Churchill Travel Diary - p 2Willow Ptarmigan (65906 bytes)

18 June 2003

Launch Road goes east from Churchill across tundra near Hudson Bay.  It's a good place to look for Willow Ptarmigan.  Right on cue, here's a male loafing near the road.  As their name implies, these chicken-sized birds feast on willow buds and leaves.  And like the Pine Grosbeak, they don't mind a little cold weather.   Hard to believe, but Churchill is near the southern end of their range -they live as far north as land goes, burrowing into the snow to pass bitterly cold winter nights.  The male's guttural alarm call reminds me of the sound made by the Alien in the movie of the same name.





Lesser Yellowlegs (58288 bytes)

19 June 2003
Getting up at dawn here means rising at 4:10 a.m. - when I go to bed at 10:30 p.m., the last rays of the sun are shining through the window curtains.  It is never completely dark.    
    Manitoba has had warm dry weather this spring, and the tundra is in full flower, weeks ahead of schedule.  The commonest bird in many areas is Lesser Yellowlegs, the official tundra fussbudget.  Every time I get out of the truck they begin to call and complain, flying about and landing in the tops of spruce or on the tundra near their nests.







Savannah Sparrow (57021 bytes)

Be careful what you wish for, they say, it might come true.  Today's warm (75 F) sunny weather brings hordes of mosquitoes.  Even with repellent they are vexing, constantly hovering and probing for an unprotected spot of skin.  The windy tundra at least provides some relief, where I get a chance at the commonest sparrow here, Savannah Sparrow.  Not bad, but what I really wanted perched on a lichen-covered rock was Smith's Longspur, another sparrow that sports bright orange and black breeding plumage.  But Smith's is a no-show, and I'll have to be content with Savannah.   In photography as in life, one must often accept whatever opportunity brings.






Lesser Golden-Plover (72097 bytes)21 June 2003
One of Churchill's top birding sites is Twin Lakes, 25 km southeast of town.  In the taiga there I find such northern specialties as Three-toed Woodpecker and Common Redpoll,  along with the more widespread Yellow-rumped Warbler, nesting Bonaparte's Gulls, and yes, American Robins and Northern Flickers.  The Twin Lakes roads passes through outstanding tundra, with Dunlin, Hudsonian Godwit, and Short-billed Dowitcher lurking about.  My favorite bird, though, is nesting Lesser Golden-Plover, posing in some spectacular scenery.  The bird came off its nest as I stopped along the road, and because it was a chilly 38 F, I quickly took a few shots and moved on. Like the Arctic Tern, this bird is a famous long-distant migrant.  In late August it will move to the Canadian coast, and then fly, apparently non-stop, to northern South America, thence to Argentina for the winter.

Travel Diary       <previous page