Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Heading to another ocean for a while

Now, I've rambled about Netitishi Point (James Bay) on here a few times over the past 5/6 months, but now there's even more to get excited about.  I've been wondering (along with other birders) about birds "crossing" oceans in the arctic, due to melting sea ice in recent years (NW passage has been wide open each year for a few years now)...

I'd heard of some reports, and seen a few others confirmed, such as the following:

--- Tufted Puffin's in Britian and Greenland

--- Short-tailed Shearwater reports off Britain

--- Northern Gannet/Great Black-backed Gulls off Alaska.

All exciting stuff, but it really was just the beginning of some hopes and wishes. Thinking about finding a Tufted Puffin in Ontario seemed really insane, but it really could be possible if the melting ice allowed them to move. It was enough to get me up to James Bay last November and look for myself. And what happened?

Well we did find this thing:

The theories were good enough to slap this thing down as a Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater after a lot of considerations. In some ways, it's crazy to think a Short-tailed Shearwater could have been ~3000km's away from it's normal range... But not really as crazy as I first thought. 

Cue this insane news article, brought to you by my Dad:

Yes, you've read that right, a Gray Whale swam through the Northwest passage and ended up in the atlantic (actually, all the way to Israel).. Now I'd like to pull away from Israel for a moment, and focus on the route. Yes, a Gray Whale made it through. So if a Gray Whale can do it, how about birds? You know, the ones with wings?

Now I'm all excited again!

Here's an archived gif. of Ice conditions on Sep 3, 2008. One thing that's obvious is there's a lot of open water above mainland Canada, but you'll also notice that there really isn't a clear route from the Pacific into Hudson Bay. It's much easier for sea creatures/birds to get into the Atlantic (via Baffin Bay/Labrador Sea) than into Hudson/James Bay... 

But, here's the part that keeps me excited:

The snow/ice map from the same year, but on Nov 1st. Note how all that water north of Nunavut has frozen up! Any Tufted Puffin/Short-tailed Shearwater/Short-tailed Albatross that's stuck in a dead-end inlet is faced with a dramatic choice: Fly or die... And considering the N or NW winds that typically occur post-cold front, it seems likely that Hudson Bay is the first place they would head when faced with the daunting task of an over-land flight. 

Once on Hudson Bay, these mega-vagrants would hopefully continue to wander south in search of better climates, and the best place to look could very well be Netitishi Point - the prime sea-watching location in the whole area. 

So, to sum up:

Gray Whales @ Netitishi - probably not

Mega Rare pacific seabirds @ Netitishi: possibly the best place south of the arctic circle to find them!

It's so deliciously exciting, I may just have to get back there and do some more looking. 

Some extra articles on the subject:


And a fun quote on Arctic Sea 
A better candidate for the last previous opening was the period 6,000 - 8,500 years ago, when the Earth's orbital variations brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer than at present. Funder and Kjaer (2007) found extensive systems of wave generated beach ridges along the North Greenland coast that suggested the Arctic Ocean was ice-free in the summer for over 1,000 years during that period.


  1. Good theories, but we need results !!!!

  2. Nice talking to you, Al. Thanks Brandon. I
    bought the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS today. Drop
    me off on Baffin Island next July.

  3. Fred used to like jogging.

    Now he'll be spending all his time taking pictures!

    Good for you Fred, grab some shots of those rarities.