Earlier this Fall, I spent two weeks on the coast of James Bay at Netitishi Point with Alan Wormington, Josh Vandermeulen and Jeremy Bensette. Josh is in the process of putting together fantastic summaries of each day on his blog so I’ll spare you all of the details here. Below is just a quick summary of this trip of a lifetime. Click on the pictures to view them at full size.
Travel: After work on September 25, I left Kingsville to meet up with Jeremy in Aurora and continue on for the first leg of the trip to Cochrane. The plan was to drive through the night to catch the train to Moosonee. Alan and Josh had gone up a day earlier to do some birding and then caught the Thursday train. Jeremy and I were to meet them in Moosonee on Friday and then we were all going to take a helicopter to the coast. A few hours into the drive, we got a call from Alan letting us know that the plans had changed slightly. The helicopter company had requested that we meet them in Cochrane and that they would fly us up to Moosonee to pick up Alan & Josh and then continue on to the coast. They were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough time to get the pilot back on the train to Cochrane that night. This was going to cut hours off the trip and we give us even more time on the coast so I didn’t mind at all. I did miss an opportunity for a lifer on the train though (Sharp-tailed Grouse). This was my first helicopter flight so it was a definite highlight. We did take the train back from Moosonee to Cochrane but it was in the evening and we didn’t spot any grouse. I guess I’ll just have to go back!
Weather: We experienced a mixed bag of weather – A lot of it not very conducive to good birding but it’s not something you can control. We had some unseasonably warm days and then some very cold days. A fresh batch of mosquitoes and black flies was a huge surprise for Fall! We wanted those cold north winds but unfortunately we didn’t get much of them. South, Southeast, and Southwest winds dominated and put a halt on migration – winds we would have be so thankful for in the Spring at Pelee but not here on the coast of James Bay where we wanted the Gyrfalcons to be blown south. I got bored one day so I started to put together a little covered windbreak at the sea-watch spot to at least keep us somewhat dry while we stared out into the bay.
Birds: Even though we didn’t have the most ideal weather, we still did manage to stir up a few good birds and even a few rarities. The highlights for me were Pomarine Jaeger (lifer), two Northern Gannets (Ontario bird), large flocks of Hudsonian Godwits, Three-toed Woodpecker (lifer), a very lost Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that I spotted, a late-ish Red-eyed Vireo, and a Northern Hawk Owl (lifer). Unfortunately the owl succumbed to a barrage of attacks out on the bay by Bald Eagles and Ravens. It must have been knocked down by something — but what was it doing way out over the bay? What a way to lifer a bird but that’s nature!
Mammals: Bear scat was everywhere and it was almost impossible not to step in it (yes of course I stepped in some almost immediately after arriving at the cabins). We never did see a bear though. We saw fresh tracks and even some fur caught on a nail on one of the cabins but that was it. We heard wolves howling nearby a few times, and a fox made a brief appearance on the beach toward the end of the trip. Of course Red Squirrels were scolding us constantly. I did manage to get a few lifers in the mammal department. Beluga Whales were frolicking at the tide line and a Ringed Seal showed itself a few times during our sea-watches.
Scenery & Surroundings: The scenery along the coast is breathtaking and a little surreal. When walking out on the mudflats, you feel like you’re on a different planet. There is driftwood as far as the eye can see. The cabins, where we slept, were nestled in a clearing a little ways from the coast, protected from the non-exsistant north winds. Once cleaned up and a little waterproofing was done to the roof, we had a comfortable place to sleep. There are many small ponds and a great fresh water stream was nearby for drinking water and bathing (COLD!).
All-in-all it was a great trip with a great group of friends – Thanks to Alan for organizing this trip! It was really tough being away from Sarah and Emily that long. Thankfully I work for a satellite phone company so I did have the technology with me to check in a few times. It was nice to have the piece of mind without feeling “too” connected. It also helped us to get disappointing weather updates!
Thank you to Sarah for being so amazing, and for reassuring me that things would be fine at home (which I knew they would but I still had the guilt about leaving them for that length of time). My hope is that Emily continues to enjoy the outdoors as much as she does now so we can do a trip like this together as a family some day.