We are on the cusp of a massive influx of migrants. Well, massive being relative to where I am.  The trickle of new arrivals for here will soon be a flood. Most of the breeding birds returning here will arrive within the next 10 days to two weeks.

Snow Buntings are usually our first to arrive, and they’ve been around since the last half of April. Right now it is almost all male birds, staking out territories, filling the tundra with song. And battles. I watched two Snow Buntings fight over territory last weekend, a tumbling sparring match in the air that didn’t seem to want to end until I decided I really could get my camera from the kamatiq and try to photograph it.

A Snow Bunting takes a break from song to fuel up

Then it was the Glaucous Gulls, a dozen to start with, now in the hundreds.  Late this week I sorted through three hundred trying, unsuccessfully, to find the odd Iceland Gulls that turn up each year. Breeding is well underway and everywhere you look the Glaucous Gulls are, ahem, engaged or collecting grasses and sedges for nests.

One of our resident Glaucous Gulls

The first Thayer’s Gull arrived on Thursday and the first Canada Goose (ssp parvipes) arrived the next day. I imagine that by now, somewhere the Northern Wheatear have arrived, waiting for me to actually find them, one of my biggest annual challenges. But soon it will be almost too difficult to keep track of who is arriving exactly when. My favourite spot will be frantic with shorebirds soon, arriving, displaying, breeding and disappearing to nest.

Last weekend, as we do every long weekend in May we took in the annual fishing derby. It is an opportunity to get out on the land camping, the kick off to the Spring camping. Here the town pretty much empties out as everyone heads out to one or two of the five eligible lakes. This year we didn’t go to the farthest lakes south, some 9 or 10 hours by snowmobile, as I hoped.

What the well dressed birder wears on a May weekend in the Arctic. (Photo by Leah Ejangiaq Kines)

At Ijjujuarjuk and Ikpikituarjuk, where we went, I saw the usual suspects; Raven, Glaucous Gulls and Snow Buntings. The two furthest lakes, however, lie a couple of hundred kilometres from Arctic Bay. Located in an IBA they are far enough south that the migrants arrive earlier and it also represents the normal northern limit of some of breeding birds, such as Yellow-Billed Loon, that we rarely see at Arctic Bay.

Friends of mine came home from those lakes with tales of Sandhill Cranes, Snowy Owls with eggs in the nest and others. A tantalizing report from them included a brown owl, the likely suspect a Short-eared Owl slightly north of its accepted range.

Like much of North America the weather disruptions, and fires will likely bring unusual birds our way, such as the Bald Eagle that was seen in Repulse Bay on the weekend, and reports of Robins and Whooping Cranes (still not confirmed) in Uluhaktoq NWT. (As a quick aside, I am helping out Cameron Eckhart and am now the subeditor in Nunavut for North American Birds. If you have any records, especially the unusual or significant ones, for Nunavut let me know).

But on a gorgeous, warm, sunny weekend camping on the land it mattered little that there were only three species keeping me company. Few things in this earth can beat falling asleep after a day outdoors to bird song. Few things indeed.

Just part of the answer to those who ask why I live up here.
Written by Clare K
Clare Kines is a retired Mountie and a failed businessman, which apparently qualifies him to be the Economic Development Officer for Arctic Bay Nunavut. Raised in Manitoba, Clare has lived in three provinces and two territories, managing to get kicked out of all them except this last one. So far. He has had a lifelong love of nature, never growing out a child’s curiosity. Given a Peterson’s guide by his grandfather, he made birds a big part of that love. He’s led tours to the high Arctic and Cuba, and writes probably the most northerly blog in the world, The House and other Arctic musings. He considers himself the luckiest man alive, having found great love twice in his life. His first wife, Janice, passed away in 1996. After moving north he met and fell for Leah. They have two fantastic children. He lives in an incredibly beautiful, magical part of the world - a place few people get to know.