My time up in the north country has been quite busy and tiring of late, but I have managed a few memorable moments, here and there...well, they’re not all that rare at all, but here are a few that will stick with me for some time:
1. A beautiful evening at the mouth of the Churchill River: The evening after Nathan arrived, we were “obliged” to go see at least one of the 3 Red Phalaropes that we in the area at the time, since they would be a new Manitoba bird for Nathan. The female had been feeding for a couple days with a flock of about 200 Red-necked Phalaropes at the Granary Ponds in town. In addition to amazing views of the bright, rusty phalarope in amazing evening light, we found a hybrid Common X Green-winged Teal and an Iceland Gull molting into its 4th cycle. We continued down to the bay at the Churchill River (not the Hudson Bay), where we stepped out of the truck to see an expanse of perfectly still water, with large, scattered, blue ice floats and a sky finally turning orange. There was a flock of Common Eiders, whose eery, booming calls echoed across the water to us; a group of Arctic Terns acrobatically fishing near the shore and resting on floating ice; a small group of Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones foraging along the beach; and most impressively, a flock of nearly 400 Red-throated Loons floating a ways out in the bay. The sun was just beginning to set as we drove off after 10:00, with the booming of eiders still ringing in our ears.
2. Taking a much needed 10-minute break in the Fen: Towards the end of the work day, Brad and I were sent to the west side of the Fen to check up on a Godwit nest we had found earlier. After a long day of nest searching, the kilometer into the Fen was tiring, to say the least. On our way back, we were halted by a Least Sandpiper that just flushed off her nest; she flew no more than 5 feet, and gave a broken wing display. It was somewhat pathetic to see her efforts; while she frantically tried to distract us from her nest, standing at our feet, smaller than a House Sparrow, we could look down to our right and see her nest, with a single, speckled egg, smaller than a nickel. After marking the nest with the GPS, we stopped on a dry lichen mound to take a quick break. I took my boots off, laid back, and closed my eyes; it was sunny enough to be warm in spite of a wind strong enough to keep the mosquitos away-- in other words, a perfectly blissful balance. As my paleness absorbed all solar radiation (yes Mom, sunscreen was, unfortunately, part of this equation) and as I alternately squeezed my eyes shut and opened them slightly, watching the spectrum shift from teal to red, I could hear Smith’s Longspurs and Savannah Sparrows singing a short ways off, a Wilson’s Snipe was winnowing just over my head, with steep, fast dives, and a Short-billed Dowitcher displaying nearby (a note to Nathan, should you ever read this: this was not slacking off, merely a brief and amazing rest so that we could maintain vigor throughout the rest of the work day, and be able to make it back to the truck before being eaten by some unseen polar bear, in order to continue our employment for the rest of the summer-- we’re just lookin’ out your employees).
3. Banding my first Godwit: This is pretty self-explanatory; I haven’t had many chances to do banding prior to this summer (a few demonstrations here and there, and a morning with Allen Chartier), so feeling the strong heartbeat of a bright, male Hudsonian Godwit as he laid on his back across my lap, his gleaming, black eye staring back at me, was thrilling. He was surprisingly relaxed as I measured his tarsus and took a blood sample from his femoral artery, such that when I picked him up to weigh him, I had to lift his head as well.
4. Writing this post: I was going to write about how it was very nice to have a relaxed evening to write, sitting in my room and looking out the window at another 10:30PM sunset through the rebar cage (to keep them tricksy polar bears out), all the while listening to the wail of a Pacific Loon, the lovable call of a Long-tailed Duck, the songs of Yellow and Blackpoll warblers, Lincoln’s and White-crowned Sparrows, and watching a Short-eared Owl fly by...but then I fell asleep. So now I’m actually writing this post in the reading room across the hall from the kitchen; we have a morning off because of the rain, and I can’t hear any birds. So “writing this post” would have been memorable, had it happened last night-- now it’s just another morning, not that that’s a problem.
5. My 3-hour nap on Sunday: We took a day off on Sunday, which meant that I stayed up late on Saturday, watching some show-- can’t say I remember what it was, but it was probably Lost. Unbeknownst to me, it also meant that I had to get up at 6:00 on Sunday to check the daily insect transects, something I probably should have guessed would be necessary on a day off, but it hadn’t occurred to me. Anyways, I ended sleeping from 2:00 to 5:00 that afternoon, after a nice morning of boreal birding. Strangely, I don’t actually remember much of this rare, memorable moment, except the feeling of waking up before dinner quite rested. Good stuff.
Meanwhile, in the Land of Churchill, in spite of such moments of jollity, there are also those which must simply be endured. As testament to that fact, I spent about half an hour trying to fall asleep last night because I had to keep brushing my face to make sure I wasn’t still wearing a bug net. The mosquitos have been out for all of two or three days, and they are already worse than I have seen almost any other time; luckily for me though, I’ve been assured they will only get approximately ten times worse by the high season