Godwits in flight in fog on the Fen, showing their striking black-and-white
Blog 12B: Second Churchill Blog – Godwit city!
Churchill Wildlife Management sign
I am based in a Wildlife Management Area managed by the Province of Manitoba. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre, where I am staying, is situated within the WMA, which gives it special access to nature.
Polar Bear road sign
Polar Bear safety is on everybody’s minds… When I go out to the Fen the last two days of my trip, I have Dave Allcorn with me as a watcher and body guard and local expert and naturalist. It is great to be out on the Fen with Dave, because this means I will not get lost and also that I will learn a lot. It is easy to become disoriented, especially when the ice fog settles in over the tundra.
It is unlikely we will encounter a bear because the ice remains continuous across Hudson Bay, and when the ice is there, the bears are out on the ice, hunting for seals.
The Fen, about 5 miles south of the Centre, is the high point of my field trip, a mix of tundra, wetland, and boreal conifer woodland. Godwit researcher Nathan Senner worked on nesting godwits here about a decade ago. This is a beautiful piece of habitat with all sorts of interesting birds in it at this time…American Golden-Plovers, various sandpiper species, and godwits, of course.
American Golden-Plover in mists of the Fen. This is nesting habitat for this special bird.
Dave, my watcher, knows his subarctic tundra plants and points the various dwarf recumbent species out to me—rhododendrons, blueberries, other ericoids, and lichens…
Dave Allcorn on the tundra
We are able to walk right up on dowitchers, phalaropes, peeps, yellowlegs…this is where they will be raising their young, once the weather improves. They all seem quite confiding here…
Short-billed Dowitcher in tree
The first morning in the Fen is cold but clear, whereas the second is socked in with ice fog. Every bit of vegetation is encrusted with ice. The birds are not nearly as obvious on day two…. But both days were filled with close encounters, featured in the photographs here.
Raindeer Lichen on a high part of the tundra
A botanist or plant ecologist would be mesmerized by the various microhabitats present out on the Fen, with “upland” and “wetland” just a matter of a few centimeters of elevation.
The highlight of the Fen is its breeding Hudsonian Godwits. We watch them do display flights overhead, racing about at high speed, sometimes just a male and at other times in pairs. They really are like fighter jets as they swoop and bank and race about.
Here on the breeding habitat the various breeding shorebirds like to perch in the conifers, which is a change from Goose Creek, where they are in the water all the time. We photograph a godwit with color bands on its legs. This is a bird Nathan Senner banded 10 years ago. This bird has, therefore, traveled between Churchill and southern Chile at least 19 times (southbound then northbound), a remarkable feat of pioneering navigation!
a color banded adult Hudsonian Godwit (aluminum band to left, color band to right)
I wrap up with a series of evocative images….
Godwit overhead, vocalizing as part of its courtship routine (note open beak)
Godwit on the move
Close-up of female godwit on the tundra
Godwit landing in a larch, which has yet to leaf out (note ice fog in background)
Larch with ice encrustation
Least Sandpiper making courtship sounds on its territory on the tundra
Stilt Sandpiper, foraging on the Fen
Red-necked Phalarope bobbing in a roadside ditch in the Fen
Sandhill Crane, one of a pair, on territory in the Fen
Snow Geese west of the Centre, in another patch of tundra
A frozen lake, northwest of the Centre
My godwit blog will resume in the late summer, when I head to James Bay, the Eastern Maritimes, and New England, to trace the godwit’s post-breeding travels southward. Stay tuned!
An adult male Hudsonian Godwit perched in a White Spruce