It has been, by many aspects, a strange summer for me. Especially the bird breeding season, which passes by at the blink of an eye. It hasn’t been a summer to remember.
To start off I was away for a couple of weeks. Usually the summers here are so short, so special, that I’m loath to miss any of it. But I took an opportunity to go down to Manitoba with Travis to see my family. Visiting them is always special, and happens far too infrequently and almost never during the summer. Travis got to experience things he normally wouldn’t (like spending about 5 hours every day in a pool) and seeing the world famous Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerobatic team (I can post a photo of them right? They are named after our most common passerine up here, the Snow Bunting after all).
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds in action.
A Canadian Snowbird inaction. Where I’m from Snow Buntings are colloquially known as snowbirds.
Two weeks in July though eats through prime birding time up here. More significantly the weather this year sucks. Summer has been almost non-existent. The High Arctic is a desert, which usually translates into blue skies and warmth from the sun. This year it has been grey skies, with a lot of rain and snow. If fact there has barely been a week when at least a few flakes of snow haven’t fallen. There is some snow forecast for today, but as of yet it hasn’t appeared. We drove to Nanisivik yesterday and there is still a lot of snow laying about up top.
But I just haven’t seen birds like normal, although a large part of that has been effort. Take Gyrfalcons for instance. Gyrs have nested on the St George Society Cliffs for as long as I’ve been up here. This year I’ve rarely was out to the aerie but every time I was out there I never saw a bird. Fresh whitewash gives me hope that they were still there, but I’ve not seen a bird.
Rough-legged Hawks are another bird that are almost guaranteed. Yesterday we stopped by an aerie of theirs that we know about, it has been unused this year. I know birds are around, as friends have seen them but for me nada.
Last years Rough-legged Hawk nestlings.
Most troubling for me, because I think of them as my birds, is the abandoned nesting attempt by a pair of Pacific Loons. This pair first appeared four years ago, and are amongst the most northerly known breeding Pacific Loons in North America. They’ve nested in virtually the same spot for the past four seasons. The loons arrived shortly before I left for Manitoba, and as has been the pattern for the other seasons, hung out on the ice free edge of Marcil Lake before moving into the ponds to nest.
They start nesting later than the Red-throated Loons, and this year those started nesting much later than normal. When I returned home the first thing I did (well, bird wise) was go out and see if they had set to nest. They had and one of the birds was on a nest a few feet from last years location.
Better times: Pacific Loon family from two seasons ago.
However, about four days ago, there was no bird on the nest. The pair was back on the lake (which still is mostly ice covered with only the edges free). I could see from the road there was an egg in the nest and when a Glaucous Gull began circling the nest I expected one of the pair to lift from the lake and return to defend the nest. That didn’t happen as the gull got closer to inspect the nest, I took off my shoes and socks and began wading across the river to chase it away. You have no idea how cold that water is.
A different Glaucous Gull
The next day the pair was still in the lake, but egg was still there which gave me some hope that the nest hadn’t been abandoned. However the night before last all hope was lost, the egg now gone, the birds still on the lake. They were joined by a third adult bird, which was a first, perhaps one of their offspring from the last two seasons as they tolerated it very well.
I don’t know why the nest was abandoned, the most likely culprit being too much human activity. The nest site is right near the road to our water station and there is a lot of traffic there. They’ve tolerated this very well in the past and have returned to that spot for four years running so you’d think they’d be fine with it. Whatever the reason, it’s a sad punctuation mark on a generally disappointing summer of birding.
Two autumns ago this Pacific Loon followed me along the shore of Marcil Lake