Posts tagged ‘taiga’

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]

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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