James Bay 2012

Chickney Point – July 15 to 31, 2012.

Brothers present: Christian Friis and Stu Mackenzie

Overlooking James Bay from Chickney Point – Semipalmated Sandpipers…

Video Highlights:

A a composite video created by Ron Ridout is available here.

Another video by Stu Mackenzie is available here.

This report summarizes the sightings from a crew stationed in the Chickney Point area (click here to view map)on the western coast of James Bay from July 15 to 31 as a part of the Western James Bay Shorebird Survey. The Chickney Point camp (click here to view map of base camp)  is the most northerly of the project’s three field camps in 2012 and is located just north of Chickney Channel (Albany River) roughly 45 km directly south of Akimiski Island, and about 150 km north-northwest of Moosenee. Extensive mudflats in the region, fuelled with nutrients from the Albany River, its tributaries and the innumerable smaller creeks, provide excellent conditions for staging shorebirds and waterfowl. The extremely shallow gradient shoreline in the area is vegetated by dense tall willow (Salix bebbiana, S. planifolia) thickets, giving way to vast supratidal graminoid meadow-marshes (Carex paleacea, Calamagrostis inexpansa, Juncus balticus) interspersed with low willow thickets, grading finally to brackish and saline tidal marshes (Puccinellia spp., Hippuris tetraphylla, Plantago maritima, Salicornia sp.)dissected by a myriad of small ponds, drainage channels, tidal inlets, and exposed mudflat. The spruce forest begins 5-6 km inland from the high tide line. Previous aerial surveys of this region have shown large concentrations of shorebirds during the fall migration.

Christian Friis (CWS), Don Sutherland (OMNR – Natural Heritage Information Centre), Ron Ridout (Bird Studies Canada), and Stu Mackenzie (BSC – Long Point Bird Observatory) arrived at camp on July 15 and began conducting daily shorebird surveys coinciding with high tide at two locations along the coast. On July 31, Don, Ron, and Stu were replaced by Ken Burrell, Mike Burrell, and Jeanette Goulet.


Shorebird numbers were impressive! During the two weeks, the overall number of shorebirds exceeded 1 million (duplicates almost certainly exist) of 23 species. Most of the individuals observed during this time were adults. Numbers and diversity varied substantially with the height and timing of the high tides. Shorebird counts exceeded 100,000 on three days: 108, 730 on July 21; 120,076 on July 24, and 123,777 on July 25 making this one of the densest concentrations of migratory shorebirds in the province.  Semipalmated Sandpipers were the most numerous species on most days ranging from 3,000 (low on July 29) to 88,130 (high on July 25). White-rumped Sandpipers were next ranging from 5,615 (low July 27) to 28,750 (high on July 21). Semipalmated Sandpipers were most numerous earlier in the month with a gradual shift to White-rumped’s by the time we left. There were also impressive numbers of Dunlin ranging from 1,100 (low July 28) to 19,420 (high on July 21). Numbers of godwits were also significant. We were impressed by a flock of 250 Marbled Godwits on our first trek to the flats that was dwarfed by subsequent counts and with a high of 1,182 on July 26. Considering that the most recent estimate of Ontario’s Marbled Godwit population is a ”few 1000s (see the Ontario Shorebird Conservation Plan; Ross et al. 2003), a substantial portion of the Ontario population was observed in a couple of kilometers. Hudsonian Godwits were also numerous with nearly 1,000 observed on most days with a high of 1,876 on July 24. Low numbers of Whimbrels were observed as well with a high of 52 on July 25. High flying flocks of Marbled Godwits were observed heading southwest on several days, presumably headed toward their wintering grounds in the Gulf of California.

Other shorebird highlights:

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were abundant in the small tidal ponds with high counts of 901 (July 19) and 1,732 (July 24), respectively.

391 Red Knots were counted during our stay with a high count of 125 on July 24.

Least and Pectoral Sandpipers preferred the more inland grassy pools and reached numbers of 585 (July 17) and 424 (July 29), respectively. All other shorebirds were present in low numbers, but increasing toward the end of the month.

Spotted Sandpiper – 1 juvenile bird on July 28.

Solitary Sandpiper – 1 adult on July 25.

