose Creek Road area. Another surprise was a male Cape May Warbler at the Dene Village site. I observed it singing this afternoon. Overall, the Churchill River is still covered with ice except for The Pumphouse and The Weir area and Hudson Bay has a large area open off Cape Merry. We need a few days of warmer weather! Other birds of note today included 120+ Ruddy Turnstone, 9 Red Phalarope at The Weir, 2 adult Little Gull at Akudlik Marsh and 3 Song sparrows singing along Goose Creek Rd. There have been a few Arctic Hare and Caribou along Launch Road over the past couple of days.

Flooding along Hydro Road.

Caribou were forced out of the woods due to the flooding.

A group of Surf Scoters along the flooded Hydro Road.

A breeding plumaged White-rumped Sandpiper feeding along the frozen shoreline of Hudson Bay.

A Male Willow Ptarmigan along Launch Road.

Snow Buntings and a White-crowned Sparrow feeding at a local feeder.

Should we?

Today, June 15th, not much change from yesterday but Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, and both Canada and Snow Goose numbers have dropped the past few days. The flooding along Goose Creek/Hydro Road appears to have peaked and the washouts are being repaired. There were 3 adult Sabine’s Gull and 6 adult Little Gull along with 4 breeding plumage Red Phalarope at The Weir today and 7 male Ring-necked Duck and a pair of Bufflehead near the bridge. The number of Common Eiders and Arctic Terns are increasing daily as the inland ponds and lakes open up. Hudson Bay is still ice covered except for a few large open areas. The Churchill River is still frozen from below The Weir to Cape Merry but a few small open patches are starting to appear off the Grain Elevator. Had a flock of 240+ Ruddy Turnstone flying over Launch Road. There was one Harris’ Sparrow near Cape Merry and two along Goose Creek Road this morning. A few Thayer’s and Glaucous Gull are being seen in town and at the scrap metal dump on Scrap Metal Dump Road. Also, Hoary Redpolls are being seen along Launch Road and at the open section of Coast Road. I had 2 behind the Seaport Hotel this morning. The weather remains cool.

Formerly know as the Oldsquaw, the Long-tailed Duck is a common sight in the Churchill area.

A group of Common Eiders resting on one of the many inland ponds that were finally thawing.

A view of Hudson Bay form near Cape Merry.

As the ponds and small lakes opened up, more Pacific Loons could be found.

Early morning dense fog today, June 16th, made the birding somewhat difficult but the afternoon was good. At The Weir there were 11 breeding plumaged Sabine’s Gulls milling around, 1 adult Little Gull and 1 Red Phalarope. Not much change with the land birds but in general numbers increasing including Lincoln’s, White-throated and Swamp Sparrow. The Churchill River is still frozen except for The Weir area and The Pumphouse. Cape Merry is also frozen and the bay has more large leads opening. Most roads are now open except for Twin Lakes and Cape Merry. You can drive out to the Marina, The Weir road is still washed out and Hydro Road still has a section washed out.

Early morning fog made birding a bit challenging.

A wash out along Hydro Road.

Semipalmated Plover looking for nesting habitat.

This morning, June 17th, had an early start and birded Goose Creek Road at 3:30 a.m. There was lots of bird activity including 1 Alder Flycatcher, 1 Barn Swallow, 1 Three-toed Woodpecker and 1 Boreal Chickadee. The Weir area had 2 Sabine’s Gull along with Red-throated Loon and 3 Ring-necked Duck. Heading back home today. Had a great time birding Manitoba!

Sunrise along Goose Creek Road.

Savannah Sparrows fighting over flooded territory.

The Arctic Tern, a long distance migrant, looking for a nesting site at the Granary Ponds.

An aerial view of the Churchill River on June 17, 2009

Another aerial view showing the flooding along Goose Creek/Hydro Road. The Weir area is on the right side .

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