TWO DUTCH BIRDERS IN CANADA

by Ruud and Kitty Kampf

This article has been published before in Canadian Birding

editor Blake Maybank (maybank@ns.sympatico.ca)

 

During our summer holidays in 1988, we used a Canadian Airlines air-pass to visit a variety of sites in western and northern Canada. It was an interesting trip, in a spectacular country, with wonderful weather, and plenty of mosquitos. We are pleased to be able to share our experiences with the readers of Canadian Birding. The areas we visited:

1. prairie south of Calgary, and the Rocky Mountains;

2. boreal forests in Wood Buffalo National Park;

3. Yellowknife;

4. Dempster Highway, between Inuvik and Fort McPherson;

5. taiga and tundra around Tuktoyaktuk;

6. tundra on Victoria Island near Cambridge Bay;

7. tundra on southern Baffin Island near Iqaluit.

Most of the time we spent in the sparsely populated North West Territories. When we returned to the Netherlands, it felt quite crowded. If The Netherlands had the same population density as the N.W.T., it would hold only 500 people instead of 15 million.

SUMMARY OF OBSERVATIONS BY AREA

Area 1: Prairies south of Calgary, and the Rocky Mountains

a) Prairies south of Calgary.

The prairies south of Calgary were surprisingly good for bird-watching, comparable with central Spain (so were the high temperatures). Though we were rather late in the spring, we saw a good variety of birds. Here are our lists for some small prairie lakes.

Two small lakes near road 22

Mallard, American Wigeon , Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern, Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Canada Geese, with young, Pied-billed Grebe, Willet, American Coot, Black Tern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Savannah Sparrow

A small lake near Nanton, road 532

Blue-winged Teal, Marbled Godwit (25), American Avocet, Killdeer, Sora (crossing road), Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Horned Lark

Other Calgary-area sightings

Along highway 533 we saw many Red-tailed Hawks and Swainson's Hawks in the valley of the Highwood River. There were also Brown-headed Cowbirds, Brewer's Blackbirds, and Cedar Waxwings. In the prairies there were several Horned Larks, singing their remarkable song.

In Calgary we visited the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and saw and heard a male Northern Oriole. At the Mountain View Campground, we spotted a Black-crowned Night-heron foraging in the water reservoir.

b) Rocky Mountains

During a short visit to the Rocky Mountains we visited Banff (the Vermilion Lakes area), and camped at Marble Canyon Campground in Kootenay National Park, and Etherton Campground in Peter Loughheed Provincial Park (Kananaskis Country).

Near Vermilion Lakes two young Bald Eagles at the nest were learning to fly, and nearby an Osprey was fishing. The same day we saw a Golden Eagle.

At the Marble Canyon Campground we saw several Vaux's Swifts hunting above us, and we felt lucky to see a Rufous Hummingbird.

Area 2: Wood Buffalo National Park

The first few days in Wood Buffalo National Park we camped at the Salt Plains near the Parsons Road Look-out. The scenery was wonderful, with the Salt River flowing along a wide valley. There are many salt-tolerant plants, normally found in coastal salt marshes. From the look-out we saw several groups of bison roaming the plains. Some of the interesting birds were: American Kestrel, Northern Goshawk, Swainson's Hawk (locally rare [4]), Sharp-shinned Hawk, Peregrine Falcon (nest near Look-out). Bald Eagle (nest near the Look-out)

In the wetlands along the Salt River we observed American Bittern, many Common Snipes (one nest with four eggs), ducks, and waders. Two Marbled Godwits were unexpected. At night we frequently heard Common Nighthawks.

Later we visited the more southern part of the park, camping several nights at Pine Lake campground, and along the road to Peace Point. The forests here, due to the frequent forest fires, were quite varied. We heard many small songbirds that were difficult for us, from another continent, to identify. However, we found White-winged Crossbills quite common.

On the many small lakes we saw Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, wonderful Bufflehead, Common Merganser, and also two male Ruddy Ducks.

