Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Parasitic Jaegers at Home

Though jaegers look superficially like a species of gull, they have a quite different lifestyle (can birds have lifestyles?). “Jaeger” is the German word for “hunter” and that is exactly how the Parasitic Jaeger makes its living on the tundra.

I found this active pair (*June 18, 2017) on a stretch of open tundra near a large pool of open water south of Launch Road. They were very curious about me…buzzing me once, but not in an aggressive manner (so I assumed they had not yet nested). But they constantly came and “visited me,” by landing nearby even as I moved away from them. This one landed very close to me on several occasions. She would then pose…as if to say, take another picture of me already!

Parasitic Jaeger yawning or trying to cough up a pellet. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Since the Parasitic Jaeger diet is mostly birds and some small rodents, they do need to cough up pellets of indigestible bones and fur. Maybe that is what this one is getting ready to do. Or maybe it was just a stretch or yawn. It was NOT screeching at me! No vocalization at all.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 330mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 100; braced on moss hummock]

Parasitic Jaeger landing on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

The tundra here was bordered by a small stand of Black Spruces. The jaegers only flew over the tundra and ponds.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

They are not totally dependent on lemmings and voles as are many arctic predators, including their cousins the Long-tailed Jaeger and Pomarine Jaeger; this allows them to survive and thrive even during times of low lemming populations. Small songbirds, shorebirds, lemmings, voles, ducks, ptarmigan, fish, insects, carrion and eggs of many species are all on the menu.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.66 ev; handheld]

 

Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2019Parasitic Jaeger pair nuzzling on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

This behavior shown in the above two photos could be related to nest site selection…An article on birdsna.org (Birds of North America online) says this….

“Usually male initiates choice of a nest site by walking or flying toward a suitable site and uttering the Nest Call. At the site, both birds produce Squeaking. Male usually has neck withdrawn and beak pointing downward; female lowers her neck and pecks at male’s beak (sometimes male pecks at female’s beak). Meanwhile nesting-building movements occur mostly by the female (Scraping, Sideways Building; Perdeck 1963).”

If so, the female is doing the nuzzling and pecking at his beak in order to confirm that this is an acceptable nest site.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Songbirds are the main course for most nesting Parasitic Jaegers on the tundra. Studies have shown the percentage of passerines in their diet ranges from 75 to 93 percent!

If vole or lemming numbers are high, then they will eat proportionately more small rodents.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Breeding range of the Parasitic Jaeger matches the range of its preferred habitat…tundra. Churchill is at the southern edge of the tundra in North America. Being circumpolar species, they also breed in Norway, Greenland, Scotland, Iceland and Siberia.

In winter, they mostly range over the oceans from southern coasts of U.S., Mexico south to both offshore coasts of South America.  Feeds by forcing gulls to disgorge their last meal in flight and swooping down to catch the regurgitated mass.

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Parasitics will hunt cooperatively, with pairs working in tandem to find and kill prey. For accessing goose and loon eggs, one bird may harass the adult off the nest and keep her distracted while the other swoops in and steals an egg.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra pond. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra pond. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger alighting on hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Another case where this pair seemed genuinely curious about me…and not mad or aggressive. This one landed only a short distance away. They occasionally made low flights over my head.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/6400 second at f5.6; ISO 250; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/8000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/5000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Female Parasitic Jaegers are 15 to 20% larger than males. This is true for many hawks, falcons, eagles and owls too.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

 

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 349mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

 

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock with the Ithica ship wreck on Hudson Bay in background.

Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/250 second at f22; ISO 1000; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 160; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_1880Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC01314Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC01267Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2139Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2108Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2021

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Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Loons, Ducks & Swans on Tundra Ponds

The vast tundra of Canada and Alaska is the preferred breeding grounds for several species of waterfowl that we see only in migration in Minnesota. Long-tailed Ducks winter on Lake Superior and we see them occasionally close to Duluth; Pacific Loons are rare  (or rarely seen?) visitors to the North Shore of Lake Superior in spring and fall; Tundra Swans migrate through Minnesota in April and October with large flocks congregating along the Mississippi River, St. Louis River and on northern rice paddies. But In Churchill I got to see all three in their breeding splendor…and closer than my normal scope-views of birds on Lake Superior.

