Posts tagged ‘Hudsonian Godwit’

Tundra Bird Photography & Birding Churchill Part 2 Hudson Bay

Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay is a premiere destination for bird photography and birding. It is one of the most accessible tundra habitats in North America. Home to Arctic Hare, Willow Ptarmigan, Short-billed Dowitcher, Tundra Swan, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Nelson’s Sparrow, Common Redpoll, Common Eider, Pacific Loon, Red-throated Loon, Hudsonian Godwit, Beluga Whale, Harbor Seal and more.

Cape Merry is an awesome spot to watch the hundreds of Beluga Whales feast on Capelin fish in the Churchill River. Many Red-throated Loons are flying by at eye level!

In part 2 of my June 2022 trip, I take you along on a birding and bird photography trip; Halfway Point, Fox Drive, Twin Lakes Road, Goose Creek Road, Coast Road. We also do some bushwhacking out on the wet tundra looking for birds and nests.

I get a little too close (accidentally) to a Parasitic Jaeger nest. I also takes you along on a zodiac tour of the Churchill River with James of Sea North where we get up close and personal with dozens of Beluga Whales.

(Yes, this was June of 2022…and it has taken me 10 months to finish this part 2 video!)

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.


25 Years Ago—Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay: Part 1

Sparky and Tyler (right) on Hudson’s Bay

Hard to believe but 25 years ago this week, my college/volleyball buddy Tyler Nelson and I jumped on a Via Rail train in Winnipeg and settled in for a 36 hour train ride to the far north outpost of Churchill, Manitoba.
Via Rail train

These Cree Indian girls were fascinated by our hairy legs…A very non-native American trait!

The soggy tundra and permafrost requires tripods to support the power lines.

It was snowing pretty good when we rolled into Churchill on June 18, 1987… And the Bay had just broken up so there were mini-icebergs everywhere. On the way up, I had told Tyler (a non-birder) that we were on the lookout for a small and very rare gull called the Ross’s Gull. I showed him the illustration in my Peterson’s Field Guide highlighting its black neck collar and pink belly.

And here is the hero bird! The Ross’s Gull. At the time, Churchill was the only known nesting area in North America as it was really more of a Russian/Siberian species. They nested right on the edge of town in the “granary ponds.” Unfortunately, they no longer nest in Churchill and birders don’t go there as often.

Shorebird in a tree? This was the first time I’d witnessed such a thing. This is a Hudsonian Godwit perched in a stunted “flag” spruce. Many species of shorebird nest in the Churchill area..and some even nest in trees!

The tundra around Churchill was not as treeless nor as dry as I expected. It was very wet and with many stunted Black Spruce. This is the most typical tundra we saw.

Of course we couldn’t afford to rent a car so the owner of the Kelsey Motor Lodge said we could use his pickup to get around. The only caveat was that we needed to drop him off and pick him up at work every day. So we did. The funny thing was that his work was only a couple hundred yards from the “Lodge.” He said nobody walks in Churchill because of the Polar Bears.

I think we were a bit ignorant or just foolhardy because we hiked many places where Polar Bears could be lurking. Normally far to the NW by now, a couple had been seen near town. Thankfully (?) we never saw one.

Sparky juggling snowballs…in mid June!

Stay tuned for part 2 coming in the next few days!