Bonaparte Gull

On June 23, at Pine Lake, we observed: 3 pairs of Common Loon, 10 Red-necked Grebes, 4 Horned Grebes, 1 Bufflehead, 1 Common Goldeneye, 20 White-winged Scoters, 2 Surf Scooters,. 1 Common Merganser

On June 25 we camped at a lake between Pine Lake campground and Peace Point. We found ten pairs of Black Tern, one male Evening Grosbeak (locally rare [4]), and one very tame American Wigeon, that hated to be photographed.We spent all of June 27 along the McKenzie River near Fort Smith to view the American White Pelicans. They were fishing in the very fast flowing parts the Rapids of the Drowned, in groups of 10-30. The pelicans seemed to take turns using the best fishing areas. While some fished, others waited, swimming fast in the torrent. After a bird caught a fish, it dropped to the back of the group until it was its turn again.A Herring Gull caught a fish in its own way. It waited, near us, for about an hour. Suddenly it stepped forward and picked a 20 cm long fish out of the river.

Golden Eagle with Raven

Also in the Fort Smith area, we proved again that dumps can be worth a visit; we found a juvenile Golden Eagle there. As for bison, we saw over 200 on the Salt Plains, and several small groups along the road to Peace Point. Next to the road to Carlsons Landing there were two male wood bison, dust bathing near the roadside.

Male Wood Bison

On the Salt Plains I had an encounter with a black bear, roaming his way on the plains. Other mammals seen were Moose, Beaver, and Ground Hog.

The weather was fine, being rather humid, calm, and 25 degrees. This was, unfortunately, ideal conditions for mosquitos, black flies, and bull-flies. Nevertheless, Wood Buffalo National Park is well worth visiting, although birding would be better a bit earlier in the season.

Area 3: Yellowknife

Near Yellowknife we spent a night along the road to Rae-Edzo. The road lead through taiga with many small lakes. Typical species were Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Arctic Loon, Greater Scaup and Bufflehead. At Border Creek we heard a beautiful evening chorus: Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Lesser Yellowlegs, plus a Common Nighthawk. On July 8, during a short stopover in Yellowknife, four Nighthawks were displaying over the Yellowknife campground.

Area 4: Dempster Highway, between Inuvik and Fort MacPherson

We arrived in Inuvik, at 2.15 a.m., to bright sunshine, no wind, and a temperature of over 20 degrees. Naturally, there were mosquitos galore.

The area between Inuvik and Fort McPherson was low in bird activity; hardly anything was singing. The landscape, though, was wonderful. The McKenzie River is a 'mighty' one. From the air the taiga looked wet but accessible. However, it was pointed out to us that it was not an easy going, and this turned out to be the truth. We therefore spent most of the time at and near the dusty road, and on the sand-pits.

The area between Inuvik and Arctic Red River was less interesting than that between Arctic Red River and Fort McPherson. In the latter area we found Red-necked Grebe and Arctic Loon breeding in nearly every lake, often with young birds being fed. The Common Loon was relatively scarce; we saw only two pair. There were many ducks: Oldsquaw, Surf Scoter, Greater Scaup, White-winged Scoter, Blue-winged Teal. A Mallard was breeding just off the edge of the Dempster Highway.

Some of our notable sightings were:

Bufflehead (male, in Arctic Red River), Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle (eating on the 'beach' of Arctic Red River), Sharp-tailed Grouse with juvenile, Least Flycatcher (uncommon [1]) , Golden-crowned Sparrow (an agitated pair in a tree top)

Area 5: Taiga and Tundra around Tuktoyaktuk

On the night of July 3 we flew to Tuktoyaktuk. The weather was still fine. The temperature when we arrived was 15 degrees, but later warmed to 25. To begin with the mosquitos were hiding, but were not absent, as we soon discovered.

In a small lake in the village we saw about 100 female Red-necked Phalarope and 10 Northern Pintail. Several Tree Swallows flew about the town, although we could not find nests. According to Godfrey's Birds of Canada [1] Tuktoyaktuk is well north of the Tree Swallow's range.

The famous pingo

Most of our time in Tuktoyaktuk we camped near the famous pingo that lies west of Tuk. It is a beautiful landscape, easier to travel by boat than by foot. The salt marshes were quite interesting. Most of the shorebirds we saw had juveniles. Least and Stilt Sandpipers were abundant, and Red-necked Phalaropes and Semipalmated Sandpipers were common.