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-7Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

In the field guides, the Pacific Loon looks very similar to the Common Loon, but when you see them in person, the Pacific Loon is quite different and stunning with a silvery sheen to their velvety head.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/125 seconds at f10; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-6Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

When I started birding in the late 1970s, this species was known as the “Arctic Loon,” a name that I wish it retained as in my mind it IS a bird of the Arctic. The species was split into two full species in 1985; the Arctic Loon is now the species that breeds in Eurasia including Siberia and western Alaska.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

 

pacific_loon_range

The Pacific Loon breeds in the Arctic but winters along the west coast of the U.S and Canada on the Pacific Ocean. A few can be seen each year inland, especially on Lake Superior at Duluth.

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-8Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-5Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaPacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/800 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-9Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-10Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Canada Goose Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose takes off from a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

The ubiquitous waterfowl on the tundra and taiga was the Canada Goose. Notice that I did not say “tundra and taiga ponds” as I saw few actually on the water. Most were foraging on the tundra or on nests (as in photo below). This one did not care for my attention and took off in a hurry. I intentionally slowed down the shutter speed to show some motion.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/200 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Canada Goose nest nesting Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose on nest near Churchill, Manitoba

Canada Goose nest with eggs Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose nest on the shore of a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00617Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

One of my photo goals was a decent portrait of a Long-tailed Duck drake…and I got it! But I was nervous at the start as my first attempts at sneaking up on this species were complete failures….They saw me coming and quickly paddled across to the other side of the pone. But one afternoon I got lucky….This male was very intent on pursuing the female pictured farther down this blog. There were low shrubs lining the pond so I crouched low and moved when they dove. When they came up, I froze. A couple rounds of this and I was to the edge of the pond and shot through an opening in the shrubs.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00606Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00605Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

This male is transitioning from its winter white feathers to the black breeding plumage. Note that the top of the head is still whitish and when in full breeding plumage it will be black on top as in photo below.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0744Long-tailed Duck pair on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

Male and female Long-tailed Ducks on a tundra pond.

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Long-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4Long-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaLong-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

LTDUrange_300_3x5

You can see from this map that you won’t be seeing any Long-tailed Ducks in the Lower 48 during the summer. The closest breeding to Minnesota is the Hudson Bay Lowlands which includes the area around Churchill, Manitoba.

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Long-tailed Duck pair (female in front) flying over a taiga pond near Churchill, Manitoba

What do you do when you have drab light due to heavy overcast conditions? What you don’t do is give up and head back to the motel. You have to get creative! By slowing the shutter to 1/250 second and panning with the flying Long-tailed Ducks I got a nice series of motion blur photos.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaLong-tailed Duck pair (female in front) flying over a taiga pond near Churchill, Manitoba

The male (right) displays his namesake long tail. They were formerly called “oldsquaw” because their odd chattering reminded some early explorer of native women talking.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Shoveler female Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Northern Shoveler rests on a taiga pond along Goose Creek Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The Northern Shoveler should maybe be called the “Northern Sifter” or “Northern Strainer” as it really doesn’t “shovel” through the muck with its oversized bill. Between the upper bill and lower you can see the lamellae that strain insects from pondwater.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Shoveler female Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaNorthern Shoveler rests on a taiga pond along Goose Creek Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The female is quite drab compared to the gaudy chestnut, white and iridescent green of the male, but her out-of-proportion bill makes her easily identifiable.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Tundra Swan and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The name fits! Tundra Swans nest on the tundra of Canada and Alaska. When I started birding in the 1970s these birds were known as “Whistling Swans” due to their song.

“Lewis and Clark provided the first written description of the Tundra Swan during their expedition to the West, where the birds’ whistle-like calls prompted Meriwether Lewis to dub them “whistling swans.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.com]

I am so used to seeing Trumpeter Swans on almost every backwoods pond in Minnesota that at first I assumed these were Trumpeters too. But a close look revealed the yellow “tear” patch on their face that confirmed that these were breeding Tundra Swans.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

tundra_swan_range

There are really TWO populations of Tundra Swans….the population that breeds in the eastern Arctic, including Churchill, winter on the eastern seaboard of the U.S mainly in Chesapeake Bay where they feed on clams….and the western Arctic breeding grounds population that winter in the western U.S.

