Nature Canada

The Journey thus far

Since 2012, with the support of funding from Environment Canada’s Aboriginal Fund for Species At Risk and Habitat Stewardship Program, we planned field expeditions based on Indigenous-led knowledge, and our own review of maps and images of the coast that lasted from a few days to two weeks.

2013 – 2017

Expeditions were primarily in the territory of the Cree Nation of Waskaganish.

 

2013 and 2014

Partners: Cree Nation Government, Cree Trappers Association, Cree Trappers Association of Waskaganish, Nature Canada, Nature Quebec, Marc-Antoine Montpetit (2014), Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Surveyed coastal areas and the small nearshore islands in Rupert Bay, especially Cabbage Willows, a 3000 + hectare prairie/ marsh wetland complex on the northwestern side of Rupert Bay. Cabbage Willows includes an equally large and expansive mudflat at low tide that provides thousands of hectares of foraging habitat for shorebirds, including large numbers of Hudsonian Godwits. The wetlands support high populations of otherwise uncommon species such at Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows and the Special Concern Yellow Rail. For the Rail, we confirmed a significant population by visiting known and potential habitat and imitating its “song” by tapping two stones together, which the rails interpret as other rails within their territory and can respond by their own “singing.”


2015 and 2016

Partners: Cree Nation Government, Cree Trappers Association, Cree Trappers Association of Waskaganish, Nature Canada, Nature Quebec, Marc-Antoine Montpetit, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Birds Canada.
Focused on the larger islands in James Bay, particularly Charlton Island These islands have significant shorebird habitat, supporting important numbers (hundreds) of Red Knots, and large numbers of several shorebird species including thousands of Semipalmated, White-rumped, several hundred Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and a great diversity of other species. There were impressive mammal observations also. One of our teams had a safe, but close encounter with a Polar Bear. We observed evidence of Polar Bear on several islands, asl well as abundant signs of Caribou. Included on our list of aquatic mammals along the James Bay coast were Ringed Seal and Northern Beluga.
There were some surprises. There included confirming a new breeding population of the Federally listed species (Special Concern) Horned Grebe – over 1000 kilometres from the nearest known breeding site. We also found large rafts of Black and Surf Scoter, likely moulting in areas that appeared to have abundant shellfish populations.


2017

Partners: Cree Nation Government, Cree Trappers Association, Cree Trappers Association of Waskaganish, Eeyou Marine Region Wildlife Board, Nature Canada, FaunENord, Marc-Antoine Montpetit, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Birds Canada.
Spring and late summer surveys in Boatswain Bay. Extremely difficult to access by boat, we were able to move around Boatswain Bay by helicopter, displacing two or three small survey teams.


Boatswain Bay is a large, semi-circular bay just to the north of Rupert Bay, on James Bay. It includes a very large wetland complex, extensive mudflats and a small archipelago of islands off shore that appear to provide birds foraging on the mudflats with safe habitat at high tide. At Boatswain Bay, we observed tens of thousands shorebirds foraging for invertebrates on the mudflats and beaches in mid summer. Boatswain bay is a Migratory Bird Sanctuary. One of these species was the Endangered Red Knot. The wetlands at Boatswain have breeding populations of many uncommon species including Yellow Rail, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s phalarope and Nelson’s Sparrow.

This work led to recognizing and designating a new Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, the Globally significant Miinshtuk-Wiinebek IBA which filled a large gap in the distribution of IBAs along the James Bay coast.

 

2019

Partners: Cree Nation Government, Cree Trappers Association, Cree Trappers Association of Wemindji, Marc-Antoine Montpetit, Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Coastal Wemindji.
In early September, we conducted 10 days of surveys along the coast of Wemindji from Walrus Island in the north to Old Factory Bay in the south. We were only able to conduct the surveys late in the migration season. Likely most birds had left by that point, thought we were able to locate important habitats and find some very rich areas where there were still concentrations of over 1000 individual shorebirds, though some species that peak in early August, like the Red Knot, were not detected. We did locate a “new” species, never before observed along the eastern James Bay coast – a Northern Wheatear.  

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