Some of our best sightings were:

Tundra Swan, about 100, displaying, Northern Shoveler, six Brant, a nest with three young, Hudsonian Godwit, two, like Black-tailed, but with dark underwings and less white on upper wing, Rough-legged Hawk, nest near the pingo, Sandhill Crane, walking with young from a tundra lake to the salt marshes, Bank Swallows, four Lapland Longspur, Savannah Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, breeding in the collapsed centre of the pingo American Pipit, Common and Hoary Redpoll, common.

Several hours of seabird-watching indicated that, in the beginning of July, only a few birds are migrating by. We saw two Pomarine Jaegers, and several Arctic and Red-throated Loons.

West of Cambridge Bay

Area 6: Tundra on Victoria Island near Cambridge Bay

We visited Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, from July 9 - 16. The area around the village is very rich in bird-life. As well, it is rather easy and relatively cheap to reach from Europe, because of the availability of an airpass of Canadian Airlines. It has therefore been visited by several birders from the Netherlands.

In two articles Lok, Vaughan, and Vink described their bird observations in the neighbourhood of Cambridge Bay in 1983 [6] & 1986 [7]. It was interesting to compare our sightings with theirs, as well as older observations reported by Parmelee [8] (1960-62). The most striking changes were the disappearance of Brant and the addition of Northern Pintail as breeding species for the area.

The area around Cambridge Bay consists mainly of lowland tundra, with numerous lakes, varying in size from very small to very large. Dominating the largely flat landscape are Mount Pelly (an esker 100 meters high and several kilometres long), and the Augustus Hills.

Camping spot near Mount Pelly

The weather and the availability of food have a profound yearly influence on the number of breeding birds in the arctic. For some bird species the presence of lemmings is essential for breeding or not breeding. The weather and the number of lemmings can vary extraordinary year to year:

1983: mild spring, few lemmings

1986: late spring, moderate number of lemmings

1988: nice, warm weather: few lemmings

During our stay in 1988 the daily temperature was 15 degree on average, and the days were clear and calm. The ice on the smaller lakes and the snow had already gone by the time we arrived. Sea ice, and the ice on the large lakes (Greiner Lake and Kitiga Lake), was loose from the shores. Arctic plants flowered abundantly.

A daytime sleep

During our visit we camped at three sites: near Mount Pelly; west of Long Point near Kitiga Lake; and along the road behind the DEW-line site. We travelled with a rented ATV, and we hiked many hours on the tundra. Although our bird observations were not systematic, we made notes of all our sightings, especially those concerning nests and young birds.

Sabine Gull

Breeding birds

The timing of our visit proved to be very good. The tundra was teeming with young birds; songbirds had just fledged, and waterfowl were just hatching. Our observations are summarized on Table 1 or (skip the table)

Table 1: Nests with eggs and young birds around Cambridge Bay

Species

Observed eggs/pulli

Estimated date of

young leaving nest

Calculated start of breeding season

Tundra Swan

14 July: juv:2,2

2-3 pair breeding

from 13 July

mid June

Greater White-fronted Goose

10 July: eggs: 3, juv: 2

14 July: juv: 2, 5, 3, 3,3,4,3,4,5

10-14 July

mid June

Brant

1 nest, abandoned

-

mid June

Canada Goose

09 July: juv: 5

10 July: juv: 4

11 July: juv: 4, 2

15 July: juv: 4

8-15 July

mid June

Oldsquaw

11 July: eggs: 6

13 July: eggs: 6, 6

after 13 July

late June

Pintail

14 July: juv: 7,7

10-12 July

mid June

King Eider

15 July: juv: 4

from 14 July

mid June

Rock Ptarmigan

11 July: juv: 6

14 July: juv: 6, >6, 9

15 July: juv: 8,8

from 10 July

mid June

Red Phalarope

15 July: nest: 2 eggs + 2 juv

from 15 July

from late June

Turnstone

12 July: juv: 4

from 11 July

from late June

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

abundant juv

x

 

Stilt Sandpiper

abundant juv

x

from late June

Lapland Longspur

abundant juv

from 11 July

from late June

Snow Bunting

abundant juv

from 12 July

from late June

Some highlights in Cambridge Bay:

Tundra Swan: In 1988 more breeding pairs were found than in 1986 or 1983. Most were along the road behind the Dew-line site, an area was not visited by Lok et al [7,8].