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Tundra Swan pair and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

Halfway Point Road is a great (but rough) road that accesses some very nice dry tundra. A couple ponds held breeding pairs of Tundra Swans, Herring Gulls and Long-tailed Ducks.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1000 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaTundra Swan pair and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

Click on the image to make it full size in order to really see the yellow patch near the eye that most Tundra Swans possess. Trumpeters never show this spot of color.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1000 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Shorebirds in trees!

Shorebirds and Gulls in trees?! On my 1987 trip, I remember how amazed and surprised I was that shorebirds and gulls would perch in the tip tops of stunted spruces on the taiga/tundra. And the Bonaparte’s Gulls nest in spruces…Craaazy!

I must confess that on this trip I didn’t see as many shorebirds in trees, but did get photos of Hudsonian Godwit and Lesser Yellowlegs in the treetops.

Why are shorebirds found in trees on their breeding grounds? After all, they nest on the ground and would want to remain unnoticed. I imagine for the males it is a convenient and conspicuous post from which to watch over your territory and your mate.

 

 


Hudsonian Godwit is aptly named for the bulk of the population breeds in a relatively small area along the south shore of Hudson Bay.

Map of the migration route (yellow) and breeding range (red) of the Hudsonian Godwit. Churchill is located along Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba.


I spotted this Hudsonian Godwit in a tree from about a quarter mile away, so off I trudged onto the very wet and uneven Hudsonian Lowlands (i.e. wet tundra). I approached slowly and stopped a ways away and got some “insurance shots.” After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I’d approach another 1o yards. I repeated this process til I got quite close. Turns out he was watching over a nesting female who sat quietly on a ground nest on the tundra.

Hudsonian Godwit pair fly over tundra along Twin Lakes Road, Churchill, Manitoba.


Lesser Yellowlegs can be identified by their….wait for it….their yellow legs! But to complicate things a bit, they have a larger cousin called the Greater Yellowlegs. But note the Lesser’s thin bill that is only as long as its head; Greater’s bill is longer than its head and more stout.


Lesser Yellowlegs landing on tundra pond.


Red-necked Phalaropes just pass through the Churchill area in late May to mid June; They are on their way to breeding grounds in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska.

They have a very unique way of feeding…they spin around in circles picking insects off the surface of the water.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; Tripod]


Semipalmated Plovers make their shallow scraped depression of a nest on rocky flats such as this. There could have been a nest here with the female sitting quietly but I was too busy following this one around.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


Semipalmated Plover

Crawling on ground covered in smallish sharp rocks is no fun…but it is essential to getting eye-level shots of shorebirds. And eye-level is where its at with shorebirds; a photo taken while standing of a subject on the ground is just not very engaging.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


I was constantly trying to position myself so that I could get the tundra birds in front of, or adjacent to, the arctic wildflowers, especially the pinks of Lapland Rosebay. I did not have much luck, but did manage a background of the flowers in this shot of a Semipalmated Plover.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


Semipalmated Plovers superficially resemble Killdeer (also a plover), but they are much smaller, have a two-toned black and orange bill, and only have one black “necklace.”

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


American Golden Plover is at home on the tundra. This gorgeous shorebird is in full breeding plumage. When we see them in Minnesota, it is in migration and they are often already molting into their blaah non-breeding plumage.

Churchill is the extreme south outpost of the breeding range of the American Golden Plover. Most nest in the vast arctic of Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavat.

Unfortunately, this is as close as I got to this species on this trip…Next time!

