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Five days in the field on Rupert Bay, one to go
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Five days in the field on Rupert Bay, one to go

Report from the field by Ted Cheskey Planning travel on Rupert Bay is a gamble.   Its broad reach, oriented to the northwest, from where blow the prevailing winds, mean its shallow waters can easily be whipped into a frenzy.   The team of myself, Aurelie Bourbeau-Lemieux, a biologist working for the Cree Nation Government, Gary Salt, a local resident familiar with the capricious Rupert, participant in our March workshop on bird identification, and representing the Cree Nation of Waskaganish and the local Trappers Association, and Marc Antoine Montpetit, an expert birder and atlasser, volunteering on behalf of the Breeding Bird Atlas project of Quebec, were ready to go on Monday morning, but weather and various delays meant we were stuck in the community until Wednesday.   One plus about the delays was that we were able to present our project and talk about birds to a group of 15 local youth taking a course on the environment, and recruit three from the group to join us in a few hours for our final trip (just for the day) to a few places we could not get to yet. Our work is being funded by Environment Canada's Aboriginal Fund for Species At Risk, and our focal species are the Red Knot, Hudsonian Godwit (not yet on the list), Yellow Rail, Common Nighthawk, Short-eared Owl, and Olive-sided Flycatcher.    Marc Antoine is focussing his efforts on breeding birds, gathering evidence of breeding of all of the species we observe, and targetting a few specialties for the area, including Little Gull and LeConte's Sparrow .  Over five days we visited five different locations, being transported to each by boat from two different camps.  Families have hunting camps around the bay, and we have been able to arrange accomodation with the camp owners, as they are used infrequently this time of year.    It rained every day, some days more than others, and the biting insects would be severe for the faint of heart.  Some of our days involved trudging over 10 kilometres through boot sucking mud, waist high soaked vegetation with no terra firma, and tricky passages concealled benath the vegetation, that were riddled with a minefield of bottomless pools of muck that could be trip-enders.  It wasn't all like that.  Some areas where realatively dry (truly a relative concept here), and there even are stretches of sandy beach in places between the mud flats and the limits of the boreal forest.  But, working on these surveys is very physically demanding, and one must not be easily discouraged by challenging conditions.  I certainly admire the great work that has been done on the Ontario side of James Bay by CWS, MNR, ROM, Moose Cree, BSC, OFO, more many years. The birds have been pretty impressive.  We have been able to sample most of the habitats that we had targetting, though not all.   Some highlights from the first day were seeing several Little Gulls, a species that is rare in North America, but which seems to be breeding locally here.  Though we did not find a colony, we did observe a few adults and juveniles.   Another breeding bird target was the elusive Yellow Rail, one of the most secretive birds around.  Previous studies by Michel Robert, coordinator of the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Quebec, suggested that this bird is abundant in one particular part of the Bay called "Cabbage Willows".   The rail makes a sound like clicking stones together in a 2-3 rhythm mostly.   We were very successful, finding 18 territorial males on transects through their soggy sedge and forb habitat.  We were also successful in finding the two sparrow specialties of the coastal marshes: Nelson's Sparrow and LeConte's sparrow, counting about 200 territorial males of the former and at least 30 of the latter. We have observed several Common Nighthawks in different locations both in Waskaganish and along the coast.  Finally the shorelines of Jacob Island, a small Island at the mouth of Rupert Bay, appears rich in migrating shorebirds, as we identified 15 species in a few hours of surveying three kilometres of shoreline, including over 200 White-rumped Sandpipers, over 100 Hudsonian Godwits, a Marbled Godwit, and 14 of the endangered Red Knots. We are grateful for the Cree Nation of Waskaganish and Environment Canada for supporting this project, which we hope to continue into the future as we build connections in the community and continue to gather evidence in support of eventual Important Bird Area designation. [caption id="attachment_14939" align="alignnone" width="300"]Ted Cheskey, Marc Antoine Montpetit, Gary Salt, Aurelie Bourbeau-Lemieux Ted Cheskey, Marc Antoine Montpetit, Gary Salt, Aurelie Bourbeau-Lemieux[/caption] Aurelie with storm in background by Ted Cheskey Aurelie with storm in background by Ted Cheskey [caption id="attachment_14941" align="alignnone" width="300"]LeConte's Sparrow by Ted Cheskey LeConte's Sparrow by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14943" align="alignnone" width="300"]Cabbage Willows - Yellow Rail habitat Cabbage Willows - Yellow Rail habitat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14945" align="alignnone" width="300"]the mud flats on Jacob Island, Rupert Bay, by Ted Cheskey The mud flats near Cabbage Willow, Rupert Bay, by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14947" align="alignnone" width="300"]Juvenile LIttle Gull, Rupert Bay by Ted Cheskey Juvenile LIttle Gull, Rupert Bay by Ted Cheskey[/caption]  

Species Spotlight: Yellow Rail
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Species Spotlight: Yellow Rail

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight, aka “Sp-Spot”. Today meet the: Yellow Rail [caption id="attachment_2020" align="alignleft" width="300"]Yellow Rail Photo by Dominic Sherony Yellow Rail
Photo by Dominic Sherony[/caption] Scientific Name: Coturnicops noveboracensis SARA status: Special Concern Taxonomic Group: Birds Size: length of 13-18 cm, wingspan of 28-32 cm The Yellow Rail is a small marsh bird with an elusive nature.  Only slightly larger than a sparrow, they are recognized by their yellow face and chest. They are yellow and black striped above with white flashes on the upper wing. Their bill is short and yellow and they have a dark crown and dark stripe through the eye. This colouration allows them to camouflage with the habitat they live in, making them difficult to see. Yellow Rails feed on insects, snails, crayfish, tadpoles, grasses and reeds. They are found in wetlands that are dominated by grasses and sedges, with a low water level, as they nest on the ground. Due to their secretive nature little is known about their life history. Where Else Can You See This Species? During the breeding season Yellow Rails are found in wetlands from Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, east to the Maritimes and south to the northeastern United States. The Yellow Rail overwinters in salt marshes and rice fields along the southeastern coastal United States, from North Carolina to Texas. The can be found in their breeding grounds from late April to early September. Around the Ottawa area you can find Yellow Rails in the Richmond Fen, where there is a breeding colony. Yellow Rails are infrequently seen in the Lac Deschênes IBA and Mud Lake. Did You Know? • The biggest threat to the Yellow Rail is habitat loss. Wetlands are often drained for agricultural or urban development, destroying breeding grounds. • The young are semi-precocial, which means they are able to leave the nest soon after hatching. At two days old they leave the nest with their mother. At five days old they are capable of feeding themselves and at 35 days old they are able to fly. • Males make a distinct clicking sound, "tic-tic, tictictic”. The sound resembles two stones being banged together. This call is often heard at night. Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes. You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and a location are very helpful! We would like to thank our guest blogger Michelle Locke for this post. Michelle is a contract research technician at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. She studies flies of the family Syrphidae, the flower flies, but enjoys opportunities to work with and study all other forms of wildlife when she can.

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