Greater-White-fronted Goose: A good breeding season in 1988 compared with 1983 and 1986. The mean brood size was 3.4.

Brant: This species has virtually disappeared as a breeder in the area; we did not see a single bird. On July 12 we found an abandoned nest. In 1960-1962 Brant were common [3].

Canada Goose: On July 11 we saw a pair with two chicks crossing the ice of Greiner Lake. The mean brood size was 4.0.

Northern Pintail: The observation of two female Northern Pintail with seven chicks each on the Sewage lagoon is, as far we know, the first recording of successful breeding near Cambridge Bay. Godfrey [4] describes the Pintail as a probably breeder. We also observed a male and two females on a lake between the airport and the village.

Rock Ptarmigan: The number of young per female averaged over 7. The Rock Ptarmigan was common; only the families which could be counted were totalled in Table 1.

Red Phalarope: Most were still breeding. A nest with hatching young was found on July 15.

Most sandpipers had young, hiding near agitated parents.

Baird's Sandpiper

Other observations

Loons: Many loons were fishing in the leads of ice-free water along the coast. Arctic Loons were frequently found breeding inland, and the Yellow-billed Loon was sighted more frequently than in the earlier reports. A total of seven Yellow-billed were seen, one of which drowned in a fishing net. Of our sightings of Red-throated Loon the most interesting was a group of four interacting at Kitiga Lake.

Birds of prey and owls: These were scarce in 1988. Only one Peregrine Falcon was seen, on a boulder along the new road to Mount Pelly. We did not see any Rough-legged Hawks at all. Vink et al [7] reported three nests on the slopes of Mount Pelly.

On July 13 a Snowy Owl was seen in flight near an abandoned nest at Kitiga Lake.

Shorebirds: These are very abundant in the area. The most numerous were Semipalmated, Baird's and Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Golden Plover, and Red Phalaropes. In one of the small lakes between the airport and the village we found 30 Stilt and ten Semipalmated Sandpipers, two Lesser Golden and two Semipalmated Plovers, and six female Red-necked Phalaropes.

Pectoral Sandpipers were less numerous - eight were near Mount Pelly on July 11, and two were behind the Dew-line site on July 14. The Sanderling was not mentioned by previous visitors to this area [6,7,8], but we found three that were feeding along the shoreline near Augusta Hills on July 13 and 14. There was no evidence of breeding.

Whether the Knot regularly breeds in the area is uncertain. Parmelee [8] mentioned a few pair on the very top of Mount Pelly, but no Red Knot have been seen by Dutch birders. It might be a local breeder on more elevated, exposed stony heights.

Glaucus and Thayer Gulls

Gulls and Jaegers: The Sabine Gull was a common breeder in wet parts of the tundra. We only found one nest of the Parasitic Jaeger. It seemed that because of the absence of lemmings in 1988 most Jaegers had left the breeding area. However, along the ice-edge near the coast Long-tailed Jaeger were numerous.

Cambridge Bay Breeding Summary

The fine weather in the summer of 1988 resulted in a good breeding season for most birds. An exception was for those species dependent upon lemmings. Low lemming numbers caused widespread nesting failure for Jaegers, Rough-legged Hawks and Snowy Owls. De Korte made the same observations in Greenland in 1988 [9].

The Brant has nearly disappeared as a breeding bird in Cambridge Bay, a continuation of the trend observed by Vink, Lok and Vaughan. In 1960 the Brant was the most common goose [8].

The recent Dutch visits have provided a good indication of the richness of the tundra near Cambridge Bay. In Table 2 we present a summary of the regular breeding birds of Cambridge Bay, based on [6,7], and our own observations.

Table 2: List of regular breeding birds in Cambridge Bay, based on Dutch observations in the summers of 1983,1986 and 1988.