“Short-billed” Dowitcher? Yes, that is their official common name even though they have a very long bill. What gives? Well, everything is relative, and their cousin, you guessed it, the Long-billed Dowitcher, has an even longer bill! The Long-billed nests even farther north than Hudson Bay, breeding along the Arctic Ocean coast in Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/500 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


The last rays of the days sunlight spotlight a single Short-billed Dowitcher, his companions already in the lengthening shadows. I really like this unique shot, but I will frame it differently next time so as not to have the bird right in the middle of the image.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


Three populations of Short-billed Dowitcher inhabit North America; the Pacific and Atlantic populations are not as bright orange and show more neck, breast and flank spotting. The Churchill/Hudson Bay population is of the “prairie” population that extends west to the prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Also found in the southern parts of the Northwest Territories and Nunavit.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


The Short-billed Dowitcher is THE dowitcher nesting on the tundra along Hudson Bay. It is a stocky and colorful shorebird that sometimes allows close approach. This one was with a mixed flock of shorebirds foraging along Goose Creek Road, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/800 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

 


Short-billed Dowitcher along Goose Creek Road, Churchill, Manitoba

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held while laying on the ground]


The Solitary Sandpiper has a unique place in Minnesota’s avifauna…It is one of the only species of bird that is only known to breed in the Lower 48 in Minnesota. My friend Karl Bardon discovered one of the most recent confirmed Minnesota breeding records when several years ago he found a couple young Solitaries scrambling across a remote dirt road in the far northern part of the state just south of the Canadian border.


Least Sandpipers are one of North America’s “peeps;” a group of small sometimes-difficult-to-identify shorebirds. Leasts can be told by their very small size and greenish-yellow legs. Like most of North America’s peeps, they breed on the tundra of the Far North.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/2000 sec at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


Whimbrels are big and bulky birds….but they are still considered shorebirds. Always a treat for me to see, as I only see them every few years in Minnesota…and usually just a glimpse. My last Minnesota sighting was along Duluth’s Park Point on Lake Superior when a flock of seven appeared out of the fog and landed on the sandy beach. This was in May and they were just stopping over to rest on their way to the tundra to breed…Who knows…maybe even on their way to the Churchill area!


I did not find any shorebird nests while in Churchill, but I was a bit early. This pair had set up territory on the tundra though.


Whimbrel

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Willow Ptarmigan

I can’t really even remember my Lifer Willow Ptarmigan any more…I looked back in my journal from my Churchill trip in June 1987 for the details. It was a glimpse of a male along the railroad tracks near a remote Cree village in Manitoba as I rode the rickety rails of the “Muskeg Express”…a 36 hour one-way train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill. Not much of a look for such a gorgeous bird.

Because of this most unsatisfying sighting, the “chicken of the tundra” was high on my “Most Wanted” list. But several 16 hour days passed and I still had not spotted one. A photo group I ran into seemed to consider them commonplace. I was nervous. But finally, late in the day, late in my trip, along Twin Lakes Road, I finally found my first male…A gorgeous male in transitional plumage from winter’s white to summers reddish brown.

 

Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

This male’s plumage is actually called the “courtship plumage” and it will soon change to breeding plumage…The male’s white back feathers will turn the same reddish brown as the head and chest. By late fall, they will be entirely white except for the black outer tail feathers.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/160 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba on summer tundra

One of my goals for my bird photography on this trip was to get images of different species with tundra wildflowers in the frame…and late in the trip I was finally successful with this ptarmigan. The flowers are Lapland Rosebay.

The Willow Ptarmigan is a circumpolar species and can also be found in Scandinavia and Siberia. It is known as “Willow Grouse” in Europe…A subspecies that lives in Great Britain is called “Red Grouse” and doesn’t turn white in winter.

Amazingly, there was an irruption of Willow Ptarmigan into Minnesota in the winter of 1933-34! Several showed up in the remote country of northwest Minnesota near Roseau, hundreds of miles from their normal winter range. The first record of this species for Minnesota was a bird shot on April 20, 1914 in Lake of the Woods County on the Canadian border. Another bird found its way south to this same county in 1964.


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Willow Ptarmigan are about the same size as our Ruffed Grouse (and Spruce Grouse). Average length is 15 inches with a wingspan of about 2 feet. They weigh a little over a pound.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 271mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

The call of the Willow Ptarmigan is craaaazy! I love it! Listen for yourself.


