Tuesday 18 June 2013

Churchill Manitoba Part 1

May27- June 1 2013 Churchill, Manitoba. Canada
Part two of my three week road trip began in Winnipeg. A Churchill bound VIA Rail train leaves three times a week and is one of the great rail journeys of North America. The train leaves Sunday noon with two nights on board arriving in Churchill Tuesday morning. I chose a cabin as this allowed me to edit my files from the Ontario portion of the trip and catch up on some sleep.
The changing landscape was an added bonus as the rolling farmland and lakes slowly changed to Aspen to stunted tundra Lodgepole Pine. As the train neared Churchill a single Sandhill Crane kept pace with the train before heading off and Willow Ptarmigan could be seen sitting in bushes.
Once in chilly Churchill my host Yijon kindly drove me around and at one of our stops a pair of nesting Merlins noisily made their presence known. I took a few quick shots as a Raven was nearby and I didn't want to draw the birds from their nest.
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
My first day out on the tundra was one of assimilation, the terrain so different from anything I had ever experienced. My very first shot was a Lesser Yellowlegs atop a tree, normally I would see them on the beaches of Vancouver. I then decided to go into the nearby Churchill Northern Studies Centre to get some tips about where exactly to look for birds. They were very helpful and had hot coffee. Slowly but surely the tundra began to reveal its secrets. A flock of American Golden Plover feeding on insects, a Northern Harrier hovering overhead and a pair Bonaparte's Gulls beginning the nesting process. Churchill doesn't give up its secrets easily so patience is a requisite, something I had cultivated when I used to fish.
The cold wind off Hudson Bay meant wearing three of layers of clothing so whenever possible I photographed from the truck ($75 rental a day and $2.08 a litre for gas) the vehicle also acted as a blind and windbreak. Next up was a trip along Goose Creek Rd, where a number of ponds and sloughs had thawed and were being used extensively by Hudsonian Godwit as well as Stilt, White-rumped and Solitary Sandpipers. There were also a smattering of Short-billed Dowitchers which were easy to identify as similar looking Long-billed rarely visit Churchill.
Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica)
 I had photographed Stilt Sandpipers (below) at Refel on their Fall return migration to South American but to see them in full breeding plumage was especially rewarding. Occasionally a Merlin would disturb the feeding shorebird flocks and reveal single sandpipers like the White-rumped hidden amongst the Stilts. All very exiting, enough to make one forget about the cold.
Stilt Sandpiper in breeding plumage (Calidris himantopus)
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Melting snow opens up new feeding opportunities. Seeds and insects make up most the Buntings diet.
Next was a visit to 'The Beach" a ramshackle collection of cabins and fish boats near to the downtown core. A flock of Snow Buntings were feeding on the foreshore. Common Eider, Thayer's and Glaucous Gulls were out on a distant ice flow. One bird that is present year round is the European House Sparrow.

Finally, I include a distant record shot of a Whimbrel with a tag. If anyone has any ideas about its origin please let me know.
Whimbrel with EH tag


  1. John, great captures! Sounds like you had a great trip.
    I guess that was a Canadian Whimbrel, eh!

  2. The way to do it on the cheap is to take the train overnight from Thompson. You can bird your way through the Prairies and then catch the overnight VIA train. Tamarak Rentals in Churchill have trucks.
    I'll be posting my five days birding in the Rgina area soon, what an amazing birding location. Last year I did three weeks for about $1200 inclusive.