Gavia Adamsii Yellow-billed Loon F
Gavia Arctica Arctic Loon C
Gavia Stellata Red-throated Loon F
Grus Canadensis Sandhill Crane U?
Cygnus ColoMbianus Tundra Swan C
Anser Albifrons Greater White-fronted Goose C
Chen Caerulescens Snow Goose U
Branta Canadensis Canada Goose C
Anas Acuta Northern Pintail U
Somateria Mollissima Common Eider C
Somateria Spectabilis King Eider C
Clangula Hyemalis Oldsquaw C
Mergus Serrator Red-breasted Merganser F
Charadius Semipalmatus Semipaimated Plover F
Pluvialis Squatarola Black-bellied Plover F
Pluvialis Dominica Lesser Golden Plover C
Phalaropus lobatus Red-necked Phalarope F
Phalaropus fulicaria Red Phalarope C
Calidris Himantopus Stilt Sandpiper C
Arenaria lnterpres Ruddy Turnstone C
Calidris Alba Sanderling U?
Calidris Pusilla Semipalmated Sandpiper V
Calidris Fuscicollis White-rumped Sandpiper U?
Calidris Bairdii Baird's Sandpiper C
Calidris Melanotos Pectoral Sandpiper F
Tryngitus Subruficollis Buff-breasted Sandpiper U?
Stercorarius Pomarinus Pomarine Jaeger F?
Stercorarius Parasiticus Parasitic Jaeger F
Stercorarius Longicaudus Long-tailed Jaeger C
Larus HyperbOreus Glaucous Gull C
Larus Thayeri Thayer's Gull C
Xema Sabini Sabine's Gull C
Sterna Paradisaea Arctic Tern C
Buteo Lagopus Rough-legged Hawk U
Falco Peregrinus Peregrine Falcon U
Lagopus Mutus Rock Ptarmigan C
Lagopus Lagopus Willow Ptarmigan F
Asio Flammeus Short-eared Owl U?
Nyctea Scandiaca Snowy Owl U
Eremophila Alpestris Horned Lark C
Corvus Corax Common Raven U
Anthus Spinoletta Water Pipit F
Calcarius Lapponicus Lapland Longspur C
Plectrophenax Nivalis Snow Bunting C
Carduelis Homemannil Flammea Redpoll U

 

Area 7: Tundra on southern Baffin Island near Iqaluit

After Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit was rather disappointing, at least with respect to the birds. The first day we spent near the village, but afterwards we hiked on the tundra along the Sylvia Grinell River, north of Iqaluit. The landscape was impressive, with many visible signs of the tundra's glacial origins. There were many fine arctic flowers, lichens, and mosses, and we even saw a caterpillar.

The number of birds was very low. We only saw: Water Pipit, Herring Gull, Lapland Longspur, Common Raven, Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull


 

(Ruud and Kitty Kampf are Dutch birders, with a strong interest in the birds of Canada, particularly in out-of-the-way places. Their passion brought them here again in 1990, and we look forward to their next, detailed, meticulous account. They may be contacted at: Westeinde 69, 1636 VC Schermerhorn, The Netherlands.)

Ruud and Kitty Kampf

homepage: http://leden.tref.nl/~rekel

Email: rekel@tref.nl

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REFERENCES

1. Godfrey, W.E., The birds of Canada, revised edition, National Museum of Canada, 1986

2. A field guide to the birds of North America, The National Geographic Society, 1983

3. Preliminary checklist of birds of the N.W.T., Canadian Wildlife Service, Yellowknife

4. List of birds, Wood Buffalo National Parc, 1978

5. Bromley, R.G. and D.L. Tranger, Birds of Yellowknife, a regional checklist Ecology North, Yellowknife

6. Lok, C.M. and J.A.J. Vink, Birds at Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, North-West Territories, in 1983, The Canadian Field Naturalist 100 (3), 315-318, 1986

7. Vink, J.A.J., M. R. Vaughan and C.M. Lok, Birds at Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, North-West Territories, Canada, in 1986, Circumpolar Journal 3, 1986

8. Parmelee, D.F., H.A. Stephens and R.H. Schmidt, 1967, The birds of southeastern Victoria Island and adjacent rural islands, National Museum of Canada, Bulletin number 22

9. De Korte, J., Observations of birds and mammals, Hurry Inlet area, Scoresby Sund, Northeast Greenland, 1988, Circumpolar Journal, Volume 3, number 4 1988

Another useful source,

Finley, J.C., A bird finding guide to Canada, Hurtig Publishers Ltd, Edmonton, Canada, 1984

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