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 278mm; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 124mm; 1/500 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

“The Willow Ptarmigan is the only grouse in the world in which the male is regularly involved in parental care. Pairs remain together from the beginning of the breeding season until their chicks are independent.” from Cornell’s http://www.allaboutbirds.com

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Summer Willow Ptarmigan on tundra near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; handheld]

 


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

 

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 170mm; 1/640 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 170mm; 1/1250 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 164mm; 1/500 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

This is one of the first photos I got of Willow Ptarmigan. I was hoping he would jump up on that rock behind him, but no luck. I sloooowly stalked this guy and he eventually walked through the Lapland Rosebay flowers patches.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/160 at f11; ISO 400; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Like its cousin the Spruce Grouse, the Willow Ptarmigan sports sexy red “eyebrows,” which it can erect.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/320 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow Ptarmigan male in near breeding plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Here is another male I found along Twin Lakes Road…Note that this one’s plumage is more advanced towards breeding plumage than the male in the previous photos. His back feathers are turning from white to red.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Often times, laying dead flat on the ground (road, beach, lawn) can give you the best angle on a subject…It puts you actually a bit below eye-level which is ideal for intimate and engaging portraits.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow and Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

As their name implies, willow is the primary food of this grouse species. One source says that Arctic Willow catkins and buds are the primary food. Will also eat berries…and twigs and spruce/pine needles in winter

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 234mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 800; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

I really wanted to get some “bird in the landscape” photos on this trip. I did get a few, and I do like this one but I wish the bird stood out a bit more from the surrounding greenery.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 234mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 800; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

The female is understandable more cryptically colored than the male. She needs to be very inconspicuous when on the ground nest. She really blends in to her surroundings. In fact, I would not have seen her at all if not for the antics of the male that alerted me that he was trying to impress someone.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld; laying on ground]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Red “eyebrows” can be erected when in courtship mode.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld; laying on ground]

 


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

I saw several ptarmigan along this stretch of Twin Lakes Road.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 255mm; 1/1250 at f5; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld; laying on ground]
A calling male Willow Ptarmigan (see video above to hear their hilarious call).

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Tundra Wildflowers & Landscapes

Though the main purpose of my trip was to photograph and video the birds of the tundra, I also got in a bit of landscape and flora photography. Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) was by far the most dominant wildflower (actually a dwarf shrub) in the landscape. The showy purple-pink flowers dotted the tundra and edges of the boreal forests. At only a few inches high, it is funny to think of this as the same genus of the much larger Rhododendrons and Azaleas that are more familiar to us in “the south.”

I learned that the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens makes a pretty darn good macro lens due to its amazing close focusing ability. You’ll see many “telephoto macro” images below using this lens.

I also used the iPhone 7+ for several landscape photos. Post processing them with Snapseed on the phone.


Oversized inch-long catkins dwarf the willow they belong to. I believe this is Salix arctica or Arctic Willow. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 287 mm; 1/320 sec at f5; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Edge of the boreal forest on a road off of Goose Creek Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+ and post processed with Snapseed on the phone]

 


An interesting phenomenon I witnessed was the mirage of icebergs on Hudson Bay. Low floating pans of ice appeared to be giant walls of icebergs or a glacier when viewed through the heat shimmer of midday. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Willows, dwarfed Spruce, water pools and scoured bedrock dot the landscape along the shores of Hudson Bay. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Quartz veins on bedrock decorated with lichens. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/400 sec at f10; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]


Lichens [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Lapland Rosebay at the base of a lichen encrusted boulder. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 135 mm; 1/250 sec at f11; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]


Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is actually a dwarf rhododendron shrub that enlivens the tundra in early summer (mid June).

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]


The dwarf rhododendron called Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is only a few inches tall (3 – 18 inches around Hudson Bay), but it has spectacular purple-pink blossoms. It is in the Family Ericaceae along with other small shrubs including blueberries, cranberries, Leatherleaf, Bog Rosemary, Bog Laurel and azaleas.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. This dwarf shrub grows around the world at farn northern latitudes. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/100 sec at f13; ISO 400; +1 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


An island of Lapland Rosebay on the edge of the boreal forest along Twin Lakes Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]


Lapland Rosebay and Reindeer lichens. Caribou in winter paw through the snow to get at and feed on Reindeer lichen, which is also known as “Caribou Moss.” [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

 


Lichen pattern

 


The white flower with red speckled petals is Saxifraga tricuspidata or Prickly Saxifrage (a.k.a Three-toothed Saxifrage), one of the most common Saxifrages in the Arctic. It is a colonizer of bedrock, taking hold in cracks. Its Inuktitut name is kakilahan.