Stilt Sandpiper – single adults on July 29 and 30 Red-necked Phalarope – single adult females and males observed throughout Wilson’s Phalarope – 7 adults and 12 juveniles observed (probably local breeders)

Other sightings of interest:

Snow Goose – family groups began arriving on July 24 building to 804 (85% Blue’s) on July 29.

Redhead – three males present July 27. Singles on July 21, 23, and 29.

American White Pelican – present on most days with a high of 65 on July 19.

American Bittern – 2 present near camp every day.

Great Blue Heron – 1 wing-tagged individual (light green) on July 29 – (herons with this colour of patagial tag were banded as nestlings in 2011 and 2012 on Howland Rocks, south of Spanish, in the North Channel of Georgian Bay and in 2012 on Mad Reef, near Stoke’s Bay, Lake Huron, 700 and 850 km south of Chickey Point, respectively; pers. comm. Chip Weseloh) Northern Harrier – most abundant raptor in the area with a high of 11 on July 28 Yellow Rail – numerous around camp and in surrounding sedge meadows – conservative high of 15 on July 21 Virginia Rail – two singing males around camp heard between July 25 and 29. One of the most northerly records in the province.

Black Tern – 1 adult on July 27

Bonaparte’s Gull – first juvenile on July 26.

Short-eared Owl – two individuals observed throughout the period (pellets were full of sparrow feathers)

Barn Swallow – one on July 27

Eastern Kingbird – one on Jul 29

Swainson’s Thrush – breeding near camp

LeConte’s Sparrow – numerous in the sedge meadows/willow thickets – conservative high of 81 on July 17

Nelson’s Sparrow – numerous in sedge meadows – conservative high of 154 on July 17

Fox Sparrow – breeding near camp

Common Redpoll – nest at camp

Bobolink  – pair near camp. Male heard on July 15, pair discovered on July 17 and another or likely the same pair approximately 1 km distant on July 18. Possibly the most northerly breeding evidence in the province.

Migrant Passerines: Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Western Palm Warbler, Myrtle Warbler.

Mammals: No direct observations, but evidence of Black Bear, Gray Wolf, Red Fox, Striped Skunk, and Weasel sp.

Butterflies and Dragonflies: Neither group was abundantly represented although numbers of individuals generally increased toward the end of the month. Butterfly and odonate species observed/documented included Old World and Tiger swallowtails, Mustard White, Clouded, Orange, Giant and Pelidne sulphurs, American Copper, Atlantis and Frigga fritillaries, Northern Crescent, Mourning Cloak, White Admiral, Viceroy, Common Ringlet, Jutta Arctic; and Canada, Variable (Interrupted and Lineate subspecies), Sedge and Zigzag darners, Hudsonian Whiteface, and Cherry-faced Meadowhawk .

 Amphibians: Boreal Chorus Frog, Wood Frog, and American ‘Hudson Bay’ Toad.


The Western James Bay Shorebird Survey is a cooperative effort spearheaded by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) also provides helicopter transport to and from field camps and accommodations in the staff house while crews are in Moosonee. Thanks to Ken Abraham, Rod Brook, Sarah Hagey and Kim Bennett of OMNR for providing logistical support. Additional support for the Chickney Channel expedition was provided by Bird Studies Canada. Many thanks to Ron Pittaway for providing some details in his previous report from Jean Iron on James Bay shorebirds.

This description was written by Stu Mackenzie, Don Sutherland, Ron Ridout and Christian Friis.

Photo Archive:

Patient Helicopter waiting to take us to Chickney Channel.

View from base camp – home sweet home.

Seemingly endless grasslands along this section of James Bay.

One of the most northerly records for Bobolink in Ontario. A pair was present near camp for 3 days.

The male.

That’s what we call a shit-ton of Marbled Godwit.

On the edge of the flats…

LeConte’s Sparrow Nest

Home sweet home.

Chickney mud is sticky!!! Poor Kowa.

Friis on the flats.

Resting Godwits



Semi’s at rest.

Semi’s in flight.

Luxury commode

Replacement crew comprised of Ken and Mike Burrell.

Camp from the air.

Well worn trails.

extensive flats

Back to Moosenee

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