As the Sun creeps closer to the horizon bringing with it more and more twilight my mind turns more to spring and the return of our migrants, still some four months away. It seems strange that I’ll miss the return of the Sun this year, as I leave this week for a trade show and then a short trip out west to see my family.  When I get back the Sun will be creeping higher and higher in the sky. Counterintuitively the return of the Sun brings with it our coldest weather, perhaps I’ll miss some of that as well.

Right now we’re pretty much a three species town, Ravens with a chance of Hoary Redpolls and a sprinkling of Rock Ptarmigan. (I smashed the High Arctic Christmas Bird Count record this January 2nd by managing to find all three species here in town. Okay that made it sound more like skill than blind luck, but luckily blundering into birds you don’t expect counts.)

Come March or April I’ll start making forays out to the nearby Gyrfalcon aerie to watch them setting up shop. But really things don’t kick into high gear here until the first week of June or so. But then all hell will break loose, and much of the activity will be driven by one of my favourite summer visitors, the Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii).

Baird's Sandpiper
“Do you mind? I’ve family to raise and no time for modeling.”

The Baird’s Sandpiperis by far our most numerous shorebird here in Arctic Bay.  It arrives around June 10th, give or take depending on weather and snow cover, and immediately starts to cement a relationship.  Displaying males can be heard trilling all around the riverine spot I spend my time in the Spring.  The peak of this activity is over in about a week, and the birds head upland to nest (for the most part, as some have nested right at the edge of the water.

Baird's Sandpiper on nest
See her?
Three eggs in Baird's Sandpiper nest
Typically there are four eggs in a brood especially on good year. This was a later nest.

Once the eggs hatch the family begins the long walk down to the shoreline.  This past summer was a very good year for Baird’s and every drive we’d be alerted to the presence of chicks by adults trying to distract our truck away from them.

Baird's Sandpiper chick
“Are we there yet?”
Baird's chick in boulder field.
Often on the journey to water the chick has to navigate its way through fields of boulders

The chicks grow quickly, and by early August the birds are gathering in larger groups and fueling up. By mid-August they have mostly left.  And it happens quickly.  Over 3 days of counts in one location my counts went from over 150 to 2.  But they have to leave early.  These small birds are long distant migrants, following the Sun.  Some of these birds, breeding up here at 73 degrees north will winter at the tip of South America, Tierra Del Fuego, 54 degrees south or so.

Evening light Baird's Sandpiper
Less sun means a journey is ahead.

Like the Sun they’ll soon be beginning their journey here, their summer home. I, for one, can’t wait.

Flock of Baird's Sandpiper in flight.
And I’ll see you in June.
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.