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) ?? Not quite sure. The leaves below are not Dryas leaves, but maybe from another flower?


Interesting boulder with more resistant quartz veins.


The tundra is extremely colorful in the fall, but equally so in June in spots.

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) is a member of the rose family. It is a circumpolar species and is found across Arctic Canada into Alaska and west through Siberia. It is also found at high eleveations in the Rocky Mountains. This species exhibits “heliotropism” as the flower faces and tracks the sun as it moves across the landscape. This may be more attractive to insects as it creates a warmer microclimate. [Launch Road tundra; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 286 mm; 1/320 sec at f6.3; -1 ev; ISO 100; handheld]

 


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) range map


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) had gone to seed in the warmer parts of the Churchill area. Styles of the pistil elongate, twist and become fluffy heads from which the feathery seeds disperse in the wind. [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 263 mm; 1/400 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]


Gulls, jaegers, terns, loons, sea ducks…All can be seen at the tip of Cape Merry (remnant ice chunks float in the background). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Speedboat in the Arctic? No, just a wonderfully shaped ice floe drifting past Cape Merry. It upended and sank a minute later. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Ice chunks on Hudson Bay and steel gray skies greeted me as I arrived in Churchill on June 16th.


Ice floated in and out of the shoreline areas of Hudson Bay during my entire visit (June 16-20). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


“Flag Spruce” dot the tundra in clumps such as this. They are shaped by the harsh winter conditions; snowpack covers the lower branches, protecting them from the strong ground winds that carry ice chunks and scour the middle trunk of all its branches. The tip of the spruces still carry needle-bearing branches (the “flag”) as they are above the effects of the ice-scouring forces. [Launch Road, Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+]


You may recognize the blueberry type pink flower of this ground hugging shrub. This is likely a species of Vaccinium but I’m not sure which.


Net-veined Willow (Salix reticulata) is a ground-hugging dwarf willow that span less than the diameter of a quarter on the tundra. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f4.5; ISO 100; handheld]


A pair of large willow catkins greet the start of another tundra summer.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Arctic Hare

This Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus) was a lifer mammal for me! [A “lifer” is the first sighting of a species that you’ve never seen before.] I found this cooperative critter on June 19th near the Northern Studies Center in a patch of willows and I spent a fair amount of time getting close.

I first got some “insurance shots” out the window of the truck. Then I slowly opened the door and dropped slowly to the ground. I got some eye-level shots. I crawled closer and closer (not too much fun on the hard gravel). Eventually I realized that this Hare cared little about me, realizing, I suppose, that I wasn’t a threat.

He/she is obviously molting from the winter white pelage to the summer browns but I like the patchy color and especially the black and white oversized ears. Willow was on today’s lunch menu and the Arctic Hare kept on browsing while I kept on snapping!

**All photos taken with Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens…Most at 400mm (some wider shots at 120mm); 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held] All processed in Lightroom

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-4
Arctic Hare near Churchill Manitoba

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-9
Arctic Hares are not the only lagomorph living around Churchill; Snowshoe Hares also live here, but mainly in the boreal spruce forests. I saw 2 Snowshoe Hares in the understory along Twin Lakes Road.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Arctic Hares have long legs like jackrabbits (another kind of hare). They can run at speeds close to 40 mph! And they may need a burst of speed when being chased by Arctic Fox, Red Fox, Wolf, Lynx or Snowy Owl.

arctic_hare_range

This range map of Arctic Hare by the Canadian Geographic is inaccurate; It doesn’t show that the population does indeed extend into Manitoba at least as far south as Churchill.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Hares differ from rabbits in having longer hind legs, living in open habitats (tundra, prairie, desert), not building a burrow or nest, having furred young that are born with eyes open.

Arctic Hare molting running Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-5
Note the long hind legs of the Arctic Hare that allow them to run at speeds up to 40 mph.

Arctic Hare molting eating willows Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-7
Favorite Food! Willows comprise 95% of an Arctic hare’s diet, one study found.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-8
“Southern” Arctic Hares, the ones that live around Churchill and in Labrador and Newfoundland, molt from winter white to gray/brown summer pelage. Those that inhabit the Far North where summer is even shorter, remain white year round.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-10
The Arctic Hare is one of the largest hare species anywhere. They are 17-28 inches long when stretched out, average 6-12 pounds (though some may reach 15 pounds).

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-11
Arctic Hare amongst the willows

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-14
Churchill is one of the few places where Snowshoe Hares overlap in range with the Arctic Hare.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-15
Molting Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-16
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-17
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-18
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-19
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Hare

 

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Northern edge of the Boreal Forest

The Boreal forest blankets a vast area of bedrock across Canada and into Alaska. In the Lower 48, the Boreal forest dips down into Minnesota, Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan and northern New England. If you include the vast boreal forests of Siberia, the Boreal biome is the largest “intact” forest in the world…even larger than the tropical rain forests that ring the equator. It is a MAJOR carbon sink for the planet. But the Boreal forest peters out as it transitions to tundra in colder climes. Churchill area on Hudson Bay is a transition zone from Boreal forest to treeless Tundra.

Characteristic trees of the Boreal forest include White Spruce, Black Spruce and Tamarack…and all three survive around Churchill (White Spruce on the drier ridges and Black Spruce in the wet bogs). Since I’m from northern Minnesota, the birds in this biome are pretty familiar to me, and so the tundra birds of Churchill were a much higher photographic target. BUT…there are several nesting species that I really wanted to digitally capture. Blackpoll Warblers and Orange-crowned Warblers only pass through Minnesota in migration. They are two of the eastern warbler species that do not breed in Minnesota’s vast North Woods. Fortunately they do breed in Ontario and Manitoba and I had good luck finding them in the Churchill area.

Best roads for Boreal forest in the Churchill area are the Twin Lakes Road and the Old Dene Village loop at the start of Goose Creek Road. If someone blindfolded me and parachuted me in to some of these spots, I wouldn’t have known if I was in Minnesota or the U.P. of Michigan or Maine or Siberia! But the staccato songs of the Blackpoll Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler would have given it away, as this pair of species do not breed in any of the aforementioned locations.

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

After I learned the song of the Blackpoll Warbler (they do not sing while migrating through northern Minnesota in spring), I found them in many stands of Black Spruce trees.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

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Boreal forest along the Twin Lakes Road (note Bonaparte’s Gull in tip top of spruce). Spruces and Tamarack (not yet “needled” out in foreground)

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The orange feet and legs of the Blackpoll Warbler are distinctive…and shockingly bright.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Blackpoll Warbler male (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Blackpoll Warbler plucking an ant off a willow catkin. (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2

Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 371mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Bonaparte’s Gull (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

A gull that nests in trees?! Yes, absolutely. The Bonaparte’s Gull is a true denizen of the Boreal forest, a mixed up place where flycatchers nest on the ground and gulls nest in the trees! Of course, not all flycatchers nest on the ground and not all gulls nest in trees (Herring Gulls build their nests directly on top of tiny rock islands on larger lakes), but the Bonaparte’s has really taken to “skyscraper living.” Andy why not? A lofty location affords protection from egg and nestling predators of the four-legged kind (fox especially)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/250 at f8; ISO 100; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Bonaparte’s Gull (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

One of my photo goals was to get a nice shot of a Bonaparte’s perched in the tip top of a spruce…and I think I did it! I will share some video later.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Bonaparte’s Gull yawning(?) as it loafs on a tiny island in the backwaters of the Churchill River (near the observation platform on Goose Creek Road) (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 371mm; 1/60 at f18; ISO 100; hand held] **NOTE that I had just switched over from shooting video (at the required 1/60 second) and that explains the TERRIBLE settings for this shot. I only got lucky that this is sharp.

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Bonaparte’s Gull plucking insects off the surface of a lake along Twin Lakes Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The Bonaparte’s Gull is named, not for Napoleon Bonaparte (you probably could have figured that out!), but for his nephew Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who made important contributions to American ornithology while an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1820s. This Bonaparte was a contemporary of John James Audubon.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

 

 

Gray Jay juvenile Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Juvenile Gray Jay along the Old Dene Village loop (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The proposed “National Bird” of Canada! …the Gray Jay (or “Canada Jay”…and I guess I should spell Gray, “Grey”). This is a juvenile as denoted by its very dark gray plumage and pink gape (corner of the mouth). There was a whole family group…2 adults and 2, possibly 3, juveniles…that I “squeeked” in by sucking on the palm of my hand. These are VERY curious birds, and any disturbance in “their” woods, and they will investigate.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Orange-crowned Warbler along Old Dene Village Loop (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

Trust me…they do have an orange crown! But it is mainly visible when they erect their head feathers when agitated.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Orange-crowned Warbler along Launch Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Orange-crowned Warbler along Launch Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you can probably see the “orange crown” for which this mostly drab warbler is named. Its preferred habitat (around Churchill) is wet willowy areas, especially with spruce forest nearby.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

American Tree Sparrow Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
American Tree Sparrow along Goose Creek Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

This is another species that only passes through northern Minnesota in migration. The American Tree Sparrow breeds mostly in Canada and Alaska and winters almost entirely in the Lower 48 (but not northern Minnesota…too cold I guess). Note the rusty red cap and eye line, gray face and single spot on the unstreaked breast.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

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Fox Sparrow singing from spruce perch. (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

I only saw a couple of these gorgeous sparrows while in Churchill. They migrate through my land in northern Minnesota in spring, jumping back and forth in the leaf litter below my feeders, scratching up seeds. But alas, they do not breed in Minnesota and continue north to nest in the Boreal forests. Their reddish rusty plumage, velvety gray feathers, and bold breast spotting make them a visual treat. Now who said sparrows can’t be beautiful?!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Rusty Blackbird (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

There are records of Rusty Blackbirds nesting in Minnesota…but only a handful and they were in very remote wooded swamps in the far northern reaches of the state.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4
Rusty Blackbird female in spruce (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Rusty Blackbird male (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

“Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species. The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years (Greenberg and Droege, 1999) and scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause. They are relatively uncommon denizens of wooded swamps, breeding in the boreal forest and wintering in the eastern U.S. ” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]

This fact really bewilders me…Like Cornell (owner of the website) says, the decline is puzzling since their habitat is remote wooded swamps of the vast Boreal forest…a habitat that is rarely touched by development (the swamp part, anyway).

What also is curious to me, is how they arrived at this amazing percentage of decline. As far as I can see, the data is from Breeding Bird Survey Routes (VERY FEW routes in their main breeding areas of boreal Canada) and winter Christmas Bird Count data (this data is probably better, but still not very comprehensive).

“Several hypotheses have been suggested to explain the decline.  Loss of wooded wetlands in southeastern wintering grounds is a likely contributor, as over 80% of this habitat has been converted to agriculture and other land uses.  Other possible factors on the wintering grounds include increased competition for food with other blackbird species – such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles – as well as increased exposure to an unknown disease to which it has not developed strong immunity.” [from http://www.rustyblackbird.org]

HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED TO HELP SOLVE THIS MYSTERY? Participate in the March-April Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz…Get details here

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Spruce Grouse Twin Lakes Road at intersection with Cook Street Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Spruce Grouse at intersection of “Cook Street” (just a 2 rut track) and Twin Lakes Road (narrow gravel road). (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

I’ve seen and photographed MANY Spruce Grouse in northern Minnesota, so I didn’t work too hard to get nice photos of this uncooperative guy. Sadly, a photo tour group that really wanted to see and photograph this species could not locate this highly desirable species even after trying for several days. That is the nature of birding…and wildlife photography.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; hand held]

Spruce Grouse Twin Lakes Road at intersection with Cook Street Churchill Manitoba Canada
Male Spruce Grouse (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; hand held]